Uncommon Sense

November 25, 2021

Conservative Business People, Listen Up

Filed under: Business,History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 11:21 am
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You’all have been claiming that the U.S. government, aka guvmint, should be run like a business and I have a case study for you in which I agree.

What would you think about one of the divisions of your corporation which has not met a goal in twenty years, run up huge overruns on their budget, and recently failed an external audit because they couldn’t even perform an internal audit. They could not account for billions of company dollars that they spent, they think.

It is time for that underperforming sinkhole of profits to go, no?

I am talking about the Pentagon here, which needs a name change to Penta-gone.

We have been fighting a so-called “War on Terror” for easily twenty years and, well, help me count the victories: #1 We assassinated Osama Bin Laden, uh #2 . . . uh, #2 . . . well, there aren’t any other victories major or minor.

Okay, this nonperformance resulted in budget cuts, right? Let’s see, the Pentagon’s budget for the year 2000 was 378 billion U.S. dollars, about 3.5% of our GDP. In 2020, the Pentagon’s budget was 738 billion U.S. dollars. What? All of that abject failure to meet any military goals and the Pentagon’s budget doubled? Doubled!

What business principle is it that a woefully performing governmental division gets its budget doubled and nobody loses their job?

Are these the business practices you are recommending? Yes or no—don’t wait for the translation—yes or no?

November 24, 2021

Archeology and Propaganda

Filed under: Culture,History,Morality,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 10:29 am
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I am told, in an article in The Guardian, that a new book telling the story of the painstaking process to preserve the 1,200-year-old Faddan More Psalter is coming out.

Imagine a book dropped into an Irish bog and then being dug up 1200 years later. Yes, it was more than a bit of a mess, but some of it survived, and a conservator took years in finding what could be found. For example, the leather cover had a papyrus lining, which means it was probably created in Egypt.

Not mentioned in the article I read is that this book was a propaganda tool of an invading religion, working to destroy all of the native Irish religions. Not mentioning this is like writing a review of Mein Kampf and not mentioning WW2 or the Holocaust.

Christians have felt justified for millennia in invading foreign countries and “proselytizing,” that is setting up their religion to vanquish the religions already in place. We look at these invaders, who are “on mission,” as being good people doing good things. But ask the Native Americans how they felt about invading “settlers” taking over the land and instituting Christianity in exchange. African Americans were brought to this country in the millions and then systematically stripped of their families, their cultures, their religions, and their dignity, and of course their freedom, and were paid with “the Baby Jesus.” The devotion of present day African Americans to their Christian Churches is perplexing, considering those churches supported their ancestors enslavement (and Jim Crow, and . . .).

As an archeology fan boy, I like to see antiquities recovered from their supposed graves, but they always need to be placed into their contexts, to the best of our ability. That psalter was a weapon of an invading army of Catholic Christians. Tell it like it was, not how it is now.

November 5, 2021

Is the U.S. a Meritocracy?

Filed under: Culture,History,Politics,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 11:02 am
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A couple of episodes ago, Ben Shapiro was on the Bill Maher show, Real Time. (For the life of me why people listen to Ben Shapiro is quite beyond my comprehension. He is a bigger blowhard than I am.)

Mr. Shapiro claimed in that show, and I assume elsewhere, that the U.S. was a “meritocracy” and had been since its inception. A meritocracy sounds like a good deal, people being rewarded on their merits, by Mr. Shapiro’s co-guest wasn’t having any of it. That person, I forget his name, was African-American and, according to him, his great-grandfather was a slave. It should be obvious that slaves were not allowed to participate in any meritocracy, if it indeed existed. And, it is fairly easy to prove that slaves created most of the wealth of the early colonies and the early U.S.

The claim that the U.S. is a meritocracy and has been, is ludicrous from the get-go. This is the claim that is made by people who have accumulated wealth, or personal esteem, or recognition in society, as a way to establish the righteousness of their rewards. They are wealthy because of their great talents, don’t you know. They are valued because of their merits as a whatever.

The classic case I can remember is Mitch Romney, when running for president, claiming that he was a self-made man, that he amassed his wealth on his own. He skipped over the two million dollars his father gave him as seed money to get started in business and the access to his father’s Rolodex, filled with contacts for the rich and famous galore. To put this in context, since Mr. Romney and I are roughly contemporaneous, I made in just less than forty years, as a college professor, about two million dollars. Mr. Romney was given an amount equivalent to my career earnings to “get started.” This is typical of the wealthy, whose parents were often also wealthy and who benefited from private schools, the best colleges, costly vacations, travel, etc. to get a head start on their “competitors.” (My family went on our first vacation when I was nine years old (and I was the “baby” of three children). We went camping in national parks using borrowed camping gear.)

Studies show that Americans rarely transcend the socioeconomic stratum they were born into. We love stories of folks who went from rags to riches and that does happen, just not very often.

You may have many good personal merits, but if others don’t get to see them, then they are hardly going to be rewarded. The aphorism is “it is not what you know, but who you know” . . . still stands. Sometimes it can be the case that impersonal rules affect your outcome. Consider children’s sports in which competitions are stratified by age groups, to provide “fair competition.” Often these groups are two year spans and the placement of kids into the groups is by setting a fixed date and using the child’s age at that date as the placing stat. But there is a problem with this. Kids who have birthdays shortly after the chosen date, will be placed as if they were a year younger and children with a birthday just before the date will be placed as if they were a year older. The kid who turns twelve the day after the placing date and the kid who turned eleven just before the placing date will both be placed as eleven-year olds, except that one has just turned eleven and the other is just turning twelve and is, effectively a year older.

Oh, pish-posh and tish-tosh you say, what effect can that have? A study of professional European soccer league players showed that close to all of them had birthdays just after the placing date and were effectively labeled as being a year younger than they were when participating in youth soccer play. The older kids are more physically developed, had superior skills and received more attention from coaches, more acclaim, more positive feedback, etc. There is even a name for the phenomenon, the Relative Age Effect; you can look it up.

Meritocracy, my ass.

John Ralston Saul has something to say on whether a meritocracy is even something to desire, in his 2001 book, “On Equilibrium:” (p. 7 of the paperback edition) “A meritocracy, on the other hand, is so busy concentrating on efficiently identifying who is best and pushing him to the fore that it shuts down its confidence in the rest of us – those of us turning our door handles and willing to contribute, each in her own way and at her own level. The whole idea of a society of winners – a place known above all for its best – leads with surprising speed to a narrow pyramidal social structure. And then to division and widespread passivity. That in turn leads to false populism and mediocrity; to a world obsessed by bread and circuses, Heroes and the need for leadership.

So, do you see why the very rich assholes and their front men, like Ben Shapiro, like the idea that we are a meritocracy? It reinforces the very polarized structure they have already created. The one that has them on top of the pyramid.

They have waged a class war . . . and won. Now what do we do?

November 2, 2021

More Brilliance by Ian Welsh

Filed under: Economics,History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:04 am
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I have made this argument before but no where near as well. In you are interested in China, the U.S., or our immediate future, this is a very good read.

China’s Economic “Miracle” Was Normal

October 19, 2021

What is a Corporatist Society?

(Sorry this is so long. It seemed warranted. Steve)

If you live in the U.S., just look around, you are living in such a society right now.

This country was founded as a republic, not a democracy, a republic being a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president with powers limited by law rather than a monarch. We created a government in which each of us was no longer the subject of some monarch; we were citizens, not subjects.

That is all fine and well, but we lost all of that a while back. We are now back to being subjects again. While there is no monarch there is a ruling clique of corporatists, meaning that our governments are run for the benefit of those corporations and subject to their desires and whims, rather than our own.

Consider the fact that our national government only pays attention to the needs of what is called “the donor class,” which you and I know as the filthy rich. If you are a substantial donor to a political party, your needs are attended to. If you are middle class or poor, you have zero chance of getting any attention, even from those elected to represent you. And “zero chance” is not hyperbole, that’s what the research showed.

So, the very rich are running the federal government and most of the state governments in the same fashion. So who are these “very rich” people? We used to think of the very rich as those with inherited wealth, but those days are past. Sure, there are a few very wealthy people who inherited their money and they got inheritance taxes reduced to zero so they can pass it all onto their children, but they are a small minority now. The very rich are now typically corporation executives. And they have corporatist mindsets.

A corporatist mindset is believing that corporations are the best structures to govern human activities. Did not a corporation recognize their personal qualities and reward them mightily. How could they be anything but perfect? You will have heard from these people that “government should be run like a business (aka corporation)” and “schools should be run like businesses/corporations,” etc.

These people have gotten the courts they purchased to establish that corporations have the rights of citizens, making the transition from imaginary person for business purposes only to political person in one court ruling. The rights of “corporations” to donate unlimited funds to political campaigns was established recently. Oh, and if you thought that the employees or even the shareholders of a corporation got to determine where its “campaign donations” went, dream on. Those decisions are made by the executives of those corporation, aka the filthy rich.

Now you may be thinking that this is all a bit much, but if you take a step back and look at the life experience of just any old citizen, you will see what is involved. For example, when a child is born, whether their mother got good medical care depended upon whether they had good insurance. Poor pre-natal medical care is part of a pattern that results in skimpy lives for the children. And good insurance is a fringe benefit associated with a shrinking number of jobs and are controlled by the employers (aka corporatists). So, you are born and grow up and then attend school. So, what are you taught in school? Increasingly, and all the way up and down the ladder, that education is focused on acquiring a “good job” when you become an adult. Recently education reformers wanted you to be asked to read more “informational texts” and less classic literature. My home state of California used to have a series of “readers” for each grade level. The works to be read were challenging and included extracts from Mark Twain, the Bible, James Fennimore Cooper, Nathanial Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., and more of their ilk. Obviously those California State Readers tended be supporters of the status quo, patriotic, and so on but none of them, to my recall, involved a shop manual for a Ford pick-up truck or a treatise on writing contracts. But now that the corporatists are in charge they want to make sure you can fix the department’s printer when it jams. They have no need for humanist texts that allow us to see one another more clearly and see the virtues that make a society that makes for happier and safer citizens, no need at all.

The corporatists now in charge have a Taylorite view of humanity that makes each of us a cog in their mechanism. So, if our growing citizen goes to college they will find that more and more the programs there are tailored, pun intended, to jobs they might get. If you ask students what their goals are, the majority will respond with “to get a good job” or “a job that pays a lot of money.” They are not stupid, they got the message.

So, they graduate, or not, and they seek and acquire a job. Who in that job has the bulk of the power: the employer or the employee? Analyzed economically, there should be a 50:50 power balance there. This is what free markets create, or so say the corporatists. The corporatists absolute hate free markets. But they recognize the propaganda power of the word “free.” The markets they like are those they can manipulate and dominate, and dictate to. A “free market” is a level paying field and only chumps play on a level playing field.

The corporatists used their political power to not only expand their own power but to limit the powers of their opposition. Labor unions, for example, were quite powerful after WW2. Have you notice them lately? No? That is because the corporatists used the political power their money bought to crush them. While the private sector used to have about 33% of its jobs covered by a union contract, that is now about 6%. Crushed. The only remaining institutional power that can oppose the wills of the corporatists is government and the corporatists have bought enough politicians to make that source opposition neutered.

So, who has the power in the employee-employer relationship? The employers. And they use it. They arbitrary transform their employee’s pension plans into plans that cost them much less and pay their employees much less in the process. They change work rules as they see fit. They ship entire factories overseas and if they keep you on as an employee, it is only to train your less expensive replacement.

So, you work and you work, then you are fired so they can hire a cheaper replacement. Corporatists are so addicted to that power that they often fire people critical for their corporations or fire so many support staff that their critical people look for other employment because of that. Basically, if they meet their stock market goals and retire before it all falls apart, corporation executives are good with that. Golden parachutes make for soft landings.

So, you skimp along or are “comfortable” in your retirement and are no longer of interest to the corporatist, other than as a voter. Old people vote, so the corporatists have massive propaganda machines that use fear and other levers to get you to vote in alignment with their interests. They also trump up phony issues to keep you riled up and distracted.

Then you die, your whole life having been dominated by corporate interests. You served “your country” well, were a good provider for “your family,” and a pillar of “your community.” Now replace all of the parentheticals in that sentence with “your corporation(s)” and you will have it about right.

Please do not mistake my intent. I am not claiming there is a cabal of corporations or some Big Brother Corp. running the show. No, it is people with corporate mindsets, acting independently and occasionally in concert who are doing this.

And we let them and continue to let them by buying into the way they see the world.

The COVID pandemic is showing the corporatists what is in their future. People are not returning to the bullshit jobs the corporations created. People are figuring out different ways to live. People are starting their own businesses which are not part of the cabal.

It is a start but a lot more needs to be done.

If you are interested in this topic please read “The Unconscious Civilization” by John Ralston Saul. I dog-eared so many pages that I gave up on a book report. I will just weave what he saw into my writing more and more.

October 18, 2021

Are We Animals or Spiritual Beings?

Filed under: Culture,History,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 12:36 pm
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Honestly, this was a question I encountered on the Medium.com site. The question seems to preclude being both an animal and a spiritual being, but let’s not quibble. Animals are clearly defined as having: a multicellular body, specialized sense organs, voluntary movement, responses to factors in the environment and the ability to acquire and digest food. The root of the word focuses on the motion aspect, animals are animated, that is they move voluntarily.

So, no confusion there.

Now, a spiritual being? Whoa, a whole lot of definitions here. One is: an incorporeal being believed to have powers to affect the course of human events.

So, incorporeal, not having a body. Well, question answered. Humans have bodies, so they cannot be spiritual beings.

But human beings have souls, no? So, we could be both an animal and a spiritual being.

Human beings have souls, no? Human beings have souls . . . no. The existence of a soul is a conjecture that lacks any kind of proof or even supporting evidence. Lots of speculation, no proof, so this is not a path to an answer to the question.

The evidence is clear that we are animals. Whether we are also anything else is open to question, but spirits and ghosts should not be high on anyone’s list of component parts of human beings.

It is clear where the idea of ghosts and spirits came from. When we were very primitive, we experienced the deaths of members of our family or tribe. We might have buried their dead bodies so they would not attract predators. But at night when we dreamed, those loved ones came back to us. And when we woke they were gone. So, somehow our loved ones were still with us. Over time, however, their nocturnal visits shrank and shrank as memories of them faded. When they stopped coming at all, the question became “where did they go?” Wishful thinking had us suggesting and then believing that they left “here” and went to some sort of happy place, one in which their aches and pains were no more, they didn’t have to work, food was plentiful and good, etc.

And we told stories to our tribe about what happened in our dreams. Sometimes those stories helped us either to remember old solutions to new problems or suggested new solutions to new problems, making the spirits of the ancestors helpful. As we continued to bury our dead we began to include “grave goods” special items identified with the deceased or helpful on their “journey” to the Happy Place.

When tribes congregated to trade, swapping stories would be a safe way to interact with those “others.” If their stories aligned with ours, the elders in our tribe would nod wisely stating that our beliefs were true, were even universal. The “others” were not automatically assumed to be wrong. When they were right, it reinforced one’s beliefs and made trade a little easier, made intermarriage a little easier, and had positive effects.

Spiritual beings are made of spiritual whole cloth. They existed to explain things that were not otherwise understandable by primitive beings. That we struggle to define such things today is a sign that they are invented, imaginary things, not real things. They were invented by people who asked the question “Is this all there is?” before they were capable of answering it. The people who continue this belief are either too lazy to actually investigate it or to invested in their answer to want to do so. Having “special knowledge” always has made one special in the eyes of others, which leads to people inventing their special knowledge, rather that earning it the old fashioned way.

Jesus the Christ

Filed under: Culture,History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:26 pm
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I have written before as to how people use the word Christ as if it were a name, referring to Jesus as “Christ,” for example. The word “Christ” is a Latin translation of a word that means “anointed one” of which there were many (high priests were anointed, kings were anointed, etc.), so it is a title, a claim, but not a name. So, like King Richard does not indicate his first name was King, etc.)

To solve this problem, I suggest we use examples from history. Instead of the Middle Eastern Jesus bar Joseph pattern (Jesus, son of Joseph) to distinguish one Jesus from another, I suggest another pattern.

We have Attila the Hun, John the Baptist, Jack the Ripper, Winnie the Pooh, and myriad more examples adding identifiers to a name to distinguish it from all of the others of that name. So, Jesus the Christ rolls easily off of the tongue, so I will be using that.

October 13, 2021

They Just Make This Shit Up

Filed under: History,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:57 am
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From an article in Politico:

The archbishop of the U.S. military said on Tuesday that Catholic troops could refuse the mandated COVID vaccine on religious grounds.

“No one should be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if it would violate the sanctity of his or her conscience,” Timothy Broglio, archbishop for the military services, said in a statement.

Since Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a military-wide vaccine mandate this summer, Broglio said, some service members have requested a religious exemption through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. While he said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had determined that being vaccinated was “not sinful,” the church valued its teachings on the “sanctity of conscience.”

“This circumstance raises the question of whether the vaccine’s moral permissibility precludes an individual from forming a sincerely held religious belief that receiving the vaccine would violate his conscience,” he wrote. “It does not.”

Broglio has expressed support for President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for the military in the past — citing guidance from Pope Francis, the Holy See and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that the COVID shots are morally acceptable.

According to Merriam-Webster the noun conscience refers to “a state of awareness or a sense that one’s actions or intentions are either morally right or wrong, along with a feeling of obligation to do the right thing.”

So, the Pope and all of the Catholic hierarchy have declared that being vaccinated was not only “not sinful” meaning that it does not go against their god’s will, but that it is moral, too. (Could it be immoral and not sinful both? I don’t think so.”) But an individual Catholic can trump those positions and say that his “conscience” forbids getting vaccinated.

WTF?

These people making this claim need to be required to explain and support their “religious exemption” since their religious leaders are claiming there is no such thing. And, of course, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, not just some vague voice in their head or vague “feeling.”

Conscientious objectors to military service, if their status was accepted, were required to do public service. Maybe we need these “conscientious objectors” to do the same; maybe helping to dig graves for the COVID dead or clean hospital wards, etc.

And, the archbishop of the U.S. military should know better. His church only supports individual’s consciences when they are in line with Catholic doctrine or pronouncements. If you doubt this, look up “Catholic liberation theology” as it played out in Central and South America. The individual consciences of those priests and nuns amounted to nada and they received no support whatsoever and many were killed for their principled stand.

October 1, 2021

America is at Last Getting Serious About Countering China in Asia, WTF?

Filed under: History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:46 am
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The Economist published an article with the blurb being the title of this piece “America is at last getting serious about countering China in Asia.”

I wonder if The Economist has ever heard of the Monroe Doctrine. That 1823 doctrine, stated by President Monroe (hence the name) but created by then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, was that any intervention in the politics of the American continents (both North and South) by foreign powers was a potentially hostile act against the United States. Basically we were like a dog marking our territory, at that time opposing the European powers that were still meddling in North and South American politics. And, at the same time, the U.S. promised not to meddle in the affairs of the European powers in their sphere of influence. Apparently modern U.S. presidents no longer consider the Monroe Doctrine applicable as they seem inclined to meddle any damned place they want.

Last I noticed, China wasn’t meddling in American affairs and wasn’t part of the American continents. Neither is the U.S. part of Asia, so why would the Chinese not look askance at any intervention by “western powers” in Asia?

So, “America is at Last Getting Serious About Countering China in Asia?” . . . “Eees not my job, man …” Freddie Prinze The U.S. should follow Freddie’s advice.

September 27, 2021

Aw, Poor Rich Babies

Filed under: History,Morality,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:34 pm
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I was watching a show on the National Geographic Channel recently. I think the title was “Lost Treasures of Egypt—‘Pyramid Tomb Raiders’.” The gist of the show was to point out the elaborate lengths the builders of the Egyptian pyramids and tombs of all kinds took to prevent the tombs being robbed of the treasures they held. Poorer people were buried with bowls of beer and food and prized possessions that had only personal value. Robbers wouldn’t bother such tombs as there was nothing of value to steal by the time they got around to being able to rob them (certainly not enough to copmpensate them for their labor, digging up the ‘treasures”). But the really rich people included jewelry, death masks of silver and gold and other valuable goods that had considerable value when sold. Those tombs they would rob and rob them they did. The robbing proceeded to such an extent that finding a tomb that has not been robbed has been a very, very, rare occurrence (Tutankhamen’s tomb being one of the exceptions).

So, the wealthy hired architects and engineers to design clever ways to keep the robbers out, but the robbers beat them every time, through grit and determination (and insider information).

Part of the protections was, of course, religious. The tombs were declared to be sacred and “defiling them” would be punished by the gods. Ah, the elites, they love to put on airs and the religious officials love to help them. The officials performed ceremonies declaring the sites to be sacred and established curses to inflict anyone who had the temerity to disturb those graves.

Effing elites.

They got robbed any way. Poor babies.

I have a sure-fire scheme to eliminate grave robbing: don’t put anything worth stealing in your grave. Instead give away all of your gold and silver and jewels to the poor. And instead of building immense mausoleums, far bigger than is needed to house your earthly remains, build something modest, and the money you save could instead be used to built public works that benefit the people. Such things would make your name live on longer than the elaborate (and soon to be robbed) tombs.

My mother and other ancestors possessed fairly common wisdom, part of which she taught me. One part of that was “you can’t take it with you.” Those Egyptian elite assholes tried to take it with them, so they got robbed. Served them right. I am still amazed at the archeologists and such, modern tomb raiders who should know better, siding with elites, declaring all of the preserved bodies they find as being sacred remains. Sacred to whom? They don’t even believe in the gods that made them sacred in the first place any more. Such is the deference to the elites they drum into us.

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