Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Business Tax

Marx supposed that because supply determines cost, and cost determines profit, it was artificial scarcity that drove the economy. With the creation of a communist society, there would be a superadbundance of goods, bypassing greedy merchants and allowing humans to work on other, perhaps more noble pursuits. The market would be intentionally saturated.

Of course, sound economics resides in making sure consumer goods break down on a regular basis. Take AC delco for example. They ran some ads a few years back suggesting that if you didn't use AC delco parts, you would have to walk away from your stranded vehicle in search of help. That same year, Consumer Reports had an issue comparing car parts. By far the lowest of the batch was AC delco. I thought it was odd at the time that their ads would suggest one thing, but the real-life stats would suggest another. This is about the time I stopped watching commercials, because I was convinced that all they wanted to do was lie to me to get me to buy their products. I also read that AC delco parts are used on most GM vehicles.

If you make lightbulbs that never go out, pretty soon everyone has lightbulbs that don't go out, and would only need to replace the ones that broke. This is not enough revenue to keep a company afloat. If the factory that makes the lightbulbs is less stringent with their production methods, a higher failure rate will result. If the failure rate is high enough, the market will not be so saturated, which will keep demand high enough to turn a profit.

So people are making shoddy merchandise to keep the market stable, so what? If it were just the parts, and the parts could be refurbished/recycled, I probably wouldn't care so much. It's the packaging, the energy of production, of shipping, of all the paper pushing and product advertising in between. Ask the worker if he feels proud at the end of the day making shoddy car parts so his boss can keep paying for that GM SUV. Ask the mechanic who has to replace all these parts all the time. Ask the consumers that have to fork over money to keep these businesses afloat. Businesses excise a "tax" to keep the markets sustainable.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Market Forces

"There are much more brutal methods of torture you'll find by private militias.",,1878099,00.html

Gives whole new meaning to market "forces".

Monday, September 18, 2006

God Did It

Sometimes you have to have faith. You have to believe that the sun will rise tomorrow. You have to believe that there will be enough food for you to buy at the grocery store. You have to believe that when you flush the toilet, it will be processed properly and not just dumped into a stream. But each of these things is based in some way on previously understood and verified facts. The sun will rise tomorrow because it rose today. There will likely be food at the grocery store because there was the last time you went shopping. You can visit the sewage treatment plant and see how it is processed for yourself.

Faith in the supernatural is necessarily a leap of faith. The supernatural has no indication in the natural world. There is no precedent, no previous instance, no tangible evidence of the supernatural. Any idea based on the supernatural must therefore involve the unknown. All that is known about the supernatural is that it is not natural. Other than that, it is an unknown defined by unknowns.

This makes it practically worthless. It tells us nothing about how the real, tangible world operates. It offers us no insight into our current troubles or even what happens when we die. It is all speculation built upon speculation.

So why do people insist on having "faith" in the supernatural? Why do people believe it because it is absurd? I have yet to answer this question the way it was asked. And therein lies the problem; I don't think there is an answer the way the question is framed. This kind of faith is not based on understanding. Explaining the unknown in terms of the known would make the unknown knowable. And that's not the idea behind this kind of faith.

For some people, their whole worldview is built on the idea that there is an ill-defined "something" (a god), that makes reality and everything possible. This is mind-boggling and scary. Someone can have an entire set of memes based on one major and nonsensical meme. They cannot define it, you cannot define it, because, by definition, this kind of faith is undefined. The base meme becomes a sticky ball of possibilities. You can stick anything on it so long as it is couched in the proper terms. Religious and political leaders do this all the time to get people to do what they want them to do. Cleanliness is next to godliness. Every sperm is sacred. God hates fags, etc.

There is a serious problem with this kind of faith - it is unassailable. If I wanted to claim that the holocaust never happened, or that the earth is flat, there is information and evidence available to let me know that I am wrong. I can compare what I know and understand to available evidence. The undefined has no evidence. It has no rightness nor wrongness. It cannot be processed and determined to be true or false. This makes it very, very dangerous. How do you tell someone that their belief in 72 virgins waiting for them in heaven is based on nothing? How do you tell someone that their love of GWB is based on an unknown? They don't ask for evidence and they don't need evidence. All they know is that they have faith in this *something*, and that is good enough for them. If faith were to be held in the same light as all other claims, it would be the linchpin of someone's belief system. Change the base meme, and you can bring their entire worldview crashing down.

When I was younger, I would ask all sorts of questions about everything I experienced around me. Most of the time, I received satisfactory answers. Every once in a while, though, I would ask someone a question and they wouldn't know the answer. Instead of getting "I don't know", they said "god did it". The more people I met in life, the more I came across people willing to use that as a legitimate response. I also met people that were given that as an answer to many of their questions.

Start with a basic, underlying meme like the undefined faith we discussed earlier. Add to it all sorts of other memes that can be made to link to it via some spurious connection. Also include as an understanding of many natural phenomena "god did it", and you will end up with a warped and twisted mind that has very little chance of learning and independent thought. How many inquisitive minds have been snuffed out by those three simple words? Imagine all the potential botanists that asked "why is that tree there?" and received in reply "god did it". Or all the potential physicists that asked "why do things fall?" and heard "god did it".

Why do people believe silly things?

God did it.

If you want to destroy a mind, teach it to accept things without evidence. Teach it to accept only those things that appeal to ill-defined concepts and unknowns. Make the mind resistant to attempts to reshape it by cloaking it in ignorance. When you understand the danger of faith, how restrictive and destructive it can be, you cannot help but conclude that faith is one of the most dangerous forces that language can create.

Faith is the mind-killer.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

MyMandelbrot-J (as) + Orbit Traps (dmj.ccl)

Here's another one:

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

What Is God?

I welcome any and all to describe what you mean by the word "god" when you utter it in a sentence. This goes for atheists and theists alike. If there have been multiple definitions in your life, recite each and every one, and why they changed for you. Please be clear and concise with the terms you use to avoid confusion.


# One Book That Changed Your Life

I started looking at my bookshelf and saw many such books. I would like to choose one that has had the most profound or lasting effect. "Understanding Media" by Marshal McLuhan is one that stands out. The book helped dissolve the old ideas I had about each person being his or her own little bubble, only letting stuff into the bubble when they wanted. Humans and their surroundings are intimately tied, no one is an island, in dependency terms and in media terms. You cannot drive down the highway and completely ignore the billboards. You cannot watch TV and say the ads didn't affect you. The tools that humans shape, in turn shape humans. Mass media effects us on more than just the level of its content. This book made me see the puzzle of the world with me included in it, instead of the puzzle with an empty spot where I should be. The latter view is an illusion we often create to our own confusion and detriment.

# One Book That You Have Read More Than Once

The Once and Future King by T.H. White.

# One Book You'd Want On A Desert Island

Principia Mathematica by Alfred North Whitehead, because I always wanted to read it, but never had the time or the sheer determination that I know would be needed. Being stuck on a desert island would certainly offer both.

# A Book That Made You Excited

Most good books make me excited. Recently I have been driven half-insane by the Dune books by Frank Herbert.

# One Book That You Wish Had Been Written

"The Universe: A Design Manual" would be kind of cool.

# One Book That Wracked You With Sobs

Wracked? I read "Journy to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan" by Carlos Casteneda recently, and there was a part where the author was to kill a rabbit he managed to catch in a trap. Don Juan said, "You are the rabbit's Death. Its time is up." Very vivid, and very terrifying if you become the rabbit.

# One Book That You Wish Had Never Been Written

The bible. I think more people have been convinced by this book to do horrible things than by any other.

# One Book That You're Currently Reading

"Eccentrics" by David Weeks and Jamie James. Very amusing book that makes me feel special.

# One Book You've Been Meaning To Read

"Game Theory and the Social Contract" by Ken Binmore. I would like to understand the gap between what game theory tells us about an action and the actual choices humans make.

Should any lurkers drop by and read this post, consider yourself tagged. Be sure to provide me with a link to your post.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Petri Dishes

Take enough biology courses and eventually you'll get to a lab that requires you to smear some samples on a nutrient-rich plate and watch bacteria colonies grow. Oh wow, how cool is that! Look at them multiply and multiply. See how they expand without planning or forsight. Sometimes when you put two or more kinds of bacteria on the same plate, they grow and grow until they meet and then try to kill each other off in a last desperate grasp for dwindling resources.

Well, what did you expect from a bunch of stupid bacteria? Humans are so much better than such creatures because we actually take time and effort to raise our young, to train them for life in our complex society. We aren't running blindly, headlong into the future. Only simple organisms consume all their resources without a plan for sustainability.

You may have seen those growth charts, the ones that depict a nice exponential curve, steadily rising over time until it reaches a tipping point, whereupon it shoots up to the top, at the limit of its environs. There will probably be a list of "limiting factors", or "outside pressure" to indicate famine, disease, predators, etc, as mechanisms to keep the population in check. After so much time on the chart, though, the organism(s) represented will undergo a "death phase", the sharp decline that could very easily lead to extinction. The fossil record has many such examples.

Humans, being the clever monkeys that we are, have found ways to bypass these environmental pressures and have altered the population curve. We can expand and expand without fear of running out of resources or ever hitting that decline/death phase. Yes, when the population reaches 9 BILLION around 2050, we will have A) plenty of food for all these people, B) plenty of important, meaningful, and fulfilling occupations for all these people, C) plenty of room to prevent overcrowding, D) plenty of hospitals and medical programs to keep horribly infectious diseases from decimating a crowded country, and E) an extensive and effective worldwide recycling program to mitigate the effects of waste and pollution. And other such necessary measures.

It is a good thing we have all these things lined up for the future. What clever, clever monkeys we are. Not like those nasty bacteria. Imagine if we were those bacteria, having to face mass starvation because we over-farmed and over-grazed much of the world, leaving food only for those rich, powerful, or privileged people that happened to be born in a certain geographical area. Boy, what a horrible scrambling for food such a situation would entail. Imagine if we didn't have all diseases under control and had to fight massive epidemics of rapidly mutating diseases in heavily crowded cities that developed too quickly and without sufficient resources to construct proper sewers, treatment plants, hospitals/clinics, and research labs. Gee, that would be a mess. There would be plenty of work for morticians and cremators. Imagine if we had to engage in massive wars to fight over the few sources of fresh water still left. It's a good thing modern industry has all but eliminated pollution that can be introduced to the water table. Or imagine wars for viable land upon which to grow our crops. It's a good thing our current mode of food production doesn't leave too many salt deposits and doesn't require outrageous amounts of energy (imagine an input of 8 calories of energy for every 1 of food). Any less efficient and old Malthus would have turned out to be right after all. Imagine if we didn't have sustainable, renewable energy sources and had to rely on limited sources like fossil fuels just to grow and transport our food. Imagine if governments had to decide who would live and who would die, who would or could be born and who could not, based solely on their genetic viability or skillset. Or mass sterilization: get some crop sprayers and spray a few poor neighbourhoods and all the babies come out dead or deformed. Imagine if all the sanctity we hold for life and human rights now was thrown out the window because the situation would be so desperate we could not afford to have it.

Just imagine all these scenarios and more and remind yourself that it's a good thing we're clever monkeys that know how to keep our population in check, and not a bunch of bacteria overpopulating a petri dish.