Uncommon Sense

June 29, 2022

The Toxicity of the Concept of a Chosen People

Filed under: Race,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:59 am
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Recently we have seen pushback on the Black Lives Matter movement, typically by using another meme “All Lives Matter.” It is funny but all of us have some desire for exclusivity, no matter what we claim. In this country underlying all such discussions is the religious idea of there being a “chosen people.” These people have been chosen, by their god they claim, for special treatment because they are “special” some how.

If you are old, like me, you might remember a pop song called, The In Crowd. Here are excerpts from the lyrics:

I’m in with the in crowd
I go where the in crowd goes
I’m in with the in crowd
And I know what the in crowd knows

Any time of the year, don’t you hear?
Dressin’ fine, makin’ time
We breeze up and down the street
We get respect from the people we meet
They make way day or night
They know the in crowd is out of sight

. . .

At a spot where the beat’s really hot
Oh, if it’s square, we ain’t there
We make every minute count
Our share is always the biggest amount
Other guys imitate us
But the original’s still the greatest

. . .

We got our own way of walkin’
We got our own way of talkin’, yeah.

This was written for a high school crowd, I am sure, in which socially evolving young people desperately wanted to be accepted, especially by those who seemed “the coolest.” In high school we invented words that were exclusively ours (ours were words like cool, bitchin’, and boss . . . We got our own way of talkin’, yeah) There was no sense to being “special” if nobody else noticed.

In the U.S. Christianity has broken up into thousands of denominations, each one claiming to be different from the others and, of course “special.” And they exclude. They exclude people who they don’t want to be special like them. Maybe those they exclude are Catholics, or LGBQT people, or . . . ugh . . . Democrats! You can’t be exclusive, without excluding “others.” Of course, we tend to demonize those “others.” Ask any evangelical Christian about atheists, it is unlikely they have never met one, and they will nonetheless have a strong negative opinion. Their religion claims that to be moral you have to believe in their god, their way, and so atheists are automatically immoral and not to be trusted. Exclusion you see.

But in the vein of “All Lives Matter” are we not all “God’s Children?” If we are all god’s children, why did the Abrahamic god “choose” a single people out for special treatment? Why exclude the rest?

Is there any more evident reason to believe that those scriptures were written by men, for men than that? Why would an all–loving god, create a race of sentient animals, and then just select out a small subgroup to educate and ignore (or worse, condemn) the rest?

Divinely inspired scripture, my ass. The word of god, my ass. Rather the Word of Man; scripture inspired by “The In Crowd.”

June 26, 2022

If We Held the Senate . . .

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:45 am
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It is clear that all of the Trump’s nominees for the Supreme Court lied when they stated that Roe v. Wade was “settled” law. And, well, you know that lying to Congress under oath is against the law . . . and . . . Supreme Court Justices are impeachable. Just sayin’.

For you history buffs, the only Justice to be impeached was Associate Justice Samuel Chase in 1805. The House of Representatives passed Articles of Impeachment against him; however, he was acquitted by the Senate. But this court is all for breaking new ground, setting aside precedents, so we could do it.

June 24, 2022

The Law of Unintended Consequences in Action, Again!

According to an article in The Guardian:

“Donald Trump, who spends summers at his Bedminster golf club, is a TV guy, a ratings guy. So the widely televised hearings of the congressional committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US. hit him where it hurts.

“The former US president has reportedly been glued to them – and has not liked what he’s seen. As the panel has presented a carefully crafted case against Trump as the leader of a failed coup, he is said to be livid that there is no one in the room to speak up for him.”

Aw, poor baby.

Actually, it was the Ex-president’s party that forbade participation by Republicans in the Congressional panel. The only two Republicans participating have paid for that participation, one through the loss of his seat in the House and the other by the loss of all of her committee assignments in the Senate.

The reason the GOP didn’t want to play in the investigation was so they could claim that the Congressional investigation was a partisan political attack by Democrats on Republicans. That didn’t work and so Mafia Don didn’t have any allies on the committee to feed him inside information and, well, the majority of the witnesses so far have been Republicans, not only Republicans but conservative Republicans who wanted to see Donald Trump re-elected. So, “The Don” isn’t complaining about RINOs. These are good, solid Republican officials trying to do the right thing.

After watching the hearings yesterday, June 23rd, I was impressed that none of the witnesses criticized Mr. Trump. Not one word about or any attack on his person at all. They all stuck to the facts and offered no opinions on the President’s behavior/actions. That they were capable of such attacks was evident in their comments regarding Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark who was excoriated for breaking DOJ rules, his own promises, and attempting to step up to Acting Attorney General despite not having the qualifications for the post, simply based upon Mr. Clark’s willingness to do the President’s bidding.

Mr. Clark might have been someone willing to stand up for the Ex-president but he was too busy claiming his Fifth Amendment right against incriminating himself, reportedly well over 100 times when he was questioned by the committee’s staff.

The Law of Unintended Consequences—unbeaten, untied, and still champion!

Freedom!! Freedom!!

The GOP advanced their Freedom Agenda today, when their hand-picked Supreme Court Justices overturned Roe v. Wade which established abortion as a valid option for pregnant women everywhere in the country.

By voiding Roe, the GOP’s minions have established their small government, freedom loving vision upon the country. The government is expected to stay out of the private lives of citizens . . . , uh, well, except when a woman gets pregnant and the state steps in and exercises control over that woman’s uterus.

No other organ is thus “protected” by the state. The state (federal or local) cannot require you to accept an organ transplant, nor require you to donate any of your organs to another (even blood). The state cannot require you to protect your heart and lungs by not smoking. But uteruses, well, they’re special, you see.

And while the SCOTUS justices may have been correct that the constitution right to privacy may not be the shield Roe needed, there is this small matter of . . . the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which provides that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” So women are secure in their persons, except when the anti-abortion states step in and exercise control over their uteruses. And determining that a woman is pregnant, how is that not an illegal search? How does that make any sense at all? And what about “equal protection” of the law? The Fourteenth Amendment states that “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States” but that apparently doesn’t apply to the United States collectively. So, in the United States, a women will get an abortion in one state and be arrested and tried for murder, but another woman, just on the other side of the state line, will get an abortion, paid for by her insurance company. This will happen because the U.S. itself doesn’t provide equal protection under the law.

Clearly the current crop of SCOTUS ne’er-do-wells were just looking for legal-schmegal language cover for what they wanted to do for their religiously inspired agendas.

The Republicans orchestrated this. The only solution is to vote them out, vote them all out.

June 23, 2022

Release the Kraken! . . . Er, the Law of Unintended Consequences!

The Supreme Court of the U.S., hereafter SCOTUS, in a recent decision (Carson v. Makin) made the bizarre decision that the state of Maine was required to fund religious schools because the state subsidizes private schools where no public schools are available.

In other words, Maine (and all other states with similar laws, etc.) has to choose between the separation of church and state and funding secular private schools, but now including funding discriminating religious schools (schools that ban gays, teach creationism as science, etc.)

There are a number of “workarounds” of this ridiculous SCOTUS ruling.

One would make be to pass a state law restricting state educational funding only to those schools which abide by the states anti-discriminatory statutes (and other rules governing schooling). Then the religious schools would have to decide how much they want that state funding. Do they want it enough to not implement their doctrines of hatred?

Another workaround would be simply to abide by the decision: since secular private schools are funded, so must be religious schools, so stop using state funds to support all such private schools. Be fair, be equitable.

Which is more important constitutionally: separation of church and state (first amendment rights) or funding of private schools? Those too far from public schools made their decision to live where they do in full knowledge of the schools issue. So, let their children be homeschooled or remotely schooled from the nearest secular public school.

Actually, I would just like to see what happened in Maine when Islamic schools applied for school funding, or radical yeshivas, heck, a Taliban School for Domestic Terrorism.

June 21, 2022

Ex-President “Mafia Don” Trump

I was watching the Congressional hearings into the Attack on the Capitol on January 6th, 2021 today. I had some revelations.

One is that there are a great many honest, good, hard-working public servants out there, trying to do a good job for the rest of us. This is one reason I bristle when people attack “the government” as if it were some sort of alien attack force. It isn’t. It is just “us, aka We the People, acting collectively.” If it is not behaving as we would wish, it is up to us to correct those behaviors as they are representing us.

Republicans have countered that these hearings are partisan and, well, they are. So far, we seem to have heard the testimony of only Republicans. Definitely not fair and balanced. And, I do notice that none of the “push back” by Republicans consists of them claiming the facts are wrong or “President Trump didn’t do that,” or really anything of substance.

I was especially appalled at the Trump apparatus giving out the names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses of many of the state officials they were trying to subvert, including lowly poll workers. In one case, they gave out this sensitive information for the grandmother of one such poll worker. The 70+ year-old grandmother then receive threats from armed thugs at her front door and received a great many spurious pizza deliveries during the night that she didn’t order. What did Mr. Trump and his goons think was going to happen when they gave out that information? Did they expect deliveries of Girl Scout cookies? I think they knew exactly the kind of harassment that would flow out toward those people, which makes Mafia Don Trump and his minions the most despicable of people.

The committee also played excerpts of Mr. Trump haranguing state election officials in a manner that sounded as if he were auditioning for an acting job on the Sopranos reboot. What a thug.

Ridiculing Jesus? I Would Never . . .

Filed under: History,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:38 pm
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I was reading a book last night (Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: A Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith by David Madison) which I will report on later but here reflect upon a rather disturbing statement. Here it is:

I can’t agree with strident atheists who ridicule Jesus for not knowing that the Earth orbits the sun, that demons can’t be transferred into pigs or that blindness can’t be cured by smearing diseased eyes with mud and spit. Truly, Jesus was a citizen of his time and participated fully in the superstitions of the day.

The author is a recovering minister and he seems to be taking comments by other atheists personally. This is a common attitude: people claim that as atheists we “hate God,” that “we just want to sin,” and other nonsense. They ignore the fact that since we are not convinced that their god exists, it hardly can whip up strong emotions in us. If I am disappointed in the behavior of a character in a book, a movie, or a play, I don’t get mad at the character, I get mad at the author. And, as to wanting to sin, sin is a violation of god’s laws. If we do not believe that this god exists, how restricted by “its laws” do you think we are?

And to casually call atheists who criticize what has been written about the character “Jesus,” as being strident, that is, well, hurtful. We have feelings, you know.

My good buddy, Merriam-Webster says “Some common synonyms of strident are blatant, boisterous, clamorous, obstreperous, and vociferous. While all these words mean ‘so loud or insistent as to compel attention,’ strident suggests harsh and discordant noise.” This sounds as if the author’s Christian sensibilities are still tender.

As I will report later, this is a book very much worth reading if you are an atheist. But this paragraph shows why we are leery of Christian privilege, the fact that if we gainsay them, we are “attacking” them, waging war on them, e.g. the War on Christianity, etc.

As to the meat of the quote, we aren’t criticizing Jesus for his lack of knowledge, because we don’t accept that Jesus was or is a god, so why would he know such things? We are ridiculing perfectly modern “believers” who believe that kind of thing rather than their lying eyes. Plus you cannot hold the idea that Jesus is part of the Trinity, being omniscient and omnipotent, and “Truly, Jesus was a citizen of his time and participated fully in the superstitions of the day” at the same time. Such cognitive dissonance is quite worthy of ridicule, although I prefer reasoned discourse over ad hominem slurs.

Is Shaq On Your Top Ten All-Time NBA Player List?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 9:34 pm

With the even higher ascendance of Steph Curry, many talking heads have been arguing about whether Steph belongs on the top ten all-time NBA player list.

I won’t argue that point, but I will address something else. Many people included Shaquille O’Neal on their lists. I do not.

When Shaq first entered the league, he weighed in at 294 pounds but in his heyday he was between 350 and 400 pounds. Now, Mr. O’Neal was allowed to do things other people were not. When Shaq got the ball down on the block, he would attempt to run straight through his opponent—whump! The collision would knock the opponent guarding him back several feet. Then Shaq would do it again—whump, whump, whump, and then shoot a two foot shot or dunk the ball in the basket.

This is a violation of the rules. That is called a “charge,” the term derived from one player charging into the space occupied by another. As long as the defender displays good defensive posture, this foul is called even today (being, with moving screens, the most commonly called “offensive foul”). When Shaq did it, however, it was allowed and when officials were asked to call the rules, the players were told to resist more. (An Aside—this is not unique. Allen Iverson was informed by NBA officials that his signature move, a cross-over dribble, was illegal (aka “carrying the ball”) before he played his first NBA game, and would be called as such. Iverson responded with: “go ahead and try” and the officials swallowed their whistles in front of hostile Philadelphia crowds.)

If Shaq’s charges were called for the fouls they were, I am sure Shaq would have still been a great center. Just as Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) adapted when the NCAA outlawed dunking, I am sure Shaq would have adopted other strategies, but since that was unnecessary—whump, whump, whump, dunk was a persistent pattern in his game.

I have three centers on top of my all-time list: Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. I consider Wilt and Bill to be a 1A/1B pair (basically a tie) and Kareem a close second. Many people pick Bill above Wilt because Bill has 11 championship rings, but basketball is a team game and there are a lot of other people involved in winning a championship. My test is: if you were to switch Wilt and Bill, would the results still be the same? I think they would. Wilt showed that he could do everything that Bill could do defensively and Bill was gifted as a center, But Wilt and the Celtics would still win a ton of championships and Bill on the teams Wilt played for would win maybe a couple.

Shaq was good, but not all-time good.

Shaq is 15th all-time in rebounding, having played 19 years. Do you know who is #1? Wilt, who played only 14 years and amassed 23,924 rebounds to Shaq’s 13,099. Of course, Bill was #2 at 21,620 in his 13 year career. Kareem was at 17,440 over his 20 year career.

Shaq had 3,026 assists, Wilt had 4,643. Shaq amassed 28,596 points in his 19 years, Wilt totaled 31,419 in his 14 years.

Shaq won four NBA championships, three with Kobe Bryant, one of the all-time greats and one not paired with Kobe Bryant. Not exactly dominant as an individual

Bill was surrounded by almost a dozen fall of fame players during his championship run (including  Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones, Frank Ramsey, and John Havlicek, plus he played for a hall of fame coach, Red Auerbach). Wilt’s first championship happened when he finally got a supporting cast of stars, including Hall Greer, Billy Cunningham (a rookie), and Chet Walker. Rather than reload, the Sixers traded away Wilt and didn’t see the playoffs for quite some time thereafter. Wilt’s second championship came after a stint with the SF Warriors (in which he played in the NBA Finals, one game of which I saw in person) when he was traded to the LA Lakers. In that championship run, the Lakers first such, Wilt had a supporting cast including Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, two other all-time greats. (The two were great but couldn’t beat the Celtics . . . until they acquired Wilt.) The supporting cast to “the stars” is the most important factor in winning a championship.

June 20, 2022

Black and White Thinking

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:18 am
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I was reading a podcast (“What is Life?”) transcript of a discussion of finding a definition of life we can all agree upon. (No, we do not yet have such a beastie.)

Here is a passage that struck me:

You know, it’s so easy for humans to think in dichotomies: good–bad; black–white; day–night. These are things that make life simple. It means we can categorize things very, very quickly. And early on in human history, this was the defense mechanism, because you had to make decisions very, very quickly. Whether or not you were going to shake that person’s hand or shoot an arrow at them. So we needed to make these decisions.

But we don’t have to do that when we’re thinking about the larger issues of the natural world. The natural world is amazingly intricate and complex. And how those chemical complex systems emerge, and at what point a complex chemical system is something that we truly will call alive, is not at all obvious.

“It is so easy for humans to think in dichotomies: good–bad; black–white; day–night.”

All the time we are doing this, nature is telling us: “Remember that you are making a gross simplification!” For example, when the dawn comes in the morning, the transition from “night” to “day” takes over an hour (way over an hour in the arctic regions). So, what is it during that transition period? Is it still night, or has it become day? For scientific purposes we have defined an “exact” time at which, say “dawn” occurs, but that time is not directly observable by a casual observer. And that is just us forcing our dichotomous thinking, our “black and white thinking” onto nature.

Look at the knots Southerners tied themselves into defining the difference between “black” and “white” people. Or the Nazis in defining “Aryan” and “other” peoples.

So, “black and white” thinking is just another form of Type 1 thinking (a la Daniel Kahneman) that allows us to act in short order when that is demanded of us. Unfortunately, unscrupulous people smear that kind of thinking over into issues that do not require rapid response thinking. So, we have the “us and them” dichotomies of politics, and the “believer and non-believer” dichotomies of religion.

Do any of you see a way around this? Is there a rhetorical trigger we might invent that will shift people away from dichotomous thinking when it isn’t helpful? Being a cynical old person, I assume if such a thing existed, humans would find a way to mis-use it.

What Is In a Motto?

Filed under: Culture,History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:14 am
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On July 30th, 1956  we dropped the unofficial motto of the United States, E Pluribus Unum (translation “from many, one”) and adopted the motto, In God We Trust.

How has that been working out, do you think?

Well, a recent Gallup poll showed that 81% of U.S. adults say they believe in God, down six points from 2017 and the lowest percentage since the poll first asked the question in 1944.

On the unity front, we seem to be hearing many comments that the nation is more divided now than at any time since the Civil War period (1860-1865).

Gosh, do you think the changing of the motto caused all of this?

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