17 December 2012

The Last Big Question (the evolution of consciousness itself)

In The Beginning, There Were Amino Acids.

Amino acids are rather complex, and anything complex is fairly unlikely. Then again, solar systems and galaxies, water and rock cycles, and particle physics are all magnificently complex too, and they all happen to exist. Even just within inorganic chemistry, plenty of naturally, randomly occurring compounds are more complex than amino acids.

Its very uncommon, but it has been found that, under just the right circumstances, amino acids can form spontaneously. Just the right mix of carbon and nitrogen, some oxygen and hydrogen, maybe just a touch of sulfur, make it all aqueous (dissolve it in water, so they can all move around) and maybe zap it with a bit of that proverbial lightning for good measure - at this point it is still nothing more than an ordinary chemical reaction - and you got yourself one of the fundamental building blocks of life.

(Alanine; Black = Carbon, White = Hydrogen, Blue = Nitrogen, Red = Oxygen)

We know the end of the story, but considered alone there is nothing especially special about some random amino acids floating around in puddles. Just about everything is made of compounds (two or more elements mixed together), not-particularly-sexy things like rocks and dust and air and water. Some have more different elements mixed together than others.

Granite is made of several compounds, (quartz, mica, and feldspar), themselves made up of combinations of oxygen, silicon, aluminum, iron, magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium along with trace amounts of other elements. It makes up the vast majority of the surface of the Earth, (there is somewhere on the order of 20 billion times more of it than there is of all living things on the planet - plants animals, bacteria, everything combined)

In comparison with granite's 8+ elements, amino acid's 4 seems almost simple, and compared to its abundance, amino acids are downright insignificant.

16 December 2012

Comments from the MMM Forums Part 5: OWS / 99%

The 5th of the 5 part series of blog posts taken from the Mr Money Mustache discussion boards, on the politics, economics, ethics and philosophy, of building wealth through frugality.

By COguy:

Your thoughts on the we are the 99% blog?
« on: November 13, 2012, 01:51:08 PM »
At the risk of seeming insensitive, I wanted to see what all of you folks thought of this.  Is it just complaining? 


It seems to me that if one followed mustachian principles they should get out of sticky financial situations much easier.  Ride a bike, in source everything, etc...Yet, I know I was lucky to be born to good parents and some of these people were not and I feel that that stacks the deck against them. 

Obviously, the medical expenses make sense as being very hard to overcome, but what about the rest?

[lots of posts, mostly agreeing that it is in fact mostly whiny pants complainers who dug their own hole and now want bailouts]

15 December 2012

Comments from the MMM Forums Part 4: Invesment Income Taxes

Part 4 (part 1 was here)...This thread was not intended to be political at all.  But of course someone had to turn it that way.
Someone, meaning me…

By Guitarguy:
Did anyone's eyes pop out of their head when...
Romney said he'd completely get rid of all capital gains taxes for people earning less than $200,000 a year off of dividends ect... in the debate tonight? Is that really possible? And how does that affect a mustachian's situation of retirement?

By Bakari:

Re: Did anyone's eyes pop out of their head when...
« Reply #9 on: October 17, 2012, 05:49:14 PM »
Does anyone else see something morally wrong with taxing earned income at a higher rate than unearned income?

Set aside the personal benefit we are all looking forward to, once we can afford to live off passive income.

From a strictly objective viewpoint:
person A spends 40 hours or more (plus commute time) a week going to a job and working hard.  On top of the direct value their labor provides to society as a whole, they also contribute a percentage of the income they earn towards the general good in the form of taxes.

meanwhile, person B simply sits around at home (or travels, or has a hobby, or whatever, doesn't matter) and has positive income flow for no other reason than they had money to begin with.  Maybe they worked hard in the past and saved up, or maybe they inherited it, or maybe they laundered it after a crime, doesn't matter, point is they are not working hard now, and for that they are rewarded with not having to contribute to society.

14 December 2012

Comments from MMM Forums Part 3: Lets Talk Charities

Part 3 of the ongoing series of posts taken from the MMM discussion board


By I.P. Daley :
Let's talk charities - (Afghani brick kilns and us)
Was reading the evening news tonight, and came across the following article in the world news feed:

Afghan family works to pay off crushing debt

Nutshell on the article? Guy gets married, wife gets sick, guy borrows $900 from his employer to get medical attention for his wife. Nine years later, he's still in debt and he and four of his six children (youngest working is 4 years old) are working in the kilns along with him to try and just eat and pay off the debt. And they aren't the only ones:


This isn't some new story in the history of man... it's happened before, it's happening right now, and it'll keep happening. This sort of thing even occurs in today's United States, just look at the immigrant tomato field workers in Florida as an example right off the top of my head.

A lot of us give a lot of lip service to frugal living, staying out of debt, being socially responsible, and extol the virtues of the bounty of goods that allow us to pursue financial independence. We also frequently want to punch people in this country in the face for their decadent living beyond their means and wasteful consumerism, and honestly, this article just re-stirs some of that anger because some of these never-to-be-forgiven family life debt balances on loans taken out for basic necessities in the third world are for less money than many people waste on frivolous crap in a month here. A lot of times, we also forget where a lot of these goods that give us the quality of life we have come from and who made them as well as how little (by our standards) it can take to dramatically change their lives.

13 December 2012

Comments from MMM forum part 2: Pursuing a Responcible Early Retirement

A continuation of the last post, this is taken from another thread on the MMM forums.
Again, for the sake of brevity, I have included just what I’ve written, along with quotes of what I am responding to, after the initial post, but if you are curios, feel free to click the link in the first post for everybody’s discussion.


By: darkelenchus

Pursuing and Maintaining A Responsible Early Retirement
« on: August 01, 2012, 12:07:04 PM »
Purpose & Rationale For This Thread

Since nobody seems to have any real objections to the central argument in sol's thread on how your early retirement might be evil, and since the thread has morphed into a discussion about somewhat tangentially related matters (e.g. justifying charity, differing moral systems, the purpose/value of taxation, sustainable population levels, et alia), I figured it'd probably be be best to start a new thread to begin discussing practical ways of reducing or eliminating the evil in pursuing & maintaining early retirement.

Summarizing the Problem

Okay, so let's identify the areas (in italics) where evil can creep in to MMM/ERE-style early retirement:

MMM/ERE Early Retirement =df A lifestyle attained and maintained through frugal practices and investment strategies, whereby one keeps a high savings rate during one's working years, eventually reaching the point where return on investment from savings covers all living expenses at the very least, which enables one to forego working a conventional job and thereby free more of one's time in comparison to more conventional working careers.

The thesis is that in pursuing early retirement, each of the three italicized areas above could perpetuate an unjust inequality: viz., the manner in which one executes one's early retirement could support (or at least be dependent upon) a system that denies that same opportunity to others.
  • Frugal Practices: If one seeks to maximize one's savings rate by purchasing the lowest priced goods at the best value, one might be supporting businesses that utilize exploitative business practices.
  • Investment Strategies: Investing in stocks provides capital to companies that seek to maximize return on shareholder investment. Just as with keeping prices low for the consumer, many companies employ exploitative business practices to maximize that return. Investing in bonds provides capital to many of those same companies.
  • Allocating Free Time/Resources: If we will early retirement as a value, it would be contradictory for us to maintain that other's shouldn't have that same opportunity. Merely refraining from perpetuating the system is not enough. We should do what we reasonably can to provide people that opportunity.

If we're concerned with reducing or eliminating this unjust inequality, then we'll have to a) choose frugal practices and investment strategies that at the very least don't exasperate the unjust inequality, and b) actively do what we can to help alleviate it. Below are some of the ideas I've come up with for going about doing this.

12 December 2012

comments from MMM economics / philosophy / politics threads

comments from MMM economics / philosophy / politics threads

I am a regular reader and contributor to the Mr Money Mustache discussion board forums.

Its mostly talk and advice regarding money management, DIY projects, bicycling as transportation, energy use, investment strategy, and various other ways to have more wealth by living more efficiently.
Every once in a while, though, a philosophical / political / social topic comes up, and the discussions especially interesting.

Here I have consolidated a number of my input and responses to some of the more intense conversations that have come up in recent months (with quotes of what I am responding to, for context); things which I feel are important and interesting, which respond to very common ideas, but which I never had quite the right formatting to turn it into its own blog entry.
Sometimes you need a good antagonist - preferably someone intelligent and knowledgeable (but wrong) - to play off of, to respond to, in order to make a point coherently.
The indented, highlighted text are quotes that are being responded to.  The further indented, different color highlighted parts are quotes within quotes.

The first 3 were all closely related, and, randomly enough, was spawned originally by a thread on how much the average American spends at Starbucks: