Uncommon Sense

May 30, 2023

Eighteen . . . Really?

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 10:56 am
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The hype-fevered brains of the NBA media mavens came up with a media approach to this year’s NBA Playoffs. It was the number 18, because the league’s two most storied franchises, the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, had made it into this year’s playoffs. You see those two franchises have garnered 17 championships each over the years. No other franchise is even close (next is my Warriors with seven). So, the “theme” for this playoff season was “who will get to 18 first,” essentially.

What they didn’t do was tell the other teams of their focus. The Los Angeles Lakers were swept out of the playoffs, four games to nil, by the Denver Nuggets and, last night, the Miami Heat crushed the Celtics in game seven of their series to eliminate them from the playoffs.

The championship this year will go to either the Denver Nuggets, a team who never has won an NBA championship, or the Miami Heat, a lowly eighth seed, which barely made it into the playoffs, but then proceeded to eliminate both the #1 seed, and the #2 seed on their path. Now, there a couple of good storylines, no? Maybe the NBA’s media mavens should wait until things develop before wading into “the possibilities,” say if Boston and L.A. had both made it into the finals?

April 12, 2023

Hacks That Make You Hack

Filed under: Blogging,Entertainment,humor — Steve Ruis @ 11:00 am
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The Internet is chock-a-block full of various DIY hacks that are supposed to make your life easier. As a former magazine editor, however, I have a keen eye for when the photo accompanying the “hack” is out of line with the text. Here are a few examples.

The Potato Hack
Back when we had incandescent light bulbs, the thin glass used had a tendency to break and then only razor sharp shards of glass were protruding from the bulb base, so the question was how to get the broken bulb out. The hack offered was to use a bar of hand soap or a potato, which you could impale on the glass shards and then use as a handle to remove the broken bulb. But look at the photo offered to illustrate this hack:

The bulb they chose for their “photo shoot” is a compact fluorescent bulb which has a substantial ceramic base. Just grab the base and twist, idiot!

The Spray Cooking Oil Hack
If you have a squeaky hinge, one quick fix is spraying the hinge with WD-40. (Note—this is a quick fix but not a good one. It is best to tap the hinge pins up far enough to apply a suitable grease and then reseat them; this will last much longer than a “penetrating oil” will.) But If you just ran out of WD-40 and your party is scheduled to start in an hour, what is a DYI home owner to do? Just use a cooking spray as an alternative to WD-40. The cooking spray I use is a combination of Canola oil and a propellant, which would work, but look at the photo they used!

That is spray on butter! It will not (a) penetrate, (b) lubricate, and (c) come off of the wall paint without leaving an oily stain.

The Caulking Tip
Here is the text for this “hack.” “An experienced handyman once told us that you can use painter’s masking tape to get a crisp, clean line. Just make sure to remove the tape before the caulk dries fully.” But look at the “illustrative” photo:

For one they don’t show the use of the tape for caulking, but for painting, its primary use. The DIY painter is also making a bloody mess of things but I have to ask “since the base molding paint color seems identical to the wall color, why was masking even employed?” The idea is to keep one color of paint off of another or caulk off of a surface you don’t want it on.

April 11, 2023

Character Analyses from the Wheel of Time

Filed under: Entertainment,writing — Steve Ruis @ 12:23 pm
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I am grinding my way through the Wheel of Time series . . . again. And I am recognizing more than just a spirited story. I am recognizing the author’s shortcomings and biases. We see these in the character traits of the main characters in these 14 books.

The author of the Wheel of Time books . . . which may explain a lot.

The Aes Sedai The main characteristic of the Aes Sedai, which in the Old Tongue means “Servant of All” is that they are servants of none. They lord it over everyone they meet and brag about how kings and queens tremble in their presence. Humility is not a trait anywhere in evidence. Their predominant exposition is of an overbearing Matron who insists on receiving all of the niceties but balks at giving any of them. And they judge social standing in their little club by how powerful each sister is, because, well, might makes right, no?

The Ta’veren The three main characters, all male, grew up in the same village and have the same stupid traits. While the characteristic of being ta’veren means that they “modify” (in uncontrollable ways) the fates of all of those around them, their main characteristic is their infantile maleness. There main fear is not being able to protect the women around them. All three basically swear to never kill or even hurt a woman, even though their major most powerful enemies, the Forsaken/Chosen, include a number of women, all out to kill or enslave them.

The Minor Female Characters All of the female characters seem to believe that males would die stupid deaths while young if females didn’t guide them onto correct paths. And I thought men were arrogant. These women make men look like pikers in the Game of Arrogance.

The Seanchan These folks used to live in the lands of the Wheel of Time, but they left on a wild goose chase and now are returning, with more than a small claim to rule the lands under discussion. They are a matriarchy, which makes sense since the males who could wield the One Power among them went crazy because of the poisoning of the One Power by the Dark Lord. So, men who could wield the one Power had been weeded out and the women who could wield the One Power were not to be trusted, so they were put on leashes. Clearly these are the Republicans of this story. While not misogynists like our Republicans, putting powerful women on leashes is a wet dream in GOP circles.

Sadly, if the Seanchan were a little more democratic, they might have tried to explain their case and be given a way to earn a place back on this continent, maybe by cleaning out all of the Trollocs and Fades from the Blight, thus making empty land for them to occupy, but no, they stomp in, demand people swear fealty to their leaders, and lord it over every one they meet, or at least try to lord it over them. They, like all the rest, have an honor culture that demands that the elites kill those who insult them, like by not lowering their eyes enough when passing by. Sheesh.

The Dark Lord Clearly this character is misunderstood. Represented by flawed characters because of his incarceration, his actions are painted black from the get go. When trapped, as he was for millennia, it would drive any of us a bit mad and lead us to taint the male half of the One Power.

The One Power The author must be a Christian because the One Power is clearly two magical powers. The female version requires practitioners to yield to the One Power to get it to do their will. Call that the New Testament half. The male version requires the practitioners to battle it and force it to do their will. That is, obviously, the Old Testament half. How are these the same power? Plus, the Forsaken/Chosen have access to the True Power giving us a trinity of magical power sources, thus making this a truly Christian work.

April 4, 2023

Really Irritating TV

Filed under: Entertainment,History — Steve Ruis @ 7:34 pm

I have been watching a series on Amazon Prime streaming service called “Unearthed” which is about archeology. To get the irritation out, the creators of this series decided to use only the present tense in their voiceovers. They are addressing a ruin, built by human hands, survived for millennia, which then decomposed into ruins and rubble. So, they ask “Who builds this?” Not “who built this” but “who builds this” as if it were being built right now. I suppose it was deliberate because nobody is that incompetent, and I suppose they may have assumed it would bring some immediacy for younger viewers . . . maybe.

Forming the core of their episodes, of which there were dozens, were topics on ancient Egypt, which is understandable as the conditions there are quite suitable to preserve things for many, many years. After viewing all of these episodes I was left with the impression that Egyptians excelled in one thing, more than any other and that is theft. Nary a tomb was not robbed. And when monumental edifices were built: tombs tunneled out of mountains and immense pyramids, the limestone facings of these edifices have been stripped away. Now these were not lazy thieves, many of those blocks weighed tons, but pilfered they were.

And I am not disparaging the ordinary folk who helped themselves to some high quality building materials. (They carried off the entire Tower of Babylon!) The buildings being raided were built for elites, often with impressed labor.  The commoners were looked down upon and often not treated at all well, so fuck the elites. The commoners were just taking their share back.

March 27, 2023

The Tower of Babylon and Biblical Sucking Up

I watched a documentary (from 2019 I believe) about the Tower of Babylon last night. The Bible was mentioned on and on, even though other records, records more reliable, exist. As it turns out the tower in question seems to have been built by King Nebuchadnezzar, a ziggurat to be specific. As the narrator droned on addressing various archeologists trying to “research” the topic, the Bible was mentioned quite often. I put research in quotes because the research mentioned had already been done, the on screen archeologists were just pretend researching for TV.

So, the tower was built. The documentary went into how it was constructed, that they had to use fired mud bricks because sun-dried mud bricks were not up to the task. An engineer calculated that a tower constructed as described (in the Bible!) could be as tall as 300 ft. There is no evidence that it was 300 feet tall, but it was referred to as the 300-ft tower from that point onward. (This is an ongoing problem with this entire series of documentaries—assumptions become facts in the mouth of the narrator.) Details of the building process were provided from the Bible! Look, there was an entire group of Israelites in Babylon at the time, due to the conquest of Babylon over Israel, and they were writing the books of the Torah down at that point (including the Book of Genesis, which contains the story of the Tower), having only oral knowledge to rely upon. Details of the construction were hardly secrets. The Babylonians were very proud of their constructions and all of the innovations involved.

So, the construction was addressed in the documentary, including how it could be thought of as being tall enough to “reach the heavens” (river mists made it appear as if it reached the clouds and, as we all know, the clouds are in the Heavens).

The Bible clearly points out that the heavens are much farther up than 300 feet, because every mountain worthy of the name was taller than that and so people could walk or hike up to the Heavens were they that low. But Yahweh gets pissed and instead of moving the Heavens up higher he confounds the workers languages and then blows the tower down with a giant wind. (However, the Tower was finished, so confounding the languages of the workers didn’t prevent that, and no wind knocked it down. I know, details, details.)

Then the documentary pointed out that local historians told how when Babylon was conquered by the Persians, the Persians knocked a hole in the tower! The Babylonian god’s temple was not the Persian’s god, so defaced the tower must be. (Another example of toxic religious thinking: Step 1 Kill or Destroy, Step 2. . . . The Persians could have reconsecrated the temple on top of the tower and then had a magnificent temple for their god, but no.)

Later Alexander the Great conquered the Persians and Alexander dismantled most of the Tower, intending to reconstruct it, but Alexander didn’t live long enough to direct that task and, well, things got complicated. The Iraqi people, being nothing if not pragmatic, saw a huge store of building materials just sitting there so up the wheelbarrows came and away went the Tower’s bricks went with them, to be incorporated into roads and buildings nearby.

So, at this point, one would think that the Bible’s story of Yahweh screwing with the workers and creating a big wind to destroy the tower would be debunked, yes? Of course, no. No mention of the rest of the Bible story being complete fiction was uttered. In fact once they got to the facts of the destruction of the tower, the Bible was not mentioned again.

Now, I can imagine in their production meetings that someone stated that mentioning the Bible over and over would boost ratings and pointing out that the Bible story was wrong could result in a backlash. But the blatant sucking up to religionists leaves one thinking, “So, the Bible was right.” Yes, it was right about the construction of the tower, the facts were clearly available, but dead wrong about the theological parts. Bible thumpers often gloat about all of the truths of the Bible, which validate it. But those truths are not theological truths. They are historical truths available to any witness alive at the time and their veracity does not reflect at all on the veracity of the Bible as a source of theological truths.

Postscript If you are wondering why not “The Tower of Babel,” the word Babel is Hebrew for Babylon.

March 6, 2023

The Origins of Cancel Culture Panic

It seems as if the GOP has lost what little mind it has left over things like Drag Queen library readings and the “cancel culture.”

These distractions are in a stream of idiocies including trigger warnings and blasphemy laws. It seems that college students get as far as they have without growing a spine. They seem to want to be warned whenever a topic might disturb them emotionally or relate to personal experiences they have had, or . . . God forbid, ideas that challenge their religious beliefs because, well, I guess, God forbids.

Back when I was in college, students were a fairly passive group. But then the Student Movements began: initially, college students protested against social injustices like poverty, the unfair treatment of African Americans, and freedom of speech on college campuses. They later shifted their focus to opposing the Vietnam War, aka the anti-war movement, which greatly offended “conservations” (so much so they got revenge by preventing student loans from being discharged in bankruptcy).

So, now when a speaker is invited to a campus and holds beliefs opposed to what many students hold, students will protest and speakers engagements get “cancelled,” hence the “cancel culture.” This has expanded to hiring and firing job scenarios, political campaigns, entertainer performances, and whatnot.

Republicans especially object to “Woke cancel cultures” because they are focused upon racial and social justice issues. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis (FL) has declared his state as the place where “woke goes to die.” This is a strange position for a party which has based many nationwide political campaigns on what are called the culture wars, in which the GOP is the Russians invading everyone’s else calm states.

So, the cancel culture panic? Fostered by the egregious Fox (sic) News, this is an elevation of a trivial movement to Armageddon-like status. At the most recent CPAC meeting, Nikki Haley, a GOP presidential candidate, stated “Wokeness is a virus more dangerous than any pandemic, hands down.” (Quick, shoot it! And I will bet their “cure” will involve neither masks nor vaccines.))

Apparently, the Republicans are following in the steps of precious college students who cannot handle the emotional or intellectual stress of having their ideas challenged. And like those students, who are ignoring a major reason for going to college is to have your ideas challenged, the GOP does not want any opposition to its politics, worldview, or actions. The truly alarming thing is that they are using fascistic tools to enforce their way by canceling whole swaths of our culture. In Florida, you had better not be caught teaching Black History, of with the book “Jennifer has Two Daddies” in your school library. And whole groups of people are being denied official acknowledgement of their existence; Florida is even considering banning Democrats!

The students adopted a culture of canceling activities they didn’t agree with. The GOP has moved the dial up to 11 by cancelling whole swaths of their culture they don’t agree with.

Ah, how terms evolve.

February 28, 2023

Conservatives Explain Why They Support ‘National Divorce’ Of Red, Blue States

The Onion provided some reasoning on this topic in an article with the above title. Most of their contributions were semi-lame however. Here is a sampling.

“Presumably, the red states would get alimony.”

“Just knowing San Francisco is only 1,500 miles away from me has me terrified to step out my door.”

“Getting rid of Illinois would really shorten the drive to my mother’s house.”

“It’s unfair for red states to bear the burden of receiving and spending more federal funds.”

“It just seems easier than trying to reason with the crazy liberals who want basic human rights.”

They even got some celebrity conservatives to chime in.

“It’s been 246 years, which is a long time for any relationship. I think red states are ready to explore the possibilities with polyamorous tantric sex gurus and personal trainers.” (Marge Greene)

“I self-sabotage all my relationships, so this felt inevitable.” (Lindsay Graham)

“Wait, hold on, I still get to live in New York, right?” (Sean Hannity)

As I said, not up to The Onion’s usual high standards (although the one about the burden of having to spend all those federal funds is pretty good).

They left off a number of good reasons I am sure are making the rounds in conservative circles, for example . . .

“Hey, look at how well it worked for the Confederacy!”

“We wouldn’t have to put up with Democrat politicians, no more, or even politics, at all. We could just elect DeSantis president, and let him rule.”

“West Virginia used to be part of Virginia, right? And North and South Dakota used to be just the Dakotas, right? And Northern and Southern California used to be one state, am I right?”

“I don’t really understand all this high falutin’ politicking, but if they put an (R) after it, I will vote for it.”

Note The Onion is a satirical magazine. They make all this shit up, just like Fox News, except they tell you that they are making their shit up, unlike Fox News.

February 21, 2023

Men are from Mars . . .

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment,Social Commentary — Steve Ruis @ 1:09 pm

I have been noticing several tropes in my reading and viewing lately. For example, men are castigated by women for eating too much meat. Women eat salads and consider themselves superior for doing so, e.g. the café scene in The Sandman. Another example, men seem to want to view violent action-adventure movies, while women prefer to watch films focused upon families and relationships, and the men are looked down upon for their choices. Of course, some of the most hateful things I have read, heard, or seen in movies are in those family-based efforts. Only someone close to you can say something really hateful.

I am wondering what is behind these tropes. I used to believe that any creative work needs to create some sort of tension to succeed, otherwise the work is just a walk in the park and not very entertaining. Men seem to prefer violent conflicts, women tend to prefer social conflicts, but still there is conflict because without it there is no resolution.

I wonder if outdated tropes are still being reinforced via our entertainment industries. We also seem to defend our opinions as if they were factual. I have heard the opinion that men wouldn’t be violent if they didn’t watch so much violence on TV and computer. Apparently this critic knows nothing of life before the invention of television.

Like our treatment of the physical environment, it seems we are also pursuing death by righteousness. We think we are right and are willing to act accordingly . . . <signed> Karen.

Note If you are confused by the title of this post there was a best-selling book a while back with the title “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus” by John Gray (1992).”

Reread Much?

Filed under: Art,Entertainment,writing — Steve Ruis @ 1:02 pm
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I am an avid reader, not fast just persistent. I enjoy greatly fantasy and science fiction works and I learned early on a simple lesson: don’t start a multi-volume work until they are all available. I learned this in college. I acquired a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring (the infamous Ace Paperback version) and while I had trouble getting going once I did, I stayed up quite late for several nights only to learn that it was the first volume of a trilogy. Like a maniac I drove to my favorite bookstore and was able to get The Two Towers, but they had run out of the third volume. So, I searched avidly as I tore through the second volume, finding the third volume just in time.

I followed this rule for a long time. I also broke that rule because several of may favorite authors wrote trilogies of trilogies, sometimes more. One of my favorites, C.J. Cherryh, has written 21 volumes in her Foreigner series (putting her on a path to a trilogy of trilogies of trilogies). I read each one when it comes out; they are just too good. (This series is like an old movie serial short, each book starts up where the previous one left off . . . and I have read all of her other works, too, many, many dozens of them.)

I did make a mistake, however, when I was sucked into the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. The author warned us that he planned on the thing to be 12 volumes. And if you look at the publication history (see below), you can see that the final 14 volumes took almost 23 years to publish. The problem with this kind of work is that it may never be finished. (Will George R.R. Martin ever finish Game of Thrones?) In the case of Robert Jordan, he died before the series was finished! But he left copious notes and Brandon Sanderson was hired to finish/write the last three volumes (which he did brilliantly).

Each book averages 306,277 words and 702 pages, which was good because there was like 21 months to wait for the next volume (on average). But I don’t read that slowly so when the next volume came around, it was many months since I finished the last one.

The Wheel of Time Publication Schedule

The Eye of the World  January 15, 1990
The Great Hunt           November 15, 1990
The Dragon Reborn    October 15, 1991
The Shadow Rising      September 15, 1992
The Fires of Heaven    October 15, 1993
Lord of Chaos             October 15, 1994
A Crown of Swords     May 15, 1996
The Path of Daggers    October 20, 1998
Winter’s Heart             November 7, 2000
Crossroads of Twilight January 7, 2003
Knife of Dreams          October 11, 2005
The Gathering Storm   October 27, 2009
Towers of Midnight     November 2, 2010
A Memory of Light      January 8, 2013
Totals   11,898pp (PB) / 10,173pp (HB)           4,410,036 words            19d 5h 25m reading time

So, for my last birthday, I gave myself a gift. I had since given away my hardbound copies of the Wheel of Time books, so I purchased the Kindle versions and I am re-reading the series. I am currently in volume six. And I am frankly amazed.

I wonder if this is how people with Alzheimer’s disease feel. It is as if I am reading this for the first time. I do remember most of the main characters, but much of the details about them I remembered incorrectly or not at all.

And I love long books. I have read Tolkien’s trilogy many times (as well as listening to the audio versions several times (while commuting). But the number of characters and storylines in this work borders upon the bizarre. And, like many male authors, I find his characterizations of his female characters shallow. I have to ask myself whether half of the characters and storylines advance the narrative at all and we would be better off without them. One count lists 2,782 characters in the series, 148 of which are point of view characters at one point or another. I wish Jordan had followed the Rule of Parsimony, like Jack Vance, say, and trimmed this down to six or seven volumes.

I find myself skipping through parts that drag, being able to pick up the narrative fairly easily down the road. And, yes, things are always more complicated than we think, but this is supposed to be an entertainment, not a lesson in realpolitik.

I am enjoying the effort but find myself shifting to another book for a while when the plot drags. On my eBook reader, another book is just a tap away and I, as usual, have several dozen “in progress.”

February 10, 2023

The Meaningless Season Statistics in Sports

With LeBron James racking up the greatest number of points scored in a career record, I turn my thoughts to the “meanings” of these records. (Cutting to the chase, these records have no meaning per se, but do provide us with talking points for meaningless discussions.

Take for example, the fact that Tom Brady, in his last year of competition in the NFL and in his mid-forties, set two new season records: most passing attempts and most passing completions in a season.

The reason this is not shocking is that the NFL changed to a 17 game season from a 16 game season two years ago, giving players one more game to add to their season totals.

Actually, the NFL season was 12 games in my memory, then changed to 14, 16, and now 17. What chance does a player have in keeping a record they made in only 12 games to a player who got 17 games to rack up stats?

As to the NBA consider these stats: these are the seasonal leaders in points score per game for the first ten years of thje NBA’s existence:

1955-56       Bob Pettit             St. Louis Hawks              25.7
1954-55       Neil Johnston       Philadelphia Warriors       22.7
1953-54       Neil Johnston       Philadelphia Warriors       24.5
1952-53       Neil Johnston       Philadelphia Warriors       22.3
1951-52       Paul Arizin           Philadelphia Warriors       25.4
1950-51       George Mikan       Minneapolis Lakers         28.4
1949-50       George Mikan       Minneapolis Lakers         27.4
1948-49       George Mikan       Minneapolis Lakers         28.3
1947-48       Max Zaslofsky       Chicago Stags                21.0
1946-47       Joe Fulks               Philadelphia Warriors     23.2

And here are the same stats for the last ten years.

2021-22       Joel Embiid           Philadelphia 76ers             30.6
2020-21       Stephen Curry       Golden State Warriors       32.0
2019-20       James Harden       Houston Rockets               34.3
2018-19       James Harden       Houston Rockets               36.1
2017-18       James Harden       Houston Rockets               30.4
2016-17       Russell Westbrook Oklahoma City Thunder   31.6
2015-16       Stephen Curry       Golden State Warriors       30.1
2014-15       Russell Westbrook Oklahoma City Thunder   28.1
2013-14       Kevin Durant       Oklahoma City Thunder     32.0
2012-13       Carmelo Anthony New York Knicks              28.7

Notice a difference? Many people suggest that today’s athletes have superior nutrition, superior training, superior medical care, all of which are true but are also true for the defenders of these players. I suggest that the bulk of the “increased performances” comes from rule changes. Back in the day, hand checking was allowed. That is if a guy started to blow by you, you could put out a hand and impede his progress. This is no longer allowed. Back in the day, if you were to cradle the ball in your hand, you were whistled for “carrying the ball” instead of dribbling it. When Allen Iverson came into the league, the referees notified his team and Mr. Iverson that his “cross over” dribble was carrying the ball and would be whistled. Iverson, a popular player, said “We’ll see.” Today that cross over dribble is in evidence all over the league. Many other rules have been modified or adjusted to a new norm and every single one seems to favor the offence, e.g. the defensive three-second rule, etc.

In NFL football, the same can be said for their rule changes. They almost all favor the offence over the defense. Quarterbacks, if breathed upon incorrectly can draw a flag. Receivers, since 1978, cannot be contacted five yards away from the line of scrimmage, etc.

These professional sports are entertainments and people like to see offence more so than defense, so that is the way the officials and their rule sets drift.

So, seasonal and career statistics, in raw form are almost completely meaningless. Comparing players between eras is almost impossible. The best we can do is compare how a player did against the league averages at the time, a crude indicator of the status of the rules and player’s abilities of the time.

For example, in Wilt Chamberlain’s mammoth 1962 season, he scored 50.4 points per game. (No one else has since even scored in the 40s.) The next most prolific score, Walt Bellamy, scored 31.6 points per game. Wilt’s record is 60% higher than the #2 scorer. Last year Joel Embid’s 30.6 points per game was tops and in second place was Giannis Antetokounmpo at 29.9 points per game. Embid’s stat was just 2% above second place. Not hard to tell who was more dominant.

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