Uncommon Sense

February 27, 2021

Made You Look—A Documentary

Filed under: Art,Business,Culture — Steve Ruis @ 8:33 am
Tags: , ,

Last night I watched an interesting documentary about a massive art fraud in New York City. In the late 1990s and much of 2000s $80 million of fake paintings were sold as if legitimate. The pieces had sketchy provenance, so they were often “authenticated” by experts.

This is a fascinating documentary, well done, but a number of points were never mentioned or were glossed over.

The Authenticating “Experts” Were Full of Shit
Various experts were asked to “authenticate” these paintings and often did so wholeheartedly, even though they turned out to be fakes. This process has been shown to be flawed over and over but keeps being used. If a new painting is discovered, one not seen in catalogues of the artist’s works, an expert should go no further than to comment something along the lines of “It appears to be in this artist’s style and the painting appears to be of an appropriate age.” That’s it. But these “experts” were stumbling all over themselves to state that the paintings were authentic, something that couldn’t be told without extensive testing. When the extensive testing was done, some of the pigments hadn’t been invented until after the artist died, which is kind of a clue, don’t you think?

The experts basically should limit there comments on a previously unknown painting to “is worth further testing.”

Collectors were Glowing About the Fakes
When the fakes were purchased, the new owners loved those paintings, gushed about how beautiful they were, etc. so they were good art, no? But when they were proved to be fakes the collectors were outraged. Clearly they were not buying art for the sake of the art. They, instead, wanted to brag about how much money it cost, or that it was painted by a famous painter, or looked at it as an investment, but these people never say things like: ”It was such a good bargain, I could see myself selling it for a nice profit is just a few years.” or “I wanted to snatch this up before a bidding war started. It will be much more valuable in time.” So, these hypocrites gush over the quality of the painting but are outraged when they find out that it was faked. Apparently they can distinguish between fake beauty and real beauty . . . not.

This Has Been Going On for Years
This was mentioned a couple of times. It was not a surprise to find out that the forger/painter was a Chinese gentleman. Whether he was a willing participant in the fraud was not determined because there is a tradition in China of copying other works (and not just China). These copies are often sold quite cheaply to people who could not come close to affording the real thing. Much like we have posters of famous art works to hang on our plebian walls. It was suspicious, of course, the lengths gone to to use period and artist correct materials, which would not be necessary for “decorative art pieces.”

Art students are often seen in museums copying masterworks as exercises. And when the originals are being sold for millions, the temptation is there. In this case the works copied were those of American Expressionists (not my cup of tea) which are random enough to be more easily copied, also materials of the age these were created (1950s and 1960s) are still available.

Fueling all of this were prices of hundreds of thousands paid by the art dealer for paintings that sold for much more, even millions. This was a point critics say should have cause alarms to go off, but since greed is the driving force of this age, no one noticed anything sketchy for over a decade.

February 25, 2021

The China Hustle

If you needed more ammunition to support the belief that the stock markets need to be shut down, do watch the documentary “The China Hustle” on various streaming services.

What this hustle comes down to is some “investors” saw that China recovered from the 2008 Great Recession very quickly and investing in Chinese companies might be a way to offset losses from the stock market crash. The only problem was most Chinese companies were not traded on American stock markets. So, a workaround was devised. They arranged for small Chinese companies to be merged with now defunct U.S. companies that had one crucial characteristic: they were already approved for trading of “their” stock on the U.S. exchanges.

So as to not spoil the documentary, let it be pointed out that lying to foreigners is not a crime in China. The upshot is that hundreds of billions of dollars were extracted from “investors” which then flowed into China through fraudulent descriptions of these “companies.” And, apparently, none of the usual “checks and balances and regulations” apply.

And it is still going on, because those who are making money off of the process don’t want “the problem” to be solved.

The stock market has no real purpose other than to be a giant casino where people gamble their money. That there are “losers” in the game is acknowledged, but only the winners are celebrated and because the “house” skims its fees off of the top, there is no impetus to close the casino.

This is a well-made documentary and well worth watching. If you wonder whether our democracy is strong enough to withstand all forces, you need to think again. If we fall, it will because of greed being our most serious failing.


February 24, 2021


Powerlessness is something we all experience. I remember seeing The Incredible Hulk TV show for the first time, as a 30-something year-old man, having read Hulk comics in my youth and I had the thought, seemingly for the first time, that I wished I had the ability to turn into a green monster and trash all of those who oppose me. Powerful people do not, I suspect, harbor such thoughts.

Powerlessness is a hallmark of the religious, which is interesting because in my view, religion exists to control the behaviors of the masses to serve the interests of the elites, both religious and secular. So, powerless people are participating in a practice that guarantees their powerlessness. Religious Irony should be a term.

Another facet of this I read about today was in a post on the medium.com website (The Optimism of Satan by Mitch Horowitz), in which the author stated: “The ethical or spiritual search, not as idealized but as actually lived, is a search for power. That is, for the ability to possess personal agency. We pray, ‘Thy will be done.’ We mean ‘my will be done’ — hoping that the two comport.”

He added “The novelist Isaac Bashevis Singer . . . detected, (that) we are not very different from the classical magician when we strive, morally and materially, to carry forth our plans in the world — to ensure the betterment of ourselves and our loved ones; to heal sickness; to create, sustain, and, above all, to generate things which bear our markings, ideals, and likenesses. All of this is the expenditure of power, the striving to actualize our drives and images.”

Ah, to heal sickness. I am still drawn to fantasy novels, from Marion Zimmer Bradley to L.E. Modessit, Jr. who have characters who heal by mysterious forces, that is they have the “power” of healing. I learned in those books that my name means “the crowned one” and “the hands of a king are the hands of a healer.” I would love, just love to have that power.

We all wish we had more power than we actually do to some extent. This fuels our cooperation with others, for one as a preventative of them being more powerful than us and impressing their will on us and also to acquire the power of the group.

Chrsitianity taps into this, ostensibly for our benefit . . . but not really, by telling us we have an all-powerful friend who will help us, reward us even,  and punish our enemies. This being is all-powerful but for some reason must wait until we die before exerting that power on our behalf. This doesn’t explain, at all, why my enemy, let’s call him Bruce, gets punished when I am Bruce’s enemy and so should not that god be punishing me on Bruce’s behalf? Who gets to be the whipping boy here? Is it determined how much you give when the offering plate is passed around? What?

There is a little mental game we play (at least I do) of: “what I would do if I were in charge.” I have played this game a great many times because I developed a stock line near the end of those discussions of “Well, surely the world would be a better place if we were in charge.” This was almost always followed by laughter, from the knowledge that we do not really want to be in charge, nor would we recognize the right things to do if they bit us in the ass were we in one of those positions. We were just voicing our powerlessness, broadcasting a recognition signal for ordinary citizens as much as the middle-aged grunt is for middle-aged men.

February 22, 2021

I Love Mark Twain

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:24 am
Tags: , , , ,

Note I forgot to post this yesterday. I like to post something of a religious nature on Sundays as a Sabbath exercise. Steve

This post was stimulated by the following quotation:

“The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”

This is attributed to Mark Twain but, of course, was never spoken or written by Mr. Clemens. Who actually authored it is unknown, but it seems relatively recent. It has a preachy tone to it which tells you, right there, it is not a Twain quote.

To me the key phrase is “find out why.” A purpose for your life is something you create, not find. The “find” people are all selling a particular brand of snake oil. These are religious creationists who believe we were created by their god for a purpose, for a special purpose, a purpose only they know and you don’t.

Unfortunately, if you ask these people why your or my purpose of life is, you will get wishy-washy ambiguous answers.

Let us take a step backward and ask ourselves, why would a being such as the Judeo-Christian god create a sentient species such as us? Let us set aside for the time being that an incredibly vast universe was created, presumably for a reason and if that reason is so we could be created, then this is more than a spot of bother. Imagine having to build an ant farm the size of the state of California to raise a few dozen ants. (Mind boggling but my analogy erred on the side of caution.)

This god is an asetic god, a being complete and whole in and of itself which needs nothing, so the reason for our creation had to be a want, rather than a need.

So, what purpose could we have been created to serve?

To serve others is often suggested but that makes no sense. If I was created to serve others, what are the others for? To serve me? (My cartoon mind dredges up the Twilight Zone episode with the cookbook “To Serve Mankind.”) To serve god? This also makes no sense as such a god needs no servants. I have wondered why the Judeo-Christian god has so many “helpers.” For example angels. Angels are “spiritual’ beings believed to act as attendants, agents or messengers of God, acting as “benevolent celestial intermediaries between god and humans.” So, God needs attendants? To attend to what? God needs agents? To do what? God needs messengers? Direct revelations weren’t satisfying? This God seems pretty weak if he needs all of these servants to run his business. The Book of Revelations says that there are “myriads of myriads” of angels, so that means 100,000,000 or more of them. No wonder this god’s mansion has so many rooms. (I wonder if there is an upstairs-downstairs arrangement of rooms?)

So, old God doesn’t need company or conversation or someone to make a good beer. So, why did he need human beings? According to the Bible, he must have created humans to learn what it was like to regret and change his mind (both were done in association with the Great Flood, don’t you know). (Both of which contradict His All-Knowingness.)

Now, I am going to take a wild ass guess and suggest to you that many Christians will mumble something along the lines of God created humans to have people join Him in Heaven and to commune with Him. (Does that make God a communist? Just asking.) The more honest sort say that their God wants humans to join Him in heaven so we can worship Him directly. It will be worth it, they say, because we will be blissed out merely to be in “God’s presence.” This, of course, also makes no sense at all because these same people will tell you that this god is “omnipresent,” which means he is everywhere all of the time, so He already is in our presence and we are in His.

Gee, is this making sense, at all? I can see why these religions don’t have question and answer periods after sermons, like there are after virtually every secular speech.

Oh, my point is writing this? Yo, people, stop besmirching Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain’s legacy by attributing things to him he neither said nor wrote. Just stop.

February 20, 2021

Should We Treat Texas’s Self-Inflicted Wound?

In 2011, Texas faced a very similar storm that froze natural gas wells and affected coal plants and wind turbines, leading to power outages across the state. A decade later, Texas power generators have still not made all the investments necessary to prevent plants from tripping offline during extreme cold, experts said. These changes were not required of energy producers, merely recommended.

Other states can buy power from surrounding states to meet spiking demands. That’s because the continental US is powered by two big, highly connected grids: the Eastern Interconnection and the Western Interconnection. Texas, however, has insisted on having its own grid with little connection to the other two grids. It’s a point of pride for politicians there, who claim the state has “energy independence.”

So, even after seeing what can happen and being warned that extreme weather events are going to be more common dues to climate change, Texas took no action. Texas is also a conservative state that hammers home the principle of individual responsibility.

So . . .

So . . . the question is, should we, in the form of the federal government, bail out the state of Texas for their own bad behavior or should we insist upon individual responsibility of the state as a whole. This is a classic case, often used by conservatives, of a moral hazard. If we bail them out, we are rewarding their bad behavior. Heads they win, tails we lose.

This is compounded by the fact that the same thing happened ten years ago and all of the solutions to the problems then exposed were and are available and not particularly expensive.

Conservatives often say that we can “trust corporations as they would never do anything that would harm their reputations.” Apparently not.

The Trolley Problem Solved!

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy — Steve Ruis @ 12:01 pm
Tags: ,

I assume you have heard of the ethical problem called the Trolley Problem. There are a number of versions of this problem but I will use just the basic problem which is an ethical dilemma. A trolley car is racing downhill toward an intersection. Just before that intersection, the rails split. You have access to the switch and you must choose which way to send the trolley. Unfortunately on one spur of the tracks stands a solitary man, often described as being fat, while on the other, five workers are standing. Onto which track will you switch the trolley?

Here are a number of solutions from various sources:

The Cannibal Solution
It doesn’t matter, either way we eat!

The Utilitarian Solution
You switch to the track that kills only one instead of five. It is a win-win all around.

The Overthinkers Solution
What if one of the five is another Hitler or maybe the fat man is a budding saint. What if the lone man is the sole support of his widowed mother? What if I get sued no matter which way I throw the switch? Dithering, you miss the opportunity to take action and the problem solves itself.

The Republican Solution
The workers are probably union people so they probably vote Democrat, so fuck ‘em.!

The Democrat Solution
We will have to hold some focus groups, check in with our donors, and maybe hold hearings. We will get back to you next week.

The Putin Solution
Quick, bring second trolley!

The Evangelical Solution
It doesn’t matter, it is all part of God’s plan.

The New Age Solution
Consult your spirit guide. Mediate upon the problem to see if it just is a mirage and then fast for three days and an answer will come to you.

The Obvious Solution
Since this is an hypothetical problem, I reach into my hypothetical pocket and pull out my hypothetical revolver. I fire three warning shots into the air. All six people look in my direction, see the runaway trolley, and move out of its path. Ta da!

February 19, 2021

Ding Dong the Rush is Dead

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment,Politics,Race — Steve Ruis @ 9:49 am
Tags: , , ,

The not so sad news came yesterday that Rush Limbaugh had died. Many people were asking today whether it is appropriate to celebrate that event.

I was actually a fan of his radio show quite some time ago, until a particular story came up. It involved a mountain lion attack on a hiker in the California wilderness. Mr. Limbaugh couched this story as another liberal tree hugger getting her just desserts. I then read a story in the newspaper that the forest ranger who found the body stated that Mr. Limbaugh got the story quite wrong. The ranger even called the show and spoke to a Limbaugh flunky to explain how wrong he had got the story. Mr. Limbaugh continued to spin the story his way for many days thereafter, after learning from someone who was there that he had got it wrong. He never “corrected” his story.

At that point I concluded that anyone having such a disregard for the truth could not be trusted and so stopped listening. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Limbaugh became a full-time shill for the Republican Party. (Remember the “America Held Hostage, Day XYZ” campaign?)

At that point it was clear that Mr. Limbaugh was not taking an ideological stance, but a financial stance. In politics, one must follow the money, but also the access. Mr. Limbaugh sucked up to the rich and the powerful conservatives and got paid really well and he got to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom. GOP pols sucked up to him obsequiously.

The financial haul lasted a long time, until the Dump Rush campaign cut into his sponsorships a great deal. All in all, he was an embarrassment in American Radio broadcasting history.

So, “Ding, dong, the dick is dead, the wicked old dick, the dick is dead . . .” Celebrate away!

February 18, 2021

Texas Freezes, Repubs Blame . . .

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:53 am
Tags: , ,

The State of Texas has its own power grid. It supplies cheap electricity to all Texans (kinda sorta), but they don’t share or even connect to the grids of other states, so when their grid was laid low by fierce winter storms, millions of people had no electricity. And in many places that meant no light, no heat, no refrigeration, and no water (if you had water from a well), or too much water flooding houses from burst pipes.

The brave GOP legislators and officers of the state, not afraid to call a spade a spade, first blamed the outages on liberals. That didn’t seem to float at all well as their grid is run by Texans for Texans and regulated (or rather not regulated) by conservative Texas politicians. So, next in the blame line was “wind turbines.” Apparently a few of the Repubs were aware that on rare occasions wind turbines freeze, but since they are used successfully in places like Iceland and Siberia, that also is a hard sell. Next in line is Antifa, clearly Antifa sabotaged the electricity grid. Damn you, Antifa!

Currently the GOP fat cats are praying Jesus will come back and fix everything fit as a fiddle. Yep, their thoughts and prayers are hard at work.

Gotta love the Lone Star State! Not just “all Stetson and no cattle” but those Stetsons are coving up a paucity of brain cells. Maybe they should change their handle to the State with Single Digit IQs.

Addendum—As Seen on Politifact
In a Feb. 15 Facebook post, Scott L. Biddle wrote that the storm resulted from “weather manipulation and controlling the jet stream”—something he assured people is “not a conspiracy theory.” Says Joe Biden planned a winter storm as “warfare, an attack on Texas by altering the jet stream.” “Joe Biden’s ‘Dark Winter’ statement was not a random thought, it was a foreshadow of what was to come,” Biddle wrote. “Texas is the only state to have its own, entirely independent electric grid separate from the rest of the United States. This is warfare, an attack on Texas by altering the jet stream, seeding the clouds, and ultimately causing the storm that blacked out over 4 million people.”

Maybe there is something in the water?

February 12, 2021

It is Time to Do Away with the Stock Markets

A couple of recent stories surrounding the stock market are indicative of why we need to do away with it.

#1 “Collapsed revenues, astronomical losses, red-hot cash-burn, hellish new debt. Meanwhile, amid craziest markets ever, airline shares soared.”

#2 A stock buyback – a company purchasing its own shares to reduce the number openly available and so push the price up – is a form of market manipulation that was illegal in the US until Ronald Reagan decided that to ban it was to restrict market freedom. As a result, many corporations, instead of building factories, now plough money into their own shares.

It has helped raise the stock market to record levels and provided shareholders with a huge bonus. But few others have benefited. The pharmaceutical company Merck insists that it must charge exorbitant amounts for its medicines to help fund new research. In 2018, the company spent $10 billion on research and development – and $14 billion on share repurchases and dividends. One report suggests that had Wal-Mart diverted half the money it has spent on stock buybacks into wages, one million of its lowest-paid employees, many of whom live below the poverty line, could have had a 50% pay increase.

#3 A bunch of Reddit geeks on the online forum r/wallstreetbets, an investment discussion group that boasts more than 6 million users, decided to buy GameStop shares en masse. Perhaps they saw it as an investment, perhaps they were bored, perhaps they wanted to inflict pain on Wall Street. Whatever the reason, the consequence was to push GameStop’s share price up. And up. Once it became a global story, others piled in too, boosting the share price from about $40 to almost $400 in a matter of days. As a result, big investors lost big (billions of dollars reportedly), one hedge fund, Melvin Capital Management, even being forced to seek a rescue package. (They, of course, were “shorting” that stock looking to make money by providing, well, nothing to earn it. So sad.)

The “stock market” as you were taught about in school barely exists. Some companies do “go public,” selling pieces of their company to raise the money to expand, modernize, whatever. But this activity constitutes less than 10% of the activity of the American stock markets. Most of the “market activity” is what are called the “secondary market” in which people buy and sell stocks already existing. This benefits the companies not at all and, as you can see from point #2 above, it is not unusual for a company to buy and sell its own stock to manipulate their stock’s price (which is what stock brokers are complaining about in point #3, that manipulation not being done by the right kind of people, don’t you know).

The entirety of the stock market has been studied and shown to be a drain on the economy, so why do we allow this abomination to exist? Basically wealthy people are siphoning off money from the economy by pushing paper in the stock markets, contributing nothing in return. But because they are wealthy, and contribute much money to the campaign coffers of politicians, there is no serious movement to “defund the stock markets” as it were.

The time has come: either get rid of it or place a transaction tax upon the traders. That would at least discourage rampant secondary market stock trading which has no value for the American people (actually it has negative value).

Pandemic/Political/Future Anxieties

Filed under: Culture — Steve Ruis @ 11:07 am
Tags: , ,

The impeachment trial got you feeling anxious? How about the pandemic? How about your economic precariousness? How about being anxious about things under your control, instead.?

A good start would just be, say, giving up anxiety for Lent. Does giving up anxiety make you anxious? Try not to let it. (If you truly suffer from elevated levels of anxiety, giving it up is not an easy thing to do. It probably will take quite a bit of time and effort to do so, despite my Lent quip.)

Things may not work out the way you want. When you choose not to be anxious, you do it in spite of your unfulfilled expectations. What you lose is what you pay for your peace of mind.” (Epictetus)

I used to think that some emotions were useless, as in absolutely useless, such as embarrassment, anxiety, etc. I now know that these emotions do have some utility. We err only when we overuse them.

Just as a short fast can reset our food appetites, a short fast from anxiety may reset your anxiety level back to “normal.” Oh, and stop watching TV news, that helps a great deal. (Their job is to get you riled up, not providing you with any reassurance or even dependable information.)

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.