The Paralysis Tick: Another Case Against The Existence of God

Over the years I have heard quite a few variants of the “look at the trees” argument for the existence of a god. Normally, a theist will point to something wonderful in the natural world such as trees, flowers or charismatic animals and insist that these are signs that their god must have created the world and must be benevolent, because otherwise how could such things exists?

Beside pointing out the structural flaws in this argument, I have heard atheists flip this argument on its head by noting that attributing the more wondrous aspects of life in this universe to a god is hardly necessary and really only cheapens them. Is the real world not good and amazing enough without us having to trivialize it with man-made mythology?

While I favor this approach I tend to find it brings the issue much closer to home, if one counters the apologetic by pointing out the many nasty things in this world such as deadly diseases, horrifying birth defects and malicious parasites. Knowing of these things makes it quite hard to imagine that this world was created or is being watched over by a being with benevolent intent.

Today’s case in point was brought to my attention by a friend who recently traveled to Australia. In addition to the numerous species of highly venomous snakes, spiders and jellyfish, not to mention the notorious crocodiles and sharks, Australia is home to the Australian Paralysis Tick, a tiny blood sucking parasite that injects paralysis inducing neurotoxins into its host.

While many of the native marsupials such as Kangaroos, Koalas and Bandicoots develop immunities to the tick’s neurotoxins, tick encounters can lead to anemia in native animals in cases of large quantities of blood are drawn. In humans the ticks can spread infectious diseases, cause severe allergic reactions and in some cases induce paralysis. It is domestic animals and live stock that are most severely harmed by the ticks. Some 100,000 are domestic animals are affected by the tick’s venom each year with around 10,000 of these needing a rather costly treatment from a veterinary surgeon.

Paralysis Ticks are incredibly small, only 3.8 mm long, 2.6 mm at their adult stage, and incredibly difficult to detect until they become engorged with the blood of their host after a few days of attachment. This is especially true for animals that have especially thick coats. Signs of paralysis are not usually detectable until three or four days after the tick attaches to the host. Once the paralysis starts it attacks the animal’s skeletal muscles, restricting movement, and the respiratory muscles making it difficult for the creature to breath or cough, while increasing the risk of choking and pneumonia. Paralysis also occurs in the laryngeal muscles causing a change in the animals bark or meow (or whatever other sound the creature in question happens to make).  As the paralysis progresses the animal begins having problems with drooling and throwing up as well as the onset of congestive heart failure. Left untreated the outcome is usually fatal.

The ticks themselves have a habit of hanging out in tall grasses and other places where pets often like to play. They have no-slip grips on their feet making them great climbers and are difficult to kill by  simply smashing them. In fact they often seem near indestructible. I have experienced many nights of camping and days of hiking and know, first hand what horrible pests ticks can be in general. Adding the fact that these cause a deadly bouts of paralysis in our pets makes them about as intolerable a species as one could imagine.

So while this world may be a wonderful place in many ways, it is still crawling with horrific disease causing obligate parasites. This for me is just one more reason to expect that a god does not exists, either that or that one exists who is deeply cruel and mean spirited. Either way this is one more reason to dismiss the possibility of an all-powerful, benevolent deity that takes an interest in our well being.

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Why Unmarried Americans Outnumber Married Americans

It is purely coincidental that this is my second consecutive marriage related post. I wrote the previous one on the wedding culture, and generally lost interest in the topic until it was brought to my attention that the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that this is the first time (since they started tracking these things in 1976) that unmarried adults now outnumber married ones. It was this summer that the percentage of unmarried Americans above the age of 16 hit the 50.2% mark. This is up from 37.4% in 1976.

Being an unmarried American, these numbers were not completely surprising for me. I even wrote a piece, questioning whether there were any real tangible benefits to marriage besides the government granted ones. I argued that absent the numerous government granted benefits to marriage, the institution may become less attractive to growing numbers of people. Apparently, we have now reach a time that even with the government benefits people are still choosing not to get married in record numbers.

This is not to say that these unmarried Americans are not entering relationships, living together or having children. Many of them are doing all these things, just without being married. I suspect that this is due in part to the fact that young American adults are generally less traditional and less religious than previous generations were. Even among young people who are religious, marriage does not feel like the religious duty it once did. Further more it is no longer, simply the thing to do the way it was a few generations back. People born since the 1970s grew up being told that they can do whatever they want and be whatever they want, more than any previous generation and for a lot of people in that age range getting married for traditions sake is not high on their priority list.

Additionally, we live in times in which no level of government is particularly popular. In fact some levels such as the two houses of congress are seeing unprecedented levels of unpopularity. Additionally we have heard quite a bit of unsettling information about government spying, drone warfare, and a general disregard among those in the state for the rights and well being of the general population. It is hardly surprising to me that in such a climate many people would wish to forgo having the government officially recognize their status as a couple. To be honest, I have no way of knowing how much of contributing factor this is, but I do not dismiss the possibility that it influenced at least some couples who have opted out of marriage for the time being.

In addition to these cultural issues there are the economic factors, which unfortunately may have the most explanatory power. The economy has been weak for half a decade now, and job security is not a luxury that large numbers of young adults have. With such instability, making any types of long term commitments are out of the question for most people. This is not to mention, how expensive the big traditional American weddings are, as I discussed in greater detail in my previous post. For many people it is simply easier to live together and hold off on the expensive wedding until more prosperous times. Of course for many who have made this choice, the more prosperous times have been slow in coming. This is almost certainly related to another trend, in which people who would like to get married are simply waiting longer periods before doing so. Often this is motivated by a desire to achieve a certain level of financial stability, and security before getting married.

On another note, I have talked to quite a few people for whom the notion of lifelong monogamy is unrealistic of unappealing. This is an attitude that people are becoming increasingly more open and up front about. Simply put, nothing in our biology makes us particularly suited for lifelong monogamy, and this may go a long way to explain why infidelity is as common phenomenon as it is.

This brings us to the  issue of divorce. Since the introduction of the No-fault divorce in the 1970s it has become increasingly easy to get divorced. I favor this, because it means more freedom for the general population, and I am happy that it has allowed people who have been in abusive or simply unhappy relationships to be able to leave and start fresh. However, divorce  is often a nasty and often expensive prospect, even when in relatively straight forward cases . This is made worse by the fact that laws concerning divorce are not always fair to both parties. I suspect that for many people, wishing to avoid being in such a situation it is easier to not get married in the first place.

I am sure there are numerous other reasons less people are getting married, but since I generally find marriage to be a cultural institution with a great deal of baggage that I dislike, I cannot be unhappy to hear people are seeking alternatives. Furthermore I reject the conservative line of reasoning that says everyone should get married and that we would all better off as a result. In fact I cannot say that I am unhappy to hear that many people are simply rejecting this advice. On the other hand, if the drop in marriages is not due to people reexamining their options and more due to necessity caused by economic uncertainty then perhaps I should be a little more cautious in celebrating this development.

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A Few things I Hate About the Wedding Culture

I generally do not mind going to weddings, if only because I enjoy seeing people I haven’t seen in a while all together in one place. Weddings often provide one with good opportunities to reconnect with people, and I tend to enjoy the free food and wine. In the past I have seen them as good opportunities party and to meet single women. The film Wedding Crashers inevitably comes to mind when I think of going to weddings in my younger and single days. At the same time, I have always had to admit that the way we do weddings in this country strikes me as being a bit ridiculous, if not a little cynical, scamish as well as decadent and depraved.

A quick Google search for the cost of the average American wedding threw numbers at me ranging from around $25,000 to $35,000. Presumably, around half of American weddings cost more than that. I understand that for some people, such cost is insignificant, but to me and the vast majority of Americans that is an enormous amount of money, and it is about half of this country’s median yearly income. Traditionally, it is expected that the bride’s father should pay for this (a holdout of the sexist and highly self-serving traditional expecting dowries or money from the bride’s family as in exchange for accepting a new woman into the family). Nowadays it seems whichever person’s family is richest, most interested, or has the most to prove gets the bill.

The money is, of course, spent on expensive dresses for brides, somewhat uglier dresses for brides maids, expensive suites, thousand dollar cakes, floral arrangements, churches, reception halls, wines and expensive meals and appetizers. Note that this includes thousands of dollar spent on clothing and accessories that will only be used only once. Though many Americans opt for more practical and minimalist weddings, in the company of families and friends, there is this strong if not dominant trend within American culture of viewing weddings as a strange mix of flaunting ones wealth as much as possible, while at the same time fulfilling the deeply held school-girl princess fantasy of having the world revolve around you for a day. There seems to be a social expectation that if you are throwing a wedding it had better be pushing or exceeding the upper limits of your financial means or you are not doing it right. I cannot help but wonder why any grown adult would want something like this. On a side note, it is for the reasons discussed here that I believe a nationwide legalization of same sex marriage would great for the economy.

In my college days (and probably earlier), I knew young women who did not even have boyfriends much less fiancés, and yet had already developed elaborate plans for what their future wedding day would be like and it was always some sort of glamorous extravagant affair more fitting of the crown-heads of Europe than middle class Americans. Christian concepts of humbleness are completely out the window in many Christian weddings. It seems that as a culture, we have opted to smother our daughters in prince charming fairy tells rather than give more realistic images of what marriages and relationships are. Weddings tend to be time in which fulfilling our most infantile and vain fantasies combines with are most depraved, insecure needs to keep up with our neighbors.

Wedding season is when Americans work there butts off and spend their money largely to impress people they often hardly know and often hardly like.  I cannot help but suspect the multi-million or perhaps billion dollar industry that has built up around wedding culture is a highly cynical one that thrust it’s over priced wears on hapless fathers who wanna do right by there little girls, or bourgeois families who feel pressured to go all out impress friends and rivals or simply are trying to come up with a decent networking event. I tend to think of the people selling thousand dollar dresses and cakes, as hucksters who come upon a brilliant scam, producing a continuously self-reinforcing culture of potential victims. I have similar feelings about the industries that have grown around funerals, graduations and proms. Nothing disgusts quite the way ultra-conformist, white-bread, unthinking costly traditions do.

This of course brings me to all the unhealthy cultural baggage associated with the wedding culture. Brides wear white to symbolize their purity or more bluntly their sexual virginity. This reflects ages of unambiguously sexist, and sex-negative baggage and superstition. It is absolutely stupid that we some how link a woman’s worth as a wife, to her virginity (meanwhile the guy can be as unpure as he wants). It is also complete nonsense as well. It is highly likely that the couple being married has had sex, and if they did so what?  It hardly diminishes their feelings for each other, and frankly the ideaof committing to spend ones life with a person you’ve never made love with seems idiotic. After all would you buy a car without taking it for a test drive? While it may sound like a crude analogy, one has to remember that a lifelong commitment to another person is a much bigger commitment than the purchase of a car.

I have, of course been to weddings where a big deal was made out of the fact that the couple in question had “saved themselves” for each other. Seeing the old priest talking about this and the new pleasures the couple would experience in the “wedding bed,” was observably unsettling to many of the  people in attendance. I will go out on limb and say that most people do not want to hear this. This is not to mention the promises that the bride should “obey” the husband or practice of her father “giving away” the bride to the husband. This all strikes me precisely the type of sexis  antiquated crap we need to move away from. Of course, all of this is in service to the ideal of lifelong monogamy, which for many people is likely to be an unrealsitic and generally unhealthy expectation of them. That however may need to be left as a topic for some future entry.

The Wedding ceremony is usually followed by a reception, which I usually find to be the most enjoyable part of the whole experience  Great food, drinks and dancing are always enjoyable, and as I pointed out as someone who moves around a lot it is good to reconnect with people. But, as it progresses we get into the awful music.  At any wedding reception, nowadays you are guaranteed to hear the music of 1980’s era Bon Jovi, Journey, Def Leopard and Thriller era Micheal Jackson. “Pour some sugar on me, in the name of love”.  I may be a little biased, but I consider this stuff to have been dated, as well as commercial and disgustingly formulaic from the time it came out.  I also really dislike the recent reemergence of outdated1980’s radio rock as today’s official party music and the fact that DJs play it at every party or wedding reception I go too.  It is as if wedding reception DJs all use the same play list, and no one cares about the predictability or complete lack of creativity in it. I figure it’s supposed to be the most important day of your lives so play something interesting, and do something creative or different for once.

Overall I have mixed feelings about the hole marriage concept  and I really dislike the hole keeping up with the Jones’ mentality behind so many weddings. But, if people are going to feel the need to to engage in over the top displays of wealth, I can think of worse ways to manifest it them than treating me to good food and drinks.

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What I am Regretably not Hearing in the Genetically Modified Food Debate

Earlier this summer Cosmos host and generally likable guy, Neil DeGrasse Tyson released a video arguing that people who oppose laboratory created genetically modified foods were misguided. He used the often repeated argument that we have been genetically modifying foods for years, through hybridization and selective breeding.

While I am not against modification of organism through laboratory means per se, I cannot imagine anyone who is against such things finding this augment the least bit persuasive. To quote Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum “we shouldn’t pretend that millennia of creating enhanced and hybrid breeds tells us anything very useful about the safety of cutting-edge laboratory DNA splicing techniques.” Tyson’s argument strikes as be one of those arguments that seems more interested in annoying, confusing and dismissing the people it is addressed at, than it does in taking their concerns seriously. In this way it reminds me of the arguments associated with privilege theory which despite making good points often alienate the very people who most need to develop and understanding of them. For more on this topic I recommend this piece by Cathy Reisenwitz.

While I do not object to using cutting edge techniques to genetically modify organism I do find it highly problematic that the results of such splicing can be patented, that governments are involved in funding and directing these lines of research and development in collusion with big business that we are moving towards sheltering those who grow them from liability above and beyond the already excessive liability protection that big business normally receives. It seems to me that Monsanto and other large agribusiness firms are using government collusion to further their control and domination of the world’s food supply, at the expense of ordinary producers and consumers.

As I have argued before, I favor a legal regime in which government is neutral to the development of such technology and no one is allowed to contaminate the crops of others or sell what they have produced under false pretense.This unfortunately is not what I see happening.

Mean while the only debate I am hearing on this topic comes off as being rather superficial. I rarely hear anyone from the pro-GMO side question whether they should be patented or what role if any government should have in RD or liability protection. It seems that supporters of this technology unconditionally support its expansion and any policies that will promote this, while those who oppose it also do so unconditionally. This strikes me as a complicated issue and the last thing that is needed is for the discussion to be dominated by two dogmatic sides which lack any nuance. This is a promising technology but I fear it is being introduced in a manner that will further the goals of big business rather than those of ordinary people and it is regrettable that I hear so few people making this point.

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Kennels Confessions: When is it OK to Lock Up Your Dog?

Warning, this may be one of my more self-indulgent posts but hear me out. A while back, my significant other and I recently had to make a last minute overnight trip out of town. Unfortunately our regular pet sitter of choice was out of town at the same time and we had no choice but taking our midsized dog, to a “Pet Hotel” on the day of our departure. Financially speaking this arrangement was a much better deal than our usual sitter, but it seemed a bit unfair to our dog, to say the least. 

Our dog was still quite young, and was not accustomed to being confined to small spaces, as he was to for much of his stay in this facility. In fact, he was still not particularly accustomed to spending, large amounts of time alone. Though my partner and I both work, one of us is often at the house. There are of course, times when we both do leave the house, and our dog is left in the backyard. These times were initial quite stressful for our dog. He has become somewhat more accustomed to them now, but still begs to be let in as I head out the front door.

He of course was noticeably shaken at this “pet hotel”, and as my partner and I left and he showed this by letting out loud whimpers. He was placed in a small fenced in area with a little wooden dog house on one in and a few square feet of floor for him to move about outside it. This small spaced was adjacent to several identical spaces occupied by other dogs of various sizes. I am told that while he was there he was fed well and was taken for a walk on at least one occasion. When we arrived to pick him up, he was happy to see us and in the times since he does not seemed to be phased by the experience at all. Dogs I am told do not have particularly good short term memories.

In spite of this, I still feel a little troubled about leaving a creature that I have cared for all this time to be imprisoned in a small space for an extended period. Dogs are intelligent creatures and ours did nothing deserve such treatment.The whole experience very much ate at the voluntarist sensibilities, which I all so often express on this blog. I think I will do whatever I can to not have to use such a facility again in the future.

That said, maybe I am a bit misguided here, as countless dogs are kept in such places while their owners are away and I don not ever hear about it making any noticeable impact on them. Also it does serve to remind me that most of us eat animals that lived in far worse conditions for far longer periods, and so few of us think anything of this. Perhaps we have significant double standards when it comes to our own pets as opposed to other animals of comparable intelligence. Zoos to are also filled with creatures that are confined, though these days I am happy to see more of them keeping animals in relatively nice simulated habitats. 

Overall, I am not too happy about the experience, though as best as I can tell my dog has forgotten it completely.  Either way I am curious if anyone else has any thoughts or guidelines as to when it is appropriate to confine their pets in such a way and under what circumstances.

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Why I like Ralph Nader’s proposed Anti-Corporatist Left-Right Alliance

It has come to my attention that Ralph Nader (the consumer advocate and repeat third party candidate who regardless of what one thinks of him really needs no introduction) has recently put out a book titled: Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State. The book apparently discusses what Nader sees as the recent trend of traditionally-right leaning libertarians and traditionally left-leaning progressives working together in opposition to such things as the warfare state and various forms of corporate welfare.

I have not yet read the book but I like the idea of the development of such an anti-establishment left/right alliance. This is specifically an alliance that is in opposition to such things as massive military spending and build up and international-warfare, the Obama Administration’s ongoing Drone Program, as well as opposition to such things as the Patriot act, the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs and the general militarization of the police. This is in addition to opposition to massive bailouts for big business, and what have generally become recognized as corporatist economic policies (that is government intervention that benefits big corporation at the expense of the tax payer and consumer). I tend to find that both the small government types as well the progressive types who can find common ground on these issues can often find common ground on what are generally called social issues like legalizing marijuana, if not outright abolishing the war on drugs, as well as openness to marriage equality and even things like legalizing prostitution. All of which of course are things I have personally advocated on this blog.

In both camps I see a willingness to question things like tort-reforms that favor big business, overly long lived patents and copy rights, and what I see as generally corporatist international trade deals like NAFTA, or the US involvemnt with Noe-liberal international organizations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Any moves to get issues like these into the general conversation would be highly welcome from my point of view. I have to wonder to what extent Nader’s book discusses other thinkers and movements who I suspect would fit comfortably in his alliance. I am thinking of people like Dean Baker who’s free E-book the Conservative Nanny State gives an excellent introduction to places where progressives and libertarians should want to cut government, much to the chagrin of the conservative establishment. I am also thinking of course of left libertarians and individualist anarchists like Kevin Carson, Gary Chartier or Sheldon Richman who in my opinion take the potential of such an alliance to it’s ultimate conclusion. 

Anyway, I hope Nader is correct that a general anti-establishment and anti-corporatist left/right alliance with a possible openness to radical ideas could really shake things up, because it is well past due.

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Why not have Full Technological Unemployment?

I recently came across this excellent video CGP Grey and felt the need to share it:

His videos tend to be well made, and highly informative. I highly recommend of them to all my readers. This particular piece gives an excellent exploration of the inevitability of technological unemployment, that is the possibility that we are now able to automate so much of the work that needs to be done now, that we will gradually run out of work for humans to do. This is different from previous technological expansions in that our capacity to automate, mechanize and robotize is expanding at an exponential rate, far faster than at any point before.

I have written on this topic here, at the excellent abolishwork.com (a site I also highly recommend) and have said that I actually favor the idea of full technological unemployment, or more accurately full technological retirement. That is I would like to see a world where machines do all the work and humans are free to enjoy the activities they please.

Part of the reason the automation we have had over the past century has not contributed to this to happening is that the current system has a lot of policies in place that make the population way more dependent on conventional wage labor than they would otherwise be. The state has made a lot of the self-employment/semi-employment alternatives illegal or more expensive and risky than they would otherwise be. Since so many of us have to work for someone else (on terms highly favorable to them) to pay off our basic expenses the immediate benefits of automation go to people at the top of the organization and the rest of us are still expected to work long and hard to to get access to the abundant goods that are so easy to produce. This is not to mention that government policy has generally been in favor of promoting the 40 work week in the last several decades and labor has not been strong enough to undermine it, as explained here.

Also we really do still live in an economy that is based on scarcity, when we in the developed world appears to be on abundance. Simply put the current system is set up so one has to work in order to feed themselves. This made sense when there were endless life sustaining tasks needed to be done, but it hardly makes sense now that we are literally running out of things for people to do. This topic of this need for restructure is given surprisingly good treatment in this episode of the Cracked Podcast, though it hosts seem a little bit more sympathetic to the understandable, yet still in my opinion problematic idea of a guaranteed minimum income. That may be a topic for a latter entry however.

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