Class Warfare Blog

December 17, 2014

Morality Without God? Part 2

Filed under: Morality — Steve Ruis @ 2:09 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

As evidence in the debate around the question asked of atheists, namely “how can you have morality without God?” I offer the following:

“A new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that … remarkably, the gap between torture supporters and opponents widens between voters who are Christian and those who are not religious. Just 39% of white evangelicals believe the CIA’s treatment of detainees amounted to torture, with 53% of white non-evangelical Protestants and 45% of white Catholics agreeing with that statement. Among the non-religious, though, 72% said the treatment amounted to torture.” (as quoted in Christians More Supportive of Torture Than Non-Religious Americans, by Sarah Posner, December 16, 2014)

As I said before, maybe that question needs to be “how can you have morality with God?

December 14, 2014

“The White People Problem in America”

Filed under: Race — Steve Ruis @ 7:21 am
Tags: , , ,

Please read this:

… then change your mind as is necessary.

December 9, 2014

Now We Know

Atheists are often asked “how can we have morality without religion?” The hollowness of that question was made evident with the release today of the redacted executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s study of the use of torture during the Bush Administration (redacted means “edited,” Bubba).

“The Bush administration was the most overtly Christian administration in the history of this country.”

Now we know that the CIA was creating a torture program (that’s what they called it) before 9-11. Now we know that the CIA had a policy in place, a policy that said that torture was “wrong” (i.e. immoral) and “ineffective.” We now know that they sought out a new policy, one that allowed torture, one that the Bush administration was glad to provide. Then the lying and disinformation and torture began.

“Apparently their religion did not supply them with a sufficient or workable morality.”

The Bush administration was the most overtly Christian administration in the history of this country. Apparently their religion did not supply them with a sufficient or workable morality.

And it was all done so ineptly (e.g. over $81 million was paid to two psychologists to create the program, neither of whom had ever done an interrogation).

We need a new national day of reflection or atonement on how we could have gone so far astray. Possibly if we reflect on this every year from now on, we will not repeat it.

And just maybe we need a better religion. Christianity didn’t pony up a decent morality when it was most needed.

Pardon Me?

In an op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that all of the officials in the Bush administration who authorized the use of torture in the “War on Terror” should be pardoned by President Obama. He argued that it would make his stomach turn but in the face of the Obama administration’s opposition to prosecuting any of them or even having a “truth commission,” this may be the only way to paint these acts as clearly illegal.

I find myself in agreement. But pardon Bush, and Rumsfeld, Tenet, and Yoo and the rest, but not Dick Cheney. The prospect of Cheney seeing the others get pardoned for their crimes but not him might result in Cheney asking to be pardoned, too, thus admitting his guilt. It is a long shot, but what have we got to lose? Heh, heh, heh.

December 6, 2014

Stop with the “Serve and Protect”

Commentators keep using the phrase “serve and protect” as a generic motto describing the role of our police. Just stop, please. Our police neither serve nor protect us. They only apprehend criminals after crimes have been perpetrated. Just try to get them to protect your property or self if you have been threatened with bodily harm or harm to your property. They will tell you that they cannot do anything until a crime is committed.

The only thing they serve are arrest warrants. Their jobs are to apprehend criminals and inject them into the criminal justice system. And, yes, it can be a nasty job, but ever since 9-11 we seem to be projecting ordinary firemen, policemen, and soldiers into “heroes,” and that doesn’t serve anyone. Heroic deeds are done by people in all walks of life for all kinds of reasons; it is not a job title nor does “hero status” come with any job title.

There are all kinds of policemen in this country who never fire their sidearms while on duty in their whole careers. Others gun down ordinary citizens and then lie about that. There are good policemen and there are bad policemen. There are good police chiefs and bad police chiefs. There are bad police departments and good police departments. We need help with the bad ones.

Why don’t we do what we do with doctors? (Hey, gang, I’ve got an idea!) Doctors are liable for “malpractice,” that is bad practice. If they do something wrong, they can be taken to civil court and, if they lose, their insurance companies pay out considerable sums. If they do that more than once, they can no longer practice medicine because they will have no insurance.

Right now our laws make it incredibly hard to prosecute a policeman. If you want to sue them in civil court, that is to get money from police officers who act illegally, victims must prove not just that a particular police practice is illegal, but that no reasonable officer would think the practice was legal. This makes the police almost immune to civil prosecution. Sometimes this is the law, other times it is a system of checks and balances that makes sure policemen never go on trial. Let’s change this so that at least the insurance companies will keep track of who is a bad risk and who is not. That way, somebody is checking.




December 4, 2014

I Dunno If …

Filed under: Race — Steve Ruis @ 7:57 am
Tags: , , , ,

If a white man were choked to death for selling individual cigarettes and resisting arrest?

If a white 12-year old were shot to death for playing with a toy gun?

If a white youth were shot and killed for jaywalking and sass?

If a white man were shot and killed for holding a toy gun in a toy store while talking on the phone?

Don’t you think that somebody would be held responsible?

And isn’t to “discriminate” the ability to tell the difference between things? And isn’t racial discrimination the difference to tell the difference between “races” and act accordingly? No, no racial discrimination here, move along, there is nothing to see.

Maybe we have gone a little too far in demonizing Black males. And isn’t Congress supposed to declare war before we can just, you know, legally gun down the opposition in the street?

December 2, 2014

College Students Graduate in Four Years, No? (No … and They Probably Never Did)

A piece in the December 1st NY Times by Tamar Lewin (“Most College Students Don’t Earn a Degree in 4 Years, Study Finds”) highlights a nonprofit group in Indianapolis, IN, called Complete College America, which has issued a report “Four-Year Myth.” The report decries the fact that most college students do not graduate “on time,” and that this is a waste of money and time.

According to their website, “Established in 2009, Complete College America is a national nonprofit with a single mission: to work with states to significantly increase the number of Americans with quality career certificates or college degrees and to close attainment gaps for traditionally underrepresented populations.”

Immediately after the statement above, they go on to say “Between 1970 and 2009, undergraduate enrollment in the United States more than doubled, while the completion rate has been virtually unchanged.”

Ah, now I see things more clearly.

I laud their efforts but they seem to be a bit fact blind. I graduated with a BS degree in 1969, so I am very close to being a part of their statistic, in fact I can’t imagine there was a significant difference in this metric between 1969 and 1970, so here is my story. I entered community college in 1964 and graduated from a state college in 1969, so it took me five years. I started by testing into college-level English and Math, so I started with no deficiencies to be made up. But my degree goal was a four and a half year program (BS), not a four year program (BA). And when I had completed the first four years (while playing basketball for those years but working while in school only the latter two) I had just three courses left to take. Two of those course were available in the fall semester of my fifth year, but the third was available only in the spring semester. So, I took 12 credits in the fall and 9 in the Spring and had the most enjoyable year of my college years. I had averaged over 16 credits completed per semester through those first four years, so this was a significant decrease in workload. If I remember rightly I got almost all As (not gimmes back then) and barely broke a sweat.

So, as a statistic, I did not “graduate on time.”

What would it have taken to graduate on time? Well, the basic requirements are: to show up at college with few if any deficiencies to make up. Some of the courses taken to make up English and Math deficiencies do not receive credit toward a degree but even if they do, they can create a roadblock in that they prevent one from taking desired classes because one hasn’t met the prerequisite course requirements for other courses (which often have English and Math prereqs).

Then one must pass all of the classes taken, because if you fail, or withdraw for whatever reason, again you can fail to have passed a course needed to take a required course. And one must not make any mistakes in taking the correct courses. Changing one’s major course of study midstream, as it were, can be disastrous toward finishing “on time” as those courses already taken might not meet requirements for graduation in the new major. Taking a wrong course can have lesser but similar problems associated with it. You also have to hope that they don’t change the requirements on you while you are in the process (some institutions allow you to meet the requirements that were in effect when you started, others aren’t so kind).

In other words, you can’t make anything but minor mistakes when plotting your course to a degree.

Now, consider the statement “Between 1970 and 2009, undergraduate enrollment in the United States more than doubled, while the completion rate has been virtually unchanged.” We have ample evidence that prior to the 1960’s or so, that only the cream of the crop went to college. These were students who basically had B or A averages in high school. The community college movement, which exploded in the 1960’s, encouraged the entrance of students into college who did not have such good grades in high school, students who had C and even D averages. I think it is safe to say that the “doubling” of undergraduate enrollment wasn’t achieved by adding students who were as qualified as those who went before. These students had less college experience in their families (which could help guide them), and they had more English and Math deficiencies that had to be “made up” but also put them at a disadvantage while taking classes with students not having such handicaps.

So, what are the odds that these students (I was one in that I was the first person in my family to graduate from college) could jump through all the hoops, in the right order, not making anything but smallish mistakes and “graduate on time?” I think the odds were much poorer for these folks than for the previous cohort, but “the completion rate has been virtually unchanged!” This is a major success.

“There is no crisis! Do not run around with your hair on fire.
We need to solve real problems and not the problems we ‘think’ exist.”

I repeat: this is a major success! Taking on less prepared students and not having a drop in completion rate is tremendous.

Compounding this situation are studies that show that success in program completion is related greatly to whether or not students have a specific goal when attending college. Studies also show that a great many of the “New Students” (Yes, they were called “New Students” back then.) do not have specific goals when entering college. They were there to explore “unexplored territory.”

Add to this the fact that the now ubiquitous presence of community colleges has enabled a new form a college attendance. People between jobs or a dead end job often look the community colleges to upgrade their skills and often this involves only taking a few courses, having no intention whatsoever of getting any kind of degree or certificate. When you survey students to determine which are pursuing a degree and which are not (explorers, skill improvers, skill updaters, etc.) you find the complete rates are much higher that the ones reported. The rates reported often include students who had no graduation goal at all which makes them suspect at best.

And I must add that the “New Students” are not as affluent as the old one’s were, so they work more hours while attending college which cuts into their study time and class time. Add to that the fact that college has gotten more expensive at a rate only slower than medical costs has exacerbated this problem. Students working more hours have a hard time going to school “full time.”

Am I saying there is no work to do here? No, I would like to see young college students given more assistance in developing their goals and in securing their goals through better planning. But … there is no crisis! Do not run around with your hair on fire. We need to solve real problems and not the problems we “think” exist.

And we have the tendency to talk down the sources of perceived failures (It is the fault of the Teachers’ Unions! It’s those damned liberal universities! etc.) and that does not help; in fact it undermines our self-esteem and our ability to marshal the resources to solve the real problems.

December 1, 2014

Students don’t know what’s best for their own learning

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 8:12 am

Steve Ruis:

And for those of you who think Student Evaluations should become a greater part of a teacher’s evaluation, maybe the scales you use are upside down. Condier this …

Originally posted on TEACHERWISE:

Students don’t know what’s best for their own learning
by Arthur Poropat

Universities and governments around the world rely on student evaluations to assess university teachers and degrees. Likewise, potential students check online ratings when deciding where to study. These evaluations are based on the logic that students must know best what helps them learn. So it’s surprising to discover that students may be the worst people to ask about the quality of education.

Two recent studies of student evaluations clearly demonstrated this point. Both studies looked at student evaluations and learning. Both came to the same conclusion: university students evaluate their teachers more positively when they learn less.

The first study involved students at the United States Air Force Academy, among the top few American engineering colleges, while the second was conducted at Bocconi University in Italy, one of Europe’s top ten business schools. Both are highly esteemed institutions.

View original 845 more words

November 28, 2014

Evolution, The Second Law of Thermodynamics, and Christian Apologetics

… walk into a bar … no, wait, that’s not what I wanted to say … but if you come up with a good punch line, let me know. My topic is the propensity of Christian fundamentalists to claim that the Theory of Evolution must be false because it violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Please note that not a single solitary scientist makes this claim; it is just those who wish to defend the fundamentalist Christian worldview of God creating the universe and everything in it in an act of magic some 6000 years ago.

So, let’s look it this. I assume you are not interested in an academic treatise on thermodynamics, so let me start with this: there is a law called the conservation of energy law which basically says you can do accounts with energy measurements. If you study a physical phenomenon, you can measure all of the energies involved and all of the inputs add up to the outputs quite nicely thank you. This can be tricky as energy can be transformed from one kind to another, like electrical energy being transformed into heat energy in a hair dryer or toaster, for example. But if we are careful to not miss any of these, the sums add up. (As it turned out the laws of thermodynamics (eighteenth and nineteenth Century) had to be amended in the atomic age (twentieth Century) when we found out that mass and energy can be transformed one into the other and the other into the one, but this hardly enters into this discussion—even though when one does take this into account, the sums do add up perfectly).

The Second Law of Thermodynamics, though, address certain subtleties in these energy accounts, specifically that it takes energy to organize things and that energy can hide as order in a system. Many interpreted this with the generic conclusion of “the universe tends to more and more disorder.” This certainly seems to be true but we have to be careful what we think physical order is. For example, if you take two brand new decks of cards and open them both and shuffle the heck out of one but leave the other alone, which deck is more ordered? Think about it. Most people will say that the unshuffle deck is more ordered. Most people would be wrong. Both decks represent the same amount of physical order. Each deck has a specific order of cards. It would take the same amount of energy to type the list of cards in each deck, for example. The key test is to determine how much energy it would take to transform one into the other versus the other into the one. (The first card in the unshuffled deck is the ace of spades, so let’s see, in the shuffled deck, the ace of spaces is here so I will now start a new deck with that card. The next card is the king of spades, etc. Doing it in reverse, would be: the first card in the shuffled deck is the seven of diamonds, and uh, the seven of diamonds is here in the unshuffled deck so I will start a new deck with that card. Transforming the unshuffled deck into the same order as the unshuffled deck (exactly the same order), requires the same amount of work/energy as the reverse, so they represent equal states of physical order. Of course, the purpose of shuffling cards is to create any one of a myriad well-mixed, near random orders that are acceptable for games of chance, but Nature doesn’t care about our game rules. Each of those shuffled decks of cards represent a particular order.

So, getting back to our Creationist’s argument, they will use an example of taking a teaspoon of sugar and dropping it in a glass of water and waiting (if you are impatient you can stir it, but the result will be the same), and the sugar “disappears.” Tasting any drop of the water shows that each drop has a sweet taste and that the sugar has been spread out into every part of the water. This, the Creationists claim is indicative of the tendency in Nature of things becoming less well organized, more spread out, as the ordinary tendency of things. And they are right, but they finish too soon.

If you simply wait a little longer, another spreading out occurs, namely the water molecules in the glass leave in a process called evaporation. Slowly the liquid level in the glass drops. The reason is simple. Of the molecules of water existing on the very top surface of the liquid, some are move left or right (i.e. sideways) and some are moving down. Those are going nowhere, but a fraction of those molecules are moving “up.” Some of those which are moving up are too slow to escape the attractions of their neighbors, but a few are moving fast enough to have “escape velocity” and leave. Not all of these get away because occasionally those escaping the pull of their neighbors are smacked by air molecules and knocked right back into the liquid. But some do get away as air molecules are quite a bit more spread out than the water molecules on the surface.

So the liquid level drops and drops (yes, it is a little slow) and eventually all of the water leaves the glass. And what is left behind? A lovely set of sugar crystals barely distinguishable from those originally dropped into the glass. (They look the same and weigh the same, but the crystal shapes are somewhat different.) The continued demonstration is an example of spontaneous organization in Nature. The crystals assembled themselves as the water molecules “disappeared.” In fact, all of physical nature is largely self-organizing. And these are the same forces involved in the organization created through evolution.

Now, here is where the details the Creationist leave out come into play. If you wanted the water to leave faster (you didn’t want to wait the days it would take to accomplish just by waiting), what would you do? You’d heat the water, no? This is because evaporation is endothermic (requires heat to be put “into”). You know this because you sweat when you are hot and the evaporation of that liquid cools your skin (absorbs some of the heat from your skin into the water evaporating). So, during the waiting for the evaporation to take place, heat is absorbed to replace that consumed during the evaporating process (actually it is kinetic energy being transformed into potential energy, keeping all of our books in good order). So the heat “causes” the evaporation (a disordering process) resulting in the sugar crystals (highly organized blocks of molecules) reassemble themselves, now wait for it … wait … creating heat while doing so. So, do you think an argument that starts “the theory of Evolution contradicts the Second Law of Thermodynamics” is going anywhere? Doesn’t this seem a bit more complicated?

Let me make it simple: the grass don’t grow when the sun don’t shine. Becoming more organized, as often evolution demands, requires energy to pay for that. For the grass plants to become larger by creating and organizing more cells and whatnot, it needs an input of energy, which is provided in the form of sunlight. Human beings are large complex organisms. To build our bodies while we are young and maintain them when we are older, we need enormous amounts of energy which we get from eating a number of times every day. If we stop eating, we die; our level of organization slowly erodes and we fall into disorder and die.

All of the energy needed by all plants and animals almost exclusively come from the sun (ultimately). The grass grows in the sunlight, cattle eat the grass, we eat the cattle, etc. We are all solar powered.

The theory of evolution no more violates the Second Law than do babies growing into adults. It is a nonsense argument offered only by people who lack understanding of thermodynamics. Anything becoming more organized is an everyday occurrence, all the Second Law says is that becoming more organized requires energy to pay for that ordering and we live in a place awash with energy of all kinds (heat, light, chemical energy (food), etc.). It is easy-peasy.

Oh, and the statement “the universe tends to more and more disorder” is quite true, but that doesn’t means disorder is increasing everywhere. All of the order on Earth is created by even more disorder being created in the Sun (the source of the energy we use to fuel everything), so the total amount of disorder is increasing in our solar system. But, hey, the Sun can afford it. It won’t run out of fuel for several billions years yet, so we can safely worry about that later.

November 25, 2014

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid

The Ferguson grand jury decision to not put the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown on trial is at its best a stupid decision. I admit I do not have all of the “facts” but considering the situation and the extraordinary aspects of the grand jury process, the sensible thing would be to put on a trial and let all of the information come out in a public venue in front of a balanced jury and let them decide. At least the air would have been cleared. But I guess the process was set up in the first place to not do the sensible thing. That the grand jury conclude that there was no probable cause for an indictment is really a stretch.

“I’ve got an idea, gang! Let’s set back race relations 60 years!”

Basically we are creating a system in which a policeman can use lethal force for inconsequential actions of citizens. Could not the officer in question allowed Michael Brown to go his way and then, knowing his appearance, identify him and gone with backup to his home to arrest him? Is lethal force the only technique police officers know? Do they have no other tools in their tool box?

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