Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A possible source of badly needed revenue?

Separation of church and state is a hotly contested topic these days, especially among the religious right, who like to claim there is no separation when it involves them or someone they support placing some iconography in a public place, and, conversely, that there is separation when it comes to things like tax-exempt status and campaigning from the pulpit, which happens quite often. But here's something else to consider. 

If you account for all the religious denominations that have churches in the United States, all faiths represented by a brick-and-mortar facility, you'd arrive at the number, 350,000, according to Hartford Institute for Religion Research and the 2010 Religion Census report. This includes churches, temples, synagogues, etc.; effectively all places of worship that took part in the census, so this number might actually be higher. 

What if each of these churches paid, on average, just $2,000 in property tax? This really is not much. We pay more than twice this amount for two modest Michigan properties; however, consider how many churches in your town sit on large tracts of open land. The $2,000 figure represents the national average according to what I could discover, and this amount would generate $700,000,000 in tax revenue were all US churches taxed. While this doesn't seem like much considering how much money the US Government takes in every year, it's nothing to sneeze at either, and it would probably be far more depending on the size of the properties and their resulting appraised values. 

If there is no separation, as so many of these denominations like to claim, especially by their politically motivated actions, then why shouldn't they pay for the property on which their churches, temples, and synagogues sit? Clearly, these organizations do benefit from what everyone else is paying for, from what everyone else who owns property in the US has to pay.

Monday, April 7, 2014


"Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence."
- Richard Dawkins

What follows are some thoughts on homeopathy, which is a popular part of the growing Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) movement. Before I go any farther, please understand this is not an Allopaths versus Naturopaths thing. This is not an us versus them thing. This is a common sense versus nonsense thing. So much of a Naturopath's schooling is the same as any Allopath would receive, which is based on science, on proof, on evidence. They both study biology, physiology, chemistry, anatomy, among other things, but departures exist. Homeopathy is one of these.

The concept of Homeopathy has been around for a couple hundred years and its founder came up with the idea based on the "like cures like" concept, which is sort of a "fight fire with fire" concept. If a substance makes a well person sick, then that substance can make a sick person (a person with symptoms) well.

Homeopathy deals with diluting substances in water and at each dilution giving the mixture 10 hard shakes, called succussion. The whole succussion thing deals with concepts of "dynamism" and "energy release," and I won't even attempt to go there. I'll stay with dilution. 

We dilute things every day: we pour a tiny amount of concentrated laundry soap into wash water; we might want less strong coffee so we add water to it; or we might add sparkling water to a glass of wine. We perform all manner of day-to-day dilutions. But consider this thought experiment.

Imagine you pour a half-liter of a toxic substance into the ocean and wait the necessary time for that substance to work its way through all the contiguous oceans of the world. Then, you take a random half-liter sample of sea water. How many molecules do you suppose you would you find in your half-liter sample? The answer is ~5,000. Sure, 5,000 sounds like a lot, and you'd likely think that 5,000 of anything toxic just can't be good. But compare this to the ridiculously large, seemingly uncountable number of other molecules present in that same half-liter of sea water (~1,152,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules) and you quickly realize that 5,000 molecules is nothing at all: it's ~0.00000000000000000434%. You could drink that sea water and be safe from any contamination from that toxic substance. The salt alone would probably be more harmful to you.

Putting this another way, the 30C dilution, which is 60 times (or 60X) and a common standard for many homeopathic remedies, is 1 part in... 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (or 1 trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion) parts water.

Now, Avagadro's Number (aka Avagadro's Constant) is 1 part in 602,214,150,000,000,000,000,000, which is much smaller that the 30C (60X) dilution; call it about half. Next, consider that Avagadro's Limit says a substance can be diluted only so far before that substance is lost in the dilution (see the toxin-in-sea-water analogy above). Avagadro's Limit is reached at a dilution of around 24X (or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000); remember the Homeopathic standard dilution is more than twice this number, at 60X!

This is just chemistry and physics.

And so, finding molecules of a substance diluted beyond Avagadro's Limit becomes almostly entirely a function of the laws of probability; a game of chance. For example, at 60X you would have to give 6 billion people 2 billion doses per second, each, for 4 billion years in order to deliver a single molecule of the original substance. Smarter people than me worked out this math (and my hat is off to all the sources I used while writing this: thank you).

It appears that what Homeopathy comes down to is pseudoscience, which is almost always based on the unscientific concepts of faith, belief, and delusion. Homeopathy, which requires very little in up-front cost of materials (bottles, labels, water, and ridiculously tiny quantities of the substance to be diluted), is yet another multi-billion dollar, faith-based* industry like any other multi-billion dollar, faith-based industry trying to justify its own existence. 

Is the word diluted or deluded? We'll have to take the answer on faith.

* "Faith-based" is meant here as in how one has to have faith that something will work, that a homeopathic remedy actually has something other than water in it.

Friday, April 4, 2014

McCutcheon v FEC: Dialing for Dollars...

If you're normally not a fan of the Daily Show or of Jon Stewart, for whatever reason, please... set that aside just this one time and watch last night's (April 3rd, 2014) opening segment on SCOTUS's ruling this week regarding McCutcheon v FEC. 

This ruling is not a Left-Right issue. It's a central issue of fairness. 

If money is free speech, as SCOTUS has ruled, then fewer than 700 ridiculously rich people in the USA have just been allowed to use their ginormous, giga-watt sound systems to project their "free speech" far and wide, while the rest of us are left to one vote, to one voice. 

We all took an American History class at some point in our lives. Who among us ever read that gobs and gobs and gobs of money in politics was a good thing?

Democracy took a big hit this week, and the decision to hit it now and with the 2010 Citizens United v FEC ruling, was made by a handful of people who were appointed, not elected, to their positions, but who have managed to make the term "free speech" oxymoronic and ironic.