Uncommon Sense

June 28, 2013

Never Asking the Right Questions

Filed under: History,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 2:06 pm
Tags: , , , ,

According to a 2013 poll by YouGov, slightly more than a third of all Americans would like to see Christianity made the official religion of their state. Over half of Republicans support such a policy. Now obviously the Federal Constitution forbids the establishment of a federal religion, but the states are not so banned from doing so.

So, is this a good idea? I think the support from even the people mentioned above would vanish if the right questions were asked. For example:

1.   Should Catholicism be adopted as our state’s religion?

2.   Should Southern Baptist Christianity be adopted as our state’s religion?

3.   Should Mormonism be adopted as our state’s religion?

4.   Should Unitarianism be adopted as our state’s religion?

5.   Should  the Muslim Faith be adopted as our state’s religion?

6.   Should Judaism be adopted as our state’s religion?

7.   Should Methodism be adopted as our state’s religion?

8.   Should  the Church of God be adopted as our state’s religion?

9.   Should Buddhism be adopted as our state’s religion?

10. Should Hinduism be adopted as our state’s religion?

11. Should Sikhism be adopted as our state’s religion?

12. Should Taoism be adopted as our state’s religion?

13. Should Native American Religions be adopted as our state’s religion?

14. Should Pentecostalism be adopted as our state’s religion?

15. Should Jehovah’s Witnesses be adopted as our state’s religion?

. . .

The first thing would happen is myriad complaints about “their religion” not being on the list (there are so many). Then there would be no single one getting even ten percent of the vote.

You see, these polls think that three-quarters of Americans are “Christians,” but in reality one third of those are “Catholics” and most of the rest are “Protestants.” But there are literally thousands of different Protestant sects. Which one will be chosen do you think?

The next section of the poll should deal with what special rights people of that faith will be given . . . what, you don’t think special rights will be granted to those possessing the state’s faith? If not, what is having a state religion for? If there are no special rights, it will be like being the state bird or the state rock, a distinction without meaning. When the Constitution was written, many states/colonies had state religions. The prime plum of having that status was financial support from the state. The state used it’s taxing authority to, in effect, collect tithes.

Stop with the stupid “Christian Nation” polls and ask the right questions, starting with “If we were to be declared a Christian Nation, what denomination of Christianity would that be and what privileges would that status convey?

Revolutionary evangelicals knew the value of not having state supported religions, because if you weren’t “in” you would probably be forever “out.”

June 26, 2013

The Outrageous Costs of Higher Education

If you missed it, outstanding student loan debt now surpasses that of credit card debt in this country. College tuitions are skyrocketing. State governments and local governments are cutting back on what funding they provide. The rate of increase of college tuition over the last few decades has only been matched by the increases in health care costs, yet the health care situation was a national scandal and college tuition situation doesn’t seem to rate a “meh.”

I have commented before that my college education in California in the late 60’s and early 70’s was virtually free (the cost were trivial). Now, I couldn’t afford to go to college were I of that age and of similar circumstances to what I had then.

What happened?

We are a richer nation now than we were back in the 50’s and 60’s when college was almost free. Sure Harvard, Yale, and Stanford charged quite a bit but they were reserved for traditionalists who wanted a “blue chip education,” what we now know to be bragging rights. We are far richer as a nation now, but we can’t afford to underwrite higher education? A study done in, I think the 1990s, in California showed that the State recovered $13 for every dollar spent on the State University system (not the University of California system, the other, less well-known one). Cheap higher education was a driving factor in California’s post WWII economic boom. Highly educated workers were available in droves in the state, thanks to its accessible higher education system. So, shut it down, I say! WTF?

Check out our neighbors. Mexico is a poor country yet has a good educational system with free tuition. When the Mexican state wanted to raise tuition back in the 1990’s, there was a national student strike which had popular support and the government backed off. The situation in Canada is much the same. Germany is a rich country which has free tuition. Finland has the highest-ranked education system in the world and it is nearly free. The same is the case with Denmark.

These are poorer countries than the U.S. so it will be hard to make an economic necessities argument to explain the incredibly high increase in tuition in the U.S. A number of prominent folks have pointed to the Free Speech Movement, which appalled conservatives and even quite a few liberals. There was more than a bit of talk about students having “too much freedom.” Since student unrest (think Vietnam War protests) were centered on college campuses, some thought it necessary to rein in college student’s freedoms. One way of controlling students for the rest of their lives is simply by saddling them with debt. Of course, this is not the only force in play in this arena.

Conservative efforts to gut unions resulted in a severe reduction in high paying, high-skilled jobs. Instead of those, college graduates are now offered “service sector” jobs that pay so little they can neither support themselves nor can the service their college loans.

And somehow, one cannot declare bankruptcy and absolve oneself of student debt. It is perfectly all right to steal billions of dollars through the financial industry supported by government bailouts (not only free but actually had negative interest) but fail to pay off a college loan, no, you can not do that!

Who, in your mind is so greedy and shortsighted that they want to kill the Goose That Lays the Golden Eggs—higher education? Go back and look at who sponsored the bills that were key and who still wants to raise rates for student loans and . . . and. . . . It shouldn’t take you long to find out who is mostly responsible for the futures of our children being severely truncated. Any other country would consider it an act of war if we were to do this to them.

Technology and Unemployment

I have been watching a video biography of Henry Ford and I was struck by the impact of the technological advances of the early 1900’s. There was overwhelming growth in employment because of technology. Not as many people were needed to work on farms as tractors and mechanical combines and other such machines were invented. Today the percentage of people working on farms is at an all-time low.

Economists would use this as an example of how technology can displace jobs. That example in isolation seems potent, but one must take a step back to see what is really happening. As the decline in farm labor took place beginning in the late 1800’s, what else was happening? Well, a great many jobs were created making those machines, servicing those machines, and selling those machines, that previously did not exist.

“Economists say that much of our current job losses
are due to technology. They are full of shit.”

Henry Ford opened the first automobile company in Detroit just five months before the turn of the twentieth century and within just a couple of years there was over 100 such companies making automobiles. Most of them failed but while they were failing workers worked and got paid. Ford’s company failed, then he created the Ford Motor Company. The astounding success of Ford’s Model T made him rich and provided jobs for hundreds of thousands of people. And there were also jobs created selling those cars, servicing those cars, selling gasoline, making gasoline, distributing gasoline, making replacement tires, making many hundreds of miles of improved roads and, of course, more cafes were needed as people traveled more, motels were invented, etc. etc. Automobile insurance was created … need I go on?

Economists say that much of our current job losses are due to technology. They are full of shit.

There has been no greater technological turnover currently than in China. Are they experiencing high unemployment? No.

Economists who say such stupid things are shills for corporate interests trading their reputations for some meager financial support. Here’s what is really happening: American corporations are exporting jobs from the U.S. to lower wage countries. This increases their profits and decreases the wages of the workers left behind as the competition for the remaining jobs increases. Worker insecurity reduces demand on wages. (Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the federal reserve System proudly testified before Congress that the basis for the U.S. economy was “growing worker insecurity.” If workers are more insecure, they won’t do things, like asking for better wages and better benefits.)

That’s it. No technology bullshit. Pure greed. Money transferred out of your pocket and into the pocket of a corporation that is already effectively bloody rich. Of course, as you earn less money, you pay less in taxes so the government is starved and the social safety net is weakened.

Now, which political party advocates all of this is good? Hmmm?

Civilized countries prevent such abominations.

June 22, 2013

Boehner Has to Go

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 1:29 pm
Tags: , , ,

John Boehner is a moderate Republican, what some call a “country club Republican.” In different times he could have been an adequate Speaker of the House of Representatives. Currently he is being humiliated by the right wing of his own party, most currently being blind-sided by opposition to a Farm Bill inside his own party (a Farm Bill!).

Boehner could stay and continue being humiliated . . . and ineffective . . . but I feel for the guy. I think we would be all better off if he were to step aside and allow one of the Tea Party stalwarts to lead for a while. Until we put the head clowns in the clown car in charge we will not get this out of our system. Put the Tea Party in charge of the House and then the people who voted for them will see exactly what they voted for. Boehner’s attempts to cover up their embarrassments are only delaying the time when more sensible Republicans are to be elected, if not in all of their cushy gerrymandered districts then in enough districts so that their caucus can have a coherent legislative program.

If JB decides to stick it out, I want to set up a pool to see if they repeal Obamacare 50 times (currently they are at 37).

June 21, 2013

Republican Blasphemy

The House of Representatives did the undoable the other day; it failed to pass an agriculture bill. Now these bills include pork for everybody, so they tend to pass unnoticed, but . . . wouldn’t you know . . . the Republicans couldn’t leave well enough alone, they had to take the opportunity to cut the food stamps program in the process. Hypocrisy is all well and good as a part of politics but one of the congressmen voting on this bill has received almost $3.5 million in federal agricultural subsidies since 1999 under this program . . . and he was allowed to vote on this bill! (I don’t know about you, but in 40 years of work I haven’t made that much money and I worked for every dollar.)

Tennessee Republican Rep. Stephen Fincher took everything just a step farther. In an attempt to justify the Republican cuts to the food stamp (STEP) program, he quoted the Bible “The poor will always be with us,” and egregiously 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” Another Republican asshole cherry-picking Christian scripture. The scriptural quote was from a letter to a congregation that had decided to sit down and wait for the second coming. It was imminent, no? The few who were still working were struggling to provide enough food for the community, hence the proscription from, presumably, the author of the letter, Paul. (I needn’t remind you that Paul never met Jesus, do I?)

The asshole congressman making these quotes is apparently unaware that the STEP program helps mostly the working poor, but he also is ignoring scripture like Deuteronomy 15: 7-11:

If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

And get this, this was a government program! The government at the time decreed that the tithe for the poor would be collected, so the Republican argument that charity shouldn’t come in the form of a government program is bogus according to scripture, also.

Obviously it was not Jesus who first noted that the poor will always be among us, in fact he might have been quoting Deuteronomy (“There will always be poor people in the land.”).

And do you know what they call people who deliberately misuse scripture, boys and girls? That’s right! Blasphemers! Right now all of the evangelicals who support Congressman Fincher should be looking for stones—not pebbles, nor rocks, but stones—to correct the congressman for his transgressions.

June 20, 2013

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Advice

Filed under: History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:20 pm
Tags: , , ,

(Do you know the movie this title pays homage to?)

I have been reading a book (Those Angry Days by Lynne Olsen) about the raucous debate in the U.S. leading to our entry into World War 2. One quote stuck out. It is by Phillip Kerr, newly appointed Ambassador to the U.S. from Britain. In a 1940 report to his superiors he said “We never listen to the advice of foreigners. Nor will the Americans. They only differ in that we ignore such advice and the Americans get extremely angry when it is offered to them by any Briton.”

Not much has changed in the last 64 years. We still do not take advice, nor do we look at the experience of other countries to guide us. Are we looking now at other countries security procedures? I doubt it. Did we do a study of other countries health care systems before launching off on our own? I don’t think so; at least the debate didn’t mention other countries much (save Canada) and then the information attributed was generally flawed. You can attribute this to American exceptionalism if you wish but I tend to think it has more to do with arrogance and stupidity.

Consider a couple of countries in Asia. After World War 2, an almost completely destroyed Japan borrowed shamelessly from Britain and the U.S. and anybody else they could find to rebuild their industrial capacity. The story of W. Edwards Deming, the father of the modern “Quality Movement,” is widely known. He couldn’t get an audience for his ideas from American companies so he took his ideas to Japan and Toyota, in particular, jumped on them with both feet. Toyota became the #1 manufacturer of automobiles in the world. We only paid attention when they began to kick our auto industry’s ass. Please realize that Japan has roughly the same area as Montana and had a population half of ours and had no reputation for either quality goods or automobiles to build upon.

Japan was a notoriously insular country, at several points in their history they banned contact with foreign cultures. Nobody in Japan today is at all embarrassed at having taken ideas from other countries and other cultures and having made them better.

China, on the other hand, was the most advanced country on the planet at one point. Their philosophy, science, politics, engineering, manufacturing, agriculture, mining, weaponry, art, you name it were all the best there was. And they knew it. They felt that they couldn’t possibly learn anything from inferior cultures, so they stopped trying. China is trying now to dig itself out from under many centuries of inferior performance. They are now borrowing ideas at a rapid rate.

But Americans, damn, we are too good, to proud, to stubborn to look elsewhere for ideas. We are following China’s path. The fact that we even discuss “American exceptualism” is an indicator that we are on the wrong path.

June 12, 2013

Selling Our Freedoms for Nothing?

In the current debate over the National Security Agency harvesting vast amounts of phone and Internet data on you and me the discussions have largely centered on the Fourth Amendment being trampled (it is) and on the potential abuse future politicians and bureaucrats might commit. Possibly the discussion will get around to the vaunted “oversight” by both Congressional committees and by the federal courts, both of which are jokes, but I want to bring up another point. A point that trumps all of the other points save the Constitutional one.

We are being told this is the cost of keeping us safe from terrorists. They might as well say from the boogeyman, but for now terrorists will do. Consider the following graphic:


If our goal is to prevent deaths, why are we spending millions of dollars per life threatened by terrorism but chump change for deaths from other threats? (We don’t know how much money is being spent to fight terror as that is secret, along with apparently everything else they are doing which means any bureaucrat who pulls back the curtain from the Great and Powerful Oz is being threatened with the Sedition Act).

Could it be that the power mongers in Washington, D.C. are just playing “the game” and it has nothing to do with “keeping us safe.” Could it be that we are losing our freedoms (the freedom from unreasonable search and seizure at this point), so these dickheads can play power games?

What if we were to take 90% of that money back and use it to feed and clothe and educate the poor? Would we not all be a great deal better off?

June 11, 2013

Why Do I Care What You Believe?

If you haven’t noticed, I am one of those militant atheists. In the terminology sprouting up around the “New Atheism,” I am a positive atheist in that I deny that even a single god exists. And I not only argue that I do not believe in your god, but that you shouldn’t either.

Pretty cheeky, no? Why should I bother with what you believe? What’s the harm? Aren’t you allowed to believe what you wish? Religion has many benefits that you say make it attractive. The example most often given is that religion consoles those left behind when a loved or respected one dies. Atheism can’t do that, you say.

I urge everyone to seriously consider these claims. Too often atheists just concede this point rather than think it through. I do not.

I have attended my share of religious funerals—of aunts and uncles, grandmothers, cousins, nieces, my father’s (but not my mother’s) and numerous others being relatives of friends or spouses with which I was not particularly well acquainted. I gave eulogies at a number of these as well. In every one of them I was assured that my loved one/whatever was in Heaven with God and was bathed in love or some other such nonsense (one uncle, I was told, was “surely playing golf in Heaven”).

Let’s consider this objectively. How well does one person know another, even a spouse of many years? Even a person very close to you could have committed a mortal sin before you met them or worse, at some point in time, lost their faith. On this last point the Christian and Muslim sacred texts are explicit—if you lose your faith, you cannot be forgiven. So, really, these folks are off to Hell for an eternity of everlasting torment. And we can’t know whether our recently deceased friend was one of these. The priests/ministers certainly can’t know and do not know your loved one as well as you do to boot. So, there is this uncertainty about going to Hell that cannot be resolved. No one can assure you that your loved one is in Heaven and they aren’t about to say tings like “In all probability, Bob is I now in Heaven…,” nope, no way. So, they are blowing smoke, bullshitting you, and you have to know this. This is not very consoling.

Someone very close to me suffered great fear as a child when she realized that her grandparents, whom she loved, were going to Hell. That’s not only not consoling, that’s child abuse. People of different denominations bandy about what they think will happen to those “other” Christians and usually it is not pretty.

It is also no skin off of my butt, so why do I care about what you believe?

As a scientist, I have seen incontrovertible proof that if you choose to believe something false, that prevents you from seeing the truth. The current “low fat” craze is a prime example where my people, scientists, did not oppose very bad thinking on the part of medical “researchers” resulting in three decades of misery, disease, death, and weight gains. We still haven’t shaken off this wrong and wishful thinking.

Religiously, with so many dogs barking up the wrong trees, how will we ever find the tree with the truth in it?

By the way, when I die, I want all of my friends and acquaintances come to my house, eat my food, and drink my liquor and tell stories about all of the dumb, nice, petty, stupid, and fine things I had done, like as in a good old-fashioned Irish wake. This, I think would be more consoling to the loved ones and family I leave behind than some priestly-type who barely knew me pontificating from the pulpit on me “being in Heaven.” (I won’t be, nor Hell, either.) The social benefit of a gathering in which people acknowledge one’s existance and by telling stories giving evidence that they knew you and will remember you is the primary benefit of a wake or a funeral, not the false assurance of where your loved one ended up in a mythical afterlife.

June 7, 2013

We Are Becoming That Which We Despise

Filed under: Politics,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 6:40 am
Tags: , , , , ,

I grew up during the Cold War. People called those they didn’t like a “communist” as an epithet. We despised totalitarian regimes because of their lack of freedoms, because of their abuses, of their spying on their own citizens, of their willingness to “disappear” people, to whisk them off to Gulags.

We have become just like those “enemies” we despised.

And for what?

Our government says that if they didn’t rendition people, if they didn’t spy on us, if they didn’t assassinate people, it would put us “at risk.”

And I say, “So effing what?”

Do they also say that because of our government’s actions, they are radicalizing more and more people, thus increasing our risk? Do they also say that absolute safety is impossible? Do they also say “there are other ways?” No, they do not as that would undermine their actions.

I live in the city of Chicago. It is highly racially segregated. The South Side and the North Side are quite different racially. What would be people’s reactions if the police were to start patrolling the South Side and shooting any young black man who looked like a gangbanger … because of the “risk” of crime and mayhem they might commit on the North Side? How do you expect those who live on the South Side to react to this?

We have something called “due process” in this country. Often the police say things like “our hands are tied because no crime has been committed,” indicating they can’t act based on vague threats, they need evidence of a crime first. This is one of our cherished freedoms.

This is what we are eschewing in the face we turn to the world. Those freedoms are for us, not for you.

June 6, 2013

Jesus Was a Socialist!

I ran across a claim, a poll result actually, that young people (18-30) see socialism more favorably than capitalism. Of course, this would cause a major uproar with Republicans and their major supporters, especially Christian Evangelicals, which I find puzzling because Jesus was a socialist, you know.

Once again, Christians show a shocking lack of knowledge about their book and about history in general. Early Christianity (early first century) was split into two camps. One resided in Jerusalem and was lead, ostensibly, by Jesus’ brother James (“the Just”). Included in this sect were essentially all of the remaining disciples and the rest of Jesus’ brothers and sisters and his mother.

The other sect was that lead by Saul of Tarsus, the “Paul” of the New Testament, who never met Jesus nor did he ever speak a work to him.

As these things go, the Jerusalem sect was basically wiped out in the uprising of 77CE (James having been offed a bit sooner) which left the playing field to the machinations of “Paul.”

All we know of these supposed activities, as most know, comes from the Book of Acts because none of these events, if they were real or not, merited comment in any other source from that time.

According to Acts:

All that believed were together, and had all things in common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.

(Acts 2:44-45)
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
(Acts 4:34-37)

Does this sound like a foundation for capitalism to you? Do you think Jesus’ family and the remaining disciples would betray the wishes of Jesus and behave in this socialist manner if it weren’t strongly urged by Jesus? Amazingly Evangelicals do.

What Jesus taught, basic socialism, is abhorred by these folks as the work of Satan himself. These same folks want the U.S. to be labeled a Christian Nation, which by any reading of the Book of Acts would turn us toward socialism, but forgive them, they know not what they do.

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.