Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Countdown to the End of the World

I keep looking to the sky. It is about to fall. Or at least according to the eBible Fellowship website it is. The last day is today. October 7, 2015. So I am writing this probably in vein since in about six hours the Earth as we know it will be no more. It will be annihilated.

In the words of the eBible Fellowship church founder, Chris McCann, "According to what the Bible is presenting it does appear that 7 October will be the day that God has spoken of: in which, the world will pass away."

Of course we all know what happened with the Y2K thing (although it was not end of the world stuff). And incidentally there was that end of the Mayan calendar thing that said we'd be done for in 2012. There have been countless other predictions of doom in the past. God fearing men have walked the streets with signs saying the doom is nigh. None of these predictions has come to fruition since we happen to still be here making them. I suspect there will be more to come.

The simple truth is that you will be here tomorrow potentially reading this post over again. Life will go on as we know it. Nothing will change. Except for maybe the date of the prediction, or a hot air explanation as to why the prediction was wrong.

Like many things religious by the way.

While not all religious people are haphazardly crazy in their own way, believing in things like rising from the dead, walking on water, or making things out of nothing, there are a good many that are seeking their day of affirmation. They just want to have their entire pie in the sky beliefs confirmed, and what better way to do that than to experience the apocalypse. Or, as those religious folks like to call it, the day of reckoning.

Yeah, we are all doomed to have our heads lopped off and damned to whatever if we don't bow down to some God figure and give our very lives to It or Them or Whatever. Sounds a bit to me like Nazi Germany or Stalin lead Russia, or some other crazy thing in history that was horrible. Conform or die. Conform or be damned. Pretty scary stuff actually if you think about it. Talk about cleansing.

And of course we all know that the Bible is rife with facts; like the fact that the Earth is only 2000 years old for example. Umm. Yeah. Okay. And despite everything we know scientifically about genetics Adam and Eve created the grandest of an incest based population without any problems at all, and even broke the genetic code and somehow all of these races got going on. Blacks, whites, Asians, Indians...

That is a marvelous feat ladies and gentleman.

Sorry. But truly if the Adam and Eve story were to be believed I think there would be no races at all. Just descendants of those two folks who created the entire population of humankind. By the way, none of us would be healthy. Ahem. In fact, we probably would not have our intelligence either as we would be suffering severe deformities, including brain ones.

But this commentary is not to bash religion, although I am openly admitting to taking more than a few liberties here. It is to simply say that the Bible for all of Its goodness, for all of Its great and amazing stories, for all of Its meaningful teachings, is just a nice story.

As for any predictions of the end of the world? It will happen eventually. Everything has a life cycle. Including the Earth itself. But it will not be the hand of God that will be at the helm of destruction. It will not be divine intervention that will take the bad people and lead the good to some grand exit. Every single living thing will die. Nothing and no one will survive. There will be no reckoning. There will be no second coming. There will simply be the end. Plain and simple. Just like the truth of death. Who knows what will be the cause of it? Our sun may supernova. There could be a catastrophic meteor that takes us out like it did with the dinosaurs. Or it could be something else.

But it won't be today. October 7th. That I can be sure about.

All of this aside I know that most religious people actually find this prediction to be as crazy as I do. Despite everything else, at least I can take some comfort in the idea that while I think religious beliefs are a bit crazy, not all religious people are...well...totally crazy.

Kurt Cobain's 'Sappy'

For the rock band Nirvana, it was their song Smells Like Teen Spirit which instantly propelled them into stardom, and literally brought alternative rock smack dab into the mainstream. The song also catapulted their second album Nevermind, wherein Smells Like Teen Spirit was the lead track, high on the charts. Nirvana effectively paved the way for the entire grunge scene and provided for bands like Green Day, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and countless others to see their music receiving airplay on the radio—even some of it on stations that did not generally touch this kind of music. If there was a "sound of the 90's," that sound, which ultimately was dubbed the Seattle sound, was started by Nirvana if for no other reason than Smells Like Teen Spirit simply caught on in a massive way.

Nirvana's release of their MTV Unplugged recording to this day also remains the best selling CD of the entire collection of Unplugged, and I think that is saying something about the massive popularity and the undeniable impact that Nirvana had on the entire music scene, 

Sadly, Kurt Cobain, the band's front man, would take his own life in April of 1994, leaving countless fans shocked and stunned, and leaving us all to wonder what we could have seen had he still been alive. His talent for writing great songs was undeniable, and I think there was a lot more great music that died with him.

Still, part of what made grunge so popular was its pure rawness. It was music, simple and plain. Unclean. It defied the pop mainstream. I think that is part of what made Unplugged so popular as well in that it allowed us to hear songs in their simplest form, untouched by studio hands for the most part. As such the release of Kurt Kobain's solo home recordings, which is set to hit store shelves in November 2015, should be huge. Personally I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy. This is Kurt in real form, just doing what he loved to do, and that is compose and play music. 

The album is called Montage of Heck, and the first release is Sappy, the song that would eventually become Verse Chorus Verse.

Michigan Has A Powerball Winner

If there's one question I think most people ponder at least a few times in their lives, it is the question of what would one do if they were lucky enough to win the lottery? I know this is a question I have pondered more than a few times. One idea I have thought about is a way to pay it forward in a way that helps out hard working people. Working charity is the term I like to use for this.

One woman in Michigan has the lucky luxury to ponder this question in real time after realizing that she was the single winner of the most recent Powerball jackpot worth $310.5 million. She chose the cash option and after taxes took home $140 million. Not at all bad for a simple $2 investment.

She was having a bad day at work, which made the win especially more fun to hear about.

We all have those moments at work, or other times in our lives when we are simply fed up. We've had enough. Most of the time when that happens I simply pay myself to sort of buy myself out of my situation. Granted, it's not really what's happening. But in my mind, adding money, for example, to my investment portfolio after a bad day at work feels like I just might be accomplishing something.

Sometimes I'll even buy an extra lottery ticket.

I say extra because if there is one thing about me, it is that while I don't intend to ever actually win the lottery, I do intend to at least have a shot at winning, and that's not going to happen if I don't have a ticket in my hand.

Of course I wish the big win would have come my way. But somebody has to win, and even if it is not me, I like having at least the opportunity.

Congratulations to the latest Powerball jackpot winner.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Life on Mars?

On Monday NASA of course made a major announcement that there seems to be seasonal water that flows on the surface of Mars which at least opens up the possibility that perhaps there could be microbial life on the red planet. Scientists are saying that it is still a long shot by a mile considering the water, if that is truly what it is, is so salty that it may not be an environment conducive to supporting life at all.

To my mind, despite what the ultimate outcome is ahead, I think this is an important discovery.

Trolling the Internet one finds that when it comes to space exploration, there are myriad opinions regarding its importance. There are a great many who believe that it is simply a waste of time and money. I am not in that corner.

Yes. The government is on a massive sprint when it comes to spending valuable taxpayer dollars. There is no disputing that. But while a vast majority of what the government spends money on is arguably wasteful, space exploration is not one of them. I think it is important that humans seek the origins of life, and the possibility of life elsewhere in the Universe. The fact is that we don't have the answers. Since the dawn of cognitive thought, man has wondered how it all started, why they are here, and have made every attempt to come up with an answer.

There has long been a theory that quite possibly life on Earth was as a result of cosmic insemination, delivered to the blue planet via an asteroid or comet carrying microbes that planted the seeds for what is now a complex and diverse world teeming with living things. If life is indeed found to exist in some form on Mars this changes much of what we now know, and opens up wide the possibility that there could be, elsewhere in the Universe, more complex forms of life somewhere in the cosmos.

In some ways, and for some, the prospect is frightening. What kind of life could it be? Would it pose any danger to humankind or Earth itself? But it also challenges religious belief as well. If life is found to exist elsewhere in the Universe, what does it say of theological explanations for the origin of the world we live in, and the very existence of life itself?

I have always been one to want to know more, and to encourage the continuation of exploring ideas and truths. We cannot accomplish that if we stop on one or a few answers, either theological ones or scientific ones. As I have always said, we simply do not know what the truth is, and until we do—and we may never truly know it by the way—we need to keep on looking.

As for what we spend on NASA annually? Currently it is about a half of a percent of the total budget. Less than $20 billion a year. Making a simple comparative observation, the U.S. government spends about $455 billion a year on welfare programs, or roughly 15% of the total budget. For those who want to make the argument that we are not taking care of priorities here on Earth, I think the numbers suggest differently.

Is there life on Mars? Is there life anywhere in the Universe but here? Who knows? But I happen to think it is important that so long as we have the ability to explore the question, that we do so absolutely. As part of the opening line of the popular former TV series The X Files suggested, "The truth is out there." Unless one believes they truly have all the answers they need, we need to keep the search ongoing.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

One Way Raising Taxes Stifles Growth

If Sam Walton were alive today, he would be the richest man in the world, and his riches would actually pale the worth of Bill Gates' fortune by a lot. The total wealth of the Walton family as of January of 2015 was $147 billion. Gates is only worth about $80 billion by comparison. I would even venture to guess that if old Sam was still at the helm, the additional wealth he would have accumulated would have put him closer to around $200 billion. The "kids" don't have the vision and business prowess that Sam Walton had, and his empire would be larger by leaps and bounds without a doubt.

But there is a hidden message in the success of Walmart that anyone should be able to recognize. Set aside how Walmart conducts business. Or the effects positive or negative that Walmart has on other businesses. That is for another discussion. The key here is understanding one simple concept. The more money people have to spend on goods, the more goods they will buy. Sam Walton was not a man who gave a lot of consideration to margins. What he considered was volume. And he understood that if he could create volume, he would have more ability to increase margins. The volume of goods and money flowing would make the whole process more profitable. And his ideas are still well in play today.

Enter the idea that if you raise taxes, you increase revenues.

Democrats and liberals are huge fans of simply taxing as much of any money flowing in the marketplace as they can, having the simple idea that if you take more you'll get more. But this is largely because most of these guys are of course politicians. Not businessman. So they really have no idea how money really works. Incidentally, the majority of Americans are not businessmen either, and they know about as much about how money works as the politicians do. So when they hear "tax the rich," and "tax the corporations," they actually believe that this does something positive for the economy, and in some odd sort of way they think it helps them out as well.

The truth is that it actually hurts everyone and there is one simple thing to keep in mind to really begin to understand the effect of higher taxes on everyone. The rich, the middle class, and yes. The poor as well.

Cost slows things down. The more something costs the less people will buy it, do it, or work for it. It is really that simple. Taxes are cost. Let's get that straight right away. Taxation adds cost to earning money. And the more something costs, the less of it will happen.

The most recent example of this effect was of course gas prices. As gas was hovering around $5 per gallon, people suddenly drove less. The median national miles driven went dramatically down. The number of gallons of gas consumed also went down. People did drive less. But they also ditched gas guzzlers for more efficient cars. People directly changed their behavior and their spending based on the price of a gallon of gas. The more the gas cost, the less people used it.

The oil companies did not make more money ultimately. The states did not collect more highway taxes. It was really a zero sum gain when all was said and done. On top of everything else, the more people had to spend on what gas they did use, the less they spent on other things in the marketplace.

People took less vacations. People reduced discretionary spending on clothes. They spent less as a whole on everything. Higher prices at the pump slowed everything else in the economy down. The entire economy suffered. No one gained anything at all. In addition to that, higher gas prices also caused a rise in everything else in the economy slowing things down yet further.

Delivery charges were added to order out. Extra fees were added to flights. Prices on other goods and services rose as well since it cost more to move things around, and for service providers to get to customers.

A guy who sells strawberries can wake up one morning and decide that he wants more money for his strawberries. He can raise the price to accomplish this. But, if he raises the price too much, people will simply buy less strawberries. He will make less than if he kept the strawberries the same price, and actually if he had lowered the price a bit, he'd have made more money in total revenue even though he made less on each strawberry sold.

Again enter Sam Walton who understood this very basic concept. A concept that many Americans, and certainly the government fails to understand fundamentally.

You can raise taxes to whatever percentage you want. The end result is that you will get more per dollar, but less as a whole. Less dollars will ultimately be earned. Higher taxes equal lower revenues because it slows down the process of earning and spending.

If you want to increase tax revenues, the best way of accomplishing this is by leaving more money flowing in the real economy and reducing the cost of earning. The higher the volume of money flowing freely in the marketplace, the higher the total revenues you will collect as a result of it.