Class Warfare Blog

July 22, 2016

Or Should I Say Purges

In a huge purge following upon the attempted military coup in Turkey, Turkey’s President seems to be remaking that country’s education system. Over 15,000 civil servants in the education ministry alone have been detained, 21,000 teachers have their licenses withdrawn and more than 1,500 university deans have been told to quit their jobs. Academics currently on study missions abroad have been told to return home while those in Turkey are banned from traveling abroad until further notice.

The fact that these numbers are so large has lead some to speculate that hit lists had to have been ready before the attempted coup.

So, a conservative dictatorial political system has decided to purge progressive teachers and strike fear in those who remain to make sure they toe the party line. Why does that sound so familiar?

In this country a small band of wealthy citizens has undertaken a transformation of our public schools more aligned to their party platform (business) and have “convinced” or bribed school officials to spend billions of dollars to replace “failing schools” with better ones. So far, the “better schools” have performed, at best, no better that the “failing schools” they replaced and are often worse, with many clear examples of greed and malfeasance mixed into the efforts. They too strive to purge the ranks of teachers of the “bad” and “incompetent” although they have no way to identify those, so they settle for lists. Even if the lists are rife with mistakes, they do have the effect of cowing those not culled. And maybe teachers unions will be eliminated as a side benefit.

One effort is less subtle, the other more, but are they really different?

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July 18, 2016

Original Intent, My Ass

There are many in our society who feel the Constitution should only be interpreted with regard to the “original intent” of the Framers of the Constitution. Most notably the recently deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the entire Southern Baptist Convention of the U.S. are of this ilk.

This choice of a “guide” is merely an exercise in blowing smoke into the eyes of the American public, by claiming a source of knowledge to which they are not privy. It is beyond us, so “move along now, nothing to see here.” Then those people can make up anything they choose to represent the actual intent of the Framers.

I have just started reading “Genius of the People: The Making of the Constitution” by Charles L. Mee Jr., who states in the prologue to his book regarding the various ways of interpreting who the Framers were and why they did what they did:

Even so, in the end, these schools of interpretation fail to convince in one common respect: they all tend to simplify the particularities in search of generalizations – and, in the process, miss the essence of what occurred at the convention. They all come down to a view that the framers of the constitution belonged more or less to one class, and they had more or less one common set of intentions – or one set of biases or goals or interests – and that their labors in the summer of 1787 can be seen as the careful codifying of that set of common intentions into a body of laws.

And yet, when one actually looks at the day-to-day debates during that hot, humid, insect-ridden summer in Philadelphia, such a view simply won’t hold up. Far from there being one set of intentions, there were as many intentions as there were framers. What one sees, in fact, is a group of men who, despite their common background and broad class interests, had myriad diverging appetites, ideals, and interests. They set about disputing with one another, wrangling, losing patience, lashing out, attacking one another, accusing one another of ignorance and inconsistency, or worse, of lack of principle and even of treasonous intent; erupting in anger or simply packing up and leaving town altogether, never to return; warning that certain provisions only could lead eventually to civil war or bring down upon the country some even more calamitous judgment of heaven. By the end of the convention, none of the delegates, not one, was entirely happy with the constitution they had written. Some refused entirely to sign the completed work, and those who did sign signed in varying degrees of reluctance, dismay, anguish, and disgust.”

The key sentence is the last one.

 “By the end of the convention, none of the delegates, not one, was entirely happy with the constitution they had written. Some refused entirely to sign the completed work, and those who did sign signed in varying degrees of reluctance, dismay, anguish, and disgust.”

The Framers had a message for us and a clear one. What they did, as opposed to what they wanted to do, was to compromise, compromise to the point that some thought they had failed, compromise to the point of quitting.

And what is it the advocates of “original intent” want least of all? What is it that conservatives think is treasonous?

Compromise.

The next time I heard someone claiming to being guided by “original intent,” I will reach for my wallet to make sure it is secure and sincerely request the speaker take his original intent and shove it up his ass.

July 15, 2016

Americans Again Fail in International Math Competition, Wait, … Wha?

The rapacious “entrepreneurs” trying to capture American public school funding for their own personal gain through the creation of bogus charter schools have been using flat out dishonesty to wage their campaign against our public schools. The keystone of their argument against our current schools is that the are failing to educate our kids. (Our schools are failing! Our schools are failing!) I wonder how they explain that the USA Team has won this year’s International Mathematics Olympiad in Hong Kong (last year’s, too). The next positions in the team competition were taken by Korea, China, Singapore, Taiwan, North Korea, Russia, the UK, Hong Kong, and Japan. Plus, two Americans were among the six individuals to make perfect scores in the competition, along with three contestants from Korea and one from China.

I guess all of those high schoolers must have gone to charter schools.

Let’s see:
Ankan Bhattacharya (International Academy East, Troy, Michigan)
Michael Kural (Greenwich High School, Riverside, Connecticut)
Allen Liu (Penfield Senior High School, Penfield, New York)
Junyao Peng (Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science, Princeton, New Jersey)
Ashwin Sah (Jesuit High School, Portland, Oregon)
Yuan Yao (Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, New Hampshire)

Yep, all of those sound like charter schools to me. I expected them to be from high quality public and private high schools, but, yep … charters … wait, … wha?

Hey Gang, I Have an Idea!

Let’s create an institution in which rich people can gamble with our money. If they win, they win and if they lose, we lose! Well, we don’t have to create such a thing, it has been done. We call it the stock markets.

I have written before that we are sold the stock market with a school child-level argument: the stock markets create funds that when invested in businesses, enables those businesses to grow and prosper, something we all share in (increased numbers of good jobs, increased goods at lower prices, etc.). Sounds like a good argument, but unfortunately it is closer to a fairy tale than a foundational principle. Stock markets were no sooner created that they became a game for speculators. And they are now dominated by speculation, speculation that adds nothing to our real wealth but, on occasion, cripples the national or global economy with crashes, busts, bubbles, “corrections” (I love that one), etc.

In a recent column, Paul Krugman, a face for economists around the country, made the following statement regarding the relationship between the stock markets and the economy as a whole:

The truth, in any case, is that there are three big points of slippage between stock prices and the success of the economy in general. First, stock prices reflect profits, not overall incomes. Second, they also reflect the availability of other investment opportunities — or the lack thereof. Finally, the relationship between stock prices and real investment that expands the economy’s capacity has gotten very tenuous.

The key phrase there is “the relationship between stock prices and real investment that expands the economy’s capacity has gotten very tenuous,” in other words, the school kid rationale for why the stock market exists at all (expanding the nation’s economy) doesn’t connect well with the market’s behaviors. And that means the reason they were created no longer applies to why they exist now; they exist now as a speculation game for rich folks. And, they have managed to get the U.S. government to insure their bets as if they were deposits in a secured bank.

So, the question is why are we running a casino for wealthy people, especially people who show a tendency to create financial weapons of mass destruction that fuel financial disasters? Why do we even allow speculators any rein at all?

How effing dumb are we?

PS For those less long of tooth, the title is a riff on a phrase that occurred in almost every Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney movie in the 1940’s (and there were a lot of them).

July 13, 2016

Making War on Christianity

There has been this curious meme running about for the last several years that there is a war being waged against Christianity. Let me for the time being confine this feeling to this country (the U.S.) because there are Christians being killed around the globe as part of religious or religion-fueled wars and I don’t want anything from there clouding the issue as it is here.

When I first heard of this phenomenon it was in the form of the bizarre “War on Christmas” floated by Fox (Sic) News organs. Shortly thereafter came the War on Christians and War on Christianity. Whether Fox was the progenitor of both of those I cannot tell, but the meme was certainly taken up by Christian communities and with high dudgeon.

So, where could this have come from? We had many, many years of Culture Wars over abortion, contraception, drugs, crime, racism, and women’s rights but never were these characterized as a War Against Christianity. Why the shift into full-fledged victimhood?

Methinks I may have twigged to the answer.

For many centuries the “godless” and atheists have been publically vilified, especially in this nation’s churches. In our history, states have had laws banning atheists (and, yes, Catholics and Jews and …) from holding political office and special contempt was ladled on scoffing unbelievers. As long as you believed in some god you were closer to “okay” on the social spectrum than abominable atheists. We were called immoral. We were described as being bad parents, bad citizens, and bad people and worse.

Then something changed.

The internet allowed people to make comments without identifying themselves and “lo, it began.” Atheists found community and their voice on the internet and the “New Atheism” was born. It was not born out of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett as so many claim. Atheists have been writing books for centuries, but that is a one-way form of communication. Books are not part of a conversation. The internet allowed discourse.

So, a number of former friends have been shocked to find out I am an atheist and shocked that I have negative (very negative) opinions of Christianity.

I may be “painting with a broad brush” in my denunciations but I am responding to broad brush denunciations of me and others like me. No exclusion was made for atheists who wouldn’t hard a fly or atheists who didn’t eat babies, so I was included (and am still so) in the denunciations of various Christians in churches and public forums, on TV, and yes, on the internet.

Did they think we would not respond? Did they think we wouldn’t fight back? We didn’t in the past, because calling oneself an atheist would cost one one’s job and a great deal more, possibly even one’s life. Freed from those constraints, Christians are finding out what we really think.

And they think we are making war on them, further proof of their false sense of privilege. Hell of a war when the other side does all of the shooting and the responses are in words alone. You can almost hear the umbrage “How dare they, harrumph!”

Well, you can take your umbrage and place it where the sun doesn’t shine. This “war” is just getting started.

July 12, 2016

Random Thoughts on the Psychosocial Needs of God Fearers

I am reading a book about the psychosocial needs of theists (Everybody Is Wrong About God by James A. Lindsay) and the author makes several novel points (the existence of God debate is over, they lost) and is urging us to shift the focus of anti-theism onto addressing how to naturally meet the needs of god-fearers which are now being met by “god,” that is meeting those needs via nature.

Several things have converged over the last couple of days on this topic so, before I have finished the book and can write a proper review, I have some thoughts to share.

One piece I read recently claimed that people who are good at “mental modeling” make more money and get better grades and that part of that process is narrating your life, coming up with theories and making guesses. This is clearly an evolutionarily important skill that is showing up now in a form not originally demonstrated.

Another point that links to the previous is, one I just realized how much easier theism is to accept than reality. If one were to compare the evolution-based human prehistory and history with “God did it” as explanations for why we are what we are at this point on time, you have to be in awe of how much simpler to learn and remember the theist’s explanation is. Then compare how difficult it would be to describe one’s personal morality absent theological frameworks with those who describe their morality as “God.” Again, way simpler. And the god stuff is placed beyond a “Don’t Question” barrier that allows challenges to theist’s thinking to be shrugged off so they do not have to engage in thinking about those subjects. They are “closed.” (“Man cannot know the mind of God,” “God works in mysterious ways,” etc.)

Belief in a god is a shortcut to an acceptable position in our society and allows one to identify one’s “tribe” by simply applying one word labels (Christian = good/safe; atheist = bad/dangerous) to the extend that many non-Christians self-identify as Christians, apparently to get along with their neighbors. Nonbelievers have to expend energy to figure out whether or not to trust someone they just met, etc.

The story goes that our imaginations have a bias. If we think that the rustling in the grass ahead is a lion and we are wrong, the penalty for falsely avoiding that grass is very small. If it is a lion and we scoff at that idea, the penalty for being wrong is severe. So, we are better off being conservative and expecting the worst case scenario.

One of the psychosocial benefits of theism is “agency,” that is it supplies agents or causes for natural phenomena. In our past we had separate gods for lightning and thunder and rain and volcanoes and dark places and the sun and … and now we have only one. Having an idea of what caused “that” is reassuring, I guess, but I have to wonder how reassuring believing in false agencies can be. There is the protection from negative results from being not cautious enough as in the case of the lion in the grass, but there is no predictive ability in “it is God’s will.” Imagine a small family of primitive humans huddling in a cave while the Mother of All Lightning Storms rages just outside of the cave mouth. The children and women are frightened so the man tells a tale of an annual dance of the lightning gods or some other bullshit to sooth their fears. But that dance isn’t on the calendar and no ability to deal with the situation is had. Fast forward to now and we know what lightning is, how it happens, how to predict when it is going to happen, and how to protect ourselves by not standing under tall, wet trees, for instance. Real agency has benefits far exceeding false agency (the lightning god is angry). But real agency takes effort to collect the information, intellectual horsepower to understand it, etc. Theism is short and sweet by comparison (bullshit always is).

We all agree that safety-proofing our children is important. We teach them to treat stovetops as being hot at all times, to be skeptical of strangers, to not eat things they’ve picked up off the ground, etc. One aspect of that is Christian = good/safe; atheist = bad/dangerous. Children learn in church about the evils of drugs, sex, and the theory of evolution.

The above mentioned book makes the claim that all of the psychosocial needs of theists can be met by natural means and no supernatural means are needed, but in my mind the critical element is can we show that to them so that it is as easy to grasp as “God”? I don’t think so, especially since everybody is allowed to fashion their own idea of what “God” means (which makes discussions of “God” a fool’s errand) and, well, once you put some phenomenon at your God’s feet, it inherits some of that god’s unchallengability. (Has there ever been a religion that urges its followers to think for themselves and ask lots of questions? I am aware of many that say “Shut up, don’t ask; believe, have faith, give us money,” but none of that kind.)

Laziness is beneficial in many, many ways but intellectual, even “spiritual,” laziness (science = hard, magic = easy) may doom our future.

Shoddy Research on Conservatives v. Liberals

I was just reading letters written to the NYT regarding an op-ed piece (There Are Conservative Professors. Just Not in These States by Samuel J. Abrams July 1, 2016) in which the author makes some interesting claims about the nature of today’s college professors, the primary ones being in the following quotes:

In 1989, roughly 40 percent of professors were moderate and 40 percent were liberal; the remaining 20 percent were conservative. By 2014, liberal identifiers jumped to 60 percent, with moderates declining to 30 percent and conservatives to just 10 percent.

But research I’ve conducted since then has shown that the ranks of academia have shifted sharply leftward over the last 25 years.

You can see that the good author’s research involved what is called self-identification studies and “clues” they were able to eek out of the participants as to their “liberal” or “conservative” status.

Not apparently addressed was the huge change in what it meant to be a member of either constituency over that time. In the 1980’s and earlier in the 70’s, 60’s, and 50’s, each political party had liberal and conservative “wings.” By today’s standards of what a “conservative” is, Republican politicians like Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Nixon, and even Ronald Reagan would not qualify to be “conservatives.”

The Republican Party of today would have been the “far right” conservatives of the Republican Party of the 60’s and 70’s. The Democratic Party of today would have been considered part of the “pro-business conservative wing” of that same time.

The Democrats have jettisoned working class people and unions and have embraced the upper 20% of the wealth spectrum and have become the meritocracy party, another part of the “blame the victim” movement. (Black people don’t need unions fighting for their jobs, they need a college education so they can be professionals, too.)

I can’t imagine any studies conducted over the past four to five decades into “conservatives” v. “liberals” could be corrected for the changing definitions of those terms. To call oneself a “liberal” today is like calling oneself anything from a socialist to a centrist yesterday. Basically all of the professional politicians moved way over to the right, leaving a huge vacuum for liberals to expand into. President Obama has been tagged as a socialist when he isn’t even a strong liberal … of the earlier sort. Such have perceptions changed.

The goal posts have been shifted … onto another playing field.

 

 

July 11, 2016

The NRA Between a Rock and a Hard Place Shows Its True Spinelessness

Filed under: Morality — Steve Ruis @ 8:43 am
Tags: , , ,

Imagine a white man pulled over for a traffic violation who was in possession of a gun, legally. The officer, seeing the gun, instead of asking for license and registration shouts “Gun, gun!” and blazes away killing the driver. What would the NRA say?

Or imagine a white man pulled over for a traffic violation and the cop did ask for license and registration, but the driver—with his hands on the wheel—tells the cop that he has a permitted firearm before reaching for his wallet and the cop shouts “Gun, gun!” and blazes away killing the driver. What would the NRA say?

We now know what the NRA said in the cases in which legal possessors of firearms were killed because of that possession … in the cases in which the drivers were Black.

Nothing.

The letters N-R-A stand for No Reason at All.

The NRA is not about gun rights. It is about making money for the gun and ammo manufacturers and sucking up to the mostly conservative gun buyers in this country.

July 9, 2016

Why Are We Spending Billions to Get the “Bad Teachers” Out but Nothing to get the “Bad Cops” Out?

Filed under: Culture,History,Morality,Politics,Race,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 12:15 pm
Tags: , , ,

There is a false narrative, aka a lie, doing the rounds in our culture: our schools are failing because of “bad teachers.” As a consequence billions of dollars have been spent by our federal and state governments to create systems and testing instruments to identify the “bad teachers” so we can get them out.

I suspect that many, if not most, cops are decent people who have no more prejudices than average citizens, but there are more than a few who are racists and they are killing Black folks for trivial reasons (a common one is having a taillight out on your car, but then there is holding a toy gun in a toy store, playing with a toy gun in a public park (a child!), talking “sass” to an officer, driving while Black, and many more).

So, where are the billions in federal incentive money to get police departments to adopt uniform standards? Where are the testing services lining up claiming they can identify the bad apples so we can “get ’em out?” Where are the community policing choice programs? Where are the charter police departments?

Teachers aren’t shooting people, why are we so focused on them?

(Psst . . . follow the money.)

Why Are Bankers Rich?

The title should probably be “why do we expect banker’s to be rich?” but brevity is something I am working on.

When I was a youngin’ my communities bankers were, well, prominent people. Financially, they were well-to-do, we would say. Were they rich? No, nobody thought that. You see, community bankers are technicians: they work the levers of systems designed by other people. They were paid well, because they had the opportunity to steal a great deal of money, so getting a really well paying job was a disincentive to robbing the bank through embezzlement. Then the banks figured out how to include computerized checks and barriers to prevent such things, they ceased to have marble edifices and brass accoutrements and older people in charge (I do not recall seeing a young banker as a youth, they were all old men, conveying a sense of stability and gravitas.) and then banks and savings and loan institutions all of a sudden had much younger people in charge, of course on much smaller salaries. But then we got our “banks” putting up Halloween decorations and the like, much more festive.

So, today community bankers aren’t expected to be rich … they are just technicians.

But investment bankers, now they were expected to be rich. When I was young, an investment banker invested funds from a pool they collected and to make sure they didn’t embezzle money, they had to make a sizeable contribution to the investment pool. They were gambling their own money as well as their partners and interested investors. This was a rich person’s game. And if an investment banker wasn’t rich or getting rich they were a walking billboard screaming “Failure!” because the lucrative investments they were supposed to be making were not all that good, apparently.

There were just a few investment bankers, ever since the great Depression made sure that the funds in community banks were not to be mingled with the funds in investment banks (hint: the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933). Well, a gift from Bill Clinton and the other neoconservatives in the Democratic Party (we starting to agree with the arch conservatives who call the party the Democrat Party, because it doesn’t seem very democratic) was the repeal of Glass-Steagall because, well, according to the then economic geniuses, we were all grown up and didn’t need the training wheels anymore. (Why is it that economists have a track record that makes weathermen look as accurate as sharpshooters and we pay any attention to them at all?)

Just about a decade after the repeal of Glass-Steagall, we got the Great Recession, courtesy of that repeal. And the perpetrators of the Two Trillion Dollar Debacle got away scot free (shush, politically correct people, the term has nothing to do with Scots or Scotland; look it up)! Not a one went to jail. In the savings and loan crisis in the 1980s, 3,000+ bankers were prosecuted and 10% went to jail. This time, not a one because, you see, bankers are supposed to be rich.

Rich bankers make political contributions and we can’t afford to offend them, because, well, they are rich.

Like the Black man in Dallas who decided it was time to even the score with the police (deplorable, yet understandable), I wonder when it is that people are going to decide there are too many rich bankers and it is time to cull the herd.

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