Uncommon Sense

June 11, 2021

The Rent’s Too Damned High

Economic myths dominate our political belief systems. Cory Doctorow recently addressed a number of them (on renting and home ownership) here.

Very much worth reading!

Here’s a taste:

The American middle class didn’t emerge thanks to property ownership — property ownership came about as the result of wage gains due to strong (and hard-fought) labor rights, and as a result of public subsidy for private homebuilding (the GI Bill). Homeownership is a good way to covert gains from the a worker-friendly labor market into something durable and insulated — but it’s no substitute for workers’ rights.

It only took a generation for the dream of homeownership to become a nightmare. Trading labor rights for asset appreciation meant that guaranteed pensions became market-based 401(k)s, turning American workers into the suckers in the financial markets’ casino. As these older workers retire, they are forced to supplement their wholly inadequate pensions by liquidating, remortgaging or reverse-mortgaging the family home. Social Security helps, but not much — without a powerful organized labor movement to defend Social Security, the program has withered, offering a sub-starvation cushion.

June 7, 2021

Duh . . .

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment — Steve Ruis @ 9:59 am
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Bob Odenkirk recently lamented that: “Soon people won’t remember Breaking Bad.” Odenkirk played slimeball lawyer Saul in that TV series, which was a smash hit, certainly amongst working and retired chemistry teachers (the main protagonist was a high school chemistry teacher facing a fatal disease and looking for a way to care for his family after he dies and finds it in making crystal meth).

I am a bit surprised at Odenkirk’s lament however in that television shows have as a primary objective to make you forget the previous show you just watched. They want your full attention focused on what you are watching now and not mulling over things you watched in the previous show. Then it is “lather, rinse, repeat” and soon all is forgotten.

This is why I argued that TV was a poor medium to base school lessons upon. All teachers are taught that after a “film” (remember films?) or video is played that there be a discussion of various topics associated with what was viewed. Many providers of such “educational materials” supplied guidelines for such discussions, even in accompanying pamphlets/books. Do you remember ever having one of those Q&A sessions after such a “showing”? What I remember coming after those movies was a bell signally it was time to move to the next class.

And, yes, I am somewhat of a curmudgeon when it comes to education but this is not a “we shouldn’t be using these new fangled technologies” lament. It is, rather, we should be using them correctly. Video should only be used for educational purposes when viewing what is going on is very important and, yes, discussion is needed. Just as a reading assignment given to students that is not mentioned again or discussed in class will rapidly be forgotten as being “unimportant.”

June 5, 2021

Meditation: It’s a Business Opportunity, I Guess

There seems to be an entire cottage industry devoted to teaching one how to meditate. Once again, something that is simple and straightforward needs teachers, books, workbooks, seminars, retreats, paraphernalia, and on and on, all quite reasonably priced, of course (Not!).

You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes everyday — unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”
Sukhraj Dhillon

Allow me to explain meditation and how to do it, where to do it, etc.

Have you ever been alone with your thoughts? Sitting on a park bench or waiting for a bus, or peeling potatoes while making dinner? Just you and all of the things running through your head.

Meditation is being alone without your thoughts.

You do not need to be sitting, standing, squatting, or running. You do not need to be in any special place. You do not need a focus for your non-thoughts.

You just need to allow your thoughts to drop away so that you are not thinking things consciously.

That’s it.

No matter where you are or what you are doing, you can meditate and it is quite refreshing.

Oh, there is one technique I employ. Some of my thoughts are quite tenacious and do not just fall away easily. For those I use a shooing motion with my hand, much as if you would shoo away a bothersome fly. That’s it.

All of my mediation secrets in one place, and for zero dollars!

Enjoy.

June 3, 2021

W.C. Fields, a Great Comedian/Philosopher

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment,Philosophy,Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 9:20 am
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I was reading a blurb for a book featuring some of W.C. Fields great lines. Fields created a persona of being a lush, which would not fly now (but did in my youth, thank you Foster Brooks). The blurb writer did not include my favorite Fields quote, which was his take on “spirituality.” I believe it went “Everybody ought to believe something. I believe I’ll have another drink.”

I think comedians are modern day court jesters, and since we govern ourselves, they send their barbs toward all of us. I miss George Carlin. There was none better at that role.

May 30, 2021

Abraham and Isaac Rewound

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:13 am
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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 17, 2021

People Sneer at the Things Women and Girls Love

Filed under: Culture,writing — Steve Ruis @ 11:07 am
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Really?

“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.

Brilliant!

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.

WTF?

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.

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