Uncommon Sense

February 7, 2021

Capitalism is Civilization 2.0

Filed under: Culture,Economics,History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 11:23 am
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Note This may be a bit repetitious but I keep reading about it and it keeps shocking me. Steve

If you have followed this blog for long, you have read my take on civilization, namely that I am not a fan of civilization per se (See my post “Not a Fan of Civilization?”). The history of the first civilizations is often portrayed as “humans discovered agriculture and grew so much food they could afford kings and priests and the like.” (These descriptions are starting to sound like whitewashed Bible stories generated to proselytize children.) Actually, in almost every case, agriculture—large scale agriculture—was driven by elites or elite wannabes. Agricultural work was far more strenuous than hunting and gathering and people didn’t flock to the fields begging to be agricultural workers. The archeological record shows that people got physically smaller (shorter, less heavy) and more disease ridden because of agriculture.

Since cajoling people rarely worked to get them to toil in the fields, force was employed, and a set of new elites was created, full-time guards/soldiers. (Imagine volunteer firefighters being offered full-time jobs, with benefits. Such would have been the case for those who would arm themselves to defend the village from predators and marauders.) These “guards” made sure the field workers didn’t run off and also participated in slave raids in nearby villages. Yes, civilization was built upon widespread slavery, much like the American South.

As I have mentioned before, when capitalism and industrialization came along, “workers” didn’t show up and get in cues to be hired. Most English “peasants” valued their freedom and didn’t bite on various offers to “get a job.”

So, capitalists did what they normally do, they used governmental power to force people into their factories. They used every dirty trick in the book to get people off of the land and onto factory floors: laws were passed, taxes were levied, etc. You know the routine.

These are the same people who, today, laud how self-regulating markets are, that markets can organize our economies to be “Yuge, really yuge.” Except then they don’t and the bayonets come out.

As I stated in that post mentioned above: “From foragers being forced off land they’ve lived on for centuries because they cannot produce deeds of ownership, to eighteenth-century Scottish Highlanders who preferred to tend their sheep, to today’s college graduates saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt before they’ve landed their first job, nonparticipation in the market economy has consistently and effectively been eliminated as a viable option. To those who suggest we should “Love it or leave it,” I’d suggest that neither option is—or has ever been—a realistic possibility. It’s as if people are being forced into casinos at gunpoint, where they lose everything, generation after generation, and then they’re told they’ve got a gambling problem.”

December 11, 2020

It Is As If We Can’t See What Is Right In Front of Our Eyes

The plutocrats running the US have decided that it would be a good thing if much of the school systems in this country were privatized. They claim, without evidence (as they are religious people), that this would make our schools better. The question, of course, is “Will it?”

We don’t have to guess or pray or wonder as the experiment has been done. The primary example is Sweden (or should be). Sweden had a school system that we wished ours was. Here is what happened when Sweden decided to copy the US’s fledgling efforts.

Per Kornhall: The Great Swedish Child Experiment: A Failure

It is clear that the plutocrats who have gotten both the Republicans and Democrats to chase this folly have no idea what the outcome of our experiment will be. They only want a piece of the action which is all of the money spent by our governments in public schools, a rather tidy sum. It is clear that the plutocrats have dominated all of the other areas of our economy in which big bucks are available: the stock markets, resource extractions (oil, coal, natural gas, etc.) and had run out of sources of big pools of money when they spied public education, which had already acquired a big pool of money . . . yum, yum.

So far, our experiment with privately run “charter schools” is that on average they perform no better than our public schools, but which are also rife with racism and . . . corruption. It seems that there is a charter school scandal announced in the news on a daily basis. If these were public schools, such behavior would be a national scandal.

Gosh, why would something so potentially good go so wrong? (Sarcasm alert! Sarcasm alert!) With no qualifications needed to start a school, and no government oversight, and no regulations (those pesky regulations!), those schools should be thriving, right? They are thriving, as pools of corruption. Millions upon millions of dollars have been lost to sketchy real estate deals, flat out theft by charter operators, and graft. But that’s a small price to pay for non-existent performance increases, right? Right?

The plutocrats do not give a rat’s ass about equality, quality schooling, or any of the things Sweden lost in its experiment. What they do care about is their ideology . . . as long as it makes money for them. It is very clear that they do not care about us, or our children, or anything but getting richer. Us becoming disempowered in the process is not a bug, it is a feature. “Us,” in the form of governments, are the authors of regulations confining what the rich can do with their money, so they have no interest in empowering us, quite the contrary.

Please note, if you do not read the post I linked to, when Sweden had its former system, Finland copied it. But when Sweden went “a privatizing,” Finland didn’t follow. The results on international testing are obvious. Finland is at or near the top . . . and Sweden had the greatest drop in scores of any country being tested. So, should we be on the same path that Sweden is on? Only an idiot would say yes . . . and many of those idiots are in our government houses right now. Did I tell you that it is perfectly legal for charter schools to “lobby” (aka bribe) our state and federal governments (and it is not legal for public schools to do likewise)?

November 19, 2020

Think About It

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:41 am
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As reported on the Nautilus website Aleksandra Cichocka, a political psychologist at the University of Kent, wrote recently in Nature. “Conspiracy beliefs have also been linked to feelings of powerlessness, anxiety, isolation and alienation. Those who feel that they are insignificant cogs in the political machinery tend to assume that there are nefarious influences at play.”

Gosh, do you see conspiracy beliefs around? If not, you haven’t had your eyes open. So, since these stem from the sources indicated, doesn’t that indicate that we are actually suffering from significant feelings of “powerlessness, anxiety, isolation and alienation?”

The grinding of the middle class and the poor under the heels of both parties at the behest of the plutocrats of this country as produced a high degree of such feelings, and they aren’t just resident in “those others” over there, they are in all of us.

If something isn’t done to improve the lot of the poor and the middle classes, and soon, expect our governmental institutions to continue to crumble at a rapid clip. The American experiment in self-government will be over. Long live the clueless.

November 11, 2020

The Wealthy Want What They Want and They Want It Now!

Filed under: Business,Culture,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:05 pm
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Recently the wealthy in California spent huge amounts of money getting a proposition passed; namely Proposition 22, which exempts “gig workers” from the normal protections of labor laws. See “Prop 22: why Uber’s victory in California could harm gig workers nationwide” <subtitle> Ballot measure exempting ride-sharing companies from treating drivers as employees could serve as model for future laws” in The Guardian.”

While that article addresses the fear that such efforts will spread across the nation (and they will because it is what the wealthy want), the main point is what is never, ever is mentioned in discussing Uber. And that is that: Uber is losing mountains of cash and has no conceivable route to profitability.

Uber is losing mountains of cash and has no conceivable route to profitability.

Uber built its business by subsidizing driver’s wages (and then lying freely on its required financial reports). The amounts collected by drivers are not enough to pay the driver and Uber’s overhead, therefore billions of dollars have been spent subsidizing Uber’s drivers “salaries.”

If all taxi companies were to go out of business tomorrow, Uber could only be profitable by cutting driver’s salaries to the point that most drivers will quit. Yes, it is that simple. Drivers aren’t stupid. They have figured out that after they pay for gas, maintenance (tires, insurance, wear and tear, etc.) they are barely making minimum wage. And when municipalities lose the income from taxi-cab licenses, don’t you think they will come up with an annual sticker for gig worker drivers to display on their cars. (I live in Chicago and we have to buy a sticker annually to be allowed to park in the city. If you never stop and park, you can do without the sticker . . . or in other words, you have to have a sticker. At $75 a year or so.)

Can you see now why rich people don’t want ordinary labor laws to apply to Uber drivers? So much that they were to spend big bucks and lie through their teeth to get a proposition passed to that extent in California?

Well, if this company has no way to make a profit, why do they care? Well, if they jack up the fares so much to be able to pay for everything, the taxi companies become attractive once again, so they can’t do that. Uber states that it is betting on driverless cars being made available in just a few years, which will eliminate the expense of a driver. But it would also necessitate the purchase of fleets of driverless cars, monitoring the cars, and maintaining the cars. (Who cleans the cars when a drunken rider barfs in the backseat foot well?)

As I said, there is no path to profitability for Uber . . . none.

So, why do the rich care? Because they can make huge sums dicking around on the stock market, that’s why. Studies show that the so-called “secondary market” which includes the vast majority of all stock market transactions right now, the buying and selling of stocks already sold, is a vast drain on the economy. That is it sucks money out of the economy, and it doesn’t produce anything in return.

I know, you were taught in school, how the stock market helps companies get started or expand through the initial sale of stocks. This is till true, but is a rare occurrence when compared with the numbers of shares bought and sold that are not new. The “support” for those newbie companies is long gone, the secondary market is just between buyers and sellers, and is considered a bit of a game. (Experts in game theory mathematics are employed.) The winners take money out of the market, and the losers leave theirs behind. Nothing tangible or useful is created and money is siphoned into the pockets of the already rich, who own the vast majority of the shares.

Our problem in the US is greed. The greedy have accumulated a great deal of wealth and they are using it to remake the economy to serve their desires (not needs, desires). If there is any way to disadvantage labor unions, they will do it. If there is any way to disempower working people, they will do it. They love a high unemployment economy because workers are just glad to have a job, any job, no matter how shitty and they won’t cause a fuss.

You see we abandoned slavery and the wealthy really, really miss it.

Getting It Straight

Filed under: Culture,Education,History — Steve Ruis @ 11:08 am
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I am currently making my way through a book “Origins: How the Earth Shaped Human History” which I am finding quite enjoyable. I reached the point in human history at which agriculture had been developed in multiple sites around the world. Here is a snippet of that discussion:

“The development of agriculture offered huge advantages to the societies that adopted it, despite the continuous labor involved in working the land and nourishing the crops. Settled peoples are capable of much faster population growth than hunter-gatherers. Children do not have to be carried long distances and babies can be weaned off of breast milk (and fed with milled grain) much earlier, which means women can give birth more often. And in agricultural societies, more children are an advantage for they can care for more crops and livestock, mind their younger siblings and process food at home. Farmers beget farmers very effectively.

Even with primitive techniques, an area of fertile land can produce ten times more food for humans when under cultivation that when used for foraging and hunting. But agriculture is also a trap. Once a society has adopted cultivation and its numbers have grown, it is impossible to revert to a simpler lifestyle; the larger population becomes entirely dependent upon farming to produce enough food for everyone. There’s no turning back. And there are other consequences, too. High-density, settled populations supported by farming soon develop highly stratified social structures, resulting in reduced equality and a greater disparity of wealth and freedom compared to hunter-gatherers.”

This is the standard patter on this topic and it is all true . . . but, oh, my there are so many carts that have been placed before the horses, so many it is hard to know where to start a critique.

I will start with “Settled peoples are capable of much faster population growth than hunter-gatherers. Children do not have to be carried long distances and babies can be weaned off of breast milk (and fed with milled grain) much earlier, which means women can give birth more often.” Does anyone actually think that early hunter-gatherer human beings thought about population growth beyond their own family? Even within their own family, women continued to nurse their children for quite a while because it did give protection against pregnancy. We know this because one of the actions when one tribe of humans “conquered” another tribe, was that they often killed the children, so that their mothers could become pregnant with their babies sooner.

Plus this “birth control” happened naturally, and “milled cereal grains” was not an effective substitute for mother’s milk. First of all “milled” grain didn’t exist then, only coarse, stone ground cereal did, which was harder to digest, required longer cooking, and was nowhere near as nutritious as breast milk; all of which was easily observed.

So, who benefited from having a larger population? The argument is there would be more hands to do work, but also there would be more mouths to feed. And a larger population guaranteed that all the prey animals in the area would be hunted into oblivion, as would the shellfish, fish, and other contributors to a healthy diet. (Think about what happened to the Lewis and Clark Expedition in Oregon. Hint: they ended up dragging a dead elk for three days back to their encampment to have something at all to eat.)

I do not think there was much of a society to make such decisions. Which brings me to: “The development of agriculture offered huge advantages to the societies that adopted it.” Societies didn’t adopt agriculture; people did. Before there were the first cities, there were many, many, many small villages which supported small populations of humans who mixed in a little agriculture (you had to hang around to tend/protect your crops) with hunting and gathering. Usually these were near a stream or river, which supplied fresh water as well as fish, shellfish, etc. Agriculture happened through the accumulation a small, family level efforts. It was never “adopted by societies.”

Which brings me to “High-density, settled populations supported by farming soon develop highly stratified social structures, resulting in reduced equality and a greater disparity of wealth and freedom compared to hunter-gatherers.” Excuse me but high density populations could not form until extensive agriculture was under way. This means irrigation controls, crop land controls with protections from foraging animals, and all of this over many, many hectares of land. This only happened because of “highly stratified social structures” existing first. Kings, viziers, priests, et. al. were the designers and organizers of “high density populations.” The archaeological evidence for this is overwhelming. Agriculture didn’t cause the stratification, large-scale agriculture was caused by the stratification.

Who benefits when “Farmers beget farmers very effectively.” It is not the farmers so much as it is the elites who are confiscating the “excess grain” to support them and their lifestyles. Grain is at the heart of most of these high-density populations because it can be dried and stored and so protect the community from the vagaries of weather and climate, infestations, and diseases. Since it can be dried and stored, it can also be taxed, that is confiscated. All of this requires a stratified society. The elites started in charge and they have stayed in charge, by hook or crook.

What was left out of the “standard patter” above is slavery. The elites took advantage of their confiscation of the “excess labor” (nice euphemism, that) of the masses to expand the number of elites (people who did not grow food or hunt for a living) in the form of “soldiers’ who raided nearby villages for slaves. Slaves did not need to be paid, just fed and only minimally at that and well, slaves beget slaves very effectively. The development of large scale agriculture also lead to the development of a large scale slavery.

Only the elites benefited from the growth of this “society.” The elites got lives of physical ease and even wealth and all the farmers and slaves got was . . . trapped. (It is a well-known fact that when agriculture became widespread, human beings became shorter, lighter, and more disease ridden. It is presumed this was due to the switch from a rich, varied diet to a vastly more narrow one.)

It is much easier on our egos to say “look at what agriculture did to us” as opposed to admitting that the greed of elites drove the whole process.

* * *

I do not blame the author for this lack of precision, there is only so much one person can know. I am, as I said, enjoying this book, and will report on the whole thing later.

September 28, 2020

When it was ’54 …

Republicans are often characterized as wishing our country would be restored to what it was like in 1954.

So do I.

 

September 9, 2020

Trickle Down Economics . . . and What to Do About It

I begin with an interesting quote:

Williams Jennings Bryan said: “There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that if you just legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it.”

He said this in 1896. Eighteen effing ninety-six!

Trickle down economics was not a new invention during the Reagan presidency, it is the tried and true instrument of the rich to retain and expand their wealth and also, they believe, their status in society.

We are in yet another Gilded Age of wealth accumulation. The filthy rich have bought the courts, the governments, and the news media and now those instruments of our society only bleat what they are told to bleat. And what they bleat is support for the position of the plutocrats, the wealthy elites.

Those elites have sold the idea that how much wealth you have is a measure of your social status, your worth as a person, so much so that religions have cropped up to support just that, e.g. featuring prosperity gospel preachers of the like of Joel Osteen and the perfectly named Creflo Dollar.

If we are to ever have a chance at real democracy, on in which “you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it,” then we need to take action. One thing under our control is to socially ostracize the very wealthy.

Is there any good reason that Jeff Bezos should have $200+ billion dollars of wealth? Could that degree of wealth be accumulated without the rules being bent to allow it? Think about this. If Mr. Bezos were to give you one billion dollars . . . if . . . if you could spend it in one calendar year, do you think you could do it? To do this, you would have to spend an average amount per hour of every eight-hour day, five days a week, fifty weeks in that year. (You’d get two weeks vacation, after all what good is being rich if you don’t get to enjoy it?) Do you know what that amount would be? It is $532,000 per hour! Think about how hard you’d have to work to spend just $532,000! Sure, you could go out and buy a house. So, now you have a house and you need to spend 532,000 more dollars in the next hour, and the next, and the next.

And Mr. Bezos has accumulated over two hundred billion dollars for himself.

Do you think Mr. Bezos thinks this is enough, that from now on he will take whatever he earns and share it with all of the Amazon workers who work so hard under trying conditions? Gratitude is important, right? Plus Mr. Bezos could spend $532,000 per hour of every working day for the next 200 years and not spend all of his accumulated wealth . . . not making one more penny.

Do you think he thinks enough is enough? No?

I do not, either.

Start the shame campaign. Impugn the patriotism of the uber-rich. Impugn their commitment to democracy. Shame them for their Greed. Unleash the Lash of the Mortal Sin of Greed upon their backsides.

Being wealthy is fine. Being filthy rich no longer is. Stop looking up to them, admiring them. Stop thinking of the Mitt Romneys and Donald Trumps of the world as “self-made men” when their fathers gave them millions of dollars of seed money. (I worked almost forty years as a college professor and earned about two million dollars of salary. Donald Trump was given five million dollars to “get started.”)

Repeat after me: Boo! Hiss! Every time one of the uber-rich appears in public, let them know their true social status: as greedy bastards who will grind armies of ordinary people under their heels to make themselves richer than Croesus.

Need Ammunition?
So, Bill Gates is a nice guy, right? Personally I think this is correct. Professionally not so much. Consider all of the lawsuits over shady business practices that Microsoft lost. The Internet Explorer scandals. The European anti-trust prosecutions, in essence, etc.

Jeff Bezos created and owns a large part of Amazon.com and all of its spin-offs. Amazon has been running commercials lately, highlighting employees who think working for Amazon is just swell. Have you seen these?

Have you seen similar commercials for Costco? No? That’s because they don’t exist. All you need to know what working for Costco is like you can see on the badges of its workers. many say “Employee since 1997,” others show 10 and five years served. People don’t stay with an employer unless they are treated . . . and paid . . . fairly. Costco has a reputation of being a good, even a very good employer. People stay with them. (And no, they are not perfect, just good.)

Amazon runs commercials to offset the bad press they have gotten from mal-treated and disgruntled employees. You, know, for canceling the health insurance of part-time employees at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, things like that. The amount of money saved doing that to be put in Jeff Bezo’s pocket wouldn’t make a rounding error in his net worth. That’s how Mr. Bezos thinks wealth is created.

Do your research. Every time you feel yourself slipping into admiration for a very wealthy plutocrat, do some research and find out how they got all of that money. If they appear on a radio show, call in and tell them what you really think. If they appear on a TV show, change channels, so their ratings will go down. If a local news program shows a gushing puff piece for one of these bastards, call in and give them a piece of your mind.

I hope that booking an uber-rich asshole in the future will be about as popular as booking an avowed racist is now. Make ‘em bleed.

September 3, 2020

See the Pattern?

Filed under: Culture,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 1:13 pm
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Here are two accounts from recent news stories:

Tahir Ahmad Naseem – who his daughter remembers as the kindest and most gentle of parents – was on trial in Pakistan for blasphemy when he was shot dead last month in a high-security courtroom. The teenager who pulled the trigger, Faisal Khan, was arrested after the shooting and charged with murder. But he was also feted as a “holy warrior”.

Meanwhile in Kenosha, Wisconsin, US of A . . .

But a white teenager, Kyle Rittenhouse, could walk down a public street in that same city during a chaotic protest — in violation of a curfew — with a military style semi-automatic long gun strapped over his shoulder, and police officers didn’t stop him. Instead, they tossed him a bottle of water and thanked him for his help. According to news reports, protesters actually shouted to police officers riding in armored trucks that the 17-year-old Rittenhouse had shot someone. Yet not one officer grabbed hold of him. Not one officer used a Taser. Not one officer drew a weapon.

On Friday, Daniel Miskinis, Kenosha’s police chief, told reporters, “There was nothing to suggest [Rittenhouse] was involved in any criminal behavior.”

See the pattern?

How does a man toting a gun walk into a “high security courtroom” . . . with a gun. Gosh do you think that man represented the dominant culture and that was one of his privileges?

How could a young man walk down a public street during a raucous protest, with a rifle looped around his neck, with people shouting at the police that the kid had just killed two protesters, and the police did nothing? Could it be that young man represented the dominant culture and that was one of his privileges?

Do you see the pattern?

The Free Market Debate (sic)

Filed under: Economics,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 1:06 pm
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I am sure you have heard of this debate before, so I won’t be explaining just what it is. But I do have a question: what in your opinion is the biggest roadblock to having free markets? I am going to step out on a ledge and claim that you immediately thought of government intervention. It is the intervention of governments into free markets that messes them up and prevents them from doing what they do so well.

Am I right?

If I am, I think you now have proof of the manipulation of a public debate.

Think back to any financial crash you want. All the way back to 1929. Maybe the Savings and Loan Debacle. Or the Great Recession of 2008. Or the several times the Stock Market went haywire and we had a mini-crisis lasting just a few days. Were any of those caused by government oversight or government intervention? Any? Hmm, that’s interesting. If government intervention doesn’t cause financial panics or crashes, then what does? Let’s see, in 1929 it was runaway speculation by people playing the market to make easy money. In 2008, a major cause was the selling of bogus “financial instruments,” bundling lousy mortgages together and calling them Triple-A investments. Also, lenders were scheduling iffy housing loans based upon those faulty financial instruments.  There was an element of governmental controls during the S&L crisis as those regulations put many S&Ls into a box.

But, by and large, most of the financial crises have occurred because of market manipulation by market participants, not by government intervention.

For example, it was not long ago that corporations were not allowed to buy their own stock. It was thought that that would lead to stock price manipulation. But in the Clinton administration the business sector offered “campaign donations” to one and all if they would accept the reforms they thought were needed. One of those was to allow corporations to buy their own stock. At the same time regulations were passed to encourage corporations to pay their executives in stock options, rather than cash, to “give them a stake in the company.” You will have noticed that the majority of American corporations took their Trump administration tax cuts and used then to . . . create jobs, modernize their infrastructure, develop new products . . . uh, no, just kidding; they bought stock with the money, often their own stock. By executives deciding to buy their own stock, they drove up the price of their own stock, which made their shareholders happy, and made their salary payment in stock more remunerative for themselves. Do the right thing for their employees and society at large? Not on the agenda.

The “free market debate” isn’t a debate, it is a false dichotomy. The people promoting that this as an actual debate want there to be just two sides: one where the government messes things up, which it rarely does and one in which free markets, without any manipulation work like miracles. Somehow they always seem to leave out the markets as they really are: markets manipulated up the yin-yang by participants in the markets themselves.

Oh, and the days in which government dreamt up regulations on its own are long past. All new regulations are proposed by the industries being regulated themselves and is it any wonder those regulations seem to favor certain things?

August 25, 2020

The Cancel Culture—Real or Imagined?

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:43 am
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On the Vridar web site, Neil Godfrey was reviewing a compilation of essays in honor of biblical scholar Thomas L. Thompson.

He began with “Why a volume of essays in honour of Thomas L. Thompson? The opening paragraph of the Introduction explains (with my highlighting):

Thomas L. Thompson has been, for the past five decades, behind some of the – if not all – major changes in Old Testament historiography, if we consider that his criticism of the patriarchal narratives, the exodus and settlement and the United Monarchy were each at their own time forerunners of what later on would become accepted in the field (Thompson 1974, 1987, 1992, 1999).

See below for those four titles. The first, 1974, was met at the time with such opposition that it left him “unemployed and unemployable for ten years”. The 1992 work precipitated his expulsion from Marquette University.”

Thomas Thompson’s Significant Books (I have read the fourth.)

Historically, the largest exponent of the cancel culture has been organized religion. If your beliefs contradicted theirs, you lost your job, in Thompson’s case multiple times, or had a hard time finding a job, or you lost your freedom by being locked up, or even your life. (Burn, Heretic, burn!)

The telling feature in this case was that Thompson was being punished . . . for being right. His heretical opinions have become “accepted in the field.”

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