•  Wars are much more expensive than expected (Rumsfield Principle)
  • Wars will take much longer than expected (McClellan Principle)
  • If you remove a despot, there WILL be a civil war
  • Cleaning the mess will take much longer, and cost much more than the war.
  • After you leave, there will be many people who hate you.
  • The folks you put in power will be corrupt and/or inept.
  • The war will empower and enrich profiteers
  • When a despot is replaced with democracy, people you don’t like will attain power.
  • Things will not go as planned.
  • Don’t make war in Afghanistan, it will be trouble.

VATICAN CITY, Holy Thursday – Watching the pilgrims arrive for Holy Week, queuing through the metal detectors at the ends of the arms of St. Peter’s Square, I feel like a teenager watching the little kids line up for Santa Claus. It is remarkable how we are willing to cast aside the sweet myth of Santa, for the reality that it is the sure love of our parents that provide gifts and good cheer, yet the myth of religion clings with most of us until death.

So many are unable to cast off the myth of religion – perhaps the stakes are too high, or unlike the Santa myth, our parents believed their entire lives. We, as a race, need to recognize that the bounty that we enjoy springs not from some supernatural entity, but from our spaceship Earth. We are simply one organic part of it. The value of our lives depends on how good a tenant we are: Our contribution to human society, to good stewardship of Earth, and to posterity are all measures of that tenancy.

Religion serves to unify a group. The godhead set down rules for life, and everyone in the group recognizes that following or breaking them has consequences – multiplied by the concept of an eternal afterlife. The problem with this is that religion causes an us / them organization of thought. For example, the Ten Commandments were meant as rules for behavior between the tribes of Israel, and had no force with respect to other tribes. It was fine to rape or plunder the Philistines.

Religion ossifies rules. Leviticus held the best rules known at the time for Bronze Age Man. Don’t eat cloven hoofed animals, you will get trichinosis; you are unclean until dark if you handle roadkill, since you have no “sanitizing wipes”; two men should not lay with one woman, we won’t know the father; etc. These made excellent sense at the time and place. The problem is that there is no mechanism for editing to add new guides and remove irrelevant ones or ones whose purpose is no longer valid, such as “go forth and multiply” when we have already done that and the Earth’s population is burgeoning.

Even when religion comes from a single source, such as the Abrahamic faiths, there arouse differences that not only separate peoples, but cause great strife and bloodshed. Muslim, Judaism and Christianity all share the same roots, but have seen terrible bloodshed in the name of God. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Caliphate conquests, the Ottoman wars, the Papal wars all were driven by religion. Recent conflicts such as that between Israel and the Palestinians, the Irish troubles, and Serbia vs Bosnia and Herzegovnia, and Kosovo are all driven by religion as well. Even within a single faith Shiite vs Sunni, Catholicism vs Protestantism the power struggles divide peoples.

With a death in my family only last night, I see how the myth of “life after death” holds a powerful claim on our beliefs. Not only is it packages of toys we are talking about, but the continuation of “MEness” contained in our sentience after death is at stake. This is a powerful question.

Don’t we surrender sentience daily in sleep? How is sentience to return after death if it has been lost in the dementia of Alzheimer’s? Do we not leave bits of ourselves in everything we do, particularly everything we teach? Are not my thoughts borrowed by everyone who reads these words? Is not the sum of a life the totality of what that person has done, and its effect on the world and humanity? Perhaps this is the true meaning of the final judgement, and not some standing before a god, but simply a clear understanding of that tally.

No promise of dancing with angels before god holds sway with me. It is inconceivable to me that so many people hold this myth firmly based only on wishful thinking and some verses in a book sustaining it. I suppose the same could be said about Ptolomy’s celestial spheres, yet people believed them for years after Copernicus and Gallileo showed them to be false.

I for one, am content with the idea that my sentience, that I hold most preciously, will most likely fade at my death or before. I measure its purpose by the good I do, and by my failures, using as a measure the best information on the “right course” I can find. This, I believe is a successful and fulfilling life plan, sans any need for supernatural interference. I will go to my final sleep knowing the good and bad I have accomplished will weigh the scales on how much of that life was used well and how much wasted. Those scales are mine, not of some supernatural being, and free of obsession will show the truth.



Nothing is as true as Ben Franklin’s quote. We will all die, and the government will have its pound of flesh. Estate taxes involve the confluence of both.

The founding fathers instituted this tax because it inhibits the formation of American aristocracies.  If large estates are attenuated by taxes when generations change, then each generation is responsible for replenishing the family fortune – the desired result.  If estate taxes destroy family businesses and leave children of the wealthy without the resources to continue their life plan, it is not conserving the American dream.

Conservatives despise the “Death Tax” because it extracts its toll from those seen to be the producers of value in society. In the USA only the 2% of the wealthiest pay estate taxes. This tax effects the conservative constituency heavily because it drains the wealth that can be transferred from generation to generation.  Of course, there is no assurance that the beneficiaries of an estate will have the skills, drive and effectiveness of the person who generated the wealth.

The way estate taxes are levied today is troublesome because they are calculated upon the value of the estate, not on the amount received by each beneficiary. It doesn’t matter whether there are fifteen heirs or only one. It doesn’t matter whether the estate is composed of cash and stocks or the family business or farm. (upon which the beneficiaries may depend for their jobs).

As people live longer, there generations overlap more.  Lets take the case where Granddad built a business, and left it to his son at age 80. The son, 25 years younger at 55 dies two years later, leaving the business to the grandson of 30.  The tax hit from two rounds of estate taxes within two years is unsustainable.  If the business was a farm, the farm would be lost, if it was a factory, family control would be lost, and the grandson would be reduced to a simple employee.  Even with optimal estate planning, a family business worth $50 Million would be lost.

I suggest an alternative scheme for generational taxes.  This plan would protects family businesses and farms, assures a generous “stake” for the children of wealthy, and seems more rational.

First, make the proceeds of an estate taxable to the recipient, with an exemption.  If an individual dies with an estate of ten million dollars and has to split it between eight children, each getting a 1/8th share it should not be taxed at the same rate as the same estate divided among two.  Under my system, each child in both cases would be assured of receiving a million dollars or so without taxation.  Under present rules the estate would be as heavily taxed in case of eight beneficiaries as when there are only two latter, meaning that each of the eight children would receive well less than a million dollars from the estate. Children and student recipients should have an increased exemption to cover costs of education.

Second, when the estate consists of productive assets (such as land, businesses, patents, copyrights, etc., but not publicly traded securities)  the taxes due on the net value of those assets would automatically be payable over time.  If the period were twenty years, for example, any well managed business can readily finance the tax under these terms.  If the property is sold, the outstanding amount becomes due.  If the person receiving the asset dies before the taxes are paid, the remaining taxes are forgiven.  The goal is that inheritance taxes on productive assets never compound when a generation is less than twenty years.

Reforming estate taxes into inheritance taxes makes a lot of sense.  Actuarially, it is easy to make this proposal “revenue neutral”.  It will resolve claims of unfairness that are the fodder for calls to abolish estate taxes entirely.  It will preserve family businesses and farms, yet still serve the founding father’s goal of averting American aristocracy.

Detail of the Pool of Knowledge by Ian Muttoo

Detail of the Pool of Knowledge by Ian Muttoo

John Locke in Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) states that everything we know is from experience.  He identifies two fountains of all knowledge – “the observation of external sensible objects”, and ” the internal operations of our minds perceived and reflected on by ourselves.”  As a society, we extend the personal experience by reporting the fact of occurrences upon sensible objects such as news of events, scientific reporting, TV, Radio, The National Enquirer, gossip, blogging, etc.  We also report the results of the internal operations of our minds, such as sermons, fiction, soap operas, symphonies, publications like Relativity, the Special and General Theory, and The Communist Manifesto.

Each of the sources of community experience comes with its own imprimatur and detractors.  The New York Times reporting is considered very factual by many, but political conservatives consider it to be “just a liberal rag”.  Those same folks believe that Fox News is “fair and balanced” while liberals decry it as “a conservative propaganda house”.

Educators have instructed their students to use “standard references” because internet sources like Wikipedia are not vetted by experts, and can contain information which is biased or conjectural.  Using internet sources other than institutional ones, like cdc.gov, census.gov and redcross.org is verboten.

I believe that the orientation to “standard references” in K-12 education is fatally flawed.  Much more important than factual accuracy in eighth grade reports is learning the skills to find and sift the truth in a information environment filled with spin and distortion. (more…)

Earthrise over MoonscapeWe all have a personal reality, shared throughout society, more or less.

Humans have the dubious distinction of being host to three separate species of louse. The head louse, Pediculus humanus, or its direct ancestor has been with us for the longest ride, probably for the entire 12-13 millions of years that primates and head lice have existed. The body louse (also known as the clothing louse) and the pubic louse that prefers that coarser hair for its home developed or hopped aboard later.Head Louse
The New York Times reported that David L Reed of the University of Florida has been poking around with the DNA of human lice and the lice of other primates and monkeys, and has found some intriguing clues to human development. He has specialized in using the clues in the DNA of host specific parasites to mark the changes in the host behavior or development. (more…)

Since 650 AD, Jews, Christians and Muslims have crusaded, inquisitioned, jihaded and holocausted each other with a ferocity greater than any predator. Each believe they are the favored people of their God. Yet all serve exactly the same God.

CrusifixAmong the Christians there has been great bloodshed in the name of Christ – the Huguenots, the Cathars, the Knights Templar were all followers of the Lamb of Peace who were slaughtered in the name of fundamentalist belief.

Star and CrescentThe Shiia and the Sunni are at each other’s throats in Bagdhad today over which of the caliphs were true religious leaders.

Islam seeks “death to the Jews” and Christians, under Hitler tried to exterminate them.

Star of DavidEach of these religions envision man in “likeness to God”, and Ezekiel clearly shows the God of the old testament as humanlike.

My question and conjecture: What God of human sensibilities would permit such atrocities in his name?

How can men of religion countenance the slaughter of others who worship the same God?

I have written on the nature of nations in a previous post. True nations are brought together by a commonality of the peoples’ goals. The United States began as a white protestant nation of European exiles. From the beginning they had their differences, but due to the work of an extraordinary group of founders they practiced the art of compromise.

The country went through a civil war when the economic interests of the North and the South diverged. It was held together through the force of arms and eventually the wounds were healed by the export of the North’s industry to the South.

Immigration has caused alarm over waves of immigration, the Irish, the Chinese, the Jews, the Poles, the Italians, East Asians and more. Lady Liberty’s open arms welcomed many to the shores of the United States. Each has brought their own culture and religions, but each came in search of the “American Dream” and found assimulation into the secular culture of the United States is the key to reaching that dream. (more…)

I always wondered why the biblical folks in Genesis lived so long. Adam, 930 years, Methusela, 969, Seth, 912, Jared, 962, and so on. Then folks born after about 1750 B.C.E. started living only as long as we do.

Was there some virus that caused people to die early? Did God decide that people were living too long and the world would get crowded? What phenomenon could cause this sudden biblical gerontological phenomenon?


The size of a person’s world is only as big as the area that is known. Hunter-gatherers knew the area of the range of their game and where the good food was. Strangers would occasionally come by and tell tales of far away places. Generally, however, early man’s world extended only 20 to 40 km.

When agriculture became prevalent, that tied man to an even smaller area. One would not generally venture more than the distance that you could walk in one day and still return before night. This was because the domestic animals had to be tended, and it was dangerous to be out at night. There was little support for travelers – no hotels, no restaurants. Humankind was focused on the tribe or village. Those folks served as an extended family for support. The range of bronze age agricultural man was even less, perhaps only 10 or 20 km. Travel outside that range was usually to make war on a neighboring tribe.