Anti-vaxxers are Paranoid, Illogical, and Unscientific

There is an old saying that goes, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." Likewise, there is a variant of that saying that has evolved over the years as, "You can lead a man to knowledge, but you can't make him think." This is especially true within the realms of Social Media, where any number of ill-informed rabble now have a platform to publicly spew complete nonsense, while remaining incapable of being able to see anything beyond their warped points of view. Even when presented with incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, these ideological miscreants cling to their fallacies with a religious fervor that would fill zealots with envy. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, few topics have generated such levels of misplaced devotion as the anti-vaxx crowds, which gained tens of thousands of new converts during the recent COVID19 pandemic as paranoia fueled by conspiracy theories devolved into a quagmire of unscientific, politically-charged drivel. It is usually best to ignore the ridiculous offerings proffered by those who are incapable of understanding simple logic, because nothing you can say will budge them from their comfortable, little echo chambers.

Well-Thought-Arguments

That being said, I occasionally see something so ludicrous that I cannot remain silent, and though I know that my actions will do no good, I cannot resist the temptation to speak up, which brings me to the subject of today's blog. Despite 2½ years of a global pandemic that has resulted in millions of deaths around the planet, there are thousands of paranoid, uneducated saps who deny its existence or distrust the government's motivations where the pandemic is concerned. The following conversation details just one example of this type of mentality at work.

ANTI-VAXXER:
"The unvaccinated aren't dying. Just saying..."
 
REBUTTAL:
Literally millions of unvaccinated people have died around the globe... though apparently no one you know (but some people I know). That said, far less people died in the USA because we have some of the best medical care in the world. Thankfully, however, global fatality rates have decreased because the Omicron variants - while still easily transmissible - have much lower mortality rates than predecessor variants.
 
Current numbers indicate that roughly 8% of the world's population has contracted COVID19, and the numbers will probably increase this winter as in the past couple years, and COVID19 will likely become an annual scourge like the normal flu season.
 
ANTI-VAXXER:
"The normal flu season also results in the death of 10s of thousands every year, except, it seems, when COVID was raging. Interesting how the head shed in dc has never been as rabid about normal flu season deaths as they are about COVID. Apparently, there's no political advantage to being fired up about deaths from flu."
 
REBUTTAL:
You've apparently missed the point that flu deaths were reduced during the COVID pandemic because millions of people across the globe wore masks, used hand sanitizer, practiced social distancing, quarantined people who were infected, stayed home as much as possible, closed businesses, etc. Personally, I think that some of those measures were an overreaction, but the reason why people were overreacting is that even though the flu typically results in the deaths of tens of thousands of people each year, from the outset of the COVID outbreak it was easy to project that millions were going to die from that disease when it was still at its worst. If we hadn't done anything, the number of COVID deaths would have been far greater - in other words, even though some governments overreacted, their results were nevertheless effective. The number of people infected with COVID were far less than they would have been, and flu cases were reduced as a by-product of the heightened awareness and preventative measures.
 
To put things in perspective, the average number of annual flu cases in the USA from 2010 to 2020 was around 28 million, versus 97 million cases of COVID in the USA alone since its initial outbreak (and 628 million cases globally). However, the total number of deaths in the USA due to the flu for that same decade of 2010 to 2020 was 347 thousand, versus 1.1 million deaths in the USA due to COVID in two years alone (and 6.7 million deaths globally). In other words, the annual flu season results in an average of 32 thousand deaths per year, which is no small number, but COVID has resulted in an average of 440 thousand deaths per year. Putting that in layman's terms, despite all the preventative and/or over-reactive measures that were enacted, COVID still infected the population with a transmission rate that was several times greater than annual flu seasons, and COVID was considerably more fatal.
 
But here's another interesting tidbit about diseases - as most people are aware, diseases mutate into new variants, and as a result, they often become less toxic with each new mutation. When you study the pathology for diseases that have rampaged humanity, they are especially heinous when they mutate and initially cross over the barrier from plants or animals to humans, which is when we sometimes see the highest mortality rates. But as some diseases continue to mutate, their lethality decreases as they are transmitted from human to human (though sometimes diseases mutate in the opposite direction and become more pernicious before eventually withering out).
 
The history of diseases is replete with nasty outbreaks that eventually contain themselves, though to be clear - that sometimes takes decades (e.g. the Black Plague) or centuries (e.g. Yellow Fever), during which millions could perish. However, following the introduction of germ theory for disease in the 18th century and its global acceptance in the 19th century, we now know for the most part how diseases work - and we have spent the past two centuries building up our defenses and chronicling our discoveries, which helps us fight off major pandemics like the one we just encountered. That being said, make no mistake - if COVID had struck 100 years ago, the results would have been far more devastating than the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic.
 
To sum up, there's no conspiracy here - it's simple science: if you take drastic measures to prevent the spread of one disease, you will more than likely prevent the spread of other diseases.
 
ANTI-VAXXER:
"Regardless, flu deaths were essentially ignored by the political agenda for COVID."
 
REBUTTAL:
Once again, that's completely untrue. Anyone working in any of the combined fields of science that were fighting COVID knew that anything that was done to prevent the spread of COVID would ALSO prevent the spread of other diseases like the flu, and anyone with a grasp of basic science - to include politicians - understood that simple concept. So the flu wasn't "ignored" during the pandemic - everyone knew that it would be contained better than ever before, which it was.
 
However, the question that you MIGHT want to ask yourself is, "Why is the flu ignored when there ISN'T a pandemic?" Given the numbers that I shared earlier, the annual flu season resulted in an average of 32 thousand deaths per year in the decade prior to the COVID outbreak, so why isn't anyone paying attention to THOSE deaths? And once again, the answer is simple: they are. The CDC is actively fighting the flu, and does its best to predict the flu variant each year, and millions of flu vaccines are shipped around the country/globe to fight off the flu as a result. Some years the CDC does a better job of predicting the flu variant, and infection rates decrease as a result.
 
However, according to the CDC, if you REALLY wanted to reduce the numbers of flu cases and/or deaths each year, you could... wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, practice social distancing, quarantine people who are infected, and even - [gasp!] - wear a mask. Of course, many people refused to follow any of those recommendations during the pandemic, so there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that they'll follow any of those guidances for the flu season. That being said, I've carried a mask in my laptop bag for years when traveling, and I've had no problems pulling that out and wearing it when someone seated next to me is horribly ill (and probably shouldn't have been traveling).
 
In other words, despite your beliefs to the contrary, the flu wasn't ignored during the pandemic. On the contrary, the effects of the flu were greatly marginalized due to the extraordinary measures that were enacted to combat the pandemic. However, even when there isn't a pandemic, the flu is still in the cross-hairs of the people we have who fight diseases.
 
ANTI-VAXXER:
"From my observation of the political 'used car' salesmen during the COVID panic, it is completely true. Never once heard one of them mention anything in reference to the annual flu season."
 
REBUTTAL:
There was no need to mention anything in reference to the annual flu season during the COVID pandemic, because - as I just said - everyone knew that the annual flu season would be contained better than ever before because of the extraordinary measures that were enacted to combat COVID. There's no need to mention something that has been totally negated, which - for all intents and purposes - the the flu was.
 
Flu deaths in the USA for 2020 were so small that the CDC has no real numbers to report, and flu deaths for 2021 were around 5 thousand - which was 85% below the annual national average. However, in that same time frame, COVID deaths were literally 220 times greater (e.g. 5,000 deaths for the flu vs 1.1 million deaths for COVID). So, yeah - you didn't hear about flu deaths during the pandemic because it was essentially a non-entity statistically, but you heard a LOT about COVID deaths because COVID was killing people at numbers that were exponentially higher than the flu. And you didn't hear anything about trying to prevent the flu during the pandemic because - as I have said several times now - everything that was done to prevent COVID was ALSO preventing the flu.
 
ANTI-VAXXER:
"We will have to agree to disagree."

As I said earlier, this discussion typifies the point that I was trying to make; despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, this anti-vaxxer was incapable of seeing anything beyond his paranoid, unscientific, and illogical perspective.

What a sad indictment of the quality of scientific thought in the 21st century.

Sad smile


UPDATE: This post was edited to fix a small math error that was in the original.

Unionism, Socialism, Capitalism, and Communism

A few years ago, Ben Shapiro (like him or hate him) was speaking at a university, and a young Socialist stepped up to the microphone during a Q&A session to promote the related ideas of Unionization, Market Socialism (as opposed to political), and worker-owned businesses. The Socialist kept pressing the point that Capitalism is unfair to workers because workers provide all the labor for lower wages than business owners receive, which is classical Marxism at its best (or worst, as the case may be). The Socialist kept espousing what he thinks is "fair" with regard to wage gaps between the common worker and the CEO. Though to be clear, the young Socialist doesn't use the word "fair." Instead, he obscures that notion through a never-ending barrage of Socialist jargon. Nevertheless, that is his implication: Capitalism is "unfair" because workers do not earn as much as business owners.

However, Shapiro's answer provides one of the best explanations for why there is a logical reason for wage disparity, and I highly suggest that you watch it. There are two versions of this video: a shorter version (≈3:30) with just the highlights at https://youtu.be/3xq-q6a9tCM, and the full version (≈12:50) with the entire conversation at https://youtu.be/NUauABEnTZI. Unions are not a bad thing conceptually; the problem is that they often devolve into a bad thing in reality.

I have seen several situations where unions keep round-tripping back to the negotiating table again and again asking for benefits that are unnecessary (and I can cite examples), and the unions in these situations eventually force their parent businesses to become unprofitable (which is what has led to more robots on factory floors, self-checkout lines in supermarkets, jobs headed overseas, and self-service kiosks at fast-food restaurants). When unions demand higher wages for skills that are easy-to-train and therefore more or less expendable, businesses will do away with expendable laborers. (Either by outsourcing or automation, as I have just mentioned.) In a like manner, when unions demand benefits with significant costs from businesses like paid college tuition for workers' family members, six months of paid maternity leave, etc., these unions may force companies into bankruptcy. Don't get me wrong, paid college tuition and paid maternity leave are wonderful benefits to have, but when labor demands these types of things and profits cannot keep up with the increased expenditures, businesses are doomed to fail and everyone is out of work.

There was a greater need for unions a century ago, when modern labor laws had yet to be written and factories routinely abused their laborers. Times have changed, and everyone in the United States is in the top 1% of the world with regard to health, housing, employment, wages, etc. The quality of life in North America exceeds that of nearly the entire planet, and yet people still find room to complain - because people delude themselves into thinking that life is somehow "unfair" to them, which is typically because someone else has something that they want; either a higher salary, or a better job, a better house, a better car, a better spouse, etc. People want what they don't have, and that's what led to the "99%" riots a few years ago, and also to thousands of misguided Socialists and/or Unionists who decry their elevated global conditions as some form of suffering. Don't get me wrong, nothing is perfect and laborers still need representation to prevent potential abuse, but the irresponsible claims emanating from the mouths of most Unionists sound ludicrous when you take into account just how blessed some of the people doing the complaining really are.

As for Socialism, which typically goes hand in hand with Unionism and eventually devolves into Communism, let me take a moment to briefly editorialize. I have witnessed first-hand the many evils of Communism, which is why I cannot support anyone who is espousing either a Communist or Socialist system of government. While a logical argument can be made for socializing specific programs - such as healthcare - both Communism and Socialism are doomed to failure from their inception, because they seek to forcibly create "equality of outcome" instead of "equality of opportunity."

Everyone deserves an equal opportunity to qualify for the job they desire, and an equal opportunity to seek advancement within their respective places of employment. However, people deserve to be rewarded for their efforts, and if one person chooses to outperform their peers, they should be compensated for their efforts. Likewise, if someone chooses to accept greater responsibility within their company, or to step out as an entrepreneur and found their own company, they should also be compensated for their efforts. In a Capitalist society, they will be. However, in a Communist or Socialist society, everyone is forced into categories - often from which they cannot escape - and the outcome is dictated by the state. If Person A outperforms Person B, that doesn't matter; compensation must be the same for both people, for that is "equality" under Communism and Socialism. Of course, this system is untenable for those who are forced to suffer under it, which is why millions of people have fled Communist or Socialist societies over the past century, and millions more have been put to death or imprisoned when trying to protest their oppressive regimes. This is why most countries that adopt Communism or Socialism are forced to do so at gunpoint.

Most people who deride Capitalism do so because they have a misguided view of "fairness," which is generally an untrustworthy worldview. What is "fair" for Person A seldom seems "fair" to Person B if Person A has more than Person B, and therein lies the problem. In an equality of opportunity scenario, both Person A and Person B have the same chance to make more or less based on their personal participation, which is the ideal way of conducting society. However, in an equality of outcome scenario, if Person A has acquired more than Person B, that is forbidden by the state, and the government must intervene and force both persons to be "equal," which is not an ideal way to conduct a society.

This is what we have seen time and again with Communist or Socialist societies; they actively seek equality of outcome, and millions are forced to suffer as a result. The former Soviet Union, North Korea, China, the Warsaw Pact, and Cuba are just a few examples from the 20th century of what happens in an equality of outcome society. Even though barely a generation has gone by since the demise of the Soviet Union, there are thousands of gullible individuals who would gratefully embrace Communism and Socialism because they think that some part of their lives isn't "fair." These people are - as the Communists called them - "Useful Idiots." Such people hasten their own demise by failing to understand what they are promoting; as the old adage says, "Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it."

I will now step down off my soapbox and back quietly away.

Auschwitz and Contemporary Politics

A blogger who publishes his content using the moniker of The Catholic Traveler recently shared his observations on social media about his recent trip to the former concentration camp of Auschwitz. I visited the former concentration camp of Dachau when I was stationed in Germany back in the late 1980s, so I read his post with interest. After reading his post, I made an observation that I thought was worth sharing, but first - I have to put things in perspective. To do so, I will repost the full contents of his original blog, with full credit given to Mountain Butorac (aka "The Catholic Traveler") as its author.

I visited Auschwitz for the first time the other day. I'm not sure how I feel about it. It's one of the most awful places in the world, yet they sell donuts at the snack bar.

Many people traveling with me posted things like "no words." That's how I felt at first too. It's why I often wait a while before commenting on things - to be sure I have the right words, rather than just emotions.

During our visit the sky was grey and there was a steady cold rain. We trudged through thick mud to get from barracks to gas chambers to crematoriums. Everything about the visit was uncomfortable, even the guide.

She spoke English with a heavy German accent and an even heavier lisp. She showed no emotion at all, even when saying...

"These people are being separated from their families. They are told they are going to shower after the long journey, but they are being sent to die. Their family will never see them again."

"Kids and the elderly couldn't work. They were stripped naked and sent to the gas chambers to die. Here's their hair."

"Pregnant women and twins were used in medical experiments. Their screams could be heard across this courtyard."

She was great, I would use her again, but it was all very creepy. As it should be, I suppose.

Two things that struck me...

How often the guide stressed the proof of what happened there. I've heard of Holocaust deniers, but assumed it was a small group of people like those who think Elvis is alive.

I also never considered how many people thought what they were doing was right and just. They felt these people were a threat to their way of life. An inconvenience. A burden.

In interviews with SS guards after the war, they were asked how they could justify killing babies who were of no threat. Their answers were that they were useless, needed the attention of the mother to survive, and would eventually grow to be a threat.

When asked how they could do such horrid experiments on people, they responded that it was essential for improving their medical system. Doctors and nurses felt it was completely ethical to drown newborn babies and inject all sorts of things into people to further their science.

Just incredible. I'm still processing it.

I think it's a place you must visit. But don't get the donuts.

 

-- Copyright 2022 by The Catholic Traveler.

My personal experiences at Dachau evoked the same emotions that Butorac tried his best to explain, but words failed me as they did for him. When you are standing in a place where unspeakable evil was committed on a daily basis, it is hard to fathom how someone / anyone could allow themselves to torture and kill their fellow human beings without so much as a second thought.

And yet, as I considered recent political events in the United States and re-examined some of Butorac's statements after I removed his references to World War II, I was left with the following excerpt:

"I also never considered how many people thought what they were doing was right and just. They felt these people were a threat to their way of life. An inconvenience. A burden. In interviews ... they were asked how they could justify killing babies who were of no threat. Their answers were that they were useless, needed the attention of the mother to survive, and would eventually grow to be a threat [to their way of life]."

The remaining verbiage that we are left with is just as incredible - and just as creepy - when compared to the arguments that I hear in sound bites on the daily news. The devaluation of innocent lives whom people regard as an inconvenience, or a burden, or a threat to the way of life to which they have grown accustomed has apparently not been limited to history or geography.

I Wonder If History Was Like This

I love studying history, and I must admit that the majority of the books that I read are on that subject. That said, I recently stumbled across the following video from Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, which an amusing look at the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia. Even though I know that it's meant humorously, there are times when I wonder how historically accurate events like this might have been.

Winking smile

We Have Plenty of Evidence

As I watch the news and listen to politicians discuss the ongoing investigation into the treasonous actions of the people who stormed the Nation's Capital, they begin to repeat the same old story that they have told many times in the past: "we have plenty of evidence, but we won't prosecute."

Like many of you, I've grown weary of this same "we have plenty of evidence, but we won't prosecute" excuse. For the people who want to see someone (like Trump) go down in flames, such a statement is vindication of their existing hatred even though nothing actually happens. But when no one is ever prosecuted, Washington's "we have plenty of evidence" statements mean nothing. As someone I know pointed out: either you prosecute because you have evidence, or you exonerate because you don't.

This continued tendency of politicians to say whatever they want about someone's presumptive guilt without demonstrable evidence to support their claims borders on slander and/or libel from a legal perspective, while from a personal perspective I disregard the entire fetid mass of political anal fissures currently in office as useless appendages of society. In a related matter, I distrust news sources that will print or broadcast anything as publicly and loudly as possible without verifying the facts when it suits their agenda, and then quietly print a retraction when their duplicitousness is discovered, while at the same time demonstrating their hypocrisy when they demand ridiculous levels of authentication for stories that do not fit the message they want to promote. (But I digress...)

This current situation with Trump isn't the first time we've heard Washington troglodytes claim they have plenty of evidence. We heard the same thing about Hillary Clinton's destruction of government equipment that had been subpoenaed; you might recall the FBI saying, "we have enough evidence, but we won't prosecute," so the AG dismissed the investigation. So was she actually guilty of crimes or not? We'll never know. There was "plenty of evidence" that the Obama administration used the IRS to punish political rivals, but no one was prosecuted. On more than one occasion we heard that someone had plenty of evidence on Bill Clinton for one crime or other; but he was never prosecuted and nothing was ever brought to light. Apart from being a serial predator, was Slick Willie guilty of actual crimes? Once again, we'll never know.

Jumping forward to today, the Washington Post presented ample evidence, and the New York Times has begrudgingly verified, that the Bidens appear to be guilty of some truly nefarious money changing prior to Joe's election to office, which isn't surprising given the fact that Joe and his son built both of their careers upon a steaming pile of dishonesty and lies (see Politics, Plagiarism and the Press and Laptop from Hell, among others). But will these undisputed facts ever see the light of day in a court room? I think not, and it will probably be the same situation with Trump and whomever serves in office after the Bidens leave town.

Despite their mutual loathing and hatred for each other, both sides of the political aisle know this to be true: once Washington finally gets around to prosecuting someone who truly deserves it, the gloves will come off, everyone will be fair game for prosecution, and the entire house of cards will come tumbling down. In other words, the Dems and GOP have détente right now... and neither side wants to cause Mutually Assured Political Destruction.

I Cannot Take Putin's Side in Ukraine

A well-intentioned veteran with whom I served in the military several years ago presented a challenge on social media: he asked everyone to consider information from all sides before deciding how to personally react with regard to Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. To that end, he brought up a philosophy that we were taught in military intelligence: if you want to defeat your enemy, you must first understand him. This piece of wisdom can be traced back to the writings of Sun Tzu, and it is solid doctrine. My friend went further to say that listening to false intelligence about your enemy was worse than having no intelligence, because it could lead to fatal decision making. Once again, this is a solid piece of advice when considering world affairs.

Combining these two outlooks, my colleague shared the following video of a speech by Vladimir Putin, in which Putin asserts that his military aggressions over past two decades have been a reaction to NATO's eastward expansion. To paraphrase my former comrade's beliefs about Russia's invasion of Ukraine, he felt that Russia has just cause to feel threatened by the West because of NATO's continued expansion; therefore Putin's actions were acceptable - and somewhat inevitable - given the situation described by Putin in his speech.

However, I do not - and cannot - share my former colleague's opinion of this invasion. While my friend made a valid point that everyone should look at any given situation from all sides, that does not mean that every position has equal worth. With that in mind, here are some additional thoughts for everyone to ponder.

I watched Putin's speech in the above video some time ago, and I've heard when Putin expressed similar sentiments at other times. It's wonderful propaganda, to be sure, and Putin has outdone himself as a former member of the KGB with regard to his ability to spin his military aggressions as some sort of defensive posturing. However, his actions do not line up with the lies that he is telling. If you re-watch the above video and listen to Putin's version of events, he claims to be a peace loving individual minding his own business, while the West has been slowly threatening him. But if you ignore all the excess noise about NATO and the USA, what has Putin been doing for decades? He's been rolling his military into neighboring countries and grabbing up land and resources when neither NATO nor the USA have had anything to do with the situation. In other words, if some hypothetical person listened to Putin and believed his warped version of reality, that person is being played. Although to that hypothetical person's credit, they're being played by one of the most-skilled political manipulators to emerge onto the world stage. Putin is the kind of bully that will punch you in the face and then convince you that you need to apologize for it.

Here is something else to consider: does Putin actually care about the reasons that he is citing for his military aggression (like NATO expansion), or has Putin simply been given the opportunity of a lifetime to do as he pleases because he has a somewhat plausible reason for blaming everything he does on someone else? Consider the following PBS documentary from seven years ago, which documents Putin's rise to power from a lowly KGB agent through decades of corruption, embezzlement, and ruthlessness to become President of Russia.

Throughout Putin's ascendency, he formed powerful alliances with other corrupt politicians and oligarchs, from which Putin has personally profited handsomely. In addition, you might recall from recent years that Putin has no qualms about imprisoning or poisoning his political opponents in order to preserve his autocracy.

Like any good Soviet, Putin does a masterful job of committing atrocities and then blaming it on others. Here are a few recent cases in point:

  • Putin accused Ukraine of hurting Russian separatists in the Donbas region, which provided him with his "justification" for attacking Ukraine.
  • Putin has accused Ukraine of using chemical weapons, which - despite a lack of evidence - could provide Putin with his "justification" for using chemical weapons in Ukraine.
  • Russian forces infamously bombed a maternity hospital in Mariupol, then blamed Ukraine for using the hospital to house neo-Nazis.

Putin is clearly using the same playbook that the Soviet Union used during the Cold War: the Soviets would accuse the West of doing something bad, which provided the Soviets with their "justification" for doing something bad themselves.

Harkening back to one of my opening statements about understanding one's enemy, there is a part of the collective Russian psyche that warrants examination: decades of post-WWII Russian fears about being invaded from the West - as Germany did during WWII - are not easily forgotten. This state of fear provides Putin with an excellent pretext to mobilize public sentiment behind any political or militaristic whim that he might concoct. In other words, Putin can claim, "I need to attack Govnovia because our security is threatened by the West," which he can use to conceal any actual intentions.

If you watch the following documentary, it describes how over the past few decades, Ukraine has continuously threatened Russia's profits from oil and natural gas, and sales of these fuel resources comprise 50% of Russia's GDP. Since Putin has made a career out of skimming billions of dollars from Russia, Ukraine's reduction of Russia's profits hurts Putin's pocketbook. Ergo - the true cause of Putin's actions is profits, and all his rhetoric about NATO and tapping into Russia's history of paranoia where the West is concerned is nothing but a smoke screen.

In summary, there was a grain truth to what my former colleague was saying when he pointed out that NATO has advanced eastward over the years. However, countries that have been recently added to NATO were not invaded militarily by the West. On the contrary, those nations asked to join NATO in order to avoid the exact scenario that is happening with Ukraine right now. However, let's set that aside for a moment, and consider the person who is claiming that NATO expansion is somehow a problem. As I said earlier, does Putin actually care? Or has the West inadvertently given Putin the ammunition that he needs to use military aggression to achieve his personal ambitions?

In the end, my colleague was correct when he said that one must understand his enemy and avoid false intelligence, and yet he has failed in both of those capacities: by accepting Putin's propaganda at face value, my former comrade has chose to base his worldview on false intelligence, and as a result he has failed to understand his enemy.


POSTSCRIPT:

In an ironic twist, Putin has become the same sort of dictator that Russia has feared; all of Putin's speeches about Russia needing to annex Ukraine sound just like Hitler's proclamations of needing "Lebensraum" prior to WWII. From my perspective, history is repeating itself in one of two ways: either Putin is attempting to rebuild the Soviet Union like his Communist predecessors (while personally profiting as a Capitalist), or Putin is making a land grab like the other infamous despot that I just named (and is therefore using the memory of Nazism to behave like a Nazi).

The Inevitable Demise of Dictators

Today is the 69th anniversary of Josef Stalin's long overdue demise, which means it's time to re-watch one of my favorite dark comedies: The Death Of Stalin. However, given recent events in Ukraine, it's nice to have a reminder that Russian dictators - like all dictators - will eventually wither and die and become nothing more than worm food.

The Death of Stalin Movie Poster

Taxation without Realization

If you've read my blog in the past, then I am sure you're aware that I have no problems speaking my mind about any number of disparate subjects. Although, in the interests of full transparency, I have shown far more restraint than most people would assume. Nevertheless, I am occasionally obliged to say something when I think that a particular issue warrants my unsolicited opinion, which leads me to today's topic of discussion: taxes.

Throughout my life, I have seen hundreds of people display a general ignorance when it comes to paying taxes. To be clear, no one wants to pay taxes, and many people tend to complain incessantly about paying taxes. However, most of their arguments demonstrate a complete failure to understand why taxes are a necessary evil. With that in mind, when I saw the following image turn up in my news feed on social media, I couldn't help but think, "What a stupid thing to say."

Why Am I Paying Taxes

Wage taxes - both state and federal - are collected to pay for police services, fire departments, road construction and repairs, traffic lights, national and state parks, public health, military defense, and thousands of other necessary services that keep our society safe and protected. However, I freely admit that there are thousands of useless projects and salaries for useless public servants what we shouldn't be paying for, but I'll come back to that in a minute.

Nevertheless, the taxes to pay for all these public services and infrastructure costs are withheld from every paycheck in order to avoid forcing taxpayers to pay a lump sum in taxes at the end of every year. With that in mind, think of taxation on wages as a type of payment plan. However, if a taxpayer hasn't set up their withholding correctly, then they might wind up paying additional taxes during tax season to make up the difference between what they should have paid and what was withheld, or taxpayers might receive a refund if they have overpaid in their withholding.

Taxes on purchases are a somewhat ingenious/infamous concept that forces wealthier taxpayers to pay far more than those who earn less, because higher wage earners tend to spend more on unnecessary purchases, which increases the amount of taxes that they pay. Sales tax on property purchases follow suit, though there are additional property taxes that residents are required to pay after they've purchased their property, which are ostensibly used to provide services at the community level (e.g. local police, fire, etc.).

To summarize my feedback thus far: everything that is addressed in that meme illustrates the way that governments work around the globe - there are services that are needed to keep people safe and commerce flowing, and taxes provide for those services. If we briefly set aside the concepts of useless projects and useless public servants for a moment, objecting to the basic concept of taxation is akin to claiming that you can provide your own protection from crime, fire, invasion, disease, etc., while also creating your own means of transportation (e.g. building your own roads). At the end of the day, any notion of doing away with taxes is beyond ludicrous. You might as well wish for anarchy, which leads almost immediately to being conquered by another country that developed its superior military forces through... taxes.

All that being said, there are several things about taxes that I find equally ludicrous.

I have already mentioned thousands of useless projects and salaries for useless public servants what we shouldn't be paying for, and better public transparency from our government would help take care of that. However, better public transparency isn't in the best interests of the useless public servants that are wasting money, so the useless public servants tend to hide their useless expenditures from the public, and our only recourse is to vote those people out of office when they are discovered.

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, "It is difficult to free people from the chains they revere," and as we have seen in states like California, some useless public servants continue to spend themselves past bankruptcy by continuously adding unnecessary services and appointing unnecessary people to govern them, and yet their gullible constituents continue to vote these useless public servants into office year after year. Although as we have seen recently, residents of California have slowly awakened to the fact that their useless public servants have created an untenable "tax and spend" society, and hundreds of thousands of California's former residents have fled the state. However, as these California expats have begun to settle in states that have historically been more fiscally sound, these domestic political refugees are demonstrating their continued ignorance by voting in the same sorts of useless public servants that they were fleeing in their home states, and thereby destroying the rest of the country with the same level of apathetic stupidity that destroyed their previous locales.

Having said all of that, another form of taxation that I find morally reprehensible is taxes on Social Security. Wage earners have been forced to pay a lifetime's worth of income that has already been taxed into the Social Security program, on which they earn a pittance of interest for their involuntary participation; then insult is added to injury when their meager returns are taxed yet again. This is grossly insulting to everyone who is required to participate in Social Security.

The last form of taxation that I think is brainless beyond measure is paying taxes on military wages. Taxpayers are paying the costs for national defense, so the requirement for military personnel to pay taxes to themselves is just plain stupid. I think it would be a great incentive for military recruitment if military wages were tax free. Many enlisted personnel are earning far below the federal poverty line anyway, and I think that removing taxes from their wages would be extremely beneficial to them.

In closing, any general objections to paying taxes are ridiculous, and they typically do little more than to illustrate that the person who is complaining about taxes doesn't understand how to govern anything more than themselves. (Although I have known more than my fair share of people who objected to taxes that were incapable of balancing their checkbooks, but I digress.) Taxes are essential for the common good, and someone who fails to understand that simple concept should take a few basic economics courses.

At the end of the day, as the old saying goes, "Only two things in life are certain: death and taxes."

Facing the Horrors of War

Like many of my colleagues from the 511th MI Company, I visited the Dachau Concentration Camp during my tenure in Fulda, and it was a sobering experience. It is difficult for any rational individual to come to terms with the sheer magnitude of horrors that took place in that single camp. On that note, I just read the following article from HistoryNet, which describes the retributory actions of US soldiers during the liberation of Dachau:

I have to admit, I find it difficult to find fault with soldiers who retaliated against the guards that were still defending the camp with the US Army arrived. It is easy during a time of relative peace to passively judge the actions of soldiers who exacted vengeance upon unarmed guards several decades ago, and it is likewise easy during peacetime to believe that any of us might have behaved differently in a similar circumstance. Nevertheless, none of us trod the path those soldiers walked, and I am willing to bet that coming face to face with Dachau's camp guards - whom we now perceive as inhuman monsters - could alter anyone's sense of morality.

 


ADDITIONAL REFERENCES:

More information about the Dachau Concentration Camp and the reprisals that were taken by US soldiers is available in the following WikiPedia articles:

Al Gore and the Invention of the Internet

There is an age-old story circling within political spheres that former Vice President Al Gore once claimed to have "invented the Internet." And in contrast to that story, there is a counter-rumor floating around that Gore never said any such thing. To help put this issue to rest, Tech Insider created a video a few years ago that was designed to promote the idea that Gore has simply been "misquoted" over the years.

In deference to Tech Insider's claims, there is a vast difference between being "misquoted" and "misspeaking." Al Gore has NOT been "famously misquoted" with regard to his comments to CNN in that video, in which he clearly says, "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet." That is a direct quote, not a misquote. Of course, history tells us that Gore was misspeaking when he said that, which could be attributed to hubris, deceit, or ignorance.

Putting things in perspective, Al Gore uttered his now-infamous boast during his failed presidential run against George W. Bush. Gore's campaign took place at the height of the Internet dot-com boom, when billions of dollars were pouring into the economy as a result of the Internet explosion. With that in mind, it is not outside the realms of probability that Gore was attempting to ingratiate himself to voters by claiming that he was the one responsible for all of that new-found wealth. Which, if you think about it, is a pretty good strategy, as long as you can count on what Jonathan Gruber once called "The Stupidity Of The American Voter." In other words, you can say anything you want - like claiming to invent the Internet - as long as your voters are too stupid to know better.

Nevertheless, Tech Insider's and other people's insistence that Al Gore has been "misquoted" are ludicrous. Regardless of his reasons for doing so, it is a matter of undisputed fact that Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet. And it is also a matter of undisputed fact that Al Gore did not invent the Internet.


If you'd like a brief introduction as to what really happened when the Internet was created, the following three-minute video should tell you everything you need to know.

By the way, if you've read some of my old blogs, you'll see that I wrote the Request for Comments (RFC) document number 7151, which defines a method of multi-hosting for the Internet's File Transfer Protocol (FTP). Since that document has been published as part of the Standards Track for the Internet, I can legitimately say that - unlike Al Gore - I actually took the initiative and helped reinvent the Internet. Oh sure, it's only a small, obscure part of the Internet, but still... I can honestly say that I did something that Al Gore can only claim to have done.