Uncommon Sense

January 15, 2017

Trump Trumped?

Filed under: Politics,The News — Steve Ruis @ 8:17 am
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The NY Times has joined a chorus of writers on a singular topic: should the recent accusations associated with Russian claims to have a “hold” on Mr. Trump have been released to the public (“Was BuzzFeed Right to Publish Accusations Against Donald Trump?,” 1-11-2017).

I find this puzzling. Mr. Trump was elected because the news media provided many millions of dollars of free television coverage precisely because Mr. Trump made outrageous, unverified, untruthful claims about his opponents and the state of the nation.

So, when were they supposed to stop? And why?


January 12, 2017

Repeal and Delay Becomes “Delay, Delay, Delay”

Our President-elect just threw a monkey wrench in any plans the GOP had for taking any kind of action on Obamacare any time soon. According to The Nation magazine “Asked about Obamacare, Trump largely reiterated comments made to The New York Times, that any overhaul of the system must both repeal the bulk of the Affordable Care Act and replace it ‘essentially simultaneously.’ In addition, Trump said that he would introduce his own plan as soon as Representative Tom Price, the nominee for secretary of Health And Human Services, is confirmed.”

The GOP has had seven years to cobble together their replacement for the “Affordable Care Act.” When Obamacare was crafted, there were two viable paths to be taken: 1) “single payer,” aka “Medicare for All,” and 2) some version of Romneycare, aka Massachusetts’ health care plan, scaled up. Mr. Obama tanked the single player possibility (which was not, not “dead on arrival” as many have claimed) and opted for the plan that gave us the ACA.gop-head-in-sand

My basic point is that these are the only two reasonably possible options, neither of which meets the GOP’s approval, so I will second Paul Krugman’s assessment “There will be no GOP alternative health care plan.” This is so simply because there is none the GOP approves of.

If the GOP simply follows their spleens, and guts Obamacare, millions will be negatively affected and many will die prematurely, all at the behest of the GOP. This is not exactly a recipe for a second term for the coming President Trump, which may be why he decided to nip it in the bud. Mr. Trump has the enviable position of being able to blame any failure on Congress which makes it puzzling why he would promise to “introduce his own plan as soon as Representative Tom Price, the nominee for secretary of Health And Human Services, is confirmed.”

Oh, I forgot. Mr. Trump is comfortable saying “I didn’t say that” and making up something entirely different that he said, even when their are perfectly good recordings showing he said what he said.

The only way out for the GOP now is to delay, delay, delay, and hope that it all goes away. (Hey, how is that for a slogan: Delay, delay, delay, until it goes away? Chant after me … ♫♫! Maybe they could ask Tom Delay back to act as their spokesperson for the effort.)

At least we will be warm as American Democracy burns down.

Having a Reason to Live, But Wait There’s More!

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:26 pm
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In my last post (Having a Reason to Live, January 12, 2017) I focused on what having a “meaning” for one’s life means. But one sentence in the letter to the editor of that Canadian newspaper from a theist subscriber has continued to have reverberations in my mind. It was the claim that if the letter writer were to subscribe to a secular worldview he would conclude that “I exist on a tiny planet in a minor solar system in an empty corner of a meaningless universe.”

Let me ask a rhetorical question at this point (of you): what do you think would happen to us if all of the other galaxies (200-300 billion by count at this point) were to disappear in an instant? Poof, they are gone and what happens next … to us?

Got an answer? I do.

Basically noting that happens in those other galaxies affects what happens here on Earth. Life would go on quite as it has.

So, why was all of “that” necessary to be created? Why create 200-300 billion galaxies when only one was needed to support life on Earth? It certainly wasn’t to create the conditions to support life here on Earth. In fact, other than the solar system, we could do without the rest of our own galaxy about as well as we are doing with it in existence. Those other 100 billion stars and their planets? Poof, they are gone. Well, that would cause some effect. Other than the Moon and the other planets, the night sky would be black which would be kind of boring, but unless you believe in astrology, those other stars in the sky have no effect on us here, so we can live without them. (Actually the Bible tells us this!)

This Hubble Telescope image shows spiral galaxy ESO 137-001.

This Hubble Telescope image shows spiral galaxy ESO 137-001 plus a lot of meaningless extra stuff.

So, whether or not you live in a created world, the rest of most of the universe is meaningless: meaningless for theists; meaningless for secularists.

Unless . . .

. . . unless, there are “people” on those other planets circling those other stars, in our galaxy and all of the other galaxies, and those people are creating meaning for their own lives. Then … then, the rest of our universe has meaning … just not for us.



Having a Reason to Live

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:57 am
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It is illuminating to hear from theists what they think “the meaning of life” is. A letter to an editor of a Canadian newspaper from a theist subscriber gives a typical glimpse:
The secular view, which leaves God out of the process, reveals that I am the descendant of a tiny cell of primordial protoplasm—the arbitrary product of time, chance and natural forces. … I exist on a tiny planet in a minor solar system in an empty corner of a meaningless universe. I have no intrinsic value beyond my body, and at death I will cease to exist.

“Therefore, I conclude that I came from essentially nothing and I am going nowhere. But, if I am only a dash between the womb and the tomb and I don’t know why, then I must ask if there is any real purpose for my life either now or in the future?

“In contrast, the Christian story offers me tremendous hope. I discover that I am not the result of some cosmic accident but the special creation of a good and all powerful God — His crown of creation. I am created in His image, with capacities to think, love, worship and make moral choices that set me above all other life forms.

“My creator loves me and gave His son to pay the supreme sacrifice for my salvation. I am completely unworthy and undeserving of such love. My salvation is entirely by grace through faith and not of myself.

“Best of all, the fact that Christ died for each one of us and wants to live within us by His spirit in a meaningful relationship makes us incredibly valuable. And when we are willing to accept His gift of salvation, through repentance and faith, we can become children of God and spend eternity with Him.

Okay, so setting aside whether or not this theist’s soul preexisted his life here on Earth, presumably his existence will be spent 99.9% of his time in Heaven where he will … “spend eternity with Him.” Uh, doing what? In order for this person’s life to have meaning it has to be in some sort of context, no? Certainly it cannot have anything to do with “helping other people” as all of the other people in Heaven don’t need help and the people in Hell, well they need help, but … what that’s not allowed?

Apparently the definition of “meaning” being employed here is “something meant or intended.” What is meant here as a “meaning for this person’s life” is that he was created for a purpose and that purpose is to spend the vast bulk of his existence in the presence of his god. Hmm, if I were there, in his god’s presence, I would expect some sort of euphoria, an understanding of all things and why they are the way they are, but then what? Do I just exist with a god buzz for millennia? What good am I at that point? I am not even an example to others because they have no idea as to which “place” I ended up in.

Am I a marker in God’s game? Do He and Satan have a big scoreboard up showing how many souls they have collected? What was God’s purpose in going through this whole thing, and putting us through this whole thing; was it just to have one more “presence” in Heaven? What is life on Earth if it constitutes just a tiny, tiny slice of time in a soul’s existence but determines where the 99.9+% of eternity each of us will spend, either in Heaven or a Lake of Fire? Since wisdom seems to come with age, why are our lives cut off after a measly 100 years or so? What not give us two or three hundred years to figure it out?

“One does not have to be a member of a church to donate time at a food bank
(or even a church, which I have done) or to do other charitable works.”

I am impressed with this theist and the many others who have backed a scheme they know so little about. They make Pascal seem a piker with his puny wager. They have gone all in.

What I find appalling however is the lack of appreciation for the opportunities of life, life on Earth. Unlike rocks, we can do things. Where do the attitudes that generate sentences like “I have no intrinsic value beyond my body, and at death I will cease to exist.” and “I must ask if there is any real purpose for my life.” and “My salvation is entirely by grace through faith and not of myself.” come from? Possibly from theists painting the most dismal picture of secular lives as they possibly can. On the other hand, as a real secularist, unlike the one’s existing in this writer’s imagination, I am grateful for my life. I don’t particularly attribute my life to my parents because I don’t really think they knew what they were getting into. They were responding to the rhythms of life: to live, to cherish, to propagate, etc. I am grateful to my parents for all of the loving care they lavished on me growing up and later in life. I am grateful that I was provided a good education (at least the opportunity for one) and a great deal more. I am grateful to have opportunities to help people, which I do in small ways all over the world. I feel that if my life is to have meaning, then I have to get cracking and make that meaning. If one’s life has a great deal of meaning, then a goodly number of people will remember you positively, so there is a measure of whether or not a good life was lived. People will also tell you whether or not you have helped them, which is very nice direct feedback. Facebook “Likes” and other phony connections do not count and, of course, being remembered for bad actions is not a good thing at all.

One does not have to be a member of a church to donate time at a food bank (or even a church, which I have done) or to do other charitable works. Secularists are not trying to get good grades to get into Heaven, and neither are theists, certainly not the ones who say things like “My salvation is entirely by grace through faith and not of myself.” If salvation comes only by the grace of God, where does the urge to help others come from? Why are theists not participating in an “I am in this for myself” contest with Heaven as the prize? (Maybe they are.) If God really wanted us to be good to one another, why did He not make it clear that we are to do “good works” as a qualification for graduation? Why is the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? Why is it not simply “Do good for others, no matter what they do to you”? Now that would be clear, instead of telling us to “turn the other cheek” inviting further abuse, why not do some good for the person who struck you?

January 7, 2017

A Thought About the Universal Basic Income, Feminism, and “Family Values”

I just had a massive collision in my mind while reading about the possibilities of having a Universal Basic Income. It was caused by three things colliding simultaneously (a very rare feat, even in physics): the idea of a universal basic income, the feminist idea of a wage for “homemakers,” and a smattering of conservative family values.

As you may recall, conservatives have this ideal family meme that appears to be out of the 1950’s. Mom and Dad live with their two children, a boy and girl, in a lovely home with green grass and a white picket fence defining its perimeter. Dad goes to work, Mom stays at home, raising the kids and caring for the home and Dad. They go, of course, to a protestant church and the kids attend good schools and all is well.

This ideal had a massive dent put in it during the reign of … wait for it … President Ronald Regan. It wasn’t exactly his fault, but Presidents get more of the credit and so get more of the blame, so that principle applies. The lifestyle of middle class Americans had become so eroded and RR had increased taxes enough on everyone (to pay for the tax cuts for the rich)—many people forget about Reagan’s massive tax increases, especially in payroll taxes (which do not affect the wealthy much)—that many “homemakers” found themselves in the workforce and no longer “at home moms.”

Feminists, on the other hand, showed us that women were trapped in this model family, in a role of caretaker for husband and children, with little power over their own lives and family directions. (Studies showed that as women earned more and more money starting in the Reagan years, they had more and more say over the family money.)

So, if conservatives really wanted to support their so-called “family values” (that is, were that support not a scam), why not give all women who have “under 18” children at home, a Universal Basic Income? This would recognize important work the government, that is all of the people, want done well—raising the next generation of citizens. It would clear a lot of people out of the job markets who really would rather not work (at least during this time), which would expand employment opportunities for other people. It would provide for the possibility of the better raising of kids, and it would reduce the wear and tear on mothers, eliminating their need to work, while allowing them to work if they wish but not requiring them to work, if they wish.

This would be “universal” only in that it would apply to all mothers.

And, yes, I can hear the conservative’s heads exploding that such a system would incentivize the lazy and shiftless to keep popping out babies in order to continue on the dole. Obviously, some standards of care for children need to be applied to avoid obvious abuse, but such situations would be rare, very rare, and the idea itself is colored by the imaginations of conservatives, because when they think of such hypothetical people, they are invariably black or brown. They will need to get over this and come up with useful ways to avoid having children abused for economic gain, something conservatives reserve for their charter schools.

Make it work, people! You can do it!

January 6, 2017

A Taste of Ian Welsh

Filed under: Economics,History — Steve Ruis @ 1:53 pm
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For the full post you click here, or just read the excerpt below. In either case you will probably be hooked by the brilliant mind of Ian Welsh.

A civilization ends when it can’t handle problems that are totally obvious, because its ideology won’t allow it to deal with them. In our case, the ideology is economics and capitalism, which insists that decisions must be made based on what maximizes profit. Our ideology doesn’t recognize that profit is a social construction, and doesn’t take into account all the upsides or downsides of doing anything. This, combined with our moral belief that money is ‘good,’ and that the more money you have the better you are, is killing our civilization.

I couldn’t agree more.

January 5, 2017

Should We Have a Basic Income Level for All U.S. Citizens?

One of my favorite economists, Yves Smith, has written about the one large scale experiment in providing a basic stipend for all citizens here. (Finland is giving it a go now.) Her conclusion is that the result of that experiment was the creation of a large un-skilled underclass. Her preferred approach to such a solution to poverty is to guarantee not income but jobs. I am not opposed to this.

I see two issues that do not seem to be being addressed in this debate, Most people seem to focus on class and worthiness and other things, but there are a couple of aspects I want to add.

For one, there are many, many jobs that are, well downright nasty. There is even a TV series (Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe) that is quite popular possibly because of the yuck factor, probably more in seeing a celebrity getting really filthy and doing some manual labor. In the main, these are not jobs that I expect to see being taken over by computers or robots, any time soon. The jobs that are subject to automation are usually the high paying ones, or ones for which skilled labor is in short supply. For example, one California farmer doubled down on President-elect Donald Trump’s “promise” to deport undocumented foreigners by buying a lot more tree-picking machinery. Even though those jobs do not pay well, if the majority of the people willing to do them are exported, the only other option is machinery. (Note that they hadn’t done this before or not to this level, because of the availabilty of cheap human labor.)

The second thing was brought to mind with regard to the experiment described in Yves Smiths’ former post (linked yo above). There is a large class of people, a very large class of people, who have their basic necessities taken care of that could form a study group. The question is: “What would people do if they had the basics (food, shelter, health care) taken care of?” The group that falls into this class is much of the current U.S. citizens who are retired. Some people of a similar age do not retire because they like working, others of this age cannot afford to retire, but the ones who have, have a pension or Social Security or savings or  a combination thereof, which makes the need to work no longer pressing.

So, what do these “senior citizens” do? Well, one thing they do is volunteer their labor in large amounts, as much as any other age bracket. Another think they do is start business. Another thing they do is pursue arts and education. And … some even sit on their couches and watch TV.

If we all were to paid taxes to provide minimal support for each of us, why would not the “retired” or “unemployed” person have the right to do whatever they damn well pleased?

Maybe a guaranteed job of the able and a minimum income for the unable and “retired” would be a good blend. It is not the case that there is not enough work to do that is in the public interest.


When Did Women Become Property?

The Code of Hammurabi goes back to about 1750 BCE, and this code was basically a list of the ways King Hammurabi would decide disputes, and was to be used by others as a model of how they should, too … because Hammurabi was such a just king, and he had the PR department to prove it.

In any case, here are a number of provisions in “The Code:”
209  If a superior man strikes a woman of superior class and thereby causes her to miscarry her fetus, he shall weigh and deliver ten shekels of silver for her fetus.
210  If that woman should die, they shall kill his daughter.”
211  If he should cause a woman of commoner class to miscarry her fetus by the beating, he shall weigh and deliver five shekels of silver.
212  If that woman should die, he shall weigh and deliver thirty shekels of silver.
Of course, abuses of slaves drew cheaper fines.

Hammurabi's Code (part) in the Louvre, Paris

Hammurabi’s Code (part) in the Louvre, Paris

The division of society into three basic categories: superior men (property owners and nobility, i.e., the wealthy), commoners (free men who worked for others), and slaves was apparently god-given, otherwise, I am sure, the slaves and commoners would be continually pissed-off by the “superior” class. This is but one use of religion for the betterment of those claiming power.

Women seem little better than cattle, since “if you kill one of my women, I get to kill one of yours” was built into The Code (see #210). Also the first mention of “an eye for an eye” was in this code.

But my question is “when did women become property?” I can remember in my life when there were still vestiges of children still being the property of their parents in the law, some of which, I am sure, remain today.

Back when we were in hunter-gatherer troops that were a single family, relationships were probably clear cut. Who had sexual privileges with whom was probably quite clear. Maybe when troops grew to include two or more families in size did “connections” between breeding pairs of humans become necessary or desirable. Obviously in other great apes, breeding rights might be assumed to belong only to the Alpha Male, and this may have been the case with hominids as well.

Whenever this occurred, we still have vestiges of these behaviors in our current society. We even have a President-elect who has bragged about the sexual liberties he has taking with unrelated women because he is of the “superior class” and he can get away with it.

January 4, 2017

An Appalling Lack of Chemical Knowledge

Filed under: Business,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:21 am
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As reported in The Grist:

This Plant in India Transforms CO2 into Baking Soda
Tuticorin Alkali Chemicals promises to prevent emissions of 60,000 tons of CO2 a year by redirecting it from a coal-powered boiler to a new industrial process.

Here’s how the technology works: As the chemical plant’s coal-fired boiler releases flue gas, a spritz of a patented new chemical strips out the molecules of CO2. The captured CO2 is then mixed with rock salt and ammonia to make baking soda.

The process, invented by Carbon Clean Solutions, marks a global breakthrough in carbon-capture technology. Most such projects aim to bury CO2 in underground rocks, reaping no economic benefit; that’s called carbon capture and storage (CCS). But Tuticorin represents the first successful industrial-scale application of carbon capture and utilization (CCU), meaning the carbon is put to good use and helps turn a profit.

Tuticorin’s owner says the plant now has virtually no emissions. And the facility is not receiving any government subsidies. Many carbon-capture projects have needed subsidies because of high costs, but Carbon Clean’s process is more efficient, requiring less energy and less equipment.

Carbon Clean believes that CCU could ultimately neutralize 5 to 10 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions from coal.


The operative (and errant) phrase here is “Most such projects aim to bury CO2 in underground rocks, reaping no economic benefit.” The reason is that if sodium bicarbonate (aka baking soda, or sodium hydrogen carbonate) gets used, the CO2 gets released back into the atmosphere! Bloody Hell!

Effing morons!

Here are some of the myriad uses of sodium bicarbonate:
Used to kill cockroaches. Once consumed, it causes internal organs of cockroaches to burst due to gas collection. The “gas” is CO2!

Sodium bicarbonate is one of the main components of the common incendiary “black snake” firework. The effect is caused by the thermal decomposition, which produces carbon dioxide gas to produce a long snake-like ash as a combustion product of the other main component.

Sodium bicarbonate can be used to extinguish small grease or electrical fires by being thrown over the fire, as heating of sodium bicarbonate releases carbon dioxide. Note: It is also used in “dry chemical” fire extinguishers. The CO2 released is what really extinguishes the fire.

Sodium bicarbonate mixed with water can be used as an antacid to treat acid indigestion and heartburn. Part of the relief is due to CO2 being released which adds to the pre-existing stomach gas causing that gas to be released in a belch.

Morons! “… meaning the carbon is put to good use and helps turn a profit” means the CO2 is put back into the atmosphere! But as long as there is an effing profit, who cares!

Would you have read this and believed it? Would you have been fooled into thinking that this is a good thing for Climate Change reduction? Basically these idiots are renting the CO2 for a short time, causing no net reduction in atmospheric CO2. The only way for this to reduce CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere is for it to be not used! Which is exactly what this company scorned? Sequester it, lock it away? But we could sell it!



Conservatives Find this Lack of Greed Un-American

Filed under: Business,Culture — Steve Ruis @ 8:44 am
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The owner of a bookstore business is just going to give the business away! Shocking!

Final Chapter for Petaluma Bookstore

I am sure conservatives are scurrying to find away to block this abominable action, before it becomes a trend!

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