Class Warfare Blog

October 31, 2014

Freedom and “The State”

I was reading a column by Austin Cline (Freedom as Self-Determination, Democracy as Independence from Religion) which started on the wrong foot, specifically by defining “political freedom” thusly:

What does it mean to be “free” in a liberal democracy? At the very least, it must mean that people are able to form opinions and pursue goals relating to the direction of their life with a minimum of interference from the state.”

My reaction was instant and visceral: why is freedom defined incorporating and emphasizing the phrase “a minimum of interference from the state?”

Think about all of the times “the state” was all there was separating people exercising their rights and their fellow citizens trying to deny them. I am thinking of the Civil Rights Movement for one, slavery as another. There are a great many more: Women’s right to vote, Black’s right to vote, the right to divorce a marriage partner, etc. And has not legislation passed by our governments righted wrongs (including legislative prejudices, e.g. against interracial marriages)? Isn’t the recent Supreme Court decision regarding Marriage Equality an interpretation of our government written laws that is opening up the institution of marriage to all?

The “state” is just an actor, like individual citizens, just one more powerful than any citizen. The definition of political freedom should mention our governments but not as “the major source of restriction of our freedom.”

Have the Republican lies about Government as “the problem” soaked that far into our collective consciousness? I hope not.

October 30, 2014

Loving/Hating Israel

According to an article in The Guardian, some anonymous Obama administration officials had some not nice things to say about Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The article included the quotes that Netanyahu was a “chickenshit prime minister,” a “coward,” and “a man more interested in his own political survival than peace.”

For his part, Netanyahu angrily insisted he was “under attack simply for defending Israel,” adding that he “cherished” Israel’s relationship with the U.S.

I believe that the part of the relationship he “cherished” applies to the more than $8,500,000 per day (yes, that’s eight and a half million dollars every day) the U.S. government spends in support of Israel. Other than that, Israel’s Prime Minister would prefer that we shut up and go away.

A World Series Interlude

Again, I take a point of personal privilege to discuss the World Series of U.S. Major League Baseball. I have just a few comments.

First, can we stop singing God Bless America in the seventh inning of every damned baseball game? It was first done shortly after 9/11 because, well, we had taken a body blow and people were feeling a bit vulnerable and it lifted our spirits. Now it has become a requirement and with the mind numbing repetition it has become like the Pledge of allegiance, something almost meaningless as we have heard it so often. It has become like a politician’s American Flag lapel pin.

The Fox Sports coverage was its usual level of irritating: too much talk, too much stupid analysis (it doesn’t matter that the nine previous Game 7s were won by the home team, those were different teams!; the home field advantage has nothing to do with sleeping in your own bed or eating home cooked meals (who cooks at home any more?), it has to do with batting last in every inning (the Royals tied their Wild Card Game and then fell behind 8-7; if the Royals hadn’t been batting last, the game would have been over), etc.

Fox’s strike zone graphic was completely horrid. I assume they were using Pitch Trax technology (which uses two synchronized cameras to track pitches) but the strike zone shown on screen was way too wide. It is only supposed to be as wide as the front edge of the white part of home plate, yet it was wider than the entire plate (which has a black border) seen at an angle from the center field camera (which makes it appear wider)! What good is showing the locations of pitches against a grid that does not conform to the strike zone? Any part of the ball overlapping the white part of the plate at the correct level is the definition of a strike.

And as I celebrated with the thousands of people shown outdoors at the Civic Center in S.F., I was struck by how much the outcome of the game meant to all of us Giants Fans. If there is any argument about the ridiculousness of a search for meaning, use this as example #1. These were professional athletes playing a game to entertain us and we were celebrating like a we had just won a major war. Absolutely meaningless … and wonderful at the same time.

A Chicago Cigar Store had a WS Special sale on Gigante and Royale cigars. That’s what made this country great!

And, once again, we have an example of a group of men, some Latin-American, some African-American, Southern and Northern whites, young rookies, and grizzled veterans, all working for a common goal out of love and respect. We can do this … but in our body politic we have white people trying to disenfranchise black and brown people, rich people trying to disadvantage poor people, wealthy corporations trying to avoid paying any taxes in support of the common good at all. Is it because we have no common goal? Maybe it is time we found one.

Viva Gigantes!


October 29, 2014

Marriage, Smarriage

In Ross Douthat’s column in yesterday’s N.Y. Times (“Why I Am A Catholic”) Mr. Douthat shared, amongst other things, why he supports the Catholic Church’s take on marriage, including “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” The Catholic Church is not big on divorces, apparently.

Interestingly, the Catholic Church being one, and the biggest, of 30-40,000 sects of Christianity does not hold sway with all of the other “denominations.” They very fact that there are so many “denominations” (to denominate means “to name”) indicates that there were enough differences that each of those groups did not want to share a name with the others. All of those differences are not limited to the state of marriage, of course, but more than a few are.

The various governments of the United States have decided to give special privileges to people who are “married.” Which of the religious definitions of marriage is to be used then? Since we have a separation between the churchly and the secular, the secular governments essentially (and roughly and raggedly) said “all of them.” (There are a few restrictions, no “Church of What’s Happening Now” weddings, etc. but they are few.) But what of the nonreligious, how do they get their marriages in fact established as marriages in law? The various governments created Marriage 2.0, secular marriages, in which marriage ceremonies are performed by government officials and the problem was solved. Then parts of the U.S. Constitution providing “equal protection under the law” have kicked in to say that marriages between people of the same sex cannot be forbidden and if secular marriage is allowed, so must be marriage between same sex couples.

Marriage was created in societies in which women were property, property of their fathers or uncles or brothers, to ‘give away’ to become the property of some other man, to do with as he pleased.

This has caused a great deal of consternation in the religious communities, especially in the Catholic Community (at least in the community of Catholic spokespersons, uh, spokesmen). They feel the institution of marriage is being defiled: same sex couples getting married; divorces happen right, left, and center. The End Times must be near!

To which I must ask: who gives a flying fuck?

The “institution” of marriage has always missed the point. It was created in societies in which women were property, property of their fathers or uncles or brothers, to “give away” to become the property of some other man, to do with as he pleased. By controlling the sexual activity of women, it was assumed to give men surety over the paternity of their children.

To which I must ask: who gives a flying fuck?

“So, I have a simple solution to the problem of marriage: eliminate it.”

The only real purpose of marriage is to provide for the care and raising of children, children who represent the continuance of our species. So, I have a simple solution to the problem of marriage, that will eliminate calls for religious control of our government and many other problem associated with it: eliminate it.

Doing away with marriage needs only to be replaced with suitable contracts and rituals in support of child bearing and rearing. The laws should give no special standing for being married, just for being a parent. Why would we want to give lower income tax rates, for example, to people because they are married? People who are married already get great benefits, economic and social, from being committed thusly. What is in it for society that marriage be given “benefits?” All of those benefits should be shoved over into child bearing and rearing supports, along with penalties for child abuse and neglect and services to remediate them.

As to why Ross Douthat is a Catholic? Who gives a flying fuck? He should keep his medieval superstitions and practices to himself and especially keep them away from our politics and government.

October 28, 2014

We Have Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself … and You Will Be Very, Very Afraid

Really, people, we have one person die from the Ebola virus and people are running around with their hair on fire? And the guy didn’t get it here, he got it in Africa and he wasn’t treated until he was a week into the disease. And he was treated in a hospital that was not trained to deal with it.

But we have to have an Ebola Czar? We have to have states issuing isolation orders and quarantine orders. The Governors of New York (running for re-election) and New Jersey (running for President) seemed to think a 24-hour effort on their part should be enough to create their new quarantine policy that only took another 24 hours and a feisty isolant to blow holes in.

Why have Americans all become such pussies? We are afraid of our shadows.

It seems that this is a secondary outcome dictated by the conservative/Republican strategy to take over the country. They have no real policies to offer (well, they do want tax cuts for the rich and, oh, corporations to be able to ignore any government regulations they don’t like) so they are motivating voters with fear. Fear of the government is a biggie (watch for the Black Helicopters). Fear of gays and lesbians destroying the institution of marriage. Fear of Muslims. Fear of the New Black Panthers. Fear of Black people in general. Fear of Hispanics (with calves the size of cantaloupes). Fear of … there seems to be no end to the list.

This is all fronted with an extensive media campaign: Fox (sic) News, Rush Limbaugh, etc.

These are the same people who deigned not to notice an epidemic that had killed 12,000 people before the then Republican President (Ronald Reagan) thought it was worth mentioning. That epidemic required an exchange of body fluids, like Ebola, and had no cure and almost no one survived it, but “meh,” it was just AIDS. But Ebola, why we’ve had a vaccine ready to test for a decade … but there wasn’t enough money to be made, so no pharmaceutical company bothered to test it. But now that some one has died! Oh, no! “I can smell something burning … oh, it’s my hair.”

It’s okay conservatives. There was just the one death and he was Black; you don’t need to care.

Imperfect Creation, Imperfect Creator

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:53 pm
Tags: , , , ,

God so loved the world that he made up his mind to damn a large majority of the human race.”
Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899)

I recently read a post clarifying the misunderstandings that people had regarding angels in the Bible and I was struck by the thought that, according to Christians, a perfectly good god created us to be the flawed, sinful people we are. Not only that, but He created the angels, including the angels who rebelled and went to war with Him in some sort of coup.

And yet Christians continue to babble on and on about how perfect their god is: the God of Cancer, the God of Ebola, the God of Tooth and Claw, the God of Survival of the Fittest, the God of Parasites, etc.

They also point to the perfection of “His Creation.” I have to believe they are putting a little something-something in those wafers because a three-year old child thinks better than this.

October 27, 2014

It’s Genius I Tells Yuh, Genius!

I would be shocked, shocked I tell you, if you had not heard or seen this quotation before:

You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.

I would be equally shocked if you don’t know who said it (Albert Einstein). He was a certified genius as a physicist, as well as being a philosopher and a peace advocate. And whenever I have been in a group and this quotation is shared, all of the heads in the group nod in agreement to this wisdom for the ages. I have only one problem with it.

It is completely nuts.

As much as I despair of actually being able to hold my own in a toe-to-toe discussion with the great AE, hear me out.

You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.

My problem is this: whether you are prepared for war or not is not connected with whether you will be a participant in a war.

Consider the case of France in the spring of 1940. France was a major military power in Europe. Its generals reassured French citizens that its armies and its defenses were up to anything its belligerent neighbor, Germany, could throw at them. By mid-June Germany owned more than half of France. France was prepared for war but the war that France prepared for was not the war they end up participating in.

“It is completely nuts.”

Consider Switzerland at the same time. The Nazis didn’t invade Switzerland. Switzerland was and still is armed to the teeth, although the days in which every male from 18 to 80 kept a rifle in their closet is over—the weapons are now kept in local armories—there is still compulsory military services for all Swiss men. But it wasn’t because of Swiss might of arms that the Nazis did not attack. Any sizeable military power could take Switzerland in a very short time, Switzerland’s protection was geopolitical. It was much more useful being Switzerland than being a vassal state. (Another and more current example of this is Hong Kong. Somehow it avoided being plowed under and collective farms planted on it.)

What if France had decide to “not prepare for war?” How would the outcome have been different? I suspect that Germany would have owned all of France before June 22nd … and there would have been fewer casualties.

So what was Einstein trying to say? I suspect that he was saying that we would be better offer putting more effort into preventing war and less into preparing for it. Even that statement is ambiguous as an argument can be made that being prepared for war can help prevent it. As evidence consider the success of the strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). This was the Cold War strategy that guaranteed that anyone starting a nuclear war would be assured of their own annihilation. In other words, MAD meant that starting a nuclear war was tantamount to suicide. What made everybody else nervous is that this strategy didn’t show robust protections from the actions of psychopaths (movies are still being made) plus the possibility of accidents seemed to be not just a few (a great many such accidents ended up being documented, like the nuke accidently dropped on South Carolina—look it up—they still haven’t found it). So this was indeed a high-stakes strategy but all-in-all it seemed to work.

There are some countries that have tried the middle ground, for example consider Costa Rica, a Central American country that has no army (beautiful country, beautiful people, well worth visiting by the way). It has avoided war several times even with wars being waged by its immediate neighbors. Is their lack of preparation for war the cause of their “peace”? I think this is suspect. (How valuable is a country whose income is primarily in the form of tourism if you start a war there?) I honor their bravery and I note that the benefits of not pouring money down a military rat hole has benefits: Costa Rica has the highest literacy rate in the hemisphere if I remember rightly.

I don’t see that there is any relationship between preparing for war and preventing war, except that each requires resources and our fears (and the greed of the military-industrial complex) tend to stoke the former and starve the latter. If you do not prepare for you, you do not have that option (fight to try to win or stalemate an opponent. If you do prepare you have that option. The more you prepare, the more that option looks feasible. As evidence consider the tendency for U.S. military intervention almost anywhere in the word. We have the option and we rarely hesitate to use it.

I have to ask a simpler question: do you think eliminating your local police force would deter crime? At the same time, would militarizing your local police force deter crime? I think both answers are “no.” There seems there might be some reasonable middle ground (Bobbies with nightsticks but no guns) that might but.…

And I think we could spend a bit more political capital on creating peace; certainly a bit more research into making peace would be nice. For example, what would happen if the Palestinians and Israelis were shunned by all until they made peace? I know a nice place to start. I am unaware of the tribe but in an Eastern Indian tribe, when two members of the tribe got into a serious personal dispute, each was taken into a sweat lodge by a dozen or so others and they would sit in a circle and say positive things about the “other” guy. Each would in turn say something positive about the other tribe member with the disputant present expected to follow suit. This would continue (hours, days, whatever it took) until the “enemies” were dead. The mental construct created by the participants in the feud would be replaced by the positive, more honest constructs and the “enemies” ceased to exist. The two would be expected to greet each other and apologize at the end, having “killed their enemies.” (If I got any part of this ritual wrong, I apologize to those who created it. It is brilliant and I mean no harm.)

What are your two cents worth?

October 25, 2014

NRA Supports Cop Killers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 11:38 am

According to the Sacramento Bee (10-24-2014):

“At about 10:30 a.m., a man armed with an AR-15 rifle aimed out of the car from the parking lot of a Motel 6 at Arden Way and Ethan Way and opened fire, killing (Deputy Sheriff Danny) Oliver with a shot to the forehead.

“Over the next six hours, authorities say, 34-year-old gunman Marcelo Marquez eluded hundreds of officers from Sacramento to Auburn in a crime spree that left Oliver and Placer County sheriff’s Detective Michael David Davis Jr. dead. A third Placer deputy, Jeff Davis, was wounded and later treated and released from a hospital. A motorist was in serious condition from a gunshot to the head.”

The NRA hasn’t formally announced its support of the owner of the AK-47, a military weapon, but we expect an announcement soon.

And, as the NRA has said so often, “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” it was just unfortunate that so many cops and other good guys are now dead and wounded and the bad guy is alive, unharmed, and sitting in jail, where he was going anyway. Again, according to the SacBee:

“Marquez, who public records indicate is from Salt Lake City, was expected to be transferred to the Sacramento County jail late Friday….”

The NRA Supports Gun Rights for Convicted Felons
So They Can Kill Cops

The Dark Shadow Under the Vergara Decision

The Vergara decision in California was a court decision stating that teacher tenure laws in California prevented access to a fair education for disadvantaged students. (You see, tenure laws resulted in those with more seniority avoiding the poorer schools, don’t you see and.…) The fact that tenure laws have nothing to do with seniority rights apparently wasn’t mentioned.

I am going to set aside the fact that conservatives have been trying to distract and undermine teacher’s unions for decades now. (The reason? What is the #1 institutional supporter of the Democratic Party? Answer: unions. What is the #1 source of union support of the Democratic Party? Answer: Teachers’ unions.) Teachers’ unions have had a conservative target on their backs for many years now and this is just one thrust at that target. A small amount of money, an orchestrated court case (they created the Vergara case out of whole cloth), and a “sympathetic” judge and voila! Chaos and consternation for teachers and teachers’ unions.

But let’s set that aside. The more important aspect is the claim that decision is based upon is one unsupported by evidence or theory. That claim is that “if only disadvantaged students had a great teacher, they could catch up, close the “achievement” gap, and succeed like everybody else.” This places the onus of success, not on the students, or society, but teachers. Studies show that teachers account for 10-14% of the success of their students, but for these conservatives, it is 100%.

This not only puts more pressure on teachers but it masks the real issues. The real issues are hunger and poverty and racial discrimination. (If you think it is an accident that one of the richest nations in the world also has one of the if not the the highest child poverty rates, you need to get your head out of the sand.) Let’s unpack this.

“Disadvantaged students” is eduspeak for students attending school who have disadvantages. It has become almost synonymous for “Black and Hispanic kids.” Because of racial pressures in our society, both institutional and overt, Black and Hispanic parents live in poorer neighborhoods which have lower housing prices, and hence lower property taxes. Often property taxes are the basis for school funding. If they are or are not, even schools who receive all of their funding from the state government show that schools in “poor neighborhoods” receive less funding. No only that, those schools had probably suffered a great deal of financial neglect before they got any kind of adequate funding, with no “catch up” funding to modernize or run those schools.

So, poor neighborhoods means poor (financially poor) schools, and we all know the way to attract the best employees (hint: teachers) is to offer them less money. (Conservatives never mention the way to get better teachers is to pay them better, the standard business approach.)

So, kids come to ramshackle schools, with less than the best teachers, and they come hungry, and fearful because of the crime in their neighborhoods and, well, they don’t do as well as we, or they, would like in school. (I’m shocked, shocked I tell you!) Enter the conservatives argument: “great teachers trump all of those other problems.” If this were true, then our society at large would be under no obligation to do anything about the poverty in those neighborhoods or the racism behind it. This is basically another manifestation of “blame the victim.”

There is no evidence to support this conservative meme. Of course, this means nothing to conservatives as they think that if they repeat anything often enough it becomes true. So, they state their “belief” over and over. (Conservatives are big on belief, which is acceptance without proof.) All of the data contradicting those beliefs are ignored.

So, to control the Black population we will put a sizeable fraction of the young Black men in jail, which has the side benefit that convicted felons cannot vote in many states and they vote Democrat, so there. We keep the cycle of poverty going by pointing to an obviously wrong solution (“great teachers trump …”) which has the side benefit of undermining teachers and teachers’ unions (and they vote Democrat anyway). Plus this stirring of the racial pot requires very little other than a bit of funding and conservative billionaires are lining up to sign on, so they have that covered.

It is uncomfortable being a racist out in the open, but behind several veils, it is quite comfortable.

October 24, 2014

Do Religions Cause Wars?

The question posed in the title of this post is one which has created a great deal of debate over the past decade or so and, really, a great deal farther back. (Karen Armstrong has a new book coming out entitled “Fields of Blood: A History of Religion and Violence,” for example.) I am not going to address this question because I do not have a glimmer of how to go about answering it and I suspect very few other people do, too (including Karen Armstrong, and I like her work). When it comes to what causes any particular war to happen, I am not sure that any single definitive explanation has ever been made. Books are still being written about what caused World War I. And while I think you could lay much of the “cause” of WWII in Hitler’s lap but saying “because Hitler” isn’t much of an explanation and it certainly doesn’t explain Japan’s participation.

“I am not going to address this question because I do not have a glimmer of
how to go about answering it and I suspect very few other people do, too.”

Basically I do not care whether religions start wars or not, or whether they continue them longer than they might otherwise or not, or make them more violent or not, etc. As an atheist, I object to any effect religion has upon violence and warfare because any religious argument is an argument about nothing, about competing fairy tales, or competing moral codes. Hey, that’s a great rationale for war: whether one religion is more moral than another. (That does seem to be a theme in the dialogue between the “moral Islam” and the “decadent Christian West.”)

The good news is that per capita violence of all kinds is on the decline. Yes, including wars. Yes, including the NRA. Yes, including Boko Haram. As we become more civilized (or more urban, or more modern, or more populous, or less religious, or ????) we are becoming less violent. I think this is partly because we are also becoming less different. If you listen to a news broadcast from California, New York, Texas, or Georgia, you would be hard pressed to determine the location of that broadcast without some visual clue. Regional accents just are not as pronounced as they once were. We speak, dress, and act much the same all over the country. We watch the same movies and TV shows and YouTube channels and communicate at a distance more than we ever have. The desire to fit in with one’s peers is a strong urge. And the less different we are, the less inclined to violence we are, my opinion, of course.

Can you imagine the U.S. making war on Canada? Neither can I. Can you imagine making war on Mexico? Maybe a little? Can you imagine making war in the Middle East or in Ukraine? A lot more. As you get away from a shared appearance and a common language and a shared religion, it becomes easier and easier to “think war.” Consider how easily many Americans wanted to go into Ukraine or after ISIS with guns a blazin’.

The main point I wish to make is that the question “do religions cause wars” is irrelevant. If religions contribute at all to wars or violence (and a good case can be made that they do, ask Salman Rushdie) then we are allowing an argument over nothing to create vast pain and suffering. Compare that question with “do fairy tales cause wars.” Atheists are responding from a feeling that the two questions are equivalent. And that leads to exaggerated claims regarding religion and everything wrong with the world, including war. I say exaggerated claims as how could we really know the real cause of any war? Take Hitler’s word for it? Or the leader of Boko Haram’s? Or George Bush’s?


Again, if you wonder why I am writing about religion in a Class Warfare blog, it is because I believe that religion has been a tool of those who started and prosecuted the class war here in the U.S. And now that they have won the class war and are mopping up, I think they will turn their eyes elsewhere.

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