Friday, May 23, 2008

Getting some real culture

Part One

Cindy (name changed) was in the same group as I when I first started as an engineering intern at my job -- I didn't interact with her much, but I remember she was a little overweight in physique and somewhat reclusive in personality. We soon went our ways and I only saw her in passing sometimes.

A couple years later I noticed that she was *much* thinner than the previous time I had seen her, "anorexia" being the only word I could think of. She also was walking waving her arms around in the air, almost like she was swimming or dancing or something, but the look on her face was one of determination, not of someone having fun. I wondered if she'd gone a little crazy.

Some time later, she approached me in the hall and asked if she might speak to me some day at lunch -- "privately".

"What's it about?" I asked, all kinds of red flags and bells going off in my head.

"I need help, and was hoping you might be able to help me -- but I'd prefer to discuss it in private." The red flags and bells hesitated... what could she mean? She barely knows me, what could she possibly think I could help her with? I feared it had something to do with children, though she was probably at least 20 years my senior.

I agreed hesitantly.

I immediately called my wife and my superiors, asking advice and letting them know where and when we were to meet, and all the circumstances I knew of. If she was going to proposition me with something, they would all find out almost as fast as I did, which I figured was my best protection from my biggest worry: people getting the wrong idea.

The day arrived, and she laid out an interesting story that has stuck with me ever since:

"I have a rare condition -- one that results in my gastrointestinal system being very delicate, susceptible to all kinds of infections. My doctors believe that it's because I have taken so many antibiotics that I've killed off all the 'beneficial' bacteria in my system that prevent the malignant kinds of bacteria from taking hold.

"That's where you come in. The doctors have suggested that if I can find a person to regularly donate stools for some time, they could be converted into a solution that could be transferred via enema into my system, and repopulate me with the healthy bacteria that I need."

I was stunned. She wants what from me?

We quickly decided that I wasn't a good candidate because I had gastrointestinal parasites on my mission in Ecuador. Granted I was pretty sure they were all gone now, but she didn't want to take any chances, and I was happy to not have to be in the stool-supply business.

Part Two

Fast forward to last Wednesday, to a routine doctors visit -- my first in ~15 years. I had woken up with a slightly sore throat, but figured I might be coming down with a cold. The doctor looked in my throat -- "How are you feeling today?"

"Woke up with a little bit of a sore throat."

"Well, it looks like you have strep."

Wha? Wow. Well, turns out I didn't, but a swabbing revealed that it was indeed a bacterial infection, and 20 minutes later I started a week-long antibiotics treatment.

Connecting the two

Now stick those two stories together.

1) Do I want to be wholesale-killing bacteria in my system, especially when I've got lots of good bacteria keeping me from other sicknesses? What choice do I have, I hate sore throats.

2) Where am I going to get more good bacteria after I kill off what I've got? Maybe that's what kissing is for. Keep passing the good stuff back and forth with your wife and kids. Maybe that's why our instincts are to kiss babies, to get your kids started off with the best cultures your gene pool has managed to come up with.

3) And lastly, if I'd had the right kinds of bacteria in my throat 3 days earlier, maybe I wouldn't have gotten the infection in my throat to begin with???

I wonder if there's someone out there who never gets bacterial infections in their throat because they *already have* the right kind of bacteria in there, keeping the bad stuff from getting a foothold.

So, if you have kids but you never get sore throats, can my kids kiss your kids? =)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

FairTax: Why I love it, and why it will never pass

"FairTax" is the common name of a bill in Congress that essentially makes the IRS obsolete by replacing the income tax with a national sales tax (roughly 23%). The equivalent of the "standard deduction" under FairTax is the "prebate", a monthly check (or direct deposit) to all taxpayers, intended to offset the taxes you're paying on food and other necessities. For me, I'd be getting a check for $606 every month, *and* not paying income tax!

"How can the government just give out money like that, it's going to be hugely expensive and create a welfare state! It's socialism! Ridiculous!"

This is a great example of congressional "smokescreening", scaring people with statements that are just completely wrong. I'll get back to why congress-people do this in a minute.
The FairTax was designed by smart people to be revenue neutral, meaning the federal government doesn't make more or less money with it -- only that they collect it differently. Here's the deal: unless you're poor, at the end of the year, the IRS ends up with a huge wad of your money from income taxes. They're going to under FairTax too. But for poor people the gov't instituted the standard deduction, a way to keep poor people from having to pay any federal taxes by not taxing them on the first X dollars they make ($10,700 in my case). Under FairTax, the prebate does the exact same thing, except people are getting money as a check in exchange for what they're expected to pay at the cash register, instead of have a little less withheld in their paycheck. They expect a family the size of mine sitting right on the poverty line would pay roughly $606 in sales taxes during a month, and they're returning that amount to me -- that's all.

Why I love it

Oh, so many reasons!
  • 1040-wha? Tax season is a painful, stressful time for the whole country. Imagine if that were just gone. Gone. Millions of hours returned to the people! Thousands of H&R Block employees and other tax accountants freed to work on things that actually make our lives better -- like knitting sweaters! (Love you, Shells! =)

  • Tax evaders actually have to try. Tax evaders are everywhere now -- tons of people just don't file at all. Then we have to spend taxpayers money chasing them down and prosecuting them, paperwork and courts and wasted time and happy lawyers. Under the FairTax, there is no dodging, buy something at the store and you pay taxes on it. Now some say the FairTax will create a huge black-market -- but we already have sales taxes, how's that black market look now? Besides, how would such a black market work anyway? All large transactions are tracked, not like people are buying thousands of cars from Ford and selling them on the black market so people can dodge the taxes. Sure some shady dealers would pop up, but enforcement of taxes would still exist -- it would just shift from chasing mostly careless or otherwise over-burdened individuals to chasing truly dishonest businesspeople trying to make a whole living dishonestly. A *much* easier job, for sure.

  • Illegals penalized! Instead of illegals squeaking out of paying taxes by taking jobs paid under the table, the illegals would have to pay sales tax for everything, *and* they would *not* get the prebate! Those evading the system would have it worse! Much lower incentive for them to come here illegally.

  • No more taxes on business. Huh? Aren't they the ones with the money? Yes, but they're also the ones creating all that value that you and I are after! Who made that shirt you're wearing? And that computer you're staring at? The economy is a bunch of businesses making things that make our lives better, and giving people jobs. If you burden that process you just slow it down and make it less competitive against factories in China.

  • Savings and gardens. Grow your own food? Pay no federal taxes! Saving your money? No taxes there either! Let's incentivize those two things for a change.

What's not to like?

But it will never happen

"Huh? Why not, it sounds like a terrific idea!"

Why? Because Congress would have to pass it, that's why.

My incredibly smart sister pointed out that Congress wields a *lot* of power. Some in lawmaking, some in regulating commerce, etc., but a huge amount of their power comes from the budgetary process. You see, Congress has but one real goal, and that is to get reelected. How? By swinging as much of the federal budget as possible into their own state and constituency. Riding pork into the federal budget is one way, but another equally powerful way is via the tax *incentives* they give. "Let's buy the impoverished vote by eliminating their taxes, the homeowner vote by not taxing money paid on mortgages or charitable donations, the business vote by not taxing business expenses, etc. etc. etc." Yuck.
You see, if they eliminate their own ability to decide how the money comes *in* by enacting the FairTax, they'd be voluntarily stripping themselves of half their fiscal power. Where would they get the incentive to do that? Nowhere, that's right.

So now we're back to "smokescreening"

Cover the whole FairTax thing with vague scary political buzzwords ("welfare", "regressive", "cutbacks", etc.) to keep the populace from seriously considering it, and America stays stuck in the same mudhole we've been in for 95 years.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"A Spotless Future"

"No matter what your past has been, you have a spotless future."

--Hugh B Brown, Conference April 1969

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Word of Wisdom

Mormonism's naysayers love to poke at polygamy, theosis, and other seemingly "easy targets".

There are, however, a few harder targets that you rarely hear them talking about. One of these is the "Word of Wisdom", or the Mormon "health code".

You've probably heard about it, Mormons don't drink Coca-Cola (wrong). It's main points are:
  • Don't drink alcohol (it's for washing our bodies)

  • Don't use tobacco (it's for bruises and sick cattle)

  • Don't drink "hot drinks", i.e. coffee and tea

  • Herbs, grains (especially wheat), and fruit is good for man

  • Meat is to be used sparingly

That's it.

"Big deal" you say. Looks a lot like the health code we give to expecting mothers. "Everybody knows that stuff."

Oh yeah? Sure, everybody knows it now, but how about 30 years ago? How about 100 years ago? Get this: the Word of Wisdom was a revelation given to Joseph Smith in 1833. The grain, fruit, and herbs part probably made sense, but what about the rest? In 1833 most of the Word of Wisdom made no sense.

My favorite part is this line: "strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies". They wouldn't have had a clue what that was for -- Louis Pasteur wouldn't be heard of for another 20 years. Fast forward to today, where on every wall at my work for me is a reminder of what a wonderful thing the Word of Wisdom is: an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Yet another conveniently ignored piece of Mormon doctrine that has been a huge blessing in my life.

Does anyone read this thing?

views since Feb. 9, 2008