Blog Archive

2017-04-17

Dreaded Taxes [UPDATED] - by Rev. J.T. Smith

It's that season again: Tax season.  No one likes having to pay them.  And whenever we hear politicians promise to somehow cut or lower them, we instinctively love the idea. 

Then again, we don't like having to pay for things like phone bills, car repairs, rent/mortgage, or any of the other bills that keep our needs met either.  Unfortunately, if you don't pay the phone bill, then no phone service for you.  Don't spend the money on the car repairs and maintenance?  Then you're out a working car.  (This becomes an even bigger issue if you live in a rural area with no available public transportation.)  Don't pay rent/mortgage?  Then you're either rich, living with very understanding friends/relatives, or you're homeless.

The problem is that the same concept also applies to taxes as they are in fact what pays for all of the services that are all too often taken for granted: Police/fire/emergency services, roads and their accouterments and maintenance, public schools, et al.  And the taxes are meant to ensure that all of us chip in, thus lowering the cost per individual.  As usual, we have politicians who are looking to privatize all those services in order to “lower taxes.”  The fact is that the wealthy want to lower their own taxes, at the expense of everyone else.  It's similar to the concept of “trickle-down economics.”  While it might sound good on the surface, the reality is quite different as history has demonstrated that those latter ideas simply don't work.  By privatizing what would otherwise be public services, we’re effectively paying more money for what amounts to less services as that is what allows the corporations to make more money, and the bottom line of profits will always matter far more to corporate America than people’s lives.  And the politicians who push for privatization are really in the pockets of those corporations and the exceptionally wealthy through the lobbyists who are metaphorically whispering in their ear.



This can be changed, it can be fixed.  Sadly, it won’t happen overnight; but, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.  We need people in every level of government who want and are willing to push for tax reforms that forces those who can afford it (e.g. earn/receive $300,000 per year or more) to pay more in taxes in that they have more available to pay, as opposed to always sticking the working poor with the bill as is done now.   Not only those wealthy people, but  corporations also need to pay their share.  “Each and every year, we lose $100 billion in revenue because large corporations and the wealthy are stashing their profits in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and other offshore tax havens.  That has got to stop.” [Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt)]  What's more, as Senator Sanders has also noted: “At a time when we now spend almost as much as the rest of the world combined on defense, we can make judicious cuts in our armed forces without compromising our military capability.” 





Really,  cutting America's military spending in half, which would still result in greater spending than the next several countries combined, along with forcing corporations and the super-rich to pay their fair share of taxes including on all the money they have tucked away in other countries, would easily cover the social safety net, the desperately needed infrastructure repairs, the salaries for emergency services, fully fund top notch public education as well as college tuition, and still have money available to lift everyone in this country out of poverty.


























A very strong message we must send to every level of government, especially to those politicians who constantly cry about government spending, is that the Government is not a for profit business but is rather a non-profit organization that is meant to serve ALL citizens regardless of age, biological gender, gender expression, transgender, skin colour, ethnic background, physical ability or disability, sexual orientation, or any other grouping of citizens we might think of that I've missed.



We can begin to bring about the changes needed by first making certain our voter registrations are up to date.  When election time comes around again (Presidential, Congressional, Gubernatorial, Mayoral, etc., et. al.), we vote in those who would push for and through the above mentioned changes in taxation practices.  In the interim between voting cycles, we can still band together and push for change.  Join local activist groups or start your own.  Write letters to the editor, write and sign petitions.  And follow the advice of Hillary Clinton when she said at National Partnership's 2012 Annual Luncheon on June 26, 2012, “Get organized, get involved, and don't let anyone tell you it can't be done.”



 

by Rev. J.T. Smith

2017-04-16

Hey Star Wars Fans, "Traveling through hyperspace isn't like dusting crops, boy!" - A message from Rev. J.T. Smith

Everyone who's a fan of Star Wars knows the [in]famous quote from Han Solo about the Kessel Run:


And ever since everyone and their cousin harps about how a parsec is a measure of distance, not time,

And yet the die hard Star Fans completely miss the importance of a seemingly unrelated Han Solo:


This matters to the topic of the Kessel Run.  What apparently every astrophysicist fan of Star Wars has either failed to remember or failed to shout loud enough, is that not only is EVERY celestial body in the universe is in constant motion in relation to each other, but they're all in motion at different speeds.  All combined makes for an ever changing maze of hazards.  A fact that was reflected in the entire quote:

Han Solo: Traveling through hyperspace ain't like dusting crops, boy! Without precise calculations we could fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova and that'd end your trip real quick, wouldn't it?

Traveling through hyperspace only LOOKS like they're traveling in a straight line.  In reality, it's more like the astrographic/gravitational equivalent of driving at high speeds along an American Interstate highway (ignoring the exit ramps, obviously) or the autobahn (same deal with the exit ramps).  The best navicomputer will calculate the shortest route because the shortest workable route will be the fastest route.



The above is especially true if every ship in Star Wars travels through hyperspace at the same speed.  If you notice, not once in the Star Wars movies is there a speed reference through hyperspace analogous to Star Trek's warp factor 1 - 9.99.

So yes, a parsec is a measure of distance and not time; but if you realize that "as the bird flies" doesn't apply in interstellar travel, the you'll realize that the shortest distance required to get from point A to point B means you'll make the trip in a shorter amount of time.





- Rev. J.T. Smith

2017-04-14

Batteries Are A Bad Idea For Fueling Vehicles by Rev. J.T. Smith

I am in no way supporting Big Oil with what I'm about to say as petrol as a fuel is an environmental disaster.

That said, batteries are not the right way to go either for several reasons.

One of which is that batteries all wear out eventually.  Just look to your mobile phone and you'll realize this.  Then again, far too many feel a desperate need to always have the latest and greatest product and update their mobile phone every year or so.  A fact that manufacturers don't only realize but actively count on and encourage this behaviour.  Consumerism at all costs.  Great for the bottom lines of corporations around the world but utter shit for the environment.

Car companies, including Tesla, are counting on this short-sighted behaviour too.

One of the more subtle ways of encouraging this is to place in the instructions that come with the device, including electric cars, the notion that batteries supposedly no longer develop a memory the way nickle-cadmium [Ni-Cad] batteries used to so you should recharge them once they drop to 15% rather than run them flat first before recharging.  They tell you this, not because they really want you to get the most life out of your battery (FYI, there's zero profit in it for corporations for you to not have to replace the batteries sooner!), but because they want to sell you more batteries and/or a new device sooner.

These days, the only thing that's kept around longer than the rechargeable batteries that run them are vibrators.  Then again, a dead vibrator is still a dildo. 

Now, I grant that lithium ion [Li-Ion] batteries don't develop a memory the way that Ni-Cad ones did, they do still develop that memory only over a longer period of time.  Longer enough, the manufacturers figure, that you'll be throwing out your old device and replacing it with a new one before the battery will no longer hold a charge.  But if you really want your rechargeable batteries to actually last as long as they can before they're permanently dead, then you should always run them until they're flat before you recharge them and you should recharge them until they're fully recharged before using them again.

In the meantime there's still the matter of the fact that it still takes hours to fully recharge a battery from flat (the more powerful the batteries, the longer it takes to recharge them); and as noted earlier, if you don't run the battery to flat prior to fully recharging completely you will shorten the total overall life of the battery.  (This the end result of the aforementioned memory.)  I know this for a fact by taking two identical modern mobile phones (I inadvertently got two identical handsets, one from each of two people, due to my previous mobile phone dying completely after 4 years of service, and I kept the second as a backup) and ran the first one battery to flat every time prior to fully recharging.  That handset started getting a bit worn so I started using the second handset fresh from the box.  Only with the second handset I decided to go against my better judgement and started recharging every day or so regardless of how low the battery was.  The end result was that the battery of the second handset ended up needing to be recharged as often after one year as the first one did after two hours.  Now, neither handset will last 24 hours before going flat. And unlike Top Gear, who would fake things to get their end result, I didn't fake any of it.
Regardless, if you do decide to keep your electric vehicle for long enough, you'll have to deal with th battery.  While some companies like Nissan are trying to make it that you would only have to replace a bad cell rather than the entire battery replace the entire battery, it's currently more common and more likely that your dealer won't be the ones to deal with individual cells; so you'll still end up having to replace the battery outright to keep that car going the way petrol fueled vehicles can currently.  At which point you have a piece of trash that still contains components that still can't be recycled; and that, in turn, still has a toxic environmental impact.  Yes, more of the components can be recycled, but the cost of lithium is low right now because the relative demand is low currently, but that'll change over time.  And all of this presumes you'll still be able to get a matching replacement battery when the time comes, anyway.

I fully acknowledge the fact that petrol fuel is an environmental disaster, but one of the advantages of a liquid fuel is that as long as the engine/motor still uses that fuel then it doesn't matter what shape the fuel tank takes as long as it fits into the hull of the vehicle.  And replacing a liquid fuel tank is a lot cheaper than replacing the battery on an electric vehicle.  And one of the beautiful things about classic cars is that we can still drive them now, decades after they were manufactured.  If the trend of throwing away battery operated devices, either as soon as or before the batteries will no longer hold a charge, then things like classic car shows will be a thing of the past.  Classic car shows aren't  singing the praises of Big Oil; they're showcases of lasting and durable engineering and works of art created from metals.
 
Even more troubling than the technical issues, there's still the slave labour and environmental problems inherent in the manufacture of batteries.

We would do far better with a hybrid car consisting of a hydrogen fuel cell backed up with solar panels.  But thanks to irrational fears due to a misunderstanding of just what downed the Hindenburg, it'll be a long time before this is more widely accepted.  And thanks to current economics, it'll be cheaper to replace an entire vehicle than only the battery when the battery can no longer hold a charge.  Batteries are a stopgap measure at best.

2017-03-28

America Does Have A Drug Problem, Just Not What Politians Would Have You Believe by Rev. J.T. Smith

[Full disclosure: On January 23, 2013, I survived a hemorrhagic stroke that initially left me completely paralyzed from the neck down on my dominant side, and reduced my hearing and peripheral vision on the same side.  While I am ambulatory once more and I've regained some use of my dominant hand and arm, I'm still trying to overcome that my stamina is still vastly diminished compared to my former normal, that my thermal-tactile sense is glitchy at best on my dominant side, and that the only time I'm not in constant pain is when I'm asleep.  More recently, I've learned that I have osteoarthritis in both hips, though initially only "presenting" on my non-stroke affected side which adds to the overall pain I experience on any given day.  And that 1-10 pain scale is relative to each person where a 9 for one person is a 4 for another.  (e.g. My accidentally nicking an exposed a nerve in one of my back teeth by biting an onion slice on my hoagie and driving it into my tooth hurt far more than when I broke my left elbow or when I broke my right wrist such that it now has a metal plate and screws installed.)  All of which should be kept in mind when reading my following article.]


        America has a drug problem.  I’m not referring to the “war on drugs” which has resulted in the persecution and disproportionate incarceration of people of colour, I'm referring to a prevalent attitude in America.  And while what I'm talking about may seem like I'm merely conflating separate issues, it needs to be realized that I'm describing is a multi-faceted series of different drug problems that in reality all together add up to a very large overall drug problem.
        One facet of the overall problem is the recreational use of drugs.  Not only does this include the use of illicit drugs (
in 2013, an estimated 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older—9.4 percent of the population—had used an illicit drug in the past month. This number is up from 8.3 percent in 2002) and drugs like marijuana (which is gaining in acceptance and transitioning from illicit to legal), it also includes the use of legal drugs like alcohol.  You had a bad day?  You don’t like your situation in life.  Then use your (preferably legal) drug of choice.  It’s almost like Americans are trying to prove Darwin was wrong.

        But it doesn’t end there.  Another facet I’m referring to the pharmaceutical complex in America often referred to as “Big Pharma” and the ever expanding impact that they have.  While Big Pharma does serve a useful purpose in creating lifesaving vaccines and medications for genuine medical conditions, the reality is that they have absolutely no intention of creating any more actual cures.  Let's face it, they're still kicking themselves for curing polio.  The simple reality is that there’s no profit in curing anything when they can help you to “just live with it”.  If you're taking a medication for the rest of you're life then that's not a cure at all, it's merely living with it!  If you took you're car to the mechanic to fix a transmission, but you still had to constantly add transmission fluid to it, you wouldn't consider your transmission actually fixed now would you?

        To exacerbate this is still another facet: There’s the constant adverts for the latest drug aimed at the general public with the goal of the consumer asking for a certain drug rather than the far more logical approach where your doctor tells you what drugs you should use, if any.  While many countries allow over-the-counter drugs to be advertised, only the United States and New Zealand allows prescription drugs to be advertised on television.  Frankly, Big Pharma has abused this tolerance by pushing drugs that may not be effective or applicable to their conditions on viewers.  In the United States, TV adverts for pharmaceuticals must list the major side effects that were detected during the drug's safety trials; this disclosure can give the false impression that older drugs (i.e. the ones that came out before TV advertising was an option) are safer than all these “newfangled” drugs, when in fact the older drugs tend to have just as many side effects as the new ones do. (e.g. The litany of side effects for aspirin would fill several pages.)  Not only that, but in 2015 there were more than 1 million reports of drug side effects were file, an increase of five-fold since 2004.  These are drugs used to treat diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and diabetes are among those with the greatest number of reports.  What’s more, as demonstrated by the myriad lawsuits resulting from consequent injuries from the use of so many of these “latest and greatest” drugs, pharmaceutical companies rush their latest chemical “miracle” before they’ve properly and extensively tested them.  Between modern knowledge of chemistry and the capability of creating complex computer models capable of creating predictive interaction models, the vast majority of side effects should already be either eliminated before they ever go to market or should keep the new drug in question from getting to market in the first place.
        Still, that’s just a part of the overall problem.  Another facet is that it seems that for every minor problem there’s a drug.  Since direct-to-consumer drug advertising debuted, Big Pharma’s credo has been: “When the medication is ready, the disease (and patients) will appear.”  Who knew so many people suffered from restless legs?  And they’re effectively creating new “diseases” all the time or blowing conditions like ADHD way out of proportion.  There wouldn't be such an issue if we stopped trying to schedule every nanosecond of a child's life and let them learn naturally through this crazy thing called playing.  I don't mean sports or any other structuralized format but just let them have fun, make it up as they go, and free-form explore the world around them without panicking because of scrapes and bruises.

        Furthermore, yet another aspect is that far too many psychiatrists and other doctors are more readily inclined to prescribe drugs for nearly every malady, whether it be physical or mental illness, rather than turning to other means and methods like actually getting people to accept that the universe is an inherently unfair place and to find ways of changing the aspects of your life that you can change and dealing with those aspects you cannot change.  While it’s not easy, doing that without the use of drugs can be done successfully.





        This particular issue of the push for drugs to solve all of the woes was brought into clear focus for me while I was going through a psychological evaluation at the Penn Foundation regarding the Depression I've been dealing with for decades and was exacerbated by the stroke I survived.  The psychiatrist started not just recommending but effectively pushing "antidepressant" drugs as an answer to the point where I was seriously considering just how deep into the pockets of their pharmaceutical rep he was.  It took me several times of stating "No drugs!" before he finally got the hint that "No" means "No" even when I say it.  Do people suffer from chemical imbalances in their brain leading to problems like Depression, et al?  Yes.  But throwing drugs at it forever rather than fining and actually fixing the problem isn't the right answer (see aforementioned transmission analogy) unless you think that profits regardless of how those profits are achieved are always the right answer, that is.  In this case, I certainly believe that if anyone there has a drug problem it's the psychiatrist for so stubbornly refusing to consider other options.  One of the many issues I have with my ever starting any kind of antidepressant regimen is the fact that there's still so much trial-and-error (with far too many errors) and hit-or-miss (again, too much miss) in prescribing the drugs in the first place.  I know this from the various friends who are currently on various antidepressants and who have been for years, a couple of whom I've personally known for a decade and more.  I will not be a guinea pig for something that they should be able to accurately prescribe if medicine once again mattered more than profits.
        Drugs are nothing more than chemical crutches and like physical crutches should be used only when absolutely necessary.  Crutches are meant to be temporary, not permanent “solutions”.  The big problem I'm describing is a multifaceted reliance on drugs to solve every problem rather than trying to actually repair or cure the medical ailments, and getting active in the political ones.




by Rev. J.T. Smith

2017-03-05

Conundrum (RE: Zoos, Et Al) by Rev. J.T. Smith

It’s almost spring time, when the weather starts to warm up and school field trips and families, especially those with children, travel to zoos, aquariums, and related parks; and I'm experiencing a conundrum in regards to those destinations.


I think most all of us have been to a zoo or game preserve (e.g. the Trexler Nature Preserve, formerly the Trexler-Lehigh County Game Preserve, in Schnecksville, PA) at one time or another in our lives, particularly when we were children.  We love seeing, hearing, and smelling the animals there.  It brings to reality the animals we've seen pictures of and heard about via various media.  For anyone who's become a veterinarian, biologist, zoologist, or has specialized further in regards to any animal life, visits to the zoo will have played a large role in triggering those interests.  Likewise, going to the aquarium (e.g. Baltimore Aquarium, Camden Aquarium, et al) would have similar effects when it comes to sea life.  Even circuses and theme parks like SeaWorld also allow us to be closer to animals we would otherwise never likely have the opportunity to experience.  Zoos and aquariums have also played a role in helping some species avoid extinction through captive mating programs and protecting them from poachers.


The dark side of zoos, aquariums, etc., is that in order to populate them we're taking living, sentient beings from their natural habitats, separating them from their families (quite often at exceptionally young ages and pretty much violently regardless of their age), and imprisoning them in artificial enclosures.  And in the best of circumstances, the staffs do everything in their power, barring releasing the animals, to make certain that they're well cared for and treated with dignity.  Unfortunately quite often the animals are held in enclosures that are far too small and otherwise overcrowded considering how spread apart individuals in a population typically live; and in the case of circuses like Ringling Brothers and theme parks like SeaWorld, the animals are treated horrifically out of sight of the general public in order to get them to perform for us.  (For a better understanding, you can watch the movie "Blackfish", or read Beneath The Surface by John Hargrove or the recent articles in the news over the last couple of years.)  That's the dark side, the sad stark reality that we must face and accept.


I do my best to try to see both sides of things.  I realize that zoos, aquariums, et al., are far from perfect on oh so many levels.  And while we can learn about wildlife, whether aquatic, avian, or terrestrial, from books, or the internet, or by watching various documentaries, the other stark reality is that there is no substitute for being able to see an elephant in person and experience firsthand just how large, powerful, and magnificent they are.  Even through the bars of a zoo, we can experience the big cats in person (and in safety to us at least) through more of our senses than a book or a screen could ever allow.


The vast majority of us simply don't have the resources to be able to travel the world and experience the animals in their native habitats.  Monetary wealth shouldn't be the only deciding factor on who gets to experience wildlife in person when both finances and transportation can be limiting factors to the intelligent when intelligence itself isn't borne of money.  And while books, movies, and the internet can still inspire us, nothing can instill the awe and wonder of seeing these magnificent creatures live the way, even vastly imperfectly, that zoos and aquariums allow.


There needs to be a better way. My conundrum is that finding it currently eludes me.



by Rev. J.T. Smith