Uncommon Sense

November 28, 2017

Why Republicans are Republicans and Democrats are Democrats

When this country was created “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” it was created by a fairly elite group of men. They made sure that a stable society and government was provided for by making sure that Indians, slaves, and women did not get to vote, nor did poorish men. You needed land to qualify to vote, meaning you had to be an elite or near-elite member of society to cast a ballot.

The Founders felt that the very best people to run the government were people just like themselves: well-educated, wealthy men who had the leisure time to reflect on the issues of the day and didn’t have to devote every waking moment to find food and shelter.

They were worried about the affect of wealth on their new government, so this reinforced their suitability for leadership as they were already wealthy and would, therefore be hard to bribe. (Ha! Just raises the price in my estimation.) They were concerned that the “middling” sorts (merchants, tradesmen,, craftsmen, etc.) would get involved and that they could be bought. (They would be proud to know that Congress is literally stuffed with millionaires now!)

In other words they were elitists. They created a government “of the elites, by the elites, and for the elites,” no question.

Those of a conservative bent ended up forming political parties (the Whigs, the Republicans, etc.) that wanted to preserve society’s institutions and hence ensure a stable, secure society. They, like the Founders, thought that this would be achieved by the wealthy being wealthy and the poor being poor, and as long as everyone accepted his lot in life, all would be well. Since the poor were poor and had very few needs, they focused on serving the wealthy as their needs were so much greater. The wealthy needed a court of law and a set of laws to govern their business contracts. They needed trade laws and other laws of commerce. They needed government regulations of banks and markets. The poor made no such demands.

The Democrats had to necessarily differentiate themselves from these conservatives, so they had to adopt stances less favorable to the elites and more egalitarian, just to be different enough to attract votes.

Now I know that this is much more complicated, that there are and were cliques, and factors, and movements, oh my! But at the core, this is what the two major parties in this country stand for. (Or stood for, before the Democrats began selling out to wealthy interests.) If you look at any issue now, you can parse it for these stances. Take the current “Net Neutrality” issue. Current the Internet is quite egalitarian, on a first-come, first-serve basis. There is a movement afoot, to drop this policy so that certain streams of information can be favored while others disfavored. (Guess who gets to choose!). The people behind this are the wealthy leaders of the giant telecom industries. The people against are net rights activists, aka the Internet masses.

So, now that I have given you this information, which party is against net neutrality, in your opinion? If you guessed the GOP, you got it in one! Another way to look at this is, if the GOP is for it, it serves to maintain the elite in their current, or even elevated, status. The elites are the business owners, not its workers.

The founders believed in providence, that is if they were wealthy it was because they were superior to the others and the cause was divine providence. (God controls all things and wouldn’t make an asshole wealthy, now would he?) Today’s elites still have this belief: their wealth identifies them superior (even when they inherit it!) and if they are superior, who better to run things?

The secular and religious elites promote only programs/legislation that enhances their status and positions as elites. They are able to con ordinary folks into voting with them by advancing dishonest campaigns (They want to take away your guns! They are baby murderers! There is a war on Christmas!).

Consider the current administration’s “tax reform” plan. They started out saying they were going to simplify the tax structure and then offered a plan that made it more complex and, by all accounts, advantages the wealthy. (If the GOP is for it … duh.) Plus, they are willing to lie and cheat to get the bill passed, which the elites have always been willing to do, because, well, they know better what is needed.

So, pick any particular issue you want: if the GOP is in favor, then it favors the elites; if the Democrats are in favor, it disfavors the elites. It is that simple because the core motivations are that simple. This is changing as I write this as more and more Democrats are captured by the wealthy class to serve their interests. If the elites capture the Dems, then we might as well carve “of the elites, by the elites, and for the elites” in stone in the capital and have done with it.


Proving the World is Flat

Filed under: Education,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:54 am
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It is somehow a newsworthy item that a gentleman wants to launch himself into the upper atmosphere to prove the Earth is flat. Why this is newsworthy is beyond me. There are crazy people everywhere.

If you are a person who believes the world is flat (it looks flat, doesn’t it), there are a number of simple things you can do in lieu of shooting oneself into the upper atmosphere. Here are a few.

  1. At 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon, telephone someone half way around the world. They will be mightily pissed to you for waking them up, it being deep into the night where they are (2 or 3 o’clock in the morning)! If the Earth were flat, the sun would rise and set at the same time (roughly, ignoring refraction effects) everywhere.
  2. Go outside at night and observe the Southern Cross in the “heavens.” Unless you live in the Southern hemisphere (below the equator) the Southern Cross is a constellation that cannot be seen. This is because “straight” up points in quite different directions around the globe.
  3. Try to sell winter clothing right now in Australia. The Australians will ignore you because it is late spring there right now and summer is coming. If the Earth were flat it would be the same season everywhere simultaneously.
  4. Set a camera up to take a photo in the direction of the sun once a week at the same time. Overlay the results and what you will get is shown in the photo (the white stripes are made by leaving the lens open for a time and showing the path of the Sun in the Sky on three occasions, the angle is an indicator of your latitude on the globe). If the Sun were orbiting a flat earth, you would not get this pattern. The pattern you would get depends on whether the flat disk Earth is rotating but you wouldn’t get this pattern. This pattern stems from the fact that the Earth’s rotational axis tilts 23.5 degrees relative the plane it revolves around the sun. As the Earth nods to the Sun then away, the angle the Sun appears in the sky changes.
  5. Go to an observatory and ask to be shown the planets. All of them, including the Sun, rotate on an axis. (Galileo used one of the first telescopes to show the moons of Jupiter actually move around Jupiter.) You might want to ask why it is that Earth is the only one that does not, but don’t ask the astronomers as they will have trouble recovering from laughing their asses off.

You do not need a rocket to show the Earth is flat or round, you just need the ability to communicate. The Greeks did this about 2300 years ago. They measured the shadows of a stick stuck straight into the ground at quite different locations and found that the stick cast a different length shadow at roughly the same time (being determined when the sun is highest in the sky, aka local “noon”). If the Earth were flat, the shadow would be the same length at the same time everywhere. The Greeks used the differences in the lengths of the shadow to calculate the size of the Earth and came quite close to the modern value.

Maybe this doesn’t appeal to people who believe the Earth is flat because, well: math. It is hard and makes them tremble with fear. The other thing that seems to be the case of these people is that they cannot get up off of their fat assess and research the proofs. It only requires an Internet search … and some thought.

November 25, 2017

More Proof They Are Just Making This Stuff Up

Filed under: Culture,History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:06 pm
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Have you ever heard of the Holy Grail? If you haven’t I suggest you get out more. My question is: is it real? Does it have a real connection to the Jesus story?

This is a bit of a tease because nobody knows what it “is” because the first known mention of a Grail (“un graal”) was made in a narrative spun by a 12th century writer of French romance, Chrétien de Troyes, that’s right a fiction writer.

I did a Google Books search and according to them there are 363 books on the topic of the Holy Grail currently for sale (just in English).

So, books, movies, serious scholarly articles … and all of it based upon a piece of fiction writing that caught people’s imaginations.

So, when people claim that the whole Jesus phenomenon was an attempt at myth making and that Jesus wasn’t a real person (although likely to have components of real people woven in), please do not argue that such a thing could not be made up.

The Holy Grail myth did not have the power of a church behind it pushing with all it has. They were willing, to suck off a little publicity, but they didn’t start the thing.

Addendum Okay, you can’t make this stuff up. After I wrote this post (on the same day) I saw an announcement for a new TV series with the topic … the search for the Holy Grail.

November 24, 2017

Students as Slaves (to Debt)

I have been writing a great deal about coerced labor recently. Here is a new manifestation of it. In a “reform” of the bankruptcy laws (ca 2005, I think), it became all but impossible for students to discharge their student loans in a bankruptcy. The argument was that way too may students, especially those with lucrative incomes in their futures (doctors, lawyers, etc.), were discharging their debts through bankruptcy while they were still destitute, before their careers took off.

Well, a the Philadelphia Fed decided that claim was worth a look and so they did. Here is what they found:

Philadelphia Fed Study Debunks Main Argument for Student Debt Slavery

Basically no such pattern of such behavior can be found. So, why should such a bullshit argument be advanced in the first place?

Hello? The entire purpose of this legislation was to enslave students. Remember back in the 1970’s when students were marching in the streets against the War in Vietnam. Students! Showing no respect for their elders. And, besides they were just liberal voters in waiting. By making student loans almost impossible to discharge in bankruptcy, a sizable number of students were taught the lesson to “sit down, shut up, and do as you were told.” The elites know how to run the country better than you do, including lying and cheating to achieve their ends.

You may have also noticed absolutely no hue and cry regarding how colleges have gotten so very much more expensive coming from conservatives. Being a conservative means you do not want the riffraff elevated, disturbing the natural order of things. They need to learn their place in a stable society. The larger the student debt, the longer the period of debt slavery.

Must reading on the Naked Capitalism site: Capitalism: Not With a Bang But With a (Prolonged) Whimper

If you want to see what we are in for, read this article. I just ordered the book mentioned.

Harari Infuriates Again

I am working my way through “Sapiens” by Yuval Harari and I apologize for posting about it over many moons, but when I read something profound (or profoundly upsetting) I set aside the book for a bit to let the ideas percolate and see what gestates from that. (We do not create our thoughts, although we do give words to them to be able to communicate them.)

I have mentioned before what I perceived as perversity in Mr. Yuval’s book. This is another example.

He was pointing out that no one has natural rights, which is why we claim they come from some god or other. He quotes Voltaire (“There is no God, but do not tell my servant lest he murder me at night.”) and others as to the role religion plays in controlling the masses. He goes on to quote Talleyrand on why physical coercion alone won’t be enough to control people (“You can do many things with bayonets, but it is rather uncomfortable to sit on them.” and “A single priest does the work of a hundred soldiers, far more cheaply and effectively.”) and that religion is as or more useful than physical threat. Yuval concludes that some beliefs/memes, etc. are needed to keep people functioning as soldiers, e.g. honor, country, manhood, God (On our side!), motherhood, etc. and by extension as participating members of a stable society.

But then he goes on to consider the people at the top of the pyramid, the elites. He asks: “Why should they wish to enforce an imagined order if they themselves do not believe in it?” Okay, now we are cooking! He continues in the next sentence: “It is quite common to argue that the elite may do so out of cynical greed.”

Bingo … but …

Yuval then continues to dismiss this statement implicitly by perversely arguing that it could not be “cynical” because the Cynic philosophers had no ambition, and the elites do. This has to be willful obtuseness on the author’s part. Any dictionary would have told him that when ordinary people use the word cynical they are referring to it being “contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives,” not some harkening to the Greek philosophical school of the Cynics. He then goes on to conclude that the elites have to have their beliefs, too.


The key word in “cynical greed” is greed, not cynical. And he sloughs off the greed aspect because, well, what? Getting too close to criticizing the elites can be dangerous? He just leaves it hanging.

Of course, the elites have their beliefs and memes. This is how they communicate without having a Central Committee somewhere issuing orders. The elites believe: that because they are wealthy (or pious) they are special; they are better than the hoi polloi because they show mastery over their environment (through their wealth and power it gives them); because they are better, who better to determine the course of society, to lead. Their wealth is a manifestation of their innate abilities in all things, even if they inherited their wealth. Obviously, the elites have their beliefs and memes.

But beliefs and memes aren’t motives. Greed is a motive. It needs no beliefs or memes to support it. Why do you think it is that religions condemn greed? Because this is what the elites want the masses to believe. First, they do not want competition. If religions preached “Greed is Good!” (The Church of Gordon Gecko?), more people would practice it and the ranks of the elites would swell and there would be less wealth in a share. Second, the elites do not believe greed is bad and they want the masses to think that if the elites appear to be greedy, that they will be punished … by the god(s). As long as the masses take no action upon themselves, the elites are good with that. Accepting divine punishment is perfectly fine if you don’t believe in divines.

The correct follow-up to “It is quite common to argue that the elite may do so out of cynical greed” is “This is indeed the simplest answer … but the elites need a way to communicate with others in their class, so beliefs and memes are shared as a form of signaling.”


November 23, 2017

We Are All Together Now

Fundamentalist Christians are sticking to their Adam and Even narrative and now seem to be crowing about the discovery of a male counterpart of mitochondrial Eve. This male ancestor of us all has been dubbed Y-chromosomal Adam. Catchy monikers those scientists come up with.

There is, of course, no evidence these two ancestors ever met and every indication that there were probably tens of thousands of other Homo sapiens alive at the times they existed, but the church people will have their crow, because Jesus.

I can’t help but note that both of these ancestors of ours existed in Africa, were Africans, and likely had very dark skins (an adaption to sunny climates).

I can’t wait for the first Southern Baptist preacher who gets up in front of his congregation on a Sunday morning, and proclaims that science has confirmed the Adam and Eve story as they all knew it would and that Adam and Eve lived in Africa. He finishes with: “Well, we all nigras now.”

Just for giggles, it seems that all Europeans or people of European ancestry have DNA that is largely two thirds African and one third Asian. I wonder how my hypothetical pastor might phrase that conclusion for his “flock.”

November 22, 2017

The Estate Tax: Who Needs It?

Our president’s tax proposal proposes to do away with the “Estate Tax,” known in the GOP as “The Death Tax.” Let me explain how it works:

Do you and your spouse have an estate worth $11,000,000? If so, if both of you were to die, then the estate tax would kick in. Do you know how much you would pay? A lot, right? No, it is $0.00. The eleven million is basically a deduction (actually it is currently 10.98 million dollars, but I rounded off because I know how little you like math).

So, who does the estate tax applied to?

The rich?

(You got it in one try. I am so proud of you!)

In other words I am guessing, just guessing now, that it doesn’t apply to you.

So why do we need such a tax?

I will tell you.

The Founding Fathers were very concerned about the power of wealth. They were worried that congressional representatives would be susceptible to bribery. They almost universally detested political parties because they created a win-lose dialog that encouraged people to win at all costs and have loyalty to their party rather than to the country as a whole. (Smart, weren’t they.)

The estate tax is to discourage great wealth being passed from generation to generation. But hey, the wealthy earned that money, right? True, but the kids inheriting it did not. And the State (meaning “us”) have an interest in avoiding  huge fortunes being amassed.

Consider the Walton family. Sam Walton created the Wal-Mart chain and when he died, he left $100,000,000,000 to his heirs. Today, his half a dozen or so kids and grand kids have fortunes ranging from just under $7 billion to just under $40 billion. It is pretty clear that Sam Walton made most of that money and the kids are living off of interest (primarily as owners of a 50+% share of all Wal-Mart stock).

Just so you will know, if you wanted to spend a billion dollars in a calendar year, you would have to spend $532,000 per hour for every working hour of every working day to pull that off. It is a great deal of money.

Had the estate tax of 40% have kicked in (it didn’t; Sam had lawyers—”Only morons pay estate tax,” at least according a WH official, something that needs attention under the heading a Tax Evasion), his heirs would have “only” received $60 billion rather than the full $100 billion. Would they have suffered? I hardly think so. And $40 billion dollars could fund the CHIP program or something equally worthy.

Need I remind you that being a billionaire involves having at least a thousand million dollars; you would be a millionaire one thousand time over? Oh, the Walton clan made $8.7 billion in 2016 off of their stock, that wasn’t have been taxed away as estate tax. So, I think one can say old Sam provided for his family.

So, what have the Walton heirs done with their money?

Well, they oppose a minimum wage increase. Can’t be having all of those Wal-Mart employees getting paid a living wage. Where would all of the money to pay them come from?

They have a track record of charitable giving, but not exactly in proportion to their income.

They are interested in education reform. Guess how? Too late—charters, charters, charters, vouchers, kill the teachers’ unions.

In a country in which money is power—in math terms that’s MONEY ≡ POWER, where means ≡ “is identical to”—it is dangerous to allow individuals to accumulate too much power over the rest of us.

If the rich complain that the government will just waste the money, we can apply those taxes directly to the military budget … if they want.


PS This is why I do not shop at Wal-mart. Wal-mart is a major oppressor of its employees, refusing a pay a small part of what they earn to the people who earn it for them. They would rather counsel them on government programs for the “needy” for which they qualify. Assholes.

Do You Long for “The Holy”?

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 1:01 pm
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I see book titles I find intriguing although not necessarily intriguing enough to purchase the book. One such book recently is “The Holy Longing” by Ronald Rolheiser. The subtitle was “The Search for a Christian Spirituality.” The short blurb for the book was: “This is an engaging guide for those seeking to rediscover their Christian spirituality and how to apply it to their daily lives.”

My guess is this book is for people who have given up, or are giving up, on traditional Christianity but are missing something. I also suspect that the longing isn’t for the holy.

Many atheists are criticized for their attacks on religion (mea culpa) with the question “What are you going to replace it with?” Some of these people are busy creating secular churches, whatever the Hell those are. Others are in the “religion keeps the masses under control, we are all doomed if you kill religion” camp. My suggestion to them is maybe you should have treated us better.

What I want to address is the “missing something” that people say indicates a need for spirituality, whatever that means to them.

My thoughts ran to a friend who had been brought up in a somewhat strict Protestant church community and who decided to go take in a Catholic service. Boy, she was pissed! The Catholics had better architecture, better costumes, better music, more comfortable pews, everything was better! (I didn’t point out the fact that they had padded kneelers indicated that they didn’t care if you experienced any discomfort, as long as you submitted. The Protestants wanted you to feel the discomfort of your miserable sinful life; that’s why there were no cushions on the benches.)

Many people, raised in a church environment that they have since eschewed would remember the commonality of such services: the joint singing, calls and responses, church socials, the appeals to help the poor around the holidays, etc. I understand missing those things, but they aren’t spirituality.

In my sophomore year in high school, I missed the first six weeks of the school year because I was in hospital with a kidney problem. When I went home, I missed the nurses, the orderlies, and some of my ward mates. They all treated me with kindness and respect.

My point is nostalgia for times that one gets healing, love, and respect and not spiritual longings.

I would like to interview some of these people and ask them what they were feeling that they lost. I suspect many would comment on community, a place of belonging, a place with glorious music (got to sing in the choir, etc.), and myriad other things. I suspect that very few would be longing for a spiritual being that controlled their lives. I can’t imagine they got much direct solace, or advice, or even encouragement directly from their deity. I suspect that all of that came from well wishing members of their community.

I understand missing that.

When I hanged up my sneakers, that is when my college basketball days were over, and I was fully engaged in adult pursuits, I missed the “being part of a team” for decades.

I understand missing being part of a community.

I wonder whether some deliberately confuse these common yearnings and longings for things that fit their agenda better and, well, sell books, too.

How the Media Keep Failing Us

The Nation published an article under the miswritten title: How the State Can Make Inequality Worse by Steven Teles and Brink Lindsey. The subhead was “From zoning and licensing boards to bank bailouts, the state has often been captured by corporations and the wealthy.”

I have not read the article. (I used to subscribe but I had to trim back such expenditures.) But I am writing about the piece’s title and the mistaken impression it gives.

For one, why “can”? Why not “does.” There are myriad examples that show that the rules of our government, “the state,” have been manipulated to benefit the elites and disadvantage ordinary citizens. Can implies possibility, does implies certainty.

For another, the use of the term “the State” makes it sound as if some collective institution is responsible for the activities described. This is in the same vein as when conservatives use the word “government” as if it were some alien system imposed from outer space, instead of a stand-in for “us.”

Allow me to re-write their title to make it more clear as to what is going on. How about?

“How Corporations and the Wealthy use the State to Make Inequality Worse”
“From zoning and licensing boards to bank bailouts,
the state has often been captured by corporations and the wealthy.”

That seems to be much closer to the truth. And you can use the same subhead.

The media seem to be oh, so polite when addressing the elites. If this keeps up, soon it will be mandatory. Speaking against the elites will be made a crime. (It has been done before and is currently in use in religious hierarchies).

I hate to bash The Nation as it seems to be one of the few newspapers dedicated to publishing the truth, but if such obfuscatory journalism establishes a beach head there, we are probably all doomed to being citizens of an oligarchy.




November 21, 2017

Interpreting History

I am reading Sapiens by Yuval Harari which is beautifully written and infuriating as well. A book written on the entire history of humanity (Homo sapiens any way) has to cover myriad topics so some mistakes will be made and I tend to overlook these. But recently Mr. Harari decided to translate a statement from the Declaration of Independence into “science.” So, here are the text:
We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
and his scientifically sound “translation:”
We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men evolved differently, that they are born with certain mutable characteristics, and that among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Mr. Harari applies evolutionary biology … that had not been invented at the writing of the Declaration and a bunch of other nonsense in doing this, to no good end.

The purpose of the original statement is to run counter to all previous governments on the entire planet. People everywhere were born into classes or castes that they were doomed to be confined in (even slavery). The Code of Hammurabi, the first written legal code, includes penalties for transgressions based upon the various classes which were thought to be absolutely necessary of the stability of their society. They did not have the right to pursue their own life, their own happiness, their own liberty. The declaration is a claim for such a right for all citizens of the United States.

As to “all men are created equal,” the biological analysis focussing on individual gifts is just plain stupid. My “analysis” of this is a simple claim that we are all born completely dependent upon others for our survival. A newborn cannot defend itself, feed itself, clothe itself, or clean itself. We are all equal in this. Every man Jack.

Mr. Harari goes on to argue that we are not created, but have evolved. I beg to differ. We are all created through the actions of our parents. Different actions, different people, or no person at all. The reference to the “creator” (I have left out the 18th century capitalizations) is a sop to the religious (and also a cynical appeal to the goodness of “the creator”).

We now know that what happens next after we are born can determine a great deal about any child’s future, including the manifestation of any biological “gifts” supplied by its parents. We now know that poverty has implications for infants that affect how large an adult they will be and what their mental abilities will be, for example. So, the rich always have a leg up in that they can care for a child much better than the poor can. We will never know how many geniuses were born into slavery and never made a mark on the world. Since 90+ of civilized humans were in some sort of state of slavery over all time, that cannot be a small number.

The Declaration’s claim is not that all people have equivalent mental and physical gifts. (Remember that Thomas Jefferson wrote this!) If they meant that, they would have said that. What they were saying was that every newborn should have the opportunity to pursue the future (as much as circumstances allow) without the shackles of class or religion preventing that. And even so, they were still beholden to a slave culture, so their words, while inspiring, do not have a pure source.

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