Uncommon Sense

May 20, 2023

It Will Cost Up to $21.5 Billion to Clean Up California’s Oil Sites, But the Industry Won’t Make Enough Money to Pay for It

Interesting headline above. I have seen it now on half a dozen sites.

So, apparently a study determined how much money was needed to clean up just California’s oil extraction and processing sites and that amount of money is near ten times the amount those businesses will reap the rest of their lifetimes.

So, I have a suggestion as to how to resolve this issue. If we, the public, are to be stuck with the cleanup bill, I say confiscate the businesses as being bankrupt and in violation of the law. Nationalize them (state-ify?). The decisions they made to pollute and profit have consequences.

Sell off what parts there are that can be sold and then start the cleanups because they are going to take decades, if only to spread out the costs.

Then go after the parent companies. Bill them for the cleanup. Hound them like their collection agencies hound us if we have a debt we haven’t paid.

Real and Imagined Fears of AI

There seems to be a small but growing cottage industry writing articles about the fears associated with artificial intelligence (AI). Along side of that is another, smaller, cottage industry pumping out works extolling the virtues of AI and how it will make us all better off.

I, myself, wonder what natural intelligence is, as do many others, and wonder how it is we could even recognize the existence of artificial intelligence if it came up and bit us on the ass.

Most of this seems to be fueled by “content creators” who desperately want to capture our attention, for “likes,” “hearts,” or cups of coffee.

Let us assume that such a beast as an AI actually exists (which I doubt, but I will play along). Are there things to fear?

Yes, capitalism.

Capitalism will use AIs to improve profits, whether they improve anyone’s life or not. I envision health insurance companies using AIS in the following manner:

Insurer: AI, write a letter denying the claim for insurance coverage of this claimant using the facts in their file (here).

AI: Done! (Dear sir: . . . )

Think of the money the insurer will save. They do not need doctors to evaluate the validity of such a claim, nor do they need their lawyers or bean counters to do the same. They just deny all claims and only actually look into those who persist by refiling repeatedly.

Now, you may think that this is a harsh practice to ascribe to insurance companies, do realize they have already done this! Back during the Obamacare hearings it was exposed that several health insurance executives had their pay based upon how many claims they could deny and that they had created structures like the above to deny claims based upon a desire to please the boss, rather than the facts of the case, etc.

Also, I had a dentist who submitted claims for me to my insurer who insisted that the insurer denied almost all claims to see how serious the situations were, so he submitted and then resubmitted and even submitted a third time to get approval for procedures which seemed obvious to me (he showed me the x-rays and explained what was needed).

I am not so afraid of AI, although I have seen the Terminator movies; I am more afraid of what rapacious, conscience-less capitalists will do with them.

May 16, 2023

Wait, Walgreens Guards Have Guns?

Surveillance footage from a Walgreens in San Francisco shows the moment a private security guard killed a young transgender man accused of shoplifting. The footage captures the guard tackling and punching Banko Brown, 24, on 27 April before fatally shooting him as he exited the store.

What the fuck is on sale at Walgreen’s shitty little stores that is worth a man’s life?

We need to stop this madness. Lethal force should not be an option for offences that don’t trigger the death penalty.

What’s next? Jaywalking (walking while Black)? Littering? “Authorities” allowed to wear guns as part of their duties need to be taught that they cannot fire their weapons for any offence that is minor. Get a taser. Buy some mace. But guns should not be used for minor infractions (and that includes resisting arrest by a private security guard).

May 7, 2023

Even Texans Don’t Believe the NRA Bullshit

Filed under: Culture,Morality,Politics,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 8:08 am
Tags: , , ,

The National Rifle Association (NRA) proudly proclaims that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This is, as we all know, self-serving bull shit. The NRA has only one goal and that is to increase sales of gun and ammunition, because those manufacturers are its largest financial supporters. The state of Texas has the loosest gun laws in the U.S., stopping just short of requiring its citizens to own a gun.

In the latest gun atrocity, a gunman opened fire in a shopping mall just outside of Dallas, TX, and killed at least six people, maybe more. And not one Texan “Good Guy” returned fire! Now I happen to know there are more than a few “Good Guys” in Texas, and not one of them was packing the day of this incident? Unbelievable . . . the NRA, that is.

April 11, 2023

What, then, is the point of work?

Filed under: Culture,Economics,Morality,Politics,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:02 am

My favorite author on Medium.com is Benjamin Cain, who recently has turned his razor sharp mind onto the roles of work, technology, and capitalism. In his most recent post he asked the question in the title of this post, “What, then, is the point of work?”

Here in the Good Ole US of A, we have created a pay-as-you-go culture. You can have anything you can pay for is the essence of it. And if you do not have enough money, aka you are one of the poor, you are just shit out of luck.

There are people who use the Bible to support this point of view (of course there are), citing 2 Thessalonians 3:10 “. . . we gave you this rule: if a man will not work, he shall not eat.” Note—I found hundreds of Bible citations supporting this point, which do not actually support this point, e.g. Proverbs 12:11 Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense. WTF? And Ecclesiastes 9:10 “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.” Again, WTF?

But here is my point: the Bible needs interpreting. One societal interpretation might be that if someone honestly works they are provided with food, a roof over their head, and medical care, etc.

It is only the mercantilist/capitalist mentality that quantifies work and insists that a loaf of bread costs X amount of labor.

When you look closely at this “commandment” of Jesus, we can see in our culture rich people who live entirely off of investments, sometimes investments they inherited and so did no work in making them, and these lazy bastards do no work at all and live very comfortable, even rich lives. They do no work, yet they eat quite lavishly. How does that conform to scripture?

April 9, 2023

We Can Blame Plato

I had a near relative who, as a young man, stated that philosophy ended with Plato. He was also a fundamentalist Christian. And Plato was a flaming elitist. This makes sense, I guess, because to be a fundamentalist Christian, you have to be an elitist.

Allow me to quote from a spectacular book I am currently working through, “A People’s History of Science.”

“Plato’s ‘noble lie’ then, was the ultimate ideological justification of elitism; that social hierarchies are immutable because they were created by God, and that the ruling class deserves to rule because God made its members out of superior material. The aristocrats are the Golden Men, whereas farmers and artisans are composed of brass and iron. As part of this ideological program, Plato promoted two separate religions—a sophisticated, abstract one for the intelligentsia, and a cruder one, with the traditional anthropomorphic gods and goddesses for the masses. To ensure the continued observance of the latter, Plato proposed sentencing disbelievers to five years in prison for the first offence and death for the second. Farrington commented, ‘Thus the advocacy of persecution for opinion made its first entry on the European scene.’ Plato’s successor, Aristotle, likewise understood the political usefulness of religious tradition; he called it “a myth” that was propagated “with a view to the persuasion of the multitude and to its legal and utilitarian expediency.” (p. 145)

Plato, were he alive today, would certainly be a Republican, one challenging for high office, too. Plato’s ideas are still alive today, as the author of this tome points out:

“Platonic elitism, unfortunately, is not merely a matter of ancient history; it is still drastically afflicting the human race even in the twenty-first century. The architects of American foreign policy who carried out the imperialist assaults on Afghanistan and Iraq are know to be zealous disciples of political philosopher Levi Strauss, an admirer of Plato. ‘The effect of Straus’s teaching is to convince his acolytes that they are the natural ruling elite,’ said Shadia Drury, who has written extensively on Strauss’s ideas and their consequences. ‘Leo Strauss,’ she continued, ‘was a believer in the efficacy and usefulness of lies in politics’ who ‘justifies his position by an appeal to Plato’s concept of the noble lie.’”

April 2, 2023

A Degraded and Degenerate Race?

In my last post I quoted Louis Agassiz (from 1846), who became one of the most prominent scientists in America and of his time, with regard to his “feelings” that Black people were a “degraded and degenerate race,” hardly earning the label of human.

Now since Agassiz was supposed to be a scientist and a trained thinker, what could lead to the Black servants he was observing in 1846 appearing to be degraded and degenerate?

  1. Could it have been that their religion had been stripped from them?
  2. Could it have been that their culture had been stripped from them?
  3. Could it have been that their family members and friends were stripped from them?
  4. Could it have been that no education was provided them? (In many places in the Antebellum South, teaching a slave to read was illegal.)
  5. Could it have been the beatings or maybe the branding and other mutilations?
  6. Could it have been the malnutrition and poor medical care?
  7. Could it have been the lack of any personal autonomy or freedom?
  8. Could it have been the humiliation of being sold like cattle?

Louis Agassiz, could it have been the effects of fucking slavery?

Imagine if you were plucked from your bed in the middle of the night and allowed no contact with your loved ones, neighbors, fellow churchmen, etc. You had no recourse to the police as they claim what was happening to you is legal. You are not allowed to read anything or teach any of your fellow slaves to read. If you are a woman, you are sexually raped as often as the masters want. You are put to work and punished physically if you were too slow, or your work wasn’t good enough. You had to grow your own food because your masters weren’t about to feed you, but you were responsible for feeding them, and cleaning up after them, and working in their “businesses.”

After 40 years of this with no hope of rescue, would you not feel degraded? Would you not feel degenerate?

All of Agassiz vaunted intellectual powers did not allow him to see this obvious reason behind his discomfort in the presence of such people. The thing about biases is that they are hard to recognize and then acknowledge that you have them.

People are talking seriously about reparations for what our ancestors did as slave owners. Some are saying “I didn’t do that, why should I have to pay?” This is stupid. This is like saying “I didn’t start the war, why should I have to pay our soldiers.” This is why government was created. Our guilt is collective and white folks, listen up (I am one of you), you are still benefiting from what was done to Black people during our slavery era and the remnants of those practices still in existence. Our guilt is collective, not personal, so our reparations should also be collective. We all need to pony up, even though there is no amount of money or free education that could possibly pay for being enslaved. Think about the mental exercise above. Had it really happened to you, what happened to all of your goals and aspirations, and hopes for your children and grandchildren? Is there any amount of money that would pay for those losses? Certainly, in our current culture, an amount of money would help the descendants of those slaves create better lives for themselves, as a partial repayment for what was lost.

March 20, 2023

Follow-up to “War Criminals to the Left of Me . . .”

The Architects of the Iraq War: Where are They Now?

March 9, 2023

Systemic Racism? Never Heard of It

Right-wing Republicans (Are there any other kinds any more?) are fond of denying that there are no after affects of black slavery in this country and pooh-pooh that claim that systemic racism even exists.

An article in The Guardian yesterday stated:

“When Paul Austin and Tenisha Tate-Austin had their home assessed by an appraiser in 2020, they learned it was worth $995,000. So the Black couple, who purchased their home in December 2016 and spent thousands in renovation costs over the years, decided to get a second opinion. They “white-washed” their property and had a white friend pose as the homeowner. Weeks later, a different appraiser assessed the house’s value at $1,482,500.

“The couple sued for discrimination.”

We certainly wouldn’t want those black folks to have enough money to buy into another white neighborhood and we want to make it easier for a white couple to replace this black couple . . . wait, WTF?

Anyone doubting the existence of systemic racism is exposing willful ignorance. The federal government has admitted to creating a red-lining program that prevented black and brown people from even securing federal or even private loans on houses in white neighborhoods, for Pete’s sake.

And I assume every denial of systemic racism begins with a prologue starting with “I am not a racist, but . . . “ This should be a clear sign the speaker is a racist, because if you feel you have to deny it, you are about to utter some racist bullshit.

Oh, and the Austins won their case.

And, if you still have doubts The Guardian article went on to state that a pair of researchers “analyzed more than 47m appraisal reports collected from licensed appraisers between 2013 and 2022. The data had been made public for the first time, a decade after Howell and Korver-Glenn (the two researchers SR) first pursued it.

They found the gap between the home values of white homeowners and homeowners of color widened over the last decade. When unpacked by race, the results were staggering: appraisers valued homes in white neighborhoods two and half times more than homes in Black neighborhoods. For homes in Latino neighborhoods, the gap is larger, despite the fact that the value of the Latino residents’ homes were bigger than Black residents’.

Systemic racism doesn’t exist my ass.

January 24, 2023

Modern Day Villains

We, as a society, consume a great many entertainments, many of which are visual: videos, shows, concerts, etc. In the “movies” many plots require some dramatic tension and a good guy-bad guy axis. Someone to root for, someone to root against. And the villains fall into somewhat nice categories: we have sociopaths and psychopaths, whose thinking is bizarre to us, but fascination, currently we have quite a few zombies who have no personality but pose an existential threat nonetheless. (Nobody tries to figure out why the zombies are doing what they do, they just run.) And the usual coterie of “bad guys” includes drug dealers, people who cheat on the spouses, etc. It is rare that a new bad guy, like Hannibal Lecter comes along.

By far the most common bad guy in today’s videos is . . . drum roll, please . . . corporations, evil corporations, not just corporations that run over you because they didn’t see you in their driveway. Corporations that are driven only to make profits and to Hell with any opposition to those efforts.

Here is Bernie Sanders chiming in on one such corporation (Cal-Maine Foods):

Bernie Sanders (Twitter)
Corporate greed is the producer of Egg-Land’s Best, Farmhouse Eggs & Land O’Lake Eggs, increasing its profits by 65% last quarter to a record-breaking $198 million while doubling the price of eggs & reporting no positive cases of avian flu. Yes. We need a windfall profits tax.
11:37 AM · Jan 15, 2023·

And these corporations haven’t exactly been subtle about their machinations: the CEOs of America’s largest companies got on their quarterly investor calls and chortled about the willingness of “consumers” to blame inflation for the prices they were jacking up . . . because they could.

Republicans stickered gas-pumps up and down the country with Joe Biden “I Did That” stickers, even as gas companies declared record profits and boasted to investors about how they were able to tap directly into drivers’ wallets under cover of inflation.

It doesn’t look like any other villain will knock corporations out of their #1 spot at all soon. They just can’t help themselves, reinforcing their “bad guy” image over and over and over.

As I had said often enough, the Achilles’ Heel of capitalism is that it places no restriction on greed.

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