Uncommon Sense

November 24, 2016

Religion as a Basis for Politics

I have been writing about religion in the context of a class warfare blog for some time as there are repurcussions to religious beliefs. The article excerpted below by Forsetti’s Justice on AlterNet says it quite well.

* * *

An Insider’s View: The Dark Rigidity of Fundamentalist Rural America

In deep-red white America, the white Christian God is king.

“As the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump is being sorted out, a common theme keeps cropping up from all sides: ‘Democrats failed to understand white, working-class, fly-over America.’”

“ … “

“Because rural, Christian, white Americans will not listen to educated arguments, supported by facts that go against their fundamentalist belief systems from “outsiders,” any change must come from within. Internal change in these systems does happen, but it happens infrequently and it always lags far behind reality. This is why they fear change so much. They aren’t used to it. Of course, it really doesn’t matter whether they like it or not, it, like evolution and climate change even though they don’t believe it, it is going to happen whether they believe in it or not.

“Another major problem with closed-off, fundamentalist belief systems is they are very susceptible to propaganda. All belief systems are to some extent, but fundamentalist systems even more so because there are no checks and balances. If bad information gets in, it doesn’t get out and because there are no internal mechanisms to guard against it, it usually ends up very damaging to the whole.”

“ … “

“What I understand is that rural, Christian, white Americans are entrenched in fundamentalist belief systems; don’t trust people outside their tribe; have been force-fed a diet of misinformation and lies for decades; are unwilling to understand their own situations; and truly believe whites are superior to all races. No amount of understanding is going to change these things or what they believe. No amount of niceties will get them to be introspective. No economic policy put forth by someone outside their tribe is going to be listened to no matter how beneficial it would be for them. I understand rural, Christian, white America all too well. I understand their fears are based on myths and lies. I understand they feel left behind by a world they don’t understand and don’t really care to. They are willing to vote against their own interest if they can be convinced it will make sure minorities are harmed more. Their Christian beliefs and morals are truly only extended to fellow white Christians. They are the problem with progress and always will be, because their belief systems are constructed against it.

“The problem isn’t a lack of understanding by coastal elites. The problem is a lack of understanding of why rural, Christian, white America believes, votes, and behaves the ways it does by rural, Christian, white America.”


Actual “Deplorables” Found!

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:06 am
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Hillary Clinton had her Romney-esque “47%” moment when she claimed that half of all Trump voters were “deplorables.” (What advantage she thought she was gaining to make such an absurd claim is beyond me.) But, now, the actual Deplorables have surfaced. Apparently President-elect Trump is filling cabinet posts with them!

You read it here first!

November 23, 2016

Steven Pinker on a Lesson We Have Failed to Learn

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 1:02 pm
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(Steven Pinker is an evolutionary psychologist and author)

“Perhaps the greatest discovery in human history, one that is logically prior to every other discovery, is that all of our traditional sources of belief are, in fact, generators of error and should be dismissed as sources of knowledge. These include: faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, augury, prophesy, intuition, clairvoyance, conventional wisdom, and that warm, invigorating glow of subjective certainty.”

Can you imagine what politics would look like without all of that?


What Happened to the GOP Disdain for the Department of Education?

The standard position of the GOP on the DOE has been “Off with its head!” that it never should have been a federal agency, let alone a cabinet level agency, at all, that education should be left to the states. Remember Rick Perry’s “Ooops” debate topic? It was which departments he would abolish if he were made president. He remembered the DOE but forgot the DOE (Department of Energy). This position was supposed to based on a preference for local control of education and parent’s rights to educate their children as they saw fit. The DOE was de facto federal overreach, according to Republican stalwarts.

But …

… according to CNN, President-elect Trump has offered Betsy DeVos the U.S. Department of Education post, and she took it. Ms. DeVos does not hide her contempt for public schools, she advocates for school vouchers so her wealthy friends can get their private schooling of their children subsidized. She opposes any regulation or oversight for charter schools and she loves her them charter schools, especially those funded from public taxes, whether or not they perform any better than the schools they are replacing.

So, apparently Mr. Trump will not be disposing of the DOE as part of the GOP wish list.

I guess there was money to be made.

November 22, 2016

Getting Some Perspective on Being Middle Class

In the last 35 years or so, the wages of middle class people have been basically stagnant. So, for a third of the last 100 years, while worker productivity and the cost of living have continued rising, the ability of middle class jobs to support a middle class lifestyle have not. The result is what we have now: a whole bunch of Americans kinda sorta hanging on to what they got.

If you go back a 100 years or so, you can get some perspective on how this came about. You will see that it is the same people who grossly inflated the cost of living in the U.S. who are currently suppressing the ability of U.S. citizens to afford a middle class life. In the 1910’s and 1920’s the vast majority of Americans did not take out a mortgage to buy their homes. There weren’t that many people who were buying their own homes, for one, and those who did often saved up the money or got it from relatives or borrowed from relatives. There was no large mortgage banking industry.

Then the Great Depression hit and home ownership got even farther from the grasp of the middle class. It was only after World War 2 that a series of factors combined to have home mortgages become a viable mechanism to acquire a domicile for those in the middle class. About a million working age American men lost their lives in the war and those who did come back wanted to resume a “normal” life as soon as was possible. Because of the manpower loss due to the war and the expanding economy, work was easy to get. There was a burgeoning industrial capacity that was turning from war material back to consumer goods and a sense of “we are all in this together,” that lead to a great deal of prosperity. Men and still some women had jobs and disposable income, so all kinds of things were made for this new market, including the development of housing developments (Levittown, etc.). The U.S. Government got in the business of helping to finance home purchases (although with built-in racist limitations for people of color) and with sureties being offered by the government, so too did a great many private lenders. So, through the rest of the 40’s and then the 50’s and 60’s, the middle class of this country boomed and the number of us in the middle class owning our own homes steadily rose.

Interestingly, during the Reagan years in California and during his presidency, things took a down turn. (You know, those family values of Republicans kicked in.) In order to support the kind of life middle class people were learning to enjoy, families had to see both Mom and Dad working. The influx of money into the family from working women helped maintain the new middle class lifestyle but also launched a housing price boom. Thanks to Elizabeth Warren’s academic research, it was discovered that when women started contributing more and more to the family’s income, they also had more say where it went and it was increasingly going for houses in “better” areas, the “better” being in school districts with good schools.

Housing prices increased rapidly, first in California and then throughout the U.S. Housing consumed more and more of the family budget, often costing up to 50% of family disposable income. Government supported these price increases by making interest payments tax deductible, which seemed like a good thing for home buyers but actually just inflated prices (“You can afford this more expensive house because of the large tax deduction you will get on the interest payments!” Remember that?) Rapidly escalating home prices lead to rapidly escalating property taxes because the rates were set “before” and the “assessed value” kept rocketing upward when each house changed hands. In California, a bellwether state, a tax payer revolt lead to a state-wide proposition that put severe limits on property taxes. Other states did something similar. These limits shifted responsibility for many services that were formerly based upon property values, like education, from those local sources of income onto other sources, often based in statewide government. This resulted in less local control and a greater tax burden on the state which doesn’t collect taxes based upon property but upon sales and income, more regressive taxes.

It was President Reagan who made sure that the wealthier citizens paid much less of those federal taxes and shifted the tax burden, especially through payroll taxes, off of the well to do and onto the middle class.

Then the federal government released the shackles of the banking industry and all kinds of high jinks take place. The final culmination is in the collapse of the housing mortgage industry in 2007-2008 based upon the ability of banks to bundle very sketchy mortgages into highly rated derivative securities, so anything went, at least until everything went up in smoke.

So, the banks got bailed out, their shareholders got bailed out, Wall Street got a minor slap on the wrist and homeowners, well they were told to suck it up and take their medicine.

So, where does this leave the middle class?

Well, with the wage suppressing activities of anti-union, anti-worker conservatives, helped by neo-liberal assholes who should have known better (when your goals align with blood sucking capitalists, you no longer have the right to call yourself a liberal, “neo” or otherwise), we have a middle class in name only. Most of us work longer hours for less compensation, have fewer government services available and less hope for the future and our children’s futures since 1950. (“You don’t need a retirement program. When you sell your house, you will have plenty to live on in your golden years.” They could have asked us to turn around and bend over because they had something to shove up our assess, but their sense of propriety didn’t allow for that.)

Those of us in the middle class who were conned into investing our futures in houses and then who lost those houses have basically had to start over. (I sold my last house in 2007, one of the very few sold in my county in that year and was very lucky to get out with my skin intact.)

Since the conservatives and neo-liberals are now in charge, I do not expect better jobs, more affordable housing, less expensive education for our kids, less expensive medical care or much of any real benefit to flow toward the middle class. I see … distractions … many, many distractions in our future. Progress? Not very much, no.

November 21, 2016

Why Men Hate Going to Church

Filed under: History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 2:49 pm
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There is much to read now about falling church attendance. What most people do not realize is that church attendance has been far, far lower in the past. In the 1950’s it was several times higher than it was in the early 1900’s. So, most people’s references are from the recent past in which there was an extraordinarily high level of church attendance, possible the highest in the history of this nation. And, we have a long history of not attending church. Even George Washington did not like to attend church and was criticized for that. (George Washington!)

Now that we have some perspective, why would it be the case that men would not like going to church? There is even a new book out with the same title as this post (that title was stolen from that book and was the inspiration for this post; I have not read the book). Off the top of my head I can think of quite a few reasons why men would not want to attend church.

On top of them all is the sense that most Christian churches are peddling: that the attendees had racked up offenses that no secular authority can forgive (they are called sins and by their definition, we are all sinners). Not only that, but we must beg for forgiveness, a forgiveness that it is made clear that we do not deserve. We are granted divine forgiveness based upon grace, that is a gift given freely to someone undeserving. We are told we must bow our heads when we do this, a posture that is so subservient that adopting that posture robs one of much of their physical strength and sensory acuity (which is why the rich and powerful have demanded it for forever it seems). We must humble ourselves to acquire the forgiveness we do not deserve based upon sins that we did not commit.

Why would a man not want himself a bunch of that, gosh?

Of course, there are variations. If one is a Catholic, one can receive a church-based “atta boy” for even quite grievous transgressions, by going to confession, which at least is a private humbling ceremony and then by performing some rite which can be mumbled at high speed without a lick of conviction. No one in church authority can tell whether or not you are sincere in seeking this forgiveness.

Why would a man not respect that?

Why would anybody?


Them Damned Liberals, Uh . . .

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 2:44 pm
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We should have elected ex-Governor of Texas Rick Perry on the basis of the Texas Miracle alone, it being the way the state of Texas sailed through our weak economic times on a wave of conservative values and economics.

Even Dallas, uh … oh, wait … according to DealBook “Dallas has the fastest economic growth of the nation’s 13 largest cities. Its streets hum with supersize cars and its skyline bristles with cranes. Its mayor is a former chief executive of Pizza Hut. Hundreds of multinational corporations have chosen Dallas for their headquarters, most recently Jacobs Engineering, which is moving to low-tax Texas from pricey Pasadena, Calif.

But under its glittering surface, Dallas has a problem that could bring it to its knees, and that could be an early test of America’s postelection commitment to safe streets and tax relief: The city’s pension fund for its police officers and firefighters is near collapse and seeking an immense bailout.

Dallas’s mayor, Michael S. Rawlings, testifying this month to a state oversight board that his city appeared to be ‘walking into the fan blades’ of municipal bankruptcy.

Oh. Gonna be hard to blame this on on Them Liberals.

November 20, 2016

A Follow-up to Baseball Season: Ted Williams’ Balls

Ted Williams was one of the finest hitters to ever play professional baseball in the USA. When he retired he wrote a book (“The Science of Hitting”) on hitting that included a famous photo: it was of the “Splendid Splinter” at the plate and the current strike zone was filled with baseballs, each ball labeled with William’s estimate of the percentage of these locations that he would get hits at. The balls were color coded in that if he would hit for a high average, they would be “red” hot, and for a very low average they would be grey, with various colors in between. Note that pitches “low and away” were mostly grey. But realize that ‘Teddy Ballgame” (whatever happened to splendid nicknames?) played in what was then a “high ball league.” In the American League, umpires set up right above the catcher’s head, making it easier to see high strikes and harder to see low strikes, so you might get the benefit of the doubt on a low pitch but not on a high one. The National League’s umpires set up over the catcher’s shoulder on the inside of the plate making the National League a “low ball league” because the umpires had a better view of the low part of the plate. If you couldn’t hit the high fast ball, you couldn’t play in the American league and if you look at Williams’ color code, he feasted on high pitches.ted-williams-balls-2

The only time these two umpire’s perspectives came into play was in the World Series, but when baseball decided upon more “interleague play” one of the things that had to be sorted out before that could be done was this difference between the strike zones in the two leagues. This has been done and both leagues are now “low ball leagues” as MLB standardized on the NL style of umpiring.

The yellow box I have superimposed on Williams’ box of balls is what his current strike zone would be. I wonder what he would have hit had this been the zone in his day. Williams is the last major leaguer to end a full season with a batting average over 0.400 (he hit 0.401 in 1941 if memory serves). Now the pitching has gotten a great deal better but I wonder what Ted Williams would have hit with such a small strike zone. His 20/15 vision and wonderful hand-eye coordination plus his fierce competitiveness would certainly have allowed him to adapt to the new zone and being much smaller that he had to contend with, how high do you think he could have gone?

As an aside, this year’s NL MVP, Kris Bryant of the Cubs, was taught to hit by his father … using the principles described in Teddy Ballgame’s book.

November 19, 2016

Trump, Elected to “Drain the Swamp,” Hiring the Alligators

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:13 am
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I am just going to shut up about this until someone in the Trump administration actually does something. Random talk seems of no help at all (other than to sell the news).

November 16, 2016

Philosophical Selfies

Filed under: Philosophy — Steve Ruis @ 12:02 pm
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I have been reading a sociology book of late, which is stretch for me as I have a low opinion of the field. (I used to claim that I had invented a perfect cure for insomnia: simply give the insomniac a sociology textbook and ask them to read it and 15 minutes later they would be asleep.) But I like to challenge my prejudices, so onward I read. There were a number of points made I found interesting, then the subject of “self” came up. What constitutes a self (myself, yourself, themselves, etc.) comes up in sociology (needed for definition of society) as well as psychology and philosophy.

What I find is that often people become entranced with the idea of “self” and carry it to extremes. People start with the fact that all of us can carry on a conversation in our heads that no one else can hear. This leads to the idea of having an “inner self” versus “our outer selves.” We “are” variously: parents, workers, volunteers, musicians, cooks, etc., each of which, to some, is a “self.” Writers often emphasize searching for our “real self” because there are so many of these “selves.” These people, I think, confuse “what I am doing now” as some kind of different persona. In actuality, in order to fit into any group you need to conform to the rules of said group. Showing up to a cooking class wearing a baseball catcher’s gear would definitely be considered weird as would showing up for baseball practice wearing a chef’s hat. each of these behaviors would lead to others judging you and possibly shunning you. In general, we all tend to “go along to get along” and adopt each subgroups norms for the time we participate in them. If our job requires “business attire,” we wear a suit. When we are invited to a party that recommends “cocktail attire” we do not show up in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and flip flops. Each of these activities is really not a separate entity we could label as a “self.” They are just something we are doing.

“Why the search for our “real” or “inner” self? It seems to me to be
a search for a nonexistent “soul” that out religious traditions insist exists.”

But the idea that we can talk to ourselves, think to ourselves, gives the impression that the outer projection of our personality is not our real self. On the contrary I think it is. If we are a “go along to get along” type, we readily conform to any group’s norms, no problem. If we are rebellious, we tend to be rebellious across the board. There is no mystery here, people tend to be quite consistent.

So why this persistent feeling of “layers upon layers” and “I contain multitudes” when we think of our mental lives? Why the search for our “real” or “inner” self? It seems to me to be a search for a nonexistent “soul” that out religious traditions insist exists. It has to be down there somewhere. The mindset that we have a soul presupposes the idea of an inner self and fuels such language and thinking.

Reality seems just the reverse. Consciousness is an emergent property of human brains. It really exists only on the “outside.” All of the different manifestations we present to the world outside of us are simply ways to “fit in” and not attract undue attention and to attract “due attention.” This is even exemplified by those who are otherly directed: the flamboyant extroverts. Even those who want to be “the baddest dude in town” are looking for attention of a particular sort. They avoid “undue” attention but revel in the ability to attract attention that repels the rest of us, their “due attention.”

So, each of us wants to be part of society or a subgroup of society, we want to be acknowledged as existing and having some standing in our community. Even the “born to be wild” outlaw bikers formed clubs (the Hell’s Angels, etc.). If I may reiterate a famous football coaches frustrated comment: “They are who we thought they were.” It should not be such a surprise.

Since consciousness is an emergent property it is on the outside. Dig down an inch or so and it becomes dark and unilluminating. The light is on the outside. We should be looking at how that outer skin of consciousness interacts with those around us rather than looking deep inside for a non-existent soul-self.

You can see who you are in a selfie … if you just look.

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