Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My Senator Replied

So, I complained to my senators and reps about the new requirements on companies to report all payments for good and servies over $600. It would have been a mess. One replied:

Dear Mr. Harmon:

Thank you for contacting me to express your concerns about increased tax reporting requirements in health care reform legislation. I appreciate hearing your thoughts about this issue and I apologize for the delay in my response.

As you know, President Obama signed two health reform bills into law; the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Public Law No. 111-148), and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (Public Law No. 111-152). I supported these pieces of legislation because they will expand access to care to millions of Americans and end abusive insurance industry practices, all while reducing the deficit by an expected $1.4 trillion over the next 20 years.

As part of a package of measures to finance these reforms, the legislation included increased reporting requirements to reduce the country's $348 billion annual tax shortfall, known as the "tax gap." Specifically, the law requires businesses to inform the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of all purchases of goods or services made in excess of $600 per year, starting in 2012. Previously, the IRS only required businesses to file such forms on payments made to individuals.

I share your concerns that these requirements will impose a significant and undue burden on small businesses. I recently supported an amendment to the "Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010" (H.R. 5297), which would have raised the payment threshold from $600 to $5,000 and exempted businesses with fewer than 25 employees from reporting payments on goods and property. Unfortunately, this amendment failed to muster the necessary votes for passage. A second amendment, introduced by Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE), would have eliminated all reporting requirements but it also failed to pass. I opposed this amendment because it sought to offset the loss of revenue by abolishing the $15 billion Prevention Trust Fund, which was established to expand Americans' access to preventive services.

You may be pleased to know, however, that on September 14, 2010 Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) introduced the "Information Reporting Modernization Act of 2010" (S. 3783). This legislation would lift the reporting requirement from $600 to $5,000 and would adjust this requirement periodically for inflation. Furthermore, it would eliminate redundancy by exempting payments made via payment card or through third party network transactions. I have indicated to Senator Landrieu my desire to co-sponsor this legislation.

Once again, thank you for writing. Please know that I will keep your comments in mind as this and future proposals related to tax reporting requirements are debated before the Senate. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact my Washington, D.C. office at (202) 224-3841. Best regards.

Sincerely yours,
Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

It sounds like some people are trying to change it. I understand that a politician's word is worth only the air it takes to speak, but lets see what happens.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Questions for Atheists

OK, the Discovery Institute (those are the guys that are trying to push ID) posted a quiz, lets see what my answers are.

1) Why is there anything?

I don't know. However, I suspect that for there to be nothing, there would have had to be precisely nothing. Exactly zero anything. If there had been even 1x10^1000 of anything, effects would have accumulated. However, this is just a suspicion, and I claim no knowledge.

2) What caused the Universe?

The universe is it's own cause, I suspect. It is the only thing that makes sense, and it has the advantage of not falling to to the infinite regression problem. many people claim God did not need a cause outside of himself, but why did he not? The answer is usually something like "Because he is God!" which is not an answer. I can say that the universe did not need a first cause outside of itself, and defend it by saying 'Because it is the universe!" I think it is obvious that my response would not have been an answer.

3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?

I suspect that if any universe had come into being without regularity of physical law, it would have not come to anything. We might be the billionth universe, but only the first to get it right. Remember, time may be a quality of the universe and may have come into being with the universe. If there was no time, or an infinite amount of time before the universe, there could have been billions of failed (or successful and now long dead) universes before this one.

4) Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?

I had to read up to see what this question meant.
a) Material causes exist. If you have a trombone, brass has to exist.
b) Efficient causes exist. For something to fall down, you need gravity.
c) Final causes do not exist, that is, things are not meant for anything except when a person makes them for that purpose. Even then, they are not meant for anything except in that person's mind. The intended purpose of a thing is not a quality of that thing. It is a quality of the mind that is thinking about that thing, and thoughts are extremely mutable. Thoughts do not create reality.
A butter-knife, which (we would assume) has the final cause of spreading butter, can turn a screw. I doubt anyone would assign to a butter-knife the final cause of "turning screws".
d) Formal causes only exist in that things happen to be suited for their tasks by how they are structured. A pile of rocks can serve as a landmark, even if it was not meant to be one. We would not use a butter knife to turn screws if it did not happen to work fairly well in a pinch.

5) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?

Because we have brains that interpret sensory information imperfectly based on limited information.

6) Why is the human mind intentional, in the technical philosophical sense of aboutness, which is the referral to something besides itself? How can mental states be about something?

I am not a philosopher, I am an accountant. I think this question is asking, "How can the mind have goals?" Well, if it did not have goals, it would never do anything. Other than that, ask a psychologist.

7) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)

Absolute moral law does not exist. It is all situational. I have never seen a convincing example of absolute morality. "Killing is wrong" except sometimes it is OK, such as in self-defense or in punishments for certain crimes. "Theft is wrong" unless it is to feed the hungry (see Robin Hood). "Lying is wrong", unless you are hiding Jews from the Nazi's. This list is endless. Just read the Old Testament. "Thou shall not kill", except all the times God (or the priesthood How do you know the priests just aren't claiming God said something?) says it is OK.

8) Why is there evil?

Because people often want things that other people are not willing to give them. When their desire for the thing overpowers the desire to not hurt people, they commit evil. However, evil is not a substance, it is a adjective and it is subjective. What is evil to one is good to another. A better question is "Why is there good?" The answer is, without good, we would have all died out. Humans do not survive well in isolation. To survive in a society, people must treat each other with a certain amount of kindness. Any society without goodness dies out quickly. Hence all the societies that survived had some sort of goodness.

I am sure most folks without a philosophical education could do better. You don't get any points for answering "It is that way because I (or my invisible/absent friend) says so." I don't claim to know the answers to any of these questions. These are my suspicions about what might be the answers. Unlike some people, I do not make up an answer and then declare it THE TRUTH. Really, I don't know the answers, and neither do you.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Comparison of "Let Me In" and the original "Let the Right One In"

Last weekend I watched both the theatrical release of "Let Me In" and the original Swedish film "Let The Right One In". I disagree with the critics and think the new film is the better of the two. The original film is a good work of horror, but the American film is scarier, more coherent, and included better performances. Lots of critics are saying the new film does not compare to the original, but I think it is an obvious case of critics being required to prefer foreign films over American ones. I think it is a law.
The films are 90% the same, and there are just a few differences, but I think the American film is better.
Here are my problems with the original.
1. The kids can't act. Whether it was the skill of the director or the talent of the stars, the kids in the original spend most of the film standing around awkwardly, shuffling their feet and staring off camera, looking like kids in a middle school play who have forgotten their lines. I understand that they were 13 at the time. They certainly acted it.
Chloe Moretz is a pretty good actor for 13, and it shows. One could tell from her performance that Abby, the vampire, does not enjoy having to kill. In the original, Eli is so stiff that you can only tell she regrets her lifestyle from direct statements of that fact in dialogue and more obvious blocking.
2. The Father in the original is the worst serial killer ever. Assuming he has been friends with Eli for a long time, and has killed and drained a lot of people, he is astonishingly bad at it. Both killings in this film are ruined by bad planning, and I find it hard to believe that anyone would allow a stranger to walk up top them with a gas canister attached to a breathing mask and just stick it over their face.
The Father in the American film is scary. He has a routine that works which involves sneaking up on his victims stealthily and attacking them when they are alone and vulnerable, something that is not necessary when hunting passive Swedes with no survival instincts. He does botch one attack, but it is less through bad planning than through bad luck, and it has some black humor included at no extra cost.
4. Eli is not very good at hunting. Assuming Eli has been "twelve for a very long time", and that she had to hunt for blood on her own before finding her "dad", she is also really bad at it. She kills a victim in plain sight of one of her neighbors, across the street from her home. She makes a minimal attempt at stealth and chooses a really bad spot where she can be seen, and is seen. Perhaps she was relying on number 4.
Abby, in the American film, is much scarier. When she kills her victim in the pedestrian underpass, it is frightening and unobserved.
4. Apparently, Swedish people do not call the police or go to the hospital when things go horribly wrong. In the Swedish film, Eli kills a neighbor in order to feed after her "father" screws up. The crazy cat man at her apartment sees the whole thing, and refuses to call the cops because he is afraid of being interrogated. He does tell the victim's best friend, who also does not call the cops, even after they find a large pool of blood or after the victim's body is found. They all just sit around and drink and mourn poor Jocke. When another attack is witnessed, not only are the police not called, but no one takes the victim, who has large bleeding wounds on her neck, to the hospital. They just slap some toilet paper over the wound and send her to bed. This second fact lead to an interesting bit involving some cats, but even then, the displayed passivity of the Swedish bothers me. In good old America, when a dozen cats are trying to eat your wife, you react. Is it not so in Sweden?
In the American film, Abby's first kill is un-witnessed, and the second victim ends up in the hospital. Due to all this violence, there is actually a cop in the American film who is trying to get to the bottom of everything. He is not a terribly skilled cop, but he at least has to advantage of existing.
5. The cinematography in the American film is better. The Swedish director had too many uninteresting shots.
6. The production values of the American film are better. I don't want to hold this against the Swedish film, perhaps they had a small budget, and did the best they could.
Here are my problems with the new film.
1. The director inserted a bunch of clumsy religious references that were not in the original. The cop asks "Are you a Satanist?" to the father while he is in the hospital. The writer set this in the 80's for no reason I can see other than to include Reagan's "Good and Evil" speech and references to Satanic cults, which were the paranoid delusion of middle America at the time. It just seemed extraneous.
I know all the artsy-fartsies will be required by contract to poo-poo the American film, but it is a superior piece of work for both artistic and geeky reasons.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Grandma's Pee Pee now available in Single Malt!

I suppose anything can be a commodity. In this case, it is Whiskey made from the urine of diabetics. It has plenty of sugar, so why not?
(via Boing Boing)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Alchoholic In-laws suck ass

So today, at a labor Day picnic, my drunk-ass alcoholic father-in-law decided to pick a fight with me.
We were a the dinner table, and he says "Someone should say grace." Then he looked at me with a smirk and says "How about you?"
I replied "No. I don't pray."
He came back with "Why?" and I said "Because I am an atheist. It would be hypocritical and disrespectful to the others for me to pray."
He starting in on me about being an atheist, talking about how he believed in Jesus and he was saved and he needed to make sure we know and just wouldn't let up. He kept challenging me, right there at the table, to defend my position. It finally got to the point, after I left the table, where his son had to get up and yell at him to cut it out. The whole time, sneering, drunk off his ass, and being a prick, he was lecturing me about being a Christian.
I do not think I will be attending any family functions where he is present from now on. What an asshole.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Colonoscopy Diary

I just had my first colonoscopy. I figured I could put my notes here so that if anyone was planning on having one, they could find some info.
The day before, I got to eat nothing. I could only have liquids. I did fairly well of Popsicles, decaf coffee with Splenda, and beef broth. However, I took the day easy and did not exert myself and I could tell that I had not eaten, but I was not starving.
I had to start the bowel prep liquid about 4 pm. It comes in a gallon jug with about an inch of white powder at the bottom. You add water and shake vigorously, and put in the fridge. I used the lemon flavoring that came with it. It doesn't taste terrible, but it is not tasty by any means. You have to drink a class every fifteen minutes for 2 hours.
About an hour into the prep mixture you start having bowel movements. If you have ever had bad diarrhea, it is about like that. I went to the toilet about every ten minutes for a couple of hours. Be sure to "dab", don't "wipe" or your butt will get irritated. After a while I was passing mostly liquid.
The next morning, I finished the solution, and could not eat or drink anything other than a little water to keep from getting cottonmouth. I went to the doctor at 1:30 pm, and I was hungry and grumpy.
At the hospital, the put in an IV, and had me undress and wear one of those fashionable gowns. Once was in the colonoscopy room, they checked my ID about five times and started giving me sedation. I dozed a bit, but awoke a few times during the procedure to watch the screen. I saw them remove the one polyp that existed and then it was over. There was a little discomfort, but it was not bad. I would say it was like having bad gas, unpleasant but not terrible.
When I got home, I fell asleep on the couch for about three hours and then ate a whole bunch of food because I was hungry.
Overall, the colonoscopy was an inconvenience, but nothing to fear.

Friday, July 2, 2010

My review of The Bible

I won a contest over at Friendly Atheist for this review of The Bible.

Random Press’s latest release, “The Holy Bible”($29.95), is not worth your time. The book is a mishmash of ancient myths thrown together in a barely coherent attempt to form some sort of narrative. The author, who remains nameless, has decided to attempt to write an epistemological novel, similar to Brahm Stoker’s “Dracula”, in that it is made up of letters and other writings from people in the fictional world. This worked for Stoker, but here, it is chaos.

It is no wonder the author published anonymously. The book desperately needs an editor, as it seems like, at times, like a first draft. The narrative is sketchy and full of plot holes. The author has repeated the same story several times with different details, and overall, has failed to get his point across to the audience.This is one of the downfalls of the modern digital publishing age where anyone can produce a book.

In truth, it seems he author has tried to do for “The Lord of the Rings” what “Wicked” did for the “Wizard of Oz”. The book makes the most sense when read as the story of Sauron from his followers’ point of view. His constant commands in the early part of the novel to invade and wipe out all those who are not his chosen, his appearances in different forms (from human-like to a flaming shrub) and his insistence on ignorance and obedience in his followers matches perfectly with the dark lord of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The names have been changed, I’m sure, because Tolkien’s estate would have never granted publishing rights to this hack. Where Tolkien created a consistent and massive back-story for his novels, the author here has not gone through the trouble. I doubt this book will ever be taken seriously, and will slip into obscurity soon.
If you like this sort of writing, I would recommend The Silmarillion over this any day. Tolkien’s deities are kind-hearted and just, if a bit naive, and the creation story is a lovely symphony, not the lazy “Fiat Lux” that begins this waste of paper and ink. Even last year’s “Quran” is a more coherent read.
1.5 stars.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Hitler must have been an atheist!

Where else would he have gotten his evil ideas? Certainly not from any Christian writers. Oh wait!

From 'On the Jews and Their Lies" by Martin Luther (father of the protestant reformation and the Lutheran Church) found here.
What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews?...
First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them...
Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed...
Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them...
Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb...
Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews...

I guess Hitler had to have been an atheist to have such ideas. No Christian would ever suggest that Jews were subhuman or evil or should be mistreated.
The book is basically an invective about Jews and how they are evil, lying, blaspheming, etc...
These are just the quotes where he suggests actions.

Friday, April 9, 2010

My brother is a genius...

My brother Bubba is a genius.
Well, his name is Billy, but we all call him Bubba.
I found that I was missing a wheel stud from each rear wheel of my car. To do this, you need to pull off the brake drums. After 2 hours of cursing and sweating, I had the first one off and the new stud installed.
I could not get the drum back on. No drum, no wheel. No wheel, no driving.
So I called my brother.
He said one thing, "Take off the emergency brake."
The second one took 15 minutes.
He is a genius.
Did I mention he invented this?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Musical Awesomeness

So, I went to high school with the guy, Eric Whitacre. He did something really cool. It is a virtual choir singing one of his compositions. Check it out.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Open letter to a talk show

I sent this letter to the Rob Arnie and Dawn show:
Dear Rob, Arnie, and Dawn,In regards to your comments about deism, agnosticism, and atheism, I have a couple of comments.Agnosticism is the position that the existence or non-existence of God is unknowable. Agnostics hold that both sides of the argument are unprovable and therefore they try to stay out of the argument. This is silly. Take a side. Atheism wins.It all comes down to so-called "first causes".
Theists (such as Dawn and Osama Bin Laden) claim that a powerful being made the universe (the first cause) and continues to tinker with it on a regular basis by answering prayers and raining his wrath on the west. This is silly and contrary to observable fact. If God happens to be falsifying the facts to make the world appear that he does not exist, he is doing a good job and should get a gold medal in Olympic hide-and-seek and probably wants us to not believe in him (and he is a dick).
Deists, like you, claim the universe was made by some powerful being or force (the first cause) and that he did it correctly and has no need to tinker with it through answered prayer or vengeance on the unfaithful. This is the position held by many of the founding fathers (those who were not theists) although at the time they would probably have been labeled atheists. This argument usually takes the form: Complex and wonderful things had to have been made by something more complex and wonderful, such as God. This is illogical. If Complex things need a creator, then so did God, and so did God's creator, and so did God's God's creator and so on.
Atheism is basically the position that the Universe is it's own first cause. If God could have come from nothing or from himself (which is what deists and theists usually claim when pressed) then complex things can indeed come from nothing or from themselves. If complex things can come from nothing or themselves, why pretend there is another invisible and unknowable complex thing (God) behind the obvious complex thing (the universe). The fact that the universe is amazing and complex does not mean anyone was behind it. We will probably never have all the answers, but that does not mean we should start making stuff up.
There may be a God, and there may be a teapot orbiting near Jupiter, but without any evidence that holds up to actual scrutiny, there is no reason to believe in God or the teapot. Simply having strong feelings that there must be a Jovian teapot (or a God) is not sufficient proof for such an amazing claim. Show me the teapot, and I will believe in it (and the photos better not be faked).
Some atheists are very hard on religion. Much of the time that is because their friends or family will not leave them the hell alone about it (like mine). Sometime it is because they are still trying to shake the early childhood indoctrination they received (me too). Often it is because religious fundamentalists are trying to enforce their religions on them in one form or another (Intelligent Design in public school science classes). Sometimes it is because they like to argue (that's me, but I am getting more mellow as I age). Sometimes they think religion is actually bad for the world (9/11) and are trying to fight against it.
I think religion is like morphine. If you need morphine for the pain you feel, please take it, but stop trying to convince me that I need to get hooked as well.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Man this guy is funny....

...OK, its me. My mom was really offended by my use of profanity and dick jokes, but I said to myself, "You're 40!"

Friday, March 26, 2010

Buddhists are crazy too.

OK, although I am an atheist, I have to admit I have a place in my heart for Buddhism. Buddhism's core teaching have a lot of value and utility (I think) and are really a form of psychology. Buddhism also teaches the value of inspecting one's beliefs.
However, Buddhists can be religious assholes just like Christians and Muslims. Here is an example:
The singer Akon, about whom I know nothing (I will assume he is talented) has been denied a visa to Sri Lanka. I suppose that is Sri Lanka's right, but one wonders about their motive.
Apparently a mob of a couple hundred Buddhists started throwing rocks at the offices of MTV (something I have often wanted to do but for different reasons) because his "Sexy Bitch" video had a statue of Buddha somewhere in the background. However, now that I see the video is called "Sexy Bitch" my estimates of his talent have been modified.
Also, it seems, a grenade attack happened their in 2004 because a concert happened to take place on a famous monk's birthday.
Now it is possible that this is a religious facade meant to cover an act of political pressure, which makes sense. I have always suspected that most of these sorts of things that are blamed on religion are really political leaders manipulating the religions for their own purposes. So, Muslims and Christians are not the only one's that pressure their governments to do dumb things.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

I am all for freedom of religion....

...but rights are not absolute. Freedom of Speech does not mean that you can say things that put people in danger, such as the "fire in a theater" chestnut. So why does religion get a pass? In Wisconsin, you can commit certain crimes and get away with it as long as you say God told you to do it. What if I starve my kids to death and say the FSM told me to do it?

A quote "would essentially allow parents to use religion as an excuse for homicide, neglect, and endangering the safety of a child."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I suppose I should have known....

There is everything on the internet. For example, if I search for flying monkey sex on Google, I get 270,000 pages. So I should not have been surprised at atheist rap. It's pretty cool. I like the juxtaposition of a musical style that is not known for its educated lyrics and lyrics that mention double blind studies..

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I am not sure of this guy's opinion of our president.

Some people love President Obama. Fine.
Some people hate President Obama. Fine.
I have no clue what this guy's opinion of Obama is. Perhaps someone who understands art can explain it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

You know your food is hot....

So...Indian food has a tendency to be hot and spicy, just the way I like it. However, you know your native cuisine is a little too hot when the military decides to weaponize it.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

How big WAS his penis?

This guy attacked a police woman with his penis. Now, many people have probably tried that, but he was trying to hit her in the head. He has been arrested for assault. I think he should be able to put this on his resume if he ever tries to enter the porn industry.