Class Warfare Blog

August 18, 2016

Civilian War Casualties are Invisible, Honest!

Filed under: History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:32 am
Tags: , , ,

The N.Y. Times had an op-ed piece this morning that asked the interesting question: “Does the U.S. Ignore Its Civilian Casualties in Iraq and Syria?” The reason it is interesting is why would anyone in their right mind limit the discussion to Iraq and Syria?


The U.S. has ignored civilian casualties in every conflict we have engaged in. Recall the firebombing of Dresden, Germany. Recall the indiscriminate bombing in Viet Nam and bordering countries. Recall, well, Sherman’s march through Georgia. Recall, the U.S. Indian Wars in which Native American women and children somehow were considered combatants and were slaughtered indiscriminately.

If you think otherwise, name a conflict in which our behavior changed for the better because of a reaction to civilian casualties. I cannot think of one.

Instead of discussions of the usual chest thumping topics in our high school textbooks, this would be an interesting discussion for all U.S. History classes.

August 17, 2016

Objective Morality, Really?

I have been reading a number of recent blog posts regarding the topic of objective versus subjective moralities. The usual terms are thrown around: “illusory,” “fictional,” “delusional,” etc. I am amazed that this discussion continues.

The only thing of value regarding a moral system is whether or not people will follow it on with actual behavior. A beautiful conceptual framework that everyone ignores is useless as only through behaviors can such a system be identified. Consider slavery: throughout the bulk of human history slavery was considered an acceptable practice, supported by myriad individuals, governments, and religions. Today it is universally considered immoral and anyone practicing it is considered a criminal. Slavery used to be moral, now it is not.

I had to look up definitions of the word “objective” because I thought maybe the discussants were using different definitions and hence the confusion and arguments. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary “objective” has the following applicable meanings:

1bof, relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers :  having reality independent of the mind <objective reality> <our reveries … are significantly and repeatedly shaped by our transactions with the objective world — Marvin Reznikoff> — compare subjective

3aexpressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations <objective art> <an objective history of the war> <an objective judgment>

Okay, if there is such a thing as “objective morality,” allow me to suggest an experiment. At the snap of my fingers all of the people on the planet disappear. (Obviously this is a “thought experiment.”) A lone alien explorer lands his ship on the planet to investigate what happened. It quickly discovers that we called our planet Earth (and a bunch of other names), and that history stopped abruptly on August 17, 2016. Question: would they be able to find this “objective morality” if that was their primary interest? If so, what would it be?

When a believer in objective morality can answer these questions, I will begin to consider the existence of an objective morality. I will even help a Western theist of a Christian bent begin: the first question’s answer would be “It would be found in the Holy Bible,” of course. That is what I would expect they would say. But they have to go on. What would the alien researcher read that would delineate a moral system that was objective? (Please note that “because God said so” is not an objective statement.)

Please note whether the alien researcher would find evidence of large numbers of people following this system. Please include the moral instruction from your source regarding slavery in your answer.

I’ll wait.

August 15, 2016

CEO Pay, Again? Really?

Filed under: Business,Morality — Steve Ruis @ 2:24 pm
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A piece on The Conversation (U.K.) about CEO pay describes the situation we have known here for decades. CEO’s are vastly overpaid. The reason, of course, is that they manipulated their Boards of Trustees to become a back scratching club when it came to paying their salaries.

The essence of their argument went that CEOs were underpaid and if their pay weren’t raised “we” would be at a competitive disadvantage. No evidence was given for this claim … because there is none. It is clearly bullpucky, made up out of whole cloth, for the sole purpose of getting themselves raises.

Since over 80% of CEO appointments in major companies (International Fortune 500) come from within, and there is some evidence that such appointments work out better in the long run (in actual performance), I have a suggestion as to how to correct for this malfeasance.

When your CEO is retiring, or you just hate the bastard and fire him, offer the position to the next in line with a 20% pay cut. Explain that if the next in line turns them down the position will be offered to the person beneath him and so forth. He will accept the position. Obviously underlings can’t be paid more than the CEO so all executive salaries need to be adjusted downward.

Declare a moratorium on executive pay increases. Your shareholders will thank you. Your employees will thank you. You executives won’t but they’ve been overpaid for years, so they should just shut up.

When each CEO leaves, repeat the process, until matters are brought back into line with employee salaries (relatively, of course), such as they were in a benchmark year, say 1980.

Easy, peasey.

As an alternative, you could just pile up all of that extra cash you are overpaying your executives and burn it; that would be about as effective as what you are doing now: paying premium wages for ordinary performance.

August 9, 2016

Money and Politics

Filed under: Economics,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:35 am
Tags: , , , ,

The Supreme Court has made a number of surprising decisions regarding money in our political processes (money is a form of free speech, Citizen’s United aka “corporations have more free speech than you do,” etc.) most of which seem to indicate that the justices subscribe to the opinion of mainstream social scientists that money has negligible impact on elections.

A new study has blown holes in this idea and that common sense (money affects politics more than anything else) prevails.

If this interests you, this is a must read article: Stark New Evidence on How Money Shapes America’s Elections

August 7, 2016

You’ve Been Waiting for This All Year …

Filed under: Sports,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 3:27 pm
Tags: , , ,

You know you want it!

All right boys and girls, we are into the second half of the baseball season and it is time for my annual rant regarding baseball. (I can hear the … delete, delete, deletes … and now that we are rid of those not interested, I continue.)

All the rage on TV broadcasts of baseball games are the graphic strike zones which claim to show where the ball was thrown on each pitch. There are a few problems with these graphics and I have already written about one (see “On Baseball from 4/24/2015 … that’s 24/4/2015 for you Euros out there).

Pitch Trax
Here is a screenshot showing the PitchTrax grid and the little balls that represent the places previous pitches passed near home plate.
The ball is about 3˝ in diameter and any part of it that intersects with the strike zone should be deemed a strike.

Here’s a definition of the strike zone:
Rule 2.00: The Strike Zone. The STRIKE ZONE is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap.

And we must keep up with rule changes, so in 1996 the “Strike Zone” was expanded on the lower end, moving from the top of the knees to the bottom of the knees.

So if a ball is thrown by the pitcher from any angle (as long as he begins to throw with one foot touching the pitching rubber he can end up anywhere he can reach) if any part of the ball passes through the strike zone, it is supposed to be called a “strike.”

Now with regard to the grid in the little graphic, we have a problem. Home plate is 17 inches wide and hence so is the strike zone … for everybody, but the height of the zone varies with how tall the batter is. So, I decided to use my own body for an example. According to the written definition, my strike zone would be 17˝ wide and 30˝ high. This zone has an aspect ratio of 1.76 that is the height is 1.76 times larger than the width. I then took a plastic ruler and measured the little grids on my TV screen and this is what I got”

PitchTrax     1.35 : 1
tbStrike Zone     1.35 : 1

I must have got something wrong so I remeasured my own zone and it came out the same … and then I remembered that umpires don’t call balls and strikes according to the actual rule. The rule they follow is:
De facto Rule 2.00: The Strike Zone. The STRIKE ZONE is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is at the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the bottom of the knees.

This practice has made the major leagues a “low ball league.” So I measured myself according to this de facto rule and I came up with an aspect ratio of about 1.32 : 1 which is close enough to the little screen grid.

But this doesn’t  actually solve my problem. My problem is they use the same grid for a tall player that they do for a short one. Here are the aspect ratios for the strike zone (= height / width) for the tallest and shortest players:

Tallest (roughly 6´8˝)     1.41 : 1
Shortest (roughly 5´7˝)     1.18 : 1

Now those numbers don’t make a very visual difference, so here are the two grids to the same scale graphically:

Strike ZonesThe strike zone on the left would be the one to use for a 5´7˝ player and the one on the right for a 6´8˝ player.
Note they are of quite a difference in height (but same in width as that is determined by the width of home plate, not the batter)
as well as the one for the taller player starts off farther from the ground (estimated).

I do realize that it is perfectly possible to map any of those grids onto the “standard” one they use for every batter, but that doesn’t give an accurate sense of where the ball actually was to most viewers making it easier for them to be disgruntled.

Also, I still wonder about the technology. I was watch Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox pitch the other day and he is a left-hander who often throws side arm. This means the ball is coming from about three feet to the left of a line drawn outward from the center of the plate. The camera is set up in centerfield shooting over the shoulder of the pitcher (so the batter and catcher can be seen) but fairly high up and to the right. (I am guessing it is to the right because most pitchers are right-handed.) So, Mr. Sale throws one of his wicked sliders which curves from left-to-right as well as travels over 90 mph and the “strike tracking software” throws up a ball symbol exactly where the catcher caught the ball, which was just off the grid. The pitch was called a strike, correctly so, for the pitch to land in the catcher’s glove … three feet beyond the plate on the outside edge of the grid it must have traveled through the grid up near home plate. The announcers reacted that the umpire had given the pitcher a gift by calling a pitch that was outside of the strike zone a strike … based upon a glance at the tbStrike Zone. Why the position of the ball symbol on the grid matched the position of the catchers mitt, which was physically impossible for the ball to do unless it started to curve back to the left when it reached the plate is puzzling.

I do not trust the accuracy of these gizmos and for all I know they could have an intern with a light pen watching a TV screen and then touching the grid on a tablet with a light pen, rather than the complicated radar systems they say they have.

I would prefer that they explain their technology better especially why the grid is the same for all players when the rules say each player has his own strike zone.




Fighting Against the Obvious

It was recently pointed out that a noted economist (Dani Rodrik) has often argued that “markets and states are complements, not substitutes.” Well, duh. It is clear, at least to sociologists if not economists, that without governments there isn’t enough trust in societies to engage in any sort of extensive commerce. Before government control of markets (modern markets, not medieval fairs) most market transactions were more akin to how major drug deals are portrayed in the movies … <cue the edgy music track>: two men with briefcases approach one another, one stuffed with cash, one with drugs. They inspect both to make sure that it was what was agreed upon and not adulterated (e.g. counterfeit currency, counterfeit or diluted drugs). All the while each has guards in place in case anyone wants to pull a heist. Most transactions, even for bunches of carrots were like this: face-to-face with items of equal value being exchanged.

“An obvious conclusion is that for there to be globalization, an expansion of
economic markets to include ever larger groups of countries, you need
more government, not less.”

Even with governmental controls, most transactions had some of this flavor. As late as U.S. Revolutionary times, England had laws requiring some of the commodity being bought being necessarily transferred when the contract was signed (a sheep, a sheaf of wheat, whatever was being bought). This made international commerce somewhat restricted.

Only with governmental security of the contracts, with the force only a government could supply, could make modern markets work at all.

An obvious conclusion is that for there to be globalization, an expansion of economic markets to include ever larger groups of countries, you need more government, not less.

The Republicans and Corporate Democrats (Is there much left of those two parties when you pull out those groups?) are all backers of “globalization” because their paymasters are. (It has been claimed that if the plutocrats didn’t want globalization, the term wouldn’t even exist.) The latest effort to instill more globalization is the TPP or Trans-Pacific Partnership which is a pact often compared to NAFTA, the North America Free Trade Act. The TPP which will be rammed home shortly on a tidal wave of corporate money actually says very little about trade but, of course, it is still is referred to as a “free trade treaty” between the Pacific rim countries that are involved. So, if it isn’t about “free trade” what is it about? It largely is a corporate rights document, empowering corporations and disempowering governments. (It was written by the corporations themselves, with no help whatsoever from the uncooperative “public.”)

So, what the corporate backers of the TPP, and their lackeys in the GOP and Democratic Party, are trying to establish is the equivalent to “more globalization with less government.”

As has been shown by economists, not overtly because they, too, receive their funding from the plutocrats, these “treaties” are “good” for the economies of the countries involved. What they don’t bother to point out is who specifically is the reaper of those benefits of the benefits of such deals that accrue. It turns out that these treaties are hugely beneficial to corporations and rich people and hugely harmful for the poor and middle classes.

We often hear about the millions of jobs that have been lost to Mexico because of NAFTA. What we don’t hear about are the millions of jobs Mexico has lost to us. Our cheaper agricultural goods have wiped out many Mexican farmers who have then tried to get across the border to find work in the U.S., thus straining our immigration systems. The jobs move quickly from place to place, but we don’t have the same mobility. If your job moves to Viet Nam, will you follow it?

The TPP is of the same ilk. The rich will get much richer, after all they are few. And the poor and the middle class will become even poorer. But that is their lot in life, no?

This is a form of redistribution of wealth of which conservatives approve. This is why they are willing to ignore the obvious (more globalization requires more government, not less). It is all about the money and really nothing else and the rich, they just don’t have enough of it.

In all such cases in which a tiny majority runs roughshod over a much larger majority, it ends poorly, often with the tiny majority trampled by the many. Can this turn out any other way? When will we begin? (Personally I would like to spare them. They have proven, though, that they cannot be trusted with so much wealth. If we want to save them, we need to tax them back to civility.)

August 6, 2016

The NYTimes: On the Slippery Slope and Accelerating

Journalism is suffering or, rather, we are suffering from a steep decline in the quality of journalism. Schlock and shoddy journalism has always been with us and always will, because it is cheap. If I may quote an executive of the National Enquirer magazine in court, “Everybody knows we make this stuff up.”

High quality journalism, though, is expensive. And, unfortunately the funding base for high quality journalism has evaporated. First on TV, where news divisions were not expected to make money but now they do, to newspapers, which used to be somewhat profitable and now are marginal at best.

The result has been that a great many journalists have been fired and a great many good journalists have retired and been replaced by, well, poorer journalists.

I was reading a column in today’s Times (“We’re in a Low-Growth World. How Did We Get Here?” by Neil Erwin, Senior economic correspondent at The New York Times’ The Upshot column in which he refers to an interview with Larry Summers, economist and former Obama administration economic advisor:

Mr. Summers, in an interview, frames it as an inversion of ‘Say’s Law,’ the notion that supply creates its own demand: that economywide, people doing the work to create goods and services results in their having the income to then buy those goods and services.
In this case, rather, as he has often put it: ‘Lack of demand creates lack of supply.’”

Apparently the good reporter missed something in translation, because the “framing” is a bit upside down. Say’s law has been widely discredited (and in economics that means “doesn’t work” rather than it is flawed logically or whatever) and the fact that demand drives supply is long standing economic principle.

The way it is stated it appears that Say’s Law is the operative principle, but in these unusual times it has been inverted (“In this case, rather …”). So, “normal” is declared to be an aberration.

Do realize that many folks still quote Say’s Law as if it were valid because it supports the fiction that is supply-side economics (which has also been thoroughly discredited (aka doesn’t work), just look at the last 35 years as evidence).

So this piece implies that Say’s Law is valid and an unwary reader would have that “factoid” reinforced.

Only a savvy journalist would note that either Mr. Summers misspoke or he was speaking ironically or was actually trying to counter the zombie idea of Say’s Law (zombie ideas are those that refuse to die because they are propped up for various reasons).

In any case, we lose when the quality of journalism declines and decline it has. We are on the slippery slope and accelerating. Soon, someone on the N.Y. Times staff is going to say “Everybody knows we make this stuff up.”

Yo, Trumpers, You Picked the Wrong Target for Your Ire

There is a large stream of anti-immigrant sentiment in the supporters of current GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump. They are not alone. Immigration issues fueled a great deal of the Brexit vote and they form a core of the central issues for the far right-wing parties springing up all over Europe.

This is “normal” in the sense of when economic times are tough, there is a tendency to lash out at the “cause” of one’s misery. It is also “normal” for the subjects of our lashes to tend to be those we are prejudiced against.

What is unfortunate is that the target of our ire is poorly selected. It is not immigrants who are the cause of our current economic woes. Immigrant communities have lower crime rates that do established communities. Immigrants are usually more zealous regarding American values than home grown citizens, but are they really the reason why you don’t have a job? Have they swooped in and taken up all of the banking jobs? How about real estate? Computer technicians? Auto mechanics? Plumbers? Tool and die workers? An interesting case occurs regarding doctors. It seems that most of the medical professionals I see are either foreign born or appear to be first or second gen Americans. But I don’t see a lot of doctors complaining about how immigrants have stolen their jobs.

One can also make a strong argument that immigrants are an injection of vitality into our culture. I can remember a time when the gourmet dining opportunities in the Midwest involved chicken-fried steak. Now one can easily find Thai food, sushi, Ethiopian restaurants, etc. and that is just our food culture.

No, immigrants should not be the target of our ire.

The real target are the oligarchs, those in the class of people we refer to as being “rich,” the 1%. It is they as movers and shakers in business who have ruthlessly exported good jobs out of the country to be replaced by McJobs, low paying service jobs. They are the ones campaigning for lower business taxes when business taxes, the actual ones, not the listed maximums, are the lowest they have been since they were instituted, leaving ordinary people to pick up the slack. These are the people trying to starve the government of receipts so it will stop “redistributing” their wealth to the undeserving poor (and minorities) in obvious wastes of money like Social Security and Medicare. These are the people who have redistributed the people’s wealth into their pockets but don’t want that flow reversed or even diminished. These are the people for whom no amount of money is “enough” and who will do almost anything to get “more.” These are the ones who label poor people as being “lazy,” who think an education is the cure for all economic ills (it is not), and who think government should be limited to waging wars (profitable ones anyway) and enforcing contracts.

The real target of our ire should be the plutocrats, who with their obscene amounts of wealth have bought the courts, the legislature, and the political parties.

People like … Donald Trump.

August 3, 2016

The Wisdom of Ordinary People

A comment made regarding a post on the Naked Capitalism blog (Brexit Realism: Maybe Voters Were Not Dumb by David Miles, Imperial College Business School) shows a great deal of wisdom and the danger associated with the current states of our economies. The comment was in regard to the Brits exiting the European Economic Union (Brexit):

When people say the ‘economy’ will be harmed by an action, I’ve taken to asking – and it applies to Brexit – whose economy ? Before neoliberalism allowed Capital to hoover up all the gains in productivity and keep it, wages and productivity were at least loosely coupled. If I don’t get any more of the pie, why should I care if the pie is bigger? Most if not all economists only talk about the economy of Capital, giving scant regard to the economy of Labour. I think some Brexiters couldn’t see how dewealthing some rich people was going to hurt them – especially if they are on social welfare or benefits.

The commenter used a tag rather than his/her name so it is hard to give credit. (Why do people hide behind a nom de plume? Fear of retribution?)

The danger is those left out of the “gains of the economy” have no vested interest in its general welfare. Clearly capitalism has no checks and balances built it (as are so often claimed as in phrases like “But a corporation would not do that as it would harm their reputation …”) to restrain greed and greed has brought us to the point that a vast majority of Americans (and Brits and …) couldn’t care less about the “economy” because they are not part of it. They have been excluded by those seeking wealth by any means. Soon, throwing another plutocrat on the fire to stay warm is going to sound like a good idea.

August 1, 2016

Am I an Unrepentant Grammar Snob?

Filed under: Culture — Steve Ruis @ 12:24 pm
Tags: ,


I seem to be bombarded with idiotic phrases of late. Here are but a few examples:

Pre-Drilled Holes These accompany something for sale that would otherwise require the purchaser to drill some holes during assembly. But the term essentially implies that the holes were created prior to the use of the drill. Don’t them mean just “drilled holes” and can’t they just say “no drilling required?” If the thing were to sold assembled would they brag of “pre-screwed screws” or of it being “pre-assembled?” I suspect so.

Pre-Cancerous Growths/Pre-Diabetes These terms, the second of which is being pitched as a real disease, make about as much sense as describing your skin as being “pre-sunburnt” before you visit the beach or your body as being “pre-reduced” before going on a diet. These terms really smack of someone having something to sell, like insurance because, gosh, you never know when something bad will happen. Sheesh.

Renewable Energy This term is especially irritating as it is a contraction of “renewable energy sources” and is often chopped down all the way to “renewables” in discussions of commercial energy production. Energy cannot be renewed or reused, period. Take firewood, a “renewable energy source” for millennia. Collect fallen wood from a forest or even chop down trees, season the wood, and prepare it for the fireplace and voila, you have a home heating and cooking system in the form of a “fire place.” The “source” is said to be “renewable” because another tree can be grown. A better term would be “replaceable energy source,” because the first tree is not coming back, even if a new tree grows from the stump of the old. If you step back a little, the energy needed to grow that tree came from the sun, so burning wood is a manifestation of solar power. For a tree to grow, a seed has to have nourishing soil, plenty of water available, and a host of symbiotic relationships with the biota in the vicinity, but the energy is supplied through sunlight. Sunlight is not renewable, it is not even replaceable, it is just a source of energy that is damned near inexhaustible in the potential life span of our species.

I realize being a grammar (and syntax, and punctuation, …) snob is a form of self-inflicted would and I should just give it up … but … aaaaarrrggghh!

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