Uncommon Sense

May 30, 2021

Abraham and Isaac Rewound

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:13 am

The story of Abraham and Isaac is well known. In summary it is: according to the Hebrew Bible, God commands Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. After Isaac is bound to an altar, a messenger from God stops Abraham before the sacrifice finishes, saying “now I know you fear God.” Abraham looks up and sees a ram and sacrifices it instead of Isaac. (Source: Wikipedia)

I did a Google search and the first hit that came up is from a children’s book of Bible stories (they tell these to children?). This is what came up: “Abraham and Isaac is an emotion-filled story of complete obedience and unreserved sacrifice. This heart-rending story is one of the greatest tests of obedience, faith and trust in God found anywhere in the Bible. Abraham passes the test and renews God’s promise that he will become the father of many nations.”

But. . . .

Some things just don’t make sense.

First, Yahweh doesn’t need to test anyone about anything because He is omniscient, that is He already knows the outcome. So, why is He bothering?

Abraham knows that Yahweh is omniscient, so he goes ahead with the plan because he knows that Yahweh knows that he is loyal, true blue, faithful, etc. and wouldn’t make him sacrifice his beloved son for no good reason. In other words, Abraham trusts that Yahweh won’t make him go through with it. So, Abraham trusts, that is has faith, that he will not have to sacrifice his son, so he is going through with the plan, knowing . . . knowing that Isaac will survive.

Next, Yahweh knows that Abraham knows all of this, because He knows everything, so why is this play acted out?

Apparently, the only sound reason is the Isaac is a little shit and needs to be taken down a notch or two. He is not told what is going on. He has to carry the faggots to be used to burn the “offering” not knowing that he is the offering. When he gets tied down to the altar (on one of the altars in the hills where child sacrifice was practiced, I presume, also the altars in the hills that were railed against when the Hebrews turned monotheistic) Isaac begins to twig to the fact that he is the sacrifice and experiences the fear of god (and his appointed regent on Earth, his father). Being saved at the last minute by an angel probably left him with a much better mindset, now knowing what will happen to him if he doesn’t get his act together.

This “lesson” is totally in line with the other lessons in the Bible, where stoning to death is the common treatment for any kind of disobedience. (Obedience is the main theme of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.) Got a rebellious teenager? Take him (of course, him) to the gates of the city and have your friends and neighbors stone him to death. Your bride has a ruptured hymen which you don’t discover until you are married? Take her out and stone her to death. These lessons are like the U.S. West’s practice of leaving coyote pelts stretched out on wire fences as a lesson for the remaining coyotes (and about equally effective).

At the time this story (and it is a fictional story) is set, neither human sacrifice, nor child sacrifice had been banned and were still practiced, “in the hills.”

As to this being “an emotion-filled story of complete obedience and unreserved sacrifice” well, this is what you get when you allow spin doctors to sign up in a religion. The only sacrifice was that of the ram. Abraham isn’t demonstrating extreme obedience because everything goes as he wishes. And Isaac getting the shit scared out of him isn’t even mentioned.

And, really, they tell this story to children? Amazing. I guess you have to just accept that anybody who will spin the drowning of millions of men, women, and children as a story of hope will say, and unfortunately do, anything.

May 24, 2021

It is a Dirty Word! Don’t Use It!

The dirty word is “redistribution.” To the wealthy this means “rob from the rich and give to the poor.” This means “take from the deserving and give to the undeserving.” This is an abominable thing, redistribution, they say.

Of course, they have been doing it for the past 40 plus years now, and now that they have succeeded, they are, as they say, pulling the ladder up so no others can use it. The wealthy of course have been using every tool at hand to redistribute earnings from the less rich to the more rich. They have manipulated tax laws, labor legislation, social media, you name it in their quest to become even richer than they were. They have used some of their newly acquired wealth to double down and now “own” much of the legislatures and judiciaries in the U.S. Those bodies will not act in any way before running their possible actions by the rich and powerful, aka “donors.” (When the rich ask each other whether they are “donors” they are not talking about organ donations, they are talking about political donations, aka bribes.)

A recent study, however indicates that the strategies employed by the rich to get richer are counter production. They looked at an example for which there was enough data, starting in 1989, though 2019, and found that:

“Downward redistribution appears to make everyone quite a lot wealthier, faster – especially (no surprise) the bottom 80%. Economic activity, annual spending, increases even faster. Taking the leftmost bars as an example: with an annual 1.5% downward transfer, greater spending would have resulted in a 549% total wealth increase, versus actual 421%. (To put that 1.5% downward transfer in context: the compounding annual growth rate on a passive wealth holder’s 60/40 stock/bond portfolio over that thirty years was about 7.5%. That’s all unearned income, received simply for holding wealth.)

“Most of that extra wealth growth would have gone to the bottom 80% (wealth growth of 527% vs. actual 295%), while top-20% wealth growth would also have been slightly higher than actual (526% vs. 499%). The top-20% share of wealth would have remained unchanged, versus the actual share increase, from 61% to 71%.

“With 1.5% in downward redistribution, 2019’s total consumption spending — a pretty good index or proxy for GDP — would have been 52% higher. Total wealth would have been 16% higher.” (Source: How Redistribution Makes America Richer, www.nakedcapitalism.com, May 24, 2021)

Of course the wealthy deny such findings as they conflict with their worldview, “Reality, pfft, what is it really?’

May 22, 2021

The Scary Side of AI

Filed under: Morality,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 11:21 am
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Efforts to create artificially intelligent (AI) computer systems is still in its infancy. I was intrigued at first but now I am concerned.

The most basic concept is to create computer systems that can “learn” as opposed to the “normal” process of programming in code all abilities desired from the system.

So far, nothing scary here.

Now that we have created systems that are somewhat adept at “machine learning” we have discovered, hey presto, that we often do not know what these systems have learned or how they did the learning of it. The systems don’t report back, “telling” us how they did it and what they are capable of doing.

Recently a system was created to “model” the entire universe. Much to the creator’s surprise the model, after proving itself faster and more accurate than previous systems (of all types), also showed abilities it was never “taught” to calculate. The “teaching” is the supplying of datasets that would lead the system to make up general rules which it would then apply. But it was showing abilities that weren’t predicted from the datasets that were supplied.

The scary part is there is a responsibility disjoint here. Such a system, which are more and more being used for facial recognition and for application (job, college admittance, etc.) evaluations, were it to go awry, there is nobody responsible for making the system the way it is. “I didn’t program it to do such a thing,” will be heard around the world.

But the “programming” of these systems is not in the previously understood form of written code but in selecting the datasets to feed the beast, as it were.

Recently face-recognitions systems were shown to be vastly more erratic when looking at faces of people of color than the mainstream (white Americans, or Chinese citizens). One system showed no response to the face of a black woman . . . until she donned a white mask (like a V mask) then it recognized there was a face present to analyze. The system showed high accuracy for white male face recognition, lower for white females, much lower for black and brown men, and even lower for black and brown women.

Right now these systems are being implemented willy-nilly by private companies and authoritarian governments. Clearly there is a role to play for regulation of such system, like a test sequence of faces that a system must recognize to a high degree, but there is little in the way of inducement for the implementers to seek out such “safety standards,” at the moment.

So, apartment buildings are implementing “face recognition” entry locks to keep out the riff-raff, of course, but they also have interior cameras which recognize the faces of the people in the halls and report rules infractions to the building’s management. Big Brother is here, now.

There are few laws and almost no privacy protections built into our system, certainly not governing these new “frontiers.”

May 17, 2021

People Sneer at the Things Women and Girls Love

Filed under: Culture,writing — Steve Ruis @ 11:07 am
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“Teenage girls have so much sway over culture, yet people sneer at the things that women and girls love, and are contemptuous of the creators of that content, particularly if they are women,” Bardugo says. “To me, that contempt speaks to a deep fear. When you start dictating culture, money gets involved and people take notice. When I see someone deride things that women and girls find pleasure in, all I see is someone fearful that women will overtake the culture they’ve had dominion over for so long.” (Leigh Bardugo, as quoted in The Guardian)

Leigh Bardugo is an author of young adult fantasy books with her first novel is currently being staged for the screen by Netflix (Shadow and Bone).

I seems as if she is a bit isolated from the rest of us in her niche.

“Teenage girls have so much sway over culture” Uh, maybe with other teenaged girls and I think that has to do more with marketing than anything else. Way back when I was a teen, there were no influencers because there was no influence because there was little to no marketing to teens. Occasionally a B movie designed to attract teens would be made, but really there was not much. There were no special clothing stores or even sections for teens, their clothes were just mixed in with the larger sizes in the children’s department and the smaller sizes in the adult’s departments of department stores.

I suspect that all began to change with the advent of rock ‘n’ roll music.

“People sneer at the things that women and girls love.” Uh, again, I don’t think so. There are memes and stereotypes aplenty (women are obsessed with shoes, women are flighty, obsessed with romance, etc.) but men have a set of such things, too (men are obsessed with sex, men are clueless socially, men aren’t very bright and get easily fooled by women, men are often nerds (women not so much), etc.).

I think the comment above is largely fueled by social media responses. I can’t say for sure because I don’t “do” social media (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, whatever). Elsewhere in The Guardian piece I am reacting to, the author stated “I used to be very active on Twitter and, quite honestly, I don’t feel comfortable interacting there any more, so I stopped.” I suggest that anyone achieving much success rarely finds a completely sympathetic audience on any of those social media platforms.

Plus, authors are notoriously shy of criticism of any kind. When I was writing my first book, my publisher would send me an envelope full of reviews and comments (this was pre-Internet days). Those envelopes would sit on my desk for days before I could screw myself up to open them. The vast majority of comments/reviews were quite positive but the dread of criticism never left me. After having written hundreds of magazine articles and dozens of books, I still get a queasy feeling in my stomach when I read criticism of my work.

So, in this age of easy connectivity, it is easy to bask in the glow that fan boys and fan girls can waft our way, but negative criticism, even from idiots who you know haven’t read your work, still stings.

I do not “sneer at the things women and girls love.” I tend to look at them as I look ay yearling deer. Pretty to look at, fascinating to watch, etc. As an educator, I hate to see any youths, male or female, enraptured by shallow pursuits but often as not, I admire them for their energy and earnestness. It is what kept me in the classroom with 18- and 19-year olds for almost 40 years.

May 15, 2021

Trolling AntiVaxxers

Filed under: Culture — Steve Ruis @ 1:25 pm
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The online agency called “Vice” had a piece with the header “Anti-Maskers to Start Masking—To Protect Themselves from the Vaccinated.” And I thought to myself, “this is effing brilliant.”

All we need to is spread a little fake news, a favorite tool of the anti-vax crowd, and voilà, we are all better off!

Here is how it goes: we post comments that the vaccinated are contagious . . . from the vaccine. And the only way for anti-vax people to protect themselves is by wearing a mask, social distancing, and lots and lots of hand washing.


Wish I had thought of it first!

They’re Going to Take Away Your Guns . . . er . . . Burgers!

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:13 am
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When President Biden announced the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 50% in this decade, Republicans responded by claiming that the president was going to restrict meat-eating to once a month. “Okay, got that? No burgers on the Fourth of July. No steaks on the barbecue,” claimed Larry Kudlow, a former Trump adviser now a host on Fox News.


Obviously, conservatives do not believe this. How do I know? If they did, there would be a run on hamburger and steaks at grocery stores and there is not. Conservatives should be falling all over themselves to load their freezers with beef, so that when it is banned, they will have their own personal honey holes of juicy goodness.

Conservatives have been driving sales with fear for decades. The past champion in that effort is the NRA. The NRA’s current legal and financial troubles seem to be valid as they did not accompany the election of a Democrat President with their usual “They’re going to take your guns away” campaign that results . . . every damned time . . . in a spike in sales of guns and ammo. Apparently “the boy who cried wolf” admonition doesn’t apply to these efforts as none of the claims has been born out.

It seems as if the conservative brain drain, fomented by the GOP’s driving out of all intellectuals from the party and replacing them with political hacks is finally bearing fruit. The GOP’s responses to various Democrat initiatives seems incoherent and even bizarre.

Time will tell whether anyone notices. Certainly Fox (sic) News can be counted on to not notice this.

May 13, 2021

The GOP Brain Drain May Kill Christianity in the US

There are many Republicans decrying the $300 per week unemployment payments that were prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. They claim that people will not work if they were being paid so lavishly not to work. Of course this is nonsense, typical Republican nonsense. If you use a 50 work week year, $300 per week equates to $15,000 per year. That is not even half of the average individual salary that people make. Would any of those complaining Republicans quit their jobs for that oh, so, easy 15 grand a year dole? I don’t think so.

On the flip side of this argument are those same Republicans who are pushing the idea of the U.S. being a Christian nation. This is different from being a nation of mostly Christians, but that there is some official role for Christianity as the official religion of the U.S. These people argue constantly for more and more special treatment of clergy and churches, more exemptions from taxes and compliance with labor and discrimination laws, etc.

But what they are arguing for is that Christian churches be put on the dole.

Aren’t they afraid that that would have the same repercussions as the “getting paid for not working” unemployment insurance does? Actually a recent study, published in the journal Sociology of Religion indicates that as governmental support for Christianity increases, the number of Christians declines significantly. It took ten years to do this study as they looked at data from 160 countries.

More and more I find myself wanting the old Republican Party back, the one which could actual think. I remember when the GOP had a liberal wing, and a cadre of public intellectuals who shared their thinking on ideas near and dear to the GOP. Now there seems to be only political hacks and Trump trolls in the rank and file of Republican leadership. Can they not see that they are attacking Christianity by demanding more and more government support and recognition?

If churches are put on the dole, where will the incentive come for the clergy to proselytize, and keep people in the pews? They will get fat and lazy, sitting around waiting for their government checks. Why do these conservatives want this future?

The GOP also don’t want black and brown people voting because they think they will vote to take away money from white people and give it to unworthy people (aka black and brown people). Aren’t they afraid that if they empower the clergy that they will rile up their congregations to pass legislation giving more and more to Christian churches, making them more and more dependent, and losing more and more Christians, leading to . . . a Muslim takeover!

Think about it. If the numbers of Christians decline, and the numbers of Muslims increase, couldn’t we then become a Muslim majority country (as so many others have) and then the Muslim clergy would be cashing those checks, and. . . .

Don’t they see? Most of Europe is rapidly becoming secular because of the support given by the various countries to their churches. We could be next.

Addendum If you want to read more, there is this: The Biggest Threat to Christianity.

May 11, 2021

A Life Filling Boxes (Check Boxes Anyway)

Filed under: Philosophy — Steve Ruis @ 11:05 am
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I have been reading an interesting book “Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing” by Arthur M. Melzer. One section struck me as I am quite long in the tooth and just spent some time in a hospital emergency room two days ago, so my “end of life experience is much closer than farther away. Here it is (the section, not my end of life experience):

“The crucial point concerns what is meant by a ‘philosopher.’1 In the older view, it is not simply a person like “you and me,” only with a particular interest in philosophy (although there are such people too, of course), any more than a saint is a person with a peculiar liking for religion. Again, philosophy is not a specific subject matter like botany or geology, or a particular technique or expertise, as in the contemporary phrase ‘a professional philosopher.’ It is above all a distinct way of life—something that makes one a different type of human being. One is a philosopher not so much because of what one does or is able to do as because of what one most fundamentally loves and lives for. The philosopher is the person who, through a long dialectical journey, has come to see through the illusory goods for which others live and die. Freed from illusion—and from the distortion of experience that illusion produces—he is able, for the first time, to know himself, to be himself, and to fully experience his deepest longing, which is to comprehend the necessities that structure the universe and human life as part of that universe. This is the famous vita contemplativa, an ideal of life found, in one form or another, among virtually all classical and medieval thinkers and still powerful among many modern thinkers as well.”

“We of course know all about this contemplative ideal but have a tendency to misunderstand by assimilating it to the intellectual models that dominate today, such as the scientist, the scholar, and the intellectual. ones. Today, we admire the great scientist, scholar, and intellectual primarily for their extraordinary ability, for what they can do, not for their unique way of living and being.”

What struck me is that in my life I have been a scientist, a scholar, and an intellectual, as well as a philosopher. So, these categories are not mutually exclusive.

I trained from high school onward to become a chemist, a scientist, and became a professor of chemistry, so I think that qualifies me as being a scientist (at a bare minimum my advanced degree required original research, so I did contribute a tidbit of scientific knowledge to the pool).

I have been a scholar of education, producing papers on the status of general education and one on chemical education. Currently I am a scholar of archery, specifically the coaching of archery and have close to a dozen books in my name on that topic.

I have made my living since college with my mind and rarely my body, so that is somewhat of a qualification for being an intellectual. Currently I write and edit magazines and books for publication.

And, as to being a philosopher, I have studied philosophy for long. I had a minor in it in college and have read on the topic continuously ever since. This, as mentioned above, does not make me a philosopher (maybe an academic one) as I like the definition provided, a philosopher who has a philosophy guiding their life, and I do have that.

A quote provided in the book above hammers this home “Michel de Montaigne, who began to philosophise when he lost a dear friend, wrote an essay entitled “That to Study Philosophy is to Learn How to Die.” This is really an extreme way of saying that we can use our reason to quell our fears, but also take back control of our lives from fear and sadness. ‘A man who has learned to die,’ he wrote, ‘has unlearned how to be a slave.’”

As I told the techs in the emergency room, “People my age look at this as a dress rehearsal,” which says something about me in that I was having a great deal of trouble breathing, due to asthma, but not too much to make quips to entertain “my audience.” (An audience is a group of people who “hear” and this was a captive audience, but an audience nonetheless.)

I can’t wait to see that the bill will be for the EMTs and hospital for a three hour period of their services. That will probably provide fodder for another post. And, I may continue my slide into arrogance and post on my personal philosophy, but probably only if I get provoked to do so by comments! :o)

My Defense is Individual Responsibility . . . Not!

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:56 am
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As the trials of the insurrectionists of the Capitol roll on we find another interesting note. For long conservatives, in general, and the Republican Party, in specific, have championed “individual responsibility.” But the conservatives on trial are all taking a stance of “Individual responsibility . . . pah, I was tricked!” They claim that they ere duped by Donald Trump or QAnon leaders, or the Devil made me do it, or . . . the latest excuse being “Foxitus,” that is they were deluded by false information garnered by watching Fox News. (I am shocked, shocked I tell you!).


Herd Immunity My Ass . . . Just Sayin’

Filed under: Culture,Medicine — Steve Ruis @ 10:53 am
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For your information, the adult population of the U.S. (18 years and up) is about 74% of all Americans. Of those 116 million have been fully vaccinated, about 34% of the total population. So, are we close to the 80-85% of the population needed to achieve the mythical “Herd Immunity”? We are not even half way there!

Part of this has to do with the fact that vaccines have just recently been approved for 16-18 year olds and, at least here in Chicago, youths down to 12 years old will begin getting vaccinated on Thursday!

In other words we haven’t even being trying for herd immunity as we excluded 26% of the population from getting vaccinated and we are just now opening the gates for part of those, the 12-17 year olds. We haven’t even begun on the under 12s.

And I am still hearing people claiming that everything will be “opened up” or “back open” by the Fourth of July.

I think these people need to start looking at reality. I have a fine view from this chair right here. I am sure they can find a similar viewpoint.

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