Uncommon Sense

January 30, 2023

Philosophical Confusions

Note I was tempted to write a “Confusions say . . .” joke but I did not. S

I ran across a quote from one of my favorite books (from my past, I hardly remember it now, many thousands of books later). Here it is:

Shunryu Suzuki wrote in his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s, there are few.”

This statement was in support of the cultivation of a beginner’s mind and I think it is, in fact, a turning away from enlightenment rather than a turning toward it. Allow me to explain.

Anyone who has spent serious time with the very young has experienced their massive creativity. They see animals in clouds, they see imaginary friends/animals, etc. And having “beginner’s minds” they distract themselves repeatedly: “Look a horsey!” “Can I have a cookie?” “They are trying to steal my toys!”

Yes, those with beginner’s minds see a great many “possibilities” but most are off task and distractions rather than being helpful. A similar miscomprehension notes how children seem to learn faster/more. Even if they do, and I doubt it, they are learning to tie their shoes and turn off the lights when leaving a room, not more complicated tasks.

Experts face another set of problems entire. Possessing a great deal of knowledge, experts also see a great many possibilities, most of which are on task, and because of their experience, they usually gravitate to a train of thinking that is likely to be successful, giving the appearance that they see only a few possibilities. I used to teach my students that they will recognize their own mastery of topics when they gravitate to lines of thinking that result in correct answers (and this requires practice, practice, practice, the same that is required to reach Carnegie Hall).

A recent study of recall addressed why it appeared that old people took longer to recall things than young people. The researchers could think of no physical reason why this might be so. So they did a study and their only conclusion was that in all likelihood, old people took longer to recall facts because they had much larger stores of facts in long-term memory to sift through. This is like the expert’s minds seeing “fewer possibilities” miscomprehension, which is a false conclusion based upon a natural tendency to gravitate toward things that will work.

Turning back to my point that cultivating a mind like a beginner is not a step forward but a step back. Beginners are gullible, beginners are less discerning, etc. This is why religions target the young for their proselytizing. We should instead be studying how this “inclination to pursue lines of thought that will be successful” works.

The trap for experts has always been that that tendency can block off more novel approaches to problems. The well used channels of thoughts become ruts that are nor easily escaped. This is why Einstein extolled being able to think as a child would, with wonder and awe, but he was not recommending a steady diet of such thinking.

All of these may be moot points as our society seems to be turning away from experts and returning to a simpler societal “beginner’s mind,” more easily gulled by those who desire to manipulate us.

Note For those of you confused by the reference to Carnegie Hall, it comes from an old joke. It goes like this: Someone asked a cabbie “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” and the cabbie pondered a bit and replied “Practice, practice, practice.”

January 19, 2023

Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!

Various pundits are flying off the rails because the new GOP Speaker of the House of Representatives has put his most radical members on the Oversight and Accountability Committee, the main investigative organ in the House. OMG! What might they do?

Actually, this is a gift to the Democrats. Allow the conspiracy theorists in the House full rein, to investigate everything from Hunter Biden’s laptop to, well, anything with a Biden stamp upon it.

I am making popcorn now because this is going to be great theater. Rather than opposing these GOP crazies, I say stand back and give them an Obamaesque “Proceed.” I am betting on the fact that people are getting tired of meaningless distractions and want to see real actions taken against things like inflation, climate change, you know, real problems.

I can’t wait for them to bring up Hunter Biden’s laptop! Mafia Don’s FBI had a copy of the supposed hard drive from the supposed laptop for years and couldn’t squeeze anything out of it (except I am told some “dick pics”), so I say “have at it!” Oh, and be sure to detail the chain of evidence that proves it is Hunter Biden’s laptop and not just some prop. I can’t wait to see these incompetent buffoons try to convince anybody but a QAnon Internet audience of anything.

January 18, 2023

Sometimes a Blurb is Enough: There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem by Wayne W. Dyer

Note The author died in 2015, but the book was published in 2003.

And here is the Blurb (from Amazon.com):

National Bestseller
In this inspiring book, bestselling author Wayne Dyer draws from various spiritual traditions to help us unplug from the material world and awaken to the divine with.
With his trademark wit, wisdom, and humor, bestselling author Wayne Dyer offers compelling testimony on the power of love, harmony, and service. When confronted with a problem, be it ill health, financial worries, or relationship difficulties, we often depend on intellect to solve it. In this radical book, Dyer shows us that there is an omnipotent spiritual force at our fingertips that contains the solution to our problems.

The first part of the book provides the essential foundation for spiritual problem solving, drawing from the wisdom of Patanjali, a Yogi mystic; the second half is organized around the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, whose legacy is one of love, harmony, and service. Each chapter contains specific practical applications for applying the teachings of these wise men to everyday problems, including affirmations, writing exercises, and guided meditations.

Profound and thought provoking, yet filled with pragmatic advice, There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem is a book about self-awareness and tapping the healing energy within all of us. As Dyer writes, “Thinking is the source of problems. Your heart holds the answer to solving them.

“Thinking is the source of problems. Your heart holds the answer to solving them,” . . . yeah, right. Apparently these are not income tax problems.

How can anyone suggest that there is a spiritual solution to “Every Problem” and not sound like a flim-flam man, a charlatan, a faux guru, a . . . well, you get the idea.

In the blurb accompanying the Kindle version it states “Wayne breaks down the phrase into its three key words: problem, spiritual, and solution.” Well, that makes the process completely transparent, now, doesn’t it. Once you have identified a problem and declared a solution, you just pry open a space between the two and insert your imaginings.

No, I will not be reading this book and am appalled it is ranked on Amazon.com as #543 in Spiritual Self-Help (Books) and even more appalled it is ranked #2106 in Personal Transformation Self Help (no spirituality involved) and . . . National Bestseller! OMG!

January 14, 2023

Economic Growth Hinges On Cheap Energy

Filed under: Culture,Economics,Reason,Social Commentary — Steve Ruis @ 9:08 am
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I was reading an article on renewable energy sources and I ran across “Economic growth hinges on cheap energy.” I assume this is an economic truism, one of the many that seriously need to be questioned, so . . . I proceed.

Is Economic Growth Necessary? In our recent history, the human population has grown at an ever increasing rate (see graph).

At the right side of the graph we have demonstrated exponential growth characteristics and it is a mathematical truism that a system of finite resources cannot support exponential growth for very long.

It should be obvious, if there are more people there are increased demands for food, shelter, energy and other commodities. So, a call for “economic growth” is supported by population growth.

Is Population Growth Necessary? The first statistic I saw in school for the population of the U.S. was 140 million people. That stat was clearly out-of-date as are all data in school textbooks, but the current population of the U.S. is 332,403,650 (actually a projection for what the population was to be (and now was) on January 1st of this year. So, the US population has doubled in that time and is expected to double again in the next 75 years. The population doubling time is slowing but not fast enough to save us from economic and political collapse scenarios.

Imagine if the number of cars made in the U.S. this last year were made to serve that lower population of my youth. We would have car lots full of cars that couldn’t be and wouldn’t be sold. Our economic output is linked to our population.

At some point, the population of the U.S. must stop expanding. What will happen then? The answer is we do not know but there is what economists call a “natural experiment” running right now: Japan. Japan’s population has been shrinking since 2010, when the population peaked at 128.5 million. The United Nations currently projects that Japan’s population will fall below 100 million around 2050, but the faster-than-expected decline in fertility may mean that Japan reaches that threshold ahead of schedule.

The effects of this transition to some new future population mix is that older Japanese are a greater segment of the population than ever before, with fewer people of working age to support government efforts to provide for the elderly. You can imagine or research more of the problems they are dealing with. Our problem is they haven’t yet come out of their population decline and stabilized, so the “natural experiment” in reducing a country’s population is not yet complete.

So, clearly, continued exponential growth of a country’s population leads to ruin, and seeking a lower population level for the future is fraught with uncertainty.

So, Again Is Economic Growth Necessary? The only answer is maybe yes, maybe no.

Consider the scenario in which a “cheap energy revolution” occurs. This may be something as obvious as an electrical energy storage solution, thus making solar and wind energies more practical (they are already cheaper than fossil fuel generated electricity) or maybe a re-envisioned nuclear power plant, like a thorium reactor or even a fusion energy reactor becomes feasible. And then energy would be cheap, really cheap. If economic growth is only limited by energy costs, we might be in really trouble. The first rule of dealing with runaway freight trains is to stop feeding them fuel. Stoking more fuel in would make our problems worse, not better.

Right now, it may be true that “Economic Growth Hinges On Cheap Energy” but if energy actually became really cheap, another commodity would become the determinant of economic growth. Cars can’t be made without steel and other raw materials. Foods need land to be grown on, and water to make them grow. Meat animals depend upon crops, like we do, even if grass fed.

And if we maintain our commitment to the capitalism we seem addicted to, economic growth is cooked into the system. No politician will get anywhere without a commitment to “growing the economy.”

But, what if for each one percent of population growth we became one percent more efficient in creating and distributing food and energy. Our electric grid is a Frankenstein’s monster of a twentieth century creation that is near collapse. A better system would waste much less and therefore require less energy fed into it. There are people who say we cannot afford to do this. They are stupid in the extreme. Business people know that equipment upgrades are always based upon increases in future returns. An upgraded electric grid would pay for itself in short order.

We also waste a lot of food, a lot. There are savings galore to be had in our food production facilities. But anyone who thinks we can solve our problems through efficiency mongering is fooling themselves.

What we need are fewer human beings. China tried to solve its population problem and now has a near zero population growth rate, so we might learn something from them. And, Japan is doing its thing.

It seems that we need to be doing . . . everything to increase the efficiencies of our economies but our primary focus needs to be on limiting and rolling back human populations.

Of course, our billionaires are looking to colonize Mars. Maybe we should spook them (The IRS is coming for your wealth! Boo!) and get them to all relocate. They cannot take their wealth with them, so we will have that to use more sensibly once they are gone.

January 13, 2023

I Am a Stereotypist

Filed under: Culture,Social Commentary — Steve Ruis @ 11:27 am
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I was reading my usual feeds and saw a post by an author who described herself as a software engineer. Looking at her photo I thought “well that figures.” My immediate reaction is that I realized that computer geeks/software engineers had “a look” that was recognizable. In fact, I suspect that you can recognize a geek by sight fairly accurately also.

Now I grew up with Alfred E. Newman. If you are too young to recognize that name, Alfred E. Newman was a cartoon geek featured in Mad magazine. That character was a stereotypical geek if there ever was one (see “photo”).

Now I have harbored a number of suppositions about socially awkward people in my life. One of them is that socially awkward people, geeks, tend to be drawn to science because in science you get to interact with things and not have to interact with people so much. This makes your lack of social skills harder to see. (For the record, I am a card-carrying scientist.) And for such people who find messing around with scalpels and test tubes too icky, there are computers. Nice clean computers.

Now, if you will conger up an image of a scientist or computer expert in your mind, you will probably not feature them as being “good looking.” Good looking people are “attractive” to people of the opposite sex and are treated better than the rest of us. Through interactions supported by those good looks, they acquire social skills not learned by those of us in the geek community. So geeks have a homely cast.

Another supposition I have is that teachers tend to be closer to being androgynous than the gen pop. Male teaches tend to have stronger feminine characteristics and female teachers tend to have stronger masculine characteristics. They also share a common characteristic—they do not want to have to fight for their social/work station. They do not look to be Employee of the Week or Salesman of the Year, or have quotas to meet. They do not mind being paid as much as everyone else doing the same job. They like to be placed into a position of moderate authority (to have control in their immediate environment) and left alone, not having to compete with their fellows for their jobs.

I tend to think that as a social species we create social divisions quite easily and we all just want to “fit in” whether we see our role as Fearless Leader (like Donald Trump) or as a fourth-grade teacher.

So, as much as intellectually I would like to think I am without overt prejudice, I think we are all programmed to “pre-judge,” classify, recognize, assign, etc. our fellows into the boxes available to us, often doing so with a very limited quantity of information. At least I am. :o)

January 5, 2023

Christian Nationalists Betray Conservative Base

I recently read the following in a Dan Foster column on Medium.com:

After a decade-long statistical analysis of over 160 countries, Nilay Saiya of the University in Singapore has discovered a link between the decline of Christianity in particular countries and the level of official support governments give to Christianity through their laws and policies. Or, to put it another way, as governmental support for Christianity increases, the number of Christians declines significantly. So it turns out that church and state make lousy bedfellows. Who would have thought?

My first thought was “Maybe we should support Christian nationalists, lead them down the garden path, as it were.” But that would be unkind. In fact it seems that the Christian Nationalists are espousing what conservatives hate—socialism/communism.

The reason why the study mentioned above is valid is that its findings were acted out in many European countries. In the United Kingdom, for example, the law established the Church of England as the state church and Christianity as the state religion, granting privileges not afforded to minority religious groups. However, The Guardian reports that less than 40% of Brits now identify as Christians, and only 1% of people aged 18–24 identify as members of the Church of England.

Once sucking off of the government teat, churches had to change their motivations. Their motivations became working to continue getting that government welfare. Lobbyists, that’s what they needed! Helping the poor and downtrodden? Do they vote? Well, if so, then maybe.

If you want to know what your church will be like with government support, look at what Fox News is compared to a genuine news organization. Once it sold its soul to the Republican party, it ended up in court defending itself by stating that “no reasonable person would believe what we say.” Is that what you want your church officials stating when they are dragged into court? (Oh, and when firmly in bed with the government, they won’t be able to weasel their way out of court appearances, now will they?)

Conservatives should recognize the Devil working here, by getting their Churches in bed with the government, OMG! That road to Hell is certainly paved with good intentions, but this road is surely sponsored by the Devil, who wants to see the churches shrink and lose influence with the people as they gain influence in state houses and the Congress.

Conservative Christians are being persecuted . . . by Christian nationalists!

It could be fun for a while, though. Imagine the Catholic Church being subject to FOIA requests. I mean, there are some juicy consequences here, that the Christian Nationalists don’t seem to see.

January 4, 2023

Republican Comments About Their Current Deadlock in the House of Representatives

Bill, we were able to track down some Republicans to comment on the current deadlock in selecting a new Speaker of the House. Here are some of their comments:

“We are being punished for taking prayer out of our public schools.”

“None of this would have happened if we had just built President Trump’s Wall.”

“See what happens when the Democrats opened the borders.”

“Illegal immigrants . . . is all I have to say.”

“This is payback because we haven’t done anything to prevent Drag Queens from reading to our children in public libraries.”

“This would never happen if we would affirm that we are a Christian Nation.”

“God hates fags!” (Sir, you are off topic . . .”Still true, though!”)

“I blame the “Tax and Spend Democrats” for these problems.”

“But what about Hunter Biden’s laptop?”

“Look at the pretty, sparkly lights.”

Film at 11, back to you, Bill.

January 1, 2023

Questions to Ask Christian Nationalists

When someone espouses the belief that the U.S. should be declared a Christian Nation, here are questions to ask them.

  1. Why do you want the Catholics in charge of the country? Is the Pope going to be running the government? (Catholics are the most populous denomination of U.S. Christians.)
    Note If they answer “Catholics aren’t True Christians™!” ask “Who gets to determine who are True Christians™ and who are not?
  2. Will you make laws against atheists, as being unpatriotic or whatever?
  3. Will you create tax laws based upon religious status?
  4. Where in the Biblical Worldview is the concept of “one man, one vote” supported?
  5. Where in the Bible is democracy (representative or direct) addressed or even described?
  6. Will religious arguments be allowed in our courts?
  7. Will religious arguments be allowed in our state houses?
  8. What will happen if a state becomes majority Muslim?
  9. If states adopt a state religion as was the case in our early days, will there be a process whereby one religion can supplant another as the state religion? What is that process?
  10. If the Bible is to be used in court to support legal positions, which Bible will be considered definitive?
    Note This is especially important as the OT was written by Jews and the NT was written by people becoming Christians. The OT should be disallowed because it is non-Christian. (This will disappoint many evangelicals.)
  11. Will the Quran and Scientologist and Mormon and Vedic scriptures be allowed as evidence in courts? If not, where is the line drawn between what is allowed and what is not?
  12. Will religious instruction in public schools be mandatory? Will children of non-Christian religions be exempt from those lessons?
  13. If the number of Americans claiming to be Christians drops below 50%, then what happens?
    Note From the 1970s until the 1990s, for as long as Pew tracked it, about 90 percent of Americans identified as Christian. Then in just one generation, that number plummeted. By 2020, only 64 percent of Americans identified as Christian.
  14. Will marriages be required to be religious ceremonies and will non-Christian marriages be void?

Summation You know, I don’t think they have thought this thing through.

December 30, 2022

OMG, Making Trump’s Tax Returns Public! It is an outrage!


It is not.

These are government documents and citizens have a right to see those not marked Top Secret or above.

In an actual civilized country, Sweden, any citizen’s tax return can be acquired by any other Swedish citizen who goes to a local tax office, fills out a form, and pays a small fee (for duplication costs). In Sweden, all tax returns are public documents, as they basically are here, except in the minds of those who want to hide their crimes. Or who want to lie about how much they make or about how much wealth they have.

Think about it. We are asked by our government to fill out extensive forms to determine how much tax we should pay. Why would those forms be secret to all other taxpayers, who may be suspicious that fraud is occurring elsewhere in the system? The answer is short—they should not.

Oh, did you see where Trump wrote off a $70,000 “business” expense for “hair care”? Any claim of him being a good businessman should end at that fact right there.

Getting Stressed Over Stress

The stresses of modern life are being touted at a high volume right now, including using terms like megastresses and permastress.

It is the case that one can talk oneself into an emotional state that is quite unnecessary based upon circumstances and this is one of those cases.

I am not trying to diminish people’s struggles with long COVID or unemployment or not having decent healthcare services available. All of those stresses are real. But politicians have been running the Fear Machine on overdrive for years now. For example, are you worried about the immigrants seeking asylum on the Texas border? If you are and you don’t live in Texas, you are being manipulated. Texas’s neighbor state New Mexico has a high population of Hispanics next to their border and the flow of people across the border is quite high, typically dominated by Americans going to Mexico to shop or to get cheaper dentistry, etc. They all seem to get along there in New Mexico and across the border in Mexico.

Gosh, do you think that the politicians in Texas are using the asylum seekers as grist for their Fear Machines to grind?

What other stressors do you focus upon? Cryptocurrency? Well, fools and their money are soon parted, so just ignore them. How about Antifa gangs? Again, made up nonsense from Fox “News,” in fact anything you hear on Fox “News” can be considered a false flag operation. Are you worried about your children being taught Critical Race Theory? If you are you should take them out of law school as that is the only place that theory is taught. Are you worried about LGBQ (whatever) folks recruiting your children? Relax, they don’t do that. Are you worried that teaching real American history will lead your kids to “Hate America”? If so, you would rather have patriotism based upon lies than upon truth and have you considered what happens when your children find out they were lied to? (My sister is still pissed that our parents didn’t tell her that Santa Claus was made up, and she is 80 years old now.)

There are stresses associated with modern life. In fact, a life without any stress may be unhealthy, but you do not need a load of bullpucky in the form of bullshit stressors added to your load. Ask yourself “How does this affect me?” in order to figure out what your response needs be. If you are worried about the war being waged upon Ukraine, maybe donations to the International Red Cross for Ukraine are in order. Maybe a letter to your Senator or Congressman stating support for relief being sent to Ukraine is your response. But sitting in front of your TV at night and wringing your hands does no one any good, especially you.

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