Uncommon Sense

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.

September 2, 2021

GOP Crocodile Tears Over Taliban Haul of US-Built Military Equipment

There hasn’t been this much hand wringing and pearl clutching in the GOP since the Mr. Potato Head controversy! The Taliban collected a massive haul of U.S.-built military equipment, owned by the Afghanistan government, by the way, not us, and the Republicans are losing their minds. We have just equipped our enemy with the latest and greatest war-making equipment! Argh!

Calm down, idiots. I know it is a struggle, but do try to put your thinking caps on first. (You have to take the dunce caps off first, otherwise the thinking caps won’t fit.)

Now, we were quite unsuccessful in training the Afghans in their army (ex-army?) on how to use this “modern” equipment. What makes you think the Taliban are going to master the intricacies of that equipment being trained by the people who didn’t learn about it in the first place?

But, okay, let’s say the Taliban found instruction manuals on the Internet, had them translated into Pashto, Dari, Uzbek, Turkmen, Balochi, Pashayi, Hazaragi, and Nuristani and have taught themselves how to use that equipment. The other thing to consider is these things were made by Americans for our own American military, consequently they were built around the primary American construction principle of planned obsolescence. They are going to need repair technicians, spare parts, and a lot of ingenuity to keep that stuff running, even in the short term. I assume you noticed the Taliban are using AK-47s as their basic field rifle. The reason for this is that they still work, even though that rifle was designed in 1947. So many were sold and are still available, along with spare parts, that they can be depended upon for many more years. Think Taliban-owned Abrams tanks will still be working in two years? in one year? I don’t think so. How about fighter jets? (Right. . . . )

Basically, Afghanistan is not a threat to the U.S. or our allies and would not be a threat if we flat out ignored it. What . . . but, but, but won’t they train terrorists? Maybe, but they don’t exactly have the best terrorist training facilities. Theirs are certainly not anywhere near as good as Pakistan’s or Saudi Arabia’s. The 9/11 group apparently did most of their planning and training in Germany.

Terrorists don’t need Afghanistan as a training site and Afghanistan has real problems it needs to address. Outside of opium traffic, Afghanistan doesn’t have an economy. The best it can do is to allow its citizens to create subsistence livings and even that is going to be difficult. As the U.S. was pumping billions of dollars into their economy over the past twenty years, the population exploded. I doubt whether subsistence farming or herding can support a population that large, which means there is trouble ahead for any Afghan government. There is no tourism, native industries, native crops (other than opium poppies), mining opportunities that translate into population-wide prosperity. Every country that has tried to extract minerals or other natural resources from Afghanistan has found out the reality. There is no government per se. You “negotiate” with local “officials” (aka warlords) and strike a deal for which there are no courts to enforce it nor any police to protect it and your assets. You are at the mercy of the demands of the locals and if you complain too much, they will just take your operation over. So, how many resource extraction companies are lined up to get them some of that, do you think?

I think the Afghanis have earned to right to be left alone and I think we need to carry that to an extreme. Leave . . . them . . . alone . . . and allow them to create whatever society they wish without foreign help or interference. There is no danger, other than that we create by meddling.

May 22, 2021

The Scary Side of AI

Filed under: Morality,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 11:21 am
Tags: , ,

Efforts to create artificially intelligent (AI) computer systems is still in its infancy. I was intrigued at first but now I am concerned.

The most basic concept is to create computer systems that can “learn” as opposed to the “normal” process of programming in code all abilities desired from the system.

So far, nothing scary here.

Now that we have created systems that are somewhat adept at “machine learning” we have discovered, hey presto, that we often do not know what these systems have learned or how they did the learning of it. The systems don’t report back, “telling” us how they did it and what they are capable of doing.

Recently a system was created to “model” the entire universe. Much to the creator’s surprise the model, after proving itself faster and more accurate than previous systems (of all types), also showed abilities it was never “taught” to calculate. The “teaching” is the supplying of datasets that would lead the system to make up general rules which it would then apply. But it was showing abilities that weren’t predicted from the datasets that were supplied.

The scary part is there is a responsibility disjoint here. Such a system, which are more and more being used for facial recognition and for application (job, college admittance, etc.) evaluations, were it to go awry, there is nobody responsible for making the system the way it is. “I didn’t program it to do such a thing,” will be heard around the world.

But the “programming” of these systems is not in the previously understood form of written code but in selecting the datasets to feed the beast, as it were.

Recently face-recognitions systems were shown to be vastly more erratic when looking at faces of people of color than the mainstream (white Americans, or Chinese citizens). One system showed no response to the face of a black woman . . . until she donned a white mask (like a V mask) then it recognized there was a face present to analyze. The system showed high accuracy for white male face recognition, lower for white females, much lower for black and brown men, and even lower for black and brown women.

Right now these systems are being implemented willy-nilly by private companies and authoritarian governments. Clearly there is a role to play for regulation of such system, like a test sequence of faces that a system must recognize to a high degree, but there is little in the way of inducement for the implementers to seek out such “safety standards,” at the moment.

So, apartment buildings are implementing “face recognition” entry locks to keep out the riff-raff, of course, but they also have interior cameras which recognize the faces of the people in the halls and report rules infractions to the building’s management. Big Brother is here, now.

There are few laws and almost no privacy protections built into our system, certainly not governing these new “frontiers.”

May 3, 2021

The “New” Left

Filed under: Culture,History,language,Politics,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 11:03 am
Tags: , ,

In today’s post on the Dead Wild Roses blog, The Arborist, wrote:

“When I came back to Canada in 2014 . . . I left a culture that was steeped in a sentiment that could be summed up as, ‘I may disagree with what you say, but I respect your right to say it.’ I returned to a culture summarized by, ‘I disagree with what you say, so shut up.’ (Obaid Omer)”

“Quashing debate and argument seems to be the name of the game these days, as certain opinions have been designated as unapproachable or ‘settled’ topics. In a society that values the free exchange of ideas almost everything has to be on the table. Odious free-speech must be protected along with the prosaically milquetoast free speech.”

You do follow Arb’s blog, no? If not, you are missing some very good stuff.

Back to my main topic: I have seen comments about how intolerant the left has become and yada, yada, yada and I wondered what the source of these comments were. (I suspect they are from conservative spinmeisters.) Liberal dogma throughout my life has defended the right of those we abhor to speak, but is this changing? Certainly there isn’t much person-to-person public discourse going on during this pandemic, so much of this must be second hand.

I tend to think the anonymity of the Internet is a player once again. Back when discussions were face-to-face, if one said something despicable, there were immediate responses, most unpleasant. We had got to the point that outright racist comments were rare as the consequences were too dire.

But now, if you read something you disagree with, you can flame the author using language you would not get away with out in the open. And the discourse level is often set by the most vociferous.

I think we are still adjusting to social changes such as Internet communication. I remember when “cancel culture” was a feature of the right: book burnings, rock ‘n’ roll record burnings, boycotts against celebrities who took unpopular political stands (Jane Fonda, perhaps, is a good example), etc. The left didn’t do this so much. Now that some of the more liberal bent are using the same tool as the right previously used, the professional whiny bitch conservatives are decrying the “cancel culture” as if it were just invented. (They hate a level playing field, so when a field is leveled, they pivot ninety degrees.)

So, “cancel culture” is not even a thing, certainly not a new thing. It is just us expressing our opinion about another’s speech. In the old days, you got to direct it face-to-face and then through gossip. Today you can marshal many thousands of people’s efforts almost instantaneously.

What we will come up with to rein in this overly exuberant behavior I do not foresee but there will be something. There always is.

March 31, 2021

A Mask Revelation

Filed under: Technology — Steve Ruis @ 10:36 am
Tags: ,

Claudia brought me some new masks she was trying out. I believe this is the eighth or ninth different commercial mask we have tried. The issues with the others are strain on one’s ears, fogging of eyeglasses, etc. all of the usual complaints. So, this mask was much like the other disposable masks we have tried. (We also had tried washable cotton masks.) I put one on to go get the mail and I immediately noticed a difference. When I inhaled the mask collapsed against my face and when I exhaled, it ballooned slightly away from my face. What that told me is that the air being moved was actually going through the mask rather than around the mask, constituting actual evidence that it was working. I hadn’t notice this effect on any of the other soft masks, actually, just the opposite—more air flowed around those masks rather than through them.

None of the masks we have tried so far are of the fairly rigid kind. I assume they, too, have advantages and disadvantages, but I like the feedback these masks give me (I’m working, I’m working . . . like the Little Engine That Could Mask it is).

I suspect we still have months if not years of mask wearing in front of us, so I thought these insights might be helpful.

Black Disposable Face Masks

December 23, 2020

/The Social Dilemma

Filed under: Art,Culture,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 10:24 am
Tags: ,

The documentary of this title is currently available on Netflix and I had passed over it quite a few times before viewing it, which I did last night.

The documentary mixes in taking head segments with little scenes in an ongoing drama of how social media affects a family. I could have done without the vignettes as the talking heads were quite spectacular. These were all people who either had something to do with the development of social media companies or had studied the effects of their existence in some detail.

The basic premise is that social media use algorithms to line their pockets . . . nothing wrong there, except that the algorithms have no mores, they just want to feed your attention more of what you are interested in. This results in a massive case of positive feedback for everyone who participates. Positive feedback is almost never a good thing.

The talking heads point out that we who participate are all being manipulated against any judgment applied either by us or the providers and it is dangerous.

Bless them as they say that there are no villains here. Nothing was done with intent to cause the problems that now exist. They found the inventor of the “like button” who explained what was behind its creation. An unintended consequence stems from the fact that we evolved in small social groups, in which it was important to be liked by a majority of one’s fellows. The social media platforms have extended that circle to thousands of strangers, often leading young participants into doing bizarre things to accumulate “likes ” from them. And to what end?

An expert on AI systems says that we all worry about when artificial intelligences get so powerful that they overwhelm human strengths, like SkyNet in the Terminator movies (accompanied by the crunching sounds of humans skulls beneath the feet and treads of robots . . .). But well before that point we would reach point in which AIs could overwhelm human weaknesses, a point they did not claim we are at yet, but they easily could have.

They discuss the effect of social media upon political polarization, even on whole nation’s stability and elections, and what might happen should an autocrat really use social media effectively.

From thinking I knew the topic well, I found myself much better educated for having viewed this doc. If you have also viewed this documentary, what do you think?

December 22, 2020

At the Risk of Being Overbearing . . .

I offer a link to yet another aspect of the Pfizer vaccine roll-out kerfuffle. This post explains why the critic “IM Doc” was disappointed in the article in the New England Journal of Medicine, which exists to inform people, especially doctors, regarding what they need to know.

Whether this can be laid at the fee of the NEJM or Pfizer is almost irrelevant (almost, but not quite). It does, however, lead one to wonder how informed the opinions of our own doctors are.

A Document Maven Looks at the Pfizer Vaccine Paper in the New England Journal of Medicine

 

December 15, 2020

Important: Before You Line Up for the Pfizer Vaccine . . .

Filed under: Economics,Reason,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 8:25 am
Tags: , ,

I think it is imperative that you read this article. The hand waving going on in the news media, even scientific publications, is of the kind magicians use: to distract you from what the other hand is doing.

An Internal Medicine Doctor and His Peers Read the Pfizer Vaccine Study and See Red Flags [Updated]

December 5, 2020

An Error of Extrapolation

Filed under: Culture,History,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 12:29 pm
Tags: , , ,

It was a simple error, made long ago, but I have kept it up all of these years. It started from the factoid that the life expectancy of human beings (of the American kind) at, say, the first decade of the 20th century, was roughly 45 years. This was interesting to me because this was close to when my parents were born (1912 and 1919). By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the life expectancy of American females was well over 80 years and American men almost 80 years, so one can conclude that, well, things just keep getting better.

The extrapolation that was in error in my thinking was that from now back to about 1910 there was this large increase in life expectancy and that if one went farther back from 1910, similar changes were expected. Going back to our prehistoric ancestors, their lives must have been nasty, brutish, and short, as claimed by Thomas Hobbes. But in doing so, I made a major error, one of a statistical sort.

What do you think was the life expectancy of our hunter-gatherer modern human ancestors? If you say “fairly short” you will be somewhat right but let me ask another question: at what age did those human relatives usually die (essentially of old age)? This is an interesting question and it has an answer. Our hunter-gatherer forebearers lived well into their sixth or seventh decade, not much different from what it is now. How can this be so?

This will involve a little math, but I used simple numbers to keep everything simple, and well… sheesh, relax, you don’t have to do the math, just read it. Okay, consider a population of 100 humans who all grow up and die at an average age of 60 (some a little younger, some a little older). This means their life expectancy, at birth, was 60 years. What would happen to that life expectancy, though, if 10% died at birth? It drops to 54 years, even though 90 live to die at about 60. And if the infant death rate were 20%, the life expectancy would drop to 48, even though 80 live to die at about 60.

It is clear that the survival rate of infants was much lower in prehistoric days, and so their life expectancy, from birth, was dragged down. But if you survived for five years, better 10, you could expect to live into your 60s or 70s.

Okay, let me now go back to life expectancy in the early 1900’s. It was about that same as it was for our prehistoric ancestors! So, roughly 5000 years of civilization brought what in terms of progress? I think what we got were broader bell curves. The rich did very well indeed, but the poor did very poorly indeed . . . again, the curse of averages. So, the big question is what did civilization give us in the way of progress? For the vast majority of us, it was diddlely squat.

And yet, we have this impression of the inexorable movement toward “greater progress” to come. Things will “keep” getting better! Right . . . !

When people are asked what they want from their jobs, they invariably put close to the top of the list “greater autonomy” in their work, that is the ability to shape what it is that they do. Some degree of control is desired, instead of being told by a supervisor what to do and when to do it. So, what did hunter-gatherers have? Almost complete autonomy. Plus they lived, and still do in remote places, in quite egalitarian societies, and do “work” for only a small part of their days. All this was sacrificed when people were forced into becoming agricultural workers. Plus the poorer diets and close proximities of other people and domestic animals led to human beings being shorter, lighter in weight, being more disease ridden, including dental problems, and having shorter life spans.

Yet we continue in our delusion that being civilized is “better,” even morally so. (“What a piece of work is man …” Shut up, Wil!)

More on this later.

Addendum My mother lived to be 86 and my father 80. Your life expectancy goes up the older you get! There are estimators available on the Internet.

August 2, 2020

There’s Wrong and Then There is Wronger (and Wrongest?)

Filed under: Culture,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 7:52 am
Tags: , ,

I was watching the Cubs baseball game last night and the announcers announced the temperature at the start of the game was “room temperature,” right at 72° F. An inning or so later one of them wondered why 72° F ended up standard room temperature (here in the U.S.). So, during a commercial message one of them went online and found an answer. He stated that 72° F was standard room temperature because that temperature was derived “from internal body temperatures being 98.6 degrees ±, thus making the temperature of skin to be around 72-76 degrees Fahrenheit.” So, room temperature was skin temperature apparently. The two announcers lauded having so much wonderful information at their fingertips and how it was so much better to know than to sit in ignorance.

I am sitting there thinking WTF?!

There is a clinical term for when one’s skin temperature is equal to room temperature, what was it now . . . oh, yeah, DEAD! My memory came up with a number of 92° F for skin temperature and a very quick search came up with a better number, a range actually: roughly 92° F to 98+° F. (Your fingers are exposed to the environment more so than, say, your armpit and so are colder. Your armpit is close to the conditions existing inside your body so the skin temp there is close to your internal body temp.)

So, the answer the baseball announcers come up with, how could it have been so wrong? Well, it was a quote from the Quora web site. Quora is a question and answer website on which people ask questions (sincere and not so) and other people supply answers (also sincere and not so). Whether the answers are right or wrong or in between isn’t curated.

So, the answerer on Quora either was blowing smoke or was told something that sounded right by someone else, or . . . whatever, and then the announcers shared this incorrect information with a couple of million people.

This is certainly indicative of our current culture.

We are at least past the “it has to be right otherwise they wouldn’t let them put it on the Internet” stage but not very far past. As was the case before the Internet, you have to know a lot to be able to find correct information. My favorite example from those pre-Internet days was looking up how to spell a word in a dictionary. So, to begin what do you need to find the listing for that word in the dictionary? The spelling, of course!

So, if you are looking for something on the Internet, you need to look at more than just the top listing provided by a search engine. If you have no way to verify whether what you looked up is reliable, you need to refer to several such items to see if you can find a consensus. You need to consider the sources of those bits of information. (This was one of the errors the broadcasters made; one of them needed to know that Quora answers are not necessarily dependable.)

And then when you mention what you have found, you begin the statement with “According to <reference> . . . blah, blah, blah.” This does not include using “According to the Internet . . .” as the Internet has no opinions or knowledge of its own, only what has been posted there by others. (I know the Internet. The Internet and I are friends and, trust me, you’re no Internet.—If you recognize the quote from which this was crafted, you are older than you look.)

And this is how any number of conspiracy theories and bogus movements get started. I honestly do not believe that there is a Flat Earth Society, or whatever they are called now, that is full of committed believers. I am more likely to believe it is full of iconoclasts and people who like attention over approval (almost always males, btw). But some of these other people are not healthy psychologically and it is not good for them or society in general to be so provoked.

If you are wondering why “72° F (ca. 22° C) ended up standard room temperature here in the U.S.” you can look it up and the real answer makes a great deal of sense.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.