Uncommon Sense

February 18, 2013

The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Part 2

Filed under: History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:30 am
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Okay, okay, there were religious issues in my post on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that weren’t tied up there and some want them addressed, so here goes.

In my last post I said: “According to the Christian’s Bible, eating from this tree was what got Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Even, a real paradise. Eating from that tree also enlightened both of them as to issues of good and evil. This was not an endarkening but an enlightening. They could tell the difference between good and evil. One might ask why this was forbidden knowledge, because surely God was good, wasn’t he? What was there to hide? Ah, so many mysteries, but that is not my point . . . today.

But that isn’t good enough for some of you . . . okay . . . I continue:

Now some very wise people have interpreted this knowledge to mean not just “good and evil” but “from good to evil” which means everything in between also, which they interpret as “everything,” all knowledge. That seems like more than a little bit of a stretch as I do not expect to find the knowledge of, say, avocados between knowledge of good and knowledge of evil. Also, the story itself gives no indication that all of a sudden Adam and Eve possessed all knowledge. (I would expect to be a little dazed by that, but all they felt was shame for being naked.) Combine this result of this “interpretation” with eating from the “Tree of Life” and Adam and Eve would become not only all-knowing but eternal, so quite god-like.

Setting aside issues such as: why God did not put guards around these precious trees, or why his commands to Adam and Eve had so little standing that they could be countered by a talking “serpent,” and why if God were omniscient, why didn’t he not know the serpent was talking to Eve behind his back, and why God’s threat regarding the eating of said fruit (“for on the day you eat of it you shall surely die”) was so impotent and, well, just not true and why God would be opposed to having Adam and Eve become semi-divine. (The key words for you apologists to deal with are “for on the day” plus there was no statement that Adam and Eve were to be immortal in the absence of such eating, etc.) Let us instead focus on the “Tree of Knowledge” itself.

If it is just the knowledge of Good and Evil and Adam and Eve could know the difference, if they had eaten it earlier, would they then not have known to avoid the serpent? What was an evil serpent doing in God’s Garden any way? What was Adam’s role in the Garden to be? According to scripture he was supposed to be a Gardener. Like Tolkien I honor the profession of “gardener,” but why would God acquire a Gardener and then expose him to a tree that he was not supposed to touch?

Could our Adam and Eve be “Adam and Eve, v. 42?” Could God have created 41 prior Adams and they all ate of the Tree and finally after the 42nd, God just got pissed off and threw them out? (The previous 41 were presumably returned to the compost heap for recycling.)

How much was Adam supposed to know just days after being born? Granted he was born as an adult, or someone fast forwarded us to his adulthood, but he largely seemed quite innocent and guileless, so he couldn’t have had much of an education.

And what if Adam and Eve had taken a bite from both Trees and became somewhat god-like, could not Yahweh have just welcomed them to the club or even still just have “taken them out.” My own father said to me “I brought you into the world, son, and I can take you out.” Surely Yahweh is at least as powerful as my father.

What was so fracking horrible, that God has to condemn the entire human race to everlasting Hellfire, except for the very few who discover the escape clause? Religious issues involved in Genesis, uh huh.

The fascinating thing is: if you ask Christians of the fundamentalist ilk whether the New Testament surpasses the Old Testament, they all say Aye! The Old Testament, though, is the holy literature of the Jews and if you ask any Rabbi if the Genesis story is literal truth they will reply that no, it is an allegory only. So, why do these Christians insist upon the literal truth of Genesis when they obviously do not obey the literal truth of Deuteronomy (which has all of the restrictive rules in it) and when the people whose literature it was before Christ came into being say that Genesis was not meant to be taken literally.

The problems above only come from the irrational insistence that Genesis is literal truth. If everyone were to recognize it as allegory, all of the above objections become moot. Until that happens, people need to be beaten about the head and shoulders with the consequences of their own beliefs.

The insistence on literal truth came from a distrust of priests (currently being reinforced by the Catholic clergy, thank you). Protestants felt they could not trust priests to tell them the truth, so they had to make a direct connection between the scripture and their own minds. Not being experts in biblical history or Middle eastern history, left them often puzzled, so they found themselves reduced to “God would have made his word available to the common person” so the persons involved became the interpreters. This, of course, led to chaos (kind of like asking pre-schoolers to design computer software) so the insistence was that the words were literally and not figuratively true. If the Bible said there was a talking serpent, there was a real, honest to Yahweh, talking serpent.

And, thus the games began. All of this happened beginning in the late 1880’s by the way, children. This is not ancient history.

February 15, 2013

The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

According to the Christian’s Bible, eating from this tree was what got Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Even, a real paradise. Eating from that tree also enlightened both of them as to issues of good and evil. This was not an endarkening but an enlightening. They could tell the difference between good and evil. One might ask why this was forbidden knowledge, because surely God was good, wasn’t he? What was there to hide? Ah, so many mysteries, but that is not my point . . . today.

Fast forward from the writing of the Bible about 1500 years and you will find that there was a small war surrounding the publishing of the Holy Bible in affordable editions. A little while later, there was another war over publishing versions of the Bible translated into the vernacular (local languages like German, French, and English) instead of Latin, which most people could not read.

My point is that the vast majority of people subject to the Bible (The Catholic Church had its own police and, yes, they had the authority to torture you, even burn you alive.) were largely ignorant of the contents of the Bible because they could not read it. The reasons were tow: most were illiterate and most didn’t have access to a copy of the Bible.

The reason clerical authorities didn’t want the hoi polloi reading the Bible, well there are quite nasty things in it: like God-sanctioned genocides, selling of one’s female children and what constitutes a good price, etc.

Only 500 years after the Enlightenment and the publication of Christian holy books that all could read, the grip of Christianity has slipped greatly.

What we do not know can hurt us. Our current government’s practice of making everything “top secret” so that we can’t see it is much like the first 1500 years of Christianity during which we were required to ask a priest what the Bible said.

It is no better now than it was then. If you do not believe this, look you to the information Wikileaks provided about the War in Iraq, about the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens who got killed and somehow didn’t make it into the official tallies, about the outright war crimes committed in our name, etc.

I want to know exactly what our government says and does, nothing more, nothing less. That they will need to redact out people’s names to prevent the exposure of secret agents and secret sites is somewhat okay, but tell me what is being done in my name, targeted killings, er, assassinations, all of it.

More Olympic Perfidy (Still More)

Filed under: Politics,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 9:32 am
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I have problems with the management of the Olympic Games. I fully understand that they are a private corporation that operates to make money. I have no problem with that.

I do have problems with how they operate. For example, all decisions are made by secret ballot. Why the need for secrecy, other than the hide the corruption that is so clearly part of their goings on? I would like to see all votes made part of the public record, so that each country could see what their representatives are doing, just like we do in our legislatures. Each delegate should be required to defend his/her voting record and explain it, too.

And, I find their decision to add sports like golf and drop sports like wrestling completely baffling. Wrestling was in all of the ancient Olympic Games and every iteration of the Modern Games, too. It almost personifies the Olympic Games, much more so than swimming, for example. Is not the Olympic credo: Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger) and doesn’t wrestling embody all of those?

I happen to like the idea put forth that the Olympic Games shouldn’t include any sport in which Olympic gold doesn’t signify the highest accomplishment in that sport, which means, no baseball (World Series is a bigger win), no Rugby or Soccer (World Cups), no Tennis, and no Golf.

The greatest pleasure of the Olympic Games is seeing all of the sports one doesn’t see every year, year in, year out. Otherwise, soon there will be a call for NASCAR in the Olympics.

February 14, 2013

Conservatives “Broken Record”

There is a technique of argumentation called “broken record.” For those of you not old enough to have experienced photograph records, they were disks with a single spiral groove on both sides. One of their flaws was, if damaged, the needle picking up the information in the groove could skip tracks resulting in the same phrase been sung/spoken over and over and over. The argumentation technique is simply to ask for what you want (I want my money back!) over and over and over. What you want doesn’t have to make sense, but after you hear something myriad times, it starts to sound reasonable, even sound true.

For example, a local conservative columnist was writing on Second Amendment gun rights after having consulted some prominent legal experts. Here is a quote:

(Second Amendment Legal Expert) Kontorovich thinks a limit on the size of magazines would be struck down because it could inhibit an individual’s ability to stop multiple attackers. ‘Limiting magazine capacity is like saying a print magazine could be only 32 pages,’ he says. What would not be allowed in the context of press freedom should not be allowed in the context of gun rights, he says.

Hello? Is there even one instance of an American defending himself from scores of attackers for which he needed the capacity to fire off 100 rounds? 30? The vast majority of such encounters involve handguns, not military-style assault weapons, and involve single individuals, not dozens. But you will now hear the phrase “Limiting magazine capacity is like saying a print magazine could be only 32 pages.” over and over and over.

Here are some other Broken Record arguments:

Social Security is Broken To fix the deficit, Social Security must be cut! WTF? Social Security has over $2 trillion dollars in the bank (in the form of treasury bills) in surplus. The taxes collected for Social Security are kept entirely separate from other tax receipts and do not affect the deficit one way or the other. (Even Ronald Reagan is on record saying this.) But conservatives keep repeating this and repeating this and it is starting to sound like something we have to do. Basically their argument is: we have to cut Social Security now or else we will have to cut Social Security later. Doesn’t sound like a pressing matter to me.

Medicare is Not Doing Enough to Hold Down Medical Costs Hello? Medicare is the only major insurance program that is actively holding down medical costs. I was shocked when I went on Medicare to find out that Medicare pays 50-60% of a medical bill that the doctor agreed ahead of time he/she would accept as full payment! It is the other insurance companies that are doing nothing, just passing on increased costs to policy holders. The problem is not Medicare costs but costs in general. Only Medicare and the VA systems are really working hard to hold down costs.

We Need to Reduce Corporate Tax Rates to Stimulate the Economy Really? The monied powers in this country have been reducing corporate taxes and shift them onto individuals for decades. Corporate power is at an all-time high, corporate profits are at an all-time high, and they need a tax cut? This is outrageous. They keep saying they want the rates cut. What needs to be cut are corporate deductions, otherwise known as tax loopholes. These corporations have been bribing our elected officials for decades to cut them special tax deals, just for them, not for everybody. The Federal Tax Code is littered with such special deals. Even the “Fiscal Cliff” deal include more of these deductions/loopholes. The rates are fine, but nobody is paying anywhere near what those rates indicate. I would like to see a line drawn as to how much tax is to be extracted from individuals and corporations; 50-50 would be nice.

We Can’t Get a Manufacturing Economy Going Again Because of a Less Skilled Workforce This is the “skills gap” nonsense. They are claiming they can’t find, say tool and die makers, because people with those skills aren’t available. The truth is there are plenty of out-of-work folks with those skills but: 1) nobody is hiring and 2) the few that are are offering McDonalds level wages. The #2 manufacturing goods exporter in the world is … wait for it … Germany! Germany has both higher wages and lower productivity that we do and we can’t get a manufacturing sector going? This is BS! The reason we can’t is no one is trying to. They want to continue to squeeze wages to further increase their profits.

Don’t be fooled by the Conservatives “broken record” technique, just repeating things over and over doesn’t make them real. Many others have observed that Conservatives have a tenuous grip on reality but I think that the real problem is that they think they can create it, orally.

February 13, 2013

Surprise, Surprise! Republicans FOS . . . Again!

Republicans blame government spending for the slow recovery from the Great Recession, that and high taxes and regulation and the oft mentioned but never defined “uncertainty.” Gosh, the fact that we don’t know what the future will bring has brought businesses to their knees! Has anyone . . . ever . . . known what the future will be? Amazing!

Well, here to pop the Repubs balloon(s) is an article supplied by Reuters:

(Reuters) Tax and regulatory uncertainty, blamed in some quarters for keeping companies from hiring, has little to do with high U.S. unemployment, according to research by the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank published Monday. The main reason that U.S. unemployment has remained high is likely because households hurt by the housing crash simply are not spending, according to the research, published in the latest issue of the San Francisco Fed’s Economic Letter. Focusing on the reasons businesses cite for not hiring, the study’s two authors – Atif Mian, a Princeton University professor who is currently a visiting scholar at the San Francisco Fed, and Amir Sufi, a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business – found no correlation between worries about regulation and taxes, and employment growth.

“ ‘Employment collapsed precisely when businesses began worrying about poor sales,’ they said. By contrast, ‘there was almost no correlation between job growth in a state from 2008 to 2011 and the increase in the percentage of businesses citing regulation and taxes as their primary concern.’

“Indeed, states where businesses increasingly cited regulation and tax worries actually had greater job growth than states without such intensifying concerns, though the correlation was not statistically significant, they said.” (Reporting by Ann Saphir)

Well, gosh, Paul Krugman is right and the Repubs are wrong. (At this point I am sure that Fox (sic) News will sneer and say “Oh, the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, a known to be liberal bank!”)

It is a good thing that the Repubs don’t mind being dead wrong on most of their issues. It doesn’t affect them like ordinary, you know, rational people. You and I would be tempted to change our minds when proven dead wrong over and over and over again. But Republicans “will not sacrifice their principles;” the foremost of which is “being wrong.”

And why must I get all of my serious news from foreign news agencies (Reuters is in London)? Hello? Is anyone else concerned that Al Jazeera does a better job or reporting political news than ABC, CBS, NBC, etc.? Kudos to Reuters for publishing the news.

February 12, 2013

New Pope! Same as Old Pope!

Filed under: Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:25 am
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So the current Pope is retiring (not shy, just retiring). Now that doesn’t happen very often, and I am sure that there will be a great ballyhoo about the selection of the new Pope.

Who cares?

I certainly do not. the reason is that the Holy Roman Catholic Church is the most calcified major organization on the planet. No matter who is elected, it will not change. And, apparently, Popes who suggest significant change don’t live long. Change is not what Popes are for. They say the Pope leads the Church but I think it is the other way around.

So, that means for this country that the new Pope will be as ignored as the present one. For example, the Pope says Catholics may not use artificial birth control. Over 90% of American Catholic women do so. American Catholic Bishops created a hue and cry to try to get the Obama administration to enforce this dictum through Obamacare because they could not enforce it themselves. And there are many more of the Mother Church’s dictates that Americans turn a deaf ear to, which is fascinating because the Pope is infallible in religious matters. We know this because he has told us so.

The Catholic Church will remain as obdurate and backward as it always has been. So, we get a new Pope . . . BFD, who cares?

February 11, 2013

Even More Second Amendment BS

One can make an historical argument that the founders wanted Americans to possess firearms as a check against an overbearing government. (But it is really, really hard to say what eighteenth Century Americans thought it meant when they ratified the Bill of Rights. Certainly it wasn’t something the founders of the Constitution thought important because they left it out.) So, the argument that gun advocates want to possess arms to be able to defend themselves from the government isn’t entirely crazy.

But (you knew there was going to be a “but,” didn’t you) consider the two situations: then and now.

Then: There was no standing army, not much of a navy, etc. Most of the arms were in the possession of individuals and there weren’t huge stockpiles of weapons available to the government. If the government really pissed off the people and there was a general revolt, there would be no stemming the tide and the revolters would win that argument.

Now: Let’s put up some serious survivalist/gun nuts on one side, some substantial militia somewhere, maybe from Michigan. On their side they have quite a few semi-automatic weapons, piles of ammunition, a few four-wheel drive vehicles and trucks, maybe a few contraband hand grenades or some dynamite, some food stores, some bandages and medicine, etc.

On the other side, the government can throw up, say, the Fifth Cavalry. No need for nuclear weapons or saturation bombing with bunker busting bombs, or any equivalent nastiness. Just the Fifth Cavalry with Apache helicopters with fully automatic weapons capable of ungodly sustained fire rates of thousands of rounds per minute, and rockets, etc. Let’s see, oh, they have tanks, field artillery, and mortars, thousands of men with semi-automatic weapons, stockpiles of ammunition, weapons, food, medical facilities (full field hospitals, med-evac services, etc.), command and control involving satellite surveillance, high altitude plane surveillance, radar, night vision, etc. Oh, and a complete command structure of officers and staff with communications systems, etc., oh, and training, lots of training.

Okay, do the revolters win now?

When you stop laughing, consider this. For the fantasy of being able to oppose our current government by force of arms, we pay a cost of thousands and thousands of lives wasted at the point of guns every year. Yes, guns don’t kill people, but “mentally unstable people with easy access to high power assault weapons kill more people easier and faster.”

Guns for hunting I am okay with. Guns for sport shooting I am okay with. (I used to own a shotgun and shot trap.) But people stockpiling pretend military weapons to be able to repel an overzealous government is fucking crazy.

That idea is dead and will be dead as long as we keep a standing army.

Hey, Krugman, How About a Really Big Idea?

As we all know we are recovering from the Great Recession so slowly that many are saying this qualifies as a depression. As Paul Krugman describes it we are in a “liquidity trap,” basically there is very low demand for goods and services hence businesses aren’t expanding, hiring back, etc. At the same time businesses and wealthy individuals have accumulated a great deal more wealth than they have in the past. Estimates of corporate cash reserves are pushing $3 trillion dollars.

Dr. Krugman has said that he has doubted that corporate and individual hoarding of wealth has had much of an effect on the recovery but has changed his mind; here is how he puts it: “So, I’ve had a mild-mannered dispute with Joe Stiglitz over whether individual income inequality is retarding recovery right now; let me say, however, that I think there’s a very good case that the redistribution of income away from labor to corporate profits is very likely a big factor.”

The phrase “the redistribution of income away from labor to corporate profits is very likely a big factor” caught my eye. Current corporate wealth cash piles have been created by manipulating tax laws, by bribing or threatening our officials (you know, give us tax breaks or we are moving our corporate offices out of state) to provide corporate welfare, and by denying labor its fair share of the pie based on increases in productivity (basically the old game was if labor increased productivity, wages would increase proportionately has disappeared and wages are being held down arbitrarily).

And here we are stuck in a depressed economy with interest rates either zero or negative (they are negative when returns are less than inflation) and government stimulus off of the table. Additional government stimulus of the economy is off the table only due to Republican opposition, Republicans being adamantly against the only thing that can jump start the economy. Republicans are against any kind of welfare, well, except corporate welfare.

So, are you ready for my really big idea? Here it is . . . corporate stimulus!

Corporations could take half of their cash piles, maybe $1-1.5 trillion and use it to stimulate the economy. This could take the form of cash bonuses to their workers (not management). All of these companies seem to revel in bonuses for management and seem to think they stimulate something good for their company, so how about bonuses for working stiffs? This would help return some of the earnings wrongfully denied labor to build up those piles of cash in the first place. It would also help repair the image of corporatists as being something other than cold hearted, blood sucking scum. And workers would spend that money and the people it went to would spend it again. (Go, Multiplier Effect, go!)

If the corporations involved have few employees and much to atone for, e.g. hedge funds, etc., maybe they could voluntarily fund a public work: a road or bridge repair project, a high speed rail study, etc. A billion here and a billion there and soon there would be people working and spending the money thus earned, stimulating the economy.

Don’t like corporate welfare? How about corporate stimulus? Come on corporations, you’ve got voting rights now, how about stepping up and showing you are good citizens.

February 8, 2013

Republicans Can’t Have It Both Ways

Recent actions by Republicans, especially at the state level, have made it very clear that as far as they are concerned: a woman’s place is in the home, submitting to her husband’s will. Their actions have picked up the tag of “The War on Women.” This is not surprising in that the current state of fundamentalist Christian conservative ideology began in the late Victorian era focusing heavily on the dominant positions of men vis-à-vis women in the Bible and on the “separate spheres doctrine.” The separate spheres doctrine held that men and women had separate spheres over which they held sway. For men this was the world of work, business, and politics and for women it was the home. (She is a queen . . . in her home! they shouted. Apparently they hadn’t heard of spousal abuse or maybe didn’t care. Many assumed that if a husband beat his wife, she must have deserved it. Amazing!)

Modern Republicans haven’t changed much from those conservative men of a hundred years ago, but they have created a bit of a conundrum for themselves. Women should be at home under the thumb of their men, they think, but Republican policies have so eroded the wages of working people that no one can afford to do this anymore.

A study indicated that a married couple in the 1950’s, with but one wage earner, had more disposable income than a comparable couple have now. The Republicans have been pushing more and more of the tax burden onto “individuals” and off of corporations. The Republicans have been writing legislation to disempower unions which depresses wages. The Republicans have been busy creating tax breaks for the wealthy and sticking it to the working man so much that he can’t afford an “at home wife” even if she were interested in being one.

The tipping point for this came during the administration of that icon of Republican virtue, Ronald Reagan. Women went to work in droves during his years in office, in an attempt to defend working people’s standard of living and to provide good educations for their children. It was noticed at the time. (Boy, was it!)

As usual, Republicans have barely noticed the tides of history as their boat just bobs along, ignoring the currents. There are fewer men than women in college (and graduating from them, too). The whole profession of real estate agent seems to have been completely taken over by women. Women more and more are becoming business people and have lives that are not totally focused on home, nor are they subject to any man in their life.

Occasionally Republicans notice these changes and stand up in their boat and yell “Stop!” They should be grateful that the metaphor is the tides of history and not the train of history, because were history a train, they would have gotten run over decades ago. Now their boat merely bobs along with a full complement of occupants looking dazed and confused and wondering “What happened?”

(If you want to know more about the roots of this ideology, read “Ungodly Women” by Betty A. deBerg (1990).)

More Drone BS

Filed under: History,Politics,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 11:37 am
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The Rachel Maddow Show filled in some facts I couldn’t recall for my last post on drone assassinations. (Thank you, TRMS!) According to Ms. Maddow it was the Church Committee report of 1976 that found that attempts to assassinate foreign leaders were, well, “those actions were inconsistent with American values and inconsistent with the law and with the Constitution.” Subsequently President Ford created an Executive Order banning such activities.

This notwithstanding, the policies of “targeted killings” (don’t you just love living in an age when torture is called “enhanced interrogation” and assassinations are called “targeted killings;” soon I expect snipers to be called “individual target acquisition specialists”) are still being defended as “the last resort to save American lives.”

Really? Well, what would we have done 20 years ago when there was no drone program? Are there really no other options? Are we really powerless without the drone programs?

What I think the answer is that killing . . . assassinating . . . someone via drone is just easier. No one has to go in harm’s way and all it costs is money, and the Republicans and Democrats both make sure the Pentagon always has plenty of that to throw around. Who knows what the CIA gets for covert ops, that budget is secret.

In the case of Anwar al-Aulaqi’s (or al-Awlaki’s) 16-year old son. Mr. al-Aulaqi had renounced his American citizenship, so he could be considered a foreign national and member of a terrorist organization but his son was born when he was an American citizen, so he was an American citizen and not old enough to legally renounce it himself. At 16-years of age, I hardly think this young person posed an imminent threat to the United States. The CIA makes mistakes. The President makes mistakes. “The War on Terror” has the entire globe as a battlefield and continual appointment of the President as Commander in Chief (an office the Constitution states he hold only during time of war). Which is why we need better oversight.

And I still think that all assassinations, no matter what you call them, are “inconsistent with American values and inconsistent with the law and with the Constitution.”

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