Class Warfare Blog

January 19, 2020

Followers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 10:08 am
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At this point I think of some of you who regularly comment on my blatherings as at least colleagues if not friends (yes, casual friends, but friends nonetheless). I was just reading a post elsewhere on WordPress and the author asked to be “followed” here and on Instagram and Twitter.

I was struck by the fact that I have never done the like. I have never asked people to “Follow me!” Now, it isn’t that I don’t check my site stats from time to time, being a bit of a stat junkie, but I haven’t had the thought of “Gee, how can I increase my number of followers?” or “Gosh, I would like to have more countries on my followers list.”

At no time have I thought of this endeavor as being a contest to see who can acquire the most followers, although I understand some politicians, athletes, and entertainment celebrities brag about how many followers they have. Now, that makes sense as they are all in the “look at me” business.

My motivation for posting has been to get a few things off my chest, clarify my thoughts, and to step out of the closet on some of my more unpopular stances. (I had not talked to anyone outside of my family about my atheism since college.)

To me followers declaring themselves as such is a little like declaring for a political party. There are no entrance requirements, no controls over who may or may not join, so bottom line I guess is that it is a gauge of how interesting you are as a poster and, even then, not a particularly good one as people need to find your posts to make that determination and that seems hit or miss. Plus they may be following you because they hate what you say rather than “like” what you say.

So, is acquiring followers for your blog(s) important to you?

January 8, 2020

New AP Poll Shows White Evangelicals . . .

Polls, being what they are, are more than a little problematic. But I guess it is not all that strange that a poll would find white evangelicals to be the least Christ-like of the groups polled (including the “Nones”!) and . . . well, here is a comment:

Compared to Catholics and mainstream protestants, white evangelicals oppose helping the poor, protecting minority groups, supporting children, and reject Biblical admonitions to avoid hoarding wealth. Non-religious people scored the highest when it came to supporting the basic tenets of Christianity actually.” (LGBTQ Nation)

“Non-religious people scored the highest when it came to supporting the basic tenets of Christianity actually.” Sheesh. Says a lot, but a poll like this cannot be used to make general conclusions, but the results are intriguing.

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The AP-NORC poll of 1,053 adults was conducted Dec. 5-9 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.0 percentage points. Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods and later were interviewed online or by phone.

January 6, 2020

Academic Writing

Filed under: Education,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:41 am
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The Conversation web site ran an interesting article on the third of January (Academic Writing Can Be Boring – But There Are Good Reasons for That) which gave some history of academic writing and why it tends to be dry and, well, dull.

Since I taught academic writing to my chemistry students I have some interest in this topic and I think there were a few things left out, at least as they apply to serious writing about chemical subjects.

Academic journals all set their own formats so that topic will not be covered but in addition:

  • Chemists are writing about their experiments which all occurred in the past, so they use past tense. In fiction writing exclusive use of the past tense is a manuscript killer because it implies that everything already happened, and so no change can occur. So, some history can be covered but there is no tension as to what might happen next because everything has already happened.
  • The only “actors” are the chemicals, so everything is written in passive voice, e.g. “water was boiled, chemicals were mixed, heat was applied.” They do not write “I boiled some water, etc.” because it doesn’t matter who boiled the water, just that it was boiled, so passive voice–impersonal (no pronouns other than “it,” etc.) is the rule of the day. This adoption would be lethal in fiction writing because there are no actors in the writing, so no characters.
  • There is no suspense because all formats start out with an abstract, which tells all regarding the article. This is so very busy scientists can read a synopsis of what was done to decide whether reading the details is worthwhile. (There is even a publication called “Chemical Abstracts” which published just the titles and abstracts of all of the chemistry articles appearing in the other journals. There is way too much stuff published to not supply these tools. (Of course, with the advent of computers and the Internet, there are tools that automatically search journals for a set of key words you supply, and many others.)

As a consequence, chemistry journal articles are dry and lifeless, exactly the way we want. The focus is on the chemicals and what they did . . . when . . . etc. The names at the top of the article tell you who did it, and there is no other mention of them otherwise. (Although this “rule” is breaking down somewhat.)

An Anecdote As a teacher of freshmen chemistry to freshmen, part of the lab portion of the course involved writing formal reports. Just before I retired, I got the number of such required reports down to exactly two. All students were supplied with written instructions as to how to do this. They even got a lecture going over these things. If something egregious showed up in the first set of reports, a “grade killer” provision was made for the second one. As an example, students seem to be addicted to formatting titles as if they were sentences (first word capitalized, period at the end). Since I was a part-time editor I made an attempt to figure out how this came to be and I believe it was from a practice of modern magazine ad formatting. The ads in magazines used to have “zingers” at the top, which were essentially titles, to attract attention. At some point, magazines figured out that having a sentence at the top of the ad implied something was being said and made it more read-worthy. Since students read a lot of magazines and very few books, this “format at the top” became their exemplars of “titles.”

In any case when this started showing up, it became my first “grade killer.” After leading a discussion of title formats (which resulted in the meta rule “If in doubt, capitalize all of the big words.”) I told them that if they instead formatted their title as if it were a sentence, they will have effectively killed their chance of getting an A on the report. (The grade being killed was the possibility of getting an A, not an automatic F on the report. I was not an ogre. If they formatted their report title as a sentence, the max grade they could get was a B.)

The first time I imposed this rule, the percentage of reports with titles formatted as sentences was ____ ? What do you think? I though it should be 1-3 percent. If you guessed 40% you hit the mark. I was shocked. What happened to all of the grade grubbers that were supposedly filling our college classrooms?

I tried all kinds of things, like supplying them with checklists of things to look over before submitting their reports (and lots more). The effects of these were small. (This ineffectiveness on my part fueled my early retirement to some extent.) End of Anecdote

Scientists have to learn how to write for other scientists. Even non-scientists (and I assumed the vast majority of my students would not become scientists) have to be able, from time to time, read something written for scientists and be able to decipher it, just as all U.S. citizens need to be able to read the Constitution and be able to decipher it . . . usually with some help.

I like my chemistry writings like I like my Martini’s “dry, shaken, not stirred” or some such.

Having said all of the above, I absolutely love the writings of gifted science writers. These are people who make science come alive for lay audiences. This is another gift altogether.

 

 

January 3, 2020

The Netflix Messiah

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment — Steve Ruis @ 12:57 pm
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I just finished watching the new Netflix series Messiah. This is not a review of that series, although I enjoyed it greatly. It was mostly a comment on how we would respond if Jesus came back and seemed more than a little realistic. But what I am writing on now is that Netflix has decided (because they pay for it) that everything they put out now will have atmospheric music running continuously in the background. Actually if it just ran in the background, that might be okay but often it almost dominates the dialogue, making it hard to hear. When people are speaking in foreign languages, in this case a lot of them, and in accented English, sometimes it is hard to follow. It is especially hard to follow when the damned music rises and falls along with the dialogue . . . and the tension in the scene.

They even have leitmotifs! When a phone rings, for example, there is a little chime riff in the music. Sheesh.

I admit I am a little hard of hearing but I am using over the ear headphones to maximize my ability to hear.

Don’t let my kvetching stop you from viewing the series. It was very enjoyable.

December 29, 2019

The Fly in the Ointment

I read recently an article about how Amazon.com is creating many, many small businesses to deliver their goods. Amazon originally used USPS, UPS, and FedEx and the like as their delivery agents and negotiated their prices down, down, down but reached a limit of those services which pay their employees fairly well and treat them fairly well. (Trust me, I had a brother in law who worked for UPS and UPS is not a saintly organization. It is just that their jobs weren’t “shit jobs.” Their employees had pension plans, healthcare, decent wages, unions, etc.)

Amazon is creating little entrepreneurs to Uberize the delivery business.

Amazon also squeezes its own employees terrifically for better performance but not for higher wages. For example, Whole Foods, an Amazon subsidiary, announced it would be cutting medical benefits for its entire part-time workforce. The annual saving to Amazon from this cost-cutting move is roughly what Bezos – whose net worth is $110 billion – makes in two hours.

Does the man deliberately cultivate the aura of a Bond villain?

Amazon’s commercials aside about how wonderful some of its employees think the company is, the number of stories of employee abuse hasn’t declined much. And, Amazon raised the wages of its base employees only under considerable pressure from outside.

Now, as Americans, we believe that businesses should be “free” to run their businesses any way they want (within some rough standards of practice, outlined in the law) but the question I am asking here is “To what end?”

I ask, “Why does Amazon need to lower its employee costs, lower its shipping costs?” The “old Amazon” made Jeff Bezos the richest man in the world. He can’t move any higher on that list. So, why are these practices necessary? So Mr. Bezos can make even more money when he cannot possibly spend the wealth he has accumulated so far? Please recall that to spend one billion dollars ($1,000,000,000) one has to spend $532,000 per hour of every business day for an entire year. In just one morning or afternoon, this amounts to as much money as I earned in just under 40 years of working as a college chemistry professor. And Mr. Bezos has in excess of a hundred times that much accumulated wealth at this point.

This is the core problem of capitalism. There are no limits placed upon greed.

Mr. Bezos, like Costco, could settle in and provide high quality jobs for his employees (and reap the loyalty that invokes) and provide quality goods for his customers and make money hand over fist for decades if not longer. But he is not, he is squeezing the system so that more and more money oozes out of the top and into his pockets.

I have come to agree with Bernie Sanders in that a democratic republic such as ours cannot tolerate billionaires. Wealth taxes (such as inheritance taxes and new ones) need to reduce the fortunes of these greedy SOBs. I know this is intolerable to the greedy class but I can’t feel pity for someone whose wealth is limited to the mere hundreds of millions.

Oh, and the right to do this? The right is called self-protection. In this country money is power. People like Bezos and Bill Gates have acquired way too much power for the good of the system. We all have to concede some of our individual rights for the good of the collective whole. This is one of those.

And if you think such a thing is antithetical to capitalism . . . you are just wrong. Consider the case of the capitalist state of . . . Finland.

December 27, 2019

Race to the Bottom?

Filed under: Culture,Race,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:16 am
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Today in The Guardian there was a lovely article that explained why we believe in racial stereotypes based upon the work of Angela Saini “How I Changed My Mind About the Biology of Race” by Philip Ball <subtitle> Angela Saini’s book Superior showed me our misconceptions about race and science arise from a habit of the mind.

Here is an excerpt:

“Saini shows that what we have understood by race encodes the belief that literally superficial aspects of our appearance act as markers for innate differences we can’t see. And here’s the problem: it does so for good reason. In times past, and sometimes still today, the strong correlation between your appearance and your culture meant that visual differences really could act as proxies for certain differences in attitudes, traditions and beliefs.

“Our brains are exquisitely adapted to pick up on such correlations – and, unfortunately in this case, to conclude that they are causative. We instinctively assume that differences in behaviour that are in fact due to culture must be linked to – even caused by – characteristics of appearance. That is what the traditional notion of race is all about. But genetics has found no such innate origins of behavioural differences between “races” – and it is highly unlikely, given what we know about genetic variation, that it would.”

This makes a lot of sense, based upon how we behaved when “others” were automatically labeled dangerous.

December 26, 2019

Projection and the Inverted Golden Rule

Filed under: Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:15 am
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In an article in Mother Jones I found the following two tidbits. The first was with regard to a survey made by a couple of political scientists:

“[Among] white evangelical Protestants, we found that 60 percent believed that atheists would not allow them First Amendment rights and liberties. More specifically, we asked whether they believed atheists would prevent them from being able to ‘hold rallies, teach, speak freely, and run for public office.’ Similarly, 58 percent believed ‘Democrats in Congress’ would not allow them to exercise these liberties if they were in power.”

and their conjecture . . .

“Their fear comes from an inverted golden rule: Expect from others what you would do unto them.”

The “Inverted Golden Rule,” nice tag that, is what psychologist call “projection.” We tend to project onto others, as an attempt to understand them, the same thoughts and attitudes that we ourselves possess.

Because these evangelicals have blocked atheists from holding public office, railed against the free speech of atheists and made attempts to restrict that, and come from a long line of the religious back to when atheism could get you burned at the stake, they feel that if atheists have power we will “do unto them what was done onto us.” That we have shown no proclivity to do this doesn’t block these thoughts. Their “fears” are real . . . to them.

The social process to make societal outliers more mainstream is long and slow. Look at how long American blacks have sought to be accepted by American white society. Gays have had a much faster arc but they are not full accepted either. We atheists are quite far behind those processes.

This would be less frustrating if the prejudices being projected don’t contradict the teaching of their patron god, but it is what it is.

Time will tell.

Unfortunately the Inverted Golden Rule acts almost instantaneously. And these attitudes are fact proof. Mr. Obama’s first term, not that long ago, was a case in which Democrats controlled the White House and both Houses of Congress. Were the civil liberties of Christians targeted in any way? No? I guess Mr. Obama was too busy taking people’s guns away to attend to that agenda item.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 25, 2019

A Christmas Missive: Mystery or Not?

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:57 am

An article in The Guardian addresses the issues Christianity has had, since it inception, with sex in “Why Christianity has been struggling with sex ever since the Nativity” by Diarmaid MacCulloch (Subtitle: Was Mary a virgin? Did she stay a virgin? The confusion goes back to Christ’s early followers, who turned a biological necessity into a vice)

The article focuses upon the fictional birth narratives of Jesus and whether Mary was still a virgin after she fictionally gave birth. (This question could be answered very simply at the time. Ask any first century Palestinian Jew, “Was Mary, the mother of Jesus over there, a virgin?” and they would look at you as if you had two heads.)

Christianity didn’t have a problem with sexuality, at least no more than its parent religion Judaism which used sexual mutilation as an initiation rite into their religion, it had leverage.

If you accept or even just consider my premise that religions exist (or continue to exist or grow and prosper) because of their ability to coerce the labor of the masses to serve the interests of the secular and religious elites. They are all large social control constructs.

What better way to exert your control of the “masses” that through regulating their sexuality. Not only is this an exercise of great power, but when believers fail to conform, which they all must, they feel guilty and wanting to make amends to the religion (sacrifices, founding of convents/monasteries, etc.) especially increased zeal to be “better” at their religion.

Jews wanted to restrict their religion to “family/tribe” by forbidding marriage outside of the faith as part of a purity campaign. This has the unfortunate consequence of keeping Judaism small. Consider the following numbers:
Christianity (2.1 billion)
Islam (1.3 billion)
Nonreligious (Secular/Agnostic/Atheist) (1.1 billion)
Hinduism (900 million)
Chinese traditional religion (394 million)
Buddhism 376 million
Primal-indigenous (300 million)
African traditional and Diasporic (100 million)
Sikhism (23 million)
Juche (19 million)
Spiritism (15 million)
Judaism (14 million)

Even adjusting for the holocaust and other persecutions, the numbers of Jews is almost tiny compared to the numbers of Christians and Muslims, which religions accept converts gladly (or sorta gladly).

So, sexual control in Judaism worked counter to any “global domination” schemes they might have had.

No matter how, most religions have something to say about sex because it is a major driving force in human society. It is a powerful lever by which you can move people. Taken to an extreme, you end up like the Shakers, however. (The Apostle Paul came close.)

So there is no mystery why Christianity has had a “problem” with sex. It hasn’t. There was no problem. There was, however, power to be wielded.

Postscript I cannot leave out the rather extraordinary aspect of this birth narrative business and that is “Why did Yahweh go about creating a baby when he was quite adept at creating fully formed adults?” Why consign Jesus to the indignities of being a child? Why delay Jesus’ mission, the supposed important thing, another 30 years?

December 21, 2019

Think About It

I used to say that if rich people didn’t exist then we wouldn’t have all of the gorgeous architecture (mansions, castles, cathedrals, etc.) and whatnot to observe while we were on vacation. I don’t say this any more.

Having a small amount of time with nothing to do I watched part of the first episode of “Monty Don’s French Gardens” which bore the subtitle of “Gardens of Power and Passion.”

The first garden the host gushed over was built by a king’s mistress. He waxed poetic over the design of the garden (It was quite lovely.) and mused glowingly on the royal ladies walking the promenade in their gowns under their parasols. He bragged that the garden was so expensive to build that a special tax was imposed to pay to have it built.

This is the point when I turned off the program. This was partly because of the tone of the presenter who gloried in the “accomplishments” of these people. As I said, even I recognized that only rich people built glorious buildings and lush, exotic gardens. (I have toured a great many of these.)

Now, however, I understand all of this differently.

I now understand that “civilization” was built upon coerced labor. When we were hunter-gatherers life was difficult but it was less difficult than the agricultural lifestyles imposed by “civilization.” The argument is simple: in order for there to be elites, there had to be additional labor to make up for the labor the elites were not doing. (They were doing things, just not making shelters and finding and cooking food, etc.) Agriculture of grains was almost required for this as only grains could be dried and stored (and taxed/confiscated). Making labor-heavy grain meant there was little time to forage and gather other items for their diets. A grain heavy diet made people more susceptible to disease and less healthy overall. (The archaeological record shows that successive generations of human beings became smaller under agriculture and more disease ridden, and. . . .)

So, this shift in human culture allowed for the elites to do what they were doing because the “masses” were supporting them by doing extra work. Since a great many “ordinary” citizens did not want to work that hard, they disappeared into the night, so slave raids were employed to replace the lost labor. And so on and so on.

And I had always wondered why we ended up with kings and their ilk and bowed down to them, and held them to be above us. This apparently is just a matter of leverage. A single elite who can coerce the labor of tens of others, can expand his/her “empire” by coercing the labor of those who coerce the labor of the masses. Just like in multi-level marketing schemes, you can’t do it all yourself, so you need underlings, people who will do it for you. Those people couldn’t help but recognize the strategy was a winning one and they created another level of coercers below them and on and on. All of this worked because the ones at the top of the pyramid got a “taste” of everything below, which meant it was in the best interests of the higher ups to support the lower downs. So, they invented “titles” to represent their positions in the pyramid scheme.

So, back to the French Gardens. How is it possible that a monarch can provide the resources and power for a concubine to create a garden that took four years to build? Where did those resources come from? Clearly, the “money” or “goods” in these schemes flows upward. If it stops flowing upward (e.g. because of a peasant revolt) then the troops are sent in to set things back into place. The troops, of course, are paid for out of the coerced labor of the masses. (An estimate I read was that in the year 1800 half of all human beings were in some form of slavery (peasant tied to the land, serf, indentured servant, chattel slaves, etc.).)

Now, in a utopia, I think it might be possible for the elites to see themselves as public servants of the citizens and that much of their work would go to organizing the collective efforts of “the people” to defend themselves from outsiders, feed themselves, provide medicine when needed, etc. Such a state, were there a political will, might build a lavish garden for all to enjoy and that the “masses” might be willing to “pay” for that effort. But this was not the case.

How do I know this was not the case?

How many peasants were allowed to walk in the royal garden described above? (If you come up with a number other than zero, you are deluded.) And, as the rich fail in their ability to hang onto the ownership of their gardens, they become public property, then and only then do the hoi polloi get welcomed to tour the grounds (often for a fee, of course).

At that realization, I lost my curiosity regarding the beautiful gardens of France. They now appear to be, like holocaust museums, an admonition to “never again” do those things.

And, there are modern lessons here. We are allowing very wealthy people to manipulate our politics so they can get even more wealthy, filthy rich even. Many of these “billionaires” create works that they consider part of their legacy, just like the French Gardens. But who makes the decisions over what gets built? It is the filthy rich, the people who acquired way too much wealth than is healthy for a democracy to allow.

Is It Time to Say “Okay, Boomer” to Barack Obama?

During his Presidency, Barack Obama was as temperate and centrist as one could ask a U.S. president to be. Except that people did not want a temperate or centrist president. Apparently Mr. Obama missed the point of why he was elected. One can give all kinds of reasons but for this still very racist country to elect its first black president, it took a confluence of events. First, people were very fed up with the status quo. The rich kept getting richer and the middle class and poor kept getting poorer, significantly so. So, in an election between a representative of the status quo (John McCain) and a transformative candidate promising “Hope and Change” people decided, well we haven’t tried this yet, let’s see if a Black man can break up our log-jammed politics.

In the next election, the GOP put up Mitt Romney, another icon of the old status quo, so he wasn’t too hard for a sitting president to dispatch. This was even though the federal government went to extraordinary lengths to bail out bankers and shareholders of insurance companies, and little to nothing for homeowners losing their homes. All the while, of course, refusing to jail fat cat bankers who caused the problems and were clearly breaking the law. (And, my pet peeve, supporting the despicable Arne Duncan’s attempts to dismantle public education.)

While I happen to like Mr. Obama and his family, he doesn’t have the high political ground to stand on to tell us that we need to avoid real agents of change (Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren) when he himself did not deliver the changes that were so desperately sought.

It is time to tell Mr. Obama “Okay, Boomer.” as the phrase fits perfectly: he is a Baby Boomer (born in 1961) and he is pontificating on issues he clearly doesn’t understand.

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