The Journey

I was plopped in the River Mike on December 19, 1946, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma at 4:45 in the morning.  And thus my journey began.  This is the section where I’ll share stories from the trip so far.

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I’ve Always Made Things

I grew up in a maker family.  When I was young I worked in the family factory.   My biography will tell of the two factories I’ve owned and the western saddle I made.  Now I’m retired but I still love to make things; mostly in my woodshop.  This is the section of my blog where I’ll share that with you.

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Its On My Mind

I think a lot and I’m opinionated.  Take what you want and leave the rest.

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Universal income is not an option. It’s inevitable.

An article in this morning’s New York Times, “The Robots Are Coming”  raises the issue of what has been called a “universal income.”  The potential political candidate in the article, Andrew Yang, is proposing that the government should provide each adult American with $1,000 a month.  Why?  Because the majority of Americans are headed towards unemployment.

Most hard working conservative Americans – presently employed – will recoil at the idea of laying an unearned paycheck in the hands of their unemployed fellow citizens.  I predict this sentiment is likely to change when their own jobs are threatened by the advance of AI and robotics.

Join me in a thought experiment I had a couple of years ago and not only will this seemingly unjust distribution of wealth seem sensible, but inevitable as well.  A certainty if civilization is to survive the advent of human replacing technology.

Known for his “labor theory of value” the British philosopher, John Locke, stated that “All wealth is the product of labor.”  Though money is often confused as wealth, in reality, it is the goods and services we purchase with money.  The production of wealth is dependent upon labor of some kind.

In Locke’s day the bulk of that labor was derived from the muscle power of man and beast.  Yes, there was the occasional water wheel driven grist mill, but the first commercial steam engine began cranking out power ten years after Locke’s death.

The industrial revolution began freeing mankind from the drudgery of physical labor in factories and on farms, and now has advanced to the point where even the teamsters, first freed from driving horses and oxen by the internal combustion engine, are now facing complete retirement by autonomously self-driven trucks.  One by one, more and more, jobs are being eliminated.  So far most of them have been in factories and warehouses, but there is no limit to technology’s reach.

Now imagine a hypothetical world in which human labor was not required to make anything.  The resultant massive unemployment would of course be obvious.  What is less obvious, but equally problematic, are the missing consumers.  Without a job and income the masses cease to be buyers of goods and services.

With no wages being earned in the fields, mines, founderies, mills, factories, offices, banks, and the last bastion of unproductive labor, government offices, who would buy the stuff being made by the robots?

Maybe everything should just be free?  After all, the ultimate cost of anything and everything is human labor.  Want evidence?  Why is air free but water comes at a price?  Because air is processed and delivered without labor, and water isn’t.

Free stuff?  That would necessitate a level of altruism we’re unlikely to find in the shadow of centuries of capitalism  Even in a world of total automation human ownership would still exist.  The owners of the robots would be the owners of whatever those robots produced.  The robots are what Karl Marx referred to as “the means of production,”  private ownership of which is the basis of capitalism.

Here is the problem, it doesn’t matter how much of this world’s goods and services one owns if there is no one able to pay for them.  Capitalism doesn’t work without consumption, and the balance between producers and buyers is headed for imbalance.  The kind of imbalance you felt when the fat kid fell of his end of the teeter totter.

What can be done?  Well… it seems that there may be only two solutions (generally speaking), share ownership of the means of production (socialism), or share the resultant production (same thing couched in different terms).

The argument has been made – by those who predict the future based upon the past – that though new technology has forever been disruptive of jobs based in the old technology, e.g. buggy whip makers, new jobs were created, e.g. spark plug makers, it is obviously different this time.  The robot makers will be replaced by robots.

My prediction?  In the end a universal income will be seen to be as fair, and democratic as the distribution of another one of life’s necessities. AIR!

Posted in Economy, Money, Philosophy, Politics | Leave a comment

Hanging up my spurs

Several years ago I gave my spurs to my eldest daughter, Amy.  They are special to me because of the memories attached to them, so I wouldn’t give them to just anyone.  But because she is particularly sentimental I knew she would treasure them.

Sure enough, in a recent visit to her home, in Kansas City, MO, I noticed that she had the spurs on display.  They were hanging on the wall in her dining room, along with other things that reflect her flair for the eclectic.

Having worn the spurs only three times in my life you might wonder what made them so special.  Moreover, I only utilized them for their intended purpose for a grand total of… mmm… I’d estimate 14 seconds.  That purpose, namely keeping one’s legs down and around a bucking bull, is what gives the associated memories such value.

They are bull riding spurs – specially designed with rowels that cant inward to afford a better grip.  A nuance that is, in most cases, of little help.  And, in my case was NO damn help at all.

I was 16 years old when my dad bought the spurs for me, along with a manila “bull-rope” specially braided with a loop in one end and a “grip” for the rider’s hand.  The rope is passed around the bull’s chest with the end passed through the loop and returned to the rider’s open fist where it is cinched tight and secured with a few wraps around the rider’s gloved hand.

In addition to the spurs and the rope, we bought a big copper cowbell.  Tied to the middle of the rope, it’s only intended purpose was to bother an already easily aggravated bull.

Side note: The man at the cash register that Saturday afternoon was none other than old man Harry Shepler himself.  It was a few years after he had built a new store and moved to West Kellogg in Wichita, and just a few years before he was bought out by the man that turned it into Shepler’s, the multi-store chain it is today.

Harry Shepler with saddlesFrom Left to Right: Gene Galloup, Harry Shepler,
Francis Shepler, Mary (Shepler) Butz.
Harry Shepler Saddle and Leather Co.
452 N. Main, Wichita, KS 1948.

The Harry Shepler Saddle and Leather store on Main St. had been one of my favorite places.  I would go with dad when we needed some odd bit of tack for the horses or, before we had horses, anytime dad might have need for a bit of leather for some project or another. He knew my answer would be yes whenever he said, “I’m headed over to Shepler’s, wanna come along?”  I loved the smell of saddle leather.  I still do.

This seems like a good place to show
off my saddle.  I made it in about 1995.


Leaving Shepler’s, filled with nervous anticipation and a shiny new pair of sure-nuf bull spurs, I had no way of knowing my bull riding career would last for 32 years.  That’s right, from the age of 16 to 48, I rode bulls… three of ’em.  One every 16 years; at the ages of 16, 32, and 48.  Why?  Who knows.  Maybe my astrological sun, moon or rising aligns with Taurus (the bull) every 16 years.

I never anticipated any of my bull rides.  They just happened.  They happened because I couldn’t say no to a dare.  The first dare came from my dad.

“Mike, you’ve always wanted to be a cowboy,” he said as he looked up from the Wichita Eagle.  “Here’s your chance to ride a buckin’ bronco. The Little Britches Rodeo is coming to town.”

That got my attention. As I looked over his shoulder at the newspaper he was reading, he continued, “Look. They’ve got bull riding too.  I’ll tell you what.  I’ll pay your entry fee if you’ll ride a bull.”

The National Little Britches Rodeo Association was founded in 1952 to produce rodeos for kids aged 5 to 18.  Usually, they set up their annual events in established arenas; but, their 1963 rodeo in Wichita was a portable arena set up at Sports Center Kiddieland.  No longer in existence, it was located in the 4200 block of East Harry Street.  In addition to amusement rides, a skating rink and large public swimming pool, there was enough empty room for a temporary rodeo arena.

Being a rodeo for youth you might imagine that the bulls being ridden were not fully grown either.  You’d be wrong. The only restriction stock contractors are given by the association is that there will be no “head fighting” bulls and the horns must be “tipped” – no pointy horned bulls.

I’ll never forget the “what the hell have I gotten myself into” feeling I had when Dad and I, along with my younger brother, David, went the day before the rodeo to sign me up and pay the entry fee.  The bulls inside the temporary arena eating hay were enormous.

We signed up for two events.  I rode in the bareback event on Saturday evening and the bull riding was the last event of the rodeo on Sunday.  I actually stayed on the bull longer than I had the horse – by maybe two seconds.  But, there is a time-warp on the back of a bull.  Those few seconds were crammed with individuated moments.

The shiny new spurs were no help at all in keeping my legs down and hooked into that bull’s shoulders.  My boots were flying high with every bucking jump of the bull and when they came down on the same side I began to do my best to get away from that bull. Pulling my hand free on the last jump I was flopped over the bull, head and shoulders hanging on one side, legs and feet on the other.  I hit the ground on hands and knees scrambling for the fence.

There is no greater sense of relief than being safely on the other side of the fence from your first bull.  And, then a euphoria flushes through your body.  A mixture of relief, pride and adrenaline that is only ever experienced by the brave.  I couldn’t wait to do it again.

When the rodeo returned the next year, it was held in the arena of a riding club somewhere north of Wichita.  Once again I had signed up for both events, riding the “bareback bronc” first, but I never made it to the bull.  As I came off the back of the bucking horse, doing a complete back flip in the process, he must have kicked me squarely in the “funny bone” of my right elbow.

I know that because when I picked myself up out of the dirt, and spit the manure out of my mouth, I couldn’t feel my arm.  It was completely numb from my shoulder to the fingers of my right hand.

The right sleeve of my shirt had been ripped off and, though I didn’t know it immediately, I was bleeding from my elbow.  I remember hearing the announcer say something to the crowd like “Let’s give a big hand to the tough, little cowboy from Wichita,” as I walked toward the chutes, and the waiting team at the first aid station, holding what I was just sure was a severed arm.

The wound healed and the feeling came back into my arm within a day or two; but, for a couple of weeks I had no feeling in the fingers of my right hand.  To this day, hitting my right funny bone sends a nerve shock down my forearm and puts the two fingers furthest from my thumb to sleep for several minutes.

That, I thought, was the end of my very short rodeo career – until 16 years later.

At age 32, married with three kids and living on a small farm in southeastern Kansas, I owned a small manufacturing business.  The product was large portable “fattening floors” for the confinement feeding of pigs.  Without going into too much description, they were 12 ft. wide, 36 ft. long, two feet above the ground on skidded frames, decked with lumber and made to hold 50 pigs until they were hogs ready for market.  It was a good business until the farming crisis caused by high interest rates in the late ’70’s.

I had a half-dozen employees, most of whom were “country boys.” One day during their lunch break I overheard them discussing the upcoming rodeo in nearby Fredonia, Kansas.  One was daring another to ride a bull.  Of course I had to butt in and say, “There ain’t nothing to it.  I rode one when I was sixteen.”

“Bet you wouldn’t ride another one,” one of them said.  That sounded to me like a dare, so I shot back, “Why don’t you pay my entry fee and find out?”  A fund was immediately collected to cover the cost of the boss’s demise.

In some rodeos, chutes are drawn to decide a rider’s fate. While in others, specific bulls are drawn. The night of the Fredonia rodeo soon arrived, my fee was paid and I drew chute number three.

I felt lucky as they loaded bulls into the five chutes because the one with the big red number three on the gate didn’t look nearly as big and mean as the bull in chute number two.  Incredulously I watched as they raised the sliding dividers between chutes and moved each bull up one.  Now, big ol’ nasty was waiting for me in chute number three.

The arena announcer was readying the crowd for the next event, making jokes with the rodeo clown as I climbed up on the catwalk behind chute number three.  A boy that looked to be about 13 or 14 approached me.  I was surprised by his youth; but, with what looked like a bit of “chew” under his lip, jeans tucked in his boots, and a hat shaped right, he looked like a “hand.”  I guessed maybe he was the stock contractor’s boy when he asked, “Mister, do you need any help?”

I wryly answered with a grin, “Son, I rode my first bull 16 years ago.” And, then pausing a moment for dramatic effect, I added, “And, this is my second one.”

He got the joke, cocked his head and asked me, “How old are ya now?”

“I’m thirty-two,” I replied.  And in that split second it dawned on me that I was twice as old as when I had ridden the first bull.  “I guess I ride a bull every sixteen years… whether I need to or not.”

The kid helped me “pull my rope,” and I climbed down on top of 2,000 lbs of hot, heaving bull for the second time in my life.

I raised my left hand, my right being tightly bound to the bull, and nodded my head – the signal for all hell to break loose.

The ride was over before it began.  As big as he was, this bull twisted out of the chute faster than a cat on fire and slammed me to the ground right in front of the gate.

As I climbed the back of the chute to safety, I spotted the kid sitting nearby on a fence panel.  “Hey mister,” he hollered, “I’ll see you when you’re forty-eight.”  His humor was just as wry as mine.

I told that story for years.  I guess I’m telling it now. But 16 years later, telling it would bite me in the ass.

What would one call a 16 year period of time?  A decade is a period of ten years; and, I’ve learned there are other words for different spans of years.  A biennium is 2 years, a triennium is 3 years, a quadrennium is 4 years, a lustrum is 5 years, a century is 100 years, and a millennium is 1,000 years.  I guess I’m going to call 16 years a “bullennium.”

I’ve lived in the country – as we say when one does not live in town – several times in my life, but by no means continually.  In fact, I began my third bullennium living on a small farm. I ended the bullennium living on a small ranch near Ault, Colorado.

My life changes in the meantime were too numerous to mention in the context of this story.  Suffice it to say, and the point I want to make is, that I was not continuously in a position to be dared into another rodeo, that is… until I was.

As I approached the summer of my 49th year (being 48 years old), I was living near Ault, Colorado on 57 acres.  My third wife, Kayce, and I had shared a love of horses; and, in fact, our first date had been to ride together in Horsetooth Park just west of Fort Collins.  Her dad, Max, had uncharacteristically loaned me the use of his prized gelding, Rio, for the occasion.

Kayce’s was a ranching family from Montana.  Max had given up ranching after losing most of his herd to a viciously cold winter near Miles City and moved his family to Colorado.  His acreage was adjacent to ours.

Max’s nephew (Kayce’s cousin), Rod, had lost his ranch manager’s job in Montana; and, with no good job prospects, he was making his living training roping horses.  Knowing the market for horses was bigger in Colorado than in Montana, I invited him to move his wife and new baby, along with his remuda, to our place.  We bought a used mobile home, remodeled it for them a place to live and, together, Rod and I built a pipe fenced arena and enough new corrals for his livestock.

Just north of the Colorado/Wyoming border, within sight of I-25, there was (and still is) a dude ranch called the Terry Bison Ranch. It’s a place where tourists can go to get a taste of cowboy culture.  That includes horseback rides on the prairie, a train ride into a herd of buffalo and, in the summer months, a real life rodeo.

The contestants at the rodeo, which took place on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, were mostly local cowboys and included the timed events (steer roping, barrel racing, etc.) as well as the rough stock events (saddle and bareback broncs and bull riding).

Rod had been roping steers each week in the rodeo and having heard my bull riding story, and knowing that I was now 48, he said to me one afternoon, “You know, they got bull ridin’ up there at the Terry rodeo.  And, they’ve got two classes, amateur and pro.”

I acknowledged with a nod and an “Oh… they do huh?”

With a big shit eatin’ grin on his face that was almost a laugh he continued, “Yeah, they do.  Which one do you want me to sign you up for?”

Now, this is when I lost what shred of common sense I might have gained after 48 years of living and said, “Well… you know I’ve been ridin’ bulls for 32 years so I guess you better sign me up for the pros.”

Luckily, I still had my spurs and bull rope; and, even though they were 32 years old, they were in nearly new condition – only having been used twice.

On the night of the rodeo, I had quite an entourage.  My wife (third) was there. So was her cousin Rod, his wife, my uncle Richard and aunt Nancy (who were living in Fort Collins at the time) as well as my youngest son from marriage number one, and my two youngest daughters, Mica and Megan, from marriage number two. (Yes… my marriages have numbers).

Unlike the rodeos I’d been in before, at this rodeo, riders drew for bulls, not chutes, and I drew a bull by the name of Tony the Tiger.  As Rod and I waited behind the chutes for my turn, one of the local cowboys asked me which bull I had drawn.  “Tony the Tiger,” I replied.

My already racing heart shifted to overdrive when he said “Oh shit.  He likes to roll ’em in the dirt.”  Then he pointed into the corral behind us and said, “He’s that brindle muley right over there.”

I knew exactly the kind of bull this guy was describing.  Remember what I said above about head fighting bulls not being allowed in the Little Britches Rodeos?  Tony the Tiger was that kind of bull.  While some bulls couldn’t care less about the rider once he’s thrown him off his back, there are others for whom the fun has just begun.  They want to get even.  You rode me. Now, I’m gonna ride you.

A more reasonable person would have taken this new information and headed for the parking lot.  But, I wasn’t that person.  Not yet.  I had more to learn; and, I was just about to learn it.

There were 22 riders in the pro division that night and I was number 21 to ride.  Only three riders had made it to the 8 second buzzer, qualifying for a score, when I settled down into the chute with a leg on either side of that big, brindle striped bull named Tony the Tiger.

Rod was there to pull my rope tight and wrap my hand, and as he did he kept telling me to “Watch his head, watch his head and turn with him.” The advice was rooted in the fact that the last bull I had ridden, the half-second ride in Fredonia, had turned out without me.  He had turned and I hadn’t.  Now, I knew I had to turn too; but, Rod was reminding me nonetheless.

I nodded, the gate sprang open, 2,000 pounds of raging bull made a hard left turn, and I stayed with him.  He bucked straight out into the arena. No twists, no turns, none of the flopping like a fish out of water like the high ranking championship bulls do.  Any other bull rider would have been disappointed in this bull’s performance because half of a rider’s score depends upon it.  The rider is judged, but so is the bull.

As for me… fuck the score… I was just trying to hang on.  And, hang on I did.  All the way to the 8 second buzzer, and then… Tony stopped.  I think he heard the buzzer too.  Like Pavlov’s dog I think Tony was conditioned to react to the buzzer.  But, instead of a food treat Tony was used to having a dismounted cowboy to chase, and maul if he could.

Like I’ve said, and Einstein’s math proved, time is relative.  The second or two that Tony stood still in the middle of the arena was long enough for me to have a thought… a question that had just barely formed when Tony answered it for me.

The thought?  How do I get off?  Yeah.  I had never had to think about it before.  The only times I had been mounted on a motionless bull was at the beginning of the ride, while the bull was restrained in the confines of a buckin’ chute.

As I’ve looked back, there were two more thoughts, or rather impressions, that I had… just before I lost consciousness – one was of my hat coming off, and the next was of being fully extended from my right hand, to the left, like a human flag.  That last image is confirmed in one of the photo’s Rod took as I rode out across the arena.

Then I was being lifted up from the dirt by my uncle Richard and Rod.  As I limped across the arena, with their arms under mine, I heard the announcer say I’d gotten a 65.  A lousy score for sure, but a score.  And, one of only four for the day.

As I assessed my injuries, I discovered that I could stick my tongue through my upper lip.  The ultimate head butt is probably a bull head butt; and, that is what must have happened.  His head to my face.  The wonder is that I didn’t lose teeth.

Richard drove me to the hospital emergency room in Cheyenne.  I remembered a childhood injury in which my forehead got in the way of a half of a brick being used in a game of keep-a-way. I asked for a plastic surgeon.  I meant no offense to the doctor on duty there in Cheyenne; but, it was just such a doc who had sewn me up when my dad arrived all those years ago and made them do it over again.  It’s thanks to him that I don’t have a large scar on my forehead.

No offense was taken by the doctor on duty, and even though it was by this time very late at night, a surgeon came to the hospital and did such a good job that, other than a kind of a one-sided smile, my face is as unscarred and handsome as ever.

So, did I ride another bull after the next bullenium, which would have been six years ago, when I was 64.  Hell no I didn’t!  That would have been really dumb. Instead, I married her. (Yes.  Kili was born in May.  A Taurus)


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Is Bitcoin money?


Many things have been used as money in the past; ranging from metals – both precious and base – to tally sticks and printed paper.  In primitive societies cowrie shells and giant stone wheels have been used as money.  Whatever thing was used as money, it was only valuable because people agreed it was.  In other words, money is in its essence an abstraction.

Whatever form it takes, money serves these three basic functions in an economy:

To store and preserve wealth.
To serve as a means of exchanging value.
To index the relative value of things.

Much has been said, and the debate rages yet, as to whether or not it is essential for money to have “intrinsic value.”  In other words to BE wealth rather than to simply represent wealth.  Most people would say that money is wealth, but it isn’t actually.  It can only be traded for wealth.

The philosopher John Locke said that wealth is the result of labor applied to resources.  Wealth is tangible, and it has utility.  Economists would count money as wealth, and insomuch as it can be traded for things with real value, they are right.  But, like folks say,  “you can’t eat money.”

Without getting into the definitive nuances of wealth, let’s suffice it to say that wealth is that which benefits us humans by feeding, clothing, housing, transporting, or simply entertaining us.  Money is what we use to trade for these things.

Very few of the aforementioned tangible forms of money have any intrinsic value.  An example is the “tally stick.” a form of money used in Europe for nearly 700 years, without the carved notches it was just a stick.  With them it represented wealth.

The form of money most often presented as having intrinsic value is gold.  And yet gold’s primary usage other than as money is not to feed, house, or clothe, but to adorn.  Your grandmother’s wedding ring won’t bring as much because of its intrinsic value as jewelry as it does for its abstract value as money.

Most other forms have not a shred of intrinsic value.  I dare say EVERY other form; sticks, shells, paper and giant stone wheels, were “place holders.”   They were physical representations of abstractions; ideas that exist in the minds of human beings.  Money’s value is established by mutual agreement, and subject to the same laws of supply and demand that determine the value of anything we trade.

That does not mean place holders are not important, but what it does mean is that the intrinsic value of the place holder is irrelevant.  It obviously does not matter that the only intrinsic use value of paper money is ruined because it’s already covered in ink.  Its value is derived from the ink.  Is it One Dollar or a C-note?  The difference is not the inherent value derived from utility.  It is an abstraction.

The irrelevance of the intrinsic value of the thing money is made from is obfuscated in the minds of “gold bugs” – people who insist that the only form of true money is gold.  (A group to which I once belonged)  While they are correct in believing that gold as money reduces or eliminates its debasement through inflation, they wrongly attribute that quality to its intrinsic value.

Its ability to prevent inflation is not because of its usefulness in making jewelry, or electronic connections, but because there is a finite amount in existence, and increasing the available supply requires labor.

Wealth requires labor, and therefore so should its place holder.  That which the market considers wealth’s equivalent in value should not be increased without work.  In the modern world human labor has been supplanted by technological advancements which have redefined the term work to include computer processing.  (The point of which I will get to.)

Gold bugs point to the historical record to support their case for gold as money; and rightly so.  Gold’s value has endured through the millennia, and if one were take a trip in a time machine gold would be the thing to carry along for spending money.  Regardless of whether one goes backward or forward  in time gold would be precious and exchangeable for goods and services.

Advocates of gold backed currency will argue that the money doesn’t have to be made from gold, it just needs to be “backed” by gold.  But this is the arrangement that led to fractional reserve banking – permitting banks to loan money into existence; creating it from thin air.  And that led to the inflationary creation of money from nothing.

There is no way to avoid the fact that money, no matter who or what guarantees its value, is only worth what the community agrees it’s worth – in the goods and services they are willing to give in exchange for it.  And that is an abstraction that has nothing to do with intrinsic value.

The difficulty of transmitting gold from one place to another is what led to the invention of paper money in the first place.  It served as a secure “place holder” that performed one of the three functions of money – as a means of exchange.

While the system of paper backed by gold functioned well as a means of preserving purchasing power because it placed a some restriction on the creation of currency, that day has passed.  And thank goodness it has because that monetary system has required the services of a third party.

We call them bankers.  In time they achieved a monopoly on the creation of money.  They became the central banks and through political clout disconnected the paper from it gold backing.  They were then free to further inflate the money supply to their heart’s content.  And they have.

Until now these third parties have been  indispensable to the financial system.   I say until now because for the first time in human history modern computer technology, combining secure cryptography with digital processing, has created what may prove to be perfect money.  Perfect because it performs the three functions of money without the inherent pitfalls that have led to one system after another throughout the history of money.  This new money is called Bitcoin and it is:

Absolutely unforgeable.
Instantly transferable, with minimal or no fees.
Finite in quantity. (there will only ever be 21 million of them)
Yet infinitely divisible. (100,000th of a bitcoin is called a Satoshi, in honor of the inventor)
Anonymously owned. (Accounts on the shared public ledger are known only by cryptographic pseudonyms)  Governments hate this.
Impossible to spend twice.
And even though it is considered a negative fact by critics bitcoin is not created or controlled by a central authority.

History is replete with failed fiat currencies, and the reason for their failures was that they were inflated into worthlessness by the central authorities which controlled them.  It is easy to see why people would abandon a currency in which the hard earned labor invested in it was disappearing like piss on a hot sidewalk.

It is difficult to imagine why anyone would abandon a currency which was increasing in value.  So, to those who predict that the “bubble will burst,” leaving late investors holding the bag.  Why?  The Tulip mania bubble burst because the day came when there were no more buyers for tulips.  When will there be no more users of money?  Why would anyone convert their Bitcoin to dollars, or yen, or pesos, or any other fiat currency which steadily loses its purchasing power.

Note:  At just 2% inflation per year, which is the Federal Reserve’s target rate, Dollars lose half of their purchasing power every 35 years.

My conclusion is that if all Bitcoin ever does is  serve two functions directly – secure value from the ravages of inflation and provide frictionless transmittal, its future is secure.

The third function of exchange for goods and services can continue to be, as it is mostly now, via exchanges with other forms of money, whether fiat or digital.  It won’t matter.

Bitcoin performs the three functions of money, and it serves them without the cost of a third party, securely and anonymously.  Its critics say it’s a fad that won’t last because it has no intrinsic value.

I say it has the value of utility, and that is the only value money of any kind has ever had.

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Ever heard of the petrodollar?

You have undoubtedly heard the term “petrodollar.” But, like most Americans, you probably don’t have a clue as to what it means, or how it has completely and totally affected the lives of every American.  And caused the deaths of millions of innocent people in the middle-east.

The Petrodollar System 101

I’ve got an analogy that has helped a few of my friends to understand an otherwise complicated bit of economic slight of hand.  A smooth-move orchestrated in 1973 by then Secretary of State (pictured on the left) Henry Kissinger.

Imagine that Sam’s neighbor has something for sale – say a riding lawnmower – and Sam would like to buy it, but he’s short of cash.  Sam offers to buy with an IOU.

Sam’s neighbor says, “Sure Sam.  I trust you.  Hell we’ve been neighbors for years.  I know you’re good for it.”

Now suppose Sam begins papering his neighborhood with his IOUs, buying fruit from one neighbor’s orchard, a picnic table from a buddy who has a garage wood shop, etc. etc.

Usually it’s just a matter of time until Sam’s neighbors begin knocking on his door, asking him to redeem his IOUs.  In dollars, of course.

But what if Sam was able to do what Kissinger did for Uncle Sam’s IOUs (the U.S. dollar)? What if Sam could convince the owner of the gas station where everyone in town buys gas to refuse anything in payment except Sam’s IOUs?

Of course Sam would have to offer the owner of the gas station some incentive to make such a deal.  Maybe offer him protection (like Kissinger offered the Saudis) or the chance to loan the IOUs back to Sam’s business at interest (like Kissinger offered the Saudis).

What Sam offers the owner of the gas station doesn’t matter.  If he takes the deal Sam’s neighbors aren’t knocking on Sam’s door to redeem their IOUs, they’re knocking on his door asking for more of them.

“Sam.  My car is almost out of gas, and I need another IOU to give to the guy at the gas station.  He says that’s all he’ll accept.”

Now Sam can continue to run “trade deficits” with his neighbors, just like the U.S. has done with theirs for the last 44 years.  And what’s even better for Sam is that he can buy all the gas he needs just by printing IOUs.

There have been leaders of other nations who have threatened America’s political hegemony, fueled by petrodollars.  Their names are probably familiar to you.

Saddam Hussein, who began selling Iraqi oil for Euros in 2000.

Muammar Gaddafi, who threatened to quit selling Libyan oil in U.S. dollars — demanding payment instead in gold-backed “dinars” (a single African currency made from gold)

Maintaining the petrodollar system is the American empire’s primary goalEverything else is secondary.

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Bitcoins ain’t tulips.

This article entitled “Clint Eastwood’s Advice on Bitcoin Speculation,” is a perfect example of the kind of crap advice being given by financial commentators who are trapped in the old paradigm – only dollars are money. In it he compares the large price increases in Bitcoin to the investment bubble in tulips of 17th century Europe. I’d like to point out the huge differences.

First of all, unlike a flower, which has no utilitarian purpose, Bitcoin is useful. It is digital money.  And by the way, very few U.S. dollars are tangible.  They also are digital currency.

So if both dollars and Bitcoin are money, then why buy money with money? Because some money is better than other money.

It would not make sense to buy Venezuelan Bolivars with dollars right now. Why not? Because of the rapid reduction in the value (purchasing power) of Venezuelan money – in comparison to the less rapid reduction in U.S. Dollars. They are both inflating; but, the Bolivar is losing value more quickly. Much more quickly.

So, given the opportunity to put your hard earned money in Bolivars or Dollars it’s a no-brainer. Right?

Then why is it so difficult to understand why some people prefer to put their money in Bitcoin? The rapid rise in the dollar value of Bitcoin is because some people see the same relative difference between Bitcoin and Dollars as between Dollars and Bolivares.

For us Bitcoin, is not a speculation, we use it like money. But, rather than lose its purchasing power each year, like dollars have done since 1913, Bitcoin has more purchasing power annually. Make that monthly. Or lately… daily. By a lot.

So now let me give you one example of how Bitcoin is an improvement over Dollars in a very utilitarian way – the transfer of funds from one country to another.

We can’t use Bitcoin to pay the cable bill, or buy groceries at the market. Not yet. That could change as more and more retailers around the world begin to accept it. (I’m old enough to remember when very few merchants accepted credit cards.)

So, when we need pesos we transfer Bitcoin from the digital wallet where we keep our crypto-currencies (not just Bitcoin) to Bitso, the Mexican Bitcoin exchange. It takes about an hour for the block-chain to confirm the transaction.

Then we tell Bitso to transfer the pesos to our Mexican bank account. Presto. We’ve turned Bitcoin into pesos instantly. The transfer from Bitso to the Mexican bank is instant.

How long would it have taken to transfer dollars from our American bank to our Mexican bank? /Two to three days for a bank wire, and a $30 charge from the U.S. bank.

You can’t do that with a tulip bulb.

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Good fences make good neighbors.

I love Mexico.  And Mazatlan is an awesome place to live; but, like anywhere else on the planet, it has it’s downside.

Someone stole a new lawn chair from our roof.  I’m not sure exactly when. We’ve only owned it a couple of weeks; and, I’m sure I noticed it a couple of days ago.  Last night it was nowhere to be found.

It would not take Sherlock Holmes to deduce that the thief lives next door. No, not Poncho, the owner, but either his son or one of the two grown sons of his new wife.  They all live there together.  (It’s Mexico.)

Two years ago one of these same “cholos” stole the propane tank from our roof while we were in the states. When I confronted him, Poncho admitted it had to have been his son. We forgave it. And, then, hired our friend Lencho to add another meter to the wall between Poncho’s roof and ours. Now, the wall is too tall to lift over a 100 lb. propane tank; but, it’s no problem for aluminum lawn chairs.

Petty theft is always more of a problem in poor countries than in wealthy ones.  Mexico is no different; and, we live among the poorest families in the Central Historic District.  Most of the homes in this area are expensive, even by American standards. Our little alley is the exception.

When the town was laid out, nearly two centuries ago, the city lot at Nicaragua Street number 22 was subdivided into a dozen tiny lots.  Most of the houses in the alley are little more than brick and cement boxes with the necessary basics of lights and plumbing.  The current occupants inherited them from parents and grandparents, or (as in a couple of instances) are renting from cousins.  Most of them are related in one way or another.

Our house was built new in a lot where the original house had completely tumbled down. I’m sure the builder, an American, regretted building the house here because afterwards it was on the market for a couple of years.  That was why we were able to buy it on easy terms at a bargain price.  Even though it’s a beautiful little house, nobody was interested in living at the end of a dark alley.

Most of our neighbors are wonderful; and, we consider them to be good friends.   We love it here and are not going to let one bad apple ruin the “bolsa.”  (That literally means bag; but, it’s Mexican slang for alley.)

So what will we do?  I think we’ll borrow the last line from one of the poems of Robert Frost, Mending Walls “Good fences make good neighbors.”  We’ll call Lencho and buy more bricks.

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Materialism versus Idealism. So what?

To say that the underlying assumption that we live in a materialistic reality is a belief shared by 99.9% of the people in the western world is probably understating it by several orders of magnitude.  Only in the eastern religions will one find the belief that reality is an illusory creation of consciousness.  Poetically, it might best be expressed as each of us living as a thought in the mind of God.

The debate between materialism and idealism is a centuries old metaphysical discussion that moved into the science of the physical in the 20th century.  Experiments in Quantum Physics began to give results that could not be explained in terms of an objective material reality.  Reality is a construct of consciousness.  Even stranger is that it appears that we each create our own reality.

We assume that “we” are all in the same reality; when, actually, “we” are experiencing a purely subjective experience. It is the high degree of consensus between each of us “conscious entities” that fools us into thinking that our reality is objective and deterministic. Physics experiments have proven this beyond a reasonable doubt.

If you have a problem believing that trees falling in the forest don’t make a sound unless some conscious being is there to hear it, you’ll really have a hard time with the concept that without a conscious observer there isn’t even a tree.  That doesn’t mean there won’t be a fallen tree the first time a conscious being trips over it.

Don’t feel bad.  Most physicists are still having trouble accepting the idea, too.  Even though Materialism has been falsified by repeated experiments showing that objective reality doesn’t exist to a certainty of 80 orders of magnitude (probability of being false due to error or chance = 1E-80).

This is not the first scientific discovery fundamentally impacting our idea of physical reality that has been ignored by the masses.  Einstein laid waste to the Newtonian idea that time is absolute, consisting of a cosmic past, present and future. Even so, the majority of physicists have been slow to give up the ordinary assumptions we make about time, let alone the ordinary citizen.

But, why should they give up the idea that trees exist “regardless,” and time passes sequentially?  What would be the benefit of realizing, as Einstein put it, “…. the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.”

In the virtual reality of idealism would your Special K be less crunchy?  Would a foul ball to the head hurt less?  Nope.  Not at all.

Then what difference does any of this make?  None… unless you are heavily invested in the Christian religion.  Then, in my opinion, it changes everything.  Here is a short list of questions, the answers to which are fundamentally different in a subjective reality.

If past, present, and future are illusory, wouldn’t it mean eternity is NOW?
If life is just conscious experience, then what is death?
Doesn’t the idea of a “physical resurrection” depend heavily on a materialistic reality?
Is consciousness created?  And, if so… from what?

And a couple of conclusions:
If I am consciousness, and time is an illusion, then I exist in the past, present, and future.
That would mean I am eternal.  In both directions of time.  I’ve always been and will always be.


When my search for truth left me without the concept of a “heavenly father,” (and almost every Christian, admit it or not, envisions God anthropomorphically, and male) for a time I was lost.  I had no concept of God.  Nothing to “hang my hat on,” even though I still believed in some creative “energy,” for lack of a better word.

I no longer prayed because, frankly, there was nobody to pray to.  I still don’t, and haven’t, for 35 years; but, I do commune with the “ineffable.”  Call it prayer if you like; but, what it is for me is just thought.  I think… and think… and think.  I contemplate the mysteries of life.  My dad used to critically call it “pondering the imponderable.” Which, of course, is an oxymoron.  And, probably why he liked saying it.  Personally, I think he should spent more time on the imponderable and a lot less time pondering Fox News.

I digress.  As I pondered the imponderable – or ineffable – an analogy popped into my head.  Many religionists would shmarmily say “God spoke to me.”

Well “He”didn’t speak to me; but, one of his little messenger angels covered in twinkle dust struck me in the head with her tiny wand… no.  None of that.  It just came to me like thoughts do – complete from beginning to end with no words. Though, repeating the thought will take a few.

The human body is made of trillions of corpuscles – cells which go about their assigned tasks of whatever it takes to be you (or me).  I imagined two of them – skin cells on the end of my nose – having a religious discussion during a break from work (whatever work nose-skin-cells do).

Cell number one asked number two, “Are you religious?”

Number two answers, “Yes, actually I am.  I am a devout believer in Mike.”

“Really,” replies cell number one, “Orthodox?”

“Yes,”says number two, “Born and raised Mikean.”

“Where do Mikeans believe Mike is,” asks number one. He’s curious to know whether number two is of the First or Second church of Mike.

Number two raises a finger. (Yes I know, skin cells don’t have fingers.  They can’t talk religion either.) Points outward, away from my nose, and replies “He’s up there.  In heaven.”

God had not spoken to me in a loud voice. However, it was very plain to me, nonetheless, that just as the religious skin cell  number two was unaware that he was Mike, I am, you are, we all are the God of creation. And, we are just as unaware of it.

Science is verifying that the idea of a physical creation, as embodied in the materialistic philosophy, is simply false.  That we are nothing less than conscious beings; and, perhaps, as I believe I was shown with a simple analogy, we are all individual aspects of ONE consciousness.

Thomas Campbell claims to know it’s true, and has written a book describing the details.
It’s called My Big TOE (theory of everything)

Tom’s work has one of the hallmarks I use to determine the truth or falsity of any ideology I come across.  It’s the duality of fear and love.  Tom echos other great authors I’ve read in stating that our goal in life is to overcome fear.  Without fear, only love remains.  Returning to God has nothing to do with what we believe. It is only accomplished by becoming fearless. Being pure in our love.

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What flavor are you?

A religious friend of mine “liked” the following post, which caused it to pop up in my facebook feed.

For six years now I have traveled for my Lord. After a half century of pastoring, or denominational work, I have returned to my true “call” of proclaiming Jesus as Lord. During these days of travel I have observed Christ’s church from Canada to the tip of Florida, From the Pacific to The Atlantic. It would seem to me that the the evangelicals are in a crises of identity that creates a crises of relevancy. In a mad rush to find a solution for drift we adopt and conform to the momentary culture and become: chameleon. The problem with being relative is that it is so relative – passing and momentary. Some embrace Fundamentalism – which sadly petrifies truth and freezes the freedom of the Holy Spirit. Some try legalism that is a prison to life and the mind. Others embrace the go all out for the dogmatic position of their tradition and loyalty that is a tyrant keeping the soul from a journey into the truth of Christ. Our only mission is to proclaim the Jesus who once proclaimed truth to us and the Knowledge Of The Crucified One whose ethics are eternal. We can only be relevant by being truth to our Master.

His post got lots of ‘likes’ and positive comments, one of which thanked the author for his “words of wisdom.”

I read it again, looking for wisdom.  What wisdom?  I read it a third time… slowly.

Nope.  Not a shred of wisdom; in my opinion.  Instead this is what I saw.

1. The author bemoans the fact that other Christians are conforming to the current culture. He must not realize that in its 2,000 year history the Christian religion has morphed more times than a shape-shifting alien. For the three hundred years before Christianity became the state religion of Rome, there was no consensus among believers, even as to the nature of Jesus. The debate began in 325 at the first ecuminical council at Nicea; but, it wasn’t settled until after 60 years of heated debate.  The final consensus had more to do with political power than truth, and the victors in Rome enforced their version of Christianity (i.e. that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost were all God) by executing heretics.  The first of which was Priscillian, executed in 385 for his aesthetic version of Christianity. Thankfully, Christianity has conformed to modern culture to the extent that executing those who hold differing religious views is currently prohibited; although, there are a few Muslim knuckle-draggers who will still decapitate a non-believer.

That’s a good thing because the tangled roots of Christianity, which became the Romanized trunk of the family tree, very quickly branched into the veritable willow we have today.  How many different versions are there?  Too many to count; but, it is safe to say that the historical morphology of Christianity has direct correlations to the secular culture.  An easy current example would be the modern addition of drums and guitars to the traditional pianos of “worship music.” Definitely a bow to the culture of a younger generation.

2. He accuses those who embrace “fundamentalism” of  petrifying truth and freezing the freedom of the Holy Spirit.  I love the guy’s poetry but I’m a bit confused as to what he means by freezing the freedom of the Holy Spirit.  Words of wisdom aren’t spoken in riddles.  Interpret this bit any way you want.  There are several to choose from.  Which is why the statement “I am a Christian” is so meaningless.  Which flavor?

3. As for petrifying the truth… no kidding.  Religion does that well, and fundamentalist religion does it very well.  Don’t bother bringing a bagful of evidence in your search for truth because fundamentalists have no use for it.  Their truth is based purely in faith.  Which, as defined in a dictionary, is a belief in something for which there is no evidence.  What can one NOT believe without evidence?  Or, for that matter, in the face of contradicting evidence.

4. The most laughable part of this person’s post is his criticism of dogma.  Why laugh? Because the definition of dogma is “a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.”  The author’s statement that “We can only be relevant by being truth to our Master,” pretty much fits the definition of dogma. Even though he is criticizing dogma when he characterizes it as  “a tyrant keeping the soul from a journey into the truth of Christ,”  I think he is wrong.  Dogma is exactly what leads so many into “the truth of Christ.”

Truths like these: “The Earth is 6,000 years old, and flat.”  “There is no evidence to support the theory of evolution.” And the most self-serving truth of all, “You have to be a Christian to go to heaven.”

But, does God have a favorite flavor?  If so then I guess it won’t be enough to just be a Christian.  You’d better be the right kind.

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When grocery boys made $18 an hour.

The headline reads “Shake Shack Confirms Worst Minimum-Wage-Hike’ Fears – “It’s Going Up Too Fast… We Can’t Catch Our Breath”

Yeah Shake Shack.  That’s what happens when America tries to catch up after 50 years of underpaying its unskilled laborers.

Before I go any further, ask yourself who has the most “leverage” in the tug-of-war between the wealthiest of Americans and common unskilled laborers?  And yes, it is a battle. One that has been ongoing since the medieval days of feudalism.

The answer is obvious.  Skilled laborers have power to negotiate when they form labor unions.  Unskilled laborers have no such leverage.  Which is why, in 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act was written into law.  It’s a shame when people have to be forced to give a shit about the common laborer; but, that’s the sad fact.

Take a look at the Federal Minimum Wage valued in gold and something strange becomes immediately apparent.  Minimum wages in terms of gold – which some economists insist is still “real money” – increased steadily until the early ’70s.  Then suddenly it fell off a cliff. So what happened?

Could it have anything to do with the Nixon administration’s decision to stop using gold as money?  Prior to 1971 the U.S. Dollar had been backed by precious metals. Backed by not just gold but silver, as well.  In fact the very word dollar comes from the Anglicised form of “thaler” (pronounced taler, with a long “a”) the name given to coins first minted in 1519 from locally mined silver in Joachimsthal, Bohemia.

Image result for chart of minimum wage by year

When I was a boy, the paper dollars in my pocket didn’t say “Federal Reserve Note” across the top.  They said “Silver Certificate”.  By law, I could walk into any bank and trade the dollar I received for each hour I worked as a “grocery boy” for a coin that contained an ounce of pure silver – a silver dollar.

A one ounce silver coin today, 5 May 2017, is worth $18.00.  I know because my wife and I bought more of them, yesterday.

Before 1971, the currency created by the Central Banks of the world was “backed” by precious metals.  In other words paper francs, pesos, marks, dollars, dinar, etc. were redeemable in gold or silver.  There was also silver in the coins in our pockets (other than nickels and pennies) until 1967.  A half dollar contained a half-ounce, a quarter a fourth-of-an-ounce, and a dime a tenth-ounce of silver.  All U.S. coins after 1967 have been minted in much less expensive nickel and copper.  The silver coins quickly disappeared from circulation due to Gresham’s Law.  “Bad money drives out good.”

Here is a graph showing the inflation (reduced purchasing power) of the U.S. dollar since the Federal Reserve was created in 1913.

Image result for inflation graph us

Notice anything happening around 1971?  The dollar took off like a hot air balloon that dumped its ballast.  That’s not a bad analogy.  The value of the dollar was anchored by the precious metals that prevented the Fed from creating money from thin air.

I’ve got two more graphs to show you before I sum things up and make my point.  The first one shows that wages, not just the official minimum wage, have not kept up with increases in hourly productivity since… sonofabitch… 1971!  Another coincidence?
Image result for graph hourly productivity vs wages

This next chart may be a bit confusing if you don’t see the note on the left explaining that the light blue line is adjusted for inflation.  The minimum wage in the late ’60s was actually $1.60.  The $9.54 on the chart was minimum wage’s peak purchasing power in 2014 dollars.

Minimum Wage Tied to Productivity Vs. Actual Minimum Wage
This last chart estimates that if minimum wages had continued to increase in lockstep with the actual productivity of the American economy – in other words, if the unskilled laborer was still getting his or her share of the pie – the minimum wage in 2014 would be $18.42.

Does that sound crazy to you?   It’s only crazy if you measure the value of things in the worthless paper called Federal Reserve Notes. The value of which is determined, like anything else, by the laws of supply and demand.  The supply OF and demand FOR what?  For Federal Reserve Notes!  Notes which the Fed exceeds the demand for by increasing the supply by the fucking trillions, purposely creating inflation.  Their target is 2%.

That’s right – the Fed reduces the value of our hard earned money – ON PURPOSE!  The reasons why are a bit complicated; but, they have to do with the theories of the British economist John Maynard Keynes.  In a nutshell, he advocated governments spending money they didn’t have.

As a result, the dollar I was paid for an hour’s worth of bagging groceries in 1963 would be worth just over $18.00 today, IF it was still redeemable in an ounce of silver.  Interesting isn’t it?  According to the chart above, a minimum wage paid in silver today would have the purchasing power of the minimum wages paid in the ’50s and ’60s.

So, if productivity has increased steadily since 1971, but the wages of the laborers who are actually sweating in the factories, on the farms and in the mines and oilfields (and burger joints) of America have not kept pace, then where has the wealth gone?

One more chart ought to give us a clue.

Related image

Monetary inflation is like a rising tide.  If you’ve got a boat – no sweat.  The boat rides with the tide.  But, if you are anchored to the shore and the tide rises high enough, you’ll drown.

So what is a boat, analogically speaking?   Any asset that rises (increases in nominal value) with the tide of inflation.  A few examples are a house, a business, or (as has been the case with one ounce silver coins) precious metals.  So, who is anchored to the shore?  Minimum wage earners.   They are drowning from inflation.

It’s a shame that the free market has left them behind.  Maybe it’s time to throw them a life preserver.

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Mental viruses infect billions!

What sets the human species, homo sapiens, apart from other animals?  Hint: It’s not our thumbs.  Other primates, including pandas, possums and koala bears have opposing thumbs.  It’s the size of our brains.

All but the least intelligent of humans can reason far better than even the geniuses of lesser species.  So why don’t we?  Why is it that you can lead a person to logic, but you can’t make them think?  I believe the answer is very simple – their otherwise healthy brain is infected with a virus.  Not a biological virus.  Not something you can see under a microscope.  Nor is it anything the body can eliminate with antibodies.  Once infected, the brain is usually doomed to host the virus for the entirety of its life.

I’m talking about beliefs.  Beliefs that are immune to reason; and, that’s why the brain is helpless in ridding itself of the virus.  Once a belief takes hold nothing can affect it.  Other humans with uninfected brains (brains that can still function logically and do what healthy brains do – think) are unable to bring the affected person back to reality.

Most people are infected at birth.  I don’t mean they are born with infected brains.  That’s not how it works.  Their brains are very quickly infected by exposure to the brains of their parents.  They are inculcated with the cultural beliefs of their parents which invariably include the existence of magic and the supernatural.

Children are taught superstitious beliefs by those they trust to be reliable sources of truth.  Yes, that doesn’t just include religious beliefs, it describes them by definition:

Excessively credulous beliefs in and reverence for supernatural beings, and unjustified belief in supernatural causation leading to to certain consequences of an action or event, including practices based on such a belief.

The only thing that can prevent being infected by one of these all pervasive mental viruses is reason, e.g. the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic.

When someone with an infected brain knocks on your door with a pamphlet in his, or her, hand, and one does not immediately close the door, or ward off the virus with reasoned thought, there is the risk of infection.  It has happened; and, in fact, it once happened to me. Mormons!

I was perhaps more easily infected because I had suffered from a religious infection from birth.  It took me three years of determined research to heal my mind and rid it once and for all of religiosity.  In the end, it was simple logic that did the trick.

I used the same tool of reasoning that scientists use in seeking truth.  Often it is impossible to prove what is true; but, rarely is it difficult to prove what is false.  It’s called falsifiability; and, here is how it works.  I’ll use the simple postulate, “All ravens are black.”  The statement, though it may appeal to inductive reasoning (i.e. every crow I’ve ever seen was black, ergo they must all be black), it is immediately proven false with the presentation of one single, solitary white crow.  That is deductive reasoning.

I won’t go into the myriad of falsifications that I have found for religious beliefs, particularly the ones I’m most familiar with in Christianity.  I will only say that once I began to reason logically and accept my own conclusions, my virus began to die; and, my brain began to heal rapidly.  The virus was riddled with falsities.

The contradictions are there in plain sight.  But, unfortunately, the most effective aspect of a mental virus is its ability to create a hard shell that protects it from logical thought.

Note: Though I have focused on one particular genus of mental virus, the same applies to any ideology or worldview.  Injections of logical reasoning are universally beneficial.

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