Sunday, October 25, 2015

Marriage equality

Recently, on Twitter, I happened to come across this.
 So, it appears we have a few things to address here.  Warning, this might be a bit more intimate and touch a subject than perhaps others.

Marriage and Pedophilia

The first image there attempts to claim (unsuccessfully) that allowing same-sex couples to marry will cause homosexuals to rape children.  Let that sink in for a moment.  It's basically saying that, by allowing people to marry, those people will engage in sexual impropriety with minors.

This is a terrible argument, and to illustrate this, let's take it's polar corollary first.  Prohibition (or lack of, in this case both are the same argument) of marriage is therefore the answer to elimination of child rape.  Think for a moment now.  Does one really, honestly believe that the simple act of marriage is what causes people to become pedophiles?

If your answer is yes, then this illustrates the second point.  Straight people engaged in marriage should be at least as likely to be pedophiles, should they not?  If the simple act of obtaining a marriage license is the key factor here, then the logical conclusion is that we should simply stop all forms of marriage.  

Of course, we know that this is not the case.  Pedophilia is a mental disorder that can be caused by a variety of causes.  Marrying someone is not one of them.


The second image for some reason still has children in it.  However, having discussed it above, let's move on.  Basically, the argument here is that, somehow, sodomy should never be normalized.  I think, however, that the acts of two consenting adults with regards to sexual things should perhaps not be dictated by people outside of that relationship.

But let's even gloss over that point for at least one other that's related.  The implication here is that people only ever get married for reasons relating to sex.  This makes it an especially difficult argument.  Essentially, the person must fundamentally believe that the only reason for entering into marriage is to contractually obligate one person to fulfill the other's sexual desires.  Apparently, this means it has nothing to do with tax benefits, feelings of non-sexual love and attraction, romance, or any of the other reasons people typically claim to get married.

As this argument clearly illustrates, eliminating marriage in general (from the law, at least - treat it like a birthday, or other social function) is the fundamental purpose.  If sexual relations are the absolute only reason these sorts of people are entering into these marriage contracts, then we have no further need of providing tax incentives, property rights, and other legal benefits to people who engage in these relationships.  It's really hard to argue, as the picture does, that the children should really be of any concern regarding marriage, because they have little to do with the sex.  Custody laws could be enacted just as easily without the marriage clauses by recognizing parents legally in some other fashion.

This brings us to another point.

Real Parents

This tweet is from the same thread, so I'm including it here, because it definitely relates to the first two pictures.

We're going to deal with the first part, about children deserving real parents.  I may come back to the part about what constitutes sex and gender in another post, though lots of other people have already addressed it.

This relates directly to at least two factors.


Clearly, if a child deserves its real parents, we can't allow adoption to continue.  Obviously, I think this is an idiotic stance, and that's why I'm going to tear it a new sphincter here.  If we accept the idea that parents must be real and genuine, then simply put we must preclude anyone who doesn't have children from being parents.  In another way, this means that infertile people, single people, and anyone who is not the biological parent of a child should never have any say in whatever counts as parenting.

Let's take this a step further.  This also means that no one, regardless of whether or not they have children, should be allowed to adopt any children who aren't theirs.  Childrens' services goes right out the door, because this means that we should never have foster parents.  Similarly, this means that the government should never have control over anyone's children, because every child deserves whatever parents it was born to.

This line of thinking infuriates me, and I hope it at least makes you think about this argument.

Single Parents and Related

Basically, this point also drives home another point.  Sometimes, women die in childbirth.  Sometimes, one parent is unavailable due to any number of circumstances (military service, employment obligations, et cetera).  It is in the best interest of the child, certainly, to have competent caregivers.  However, if we're going to take this route, those children don't deserve any parents that aren't theirs.  I'm not going to linger on this point.  Suffice to say again, however, that this is another clear argument for elimination of marriage from the legal system.

Sexual Immorality

This one is going to be the most fun.

So here we have a poster arguing that marriage causes sexual immorality.  I think I can agree with this, in part.  I mean, married people do indeed cheat on one another with some frequency.  However, this clearly is not limited to homosexuals.  Similarly, depending on what you consider sexual immorality to be, the elimination of marriage could easily remedy at least part of it.  

Divorce is clearly the largest indicator that there is at least some problem that could be solved.  Without marriage, we need not worry about divorces, because divorce doesn't happen without it.  

Although, that's a terribly fallacious argument, because cheating happens in all sorts of relationships, not just marriages.  I think I just felt my brain snap a tiny little bit.  Do people honestly believe that no form of sexual immorality (whatever that means) happens outside of being married?  Or do they honestly believe marriage causes much higher instance of sexual immorality?  I think the implication is pretty clear.  Eliminate marriage and fix some problems.

True Marriage Equality

It is hereby my proposition that, to fix the ails of at least these arguments, we eliminate marriage as a legal contract.  Marriages within society I think are fine.  If two religious people want to have a civil ceremony, that's excellent!  Birthdays, bar mitzfah, baptisms, anniversaries, pinky promises, sharing of friendship lockets, matching tattoos and jewelry and clothing, and a number of other types of civil ceremony and social conventions already happen outside the jurisdiction of the law.  Placing marriage into exactly the same sort of category does, I think, make sense from this perspective.

Another reason to eliminate marriage is to create a truer equality.  As a single person, I can't just declare my roommate to be my tax benefit and file jointly, even if we're splitting rent and other bills.  As a single person with no kids, I get no benefits on taxes that other people are sending to schools that I also pay for.  I could continue this list, but I digress.

Just to clarify, I'm not arguing for that position, but it is a logical argument of the positions preceding it.  I don't mind paying taxes so people who have children can send them to school, for example.

So, elimination of marriage would truly be the equalitarian way to deal with this.  However, the most equitable argument is to simply allow a pair of people to get married, regardless of gender.  It shouldn't matter that it's two men who want to sign that contract, or two women, or one of each.  Within the scope of law, it's perfectly logical.  I'd even go so far as to say that any people living together should be allowed similar benefits, like joint filing of taxes, regardless of marriage status.  

Sex is supposedly not the only reason people get married, right?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Nature of transitional species

Alright, we have a lovely post for you this evening.  Sit down, get comfy, and prepare to be amazed.

Let's put some context in here, shall we?

So, let's address this in two parts.


Part one is pretty direct.  Evolution has tons of evidence (read:proof) available for anyone willing to spend the time to learn about it.  This is true of most subjects, actually.  One cannot simply claim something is unproven just because someone doesn't like it.  Since this is a factual inaccuracy (I won't call it a lie yet), we shall move on.  I think you will find that part two actually gives some fairly compelling evidence for transitional species.


Alright, let's get down to science.  Transitional species are a thing, and I'm going to provide two examples here.

Ring Species

Ring species are a group of animals (for our purposes) who exhibit a very interesting trait.  This trait is that there are a given set of species who can interbreed, but not fully.  Let's examine this a bit closer. 

The most common example, and the one we'll use here, is that of the various salamanders that inhabit the greater California area.  There are approximately seven distinct species.  Each lives in a given area, and typically not outside of it.  Species one and two, for example, have habitats which overlap.  Species two and three have the same, but species three is never found in species one's habitat.  Species three and four follow the same pattern, and so forth, for all seven species.

This gives us our first example of a ring species.  Species one and two can interbreed very easily, and do so quite frequently.  Species two and three can do the same.  Same with three and four, and each consecutive pair down the line.  However, we have an interesting observation.  Species one and seven never interact.  When scientists tried to mate them, it was impossible.  We can show a large trail of interbreeding between these very similar species of salamanders, but the salamanders at either end cannot breed together.  Species that are closer together can have success sometimes, and species that are directly in contact can breed nearly as successfully as a species with itself.  

This is one of the simplest ways to explain transitional species.  In another few thousand (perhaps million) years, these will all eventually be distinct species.  Most certainly, one or two of the 'links' in this chain will die off, or eventually two near species will become so distinct that they will be like far links in the chain.  This brings us to our second example, an example that's a bit further down that evolutionary line.

Equine Evolution

This one is a bit more interesting, from a short-term observation.  Horses and Donkeys present us their story here.  

Horses and Donkeys are approximately as unique from one another as perhaps neighboring (or perhaps a link or two separate) salamander species.  Horses and donkeys can produce offspring, which we typically call mules or hinnys, depending on if the male or female parent was a horse.  Occasionally, a female bred this way will be able to have offspring, but this is a rather rare occurrence.  

Horses and donkeys were at one time a much more similar species, and even farther back in time would have been literally the same species.  This is shown quite clearly by the fact that they can still mate.  This is almost as easy to produce as a either a horse or donkey, but the offspring are typical not able to increase progeny (have offspring).  In this way, we can see a species transitioning right now.  There was a time when their offspring would have been equally valid, and equally as likely to produce offspring.  This time is slowly passing, as it typically does for most species that slowly split. 

Humans and other primates shared this fate, although a considerably longer time ago.  Even the split between mammals and marsupials, for example, would have started in a fashion like this.  It's entirely possible that a viable strain of mules could arise naturally, but at this point it's very unlikely indeed.  Selection pressures against it are too great at this point.  Eventually, there will come a time when horses and donkeys will not be able to breed for mules.  This is still quite a way off, perhaps several tens of thousands of years, much as it's taken tens of thousands of years of domestication to create the two distinct species, for example.


That brings us to the fun part.  Remember, evolution is real, whether you like it or not.  Although, why wouldn't you like evolution?  Without it, you wouldn't have adorable cats, mules, or, well, any species.  

This isn't imgur, but enjoy these pictures, cat tax and all!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Dissection of an argument.

Yesterday, I came across this particular picture on Twitter.  It was brought to my attention when @ShawnTheAtheist retweeted it as a means of discussing a particular point contained therein.

Now, like anyone, I want to put an end to as much gun violence as possible.  However, there are several problems with this scenario, and I'd like to address a few of them in this post.

Let's start with some facts.  Sources: NCES 2014-2015 for public schools information, The United States Veterans Administration for all veteran-related data.  CAPE for private schools information.  Also, here is a quick NCES index including mixed statistics.

There were approximately 98,217 public schools in operation for year 2014-2015.  There were approximately 50 Million students enrolled in those public schools.  We must add in an additional 30,861 private schools (with approximately 5.27 million students, 2011-2012 school years).  We must then add in all Post-Secondary Title IV institutions, around 7,234 (which involves another 20.6 million students).

According to the VA, there was approximately a 6.9% poverty rate among veterans, totaling 1.47 million veterans.

Raw numbers crunch

This gives us a total of 136,312 schools (the graphic says 'every school,' and indeed mass shooting happen at every type of school) with a total population around 62.5 million students.  On average (and we can use averages here), that means that there are 458.5 students in each school.  However, some of those institutions have far more than that number, and several will have perhaps only a few dozen.  On average, that's about 115 students per person protecting them.  Now, in some schools, those four people will be protecting perhaps 28 people (as in Mackinac Island, Michigan).  Virginia Tech has a modest 31,000 students, compared with Ohio State University's 64,000 for example.

But ignoring the burden some of them would have, let's assign four per school.  That gives us approximately 545,250 veterans we would need to enlist for this job.  That's approximately 1/3 (37%) of the impoverished veterans. Using information from the Census and crossed with the information from the VA, we can see that 9.3 Million veterans are aged 65 or older.  4.8% of that number is 446,000.  That is 30% of our total candidates.  Roughly half that number are disabled.  Of the ideal age group, approximately 18-34, there are only around 1.6 million total veterans, and with a poverty rate of only 11.9%.  This means that, at maximum, 190,000 potential candidates, of whom 14% or so are disabled.  So, this means, that of our approximately 545,000 veterans necessary to serve in this role, a maximum of around 170,000 can possibly come from veterans under 35 years old.  

Hours and Wages

Citing this page specifically for some facts.  The maximum average school day for primary and secondary education falls right around 7 hours.  We can safely presume that at least an additional hour or two would be necessary for the average day, as students would be arriving and leaving before and after this time.  We need also to remember that students gather at times outside of this normal schedule, for any number of extra-curricular activities.  Luckily, the school year is only around 180 days.  Unfortunately, this doesn't include weekends.  We can presume that the majority of schools are going to have activities from approximately 7am to perhaps later than midnight (sporting events, dances, social events, band practice, FFA, library access, debate club, teachers and faculty preparation, and so forth).

Let us then presume that we need to cover perhaps 16 hours a day, 9 months per year.  We can presume that the average person over 65 years old is not going to be able to withstand 16 hour days for very long, so we'll need to have shifts set up.  If we presume a four-hour shift per person (remember, four people per school, not per shift), we get 1,248 hours per year.  That's 1,080 hours per year per person.  If we presume a simple $10 per hour with absolutely no benefits (although, working in a public school, that number's likely to be much higher with full benefits), the cost of a single employee would be around 10,800 per year.  Extrapolated to 545,250 is approximately 5.9 billion dollars per year, not including administrative costs.  To put that in perspective, the entire department of education only had a budget of 71.2 billion last year.  

Training and Certification

We will need to institute a system of qualifying what kind of people should and should not be included in the roster of potential candidates for these positions.  First and foremost, there would most certainly need to be psych evals for anyone interested, in exactly the same way as typical law enforcement would have to perform.  If we were not careful and stringent here, it would be no better than simply arming anyone and letting them roam the schools freely.

Apart from the massive cost this would add, there would also be a significant waiting period.  Evaluating and certifying 545,000 people would not be a fast task.  This could potentially take years.  

Large vs Small government

The typical argument for this sort of action is that laws simply aren't enough.  Essentially, expanding the influence of government via legislation is seen as the antithesis to this idea.  However, this would be one of the most disruptive things to the idea of minimizing government regulations.  It's terribly hard to argue that the government is ineffective and should be limited (because, as they argue, new laws are ineffective or something, even though we've not really had new laws in a long time), while attempting to force that same government on every individual, increasing the oversight of that government.

The other side of this argument is that criminals are simply going to be criminals, so new laws will be ineffectual.  The counter to this argument is as above, stating that somehow having guards (a police presence, etc) will deter criminals.  This has simply proven to be wrong in the past as well.  Laws, much like the presence of guards, will deter only the people it will deter.  Also, this standpoint is actually a beautiful argument for why removing gun laws and not posting guards is a great idea.  If the simple presence of guns is enough, then simply let everyone carry a gun.  It's not a great argument, per se, but it's at least logically consistent.

Average School Size

The average school is a pretty big place.  There are typically more than just a couple entrances to any given school.  It's going to be nearly impossible for four people to cover a school of most any size.  This is compounded by the fact that at any given time, there will likely be only one person on patrol at any given time.  A single person cannot effectively patrol and respond to situations in a timely fashion in a building that spans potentially a square mile or more in some cases.  This is just an exercise in futility.

Alternative Viewpoint

As anyone with a cursory knowledge of history of our country can attest, the simple fact that someone is a veteran does not automatically endear them to this cause.  The Fort Hood incident brings this to the forefront for this specific argument.  This also brings us back to the evaluation part.

Most veterans, like most people in general, are wonderful people.  Within every group there are going to be deviants, and we typically can't hold a given facet of a person as a reason they commit crimes like this.  The main problem we have is mental health initiatives.  The people who commit these crimes are not representative of the groups others might try to label them as.  We need to recognize that it's time to invest in making this country as healthy as possible.  Each person who has committed a crime like this has been shown, in hindsight, to be suffering from some sort of debilitating mental illness.  PTSD, depression, and other severe disorders can cause people to act violently.  Often times these behaviors will be ignored.  I argue that this is the essential root cause.

So, instead of spending upwards of perhaps 10 billion dollars on putting guards in schools (that's not the only place shootings happen, for example), perhaps we could spend that money on mental (and physical) healthcare.  Part of fixing mental health is getting people into better situations.  

I urge everyone to take a step back, and not rush to such quick judgement.  We need to discuss this like the civil country we are.  We need to help fix this ailment as best we can, as a group.  Divisive language every time these incidents happen is not helping the issue.  Staunch opposition to anyone who disagrees with oneself is not helping.  It may be that we need more than one thing.  More regulations doesn't mean stripping every gun from America.  Arming every public school in America doesn't mean we can't think about working on mental health initiatives, or maybe introducing regulations in other areas.  This sort of false dichotomy is ruining our ability to think as rational people.

Can we now start working toward a better America?  I hope so, for the sake of us all.  Remember most of all, the people you're shouting at online are real people.  We can do this, America.  I believe in us.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Open Letter Concerning the Elimination of Small Value Currency

This is an open letter addressed to members of the House, Senate and Congress.

It is time to properly address the issue that is small value currency in circulation.  It is the opinion of this author, and likely the opinion of a significant portion of the constituency of every district in the United States of America, that coinage with small face values is no longer relevant to modern society.  In addition to being a burdensome device of transaction, Pennies have become a useless monetary instrument.  To a lesser extent, Nickels and Dimes also fall into this category, and I shall argue thence that it may also be appropriate to eliminate this coinage henceforth from circulation.  In conjunction with this, I will also attempt to recommend a simpler sales tax solution which will also simplify retail processes and eliminate lost value to the economy.

Wherefore, in the course of common transactions, time savings can be realized with the elimination of Pennies specifically, and Nickels and Dimes more generally.  For example, a teller who makes minimum wage (rounded here to $8 per hour), is typically earning around 0.3 cents per second to make change.  A penny's cost to produce is around 1.8 cents per unit.  Ergo, a time savings of one second in the change-making stage is a 2-3 cent savings.  Considering that the average transaction will likely have 2 pennies, it costs twice as much to handle those pennies than those pennies are actually worth.  This is a net-loss of spending power over time.  

Related to this in the interest of simplifying sales taxation, would be to implement a system similar to those in other jurisdictions around the world, whereby taxes are figured into the total cost of the item, rather than being supplemental.  The European Value-Added Tax (commonly referred to as the VAT), for example, is included in the price of the good as is common to their retail.  The creation of a standardization here would be logical.  For example, a sales tax rate of 8% on an item that costs $1.00 would bring the total to the consumer to $1.08.  An item under the proposed bundling would simply cost $1.08.  An item in an economy in which pennies have been removed would simply cost $1.10.  In this way, change is much simpler to produce (no nickles nor pennies need be counted and handled) and is easily calculated by the average layman simply.  Rounding everything to the nearest quarter further simplifies this.  The minimum number of coins required to change any transaction under $1.00 is ten (three quarters, two dimes, a nickel and four pennies).  Eliminating the penny reduces this number to six (three quarters, two dimes and a nickel), and eliminating the nickel brings the total to six (four dimes and two quarters), and eliminating dimes brings this total to three (three quarters).

Wherefore, there is historical context for the elimination of coins whose life has run its course.  The elimination of the half-penny seven score and three years ago, was at a time when that coin had more purchasing power than a dime does today.  This means that we currently entertain three coins which have a value lower than the last coinage face value the United States ceased production of.  Apart from speeding up transactions, this allows for a rather large cost savings for resources we could allocate elsewhere. Similarly, there is historical precedent for elimination of coins such as the three-cent nickel, without regard to face value versus production cost.  

Furthermore, a penny is worth much less today than a mill (1/10 cent) was worth when the half-penny was removed.  Similarly, most people are completely ignorant of the same kind of rounding when it applies to the mill on the price of their gasoline or electricity.  There is absolutely no call to bring about a mill coin, for example, to ensure that mills are not rounded to the nearest cent.  In this regard, rounding to the nearest dime or quarter seems perfectly reasonable, and is a logical reason to institute the decommissioning of all coinage with a face value lower than 25 cents.

Related to this is the fact that a dollar coin costs less than one cent further to produce than a nickel.  Eliminating small face value coinage would encourage more use of dollar and half-dollar coins.  If a person has more room for carrying larger currency, it's likely a person would be more prone to use it.  Similarly, coins are more durable than paper money, and the ability to replace dollar bills with dollar coins (and improvement thereof the ease of use) gives us a currency base that lasts quite a bit longer and doesn't need as much upkeep.  This means a long-term savings that could be significant.
Wherefore, there is the simple matter of volume and mass.  Five pennies is more massive than a nickel, and five nickles more massive than a quarter.  Dime are approximately the same value per gram as a quarter.  Pennies accumulate easily but are nearly worthless when compared to other denominations of coinage.  When compared by mass or weight, pennies are exceptionally poor performers.  A pound of pennies is roughly $1.50.  By comparison, a pound of quarters or dimes is approximately $20.

With these sort of numbers in mind, let's move to the monthly figures of coins produces for 2015.  Approximately 7,246,500,000 pennies are produced each month.  This gives us a weight of around 48 million pounds of pennies, at a face value of around 72.5 million dollars, which cost us around 145 million dollars to produce.  Let's compare that to the quarters production.  Around 2,463,830,000 quarters are produced each month, with a weight of around 31 million pounds, and a face value of around $615 million, which cost us around $221 million to make.  Twice the weight of pennies, around 15% of the face value.  This is simply a losing proposition.

Furthermore, this means it takes roughly an additional 50% more fuel to move those pennies around, at minimum.  10 million tons of freight per month is a lot of energy to expend for something we're losing value on every time we handle it.

Therefore I resolve that perhaps it's time we look more seriously at decommissioning the penny, and perhaps even the nickel and dime.  It's time to stop wasting our time and energy on something that has such little value today.  This would also be an excellent opportunity to re-introduce a more robust dollar coin, as well as reintroducing the Eagle and Double Eagle denominations ($10 coin and $20 coin, respectively). In the short term, this may cause some confusion, but we live in an age where that confusion can be almost completely mitigated, nearly immediately.  

I thank you for your time and your consideration on this issue.

A concerned citizen

Friday, October 2, 2015

Open Rebuttal to Cross Examined

This is an open response to this article, featured on the website.

Let's start with breaking this down, line by line, as necessary.
As a homicide detective, I understand the power of alibis.  When a potential suspect can prove he or she wasn’t available to commit a crime because they were occupied elsewhere, they are eliminated as a candidate for the murder.
So, this is our establishing shot.  The first sentence, fine.  I'll let it stand for now.  It might prove useful later.  That second line is particularly useful.  It uses proof, and since he's a homicide detective, I'll presume he understands the meaning of proof in the scientific sense.  That's to say, it's synonymous with 'evidence.'  Not just in the legal sense, but in the full-fledged, evidence is literally proof in science sense.  This is what any scientist means when they use that word, evidence supporting a hypothesis.  In this case, the suspect can clearly show the alibi, which gives fairly solid evidence they were where they claim to be.  Perhaps it's a photo from a grocery store camera.  Maybe it's corroborating evidence from trustworthy witnesses.  Maybe it's the lack of DNA evidence at the crime scene.  For our purposes, the fact is demonstrated.  This is proof, evidence.

Alibis create conundrums: conditions difficult to explain based on the impossibility of simultaneous appearances.
 I want to break this down momentarily.  Alibis don't create conundrums.  Alibis which are reasonably sound merely eliminate the possibility of another solution.  Jim was seen on grocery store surveillance at the time of the murder, in a grocery store over two hours away.  The evidence creates no conundrum. The evidence merely means we need to ask more questions.  Jim being in two places at once is not the only solution to this problem, ergo there is not a conundrum here.  If it were the only solution, then we'd have to re-evaluate the evidence more closely.

In a similar way, the relationships between DNA, proteins, enzymes, and the cell’s membrane present a biological conundrum.
I'm not sure what this conundrum is.  The mechanisms by which DNA (more specifically RNA) synthesize proteins and enzymes are pretty well understood.  I'm not sure exactly what the cell wall has to do with it at this point, but I'm sure we'll come back to it.
Those who believe life can originate in our universe without supernatural interaction (and guidance) must overcome this conundrum if they hope to account for the presence of life “inside the room” of the natural universe by staying “inside the room” for an explanation.
 Actually, this is called a fallacy.  Specifically, it's the false burden of proof fallacy.  This fallacy involves someone making an assertion, then claiming that the negative must be proven.  In this case, the positive assertion is that life could not arise without a supernatural force.  It is therefore the burden of proof of the person making that claim to substantiate it.  We have evidence (read:proof) that relatively simple chemical reactions can cause relatively simple chemical reactions to reproduce.  We have evidence that abiogenesis can indeed happen independently.  We do not have evidence (again, read that word as proof) that anything outside of nature is required to explain phenomenon that happen within nature.  Using his 'alibi' metaphor, poorly tied in as it is, this means that we've actually got an alibi for the natural processes existing here, but we haven't any alibi that can be substantiated of a supernatural force ever being here.  Don't blame me, I said it was a poor analogy.

Specially formed functional proteins “unzip” a specific portion of the DNA by separating the helix at the middle of its rungs. Additional specialized proteins then act as molecular machines, helping to assemble nucleotide bases along one of the unzipped DNA segments.
 I'm actually going to just go ahead and let that one stand.  It's a reasonable enough approximation for the layman to understand what is indeed going on.  It's also in direct contradiction to the point of creationism he's trying to posit, but we'll get there soon enough.  Just remember, he's using science that supports the ability of this process to happen naturally to presume without an alibi (evidence/proof) that this very process can't happen naturally.  More on that later if he comes back to it.

 This new assemblage of nucleotides is called a messenger RNA (mRNA). Once formed, the shorter mRNA molecule detaches from the DNA and is carried off into the cell by additional protein “helpers.” The mRNA is carrying instructions needed to build a protein. It is helped by another RNA molecule known as transfer RNA (tRNA). The mRNA and tRNA meet in a molecular machine called a ribosome. This important mini-factory is constructed from proteins and RNA complexes. Here, the tRNA transfers the message carried in the mRNA so amino acids can form each protein:

Again, pretty much how it happens, simplified into a high-school textbook explanation.  Not bad!  Still, the point remains, he's using a process that happens in nature to say that this process can't just happen in nature.

His picture is basically the same as this one.
This one is from Wikipedia, on the article about protein synthesis.

 So, the picture above basically shows exactly the same thing as the picture on his blog.  It's correct.  This wonderful natural process does indeed happen, and it's essentially what DNA did before DNA became DNA.  More on that later if we really need.  If he can use simplified arguments, so can I.  I realize this paragraph isn't perfect, but it doesn't need to be for this purpose.  If I were a molecular biologist, I'd be glad to go more in-depth.
Once the sequence of amino acids has been established, something amazing happens. Rather than remain in a long chain, the amino acids begin to roll up and fold onto one another, forming the specific finished shape of the protein required to accomplish its job. This may take a few seconds and scientists are still mystified as to how amino acids accomplish this task.
 Actually, scientists aren't mystified because you aren't a scientist. Just because you want to cherry-pick what you put in your articles doesn't mean I will.  Amino acids and protein folding are reasonably-well understood at this point.  It's not mystifying as to how it works.  Seriously, google is your friend. 

Moving on.

None of this can happen without the aid of enzymes and the protection of the cell membrane. Enzymes are large molecules constructed primarily with proteins. These important molecules activate and accelerate the reactions related to everything from food digestion to DNA formation. Nearly every chemical response in the cell requires an enzyme to help it happen fast enough for life to result.
 Again, bravo.  Good science.  Practically correct for our purposes.  This guy ain't half bad, if it weren't for the completely illogical and unfounded premise he is trying to sew in, without much subtlety.

 Finally, all of this activity must be protected. That’s where the cell membrane becomes critical. The membrane separates the interior of the cell from hostile exterior forces. It is constructed with fatty molecules (lipids) and proteins (along with carbohydrates). Some cells also have an additional cell wall surrounding the membrane. Cell walls are tough but flexible, and offer an additional layer of filtering and protection.
The main problem here is that he's saying that, because most of it happens within a cell today, it must have fundamentally always happened in a cell for all of time.  This is the part he hasn't supported, where he says it must be protected.  Simple proteins constructed by simple amino acids a long time ago would not have had the same sort of environmental pressures they do today, like viruses and stuff.  There's a time before lipids and cytoplasm would have existed, but the proto-RNA would have still functioned.  This is evidenced by the fact that some cells do indeed lack walls even today.  This is the alibi (proof) by which the 'must' in his assertion fails.  Cells don't need cell walls.  Cell wall are mostly required for multicellular things like you and I, plants and mushrooms, fish and wallabies.  There are indeed unwalled cells living in you and I, in the form of protozoa for example. These aren't necessarily good for you. 

Now, had he said that some cells do require cell walls to function, then he'd be correct.  However, his implication is that DNA/RNA/all cellular things can't exist without a cell wall, which is wrong.  Just wanted to clarify that.
Now that we’ve reviewed the inner activities of the cell, you’ve probably already recognized the “chicken and egg” problem. Enzymes are necessary for the timely formation of proteins, but these enzymes are built, in part, with proteins. Worse yet, this “chicken and egg” problem is also present in the larger relationships between the DNA, RNA, proteins, ribosomes and cell membrane.
 Indeed, he got most of that first sentence right.  He did indeed talk about the inner workings of a large group of types of cells.  However, there's no chicken and egg conundrum.  This has been addressed by others in one way or another, but there was no first chicken.  Neither came first because they developed convergent in the same animal.  For example, the group of things typically called 'birds' that lays eggs were probably all related at a time in the very ancient past.  Also, none of them would have resembled a bird like you probably think of today, most likely.  There was initially a very simple organism that somehow gave birth, probably to a single cell, incubating it.  A chicken egg is still indeed a single cell, until it starts incubating and dividing.  It's not difficult to imagine that chickens were at one time much smaller, perhaps the size of finches or wrens, laying tiny eggs.  Go back further, even tinier birds laying minuscule eggs, with progressively softer shells.  Eventually, there would have been an even more primitive bird-like creature (probably also lizard-like and a lot of other animal-like, being an ancestor to lots of things) which gave an even more primitive birth.  Take it back further and you start to see close to the beginnings of life, the original multicellular organisms, which split in various ways to reproduce, resembling nothing like egg-laying at all, but nonetheless still using a single cell perhaps to start it's child lines.

Wheh, that was a big paragraph.  Let's see what else he has to say.

Paul Davies describes the conundrum: “Take DNA… It has a grand agenda, but to implement this, DNA must enlist the help of proteins… proteins are made by complicated machines called ribosomes, according to coded instruction received from DNA via mRNA. The problem is, how could proteins get made without the DNA code for them, the mRNA to transcribe the instructions, and the ribosomes to assemble them? But if the proteins are not already there, how can DNA, ribosomes and all the rest of the paraphernalia get made in the first place? It’s Catch-22.”

Again, this implies that proteins haven't changed in 4 billion years or so.  The simplest proto-RNA wouldn't have looked much like RNA at all, probably.  The simplest proto-amines or proto-protiens probably wouldn't have looked much like their modern counterparts, either.  It's entirely possible that some different chemical reaction, that happened naturally as a result of the strikingly different earth that would have existed, would have produced a proto-builder molecule of some sort, which would eventually have given rise to RNA.  Remember, this natural process would also be catalyzing something, meaning it would have been creating a byproduct.  Both can happen at the same time, and if they happen to have been opposite sides of a chemical reaction, we'd expect exactly that.

But I'm no chemist.  You can look this stuff up yourself if you prefer.  There's plenty of great resources on this kind of thing.  And it can happen in exactly the same way that dropping a bit of potassium in a bit of water creates a completely natural exothermic reaction, without need for any supernatural explanation.  In exactly the same way baking soda and vinegar create a completely natural chemical reaction.

All these important machines, transportation vehicles and tools must arrive at the cellular factory simultaneously and function in unison if life is to be possible.
 Again, an assertion without basis.  Apart from him feeling it should be (appeal to emotion fallacy), what reason is there these things could not have developed in response to natural factors, at roughly the same time?  In fact, the evidence supports just such a hypothesis.

The cell membrane and enzymes cannot be constructed without proteins, but the protein formation must be accelerated by enzymes and protected by the membrane.
And as I've pointed out already, this false dichotomy simply doesn't exist.  There's other options.  They can develop somewhat simultaneously, or independently.  Or it could be that a cell wall will only happen if the stuff in the cytoplasm happens to have code to make it.  Or it could be something else, but the evidence supports that.

  Proteins can’t be formed without DNA information and RNA activity, but machines formed from proteins (like ribosomes), are a critically necessary part of this process.
 In fact, this is actually falsifiable.  Here's one scholarly article on the subject.  The point is, cell membranes are not a requirement for protein synthesis.  Yes, it typically happens in nature that way, but it doesn't have to, as the blog post would have you believe.  This is unethical, and is called begging the question, a type of fallacy.

And we'll leave it there.  The last paragraph from his article is the merest posturing, and has no actual bearing on the rest of this article.  As always, this falls under fair use, especially since it is dealing with scientific inquiry.


Gun Control

This is going to be a bit more on the editorial side, so please bear with me.

Gun control and regulation is a topic that is at the forefront again, as I suspect it shall be for a long time.  This is not an easy topic to digest, mainly because it's got so many factors working into it.  Specifically, this is in reference to the latest mass shooting (and it's a sad indicator when I don't even have to mention which one because in two days there will be another, statistically).  People will naturally want to discuss gun control, because guns are used quite a bit in these events.  However, I think it's necessary that we look at factors other than simply regulating guns, and here's some reasons why.  Please feel free to discuss them in the comments, remembering to keep it civil.  This is the internet, and you're probably going to disagree with some of the points I make.

This post is spurred by a conversation I was engaged in recently on twitter, but its components are basically the same in most debates of this nature.  Specifically, let me address the issue of safe firearm storage first.

This seems like a logical thought, locking up a firearm makes it safer.  I would argue that anything less than a bolted-down safe (or a very heavy one) is probably not going to deter the average thief.  Locking up ammunition and guns to protect children, and to prevent accidental discharge, is one thing.  Trigger locks aren't nearly as effective in the hands of people who steal your guns.  If someone is determined enough to enter your locked house, I'm fairly certain same person could easily disable a locking mechanism on your gun.  There are technologies coming up to make it harder to use guns, like smart lock tech, however it's going to be nearly impossible to make enough of those locks at a reasonable enough price to safeguard every gun.  This also assumes that people would want such a thing, and I'm fairly certain that people who already have illegally obtained firearms aren't going to get much use out of them.

Which leads to my second observation.  Yes, locks can help.  Any deterrent is useful, and even locking half the guns currently in existence, and mandating all new guns have these sort of safety features, would indeed cut down on some gun crime.  However, I think it safe to presume that it's still not going to greatly deter people who want to find unlocked guns.  This also brings up another point, that a gun is not a difficult thing to fabricate.  A firearms registry might help a bit, and it's clear that most mass shootings are happening with automatic rifles.  This reduces the number of guns we would need to identify and lock/register.  However, as we've also seen, several of these incidents happen with the use of more traditional rifles, handguns, and shotguns. 

Moving back to the lock argument, I think there's another facet that's typically overlooked.  Lots of people, including many who advocate for less restriction on gun control, claim it is for a purpose loosely defined as 'self-defense.'  This can include anything from protecting your home from armed invaders, to protecting yourself in public from the selfsame individuals perpetrating mass shootings and armed robberies, et cetera.  Locking a gun in a cabinet defeats this purpose pretty directly.  A trigger lock makes the gun fairly useless for home defense.  Smart lock technology would certainly negate most of this effect, but for now, most guns don't have fingerprint scanners built into grips. 

Another argument that was brought up was that the owner of the gun should be held responsible.  I think this is, at least in part, a good idea. I also think it would be difficult to enforce, for various reasons.  Some people compare it to licensing cars.  Make every gun registered and criminals will be more quickly apprehended.  I'm completely for a gun register, and I think it's a good idea.  I think there's several hurdles to overcome first.  For example, in no particular order:

  • Unlike a car, you can't see the gun's license/serial number easily when it's used in a crime.  
    • Car tags work because we can see them, and car styles are fairly unique
    • Most handguns are black, and it's difficult to tell one caliber from another when it's pointed at you, let alone get its license number.
  • There are lots of unregistered guns
    • Taking a near-complete census of every gun in circulation today would be impossible.
    • Guns aren't nearly as easy to find as cars after a crime.  
  • Stolen guns would take a lot of paperwork to track.
    • Even if your gun was reported stolen, it's trivially simple to remove most serial numbers.
    • This means it would be hard to prove which stolen gun is yours.  
    • We could have a ballistics sample of every gun on file as well, but that would be incredibly costly, especially considering most guns aren't used in crimes, and lots of times guns used in crimes aren't fired.
  • What, exactly, constitutes a gun?
    • A paintball gun can be just as lethal as a regular firearm if you use appropriate-caliber shot.
    • Air rifles, crossbows, slingshots, and a plethora of other types of weaponry can potentially be as dangerous as firearms, and are largely unregulated.  If traditional firearms suddenly became much more heavily regulated, one could argue that these sort of weapons would overtake traditional firearms in these roles.   
      • Granted, this doesn't appear to be a concern at present, but some people do indeed use air rifles, airsoft guns, and other non-firearms to commit crimes.  Similarly, it provides a good exercise in demonstrating just how hard it is to regulate something that is not very well regulated at present.
Again, I'm not arguing against registration.  Although, in my state, a background check is required, and the serial numbers of most of the guns I own should already be in a database somewhere in some governmental office in my state anyway.  Registration isn't really even the hard part.  There are numbers out there demonstrating that there are perhaps 320 million guns in America, that we know about.  I'm willing to guess that this number is considerably lower than the actual.  I would guess that there are potentially twice that number.  There are around 240-260 million registered vehicles in America, by comparison.  Registering and tracking 320 million guns, plus the approximately 5.5 million new ones per year (we don't do this with cars, but we'd almost certainly have to do it with guns) would require a massive undertaking.  Not to mention the number of guns imported, that's a lot of guns.

However, all this aside, I think there's bigger issues to deal with.  Mental health is definitely one of them.  America doesn't do very well at the healthcare thing, for several reasons which I won't get into here.  We have the Affordable Care Act now, and we could certainly stand to spend a bit more of the VA, Medicare, Medicaid, Welfare and other social service money on making sure people are healthy mentally, as part of routine services.  Granted, this might require something of an overhaul of our taxation/spending scheme, but I think it's far from impossible to guarantee every American access to affordable or free healthcare, without hurting working individuals.  I'll touch on this idea, as well as others, in another post. 

Gun law reform, and gun control legislation is definitely necessary.  The proposition is not to remove guns from the hands of everyone (although Switzerland does pretty well with there scheme), but to regulate the firearms industry.  I think the above points I've made are valid, and I think we could easily overcome some of the problems up there if we were willing to tweak other areas of our policy.  However, that might come across as a bit socialist, and for whatever reason, we are quite hesitant to approach that.  I will leave my socioeconomic ramblings to another post, but suffice to say, a more socialist governance policy is not necessarily a bad thing, and is perhaps necessary to the next stage of fixing this problem.  Access to better healthcare, attempting to eliminate poverty, increasing standards of living and enabling people to get help they need before this kind of thing happens, is perhaps not the worst possible outcome.  We can't do it with our current structure, but I don't think that means we shouldn't be open to changing the current structure, including more regulation on guns.  I'm saying this as a gun owner, no less. 

If you have any points, feel free to post them in the comments below.  Again, let's try to keep it civil, and have a good debate.  I'm not sure there's an easy solution, or even a 'right' solution, but I'm sure there's a way to improve things if we can work together.  Just because we may disagree on some things doesn't mean we can't work together.  I'm willing to compromise if it means a better future for the next generation.  Are you?