How to Save the United Kingdom

David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is in danger of having his heart broken if Scotland votes to be independent. He said this, of course, in Scotland, and later went to attend the naming ceremony of what will be the UK’s next carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, also in Scotland, where the carrier was partially built.

Just to be sure that the message was absolutely clear that some Ministry of Defense money flows North, the Queen forewent the traditional bottle of champagne for a bottle of Scottish Whiskey to smash against the ship while listening to bagpipes. Reporters didn’t say if she also wore a kilt and ate haggis before christening the ship after an English Queen known for imprisoning and beheading Mary, Queen of Scots.

What a change since the times when no one broke away from the Empire without a major war. Or when the other side has Gandhi. Of all people, this leads Russia, who is no stranger to putting down revolts, to not take the UK very seriously. “Britain?” Russian diplomats say, “It’s just a small island no one pays attention to.” The BBC didn’t take kindly to this. They responded with an article explaining how Great Britain is really, in fact, a big island. And besides, the word great is right there, before Britain. That counts for something, right?

It is a bit hard, going from the world’s largest Empire, spreading English around the globe, and having one fourth of the world’s population as subjects, to playing second fiddle to the United States.

The UK’s GDP has slipped from being the foremost in the world to number 9, just behind Brazil (not to mention their former arch-enemies, the French). In terms of GDP per person, the average Briton now makes about $11,000 less per year than the average American, a trend that used to go in the opposite direction until just a few years ago.

So, what would you like to do, UK? How about cozying up to the rest of the EU. Eh, no? Full of Euroskeptics? You really did just give a plurality of the vote to freaking UKIP? Okay. No go there. Reestablishing the Empire is probably not a good idea. The Western world can hardly stabilize individual countries like Iraq or Afghanistan much less take over and hold large parts of India. Well, what about accepting your place in the world and just trying to be a great country without being a great power? I mean, the average Briton is still much better off than the vast majority of the world.

No? Okay, I have another solution. You’re not gonna like it, but hear me out.

You’re really not gonna like it.

Lately it may have struck some Britons that they misplaced a few soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan for nearly a decade. They may have even noticed that Iraq was entirely America’s idea and we didn’t even bother giving the world any sort of reason (at least, not any sort of reason that stood up to more than two minutes thought). Or, the first Gulf War. Or all that time in Kosovo. Americans are grateful for your support of course, but I’m not sure what we were doing when Argentina decided it owned the Falklands.

If the Special Relationship means giving over important foreign policy decisions to the US, you may as well have a say in it.

And of course, joining the US is the only way to have a vote in Congress.

What could be the possible downsides?

*You’d have to adopt the ugliest currency in the world, the US Dollar. The US dollar is so boring it doesn’t even have naked ladies riding sharks.

*You’d have to replace uninspired, bland leadership that forgets every promise immediately after the election with uninspired, bland leadership that forgets every promise immediately after the election with an American accent.

*A certain rich, unelected, German-descended family, while not having to give up any practical powers of influencing government, is going to have to come up with new titles to put before their names.

*It will put the final nail in the coffin of the Empire. Britain tried so hard to rule the world that it has at one time or another invaded 90% of all the countries on Earth. After joining the US, this effort will no longer be orchestrated from London. Instead that process will be organized from Washington.

*While you’d have representation in the democratic process, this would mean an end to complete self-determination. The British would also lose a certain something that comes with being free and independent. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, ask the Scots.

*It’s a little embarrassing to be absorbed by your former colonies–although you would be able to play on a less embarrassing World Cup team to make up for this.

*If you join, we’ll update the flag, but still arrange the stars as boringly as possible,

but at least we’d freaking represent Wales.

Wow, those are some cons. Let’s get to the pros.

First of all, there’s this:

81 Votes of Electoral Dominance

That right there is a reallocation of the U.S. Electoral College if Britain were to join the Union. (The process of redistribution can be found here). Because each state is guaranteed to have two senators it would make the most sense to join as four separate states if you want to maximize representation in Washington. 81 votes would suddenly be British.

The US House of Representatives is set by law to 435 voting members but the Senate can expand, and would, to 108. There are additionally 3 votes given to the District of Columbia, even though the government has found them not worthy of having a voice in the Legislature. This brings the new total up to 546. This website would have to change its name to 274 to Win.

Because of the vast size of the UK voting block, and how close recent US elections have been, US Presidents will be pretty much whoever the UK votes for. Having a 15% share in the Electoral College could have swung every election for the past 26 years. If you’re liberally minded, this means no George W. Bush. For conservatives (although Conservative and conservative don’t necessarily mean the same thing) that means losses for Clinton and Obama.

There are some other advantages:

*So long as states have a republican form of government the Constitution is cool with it. So the Brits can keep parliamentary democracy to decide state affairs.

*English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish parliaments would have the best of both worlds as part of the bigger government and retaining the ability to make decisions on local issues. The US Constitution includes what we called Reserved Powers just for the states. The Federal government has never, ever figured out a way around this. Not even once.

*The US and the UK have a long history of cooperation. Starting near the beginning of the 20th century they’ve cooperated in peace and war. Before then, not so much, what with plenty of border disputes in Alaska, Maine and New Brunswick, and the Oregon Territory. And how the US supported Irish Independence. And the Empire didn’t exactly help the Confederates, but they didn’t hurt them either. During the war American sailors violated British neutrality to capture some Confederates and the UK considered an invasion of the Union. Oh,  and two major wars we actually did fight. But all that stuff from before the two countries got along doesn’t count.

*British citizens could be part of the largest single-nation market in the world providing stability for its economic interests. The US has never, ever blundered economically.

*These are uncertain times. Sure, the UK has a nuclear deterrent, is on some islands that haven’t been successfully invaded since 1066. But wouldn’t they feel more secure being protected by the US Military? You know, besides already being part of NATO. We know you’re jealous of our aircraft carriers.

*Plenty of Brits live in the States and plenty of Yanks have crossed the Pond to live in Britain. We’re also huge trading partners and are deeply interconnected. It’s obvious we’re better together.

Sounds like a pretty good deal. Just remember that if the UK became the next four states, their taxes wouldn’t go to subsidizing a pillar of Western culture and democracy like Greece. Nope, that money is going straight to Arkansas.

How to Save the Tiger OR: I Like Kitties

Just so we’re clear, I’ll say it again: I like kitties.

And not just our little kitten Hoshi, who is treading on my keyboard and eating my fingers as I write this, but also the big cats out in the wild. Tigers, for example, are pretty cool, being all orange and stuff, with a big roar, stalking the jungle. When food is scarce they’ll hunt other big predators, such as giant crocodiles and even freaking bears are on the menu up in Siberia. They can also be adorable and live in peace and cuddles with lions and bears.

To be frank, there are some things we have to agree on to be friends. Normally this isn’t a good idea for me because I’m strange enough that if we had to agree on everything I’d have no friends. But there is just this one thing, and no it isn’t about religion or taxes or politics or whatever, it’s just this: tigers are cool.

I could go on about all the good, non-absurd reasons about why we should save the tiger–(The WWF, pathetically, only lists five) the impact of top predators on the ecosystem and diversity, the fact that saving forests for tigers also saves forestlands for many other wonderful creatures, the economic benefits through tourism to communities close by to tigers, etc–but you and me, my friend, know that they’re just awesome. So let us, you and I, save the tiger.

Here’s the sad part of this blog post, and I’ll keep it short. In 1900 there were an estimated 100,000 tigers roaming the wild. Now there are less than 3,000. The drop is mainly due to the fact that tigers have humans as roommates, mostly living in the most densely populated spots on Earth in Asia. Unfortunately tiger-human interactions end badly for tigers. When tigers kill cattle, they will leave and then return to feed on the livestock nightly. In the meantime villagers will poison the meat.

Other people (otherwise known as douchebags) will hunt tigers for some sort of sport–in this sentence sport is defined as going up against mother nature with a huge ass gun. But it is hard to blame the impoverished people of the world for killing tigers when the Asian medicine market is so lucrative. Tiger parts are used in many traditional medicines, like their claws to cure insomnia. Or their brains to cure laziness. Or their penis to make tiger soup as an aphrodisiac. Okay, listen, if your lady won’t get busy with you without first going out and murdering an endangered animal, whacking off its man bits and then eating it, you’ve got more problems than can be fixed by modern or traditional medicine.

Also, and I can’t stress enough how important I feel it is to tell you this, they use tiger poop to cure alcoholism. Which should tell you how the Chinese feel about alcoholics. However, I think being told I just ate tiger poop to cure my alcoholism would make me want a drink, but that’s just me.

Current conservation methods are based on funneling money into convincing local governments in Asia to create more tiger reserves, changing local laws and attitudes about killing tigers and creating a giant tiger corridor. The tiger corridor is to allow horny tigers to wander off in search of new and possibly more attractive tiger ladies, and has the side effect of not inbreeding the tiger into extinction.

You’ll notice that this seems somewhat normal in terms of conservation techniques and thus they will not be discussed further here.

The two ideas I have are this: a world-wide campaign to tell people the true ingredients of tiger soup–it’s a barbed penis if you’d forced yourself to forget already–and to play God with genetics. I know, I know, it’s only been a few weeks since I last played God with genetics. Don’t judge me, lots of us have inner super villains.

In this case, by playing God with genetics I mean, and this really is obvious, let’s give tigers wings.

Think about it: tigers with wings can fly over the artificial barriers to prey populations. Terrified Indian villagers can look up into the sky and shout “Holy shit, tigers!” as they see the majestic orange beasts take to the sky.

This would also solve the issue of a genetic bottleneck: there’s no need to have tiger corridors if the tigers can fly over people’s houses. This could also be a game changer for the aforementioned douchebags if tigers are suddenly able to pounce on them from the sky and drag them back up to their lairs, high in the trees.

Okay, so what are the practical barriers to giving tigers wings, you ask. What about the ethical implications of genetic engineering, aren’t animals that combine species some sort of unethical, unnatural alteration of the natural orders of blah blah de fucking blah. First of all, no one complains about one of the side-effects of saving the American Bison: we made them part cow. Second, I really don’t care unless someone goes Monsanto on tigers and makes them round-up resistant so we can grow tigers but nothing else, and then establish giant mono-cultures of tigers to feed the world’s growing population (maybe that’s for another blog).

Third, someone is already working on it. In case you don’t feel the need to impulsively check my sources, that’s a story about scientists putting bat genes into mice to form protowings. Basically all they have down is some stretched hands that would later have skin stretched in between them, but it is a step in the right direction.

Bats, unlike birds, do not have hollow skeletons. But they do manage to keep their weight down. One of the largest living bats is the amazingly inaccurately named Giant Golden-Crowned Flying Fox, which only has a 5’6″ wingspan, making it not a giant, nor an owner of a golden headpiece, nor a fox. It does however fly. Anyway, even with its impressive wingspan, the bat only weighs about 2.5 pounds. The largest Siberian cats can weigh about 670 pounds, so by basic extrapolation we’d say they need 223 times the wing surface area. Maybe. I don’t really understand lift.

But what I do understand is that we either need a way to make tigers lighter, or the wings more powerful, or both. I personally prefer the version where we make the tiger wings beat as fast as humming birds, which not only allows their wings to generate more lift but gives flying tigers the ability to hover and fly backwards.

Humming-Tigers would expend a lot of energy just on flying. Meaning that, like the humming bird, they’d have a crazy-ridiculous metabolism and be hours away from starving to death at all time. So Humming-Tigers would have to be vicious, eating more than their body weight per day, making the ones that survive vicious killing machines. Oh my god, yes.

The only real problem is where to put the wings. Unlike the humble Pegasus, tigers are tetrapods. You, me, lizards, snakes, we’re all tetrapods, meaning we have four limbs (snakes are too, you’ll just have to trust me on this one). It’s a body plan that dates back to the fish that evolved limbs in the Devonian. There’s really no skeletal or muscular structure to graft on extra wings. So we have two choices about where the wings should go. Like bats and birds, one might tempted to put them on the front limbs, but tigers use those for hunting. So instead I think we should put them on the back limbs.

So, everybody onboard with this, flying, hummingbird-like death machines with two front paws and two back wings? No? Is that why people are against genetic engineering? Does giving tigers wings, actually just make them a different species all together and it will turn out that we haven’t really preserved anything? Hmm…

Anyway, if you want to actually help the tiger, here is an organization called Panthera and they seem to do some excellent work.



How to Win the Lottery OR: The Least Efficient Way to Make Money

Don’t worry, I’m not here to tell you not to buy a lottery ticket. Oh no, I’m here to encourage you.

Yes, there is a lot wrong with lottery systems. They are pretty much a tax designed to prey on people who can’t math. And the poor–since poor people, you know, generally like entertaining the thought of not being poor. Mathematically the amount you stand to gain from buying a lottery ticket is almost exactly that ticket’s price-tag–but in negative dollars.

Never mind all that. Never mind the odds against you, you want to win. As far as I can see, there are two ways to be absolutely positive that you will win a lottery without cheating: either open up a lottery and attract customers or find a way to collect every possible ticket. Let’s deal with the second option.

Now, the classic lottery system is to draw a winning ticket number from all of the tickets sold. If there are a limited number of tickets, one could conceivably buy all of them and thus ensure a 100% percent chance of winning. However, if just one other person buys just one other ticket, your odds of winning will be incredibly high but not assured. We don’t deal with not assured in this blog. The second problem is that lotteries are designed to make a profit for somebody, so there is no way that the total sum of the prizes will be worth the total sum of all the tickets sold, excepting, perhaps some sort of lottery for charity.

So we have to look at lotteries that follow a different pattern. Powerball, for example, is what is called a progressive jackpot. There is one winning combination of numbers, and so long as no one guesses it, each week this jackpot increases. What this means is that, with enough tickets, a single person can be absolutely assured of winning the jackpot.

Players choose 5 non-repeating numbers for the white balls and one number for the red Powerball. The final results are automatically placed in ascending order, effectively making this a combination and not a permutation (that is, the order numbers are chosen is irrelevant), making the odds of winning 1 out of 175,223,510.

Again, I’m not discouraging you, but you’re just wasting your money with those kinds of odds. To put it one way, there are about 3.4 million High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI–those that have at least $1 million in wealth) in the US out of a total of 316 million people, making it, roughly, 1.7 million times more likely that a random American is already a millionaire then that the random ticket they are holding will win that week’s Powerball.

In order to have a 100 percent chance of winning you have to buy all 175,223,510 tickets. Each Powerball ticket is $2, meaning that you need a payout of $350,447,020 to break even. The rules state that you pay taxes on lottery winnings based on where you bought the ticket, so in order to make this venture as profitable as possible you’ll want to buy all 175 million tickets where there isn’t a state lottery tax: Delaware, Florida, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Washington.

Even so, there is always a 25% Federal Lottery Tax, so you’ll actually need to wait for an advertised jackpot of at least $467,262,693.34, something that has so far only happened twice. People that actually do win American lotteries have to choose between getting a severe reduction in payout or receiving the full winnings over 30 years. You’ll have to choose the second option unless you want to wait for an even higher jackpot.

Now then, now that you have collected your $350 million to invest in lottery tickets, you have a week to buy all 175 million of them. But, if you were able to purchase a Powerball ticket once a second, you’d still be 174,618,710 tickets short at the end of the week. Even Ayn Rand is gonna ask for help on this one.

Time for the 175 million person lottery pool. Of course this number can be substantially less if each person is allowed to buy more tickets. The problem is that people tend to forget about the whole lottery pool contract after they win. So you need a contract, signed and notarized. And you’ll still probably have to sue. All of this will cut into your winnings. Also make sure to have 175 million copies of lottery tickets to make sure no one can say they bought the ticket with their own money and try to not split it. Finally, if you’re playing something like Powerball, start hoping right now that no one else chooses the jackpot.

Okay, so your group won. You chose the 30 year payment plan, meaning that someone will have to have a full time job divvying out 175 million shares once a year for thirty years. But it’s all worth it! The highest Powerball ever got was $600 million. This is a lot of money. So much money, in fact, that after taxes every $2 share you purchase is going to be worth a whopping $2.57, paid back to you over 30 years. It would take about 23 years just for you to get your investment back.

Still, though, a 25% return sound like a pretty good bonus to being able to say you once won the Powerball Jackpot. So if 175 million of you are bored next time Powerball is that high, hit me up.

How to End Malaria, OR: Eight Legs of Death

It’s time for a controversial statement: malaria sucks. Someone should really do something about that.

How much does malaria suck? Try 660,000 deaths a year, something the World Health Organization loves to put down as the emotionally crushing average of almost 2,000 people a day. Humans have a bad time conceptualizing numbers as big as 660,000 deaths in a year so I’ll put it this way: that would depopulate Manhattan in less than three years. Sorry, readers from New York, but part of being iconic is getting used in ways to illustrate large numbers of people, dead or otherwise.

Malaria is spread by way of mosquitoes and most of the cost-effective ways found to deal with the disease are by limiting that vector. Nets are popular, and particularly effective when coated with insecticide. However, a small portion of mosquitoes are surviving this whole poison-net thing to produce offspring. And the offspring of those offspring will be less and less likely to die to net death. Meaning this whole net death thing has its limit. Yeah, thanks a lot, Darwin. Because of you I want to find a mosquito killer with a hundred-percent kill rate. Though to be fair I also want to find something with a hundred-percent mosquito kill rate because I really hate mosquitoes.

Recently it’s been suggested that mosquitoes can be genetically modified into only producing non-bloodsucking males. However I find that, first of all, this is not painful enough of a way to go for the mosquitoes, and secondly, we need to be absolutely sure that all the good work mosquitoes do as food for bigger species, and as pollinators won’t be missed. (That article does mention a–as in one–study about this, but I am not convinced).

So what is something that kills mosquitoes pretty much all of the time it’s employed but doesn’t end an entire species? The cold, furry, eight-legged grip of death from our friendly, neighborhood spiders. Let’s start putting those in bedrooms in developing countries. Everybody loves having spiders in their bedroom, so you can see that this post is also about America winning hearts and minds.

I’m not the first to think about natural pest control. In my home state of Montana, for example, we have a huge problem with plants from Europe, such as spotted knapweed. Knapweed kills the plants around it and out-competes the local flora, leading to destabilized habitats and fields of nothing but knapweed. So we introduced some of the insects that help keep knapweed populations in control in their native lands, but I don’t know if anyone thought about what sorts of things eat those insects, or what other things those insects might eat, or if other problems might suddenly crop up.

So you see I wasn’t kidding when I said neighborhood spiders. It’s probably a good idea to disturb the local ecosystems as little as possible. There are African spiders that already hunger for malarial mosquitoes anyway. Apparently they are way tastier than other bugs… not that I would know. Unfortunately, this eight-eyed cutie is a jumping spider, but suppose we can find local varieties of spiders with a craving for malaria that build giant webs. Teach people that, in addition to their insecticide-treated mosquito nets, it’s okay to let these little furry pets live in the house.

Mosquitoes, like many members of the insect world, use the moon to help navigate. This means, that like moths, when there is a constant light a few feet from them instead of a steady and stable 384,000 kilometers, their navigation system gets a little off. Mosquito zappers work on this principle and we can totally use it with spiders.

The process of extracting jellyfish genes to make other animals glow in the dark, from pigs, to sheep, to kittens, is already well-established. In fact, if you live in the United States you can go buy some fish for your aquarium. A glow in the dark spider would have the advantage of eating more tasty malaria mosquitoes since mosquitoes like bumping into bright lights. Also, people seem to have this irrational fear of these eight-legged venom-injecting nightmare monsters, but having them glow brightly in the corner of your room while you sleep would make an excellent and comforting night light.

Glow in the dark spiders are a better option than zappers because they are self-sustaining and don’t require pesky things like electricity, something poorer nations aren’t always great about consistently supplying. Also with a zapper the little bastards are just electrocuted. Obviously this isn’t nearly a painful enough way to die for a mosquito. Unless someone like George R.R. Martin can come up with a more terrifying death, I’m sticking with the spider thing. The mosquitoes will struggle in the webs waiting for that small injection of venom before being slowly cocooned in spider silk and mummified by having their insides dissolved and eaten while still alive–wow I really hate mosquitoes. I just hope that their little brains are complicated enough to know fear.

The only other thing is that genetically modifying organisms can do weird things to their ability to reproduce. If the spiders bred with local wild spiders it could also have unforeseen consequences on the ecosystem. So I recommend we make the spiders sterile and set up huge facilities to clone them. Millions of cloned spiders could be made every year to ship out to malarial countries. All to end malaria.

Sleep tight. Spiders watch over you.


How to Bring Internet to the Masses OR: God Help the Pigeons

Like all good conversations, this one started out about sex.

We’re just a tiny bit nerdy, so we started wondering about the data speed during conception. Which, of course, got me to making comparisons to our local internet providers, which is a less messy form of data transfer while still providing the sensation of being screwed.

However, we still have it easy when you consider that less than one third of the world has home internet access. Google is, of course, trying to expand their market by building a fleet of satellites. Space is pretty awesome and all, but we’ve been sending stuff up there since the fifties. There has to be a more ridiculous option.

If you want really fast speeds and don’t care about ping, it turns out that snail mail is many, many times faster than your internet connection.

Still not ridiculous enough. My brain made the obvious leap to carrier pigeons. I bet nobody’s ever sent data via carrier pigeon! Oh, wait, no,  of course they have.

What’s more, the pigeons are still faster. But these tests were only over small distances, with relatively large amounts of data. Over longer distances, one would expect the internet to win out. Let’s figure it out.

I want to make this as challenging as possible for the pigeons in terms of distance. But since we have yet to breed pigeons that can fly through the vastness of space the furthest we can possibly send them is to exact opposite side of the world. That’s called your antipode, and there is a website for figuring yours out here.

I wrote this blog while sitting in my home town of Missoula, Montana. Despite being told my entire childhood that digging straight down would lead me to China, Missoula’s actual antipode  is around 66.013° E, -46.85° S, smack dab in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The nearest land is actually owned by the French and not the Chinese.

Welcome to the awesomely-named Desolation Islands. There are no indigenous inhabitants, but the French government maintains a satellite tracking center and a research station. They also launch rockets.

The beefiest carrier pigeons can carry about 70 grams on their little backs. Newegg sells some nifty 64 GB microdiscs as small as a fingernail that weigh half a gram. That would be 140 cards costing a total of $7,203. There is free shipping, but not by carrier pigeon. That’s 8,960 GB per pigeon or 8.75 TB.

Missoula to the Desolation islands is about 19,664 km. Homing pigeons at top speed can reach speeds of 93 km/hr. Now, because time and money are no obstacle when I’m pondering the data transfer speed of pigeons, I’m imagining a Pony Express relay of pigeons stretching from here to the Desolation Islands. Stations would have to be set up about every 200 km, requiring  100 pigeons each trained to go back to their home station (the extra pigeon would be so that data could come back).

Most of this direct route is in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, requiring supports drilled into the bottom of the world’s deepest oceans. Ocean-based oil rigs can cost up to 700 million USD, to give you an idea of the expenses involved here. Each station would need trained staff just waiting to transfer the data from pigeon to pigeon as they make the relay. All told, one pigeon semi-circumnavigation would take 8 days, 23 hours to deliver 8.75 TB, or 94.83 mbps. Of course this means that if you wanted to play chess with someone via pigeon mail, it would take 16 days, 21 hours to send your move and see that they took your queen–not counting however long they take to make their move.

There are no undersea cables leading that far South into the ocean, meaning that the researchers most likely rely on satellite internet. The annual FCC benchmarking report from  2013, Measuring Broadband America, lists 12 mbps as the fastest advertised rate (at least for civilian use). Some people experience up to 160% of the advertised rate, leading to about 19.2 mbps. This is still only 1/5 the speed of pigeon net.

Conclusion: God help the pigeons if I ever become an eccentric billionaire.

There are no airports on the Desolation Islands. Shipping your data by boat saves you the hassle of pigeon exchange stations every 200 km, the expense of staffing and maintaining these stations and shipping food and supplies halfway around the globe. However, it would take about the same amount of time, considering the only way to the Desolation Islands is a six day boat ride from Réunion, which requires a few airport connections from Europe and getting to Europe is already a 20-hour ordeal from Montana.

So, I don’t actually expect some internetless third worlders to go out every morning, collect a pigeon, take off the microdiscs and fire up Facebook.

But a man can dream.