Uncommon Sense

January 25, 2021

Bemoaning/Lauding the Obvious

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment — Steve Ruis @ 9:06 am
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I was reading an opinion piece in which the core point was “Social media has shaped contemporary fiction, even in novels that make scant mention of it.”

Imagine, wondering why novels (and by extension, movies, videos, etc.) don’t show people engaging with social media when that activity drives much of our lives now.

Hello? Really?

Did you ever see a James Bond movie in which he laundered his clothes or even took any to a dry cleaner? How about using a credit card or buying anything not work related? Gosh do you think that was because nothing was happening during those “scenes” that would further the plot?

When people engage in social media, or as the author of this piece put it “mindless scrolling through social media,” nothing is happening . . . absolutely nothing. Sometimes you will see a text message in a scene in a movie, which is just an inaudible form of telephone speech. Otherwise, you are not going to hear or read about social media exchanges in novels and movies because they are steps removed from the actors and the actions.

This is for the same reason why you would rather speak to a loved one face-to-face rather than by phone, or by text, or by email. A person’s words are only a small percentage of the content of a message. Even video chatting or teleconferencing diminishes the quality of communication by filtering out some of the affect employed by the speakers. (Remember My Cousin Vinny and “I killed her . . .” being quoted from a transcript by a bored stenographer, containing none of the sarcasm, outrage, and incredulity that was originally employed?)

So, social media will have an impact on novels and movies, mainly by reducing the length of time people will be willing to engage with such a thing. Then their fingers will be wiping the page of the book, or screen of their TV, wanting something different to engage with. They will not suffer any lulls because if they encounter one, they will be gone.

Yeah, social media will affect novels and movies, but only by turning social media addicts to ADD-addled, instant gratification zombies.

Astrology is the Old Homeopathy

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:01 am
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If you did not already know, homeopathy is bunk, complete bunk. Core principles in homeopathy are things like “the more you dilute a medicine, the stronger it gets.” Imagine a bar serving drinks using that principle, e.g. “Let me freshen up that drink with a little tap water,” spaketh the Barman.

Astrology has been around far longer than homeopathy but it, too, is a zombie idea, an idea that died a long time ago but just won’t stay dead.

For some strange reason, fairly reputable sources of news and comment still provide “astrological advice.” None of these advice columns explains how it is that the positions of the planets in the night sky, some which are upwards of a billion miles away, have any affect whatsoever on events in Earth? Clearly the moon has an effect on things like tides and whatnot, but other than that?

I am sure the powers that be in these news organs consider “astrology columns” to be entertainment, but actions have consequences. By publishing such nonsense, the publishers are encouraging people to consider causes and effects that are in no way connected. This does not exactly promote good thinking or good behavior amongst the readers of said outlets.

Now, I am sure the circulation managers of those outlets will argue that mixing in entertainment with their “newsy” articles will facilitate views or purchases of subscriptions. This, I believe, is true . . . which is why we have the comics. And I don’t see people planning their day around their morning Dilbert strip.

January 22, 2021

On Death and Dying . . . and Religion

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:42 am
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Create Your Own Religion: A How-To Book Without Instructions by [Daniele Bolelli]I have been reading Create Your Own Religion: A How-To Book Without Instructions by Daniele Bolelli which is very thought provoking; I am sure to be commenting upon it quite a bit. Currently I am reading a segment on god and the afterlife and what role they will play in the religion I create.

The author ends up in a fairly good position, namely: The long loop of my personal experiences brings us back to our starting point: we have no certain answers about the afterlife one way or the other. Anyone claiming to know otherwise is trying to sell us something. And yet, death is too big of a topic to ignore. While the nature of death is a mystery, the fear of death is as real and concrete as it gets, so it needs to be addressed.

I can accept that death is possibly too big of a topic to ignore, but in getting to that point he also wrote this: “There is no greater source of anxiety for human beings than the inevitability of death.

and this:

We hardly know the first thing about death, so how is logic going to explain it all?”


We don’t know the first thing about death? I think he just tripped over his intellectual feet. We are experts on death. We have explored myriad ways to kill people. We can do large numbers or small, overtly or subtly. We know how to create near-death experiences, so suitable when torturing someone. We pay large sums of money to merchants of death.

We have studied it scientifically. We know what happens to our heart and brains when we die. We know the decomposition processes by which the atoms of dead animals are recycled/reused. There is no other topic I can think of that we know more about than death.

I suspect he was thinking about the so-called “after life.” That we know nothing about.

The human capability that most makes us human is our imagination. We notice that some people are better than others. In our imaginations, we think that there are some people, who are not right here to be examined, who are probably even better, and we like to carry things to extremes, so we ask ourselves “Is there somebody who is best?” And the answer, of course, is “gods.”

We think about being born, growing up, growing older, growing old, and then dying and the refrain of the song “Is that all there is . . .” is playing in the background. Well, either it is the end for you and your “legacy/memories” are carried by subsequent generations or in physical works (art, books, etc.) . . . or our imagination tells us “No, that’s not the end, there is life after death.”

Whenever we get carried away and take things to extremes we end up at an absolute and nature tells us, loud and clear, “There Are No Absolutes.”

As to “There is no greater source of anxiety for human beings than the inevitability of death.” If you were to add up all of the times I have spent considering the inevitability of my own death, you would only need a stop watch. Now that I am old enough to die, were I rich, I would just hire someone to mop up after me when I go. But, I am not rich, so I have to do all of the planning myself. And that  planning is what has taken up the bulk of the time I have spent considering my own death.

Now, granted, I have lived in an age when life has not been precarious, for some of us anyway. Compared to many, my life has been easy. I even have the cultural advantages of being tall, white, and male that, I am sure, have greased my skids from time to time. If my neighborhood had a large population of prowling predators with a taste for man-flesh, it would probably be different. But it hasn’t and I don’t see that a person’s death should require more religious services than a person’s birthday party. Hello? We all die. All of us. Death is the Great Leveler. Rich people die and poor people die. Brilliant people die and stupid people die. We all die. It is as normal as a birthday party. There is just a larger volume of trash to take out on that day.

This sounds a touch like the apologist’s strategy of accepting everything their religion does as being right and proper and then finding reason after reason why it must be that way. But in the case of death, when other animals die, their bodies lay where they have fallen and nature takes back what was hers. At one time I wondered why the woods weren’t full of deer antlers. So many die naturally. Studies then show that those antlers are good sources of minerals for quiet a few species and they get eaten. All of those atoms are not going to waste, they are being reused. The process is not scared, it requires no rituals so that supernatural custodians clean up the mess made by those deaths. It has all been taken care of. But somehow, someone has convinced most people in our society that you have to spend many thousands of dollars on burials, coffins, services, parties, etc. Unlike weddings, a ceremony at which a party is an appropriate way to send a couple off to a new phase of their lives, dead people don’t care. But there was money to be made, so priests/shamans are hired to scare away demons and make sure the newly dead person’s “immortal soul” makes its way to its proper place and to make sure they don’t hang around as disturbing ghosts.

Can you spell scam, boys and girls?

I will make arrangements to have my body collected and cremated, so that the atoms will be unimpeded as they are recycled . . . and I would like to have a party, a wake, to which my remaining friends are invited to eat my food and drink my booze and tell lies about me. That would only be to comfort those not yet dead.

January 19, 2021

Pre-Inauguration Playlist

Filed under: Politics,Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 9:30 am
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The Trumps will be exiting the White House tomorrow before the Bidens arrive, like thieves in the night (as usual pissing on tradition). Mr. Trump is very fond of pomp so I thought I would come up with a list of appropriate songs to send him off. Maybe we could get the marine Band to play for him.

Let me now what you would add to the list.

Na, Na, Hey, Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye) (Steam 1969)
(Just for the chorus)
Na na na na, hey hey, goodbye
Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye

Hit the Road, Jack (Ray Charles 1962)
(Just for the chorus)
Hit the road, Jack
And don’t you come back
No more, no more, no more, no more
Hit the road, Jack
And don’t you come back no more.

These Boots are Made for Walkin’ (Nancy Sinatra 1966)
You keep lyin’ when you oughta be truthin’
And you keep losing when you oughta not bet
You keep samin’ when you oughta be a’changin’
Now what’s right is right but you ain’t been right yet
These boots are made for walkin’
And that’s just what they’ll do
One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you
(Damned prophetic if you ask me.)

Bye, Bye, Bye (‘n Sync)
Bye bye
I’m checking out, I’m signing off
I don’t want to be the loser, and I’ve had enough.

See You Later, Alligator (Bill Haley and the Comets, 1957)

I’m Still Standing (Elton John 1983)
Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid
I’m still standing after all this time
Picking up the pieces of my life without you on my mind.

Another One Bites the Dust (Queen 1980)
How do you think I’m going to get along
Without you when you’re gone?
You took me for everything that I had
And kicked me out on my own.
Are you happy are you satisfied?
How long can you stand the heat?
Out of the doorway the bullets rip
To the sound of the beat look out!

I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor 1978)
Go on now, go, walk out the door
Just turn around now
‘Cause you’re not welcome anymore.

January 17, 2021

What is the Strongest Proof that God Does Not Exist?

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:07 am
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(I have a practice of trying to offer religious posts on Sundays. This is no exception. S)

The question in the title of this post was a question that popped up on Quora. It came with over 100 answers. I did not read them all, but quite a few of those I did read included some form of this tidbit “To be clear you can never say with 100% certainty that a god of some type does not exist.”

Maybe it is my scientific training but “100% proof” is something that does not exist except in our imaginations. We desire certainty in matters that are life and death. Even 50:1 odds in your favor don’t guarantee that you win. But 100% proof is an absolute that just doesn’t exist. And insisting on 100% proof that a god does not exist is a ploy to ensure failure for anyone who tries, a dishonest ploy. The request for the “strongest” proof is quite honest, however.

The example I use as my standard of a very high probability occurrence is the Sun coming up tomorrow. I predict that it will. I am very, very sure that this will happen. I understand why it has this high probability. Physically, either the Earth would have to stop rotating upon its axis or be thrown somehow off into space or maybe the Sun would have to disappear or explode or something of that ilk. The amount of force that would be necessary to stop the earth from rotating overnight (I did say the Sun will come up tomorrow) is so immense that the Earth would be sundered into pieces were it to be applied. Similarly if the Sun were to blow up, so as to not be there when the Earth rotates around through the night, it is unlikely the Earth would survive such an explosion.

So, the prediction that the Sun will come up tomorrow is secure and near 100% in certainty. I can imagine a scenario in which it does not, say involving aliens with advanced planet-busting weaponry (Like the Death Star of Star Wars!). It could destroy the Earth so that there is nothing to rotate around and no one to see the Sun “rising.” So, my prediction is not 100% certain.

So, is anything 100% certain? I do not think so. All quantitative laws in science are based upon measurements, none of which are 100% certain. All qualitative laws are based upon observations, which also are not 100% certain.

Human opinions, such as you may think Emily is a total Karen, a total bitch, but then you find out she dotes on her grandfather, so . . . not 100% certain. And so on. . . .

So, back to the God question. What is a reasonable sort of standard of proof? Since no proof currently exists, we should start with a low standard. I suggest 50+%. In words this would be “more likely than not.” This could be plugged into Bayesian calculations for our assessment.

So, can anyone make such an argument and have it be valid?

I have studied this question at some length. Recently I read a book entitled “The Non-Existence of God” by Nicholas Everitt. Doctor Everitt is a professional philosopher (I am only an amateur philosopher) and you can tell his conclusion based upon an exhaustive search through history for all of the philosophical arguments for the existence of a god. I say this so that you will understand that philosophical arguments will not serve our needs here. I seriously doubt that a philosophical argument can prove anything. At best they can attach conclusions to sets of premises, the outcomes of which are determined by the truthiness of the premises.

So, we need something other than a philosophic argument. The best option would be a scientific argument. So, start with some evidence, make a conjecture and then see if it holds up.

Any takers?

Note Obviously from the numbers of answers to questions regarding the existence of a god or gods, this is an important question to many people. I am hesitant to add another “answer” a question that already has 100+ answers as I am unwilling to read all of those answers so that I do not just duplicate one of them with my own. But I do take a stab every once in a while.

January 15, 2021

Scientific Method Nonsense (Promulgated by Teachers)

Filed under: Education — Steve Ruis @ 1:02 pm

I encountered the following question on Quora today: “What is the correct order of steps in the scientific method?”

I Googled the scientific method and got this in the “People Also Ask” box:
What are the 5 parts of the scientific method?
What are the 4 parts of the scientific method?
What are the 6 stages of the scientific method?
What are the 8 steps of the scientific method?
Each of these contain nonsense such as  “The scientist selects what it is that he wishes to observe.” I never knew! All of those years I spent as a scientist and a teacher of science and no one told me this!

There are no such steps and there is no correct order. (Repeat after me: There are. . . .) Rather the process is quite organic.

The “steps” often described were made up by teachers to have something to teach and test. (Ah, my people, my people! I weep for my people. Note In another life I was a professor of chemistry.)

The simplest form of the so-called scientific method is: conjecture and criticism. One makes a conjecture about how nature works and then one criticizes it. Often enough the criticism results in the conjecture being modified which results in the criticism (aka experiments designed to test the conjecture) being modified and on and on.

I have seen many such lists, most of which are quite comical. One started with #1 Collect Facts, followed by #2 Make Hypothesis, etc. My cartoon mind shows a Larsen-esque cartoon with a scientist (in a white lab coat, of course) standing with his hand on a door knob, the door labeled “Lab,” with the thought balloon “Today I am going to collect some facts!” One just doesn’t collect facts randomly, one becomes curious about some particular aspect of nature and learns as much as one can about that phenomenon. I guess that could be construed as “collecting facts” but that verbiage seems strange.

In order to make a good conjecture, one needs to know a great deal about the phenomenon under scrutiny. Then one asks why this, why that? And then moves onto “maybe such and such is happening.” This is the conjecture. Then one goes on to “if that is happening, how could I test that?” This is the criticism. Obviously one needs to have a conjecture before one can criticize it, but as mentioned before, often one affects the other and vice-versa, so their “order” is somewhat vague at best.

The parts of the process that are more important are: being committed to honesty, following the data wherever they lead, sharing one’s data and processes widely through publication, correcting errors, admitting when one was incorrect, and so on. These are more important than any such list of steps made up by some teacher. Apparently these lists are important because school children ask an unending stream of questions about them . . . what a waste of time and effort.

Yeah, Now Is the Time to Organize

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Race — Steve Ruis @ 9:50 am
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After seeing the almost all-white insurrectionists attempting a coup at the Capitol building ushered in by bowing and scraping capitol cops (descendants of the Keystone Kops?) it is clear that the organizing of all of the white power and white supremacy groups is justified. Clearly white privileges are being eroded.

Some of the miscreants are even being arrested and put in jail! No matter, Trump will probably pardon them . . . won’t he?

Also clearly, black people asking to be treated the same way as white people infringes upon the rights white people have cherished for oh, so many years. This actually doesn’t affect white privileges at all, but the Totem Pole Principle applies here (The Only Way to Know You are Not on the Bottom of the Pole is to be Standing On Top of Another). Why if blacks were treated the same way as whites, then whites would be treated the same way as blacks, a definite loss of status.

So, white supremacy groups are organizing and growing support. That this is happening at the same time Christian nationalists are doing the same thing is no accident. This is due to the fact that Jesus was white and spoke English as his first language (he wrote his Bible in English after all). Facts do matter!

January 14, 2021

Of Coyotes and QAnon

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 11:41 am
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After getting over my shock at the insurrection in the Capitol building a week ago, I called for people to pour over any photos and videos to see if they could identify any of the miscreants and get them rounded up by the authorities. Even Republicans believe in personal responsibility.

Little did I know or even think that selfsame miscreants would post their videos and selfies on the Internet. What idiots.

So, I hope this idiots will be rounded up and prosecuted . . . and . . . well the process tends to weed out the idiots. When the more easily identified and prosecuted go down, they are replaced by those with more competence.

I am reminded of coyotes. Coyotes? Yep. Ranchers in the west were tired of losing livestock to coyotes and got a federal bounty put on their heads. Wipe them out, they demanded. And so bounties were placed and guns started blazing away. The net result? As you would expect. The dumbest, less wily coyotes (sorry I couldn’t resist) got killed off first, so the others were harder to find. And whenever pressure like that is applied to a population, it moves. You can now find coyotes in 49 of the 50 states, prior to which they were confined to the western US states. You can even find them in cities, like Boston, and my home city, Chicago.

So, this “insurrection,” as cartoonish as it appears now, will be less so the next time, and less so after that. We are not out of the water yet as we have allowed a large right-wing minority to build up steam right out in the open. Soon they will be far less visible.

Sun Tzu said “that which you oppose you make stronger,” and someone much wiser than I said that “the cost of liberty is eternal vigilance.”

January 8, 2021

If You See Something . . .

Filed under: Politics,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 12:50 pm
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Remember after 9-11, the patriotic thing to say was . . . no, not Freedom Fries, but “If you see something, say something.”

I suspect that those troglodytes who invaded the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday won’t be able to contain themselves and will be posting “selfies” on Instagram and Facebook. If you see such pictures, forward them to the FBI if you would. Every single one of those assholes needs to be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Let’s see … I recognize that guy … and that guy … oh, look a videographer, I wonder if he will post his videos?

I can hardly wait to hear them plead that they didn’t know that what they were doing was wrong, or that they were just following orders, or that if the president recommends it, it is legal. Can’t wait.

I also can’t see Republicans objecting to us wanting those involved to take individual responsibility for their actions. This used to be a pillar of Republican ideology and I suspect they will want to be recapturing some of that from now on.

Lock them up! Lock them up! Lock then up!

January 7, 2021

Worth a Thousand Words

Filed under: Race,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 12:45 pm
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A picture is …

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