Uncommon Sense

December 8, 2020

Chuck Yeager Has Died

Filed under: Culture,History — Steve Ruis @ 12:41 pm

General Yeager’s wife, Victoria, announced the death late yesterday from his Twitter account. He was 97 when he died.

I actually got to meet the man as he gave several talks at our sportsmen’s club in California as fundraisers for our club. He was generous with his time. He was not physically imposing, but oozed charisma with a healthy dose of humility. He certainly led a “larger than life” existence.

His passing at 97 belies the saying “only the good die young.”

December 7, 2020

How Do They Know That; How Can They Know That?

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:30 am
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I was reading a book and the following sentence leapt off of the page:

“Christian tradition—especially Eastern Orthodox tradition—insists that God cannot be described or circumscribed; you can say what God is not, but it is beyond human powers of understanding and comprehension to definitively say what he is.”

This position or piece of dogma has a number of similar manifestations, such as “No one can know the mind of God” and “God works in mysterious ways.” All address the so-called ineffability of this god.

incapable of being expressed or described in words; inexpressible: ineffable joy.
2. not to be spoken because of its sacredness; unutterable: the ineffable name of the deity.

In this case the use of the term aligns with #1 above, and not #2.

When reading such a claim, all unadulterated bullshit meters should go off with alarms, fireworks, etc. This claim is like people who claim they are speechless with surprise and then babble on for another five minutes. They are making a claim that is clearly not true.

So, the question here is “how could they know that?”

How can anyone know what is incomprehensible to the human mind? If you were to engage a fine specimen of Homo erectus, and describe quantum theory to them, they would respond with the same incredulity . . . how can you know this?

Indeed, how can we know anything?

For each thing we know there is a conceptual history behind that knowledge. In order to be dealing with verifiable facts, we need to have a way to verify what we know and why we know it. At the cutting edge of any science these questions are to the forefront as new things are becoming known and how we know them is of fundamental importance. Everything we were struggling to learn 50 years ago is now settled and how we know what we know is in the books for anyone to read . . . and examine for errors.

So, how could anyone possibly know that there is a concept or object that is incomprehensible? What are the criteria for such a determination? Is there something parallel to the law of contradiction that applies? (The law of contradiction says that A and not-A cannot both be true.) Or is it just we tried and tried and tried . . . and failed to understand it. Is that the criterion?

I can think of no greater wet blanket to throw over a religious topic that “you cannot possibly comprehend, let alone understand it.” Basically they are saying “stop thinking about it; stop talking about it.” Gee, I wonder why they would adopt such a policy?

Yes, it is a policy, not a fact, because they cannot demonstrate how they know that. (All dogmas are policies, not facts.) Saying God told them does not suffice. That is equivalent to saying the Bible is true because the Bible says so.

How do they know that; how can they know that?

And, as many people before have pointed out, those who make this claim are also quite willing to tell you what God wants from you, what you are to do, how you are to behave to satisfy the wishes of this supernatural entity. They will say in one sentence that their god exists beyond space and time and in the next will say that it is everywhere? So, which is it? Ah, it is a mystery.

Also, we might want to know why such a being would create a species of sentient beings, specifically to worship it, but who could not really understand what they were worshiping, which kind of undermines the whole point, no?

December 5, 2020

An Error of Extrapolation

Filed under: Culture,History,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 12:29 pm
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It was a simple error, made long ago, but I have kept it up all of these years. It started from the factoid that the life expectancy of human beings (of the American kind) at, say, the first decade of the 20th century, was roughly 45 years. This was interesting to me because this was close to when my parents were born (1912 and 1919). By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the life expectancy of American females was well over 80 years and American men almost 80 years, so one can conclude that, well, things just keep getting better.

The extrapolation that was in error in my thinking was that from now back to about 1910 there was this large increase in life expectancy and that if one went farther back from 1910, similar changes were expected. Going back to our prehistoric ancestors, their lives must have been nasty, brutish, and short, as claimed by Thomas Hobbes. But in doing so, I made a major error, one of a statistical sort.

What do you think was the life expectancy of our hunter-gatherer modern human ancestors? If you say “fairly short” you will be somewhat right but let me ask another question: at what age did those human relatives usually die (essentially of old age)? This is an interesting question and it has an answer. Our hunter-gatherer forebearers lived well into their sixth or seventh decade, not much different from what it is now. How can this be so?

This will involve a little math, but I used simple numbers to keep everything simple, and well… sheesh, relax, you don’t have to do the math, just read it. Okay, consider a population of 100 humans who all grow up and die at an average age of 60 (some a little younger, some a little older). This means their life expectancy, at birth, was 60 years. What would happen to that life expectancy, though, if 10% died at birth? It drops to 54 years, even though 90 live to die at about 60. And if the infant death rate were 20%, the life expectancy would drop to 48, even though 80 live to die at about 60.

It is clear that the survival rate of infants was much lower in prehistoric days, and so their life expectancy, from birth, was dragged down. But if you survived for five years, better 10, you could expect to live into your 60s or 70s.

Okay, let me now go back to life expectancy in the early 1900’s. It was about that same as it was for our prehistoric ancestors! So, roughly 5000 years of civilization brought what in terms of progress? I think what we got were broader bell curves. The rich did very well indeed, but the poor did very poorly indeed . . . again, the curse of averages. So, the big question is what did civilization give us in the way of progress? For the vast majority of us, it was diddlely squat.

And yet, we have this impression of the inexorable movement toward “greater progress” to come. Things will “keep” getting better! Right . . . !

When people are asked what they want from their jobs, they invariably put close to the top of the list “greater autonomy” in their work, that is the ability to shape what it is that they do. Some degree of control is desired, instead of being told by a supervisor what to do and when to do it. So, what did hunter-gatherers have? Almost complete autonomy. Plus they lived, and still do in remote places, in quite egalitarian societies, and do “work” for only a small part of their days. All this was sacrificed when people were forced into becoming agricultural workers. Plus the poorer diets and close proximities of other people and domestic animals led to human beings being shorter, lighter in weight, being more disease ridden, including dental problems, and having shorter life spans.

Yet we continue in our delusion that being civilized is “better,” even morally so. (“What a piece of work is man …” Shut up, Wil!)

More on this later.

Addendum My mother lived to be 86 and my father 80. Your life expectancy goes up the older you get! There are estimators available on the Internet.

December 4, 2020

Of the National Security Complex, by the …

Our wonderful National Security Complex, which evolved from the national military-industrial complex we were warned about by Dwight Eisenhower, seems to be the tail wagging the dog in this country. While the rich are calling the shots, almost completely, the menu of shots available to be called is controlled by the national security cabal.

When it comes to taxes, universal health care, climate change legislation, and other manifestations of threats to wealth accumulated, the wealthy don’t get much guidance from the national security folks. But in foreign policy, the military, the Pentagon, etc. it is the national security people who call the shots.

In a culture steeped in fear and guided by that fear, having an entire segment of our government, much of which may be black budgeted (How could we tell?), that is in charge of identifying threats, monitoring threats, and countering threats to our “national security” may not be the best idea ever promoted. Obviously, to hammers everything looks like a nail. And, if their existence depends upon their ability to find, monitor, and counter threats, boy do they find them. (I’m shocked, shocked I tell you!) But what constitutes a “threat” is not very well defined. In fact, a definition of national security is not very easily found. What makes one person feel secure can be vastly different from what makes another person feel secure.

There are people who live in “gated communities” so as to be more “secure” and others are perfectly comfortable living in open communities without the “security” of gates and guard gates with guards. As a complete aside I have to tell the story of my partner’s rental property. It was in a gated community which is a bother getting in and out to service the property, but even assuming the property was “more secure” there was a reason to monitor the goings on in that community. Apparently, we found out, that gated community had the highest crime rate of any similarly-sized community in the area. Those living in the community with a criminal bent found it easier to commit a crime within the community than without, exacerbated by young people who didn’t want to show up on the logs at the gate as having left and returned (and at what times). It seems that often the appearance of security passes for actual security.

In any case, a recent “national security official” in the Trump administration (John Ratcliffe, the US director of national intelligence) said China was bent on world domination and the US needed to prepare for an “open-ended period of confrontation.” Apparently, China is the new Russia. It seems that the national security community needs to have a “big threat” to hold over our heads now that “terrorism” no longer seems to hold anyone’s attention.

The “terrorist attack” of 9/11 led to the “Patriot Act” (Really? Such a name. What does that act have to do with patriotism? Oh, if you were against its passage, you were being unpatriotic … I see.) which is still with us. That act involves a loss of personal liberties on the part of all Americans and anyone who comes into contact with our national security agencies. (Remember when Habeas Corpus was an almost sacred legal principle?)

As another example, consider the existence of aliens who might have visited the Earth. (I know, I know, just keep reading.) This is an open question, being one interpretation of the undeniable existence of unidentifiable flying objects, UFOs. UFOs are flying objects that could not be identified. This may be due to any number of causes, for example, the evidence may be slim, or our ability to identify is weak. Something that shows up on radar screens moving at high speed is a UFO … if it could not be identified by eyewitnesses, or by fighter pilots scrambled to assess the “threat,” etc. (I saw one from the window of a vehicle taking us to a basketball tournament. It turned out to be a rocket launched from Vandenberg air Force Base. My UFO became an IFO.)

Now many people automatically equate UFOs with “alien space crafts” but I do not for the simple reason that there are thousands of UFOs every year. If all of these were alien space crafts, then the Earth would have to be the most popular vacation spot for aliens in the universe, a must see destination!

But, the only actions of the U.S. government, at least of those made public, with regard to this topic has been to consider those potential alien visitors to be a threat. Investigating the possible existence of alien spacecraft has been given only to the military. But, what part of the federal government would you assign this task, one that had some expertise in, say, spacecraft? NASA? Nope, NASA has never been tasked with investigating UFO’s. In case you have forgotten, NASA stands for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Sometimes the only way you can get some money or attention for something is to describe it as a threat. This is why I am surprised that climate change action advocates haven’t played up the Pentagon’s assessment of climate change as a significant threat to national security, well, at least to our military.

Also, I do not doubt that China regularly acts in their national interests and that includes spies and “influencers” living here in the U.S. From the point of view of other countries, the U.S. is more likely to intervene in their country economically or militarily than any other country. If I were them I would say “Keep an eye on them, they are crazy!” (“Them” is us.) I assume China has a healthy technology monitoring agency, including the ability to steal attractive technologies and create counter technologies, etc. I don’t see why they should not, because we do.

So, is China a threat to our national security? No. Only an idiot says “Hey, gang, I have an idea! Let’s kill off or cripple our best customers!” While China may not be an existential threat to the U.S. are they a threat of any kind? Oh, you say they threaten the hegemony of our global business interests and thereby they threaten the profits and incomes of the very rich corporations and people here? Ah, I see now.


December 3, 2020

The War on Christmas by Disingenuous Snowflake Christians

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:44 am
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You are aware, I am sure, of the phony “War on Christmas” dreamt up by virtue signaling Christians. (Participating in the war is a way of saying “See, I am defending the faith.”) The hallmark sign of this war being waged is all of the people who say “Happy Holidays” when they should be saying “Merry Christmas.” Those HH people are the enemy! (Only these folks could turn well-wishers into the tools of Satan!)

Even Saint Ronnie avoided saying Merry Christmas from time to time.

My cynical mind immediately came up with the whole phrasing of Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, etc. being created and promoted by Christmas card companies to increase their sales. And, as it turns out, Hallmark, founded in 1910, started producing its own greeting cards in 1915. The company’s first line of Christmas cards prominently featured the sentiments Merry Christmas, Christmas Greetings or Season’s Greetings on the front of each design,” But they didn’t invent the phrases, as Happy Holidays appeared in a Philadelphia newspaper in the late 1800’s, almost 20 years earlier.

And this, ah, dispute does seem somewhat political (as it must be with Fox (sic) News leading the battle). According to a poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in 2016, 66 percent of Democrats said that stores and businesses should greet customers with “Happy Holidays,” “Season’s Greetings” or some other general greeting, rather than “Merry Christmas,” as a show of respect for different religious faiths; while only 28 percent of Republicans felt the same.

Obviously this phony war is out of control.

It seems to be an effort by conservative Republicans (are there any other kind any more?) to signal their religious virtue to evangelical Christians, who have become a major component of the base of the GOP, but … the word Christmas comes from “Cristes Maesse,” or the Mass of Christ, the first usage of which (in 1038) described the mass held to commemorate Christ’s birth. And, don’t you know, that “a mass” is a Catholic ritual … shudder. Imagine … evangelicals promoting Catholic rituals! That rumbling sound you hear are all of those former evangelicals turning over in their graves.

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