Uncommon Sense

May 16, 2013

Evolution and Atoms

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:51 am
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blue atomRegular readers of this blog recognize that I write on topics seemingly far from my core issue, class warfare (we are losing). Partly because I believe that religion and a number of other factors are being used to control the masses of the middle class and poor who might otherwise not accept the machinations of the ruling class. One of the religious themes I address is the willful preaching of what is known to be untrue to undermine the acceptance of science, a factor that can, for good or ill, strongly affect our lives.

I have recently written about the false conflict between American Christianity and Evolution Theory (it doesn’t seem to be a problem anywhere else, unless our religious export the stupid notions) and I get comments saying I am bigoted, close-minded, etc. My friend, John Zande at The Superstitious Naked Ape blog (http://thesuperstitiousnakedape.wordpress.com) writes even stronger stuff and attracts responses from a wilder sort (disjointed Biblical references, you are going to burn in Hell, etc.). He actually engages these people in dialogue, which I do not have the strength or patience to do. A better man, he.

In any case, the Creationists object to the narrative of science that basically says that humans evolved from inanimate matter. Now some of these are Young Earth Creationists who believe the Earth and the Universe are only about 6000 years old and others are Old Earth Creationists who believe the Universe is its scientifically determined age of somewhat over 14 billion years old. Both are deluded.

If an all-powerful, unlimited entity could create the universe and everything in it, then that being could have done it yesterday, creating this computer, the building I am in, the lake outside, and us, with all of the false memories needed to make us believe we are far older . .  . and we would not be able to tell that that had been done. We cannot prove it didn’t happen, but the flip side is we cannot prove it did happen, either. The same is true of Biblical creation. But folks keep trying. The Young Earthers therefore have a steep climb to prove their claim. The Old Earthers have a similar problem. They claim that each “day” of creation was actually eons of time, which would explain the gap between the Genesis account of creation and the actual age of the universe. This has extreme problems associated with it in that in one of two biblical accounts, Adam and Eve were born on different days, which means Adam was millions of years dead before Eve was born. And, of course there are more problems, but I won’t bore you with them.

The Genesis account of creation has been taught to be not true in virtually all Christian seminaries, so the teaching that it is true is disingenuous at best. (A local Christian college requires all faculty to sign an oath attesting to the truth of Genesis as a condition of employment. Faculty sign the oath whether they believe that or not because they need a job. Stupid.)

To get to my main point, the creationist claim that there is no way that human beings could be created from inanimate materials, I ask you to consider this. This is true, science has not elucidated the exact mechanism by which the first monocellular life on this planet appeared, or elucidated the exact pathway that these evolved into other forms of life. A lot of the pieces of this process have been discovered, but the whole picture, not yet. But consider you this: we may not know that we were made from inanimate matter, but we absolutely sure we are made of inanimate matter.

Think about it. What are you made of? Over half of your bodily mass is water, plain old water. Water doesn’t think, doesn’t live (self-replicate, etc.); it just sits there. The rest of you is another pile of chemicals in the form of molecules and crystals of various sorts. Those, in turn, are made of atoms. Atoms are essentially immortal but not alive. We are alive but not immortal. We are made of parts that are not alive, so how are we alive? I suspect it has to do with the organization of those parts.

Obviously every thing is made of chemicals and chemicals are collections of atoms, molecules, and crystals that are not alive, but some of the things around us are alive and some are not. Same atoms, arranged differently, produces life or non-life.

Life can be created from non-living materials because, well, it is.

I can’t wait for somebody to invent a Star Trek-like transporter. The first living thing to go through the thing will end all arguments. In those transporters, the information regarding the arrangement of all of one’s atoms is “beamed” to another location where new atoms are assembled into an exact copy of the being being transported. (It makes no sense to send the actual atoms as they would just slow down the process and potentially get lost on the way.) That would be undeniable proof that we are made of an arrangement of inanimate matter. But I don’t want to turn Star Trek into scripture, such a device may not be possible.

For those of you who still believe in special creation, take a look at your cat or dog carefully. They possess some small degree of consciousness, as do we. They recognize themselves in mirrors, for example. We are not uniquely different from them, just different by degrees, which leads one to think that we all sort of came along together on this wild ride . . . or you can just throw up your hands and say “the pixies did it.”

May 15, 2013

Just Who Are These Republicans?

Filed under: History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:37 pm
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One hundred and fifty years ago the Republicans were for abolition of slavery; now they have white supremacists vetting their immigration plans. One hundred years ago, Republicans were progressives; now they think progressives are socialists. Seventy-five years ago Republicans were isolationists working feverishly to keep us out of World War II; now they start unnecessary wars and are calling for more. (Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.) For very many years Republicans were the “party of fiscal responsibility,” yet the Bush administration spent money like a drunken sailor and every Republican president has increased the national debt more (proportionately and absolutely) than the previous Democratic president. And Republicans have always considered their party to be a true blue, major American political party, but lately they have been acting like a third world minority party, acting out of spite, with no real ideas, and no attempts to work with the administration to help the American people. Instead, their only idea is obstruct, obstruct, obstruct, undermining our system of government.

Who are these guys? And why do they have the right to call themselves Republicans?

May 13, 2013

Evolution Hard for “Special” People to Accept

In a recent creationist diatribe, the author got right to the core of his issue:

Darwin persuasively taught that life is the product of blind, meaningless, purposeless churning, making all life, not just human, hardly anything more special or dignified than cosmic refuse. Indeed in a Darwinian worldview, life is cosmic refuse.”

Yep, that’s pretty much correct.

But let me extend the thinking here. When the Earth formed from debris collected by the Sun, the collisions of the rocky material that fused together carried a lot of energy (as all of the “meteor disaster” shows on the Discovery and Science Channels affirm). All of those bombardments resulted in a planet that was effectively a ball of molten (that’s liquid, Bubba) material. Because the Earth was a ball of liquid material, the more dense materials sank through the liquid, which is why the core of the Earth is primarily made of iron and nickel, the densest elements in the planet. But eventually the bombardment stopped and since space is cold the planet slowly cooled and a scum of the lightest materials formed and solidified to form the crust of the Earth. It is from these elements and materials that all of life on the Earth evolved.

Yep, that’s right, . . . (wait for it, wait for it) . . . we are made from the scum of the Earth!

It is always astonishing to me that people who prize humility insist that we were made in God’s image. None of the other animals were, neener, neener, nyah, nyah! We are Special, I tell’s yuh! Why any God would want to look like a human is beyond understanding. (I know, I know, it is a mystery my child.) Why would a god want legs to walk when they can fly? Why would they need a nose to breathe through when they do not have to breathe? Why would they need a penis to pee through when they don’t have to pee? Why would God’s form conform to the needs of a denizen of this planet, when he existed before the planet did. (And do not say, he had to make the planet he created conform to the needs of a being that looks like him, you are just begging the question.)

How is it that so many people insist on the absolute truth of something so clearly not true?

I read an article in the New York Times published in 2002 (New Torah For Modern Minds) in which Jewish scholars admitted that Moses never existed and the Books of Moses were largely made up. Created quite a stir. But in 1879 Robert Ingersoll published a book (Some Mistakes of Moses) in which he stated: “As a matter of fact, it seems to be well settled that Moses had nothing to do with these books, and that they were not written until he had been dust and ashes for hundreds of years.”

So, the Pentateuch is a forgery and now we know that basically none of it is true, let alone divinely inspired truth. Yet, we still have a sizeable portion of the American public who believe otherwise. Even though the truth has been available for over a century, a substitute truth is what is taught and accepted and contradicted right and left by everything we know about this planet.

So, what we have is worship through willful ignorance. Now, isn’t that Special.

May 10, 2013

Finally, A Decent “Green” Cleaning Solution

I don’t know how many spray cleaners I have used around the house over the last 60 years or so, but it is a great many. The only thing the “natural” ones had in common is that they didn’t work very well. (It is not easy being green.) Now, I have to disclose that as a chemistry professor of 40 years I have a bug about the word “natural.” I once gave my college chemistry students an impromptu quiz on “What’s Natural?” and they thought butter, apples, and peanut butter were all natural. Silly students. All of those are artificial, that is they were made by the artifice of man. You can’t go out and pick butter or peanut butter off of a tree, you have to make them. You can go out and pick an apple off of a tree, but the apples you can find growing now have been changed by selective breeding to be almost unrecognizable. (An artichoke is a thistle, for Pete’s sake.)

So, natural cleaners, aren’t natural, but it would be nice if they had a minimal ecological footprint (were biodegradable, had minimal impact on the acidity of natural waters, were non-poisonous to wildlife, etc.). But every damned one I have tried did all of that but clean, not so much.

All of that is now moot as I have found one that is good: Method All-Purpose Surface Cleaner. (I got mine at Amazon.com if you can’t find it locally.) Works on almost all surfaces and works well. I can’t be sure about all of the “green” aspects but I am fairly sure this is good stuff because as you see, uh, I have a secret to share with you: I can read the labels of these things.

For example, here is the list of ingredients for this cleaner:

Corn and Coconut derived biodegradable surfactants, corn-based cleaning salt, soda ash, potassium hydrate, fragrance oil, color, purified water

There is often more than a bit of pretension in these lists as well as some subterfuge. The “surfactants” mentioned are the active ingredients in detergents. The first detergent was “soap.” Later came “synthetic” detergents which used the word “detergent” to distinguish themselves from “soaps” (which is silly because they were both detergents) because they had some superior qualities (being biodegradable like soaps, wasn’t one of them initially). The word surfactant is short for “surface active agent” as these chemicals are schizophrenic, they have molecules that are on one end “oil soluble” and on the other “water soluble.” These molecules embed themselves so that one end is in something oily and the other something watery, which only occurs at the surfaces where oil means water. This behavior allows water and oil to mix, consequently they are useful for when you want to get oily dirt off of clothes or hands (you want the oil to mix with the water and be washed away) or when you want to have a salad dressing not separate into oil and water-based layers.

They brag, though, about their surfactants being “Corn and Coconut derived” which has an upside (they are almost guaranteed to be biodegradable) and a downside (these things have value as foods). Mostly they are advertising their “natural” ingredients, but moving on . . .

I couldn’t find out what “corn-based cleaning salt” was other than it was on the GRAS list (Generally Regarded As Safe). Many detergents are salts also, so this is not strange.

“Soda ash” is sodium carbonate, Na2CO3. “Soda ash” sounds more “natural” than “sodium carbonate” now doesn’t it? It also is quite alkaline. It is usually the case that detergents that are used to clean our clothes are alkaline because our skin oils are acidic and alkalis and acids react chemically to make salts and water and the salts are generally more water-soluble than the acids or alkalis, certainly more soluble than skin oils. Alkaline soaps often irritate human skin, though, so detergents made for our skin are often made to be pH neutral (rather than acidic or alkaline) to avoid this. But hair soaps are typically alkaline for the above reason. Safety Note Do not use a human shampoo on your dog. Your dog’s skin oils are alkaline and all you will do is give it wall-to-wall dandruff. Use a doggie shampoo that is acidic in nature. (If you want a recommendation for what to wash your cat with, you obviously do not own a cat.)

“Potassium hydrate” is a joke. Potassium hydrate (the word hydrate sounds “natural” doesn’t it?) is actually potassium hydroxide, KOH, a relative of sodium hydroxide, NaOH, also known as “lye.” Lye is a powerful alkali, so powerful it is used on farms to dissolve diseased animals. KOH is more alkaline than NaOH. Now I have no idea how much of this stuff is in the product. I suspect very little, just enough to make sure the product is slightly alkaline to it will dissolve human skin oils (fingerprints, etc.) KOH is more expensive than NaOH, so this might be a bit of subterfuge; clearly they didn’t want to raise any red flags for the “Green Hawks” out there, “Emmy Lou, Emmy Lou, this here stuff’s got chemicals in it!”

Just a fine point: everything is made of chemicals . . . every thing. So, all cleaning products are made of chemicals. All of them, 100%, end of story. (So are you, so is your dog, your car, I meant it when I said every thing.)

Fragrance, water, yada, yada, yada.

So, a fairly benign contents list and the stuff works. Hope it sells well.

The “Fairness” of Sales Tax Free Online Purchases

An editorial in my local paper had the following (and more) to say about this issue:

“A bill that would enable states to collect sales taxes due for online purchases sailed through the U.S. Senate on Monday in a 69-27 vote. But it faces a fight in the House, where anti-tax advocates have vowed to defeat the Marketplace Fairness Act. States that charge no sales tax such as Montana and New Hampshire oppose it too. So do some, but not all, online merchants, including eBay and Overstock.com.

We urge the House to approve the measure, and we think it will. We have a hard time imagining the alternative: picture members of Congress back in their districts trying to explain why their hometown brick-and-mortar retailers will have to continue operating at a competitive disadvantage. Sorry, Ms. Local Merchant, you have to collect sales tax. Your online rival doesn’t.” (their italics)

Okay, let’s take a step back. A $10 item bought locally involves some transportation costs (gotta go to the store) and sales tax (maybe 6%, so 60 cents). A $10 item bought online costs $10 plus $3.95 shipping and handling. So, buying locally is cheaper, if not more convenient.

Sales taxes go where, exactly? to pay for what exactly?

The problem is that the answers are all over the map. Here’s a 2007 example for Orange County, CA which had an 8.75% sales tax rate then:

For every dollar you spend:
The stage grabs the lion’s share of it – six cents on every dollar.
Then the Sheriff and District Attorney get a half-cent.
Cities/counties get three-quarters of a cent.
Road maintenance funds get one-quarter of a cent.
Health and welfare programs get a half-cent.
State optional funds get one-quarter of a cent.
The Orange County Transportation Authority gets a half-cent.

Oh, so the money goes for, who knows, but the intension was to provide for the infrastructure supporting the businesses making money in the community. Would those businesses rather have to pay fees for police protection and fire protection like they do for water and electricity? No? That’s why they pay property taxes and their customers pay sales taxes.

As far as legislators are concerned, they only want the money and they rarely care about how they get it.

So, the online purveyors (and I am thinking more eBay than Amazon.com, but . . . ) are paying their local utility bills and their local property taxes just like the “real” stores. They just aren’t asking their customers to pay sales taxes.

So, it comes down to do online sellers have a price advantage? Is this a fairness issue?

I don’t think it is a fairness issue. Those who want the tax revenue want the revenue and they don’t really care how they get it. The “fairness” aspect is just a way to sell their argument.

Sales taxes are regressive. Poor people pay a larger percentage of their income to these taxes than do rich people. No one benefits more from increased sales taxes than do rich people because it takes the pressure off of raising revenue progressively, that is in ways in which the rich pay more than poor people, not less.

I would do away with sales taxes if I could. What is it about a purchase that makes it a taxable event? If you argue that it is a taxable event, then you are arguing for the Robin Hood tax, a tax that would apply to the sale of each share of stock on our stock markets. But the same people arguing for this online sales tax are arguing against sales taxes on stock sales because “it would hurt the economy.”

What they are saying is that they would rather hurt poor people than hurt an abstract concept.


May 8, 2013

Irresponsible Right-Wing Media

A recent survey of Republicans showed that 44% of those surveyed believed that sometime soon it will be necessary for citizens to take up arms to oppose the tyranny of our government. Most of you just yawned and moved on to the next gob smacking tidbit thrown out of the 24-hour news mills, but let’s stop a second and look at this.

I have previously commented that even the thought of such an insurrection is ludicrous and was only barely possible 150 years ago. Think about it: on one side are armed citizens with small caliber rifles and pistols, scads of ammunition, and some vehicles and on the other side is the United States Government which has, well, everything else. Go ahead and take up arms, but I hope you are going to be wearing your running shoes because you are going to need them. Prior to the Civil War when the federal government had no standing army, such a thing was possible, but still, it was  a slim possibility at best. Consider “The War of Northern Aggression,” known to the rest of us as the Civil War. The South had , prior to secession, commissioners running around the southern states preaching secession. They also had many of the army’s officers in its pocket, so much so, that many of the government’s arms caches were transferred to Southern armories just before the war started. (A coincidence you think?) Then all of the southern politicians pulled out of Washington and South Carolina decided it would be fun to shell Fort Sumter. Four years later, the South was in bloody tatters and the federal government intact. If the South couldn’t pull it off, does anyone realistically think a bunch of armed Republicans can?

But, back to the topic, which is why do such a large number of Republicans think this way? After all, the Republicans are supposed to be the party of the conservatives. And what do conservatives want to conserve, boys and girls?

That’s right, conservatives want to preserve the social order.

Conservatives support social institutions that make for an orderly society: the police, the churches, the military, business leaders (not, ugh, unions), and . . . wait for it . . . the government. It wasn’t that long ago that the battle cry of Republicans was “My Country, Right or Wrong.” Today’s R’s seem to have edited this down to “My County . . . Wrong!” And now, we have almost half of the most conservative version of the Republican Party ever constituted saying they want to be personally prepared to go to war with the government. WTF?

What happened?

I’ll tell you. What happened was the conservative plan called the “Powell Memo” which laid out plans for conservative political dominance. Part of that plan was to create a more conservative media and under Ronald Reagan it began with the repeal of the “Fairness Doctrine.” (Remember that? It was because of the Fairness Doctrine we got minority party responses to State of the Union speeches. They are no longer required but no one wants to be the one to suggest we do away with them.) Another part of the effort was the meme of “the liberal media.” There never was a “liberal media” which, of course, is all’s fair in politics,” but without the Fairness Doctrine, approximately 85% of talk radio is now conservative talk radio, e.g. Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Mike Huckabee, etc. We now have a media structure that is heavily biased toward conservatives. And, of course, we have Fox (sic) News “Fair and Balanced” coverage. (They are not allowed in Canada as they still have a fairness doctrine of some sort. You can always trust the Canadians to do the right thing . . . eventually.)

Except that Fox (sic) News and these radio icons are more “strange and unbalanced” than anything else. Rush Limbaugh refers to himself as an “entertainer,” but he talks nothing but politics. Who considers politics entertaining? And because it is all about ratings now, the more outlandish the statements made, the more curious lookie-lou listeners there are.

So, the corporatization of our news media, putting news reporting on a profit basis rather than on a public service basis, combined with the deliberate removal of almost all content restraints, has resulted in a vast right-wing irresponsible media that is constant fanning the flames of “you can’t trust the government,” “Second Amendment solutions,” and “next time we will bring our guns (if we don’t get our  way).”

The NRA is one casualty. An organization initially created to promote shooting sports and gun safety has become a corporate political shill for the gun manufacturers. Their recent convention had a speaker’s list indistinguishable from that of the Conservative Political Action Conference. And, none of the speakers seemed to be there to talk about guns. Instead we heard their stump speeches of fear and loathing. And the NRA is a “non-partisan” organization . . . which now, I suppose, is a euphemism for “fair and balanced.”

Hey, Republicans, what about being, you know, conservatives. You don’t look all that good as radical insurrectionists (and you won’t poll well either).

May 6, 2013

An Imaginarium of Meaning

A recurring topic in this blog is the rabid thirst we seem to have for meaning. We have created tens of thousands of gods to be responsible for myriad things we could not describe at the time. We have had a god of lightning, a god of the wind, a good of good luck and one for bad luck, a god of a spring (not all springs, just one in particular, actually many of these). When the ground shook from an earthquake, we attributed it to some god’s message which had a particular meaning. “Uh, the ground god is unhappy with us. We must mend our ways.”

There seems to be no limit to this thirst for meaning. I remember a New Yorker magazine cartoon in which one psychologist passed another in the hall and said “Hello,” while a thought balloon over the second psychologist said “I wonder what he meant by that?” At the time I thought it was a comment about psychologists but now I realize it is a comment about human behavior.

Where did this desire to find meaning everywhere come from? I can’t know whether anyone will be able to prove this but, as Bob Newhart used to say, I suspect it went something like this: when we evolved our big brains we found a use for them while out hunting. There were distinct advantages to having multiple hunters working in concert. The problem involved how to coordinate the hunt, how to turn a bunch of individuals into a team. Presumably grunts and hand signals worked up close and louder vocalizations worked from farther away. The question, though is what did that particular grunt or whistle mean? So through pantomime they eventually developed a vocabulary of hunting instructions. You can see the modern equivalents in any action-adventure movie when a group leader, moving his group in silence, stops the group in its tracks by an upheld clenched fist. Then moves them again with a hand wave.

The greater the communication, the greater the success of the hunt and the greater the demand for more communication. You could also substitute plant gathering as the activity (Ugh, this one poisonous. Mmm, this one okay but tastes bad.) or a number of different things. Such ability to communicate became very important on those occasions in which one family group encountered another. The encounters, as archeoanthropologists have determined, could be quite deadly. A larger group of males may decide to kill a smaller group’s males and take their females, for example. So communication was very helpful to prevent misunderstandings and possibly to negotiate bribes.

The central issue, always, was what did those grunts, clicks, and other vocalizations mean. One tribe’s grunts might be another’s whistles.

And as we developed language, it became a more and more valuable tool, so we developed nuances. We could agree with somebody sarcastically, indicating we do not agree. This meant that the words themselves didn’t carry all of the meaning. Some linguists state that the words themselves carry less than 10% of the meaning of any statement now. Tone, inflection, affect all carry more meaning.

So when frightening occurrences happened, it became natural to seek meaning as well as inherent dangers. Lunar eclipses, thunderstorms, herbivore stampedes, all had meaning sought for them.

So, at least this tendency is imaginable.

But there is no limit to it. It is like a three-year old asking “Why?” The question cannot be answered.

One critique of atheism is that without a god, life would have no meaning. So, people who believe this have created an all purpose answer to the question: what is the meaning of life? Their answer is “God has a plan for you.” But you can’t question the mind of God, so that is the end of the question.* (Whew, I didn’t think there was one!)

Well, there is a answer to “what is the meaning of life?” That is: if you want your life to have a meaning, you must live it so that it does.

* According to the Catholic Catechism “He created us so that we would know, love, and serve him.” So God’s plan is that you be an informed infatuated servant.” It pays to not ask too many questions.

More Warfare Against the Min Wage

In a previous post I argued that the minimum wage argument needs to be recast. Partially that was because the arguments typically given for and against are full of hyperbole. For example an editorial in my local paper had this to say about the $15 min wage for fast food restaurant workers: “. . . (the) fight isn’t with management — it’s with price-conscious consumers. A $15 minimum wage will only hasten the service-industry trend toward automation and self-service. . . .” Later the editorial writer, Michael Saltsman, went on to say “Price hikes aren’t an option — picture your response if McDonald’s Dollar Menu became the Three-Dollar Menu — so robots instead lead the way.

Currently MacDonald’s are booming but as one source put it it is from an expanded menu and longer hours being open: “More hours of operations and a greater selection of menu items necessitate a larger staff and, accordingly, higher labor costs.” So, MacDonald’s restaurants aren’t raking it in right now. The average profit of a restaurant is about 5.7%.

But let’s look at the “if McDonald’s Dollar Menu became the Three-Dollar Menu” bit of hyperbole. Here are the average restaurant’s labor costs (as percents of net sales):

20% Crew
04% Manager
02% Payroll Taxes

Obviously the manager’s salary and payroll taxes shouldn’t be included, so the “crew’s” labor cost including taxes is 21.6%.

Now the increase in min wage in my state, using the largest min wage request ($15/hr), from the current $8.25, constitutes an increase in labor costs of 82%. So, instead of labor costing 21.6% of net sales, it would now cost 39.3% of net sales. Thus net sales income would have to increase by 17.7% to maintain the same profit level. That is the Dollar Menu would have to be raised from $1.00 per item to $1.18 per item and that’s if the entire increase in labor costs is born by price increases. Not $3 . . . $1.18. So, price hikes are an option. One, I suspect of many. What if MacDonald’s voluntarily went to a higher min wage? Can you imagine the goodwill an advertising campiagn focused on that would bring?

And the robot scare . . . “the robots are coming, the robots are coming,” MacDonald’s is already investing heavily in touch screen menu selection and other automations as “labor saving devices.” The only labor they want is what can’t be automated, but even MacDonald’s doesn’t want a “faceless” restaurant. The touch screen “innovation” threatens to do away with cashiers, the editorial claims. Uh, not unless you want to stop accepting cash. Sure a swipe of a debit/credit card could pay your bill without a cashier, but cash has to be counted, change given, etc. The amount of time you might spend at a counter will hardly change if you are pouring over a menu and pressing buttons rather than a clerk doing it for you. Also people don’t like machines up selling them, but it is okay for people to do so “(Do you want fries with that?”). Then there is a the cost of the automation, the servicing of the automation, the off putting of the automation, and if it doesn’t increase throughput (sales per day) will it be worth it? And the off putting factor of touch screens . . . associated with serving food? If you approach one and it is dirty, the normal reaction is to walk away. Look at the grocers who are providing hand wipes at their shopping cart stations.

There are many dimensions to this problem. It is complex. But hyperbole doesn’t help. What about experiments? What about trying something to see if it works? In San Francisco in 2003 voters approved a local ordinance tying the minimum wage to the regional rate of inflation. The minimum wage has thus increased annually from $8.50 an hour in 2004 to $10.55 as of January 1. Let’s see what happens there. Let’s look at all of the historical evidence of what did happen when the min wage was increased the last time, and the time before that.

And let’s not make up numbers in the process, okay?


May 2, 2013

The Minimum Wage Debate Recast

There are a number of efforts afoot to raise the federally mandated minimum wage. One is to about $10 per hour and another is to $15 per hour. If the min wage had been adjusted for productivity since the 1960s, it would be well more than $25 per hour according to one economist.

The classical argument goes: these people are suffering! Let the market decide. It is not enough to live on! It wasn’t intended to. Besides if the min wage is raised, jobs will be lost.

The last argument (min wage goes up, number of min wage jobs goes down) is a typical argument—wrong, but typical. The argument is based on a closed system. There are only so many dollars to page min wage workers, and if you increase the amount you have to pay each worker, the number of workers must decrease. Sounds logical, doesn’t it? But it is wrong. Can you see why?

Consider that the productivity of min wage workers has increased substantially over the last 50 years. Each min wage worker is making more money for his employer than ever before. Since the employer now has more money, the min wage worker should get more, no? No, the business moguls, say, that argument doesn’t apply. That money can’t be used for increased wages.

Yo, dude. You can’t have it both ways. Actually that isn’t true—there are having it both ways. If a min wage worker makes more money for his employer, the employer gets to keep that money. If the min wage worker gets higher pay, that money has to come out of the pocket of another min wage worker (who gets fired). This is what they are doing. This is what they openly argue.

Think about what these assholes are saying when they say: let the market decide. They are saying there is enough supply of desperate people who will work for lousy wages because it is the only job they can find. If one quits, they can be replaced with another just like them. There is no high falutin’ economic argument about the worker’s productivity not being great enough to pay for their wages. They are not saying they can’t afford to pay them better, by either taking a slightly lesser profit or raising prices ever so slightly, they are saying if people are desperate enough to take such jobs, they deserve to be exploited.

That’s why I refer to them as assholes, as indelicate as that term is.

May 1, May Day, International Workers’ Day (An American Invention)

Chris Hayes (All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC) last night provided some details about the industrial building, home to many garment factories, that collapsed in Bangladesh recently killing at least 400 people. The details supplied were that the multi-story building was built on swamp land, that three more stories had been added without permits, that is illegally. It was known that the day before the collapse cracks opened in some walls, explosively so. An engineer was called in who after inspecting three support pillars of the building recommended immediate evacuation. This was not done and workers who reported for work the next day saying they didn’t feel safe going in the building were threatened.

Mr. Hayes pointed out that the right to work in a safe workplace, the right to have workplace representation, the right to complain without repercussions were not rights that were granted, they only came from struggle.

And that’s how International Worker’s day was highlighted.

What the Bangladeshis experienced is not far removed from the dangers faced by workers in a West, Texas fertilizer plant. Did they know they were working in an unsafe workplace? Did they have a right to know that?

One must ask who is on the other side of this “struggle?” Who is against safe workplaces, fair wages, and reasonable representation? Why, in this country, are they the same people who want to make guns more available to criminals and mental defectives? Is the message that to achieve such reasonable goals will require armed conflict? Is it similar to the Congressman who stated “If babies had guns, there would be no abortions?” Is it “If workers had guns, they would be treated with respect?”

We have been down this road before.

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