Uncommon Sense

October 30, 2016

Conservatives and Freedom

Filed under: Culture,History — Steve Ruis @ 8:46 am
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Many a conservative has uttered the claim that they are only trying to protect their “freedom,” which is precious to them. This is hard to argue against so liberals, like me, ask them to clarify what their notion of “freedom” is. They respond with something along the lines of “what we had when….”

I have commented before that conservatives have a much too rosy picture of the past while liberals have a much too rosy picture of the future. With regard to the “freedom” most conservatives say they want: freedom to do what they want personally, freedom from governmental interference in their lives (except in the case of abortion, women’s rights, etc., etc.), freedom to do what they want in business, and so on, harkening to the past is a strange approach.

If you go to our deep past, back to when humans lived in tribes or family groups, what kind of individual freedom did we have? In such a small group, there was very little individual freedom. One did what the tribe needed. You had no choice of occupation. You didn’t get to choose who you worked with. You didn’t get to choose who you married, or whether you married. You didn’t get to choose where you lived or what you ate, and so on. You did what the chiefs/leaders told you to or you found yourself alone.

If you jump from then to much closer to now, the conditions were much the same. As an individual, you had the choice to starve and not much else. Most people did what they were told to do by a religious official or a rich person. Ordinary people did not have the resources to strike out on their own unless they were quite self-sufficient and there were very, very few of those people.

So, from where did the idea of “individual freedom” come? It came from modern society. The closer you get to modern society, the more individual freedom there is.

And what is it that most conservatives are rejecting?

You got it in one: modern society.

Conservatives have existed throughout human history. You can’t go back to a previous time for which there are written records without finding complaints from conservatives about the moral decay of society and the same for “today’s youth.” Youths are pretty much the only humans who have the energy to oppose the inertia of our society, so they are an obvious target for progress suppressionists. So, as our society has “decayed” we have become more and more free.

Conservatives apparently want the product of the modernization trend (freedom), but don’t want the modern along with it. Any who say we were “more free” in the past are probably pointing to a privileged group, such as the rich, who had a pocket of greater freedom due to their wealth, or to a group who had privileges hard wired into society, such as racial privileges. The “freedom” of those people was at the expense of large numbers of other people and was a false kind of freedom.

October 28, 2016

WTF? Why Does Anyone Assume Emails are a Secure Form of Communication?

Filed under: Technology — Steve Ruis @ 1:07 pm
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In recent months the following agencies and persons have had their emails made public: Sony Pictures, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee, Coca-Cola, Vladimir Putin, . . . need I go on?

Why would anyone say anything compromising in an email?

First of all, the things being exposed in many of these emails don’t need saying. They are simply spleen venting or trivial. Of the things which are illegal or severely compromising, why would anyone put that in print?

Effing stupid if you ask me. (And, yes, I know no one is asking. Americans have had a long history of volunteering and I am just trying to keep up.)

October 27, 2016

Good Science, Bad Science

This link is to a blog post that shows one aspect of our public health science that went wrong and is still not fixed (The Calorie Debacle). “Public science” is science mixed with politics. A very obvious example of this is the so-called “food pyramids” (USDA Nutrition Guides) we were shown as children. These were basic guides as to what to eat to be healthy. They were also heavily politicized by food industry lobbies. So, a governmental committee of scientists would come up with guidelines and then during a “review” stage bureaucrats would be pushed and shoved by lobbies to make changes, often substantial ones. An easy example is “dairy products.” No mammal “needs” dairy products after they have been weaned. But these nutrition guides always contained a substantial recommendation regarding the consumption of dairy products. Why? Well, the dairy industry was very powerful and the science was weak.usda_-_basic_7_food_groups

“The truth of the matter is we do not know what should be eaten to maintain good health.”

The truth of the matter is we do not know what should be eaten to maintain good health other than food recently prepared from fresh ingredients is generally healthier than processed foods. We also know that a wide variety of foods tends to be healthier than a very narrow diet (Morgan Spurlock’s movie Super Size Me being an example of what happens to someone who confines their diet).

We are primed to learn from stories and those of us who are overweight (including me) are attracted to quick weight loss schemes because they are: a) easy, and b) fast. They are also ineffective. These “schemes” are sold through the telling of stories. I am bombarded by Internet ads for weight loss schemes and they are larded (a carefully chosen word) with “before and after” photos of real people who have lost weight under the scheme. But the same is true for all of the other schemes and if they all “work” why is there an obesity epidemic? If you answer that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” you are falling into the “blame the victim” trap. People were exercising more and eating according to the guidelines (less fat, more vegetables, etc.) like crazy as our body weights spiraled out of control. We are now starting to realize our errors and correct our mistakes, but standing in the way of more rapid progress are our “friends” in the food lobbies.

If you want a detailed source of what went wrong in the public health recommendations regarding diet, read “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taube.

October 25, 2016

Look Out, Here Comes Single Payer!

According to the Associated Press ObamaCare premiums are expected to rise by double digits in 2017. A report from the Department of Health and Human Services forecast an average 25 percent rise for midlevel benchmark plans across the 39 states served by the federally run insurance marketplace. Major national insurance carriers have also scaled back their participation in the ObamaCare exchange, which could leave about 20 percent of consumers with only one option of insurer. The Obama administration is emphasizing that taxpayer-provided subsidies should offset the increases for most consumers.

Ah, heaven forbid that insurance companies reform their processes or take a little less in the way of profits, so up our rates go … fueling the demand for a Medicare-like single payer system.

The basic question still is “Why should insurance companies be paid so much for pushing paper?” All they do is take our money and pay our doctors, yet what they charge for this is way more than Medicare costs to do its paper work. Is great puzzlement.

It is to our advantage that they cannot just lay low for a while, they have to turn the screws to squeeze out better quarterly profits for their shareholders and so they do, undermining their very existence.


October 24, 2016

Is Scripture Divinely Inspired?

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:57 am
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I have been away on vacation for the last two weeks, which I hope explains my silence. While I was gone, I wrote the following. Steve

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Every religion with some sort of written record claims that their written records, or at least some of them, are divinely inspired. In many cases those words were claimed to have been delivered by revelation and others dictated by angels (Joseph Smith, Mohammad, etc.) so, are these actually divinely inspired? I will make some old and new arguments that they are not.

The simple and obvious reason that these texts cannot be divinely inspired comes from the fact that there is not any universal understanding of these texts. I would expect words chosen by a god to be perfectly clear and, even if translated into other languages, would remain perfectly clear. I would also expect a being who had the power to create a universe or world to be concise as to how he/she wanted his creations to behave. Instead, we are treated to irrelevant stories lacking moral messages we expect from even the simplest children’s stories. For example, in the Old Testament at one point King David gets on Yahweh’s bad side and to punish him Yahweh creates a plague that kills tens of thousands of David’s subjects. And the moral of the story is … what? Apparently Yahweh may kill your ass because he is pissed off with one of your associates. Many of the stories in the Jewish and Christian Bibles seem designed to convince the reader of the authenticity of the texts being read or to convince the reader to follow the precepts provided therein. A god’s words would carry that weight by themselves, no?

And all of the scriptures in the Abrahamic religions are rife with contradictions, obvious bad edits, etc. In the case of Islam as well as the others, the original transcriptions of the original texts have been lost. A god’s words couldn’t be obfuscated or lost or changed in any way if that god had any real power over his/her message. No?

And what are these messages? If they are a code of conduct, I would expect something closer to Hammurabi’s code, a set of laws and punishments for violating them. The “laws” that are to be found in Christian Bibles seem to be ignored by most Christians, converting those laws into recommendations or suggestions rather than requirements. Got an unruly teenager who gives you lip, stone him to death. The scripture couldn’t be more clear. Yet, teenagers getting stoned has an entirely different meaning today. If scriptures are not sets of instructions about how to behave toward one another, what are they for?

My second argument is based upon a fabulous book I am reading (The Beginning of Infinity, by David Deutsch, a physicist). In this book the author argues for Karl Popper’s viewpoint that the only way new knowledge can be created is through “conjecture and criticism.” This is basically the scientific method (the actual one, not the bullshit one proffered in school science textbooks). A conjecture is an attempt at an explanation for why something is the way it is, in science we call this an hypothesis. Then such conjectures are exposed to criticisms, in science this is by word and experiment (If this were true, then if I do this, the response would be….). In reality all experiments are suggested by such conjectures. When such “tests” are “passed” repeatedly, scientists stop testing those hypotheses and they become settled science (settled, not “proven”).

Dr. Deutsch’s point (one of many) is that if you withhold criticism, you cannot generate new knowledge and without new knowledge you cannot solve new or even old problems. In most religions one is not allowed to criticize scripture. Scripture is defined as being correct and inviolable. If you do not understand something, then you are wrong, not the scripture.

A consequence of forbidding criticism is there will be no new knowledge. This is 2016. If we go back one hundred years to 1916 and count all of the advances made by science, a human endeavor that requires open communication and open criticism, with religion we find that science has provided: broadcast radio, broadcast TV, antibiotics, the Green Revolution, space travel, communications satellites, synthetic drugs, synthetic fabrics, robotic surgeries, medical imaging, amazing new construction materials (carbon fiber, etc.), and on and on. And religion? Nothing. No real, new, or helpful knowledge has been created and it seems much of the material has become dated, seeming to no longer apply (don’t eat shellfish or pork or meat on Fridays, for example).

Not all of the products of science over the least 100 years have been good: nuclear and chemical weapons, electronic spying, chemical waste products, air and water pollution, and climate change aren’t exactly benefits. But Dr. Deutsch’s position is that problems are inevitable and solutions to those problems generally come from new knowledge, and new knowledge cannot be predicted it can only be pursued and discovered. Imagine what would have happened if the Bubonic Plague hadn’t happened until after antibiotics were invented. Problems will always be with us and the only way through them is “conjecture and criticism” on a large scale. So, Republican politicians denial of climate change or any other scientific reality, for example, is just another form of shutting down discussion/criticism and is self-defeating. Certainly the widespread conservative opposition to the Enlightenment, which has given the world its first large dose of the ability to criticize, is at best anti-progress and worst suicidal.

Scripture is supposed to be above criticism, but is it? All of the evidence says it is not. There are theological seminaries devoted to figuring out what it means (shouldn’t it be obvious?). Christianity alone has tens of thousands of sects, each existing because of a perceived difference it has with all of the others (based upon what?). The others have similar segments. New “churches” such as prosperity churches are popping up all over the place making new arguments based upon old scripture. If this is not discussion/criticism producing “new knowledge” then what is it?

Basically this fact alone tells us that it is not divinely inspired. Scriptures are subject to interpretation by scholars and Imams and whoever wants to spin those words in a new direction. In other words, scripture is not above criticism, and new knowledge is being created (“God wants you to be prosperous!”), so “god’s words” are apparently insufficient, which makes them not a god’s words.

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Yes, this is a  blog focused on class warfare (and, boy, are we losing) but I also write on religion as it is a tool used in the war against the betterment of all human beings.


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