The real problem with American healthcare

There’s a healthcare crisis in America. This is at least one fact that both sides of the aisle can agree upon here. Of course, each side thinks that the crisis is happening for different reasons, and they both have their own solutions. I have a feeling, though, that both of their solutions are going to incompletely solve the problem, because they don’t address the root cause of the problem.

Let’s delve into the specifics.

Costs associated with healthcare are out of control in America. We spend more than every other country in the world on healthcare, and our results are middling at best. How much more do we spend?

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We spend twice as much as many of the countries on that list. Healthcare costs in America run into the trillions of dollars every year. A lot of people point to the high price of drugs. Yes, that does indeed play a role in the high price of healthcare in the US, and it does need to be addressed. Other countries on that list are able to directly negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies because the government is the insurance provider. Here in the US, pharmaceutical lobbies spend tons of money to get lax standards passed in congress, and private insurance companies are more than happy to charge you higher prices because it makes them more money too. To be sure, it’s an awful system, but it’s only one factor among many that contributes to the overall failure of our healthcare system.

Still some say that there’s too much bureaucracy involved in our healthcare. To some extent that’s certainly true. There are way too many cogs in the healthcare machine, so to speak, and frequently you get situations where the right hand doesn’t talk to the left hand because the system is so convoluted and bloated. There’s redundancy and waste. That’s obviously a contributing factor and should be addressed.

People also argue that we should either reign in or do away with insurance companies altogether, and go back to a simple fee-for- service model that’s left to the providers. This model makes the most sense, but it still has plenty of flaws. Unless you reign in drug prices, this kind of model isn’t really going to save you money at the pharmacy. It also doesn’t address the fact that there are plenty of treatments out there that cost more than the average person can pay (more on this later). Even if you got all of the insurance and government mumbo jumbo out of the way, open heart surgery is still going to be expensive because it’s complicated and risky with a long recovery period. Cancer treatment is still going to expensive. There’s no getting around that. But a model without insurance companies might work for simple primary care visits, and could serve as a patch or a bridge within the system.

All of these problems skirt around the real issue here, the real reason why the price of healthcare continues to skyrocket in this country: the burden of disease is high and keeps getting higher. In short, Americans pay more for healthcare because we’re sicker than almost everyone else. In my state we have an insurer, Moda, that’s in financial trouble because once the ACA went into effect, they very quickly realized that people were much sicker than anyone realized.

And that’s why the ACA is struggling a bit. The very people that the ACA brought into the healthcare fold were the sickest among us—the people who previously had no or sporadic access to healthcare and the people living in poverty. But that’s not exclusive to the lower socioeconomic groups. Americans in general are unhealthier than ever, and that’s an upward trend. What are the most common causes of death here?

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The striking thing about that list is that many of those things are preventable. Heart disease is the #1 killer of Americans, and it’s also the most preventable. Diabetes is also preventable (at least Type 2 is) or at least manageable. Respiratory diseases and even some cancers can be prevented, too. The common trend here comes down to ONE simple thing: lifestyle factors.

Unlike your genetic predisposition to something like high cholesterol or cancer, lifestyle factors are completely modifiable. And they play an important role in your overall health and the burden of disease within our healthcare system. In fact, there are four things that have tremendous impact on your health:

1) Sleep

2) Exercise

3) Diet

4) Stress

You’ll notice that all of those things can be addressed quickly and, more importantly, basically for free. You don’t need to spend money to go for a walk outside every day. You don’t need to spend money to eat less every day. Sleeping doesn’t cost anything. And you might also have noticed that all of these things have a profound effect on your immune system. Chronic stress will suppress your immune system. Not enough sleep will screw up your immune system and your metabolism. An imbalanced diet will screw up your immune system. And, for our really “with it” readers, you might also have noticed that all of those things affect each other; exercising and eating properly will help you sleep and they reduce stress.

In short, the problem with healthcare in America is this: IT DOESN’T PROMOTE HEALTH.

And because of that,  too many people get fat and stressed and sick and then burn out the healthcare system, which isn’t designed or able to support hundreds of millions of chronically ill people. Just how much of an influence do those four factors have on health? Well, let’s look at them.

Sleep. Well all know that you need sleep. That’s when your body heals, replenishes all of its neurotransmitters, grows, etc. You can’t function properly without the proper amount of sleep. How much sleep you need depends on your age and to some extent the individual, but here’s what the facts have to say. A whopping 45% of Americans say they get poor or insufficient sleep. The same report reveals that 67% of people who report getting “poor” sleep also report having poor or “only fair” health.

Exercise. It’s recommended that you move around for at least one hour every day. Yet most Americans lead very sedentary lives. The average American watches 5 hours of TV per day (7 if you’re over 65). In case you were wondering, here’s how our television watching compares to those in other countries:

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If you’re like me, this doesn’t really surprise you. But it does reinforce the fact that Americans are exceptionally sedentary. And what about exercise specifically? The CDC reports that only 20% of Americans over 18 meet the recommendations for aerobic and weight-bearing physical activity; that statistic jumps to just below 50% if you remove the weight-bearing exercise.

Diet. Again, there probably won’t be any surprises here. Take a look at this info from the USDA:

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As you can see, Americans eat too much fat, salt, and sugar and not nearly enough lean meat and vegetables. The average American consumes 3,770 calories per day, which is about 53% more than is recommended. The average American also eats more processed foods than ever before:

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Stress. Stress is hard to quantify, but we can certainly try. Let’s think about some of the things that cause us stress. Work is one thing. We do work more than people in other countries:

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Money or financial things also cause people stress. 63% of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts. 21% don’t even have a savings account at all. Good luck replacing the refrigerator or repairing the car. This also partially why you’ll never be able to just get rid of insurance companies (as much as we’d all like to). This survey from the American Psychological Association shows that while overall stress levels have decreased since the first survey in 2007, they’re still way above what the survey defines as a healthy amount of stress.What’s more, how Americans manage stress is also horrible: we eat, watch TV, drink, or smoke.

So what does all of this mean? Well, for one thing it means we’re fat. 62% of adults are overweight, and 27% are obese. What does that mean? It means more heart disease. It means more strokes. It means more diabetes. These are all things that happened to be in the top ten causes of death, by the way. It also means things like more arthritis. If you’re diabetic, which about 10 million people in America are, it means chronic wounds, visual problems, kidney failure, etc. That number is expected to jump to 44 million people by 2020, with spending on JUST DIABETES related problems expected to climb to $336 BILLION dollars a year.

And none of this is taking into account all of the effects that hypertension associated with these things have on individuals. Or the fact that 16 million Americans have asthma. And I’ve left out the effects that diet has on oral health, as well. The dental situation in America is out of control, but that’s almost another post. The bottom line is that these things profoundly affect the health of America and the burden on our healthcare system, and they’re all modifiable.

Of course, we don’t do that in this country. For philosophical reasons we let everyone engage in whatever self-destructive and detrimental behavior they want, then we balk at the price tag when the bill comes and can’t understand what went wrong.

But it obviously doesn’t have to be that way. Yes,  waste exists and we should try to eliminate it. But prevent the disease in the first place and you prevent the spending. There are lots of ways this could be done. I personally favor taxes on soda and fast food. I don’t care about “It’s my right to drink 7 Pepsi’s a day,” arguments. We tax alcohol and cigarettes, two other substances that raise the disease burden on the healthcare system. We could do the same thing with soda and fast food.

I also think we could do a better job providing incentives to people (as if not dying a slow, fat diabetes death isn’t enough in the first place). If you’re classified as overweight or obese, why not grant people tax breaks if they lose weight? Everyone loves saving money. I’d also be a proponent of publicly funded gyms that anyone can access for free. Start a public awareness campaign about diet and exercise. We did the same thing with smoking and teen pregnancy and the rates went down. Perhaps all that “This is your brain on drugs” money would have been better spent on “This is your body on sugar” commercials.

But until the way we conceptualize health and the role of healthcare systems changes, the price tag attached to healthcare won’t change. If we don’t address the root causes of disease we’ll never be able to stem the tide of rising healthcare costs. If we don’t promote and encourage health, we’ll never be healthy.

The vitamin and oil conspiracy

Folks, if you read me regularly then you know there’s nothing in the world I hate more than pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. Which is why I’ve been fairly perturbed as of late by my social media feeds being inundated by posts about “Natural cures they don’t want you to know about!” I’m sure a lot of you have seen the ads or sponsored pages pop up on Facebook or Twitter. Bullshit like this:

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Look at that. 100k people think that cannabis just cures cancer. That’s something I’ve seen pop up quite a bit these days. Crap like, “Man with stage 4 cancer gets rid of it in a month with simple cannabis trick!” It’s the worst kind of social media offender: it’s simultaneously clickbait AND pseudoscience.

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Just a cursory Google search yields all kinds of wacky bullshit results:

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I mean, come on guys, this is totally on the up-and-up. If you can’t trust premier research institutes like Leafly, MedicalJane, and cureyourowncancer.org, just who the hell can you trust? I mean, just take a look at what this promises. Seven months of cannabis oil treatment and poof, goodbye cancer. Six terminal patients taking illegal cannabis oil?! Holy smokes. Of course, this kind of nonsense isn’t relegated simply to cannabis. “Natural cures” are the herpes of the pseudoscience world.

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Which prescription meds is turmeric better than? For what diseases? Who knows! I think it’s safe to assume, though, that the claim will be something along the lines of “All of them, of course!” But we can climb one more rung up the bullshit ladder and arrive at the detox fad:

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Well look at all of the stuff lemon and flax does. Not only will it “detoxify” you, but it’ll also cure your diabetes and get rid of that pesky cellulite. Simply amazing. Especially in light of the fact that “detoxing” is complete and utter horse shit, with all of the evidence in the world pointing to the inescapable fact that such cleanses do literally nothing for your health. And would you like to know why? Because your goddamned body already has an amazing filtration and detoxification system that works 24/7 your entire life. Folks, meet the real stars that keep you free of harmful toxins, your kidneys and your liver!

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The unsung heroes

And there’s the granddaddy of all the natural cure bullshit: vitamin C. Motherfucking vitamin C, everyone. It cures everything, didn’t you know? Like, literally everything. Here, just take a look at this complete and utter drivel. What are some of things Natural News claims vitamin C therapy can cure?

  • Chickenpox
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Tetanus
  • Polio

Wow, that’s weird, exactly the diseases that vaccines eliminated. Almost as if these people are, I don’t know, trying to market something to a specific group of people, an untapped economic niche. It gets better, though. Here’s what else vitamin C can cure:

  • Herpes
  • Pneumonia
  • Hepatitis
  • Mono
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Arthritis
  • Glaucoma
  • Alcoholism
  • High cholesterol
  • Ruptured intervertebral discs

The crux of this therapy is receiving high doses of vitamin C intravenously. Because somehow science. Who knows what the alleged mechanism of action here is because it’s never explained. In fact, no evidence or explanations are offered at all. Instead, the sell is in the fear.

Manufactured drugs are poisons that are slowly killing you all to make a profit! These natural cures are, like, way better, because natural always equals better. Duh. You can’t trust the government and Big Pharma. They’re all evil and just want your money. That’s why they make you sick, so that they can take your money!

Okay, let’s take the stupid one step at a time here.

First of all, vitamin C is water soluble. Meaning that whatever your body doesn’t absorb gets peed right out. In other words, there’s a saturation limit with vitamin C–cramming more than your body needs or can absorb into your veins is going to do precisely dick. Then there’s the matter of overdosing. Yes, even though it’s water soluble, you can still overdose, by doing something like, I don’t know, RUNNING IT INTO YOUR SYSTEM IV. Then you can suffer the nausea, vomiting, and kidney stones that nature apparently wanted you to.

Which speaks to another irony: there’s nothing “natural” about injecting vitamin C into your body intravenously. If you wanted to get your vitamin C the way nature intended, you’d fucking eat it, because that’s how your body was designed, to obtain vitamin C through diet.

As to the conspiracies, there are plenty. First, the idea that vaccines and modern medicine are a way to poison people and depopulate the planet. If that’s the plan, I’d say that they’re doing a super shitty job, considering the population continues to grow. Plus, isn’t it a rather stupid business model to kill your customer base? How the hell are you supposed to make money if you kill everyone?

Second, creating cures for things is not an excellent business model if you’re part of a conspiracy. Why bother creating vaccines when letting people just catch the diseases would result in much more profit? You’d think that the last thing Big Pharma would want to do is eradicate polio and smallpox, and yet…that’s precisely what they did. You’d think that they wouldn’t develop a cure for Hepatitis C, yet that’s exactly what Harvoni is. Again, this doesn’t really jive with the conspiracy theorists’ models.

“Well follow the money!” That’s what all of these people who think Big Pharma is out to get everyone and suppress the truth say. That’s an excellent idea. Why don’t we indeed follow the money…right over to the Natural News store! Well, that’s funny. Why are these guys making a profit if the only people who are motivated by profit are the bad guys?

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I mean, fuck getting vaccines for free (which actually causes doctors to lose money, which again speaks against conspiracy) when you could just spend $650.00 on a stupid herbal medicine cabinet. 

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Or you could spend $164 on a single bottle of vitamin E. Seems totally legit. But you know what, guys. Before you do any of that, you have to know what health dangers are lurking in your house in the first place. But don’t worry, because the Natural News store has you covered again!

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Better fork over that $379.00 to detect those electromagnetic fields before they fuck up your chi or reiki or whatever other bullshit you believe in. Never mind the fact that every electronic device and appliance in your house will emit an EM field, so the product is guaranteed to make you think you’re being besieged by electromagnet fields –electromagnets are killing you and giving you cancer! Ahhhh!

I mean, why on earth would you pay a $20 copay for a visit to a medical professional and get a generic prescription for $10 when you could fork over $1,029 to Natural News for an EM detector and some herbs? I mean, you don’t want those money grubbing physicians to win, do you? They’re only after your money!

Do vitamins play a role in health? Yes, obviously. Does cannabis have the potential to lead to new cancer fighting drugs? Yes. But simply claiming that if you shove the shit raw into your veins you’ll cure all diseases known to man is stupid in the highest degree, without a single shred of evidence or science to back it up. And, by the way, most drugs on the market are based in some way on something completely natural, like how aspirin is derived from willow bark, or ACE inhibitors came from the venom of pit vipers–most medication you think of as poison really comes from completely natural substances anyway.

Okay, one last thing to convince any natural cure advocates reading this. Let’s grant for one moment that cannabis really does cure cancer. And let’s say that vitamin C really does cure all of the things that they say they do. And let’s say that all those herbs really are curative. Why on earth wouldn’t Big Pharma take advantage of that? I can guarantee you with 100% certainty that if all of those things really did work, then drug companies would have already patented them and the only way you could get your vitamin C or lemon and flax detox would be by prescription. At the very least, if the conspiracies were true you’d think that the drug companies would still patent them and then just make them inaccessible to everyone so nobody could cure themselves. What kind of a stupid conspiracy is it to sell everyone poison but leave well known cures out there for anyone to use?

Maybe it’s because there is no conspiracy. Maybe the drug companies do rip you off as far as price gouging goes, but at least their products work. Or you could just fork over your cash to Big Vitamin and literally piss out all of your hard earned money.

You want a fair election? Let everyone debate.

Now that we’re so close to the Democratic and Republican conventions, all anyone can talk about is what Bernie will do and how much of a circus the GOP version of events is going to be. But every time that I hear about this, I can’t help but think one thing: we’ve already had two conventions to pick presidential nominees.

Libertarians picked Gary Johnson and the Green Party picked Jill Stein.

Of course, that was barely reported, a singular blip on the radar of mainstream media. Indeed, the media is doing everything it possibly can to perpetuate the two party system that we’ve all come to loathe. Johnson and Stein get next to no screen time or print dedicated to them. But something is different this year, something which just might cause those other “fringe” parties to finally enter the national spotlight.

Voter ire and dissatisfaction are at all time highs. Clinton and Trump have unfavorable ratings that are through the roof. We say every election is a choice between the lesser of two evils, but this time it seems it’s literally that depending upon who you ask. If only there were more than two choices! Ah, but there are! And I think people are finally starting to realize just how badly the two party system screws them over and just how untrue the two party narrative is.

Gary Johnson polls at around 11%. Jill Stein is polling somewhere around 5%. That might not seem like a lot, but 16% of the electorate is nothing to sneeze at. Certainly, elections have been swung by far less people. And I imagine that the more time passes, the more people Trump will drive into Johnson’s camp. And once the final nail is in the coffin of Bernie’s campaign, I suspect a lot of his followers would jump to Stein’s ship rather than vote for Hillary (something like 55% of Sanders supporters say they won’t vote for Clinton). Hell, could you imagine what would happen to Stein’s campaign if Bernie endorsed her instead of Hillary? (He won’t do it, but he probably would if he didn’t think it would help Trump become president)

One exciting thing about Johnson’s poll numbers is that he’s very close to that 15% threshold needed to included in the general election debates. If that happened, even more people would realize they aren’t stuck between a Democrat and a Republican. Of course that 15% threshold is absolute bullshit, and just goes to show how rigged the entire system is. In my opinion, if you’re going to be on the ballot, you should be allowed to debate. It’s fair, it’s simple. And to my knowledge, both Stein and Johnson are are on track to be on the ballot in all 50 states.

And really, a diversity of ideas and choices is a hallmark of America. We can’t stop talking about how our greatest strength, our secret weapon, is our diversity. But apparently that doesn’t extend to politics. This country deserves a robust discussion about where we’re headed, and there needs to be seats at the table for EVERYONE, not just the two parties with the most money. Because when you slice down into it, the number of people who actually support Democrats or Republicans specifically is small–about 25% for each party. Over half the country is up for grabs, not defined by either party. Free agents in a sense, who could support whoever they want or form whatever political parties they want. At the very least, one could say that Democrats and Republicans do not represent that majority of Americans (myself included)–so there must be other seats at the table.

In the past, people have said that voting for the third party is wasting your vote. Everyone remembers the crap Nader got, right? But more and more, that seems like a cheap threat, a sleazy ploy by the two parties to keep you from voting for someone else. This election is a perfect storm or discontent and epiphany. It seems abundantly clear that the major parties don’t represent America anymore. People see Democrats and Republicans as two sides of the same corporate, oligarchic coin.

In short, people are starting to come to conclusion that it’s really a vote for the two party status quo that’s a waste. If voting for a Democrat or Republican has a negligible difference, people have nothing to lose by voting for Stein or Johnson. The more people who realize that, the more of a chance we have of actually electing someone to office who’s willing to truly try something different.

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The ethics of birth and death

I read two articles recently that really made me think about how we come into this life and how we leave it (or, perhaps more specifically, how we don’t leave it). These two bookends to life are inevitable, and nature has done a wonderful job of creating a balanced system–life in, life out. Predation, disease, disaster and a host of other things all conspire to keep life from running rampant, unchecked, consuming everything in its path. After all, at the end of the day there is only so much water, food, etc. to be had on this planet.

But human beings have a strong will to survive. We’re quite adept at manipulating our surroundings to keep those harbingers of death at bay. Just look at the leaps and bounds our lifespans have taken over the last century and a half. Look at how infant mortality has decreased. We’ve pioneered organ transplants to keep people alive. Look at the diseases we’ve eliminated, like smallpox. And we’re probably on the cusp of eliminating a whole host of other things–cancer, HIV, etc. Give us another generation or two and we’ll get there.

But there’s something that we can’t stop: aging and death. Or can we? Anti-aging is a huge area of research. People are afraid of dying. We have a built in mechanism that drives to survive and to persist, so of course the ultimate realization of that would be the defeat of death and aging. I recently read an article about how the first person to live to 150 has already been born. Indeed, research has apparently extended the lifespan of mice by 20%-40%. Extending human lifespans to 150 would pretty much be doubling them. Sounds far-fetched, but the results speak for themselves.

Indeed, we understand quite well what makes us age. Damage from free radicals. Telomeres that protect our DNA from damage. Mutation. It’s just that, up until recently, we didn’t really know how to stop those things. But now it appears we’re finding ways.

That could take many forms. It could be small, nano-scale machines that repair our DNA and cells. It could be genetic engineering (keeping those genes that regulate telomeres nice and healthy). Using stem cells to repair and rejuvenate damaged tissue. Or to create entirely new organs. Liver failure? Just send the lab a swab of DNA from your cheek and they’ll grow you a healthy new liver, stat.

Indeed, it would appear as if these methods in concert could significantly extend the human lifespan. This geneticist from Cambridge thinks one day humans will live to be a thousand years old. What would all of this mean for life, though? For the balance that nature has created?

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Ironically, solving death would benefit all of the characters Sean Bean plays

Well if people are living twice as long, it means they’ll consume twice as many resources. It means they’ll produce twice as much trash. Is that sustainable? No, most definitely not. Hell, it’s already barely sustainable as it stands (with some arguing that it’s not sustainable in the moment either). And sure, people will inevitably say, “Yeah, but nobody would want to be that old. They’d get bored, time would lose all meaning, etc.”

To which I say bullshit. It’s easy to claim such things when you’re alive and healthy. But when you’re on your deathbed? I’m sure a lot of people would reconsider those sentiments real quick. But what kind of Faustian bargain are making with life extension technology? Sure, we’ll live longer–but what effect will that have on the environment? On nature? The entire system we live in depends on things dying. And here we come, completely undoing that.

But what about the other end of the stream? We’ve talked a lot about death, but what of birth? That’s another way that you can influence population. You can talk about people leaving a population or people entering. And here, too, we have fiddled around with nature’s equation.

Some people can’t have children. They have some sort of congenital anomaly or traumatic injury that prevents them from reproducing. For people in that boat, I am truly sorry, and I do emphasize. Luckily for those people, though, science has solved the shit out of this problem. While expensive, there are many fertility treatments that now allow people who otherwise would not have been able to reproduce to do exactly that.

But is reproduction really a right? I’m not exactly prepared to say that it is or isn’t. I do know that there are already a lot of people in this world. And I do know that there are a lot of children who have already been born that need families. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with questioning or exploring the ramifications of fertility science.

But at the very least, one might say, nature has taken care of that for us to some extent. Because it built into humans a switch that, once flipped at a certain age, turns off that ability to reproduce. After menopause, a woman can no longer bear children. Problem solved, right? Nature built in a population control system, ensuring that women don’t just endlessly produce children.

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Well, not so fast, says science. This woman gave birth to a child at age 53…and then twins at age 65. Not to be outdone, this woman gave birth to a child at 70. These were natural births accomplished using IVF–in vitro fertilization. First, I have to question the ability of someone that old raising a child. I don’t care if that’s ageist, and I don’t care how much energy these people claim to have. Being 65–even if you’re in great shape–isn’t the same thing as being 25 or 35. 70 years old, raising a newborn? Get the fuck out of here. The human body wasn’t designed for that.

But beyond those implication, what about death? If you give birth at 70, you’ve probably got only about 10 more years left in you. So now you’re dead and leaving a 10 year old child to the world. How is that fair to your child? How is it fair to the other people left who now have to raise it? Who does that child go to? An aunt or uncle? Well those people are going to be just as old (if not older) than the parents. Maybe they can’t take care of a young child. Or maybe they don’t want to. You could give them to a sibling, I guess. But if your parents were 70 when you were born, your siblings may very well be in their 50’s. Again, not an ideal situation. And one that I think you could argue isn’t a very fair one, either, for any of the parties involved.

I get that both of these subjects are touchy issues. How do you deny life extension or fertility to people? How do you justify denying those things, while performing other life-saving procedures like organ transplants? I don’t have a good answer for that. But a line has to be drawn somewhere, I would think. We can’t just go around letting people reproduce indefinitely and then not die. That’s simply not a sustainable or sound practice. And quite frankly, it isn’t one that we’re set up for socially, economically, or politically. Can you imagine trying to make something like social security solvent for people who live to be 150? Or trying to make Britain’s National Health Service work for people who live to 150?

Nature is all about balance. Somewhere in these issues there is a point of balance. Does that mean outright banning technologies? Does it mean using a lottery system? Does it mean only allowing people who can afford it do it? Who gets to decide? How do they make those choices? Until we can adequately define the boundaries or science and nature, I am inherently wary and skeptical of these advances.

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Noah’s Farce

Ken Hamm is at it again, folks. This time he’s created “Ark Encounter,” a biblical theme park with a real life Noah’s Ark, built to the exact specifications given in the bible. It’s located in Kentucky (shocking), and opens July 7th. While I can’t say that I’m shocked that Hamm is doing this, I can say that I’m shocked at the price tag for this endeavor:

$100 million. Million, with an M.

Ken Hamm is spending $100 million on a biblical theme park and a replica of Noah’s Ark. Because, you know, God and stuff. Clearly, God wanted Hamm to spend that much money–including $18 million in tax subsidies from Kentucky–on a biblical theme park. Instead of, you know, actually doing something to help people. And this is perhaps what I love the most about Ken Hamm: he’s excellent at exposing not only how clueless and ignorant Young Earth Creationists are, but also how completely selfish, misguided, and hypocritical many religious folks are.

To put this perspective, here’s what else you could buy with $100 million dollars, besides a theme park dedicated to fairy tales and nonsense:

  • 40,000,000 mosquito nets for people who live in Malaria ravaged areas of the world
  • A year’s worth of HIV medication for 50,000 people
  • 12,500 wells of clean drinking water wells for villages in Africa

But it’s not like God cares about helping the poor and sick, right? I mean, we wouldn’t want to use that money on something stupid like building schools, homeless shelters, medical treatment, rehab programs, funding cancer research and treatment. No, better spend that money on building a replica Noah’s Ark.

After all, according to Hamm, he’s building the ark because “It’s a religious purpose. It’s because we’re Christians and we want to get the Christian message out…We’re becoming more like the days of Noah in that we see increasing secularization in the culture.” Because, in Hamm’s own twisted mind, if he doesn’t build this theme park the world will continue to become more wicked/less Christian and then God will flood the earth again and rain fire and brimstone upon us all. You know, quality family stuff.

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The more I thought about this and the opportunity costs associated with it, the more my blood boiled. But then I tried to think of a silver lining. And I know what you’re thinking. What silver lining could there possibly be in someone wasting that much money to build a Christian theme park dedicated to Noah’s Ark? I’m so glad you asked. The answer is that it let’s you literally see how stupid the bible is.

When you’re in Sunday school or church as a child and they tell you that Noah built a boat for all the animals you can accept that because, in your mind, he must have just built a reeeeeally big boat. It remains abstract, intangible, and therefore plausible. But not anymore. Now you can take your kids to see the actual ark Noah allegedly built. And when they actually see how small it is, I have no doubt at all that scores of kids will look up to their parents and ask, “How could ALL of the animals have fit on that?”

And they’ll get an unsatisfactory answer because there is no answer because the whole story is stupid bullshit. But by then it’ll be too late. The damage will have been done. The kids will have already seen the Ark and at that moment have realized it couldn’t possibly hold two of every animal on the planet. It’ll plant the seed of doubt.

Ken Hamm made the worst move possible: he’s built an actual moment to cognitive dissonance. He’s eliminating the very things that actually give him power–vague details and lack of tangibility, the con man’s best weapons against reason.

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Voting with your conscience

I know that I’ve been posting a lot about politics of late, but hey–it’s election season here in America.

“Fiscally conservative and socially liberal” is a descriptor I’ve heard a lot lately. It’s been used to describe a portion of independent voters, and it’s also been used to describe libertarians. What I find fascinating about both of these groups is how they vote. Usually, people who fall under this umbrella tend to vote for republicans.

What I find particularly interesting is the message that this send to people like me. If you value smaller government, lower taxes and fewer regulations but you also value a government that stays the hell out of your personal affairs, then what does it say to the rest of us when people you vote for the republican candidate?

Quite frankly, it says to me that you care more about your wallet than how other people are treated. It says that you’re willing to look the other way socially and let people be oppressed so long as it doesn’t hurt your financial situation. In short, it’s moral cowardice.

Here’s the libertarian platform, straight from their own mouths. Let’s take a quick look at these points and then how the republican party factors in.

Individuals own their bodies and have rights over them that other individuals, groups, and governments may not violate. Individuals have the freedom and responsibility to decide what they knowingly and voluntarily consume, and what risks they accept to their own health, finances, safety, or life.

Sounds great! So why vote for the republican? They’re the ones that think they can legislate what you can and can’t do to your own body. Abortion, anyone? Marijuana?

We support full freedom of expression and oppose government censorship, regulation or control of communications media and technology. We favor the freedom to engage in or abstain from any religious activities that do not violate the rights of others. We oppose government actions which either aid or attack any religion.

Again, great! So why would you vote for the party that doesn’t seem to understand or support separation of church and state? Why vote for the party that wants to put the ten commandments in government buildings?

Libertarians advocate individual privacy and government transparency. We are committed to ending government’s practice of spying on everyone. We support the rights recognized by the Fourth Amendment to be secure in our persons, homes, property, and communications. Protection from unreasonable search and seizure should include records held by third parties, such as email, medical, and library records.

Two words: Patriot Act. And yes, I’m aware that democrats overwhelming voted for that. But so did republicans. That party still supports legislation that most libertarians do not.

Sexual orientation, preference, gender, or gender identity should have no impact on the government’s treatment of individuals, such as in current marriage, child custody, adoption, immigration or military service laws. Government does not have the authority to define, license or restrict personal relationships. Consenting adults should be free to choose their own sexual practices and personal relationships.

If you believe this, how can you justify voting for the only party that actually is trying to define and restrict personal relationships?

Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.

Again, if this is the case, how can you justify voting for the only party that wants the government to insert itself into the issue?

We favor the repeal of all laws creating “crimes” without victims, such as the use of drugs for medicinal or recreational purposes, since only actions that infringe on the rights of others can properly be termed crimes.

The republican party is waaaay worse about this than their liberal democrat counterparts. So why vote for them?

The only legitimate use of force is in defense of individual rights — life, liberty, and justly acquired property — against aggression. This right inheres in the individual, who may agree to be aided by any other individual or group. We affirm the individual right recognized by the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms, and oppose the prosecution of individuals for exercising their rights of self-defense.

At first glance, it finally seems like we have a reason to vote for the republican over the democrat. But find me a democrat that wants to abolish the second amendment. Gun control isn’t necessarily the same thing as “persecution of individuals for exercising their rights of self-defense.” In fact, I’d bet you could find near universal agreement upon liberals that the second amendment fully applies to self-defense.

We support a clean and healthy environment and sensible use of our natural resources. Private landowners and conservation groups have a vested interest in maintaining natural resources. Pollution and misuse of resources cause damage to our ecosystem […] We realize that our planet’s climate is constantly changing, but environmental advocates and social pressure are the most effective means of changing public behavior.

This doesn’t even outright deny that climate change is happening or that man has an impact on it. In fact, as time goes on, the number of Americans who think climate change is real and that we have an effect on it is increasing. So why vote for the party that has politicians who think it’s a hoax? And who base their environmental policy on biblical scripture, like the “Climate change can’t be real because God said he’d never flood the world again after Noah” congressman.

While energy is needed to fuel a modern society, government should not be subsidizing any particular form of energy. We oppose all government control of energy pricing, allocation, and production.

Democrats certainly do this on the renewable side. But republicans do it on the fossil fuel side. They’re just as guilty of it as anyone else, and their subsidizing increases pollution, unlike the renewables that democrats support with your tax dollars.

The United States should both avoid entangling alliances and abandon its attempts to act as policeman for the world. We oppose any form of compulsory national service.

So why would you vote for the republicans?

American foreign policy should seek an America at peace with the world. Our foreign policy should emphasize defense against attack from abroad and enhance the likelihood of peace by avoiding foreign entanglements. We would end the current U.S. government policy of foreign intervention.

Well then the republican candidate isn’t for you, are they?

We support the removal of governmental impediments to free trade. Political freedom and escape from tyranny demand that individuals not be unreasonably constrained by government in the crossing of political boundaries. Economic freedom demands the unrestricted movement of human as well as financial capital across national borders.

Don’t democrats support free trade? Didn’t Bill Clinton sign NAFTA? Doesn’t Obama support the TPP? You can go back in time and look at virtually any of these free trade bills and see that they get democratic support.

 Government should neither deny nor abridge any individual’s human right based upon sex, wealth, ethnicity, creed, age, national origin, personal habits, political preference or sexual orientation.

That sounds more like the democratic platform than the republican one.

Well there you have it. If you go over that page, you’d find that literally THE ONLY reason a libertarian would vote for the republican candidate is economic policy: Free markets, privatizing social security, ending welfare programs, lower taxes, reduced government spending–those are really the only parts of the libertarian or fiscal conservative/socially liberal agenda that overlap with the republican platform.

Which, to me, just underscores the idea that given a choice, most of these people would cast a vote that preserves economic freedom as they see it over the civil liberties of other people. Hardly an ethically or morally defensible position. Of course, libertarians and like-minded independents could solve that by simply not voting for the republican candidate. But even libertarians don’t vote for the libertarian candidates for some bizarre reason. Some math puts that number somewhere around 9%, which is pretty paltry.

A lot of analysis also indicates that even though the amount of individuals who fall into the fiscally conservative/socially liberal category are significant in number, they aren’t numerous enough to carry an election. But they can certainly swing an election. It’s just not clear to me why how you could possibly justify swinging the election in favor of someone who will lower your taxes but deny your neighbor the right to marry whomever they want. vote.jpg

Let that voice be an ethical one.

 

Time travelers and moon bases

Well, it’s time to debunk some more bullshit, folks.

I’ve seen a lot of stuff floating around online that revolves around two premises: 1) we have photographic proof of time travelers! and 2) there are secret alien bases on the moon.

Like all good conspiracy theories, they appear to have some validity visually. There’s always a hook, right? Some tantalizing morsel just within reach of reason. In this case, it’s strange things in photographs that seem anachronistic and weird shapes on the moon. To avoid confusion, let’s address these topics one at a time.

Time Travel

We captured a time traveler on film! Aha! Surely some of you have seen such claims on the internet recently. Stuff like this:maxresdefault (1).jpg

This guy is apparently a time traveler because he’s dressed in “modern” garb that doesn’t fit the period: a graphic t-shirt, cool sunglasses, and some kind of device in his hands. He’s basically a time traveling hipster. And then there’s this lady:

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This is from a bit of film taken during the premier of a Charlie Chaplin movie. In the video, the woman walks across the screen, and it appears like she’s talking on a cell phone. And for something a little more recent, there’s this:

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Look! That guy has a smart phone and he’s taking video with it…but it’s 1995! Obviously he’s a time traveler. Duh.

Except that all of these pictures have perfectly simple explanations. As far as the hipster goes, sun glasses have been around a lot longer than most young people think, and his clothing actually is typical of the era–he simply sewed a patch onto the front of his shirt. And how about the cell phone lady? Well, it’s probably not a cell phone, but rather an old timey hearing piece. One of these thingies:

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Can you hear me now?

And what about the smart phone at the Mike Tyson event some 20 years ago, before your Nokia had that snake game on it and Minesweeper was the most advanced computer game known to man? It’s actually just a really early model digital camera. Turns out that Eastman Kodak built the first electronic camera all the way back in 1975. By the time the 80’s had rolled around, Sony invented a camera that stored pictures on floppy disks. The “real” first digital camera went on sale in 1990. Here’s a pretty interesting timeline of the development of the technology. You’ll notice that a lot of those cameras look super weird and futuristic, even though they’re 20-30 years old.

So no, nobody is time traveling. Sorry to burst any bubbles out there, but it just ain’t happening. Or if it is, it hasn’t been caught on film. And if you think about it, the whole “caught on film” thing is where this entire theory starts to come apart.

Let’s grant for a moment that in the future someone does invent time travel, and that eventually it’s marketed for tourism. Well, surely there would be rules, right? Like, you’d have to go back wearing clothing appropriate to whatever period you’re going to. So you don’t end up wearing a Banana Republic ensemble in the middle of the Battle of Gettysburg, sticking out like a sore thumb and drawing unneeded attention to yourself. So, there goes the time traveling hipster: it would be really stupid and dangerous to let people go back to the distant past in future clothing for obvious reasons.

One would also think that there would be a rule against bringing technology from the future into the past, precisely so that that shit wouldn’t be caught on camera. Or, more practically, what if you died during your trip, and the people of the past found all of your crap from the future? Can you imagine if the old woman from the Chaplin premier was a time traveler and keeled over from a heart attack right outside the theater? The police and coroner of the time would find her magic future cell phone and then everything would go to shit. So no, you probably wouldn’t be allowed to take technology back with you.

It’s fun to imagine time travel, sure. But all of these pictures and videos prove nothing other than the fact that people are totally gullible.

Alien Moonbases

Again, at first glance, this idea sounds remotely plausible. After all, if aliens were going to secretly monitor us, the best place to do that would probably be the moon. But when you look at the evidence and really dig into the theory, it all really starts to unravel, just like the time travelers. The ultimate claim is that there is leftover technology from aliens up on the moon, and NASA and the government knows this and is altering or covering up the evidence to keep us in the dark. There’s a whole “documentary” about this on Netflix called Aliens on the Moon. It’s two hours, so I’ll summarize by telling you that it’s just a bunch of grainy pictures that have been retouched to highlight the parts that NASA supposedly altered. Like this crap:

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I mean, really, guys. Those are totally secret alien moon base things. And obviously NASA is hiding them and covering them up. That’s why we stopped going to the moon: the aliens kicked us off (I’m not kidding, that’s what these people think).

Alright, let’s start with the obvious. Those pictures are so grainy and blurry and enlarged that it’s impossible to tell what the hell you’re looking at. So to claim that you can tell that a smudge on an old piece of film is really an alien piece of technology on the moon is quite the claim. Most of those pictures look benign or like they’re photoshopped. And speaking of Photoshop, let’s talk about those allegations against NASA.

Let’s grant for a moment that NASA did indeed discover that there either are or were aliens on the moon. And let’s also grant that there is photographic evidence of this. The next obvious question is why the fuck NASA would release those images in the first place, even if they are doctored. It’s stupid on NASA’s part to release any of those images, even the doctored ones, if they want to keep it secret. Why wouldn’t NASA just point the cameras at some totally boring part of the moon devoid of alien technology and then release those, keeping the smoking gun photos a secret or destroying them? It makes no sense to go through a convoluted plot of doctoring evidence you want to suppress in order to release it for public scrutiny, when there’s no reason to do that in the first place.

Ultimately this conspiracy, just like the time travelers, is a load of crap. And you can smell it a mile away. I’ll never understand for the life of me why some people cling to this stuff as literal truth. What the hell is going on in the minds of people who jump into these obviously stupid conspiracies and hold on for dear life?