Uncommon Sense

July 31, 2013

Our Post Apocalypse Future Sans Apocalypse

I discovered speculative fiction as a child (then it was merely science fiction) and have been reading it for over fifty years now. A staple of the genre is set in the post-apocalypse future. Back then the apocalypse was often nuclear war, but overpopulation was also a major theme (think Soylent Green). The point being was we had to cope with a dismal future of our own making.

What I never considered, nor did anyone else I believe, that a dismal future would come from willful action of business men. Consider the deniers of climate change in this country. Very wealthy men (not women) who make their money in industries that will be affected by any reduction in carbon emissions are waging a well-financed campaign of disinformation and bribery. Political commenters (see Fox (sic) News) who don’t have enough brain cells to understand the data have come to the conclusion that “climate change is a hoax.”

“What is going to happen when they are proven wrong and their perfidy is exposed.
They cannot claim that they had made “honest mistakes” as their political contributions
and benefactors are too well known. Is the Republican Party committing suicide?”

Will ignoring climate change result in a dismal future? I can’t answer than question because the effects of climate change can’t be accurately predicted, but the speed of the changes seems to be faster than the direst of the predictions. This is a concern, because ecosystems are not fast responders. Look at what happens during a drought. The local flora don’t just adapt by becoming more drought tolerant, they die and are replaced by more drought tolerant species (typically known as weeds).

But 99% of climate scientists say climate change is real and 99% of the bought and paid for politicians say it is a hoax. Who would you bet on? Especially when the politicians are almost uniformly Republicans, the Party of ___ _____ (fill in the blanks; if you didn’t come up with “Big Business” or something similar, you are brain dead).

On the shorter term, those same bought and paid for politicians, are denying that government spending will bring us out of the Great Recession. Instead they want to cut government spending. This is madness. Every example of governmental spending as a response to a recession has backed the Keynesian model which is to spend our way out at least in those cases in which there is a lack of demand for goods and services as there is now. So why would these reality deniers say otherwise? Possibly because they are paid to do so by big business interests. With the teeth of the unions pulled, the only agency in position to oppose the will of the corporations is government. Hence there is an orchestrated effort to convince the people that they cannot trust their own government at all and if funding can be reduced, then also the sphere of the governments actions can be also.

I never anticipated that a post apocalyptic future could arise without a cataclysm. I guess I never have thought like a businessman … or a Republican. What is going to happen when they are proven wrong and their perfidy is exposed. They cannot claim that they had made “honest mistakes” as their political contributions and benefactors are too well known. Is the Republican Party committing suicide?

July 28, 2013

Everyone is an Education Reformer

Everyone has an opinion about public education. Not only that, everyone has an idea of how to fix “the problem.” Consider as an example Mr. Francis Clifford’s idea of starting over from scratch. The problems, according to Mr. Clifford, with this sure-fire solution to our public school problem are the unions and the teachers:

“I don’t see this ever happening because the vested interests – unions – would not consent to de-certification, which to me and many other existing and former parents proves that public school teachers in general truly are interested in their own welfare FIRST, not the kids’ learning.

“They (teachers) only continue to seek as culprits outside causes, such as “poverty,” over which they have no control for why some kids from certain homes can’t learn. The analysis always seem to end with teachers blaming these outside forces while nothing is done systemically to eliminate or work around those forces.”

Mr. Clifford doesn’t say why the unions would be required to decertify themselves as opposed to simply agreeing to try an experiment of the nature he supposes. In fact it is hard to see that the unions are a problem at all. If teacher’s unions are such a problem, then they should retard progress in states where they are strong, like California, and increase it in states where they are weak, like Nevada and Georgia. In fact, states where unions are weakest often have the worst educational outcomes. Conversely, some of the states with the highest outcomes, like Massachusetts, are places where the unions have been the strongest. If unions were such a crippling factor, shouldn’t this be the other way around?

With regard to the teacher’s just sitting around doing nothing to solve the problem, that’s a little like saying lawyers are sitting around and not solving the problem of crime. Or doctors sitting around and not solving the problem of disease. Just how are the teachers to act in concert? Through a union? That is indeed what is going on in the strongest unions; they are advocating for effective changes (not fads), but I suspect that that is not acceptable to the anti-union Mr. Clifford.

In this debate, there are two really large problems. One is the amount of debate that is based on magical thinking, you know, “the schools would just be fine if we made the students wear uniforms” kind of thinking. These are opinions that have no basis in reality. If you think the unions are the problem, present your evidence, make an argument, don’t just say “if we didn’t have teacher’s unions protecting incompetent teachers, everything would be fine.” Why would that be so? Prior to the advent of collective bargaining in the State of California, there were many, many stories of administrators “finding” jobs for relatives by “letting go” teachers who “weren’t needed.” It was abuses of this kind that lead to the collective bargaining laws in the first place. Just as the civil service came about because of employer abuses of employees. If an employee hasn’t broken any laws or been proven ineffective, why should they lose their job? Realize that the person doing the “firing” doesn’t own the business, they are just another school district employee, like the teacher.

The other problem with the debate literally shouts at me in that in the past, I trained meeting facilitators to lead groups of people to make decisions (and did that work as well). When a decision regarding “what to do” about any problem is needed, what is the key factor? Do you know? It is quite simple. What you absolutely need to know is what the problem really is. So, what is the problem with public education?

Really. What’s the problem? Describe it in detail. Don’t describe your solution, describe the problem.

If you want to bandy about phrases like “it has failed our children,” as the facilitator I have to ask you how has it failed? I have to encourage you to provide evidence (data) supporting your opinion, because we don’t want to spend a lot of effort trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. We need is a description of the problem . . . in detail.

Do you know what the problem is? If so, prove it and share it with us. What I am hearing from a great many debaters of this issue are hidden agendas, not descriptions of the problem.


July 27, 2013

Christian Coercions

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:05 am
Tags: , , , ,

I was watching a movie last night and a “bad guy” was talking to a Catholic priest and referred to him as “Father.” That lead me to think of all of the other Christian terminology designed to put ordinary folks in a subordinate position: terms like Holy Father, Pope (which means “papa”), references to people as “my child” and “my children,” referring to congregations as “flocks” over which the ministers are “shepherds.” Either we are irresponsible children or dumb animals that need the guidance of a parent or a herdsman. Prayers start out “Our Father, who art in Heaven . . .” as if it weren’t enough to have the authority of an all-seeing, all-powerful god, but also having the authority of a parent.

The development of the Christian religion went through an entire phase (roughly 150 BCE-350 BCE) in which the majority of the documents produced focused on establishing the authority of churches and church leaders rather than on real church business.

Where in politics we have “public servants,” in the Christian religion we have parents and lords overseeing us. And don’t you forget that.

And, for some reason, the religious leaders are eschewing one of their greatest tools: Hell. Fear of reprisal by the religious in the afterlife has been a powerful force over the centuries. It was so powerful that even eminent philosophers paid heed. Consider Pascal’s Wager as an example. Pascal basically argued it was better to believe than not, because if you did not and Hell really existed, it was far worse for you that if you did believe and it did not. Can’t get much more cynical than that. As religion slowly loses it’s grip, I expect to see it back. A powerful tool, close at hand, is sure to be wielded.

The President Has No New Initiatives to Deal with the Economy!

This must be my day to post about whining, first about the messiness of Egyptian democracy, now the economy. Again commentators of all stripes are whining that President Obama is not offering anything new to stimulate the economy. He’s just offering the same old, same old: spend on infrastructure projects (paying Americans to do things that are in dire need of doing), invest in education, invest in alternative energy, etc.

These same people probably complain when they are at their doctor’s office with a cold and she tells them “Get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids, take aspirin for headaches.” They probably whine, “don’t you have something other than the ‘same old same old’?”

When something works, do you really think we should swap it out for something that doesn’t, just to be “new and improved”? My heart aches for the quality of the political discourse in this country. My brain does, too.

Egyptian Democracy

More than a few commentators, conservative and liberal alike, are whining about how “messy” Egypt’s democratic throes are. Oh, “what should we do?” they ask.

Allow me to remind those commentators of the neat and tidy route to democracy of this nation. Here are just a few highlights:

March 5, 1770             The Boston Massacre
December 16, 1773     The Boston Tea Party
Sept-Oct, 1774            The First Continental Congress Meets
April 18, 1775             The Ride of Paul Revere
April 19, 1775             Lexington and Concord Clash
June 17, 1775              The Battle of Bunker Hill
March 17, 1776           The British Evacuate Boston
July 4, 1776                 The Declaration of Independence Adopted
September 15, 1776    The British Occupy New York City
December 26, 1776     Washington Crosses the Delaware
September 11, 1777    The British Win the Battle of Brandywine
September 26, 1777    British Occupy Philadelphia
February 6, 1778         The U.S. and France Sign an Alliance
June 19, 1778              Washington’s Army Leaves Valley Forge
December 29, 1778     The British Occupy Savannah, GA
June 21, 1779              Spain Declares War on Britain
May 12, 1779              British Occupy Charleston, SC
March 2, 1781             Articles of Confederation Adopted
June 6, 1781                U.S. Recaptures Augusta, GA
October 19, 1781        Cornwallis Surrenders at Yorktown, VA
November 30, 1782    British Sign Articles of Peace
April 19, 1783             Congress Ratifies Articles of Peace
September 3, 1783      The U.S. and Britain Sign Treaty of Paris
September 17, 1787    U.S. Constitution Signed
June 21, 1788              Constitution Ratified

Actually, I left out the messy bits. So, starting with a somewhat democratic system (albeit locally, all Americans were Subjects of the British Crown), it took us oh, about 20 years to get it right, and that was just the beginning. We didn’t have a religious divide, like the Sunnis and Shias have, but we did have to have a Civil War eighty years later to settle the question left unsettled by the Constitution: slavery.

“What to do about the Egyptian struggles to create a stable government is simple: nothing. It is called self-determination.”

What to do about the Egyptian struggles to create a stable government is simple: nothing. It is called self-determination. Consider how much we liked it when England told us how to run our affairs. Consider how much we liked it when they “intervened.”

Give Egyptions some time and freedom from interference and let them determine what kind of government they want. If you have to intervene, intervene against those who want to inject themselves into Egypt without Egypt’s permission.

July 26, 2013

If (with Apologies to Rudyard Kipling)

Filed under: Philosophy,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:12 am
Tags: , ,

In a number of posts recently a few bloggers are resorting to poetry to make points. This seemed to be a good trend, worth supporting, so please accept my contribution to the enlightenment literature.

If you can start your day without caffeine,
If you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it,
If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
If you can ignore a friend’s limited education and never correct him,
If you can resist treating a rich friend better than a poor friend,
If you can face the world without lies and deceit,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,
If you can honestly say that you have no prejudice against people of any creed, color, religion, gender preference, or politics,
Then you have achieved the same level of enlightenment as your dog.



July 25, 2013

The Nation’s “Public Pension Problems”

Conservatives are wringing their hands over this nation’s “pension problems.” A number of state governments (including my new home state of Illinois) show massive shortfalls in their pension “pots.” Part of the solution, they say, is to move away from defined benefit to defined contribution pension plans.

For those of you not fully versed in pension terminology, a “defined benefit plan” is one that from the get go says that if you meet your obligations and your employer does too, then you will get a clearly defined amount of money each month. A “defined contribution” plan says that you will contribute what you contribute and if your employer does or does not, you will only get what your contributions are worth when you retire.

The pension I have from the California State Teacher’s Retirement System is a defined benefit plan. I fulfilled my commitments as did my employers and my plan is good for the next 25-35 years according to the plan’s overseers. So, there is nothing wrong with these kinds of programs. They work quite nicely, thank you.

Here’s the difference. If the employer reneges on their contributions, which the State of Illinois has done, then either plan falls into deficit. If that happens and you have a defined benefit plan, then the problem sits in the lap of the benefactor, which is the State of Illinois. If you have a defined contribution plan, the problem is, well, yours. Too bad. You can sue if you like, but lots of luck with that.

Can you see why conservatives want the switch? It is all about who pays.

Can you see why conservatives want the switch? In Illinois, there will be increasing pressures on businesses to pay their fair share of taxes (currently they do not, along with virtually all of the other businesses in the country).

Can you see why conservatives want the switch? While corporations are raking in corporate welfare or, like Wal-Mart, passing off their employee’s healthcare costs (Medicaid) and housing costs (Section 8) and food costs (SNAP or “food stamps”) to you and me, they want the rest of the 99% to pay for the malfeasance of the politicians they have bought to do their bidding and not the business of the people.

Can you see why conservatives want the switch? Public service jobs don’t pay all that well. Part of the dance has always been, that the employer will sweeten the pot with better benefits, so security was offered for later instead of cash now. But that was then and this is now. Too bad, you lose. Wall Street takes down the economy with reckless wagers with money not their own and then they expect the “little people,” the “99 percent” to make up the shortfall.

Now, an argument can be made that as the population of the country gets older, fewer people of working age are supporting more retired people, but that is not what this discussion is about. What we are talking about here is malfeasance. If the pension plan provider were a private company, they would just go bankrupt (voiding their pension agreements and throwing their obligations onto the federal government), but governments can’t do that. (Or can they? If Detroit pulls it off, will Illinois be next?) How about we take a couple of hundred billion dollars from the Pentagon’s budget and fix this problem? They don’t need it. Congress keeps shoveling money at the military they haven’t even asked for because our representatives have taken bribes, er, campaign contributions, from military contractors.

And why the fuck do we let our representatives take money from people doing business with the federal government? If that were a private transaction, people would be going to jail.

July 24, 2013

Steve King’s “Immigrants to Dogs” Speech Misunderstandings

There has been a big flap about whether Rep. Steve King (R-IA) compared immigrants to dogs in a speech a couple of months ago. Here’s the key quotation (the whole thing is all over the Internet, be my guest):

You want a good bird dog? You want one that’s going to be aggressive? Pick the one that’s the friskiest . . . not the one that’s over there sleeping in the corner. You get the pick of the litter and you got yourself a pretty good bird dog. Well, we’ve got the pick of every donor civilization on the planet. We’ve got the vigor from the planet to come to America.

What is missing from this whole debate, since King is a notorious race baiter, is not the immigrant = dog comparison as that is a stretch at best, it was his barely veiled correspondence of “undocumented Mexicans” with “the one that’s over there sleeping in the corner.” In other words he was playing the lazy Mexican card. Not only is he saying that undocumented Mexican immigrants have no really useful skills, but they are lazy, too.

“The solution to the “illegal immigration problem” being alluded to is quite simple: require proof of citizenship from anyone you hire.”

Obviously Representative King has spent no time in Mexico. Mexicans are the hardest working people on the planet. The “lazy Mexican” meme came about because Mexicans in California (they used to own California, don’t you know) took a nap in the hottest part of the day (a siesta). Anglos couldn’t conceive of wasting productive time, so the Mexicans were just “lazy.” The fact that after the heat of the day peaked and was declining somewhat, those Mexicans worked their asses off for the rest of the daylight hours when the Anglos knocked off at six, was missed in the observation.

And King is arguing that we should only allow immigrants into this country with the kinds of skills that will compete for jobs with Americans possessing similar skills. This is a Republican strategy to hold down wages. New immigrants, hoping to establish themselves and qualify for citizenship, don’t go on strike demanding higher wages. They don’t even ask for raises.

Mr. King fails to note that the undocumented Mexicans here for jobs are by and large doing jobs Americans do not want (picking produce, manual labor, etc.). And if their employer takes out withholding taxes and payroll taxes (though many do not) those taxes go straight into government coffers because undocumented workers do not fill out tax forms; they get no refunds.

Mr. King is a hateful racist and is not a good representative of all of what is good and fair in the state of Iowa. They would do well to find someone else to represent them.

So that I am not misunderstood, I am not in favor of illegal immigration of any kind. I think people should go through the process. The solution to the “illegal immigration problem” being alluded to is quite simple: require proof of citizenship from anyone you hire. This is not difficult; it is done all over the world. Republicans don’t want this “burdensome regulation” because it would solve the problem. They would rather have the problem (as a talking point to curry favor with their base) and the cheap labor their big business supporters want.

July 23, 2013

Wal-Mart and Food Stamps

Shouldn’t Wal-Mart be lobbying Republicans in Congress for reinstatement of the Food Stamp program (SNAP) the Repubs cut out of the Farm Bill recently? Shouldn’t they also be arguing for an expansion for that program?

I mean, without food stamps, their employees would begin to starve and that would put pressure on Wal-Mart to increase their starvation level wages. And since up to 40% of Wal-Mart’s profits come in the form of government support of their employees (displacing what they’s have to pay for labor otherwise) this could be a big hit to their bottom line.

Just askin’.

July 22, 2013

An Addendum to “Creationism . . .In Ireland . . . Oh, My!”

In Mr. Givans’ quotation (see previous post) he referred to us science types giving short shrift to “alternative theories to evolution.” This is a meme promulgated by creationists by this they mean “Creationism.” The only problem is that there are no alternative theories to evolution. There are a number of variants to how some believe evolution to play out, but there are no alternative theories, so it is impossible to give them short shrift. They just tried to slip that lie into another argument (be fair; teach all the theories) hoping you wouldn’t notice the big lie in the smaller statement.

And people, Creationism is not a theory. Creationism is that God created the planet exactly as it was 6010 years ago (with all of the buried fossils, ruins of older civilizations, etc.). This is no different from saying that fairies did the same or that aliens of some advanced species did the same. And, if it were true, then it could just as well happened 5000 years ago, 100,000 years ago, or yesterday and we would have no way to tell this. So, how is this a theory? What in Nature points to this interpretation? (Absolutely nothing in case you didn’t know.)

Nature, otherwise known as “God’s creation” by these folks, points to a 4+ billion year old planet born in a universe 10 billion years old at the birth. Why would any god or alien or fairy think that it would be a good idea to leave such contrary clues to be found? Why wouldn’t they leave clues telling us the world is 6000 years old? Why would they want to delude us and in so doing undermine God’s own words?

And since God’s creation is the only reliable record of God’s actions, why would a book written 3000 years after the event, written by somebody with no reputation for truth telling, and delivered to a civilization that was far from the most advanced on the planet at the time be held up as superior to what your lying eyes can tell you?

Just askin’.

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