Uncommon Sense

September 29, 2017

Major College Basketball Scandal Adds to Previous One

There is currently an ongoing FBI investigation into payola in college basketball which is going to result in a number of firings (already begun) and people going to jail (coming soon). In the FBI’s investigation, a shoe company and sports agents illegally funneled money to athletes and athlete’s families in the hopes of reaping a reward later.

Asked to comment, Hall of Fame NBA player and now commenter, Charles Barkley said amongst other things “the value of a free college education has been undervalued” as part of his criticism of the players involved. I happen to like “Sir Charles” because you never have to wonder what he is thinking; he will tell you. In this specific case, though, I disagree. You see the college education he speaks of isn’t “free.”

Basketball players receive “scholarships,” with the NCAA (one of the college sports governing bodies in the U.S.) limiting the number of scholarships to 13 in Division 1 teams (the most competitive). The scholarships often cover tuition, and room and board, and a miniscule per deum, which is what Charles thinks is undervalued by the athletes who took money on top of that. The “scholarship” is really in exchange for the athlete’s services. I had friends who were in college on scholarship, who then had an accident and couldn’t play and voila, they no longer had a scholarship. The scholarship is contingent on the performance. Get cut from the squad and often there goes your scholarship. So, it is not free, in fact it is quite expensive. I played Division II basketball in college at a school which did not offer scholarships. During the season (roughly half the year) I spent three to four hours a day practicing. (Today that is minimal as there are weight and flexibility programs and team meetings, etc. added in.) This is equivalent to working a full-time job for about four months. So, an “opportunity cost” is that one cannot use that time to otherwise gain wages. (Over four years that is a years wages, plus.)

Consider the University of Kentucky basketball program, which in 2014 grossed $40 million and made a $24 million “profit.” (This is just the most obvious program I could find numbers for. Smaller programs don’t make anywhere near this much money, but …) NBA teams pay out half of their gross as salaries to players. UK pays none of this as salaries. I don’t know whether the program reimburses the university for the tuition of the players, I think “not” but it doesn’t matter, as the $24 million in “profits” goes into the university coffers. If, as in the NBA, UK were to pay its players half of what the program grossed, they would be paying the 13 players $20 million dollars in total or $1,538,000 each (note they could afford that).

If one estimates tuition at UK at $25,000 per annum and living expenses at another $25,000, then the cost of the college educations for the entire team would be $1,300,000 or $238,000 less than each player made for the university that year! Each player made enough to fund the entire team’s college educations!

This is why generalities like “the value of a free college education has been undervalued” are not helpful, because the players aren’t spending $50,000 for their education, they are spending $1,538,000 each for their educations. How is that undervaluing the cost of their educations?

Note that the program still had $16,000,000 to cover expenses, including grotesque overpayment for the coach, and would have had a $4,000,000 profit anyway were they to have done this.

Now, some of you will surely say, but Steve, those “profits” go to support the university’s other teams, the ones, unlike football and basketball, which do not make a profit. So, you are saying that exploiting the football and basketball players is acceptable because it supports minor sports? Is that what you are saying?

I mentioned I played NCAA Division II basketball. One of my years, the team made it to what was then called the Small College “Final Four,” so it had some success. We played our home games in a gym that would house about 800 spectators and students got in for free with an ID card. We often only drew 300 for a game. None of the college’s sports offered scholarships and none of the sports made a profit. None of the games were shown on TV (the source of the bulk of the monies made by college programs). The college offered these programs as part of its educational programs (plus it was good marketing as it placed the college’s name in the newspapers). The uniforms were the same one’s the team used last year. The shoes we bought ourselves. The coach taught the team as part (not all) of his teaching load with a bit extra for the extra hours involved. When we traveled we had team blazers to wear in public, the same ones that had been worn for decades. I am not saying this to show the nobility of the effort, I learned a lot and had a great deal of fun while sweating a lot and bleeding a little. The only reason the “major” colleges spend so much on their programs is because of the TV money. They are competing for the TV money because it is so lucrative. The money “earned” off of the players sweat can be used to support all of the other programs, thereby relieving the university from having to pay for them. The way I played was the way it was in the early days of college athletics. Now, TV money has made universities greedy, to the point that the highest paid public employee in every state of the U.S. is now likely to be a major college football coach. The coaches cash in, but the players, well, they shouldn’t be corrupted into thinking their participation is a job, even though other students toil away on campus, doing jobs that need doing and they get paid. And the difference is?

Hey, if the program can’t afford it, then it can’t afford it, but for the major college programs which can, well this is the big scandal. If those kids, often Black kids from very poor families, got paid a small fraction of what they made for their schools, then there would be no incentive to take payola from shoe companies and shady sports agencies.

They work. They make money for their employer (virtually the definition of economic work) and they are woefully underpaid. Pay them.


September 28, 2017

I Have Been Trying to Tell You These People are Dangerous

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:17 am
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I just happened to run across a couple of notes that would not have even pinged my consciousness when I was younger, but I find these things now shocking. One was an ad for a new book: Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe Is Coming Apart by Kathy Escobar. Here’s the blurb for this book:

Hope for spiritual refugees, church burnouts, and freedom seekers.
After years of participating in a comfortable faith tradition, many find themselves in a spiritual wilderness, feeling disillusioned with church, longing for more freedom and less religion in their lives. If that describes you, you’re in good company. Countless men and women are in the middle of a shifting faith—and aren’t sure where to turn.
But losing beliefs doesn’t mean you have to lose your faith. Pastor, friend, and spiritual director Kathy Escobar has journeyed with many who have experienced significant shifts in the faith they once considered unchangeable. Through their stories and her own, Kathy has discovered that growth and change are natural parts of life in our relationship with God.

Okay, I admit to being gob smacked. This is a guide for people who had faith, presumably religious faith, and they lost it. (Note: I have not read the book, nor will I.) This guide is to show them how to fill that hole, apparently. This is stunning! What it is saying is that people believed things without proof or even good evidence and they have subsequently found that what they believed just wasn’t true and they are thinking “Now what am I gonna do?” WTF? If you have cancer and it gets cured, do you wonder what can replace it? I mean, it was a major focus in your life, it consumed your waking moments and caused you to lose sleep. What can possibly replace it? How about “nothing?”

This is stunning! Now, I am not saying that if a friend betrays you, you should eschew friends for the rest of your life, but friends are real. If you have an imaginary friend, however, and lose belief in that friend, are you really going to go to work to imagine up another one?

There seems to be an addictive nature to faith that I didn’t see before. And, since the original faith is irrational, filling it with something else has a very low bar to qualify to replace it. These people need help and it isn’t “spiritual guidance.”

In an unrelated “news” article, … uh, … oh, let me just spill it out:
Anthony Levandowski, the former head of Uber’s self-driving program, has established a nonprofit religious corporation called Way of the Future, according to state filings first uncovered by Wired’s Backchannel. Way of the Future’s startling mission: “To develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on artificial intelligence and through understanding and worship of the Godhead contribute to the betterment of society.

It looks as if Voltaire was right (“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”). Theists are so addicted to the idea of having a God that they cannot accept “He” doesn’t exist but seem to be willing to create one in the absence of a real one.

And, I am sure, that if they do pull this off they will claim that “one cannot know the mind of the new god” and “the new god works in mysterious ways” even though they created the thing.

These people are dangerous. The mechanisms by which they believe things that cannot be substantiated leave them open to manipulation. Their need for a focus for this “faith” is pathological and needs some sort of treatment. Unfortunately, the current state of our society is that this disease is “normal” in which being a “man of strong faith” is considered a positive attribute, rather than a description of having a persistent delusion.

Would you accept a deus ex machina programmed by a megalomaniac? Will you have a choice?

September 27, 2017

Just Sayin’

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment — Steve Ruis @ 1:44 pm
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I finished watching the movie Wonder Woman last night and realized I really, really enjoy movies in which women kick serious ass. I have enjoyed recently Scarlett Johansson in “Ghost in the Shell” and “Lucy” and also “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” and so on.

But I also notice that none of the lead actors (I am old enough to have typed “actresses” first) is less than stunningly beautiful, none has bulging muscles, or bad teeth, or looks like the Incredible Hulk. At least in the kung fu movies the women sweat, but in many of the others you don’t see a drop of perspiration. Of course, the skills deployed are based upon drug reactions (Lucy), god-granted powers (Wonder Women), and android bodies (Ghost in the Shell), the Force (Star Wars) because of course women are weak and couldn’t possibly accomplish anything without augmentation.

There are exceptions (“Lara Craft, Tomb Raider,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” etc.) but mostly women need to be augmented to star in an action-adventure movie. This happens in male-led movies, too (Superman, Spiderman, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, etc.) so maybe I am just being sensitive. But this is another reason I greatly like the kung-fu movies as the skills exhibited are earned rather than granted.

I guess I should just sit back and enjoy gifted women kicking villainous male asses. Keep ‘em coming Hollywood.



Failing to Ax Your Health Insurance the GOP Turns Its Gaze Onto Tax Cuts … for the Wealthy

Not only do they want to cut the individual rates for rich people, they want to cut corporate taxes that will result in those corporations funneling the tax savings to their executives and shareholders, yep, the rich again.

This is must reading! http://reclaimtheamericandream.org/2017/09/inside-tax-cut-job-growth-myth/

They will claim this will create jobs … all evidence to the contrary including according a Republican Congressional study in 2012.

September 26, 2017

Will Someone Please Explain “Punching Down” to Donald Trump

There is an axiom in politics that one should never be “punching down” to an opponent. To punch down, you engage an opponent who is not at your level and by engaging him/her, you raise him/her up to your level for at least a small amount of time.

If you have any memory of the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq and the subsequent ass-kicking to Saddam Hussein of Iraq as a consequence, and if you were paying attention, after Iraq’s forces got shot to Hell and driven back into Iraq, Saddam drew a lot of praise for going “toe to toe” with the Great Satan, aka US. We were punching down by taking on an enemy in no way our equal. We actually raised his standing in many Islamic communities when he was showing disreputable behavior … to Kuwaites!

Punching down is ill-advised in politics and really in international relations, too because it elevates weaker candidates to where they can gain strength and become serious players. This is why every leader of every tiny nation wants to get a photo of himself/herself with the President of the United States (at least BDT—Before Donald Trump). It says “Here I am on an equal footing with the POTUS.” Of course, it is not true, but it is nice window dressing. This is the same reason pretentious people line their walls with photos of themselves with celebrities. They all say “Look at how many great people are on an equal footing with me.”

So, Donald Trump has being punching down like a maniac at North Korea. North Korea has been doing everything in its leaders’ power to get noticed by the rest of the world. The rest of the world wants North Korea to behave like a sane county, so it has been withholding its attention from (and actually applying negative sanctions to) North Korea which is acting like a spoiled teenager who wants affirmation for its bizarre lifestyle.

Donald Trump is giving North Korea what it wants. Donald Trump is getting … what?

Punching down is something only bullies do … oh … that explains a lot.

You Can’t Create Something from Nothing?

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:27 am
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It is a common trope of Christian apologists to bring up the Big Bang cosmological theory and either endorse it as the act of God’s creation of the universe or condemn it because “you cannot create something from nothing.” The fact that these two approaches are completely contradictory doesn’t cost these apologists even one minute of sleep, of course; they are not looking for consistency or correctness, they are looking for a “killer argument.”

Setting aside everything but the claim that “you cannot get something from nothing” point, let’s look at this. Apologists often make this claim, which is not only unsupported but possibly unsupportable, and then claim that the only alternative to this merely physical description of the beginning of our universe is that their god created the universe … from nothing … by magic. Honestly, they say this with a straight face. At its heart, they are claiming you cannot make something from nothing … except by magic. And, of course, “magic” is not defined or demonstrated or … anything.

So, what about this premise: you can’t create something from nothing. When they do argue this, they say that everything that “begins to exist” (also not defined) has a cause and a cause must be pre-existing which contradicts the “nothing” aspect. So, they claim, their god is the First Cause (concept and name borrowed from the Greeks), the Prime Mover (concept and name borrowed from Aristotle, a Greek), the Totally Awesome: Yahweh.

Okay, theists, take a deep breath. Consider what “nothing” represents. Presumably, applied to this discussion nothing means no time, no space, no laws of physics, no things. Of course “things” are material objects, but it appears that in this case there would also be no energy or other non-material manifestations of our current universe.

“I wonder, have the apologists ever won an argument? Ever?
Apparently they can’t create something from nothing.”

If this was the case just before the Big Bang, what could prevent anything from happening? What, no cause? Hello? There is no relationship between cause and effect. There are no physical laws, no chemistry, no physics, no thing. Under these circumstances, there are no limitations at all on what could happen.

For example, allow me a flight of imagination. In a state of “no thing” an immense explosion occurs, creating two universes: one created from matter and energy and the other of anti-matter and anti-energy. (Imagine two balloons connected at their mouths, suddenly inflating. Each is ignorant of the existence of the other. Each seems to have been inflated from nothing.) Initially there is some mixing between the two, but since the two forms of matter and the two forms of energy annihilate each other, soon, the two universes are both quite “pure” and  stable. (This solves the mystery, by the way, of why there is so little anti-matter in our universe, when the physical laws now operating say that equal amounts should have been created “in the beginning.”) The net mass of the two universes: zero. The net energy of the two universes: zero. The laws covering whether this could occur “from nothing”: zero.

A state of nothingness is completely unlimited as to what could happen, so something could come from nothing, easy peasey.

I wonder, have the apologists ever won an argument? Ever? Apparently they can’t create something from nothing. I wonder what that says about their message.

Lying for Jesus, Part … Oh, For Pity’s Sake

I was wondering the other day how it is that the human population of the Earth could have reached its current level, ca. 7,600,000,000, from just the six survivors of the Bible’s Great Flood. Unsurprisingly, it was oh, so easy to find apologetic rationales of how that could have happened. By using quite reasonable numbers for estimates any number of sources can tell you that this is no problemo, bebé! But reasonable sounding numbers, picked out of a hat, aren’t necessarily accurate numbers.

So, I looked up a number of scientific population estimates for the population of the world in 2348 BCE, the presumed date of the Great Flood. The average estimate was 66,3001,302. This was based upon four careful calculations with the most liberal estimate being 90,205,000 and the most conservative being 21,512,000, with two others in between those extremes. These varied a great deal due to the unknowns involved. So, if one estimates global population by back tracking from historical records one ends up with about 60,000,000 people … not 6.

The title of this post includes the word lying, partly because there is a book using that phrase, but this is, at a bare minimum, a case of willful delusion. When I research a topic, if the numbers don’t support my premise, I generally shrug and move on. Sometimes I am motivated to dig deeper, but if I come up empty, I keep my mouth shut. This is not the case for Christian apologists. Often, if the numbers don’t add up, they look for numbers that do, and if those numbers sound reasonable, they use them to “make their point,” their real point being the presumption that the Bible is right, everybody else is wrong.

This pattern, well established for centuries now, is focused upon reinforcing the belief of the gullible, not on convincing unbelievers. And, it is manipulative, dishonest, and unbecoming of someone who promotes him- or herself as being morally superior. So, why do they do it?

My best guess is this is an intensely human activity. We all, from time to time, have the attitude of “What do those experts know? They are just a bunch of nerds.” or the equivalent. We disparage the messenger because we do not like the message. In politics, calling a politician a liar because we do not like what they say is acceptable, because all politicians are liars (it is part of the official job description: “Must be able to lie convincingly”). We just do not know whether they are liar on this particular point. But to claim that scientists who have studied a topic extensively are mistaken, because you have a back-of-an-envelope calculation that says so is violently hubristic.

We atheists are called militant because we dare to speak directly to theistic perfidy. It is time we refer to all apologists as “militant apologists” as they are conducting a campaign in which anything you do to “the enemy” is okay by their supporters. (This is war!).

September 25, 2017

Wait, The Flag? How Did the Effing Flag Get Involved?

The statesman unlike rantings of our President drew a reasonable response from NFL football players and coaches and owners yesterday. But as I viewed a smattering of comments on the actions


taken and words spoken yesterday and today I am greatly puzzled. Commenters are claiming that the American flag, and hence our country, was disrespected.

My first response was: so? Are conservatives getting like the pussy college students and need trigger warnings? **Warning! A mild action of disrespect will occur shortly, you might want to move your children away from the TV set. Warning!**

But upon reflection, how the heck did the flag get involved? The flag is hanging there for the whole damned game. The athletes are only kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, not while the flag is flying. They are not disrespecting the flag, they are disrespecting the anthem.

They are kneeling in protest of the way Black people are treated in this country. If you feel the protest is unwarranted, explain how it is that Black people are treated the same as all other citizens. Explain how they never get tickets for driving when Black or how they never get shot by police for brandishing a toy gun in a toy store while talking to their wives on their cellphones. Explain how Black men in particular are treated just like everyone else.

It is for these reasons that the U.S. does not deserve respect, plain and simple, certainly not from proud Black men.

“Why are we playing the national anthem at every damned sporting event in the U.S?”

And why are we playing the national anthem at every damned sporting event in the U.S? These are not usually international affairs in which the audience needs to be reminded of what country the contest is taking place it. These are not patriotic events. What is the purpose of playing the damned anthem … a song … at every sporting event … other than pandering to the conservative owners and fan base? Why do we repeat the Pledge of Allegiance at almost every public meeting, even of private clubs? Did the pledge wear off? Does it need to be renewed? Did we forget where our allegiance has been sworn? I refuse to repeat that pledge because when I make a pledge, I will tell you when I have changed my mind. You will not have to guess and I will not forget.

My advice to those outraged at a little disrespect, maybe try providing fewer opportunities. If you put your balls on an anvil and pass out hammers, you shouldn’t be surprised that somebody decides to hammer away.

The Problem with Averages in Education

A recent article on state and local government funding says: “With a GDP of $19 trillion, America is the richest country in the world. However, the IMD World Competitiveness Center recently ranked our education system as 24th out of 61 countries, and the American Society of Civil Engineers recently rated our infrastructure – the roads, bridges, and water systems that were once the envy of the world—as a D+.

Leaving aside the infrastructure issue, let’s look at the education issue. If one uses “business thinking,” and likens the education complex of this country to a factory, clearly that factory needs an overhaul. It is not functioning as we would wish. This is what the current crop of self-proclaimed education reformers claim: “Our public education system is broken, we need to reform it!”

But this is an incorrect analogy. The education system isn’t a single factory, it is a conglomerate of factories. Some of these factories are at the very highest level of performance seen in the world. So, the problem is not one of “we don’t know how to do this task,” we know how to do public education, we are just not doing it consistently and the low performers are “dragging the average down.” This can be seen in the simple expedient of breaking out scores on international tests by state. Massachusetts regular scores at the very top of the list when compared to the highest scoring countries. If our schools are “broken,” how come Massachusetts can perform so well?

So, the question to start with isn’t “how should we remake all of our schools?” but “why are some of our schools way below average and some way above average?” Having schools be “above average” and “below average” would be normal, but our problem is the spread in performances is much too broad.

In business practices, it is commonplace to study the underperformers and figure out how to make their performance greater, thus raising the average performance. Often leaders of higher performing units are tasked with raising the performance of lower performing units, for example.

Interestingly, these studies have been done and the roots of low performance have been found. In a number of experiments, students have been taken out of low performing schools and placed in higher performing schools and their performance went up. (In some cases, there was so much culture shock associated with the switch that the effect was delayed.) From this, some conclude that the problem is with the teachers. This conclusion would be wrong. A careful analysis of student performances shows that teachers account for about 14% of performance. This conclusion runs counter to the personal experience of most of us who went through public schools. There were certain teachers we felt inspired us and we liked them. But this didn’t mean we performed better in their class as compared to having another teacher, or that if we did perform better that the performance improvement was large.

Bigger than the effect of the teachers was the student’s home environment. If the student came from poverty and had an unstable home environment, there was a large negative correlation with school performance. Student’s who show up at school hungry, learn poorly. We have even learned that childhood hunger can lead to a lowered ability to learn in toto.

To explore these effects, experiments could be done to try to ameliorate these effects. Schools could provide breakfast and lunch to hungry students to see if there was an effect. This, too, has been done. While this doesn’t solve an unstable home environment, it does affect school performance in that children not thinking about food constantly do learn better.

If we want to address our problems in public education, we need to address the real problems, because addressing fictional problems rarely leads to effective solutions. Currently, with billionaires funding the research and privatization monies being lavished upon law makers, this is exactly the opposite of what needs to be done. In business terms, we are letting our competitors and know nothings manipulate our actions and that is something no business wants to have happen.

We have taken a bludgeoning approach to education reform, my whole life. I wonder when we are going to take it seriously? We have the research. We have the case studies. We know what works. Heck, high performing public schools systems in Europe are using our research to shape their systems! Why are we mired in mediocrity politically? I suspect that it is because we are getting the best government we deserve. If we can’t stand up to the monied interests attacking our schools, including the ones that work extraordinarily well, we are getting just what we deserve. And the children caught in the cross fire? Collateral damage.

September 24, 2017

God Is Even More Backward Than We Believed

Filed under: Culture,History — Steve Ruis @ 12:13 pm
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The standard “story” of mankind is that we existed as a number of different species for quite some time (we are the only one left) and the bulk our existence was as “hunter-gatherers.” The discovery of the ability to control fire led to more accessible calories and therefore the ability to support bigger brains (animal pieces and vegetables contain a great many toxins that are denatured by heating them). We soon invented agriculture and with grain that could be dried and stored we were able to build up our populations so that cities became possible and we were off and running. (This turns out to be not quite true; read the book “Against the Grain.”) This “narrative” continues today as we are told that we would be all better off if we ate more grains and vegetables and less meat.

Christianity, though, is based upon a god pointing in the exact opposite direction. Consider the story of Cain and Able: sent out into the world, Adam and Eve give birth to two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain, a farmer, offers God a portion of his crops one day as a sacrifice, only to learn that God is more pleased when Abel, a herdsman, presents God with the fattest portion of his flocks. Enraged, Cain kills his brother. (Why he was mad at Abel instead of god is a bit perplexing; he should have killed god and saved us all a lot of trouble.) So, from the get-go, Yahweh favors animal harvests over vegetative.

Yahweh goes on to demand millions upon millions of animal sacrifices, actual burning of animal bodies, because he likes the sweet aroma that drifts up to Him. (Who don’t like barbecue?)

Then Yahweh, disguises himself as a human being and arranges for this human to be sacrificed as a sacrificial goat (a scapegoat) to absolve humans of their original sin. More animal sacrifice, more blood magic … it never stops.

So, the Christian god (Yahweh and Jesus are one) favors harvesting animals over harvesting grains and vegetables … consistently … and according to the “word of god.”

I guess it is good to know that when I want to go out and have a steak for dinner, I have scriptural support. Eat that Vegans!

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