Uncommon Sense

December 25, 2020

The Toxicity of American Evangelical Christianity

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:47 am
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In my mind, religion has always been about division. We humans have always fundamentally wanted two things: the feeling that we possess special knowledge (“There is something (I know) that you don’t know” is a common childhood taunt.) and the feeling that we are right and “they” are wrong. This has led religion down the path of “we have special knowledge that you don’t have and we are right and you are wrong,” sound familiar? This is why there are tens of thousands of different versions of Christianity, for example.

So, by dividing one “flock” off from the other “flocks” a flock leader can feel “special,” the members of the flock can feel “special” and, well, let the gloating begin. (Bring back the Church lady! Wouldn’t that be Special!)

So, the evangelical Christianity leadership reaction to the results of the recent presidential election is hardly surprising, but in watching the video linked to below, which contains a sampling of such reactions, I see our grand American experiment in democracy circling the drain. Do we need any more evidence that mixing politics and religions is a very, very bad idea? I do not see us coming together with powerful forces like social media and religion creating positive reinforcement for divisive positions.

Is this the beginning of our end? It could very well be, if we don’t shake off these shlockmeisters, making money off of our demise.

PS I support the Holy Koolaid effort through Patreon, but I am not hawking their wares.

December 23, 2020

Conjunction Submunction, Part 2

In Part 1 of Conjunction Submunction I wrote: “I think the majority of the interest (in the conjunction) comes from people who still dabble in astrology. “OMG, Jupiter is in the house of Saturn? OMG!” (I know nothing about astrology, so that is clearly made up and if I offend any astrology people with my ignorance, well, you deserve it.)”

As things usually go, I received shortly thereafter what a “real” astrologer thinks it means, to wit:

“At 12:21 p.m. CT the Great Conjunction forms between Jupiter and Saturn in Aquarius, showing us where innovation, community, and opportunity intersect. This is a rare occurrence as Jupiter and Saturn meet every 20 years and are doing so in air signs after over 200 years of being in earth signs. This conjunction is all about doing the work it takes to be free — individually, and collectively.

“Saturn is a harsh taskmaster, especially in a fixed sign like Aquarius. Aquarius energy can be full of peace, friendship, and humanity, but do not mistake the other end of the spectrum. Aquarius likes to connect, but exclusion is the flipside of inclusion and as our world begins to meld in ways that many don’t like, we may find many rebelling against the process of creating a humane, global community. This is where we learn the tough lessons of being human. Do what you say you will or stay silent. Rewards will not be given to lazy thinkers under these skies. If you’re dedicated to being silly, you’ll get goofy results. Edit and enhance your network with a discerning eye. Build friendships genuinely yet intelligently.”

So, now you know. (I always wanted to know where innovation, community, and opportunity intersected. I thought it was in Silicon Valley, but now I understand it is up in the sky . . . wtf?)

/The Social Dilemma

Filed under: Art,Culture,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 10:24 am
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The documentary of this title is currently available on Netflix and I had passed over it quite a few times before viewing it, which I did last night.

The documentary mixes in taking head segments with little scenes in an ongoing drama of how social media affects a family. I could have done without the vignettes as the talking heads were quite spectacular. These were all people who either had something to do with the development of social media companies or had studied the effects of their existence in some detail.

The basic premise is that social media use algorithms to line their pockets . . . nothing wrong there, except that the algorithms have no mores, they just want to feed your attention more of what you are interested in. This results in a massive case of positive feedback for everyone who participates. Positive feedback is almost never a good thing.

The talking heads point out that we who participate are all being manipulated against any judgment applied either by us or the providers and it is dangerous.

Bless them as they say that there are no villains here. Nothing was done with intent to cause the problems that now exist. They found the inventor of the “like button” who explained what was behind its creation. An unintended consequence stems from the fact that we evolved in small social groups, in which it was important to be liked by a majority of one’s fellows. The social media platforms have extended that circle to thousands of strangers, often leading young participants into doing bizarre things to accumulate “likes ” from them. And to what end?

An expert on AI systems says that we all worry about when artificial intelligences get so powerful that they overwhelm human strengths, like SkyNet in the Terminator movies (accompanied by the crunching sounds of humans skulls beneath the feet and treads of robots . . .). But well before that point we would reach point in which AIs could overwhelm human weaknesses, a point they did not claim we are at yet, but they easily could have.

They discuss the effect of social media upon political polarization, even on whole nation’s stability and elections, and what might happen should an autocrat really use social media effectively.

From thinking I knew the topic well, I found myself much better educated for having viewed this doc. If you have also viewed this documentary, what do you think?

Making Shit Up, Part 12,691

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:15 am

You know religious faith when you see it, right? But how? Inspired by the writings of Napoleon Hill, the author of an online post came up with these ten “qualities of constructive faith.” The qualities or properties of something are how you recognize it. I also wonder why these apply only to “constructive faith” as that implies there is also “destructive faith” amongst other possible faiths (supercilious faith, wealth acquiring faith, etc.). In any case here they are.

  1. Possessing a definite aim in life supported by personal initiative and action.
  2. Taking one extra step in human relations and business dealings.
  3. Cultivating a Positive Mind Attitude (PMA) averse to rumor, gossip, hatred, and jealousy.
  4. Recognizing that every adversity carries with it the seed of equivalent benefit.
  5. Affirming your definite aim at least once daily in meditation or affirmation.
  6. Recognizing the presence of Infinite Intelligence, or Greater Force, which gives creative power to the individual.
  7. Participating in a support group or Master Mind alliance with people of similar values.
  8. Noting past defeats and adversities to identify patterns and blockages.
  9. Expressing self-respect through fealty to your personal ethics and sense of fair play.
  10. Recognizing cosmic reciprocity.

I don’t think these are much in need of discussion, although the author of this piece obviously did as he proceeded to do just that. But I take note of just two:
6. Recognizing the presence of Infinite Intelligence, or Greater Force, which gives creative power to the individual. and
10. Recognizing cosmic reciprocity.

Unpacking these is not easy but #6 seems to assume that there is a creator god and that all creative acts are based upon that god’s power passing through humans. So, when you fold a chewing gum wrapper into a little animal, a crane, say, your ability to do that you owe to this god.

I have written on this idea of “gifts from god” before and I consider the idea to be, knowingly or not, a con. By claiming that an ordinary human activity is based upon a gift given to you, it creates a sense of reciprocity, resulting in gratitude and money and labor being returned as a return gift.

I was aware of #10 as I have been around a great many people who think that if they “give” to the universe, it will give back. This is quite a lovely idea, with the possible exception that there is no evidence for it and, to the contrary, there are mountains of evidence as to the indifference of the universe to human beings. Victims of volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, earthquakes, and most recently forest fires hardly see those activities as being a return on their investment in good deeds. This is why so many TV preachers are quick to point out that such events are punishments for sinners, like gay people. Just like those who attribute their survival of such natural disasters to their god, they ignore the pain and suffering and deaths of all of the innocent others.

The universe doesn’t give a rat’s ass about us. It is entirely indifferent.

So, can you recognize someone, a person of faith, from these attributes? I would have a hard time attributing “qualities” such as #8 and #9 to many of the politically active evangelical Christians I see in the news today. Oh, and #3, too, yeah, that, too.

December 22, 2020

Scum of the Earth You Are

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 11:20 am

I still love learning things and, having lived a long time, the things I learn often resonate with many other things already learned. One such tidbit I learned yesterday is the subject of this post.

Teachers, especially chemistry teachers, are somewhat well-known as sources of lame jokes. (Sometimes this is deliberate. A joke very lame can also be hard to forget and so becomes a mnemonic device.)

One of mine was that when the planet Earth first formed, it was almost entirely molten. As a consequence, the elements that were most dense, i.e. iron, nickel, etc. sank and today form the bulk of the Earth’s core, and the less dense elements, i.e. silicates, aluminum, carbon, etc. floated to the top and formed a scum. It is from those elements that people are formed which is why they are referred to as “the scum of the Earth.” <groan>

What I learned just yesterday, that all of the very dense elements, e.g. gold, platinum. etc. also sank due to their density, but also due to being dissolved in the liquid iron. It is a chemical truism that the best solvent for a substance is a liquid version of a similar substance, so liquid metals are excellent solvents for other metals and liquid salts are excellent solvents for other salts (which is how aluminum became cheap, but that is another story).

As a consequence, all of the gold and platinum and other very dense elements we have access to here on the surface of Planet Earth, came as parts of meteorites after the crust of the Earth solidified enough to bear them up.

You learn something new every day . . . or at least it is worth trying for that.

Conjunction Submunction

Filed under: Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:12 am
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There has been quite a stir in the astronomical community regarding a conjunction of the planets Saturn and Jupiter, out two largest planets. Do realize that these planets are “close” to one another in the sky merely in that they are close to a line of sight of someone standing on the planet Earth. They are actually about 450 million miles (730 million kilometers) apart at closest appearance.

So, why is this worth taking note of? Well, it isn’t there isn’t anything we can learn per se from this “event” or rather nonevent.

I suspect the interest is driven from (for astronomy geeks) having witnesses something that only happens every century or so. Blend in members of the astronomy community that want to get as much airtime as possible to establish the standing of their field. But I think the majority of the interest comes from people who still dabble in astrology. “OMG, Jupiter is in the house of Saturn? OMG!” (I know nothing about astrology, so that is clearly made up and if I offend any astrology people with my ignorance, well, you deserve it.)

Are you one of those who set up camera or telescope to get a view or picture of the two planets in the same frame? Or, did you, like me, wait for the flood of images posted on the internet to arrive? With regard to many of them, I could have done a better job using Photoshop, but then it wouldn’t be real, would it. I mean real in the meaning that it has anything to do with, well, anything.

Addendum As you might be able to tell, I am working on achieving my Curmudgeon Badge in the Old Timer Scouts program. It is on my bucket list.

At the Risk of Being Overbearing . . .

I offer a link to yet another aspect of the Pfizer vaccine roll-out kerfuffle. This post explains why the critic “IM Doc” was disappointed in the article in the New England Journal of Medicine, which exists to inform people, especially doctors, regarding what they need to know.

Whether this can be laid at the fee of the NEJM or Pfizer is almost irrelevant (almost, but not quite). It does, however, lead one to wonder how informed the opinions of our own doctors are.

A Document Maven Looks at the Pfizer Vaccine Paper in the New England Journal of Medicine


December 21, 2020

Sunday Leftovers

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:40 am
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I try to confine my religious writings to Sundays (The zeal, the zeal!) but since this is Chrsitmas week, I will indulge myself.

I am driven to write about the “holes” in various stories about the character Jesus. These are things that belong in the discussion but are almost always left out. For example, a pivotal action in the narrative is the crucifixion of Jesus. It is pivotal because “no crucifixion, no Christianity.” You couldn’t argue “he died to wash away your sins” if he didn’t die, and so forth.

People have written extensively about the crucifixion, made movies centered upon it, all of which attest to its centrality in a massive religion, but do not reflect upon the historicity of the event. This is assumed by most.

There are more than a few “holes” in this narrative. Here are a few of those.

  • Crucifixion was a humiliating punishment meant to dissuade others from taking the same path as the perpetrators did. Consequently, bodies were left “up” until they rotted and when taken down they were not buried with normal rites. Instead, they were buried in mass graves.
  • Supposedly, the Romans allowed Joseph of Aramathea to take Jesus down and bury him following all of the Jewish rites after only a very short time. The character Joseph argued that leaving Jesus “up” during the Sabbath would defile the entire nation.
    This is problematic for a number of reasons. Joseph was supposedly a member of the Sanhedrin which condemned Jesus for heresy, not a follower or disciple of Jesus. By what reason did this person, through influence or bribes, avail himself of that ability? Is a great mystery.
    What about the other two, the “Robbers” strung up next to Jesus? (Robbers was a term used frequently for insurrectionists, such as the Sicarii.) Were neither of these two Jews? I can’t imagine that the myriad Jews who were crucified were all taken “down” before the next Sabbath began. Where did this “defilement” originate from?
  • Many have commented upon the garbled stories in the four gospels of the discovery of the empty tomb, so I won’t add to those.
  • In gJohn, it is claimed that the ”resurrected” Jesus walked around Jerusalem for 40 days, drawing large crowds and meeting with many people. The other gospels contradict this, but either way, the Romans had extensive spy networks. Nothing happened that they did not get word of as they paid for information. So, the Romans somehow didn’t notice a crucified man, allowed to be taken down from his cross shortly after being put up, was walking around drawing crowds. If this were an imposter, significant damage to the Roman state could ensue from riots and increased seditious activities, so they would have rounded up this guy, and all of his close associates, and strung them all up, this time waiting until only bones were left before repurposing those crosses.
  • In Pilate’s judgment of Jesus, the representatives of the Sanhedrin asked Pilate to put Jesus to death, but the correct punishment for the blasphemy that Jesus was “convicted” of was stoning. Why didn’t the Jews ask to be able to stone Jesus? The reportedly callous Pilate surely would have said, “Sure, eliminate another troublesome Jew? Sounds good to me.” But what possible argument could the Sanhedrin representatives make that would result in Jesus being condemned for sedition, the act that he was crucified for. In the trial, it was the claim that Jesus was “King of the Jews” which got him condemned, not any sort of blasphemy. (Note the mention of the placard on his cross, naming Jesus “King of the Jews,” as an additional incentive to others to not do that. Sounds like entrapment to me. Their strategy seems to have been “get him in front of Pilate and talking and maybe he will condemn himself and we won’t have to do the dirty work of stoning this overly popular charismatic movement leader.”
    On what basis would Pilate have heard the Jews and not thrown them out forthwith? Why would he have heard the case in the first place? He apparently didn’t give a damn about the religion or the people. He was there as a tax collector and a maintainer of order, nothing more. Without an initial claim of sedition or insurrection, Pilate would have told the Jewish leaders to stick to their knitting.

* * *

There are similar “holes” in every aspect of the New Testament narratives, holes that make the stories seem more and more outlandish and less and less likely. Just one other example is “the cleansing of the temple.”

15 So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 16 And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. (Mark 11:15-17, New King James Version)

The temple complex was huge. How could one man have done all of this? The money changers sat at their tables and in possession of quantities of coin . . . and had no personal guards? The Temple itself had temple guards, where do you think they would be concentrated the most? And, all of these “events” seem to be patterned upon Hosea 9 and bits of Isaiah and other books. Strip away these OT references and storylines and instead of an historical Jesus you have the invisible man unwrapped (thanks to Neil Godfrey for the metaphor).

Again, all of this is claimed to be “true” because the Bible says so, which is not an historical argument . . . at all. They are all literary arguments, yes, but literary arguments cannot be used to prove historical facts, otherwise we would be sponsoring archeological digs based upon The Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings.

December 18, 2020

Follow-up on the IM Doc COVID Letter

Filed under: Politics,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:19 pm
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I link to the follow-up article below but note that someone was suspicious as to why the doctor didn’t use his name, and used the moniker “IM Doc” instead (standing for internal medicine doctor). Apparently the author was afraid he might lose his job if he went full on public. Can’t say whether that fear is valid, but since this is a Class Warfare blog, erring on the side of caution seems prudent.

The post is HERE.

December 17, 2020

An Open Letter to the Many Flat Earthers Now in Existence

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 1:21 pm

Dear Flat Earthers,
Many people have been derogatory of your belief that the Earth is flat. Please note that they are belittling your belief, not you per se. You, personally, are an idiot, but that is probably not your fault.

Here are any number of accessible approaches for discovering the shape of our beloved planet. Enjoy!

* * *

Use Your Phone!
On Christmas Day, here in Chicago, I expect there to be snow on the ground because, well, it is winter. On Christmas Day I can pick up my phone and dial up anyone in Australia and ask them “What season is it?” They will tell you that it is summer in Australia. You might want to ask your flat Earth mentors how it could be winter and summer simultaneously on a flat Earth.

Use Your Phone!
Go to a globe and pick a spot half way around the Earth (I know it is a false representation in your belief, but humor me.) In the middle of the day, phone somebody at or near that spot. Call a hotel, they are always open. Ask whoever responds “Is it light or dark outside?” They will tell you that it is dark where they are. You might want to ask your flat Earth mentors how it could be light and dark simultaneously on a flat Earth.

Look Up What Local Time Was
In the US there was this concept of “local time” which was that “noon” was when the sun was at its highest point in its arc. You could call up people on the telephone who were not that far away and ask them what time it was and they would tell you something different from what your clock was telling you. The farther away they were, the greater the difference would be. On a flat Earth the time would be the same everywhere.

Look Up What Time Zones Are
I am writing this in the central time zone in the U.S. These zones were created at the behest of the railroad industry whose dispatchers were going crazy making up schedules for trains when every place had their own times. By creating these “zones” everything would be exactly one hour off from those in neighboring zones, two hours off for the next over zones, and so on. If you don’t believe me . .  pick up your phone and dial up a friend who lives a considerable distance (east-west) away from you and ask them what time it is. The time they state will be a whole number of hours away from your time. Heck, even the NFL knows this. When I lived on the left coast, the games started at 10 AM and 1 PM. Now that I live in the central time zone, the games start at 12 Noon and 3 PM. Over New York way the games start at 1PM and 4 PM. Do you think those games are replayed in one hour increments? Nope, time zones!. You might want to ask your flat earth mentors how it could be that simultaneous games start at different times on a flat Earth.

Watch the Video
Astronauts in the International Space Station (ISS) have made continuous videos of an entire orbit of the Earth. It takes only about an hour and a half about the length of a typical Hollywood movie. During the whole movie the earth appears round, and yet it is clear that different continents are passing in our view.

Now you may argue that NASA made this movie as propaganda for the Round Earth Conspiracy. It is certainly within our CGI abilities at this point, but you may want to ask why NASA would want to do such a thing? Plus, many astronauts have taken their own cameras aboard and taken pictures for themselves and they show the same thing. How could the Round Earth Conspiracy have allowed that to happen? It must be incompetence! Conspiracies aren’t what they used to be!

Da Balloon, Boss, Da Balloon
Many amateurs, unaffiliated with the government, have launched rockets and balloons high up into the atmosphere to take pictures. Every damned one of those pictures shows that the Earth is round. How come all of those cameras ended up pointed at the curved edge of your round and flat disk Earth? Such a coincidence!

An Oldie But Goodie #1
Occasionally, during a lunar eclipse, you can see the shadow of the earth falling upon the Moon. The shadow is always circular. This would be true if the flat earth were always dead on to the Moon, but the Moon orbits the Earth and wouldn’t a flat Earth be edgewise, often as not, and wouldn’t that create a non-round shadow on the Moon? Inquiring minds want to know.

An Oldie But Goodie #2
It was claimed that one of the first demonstrations of the earth being round was the observation of ships sailing west from Europe/England could be observed for a while but the ship itself was lost to sight while the mast was still visible. This would not happen on a flat Earth. The whole ship would just get smaller and smaller as it sailed west.

For pity’s sake, I live 22 stories up and the shores of Lake Michigan and I cannot see anything directly opposite me in Michigan. All I can see is water, with any kind of magnification I can muster. And I am not looking across the widest part of this lake! If the earth were flat, the lake would be flat and I could see the Michigan shore.

And Finally . . .

All of the fricking satellites! Do the math. What kind of orbit is stable around a flat disk earth? Answer none! And there are hundreds of the danged things in orbit. Well, maybe a circular orbit above the edge, but that would eliminate all communication satellites, GPS, cell phone, etc.

Also, just for giggles. Look up what a Foucault pendulum is, And explain its behavior based upon a flat Earth.

PS You may be getting good vibes in your special knowledge that you know something other people do not. However, would not that special feeling be more worthwhile were you to volunteer at a food bank or a day care center or senior center? Wouldn’t doing something worthwhile be more rewarding that making a statement about how those pointy-headed intellectuals aren’t so smart?

PPS I have seen the cute models with the Sun and Moon on sticks rotating around (see photo above). If that were the case, everyone could see the Sun and Moon all day, every day. (There is straight line access to both objects in that model from everywhere on the flat disk.) Do you see the Sun and Moon all day, every day? No? Maybe someone who had more creativity than knowledge came up with those models. They do sell well, I must admit, so maybe their interest is commercial.

PPPS Regarding the 200 foot wall of ice that supposedly exists at the “edge of the disk,” supposedly so all the water doesn’t flow off and be lost into space. By now don’t you think someone would have sailed next to that wall all of the way? That distance would be somewhere in the neighborhood of a 28,000 mile trip. Has anyone ever report such a thing? Hmm, I wonder why not.

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