Class Warfare Blog

September 15, 2016

Let’s See, That’s $10.4 Million Per Day . . .

Apparently the Obama administration has agreed to give Israel a record $38 billion in new military aid over the next decade, including $5 billion for missile defense. The package is “a reminder of the United States’ commitment to Israel,” according to National Security Adviser Susan Rice.

Hey, that’s some nice reminder! (I still miss George Carlin!)

That’s … uh, let’s see, uh … $10,400,000 every day of every year for the next decade. And, this, of course, is on top of what we already give to the Israelis with, apparently, no strings attached. My guess is that money just couldn’t be spent on crumbling roads and bridges because, well the construction lobby is just not as powerful as it used to be, what with so many of their workers being out of work (and voting for Trump?).

Do you think this is for all of the good behavior exhibited by Israel over Mr. Obama’s tenure. About how the nice they are making with the Palestinians? About how they are peacefully settling their differences with those who live in the Gaza strip? About the peace process progress? About how they have curtailed illegal settlement building? About how they have stopped adding on to the divisive wall? About how Mr. Netanyahu came and said nice things to our Congress?

I sincerely hope not because none of that happened. In fact I am hard put to be able to identify the reasons for such a bonus. Maybe it is the fact the Israelis have to spend that money in the company store. Maybe it is because it is an election year and the Jewish vote has established that it can be bought. Hard to tell.

And how come the Republicans let this go through? I thought they were against foreign aid? And, oh my, how are we supposed to pay for this when we can’t pay our bills nor? What were the Repubs thinking?

Our Scum Sucking News Media Have Chosen to Hide the Facts about Public Education

Newspaper after newspaper after news sources has chosen to hide the facts and instead beat the drum of a lie: “Our public schools are failing! Our public schools are failing.” One particular point of leverage is trying to sell families of color that their children would be better off in a charter school than in their “failing” local school.

“The meme ‘Our public schools are failing!’ is a lie.”

Well, let’s do some fact checking. The federal government has supplied the only consistent nationwide testing in the form of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams. The NAEP has a search engine from which you can acquire the following data:

Average scores, Grade 4 Math,
National Assessment of Educational Progress
White Students / Black Students

1990: 218.63 / 187.42
2007: 247.88 / 222.01
2009: 247.85 / 221.98
2011: 248.70 / 223.80

What these data show is that in under 20 years, Black students have achieved an average performance level higher than that of white students from 20 years ago. You can see there is still a gap between white students and black students on these tests scores, because white students didn’t stand still, they improved, too, but how did this incredible improvement in performance by Black students occur? By what magic? Surely it cannot be due to the performance of our failing public schools?

The increase in math education test performance is so great that in one generation Black kids have about two grades higher performance than did their parents at the same age.

The meme “Our public schools are failing!” meme is a lie.

And if you want to know why this lie is being promulgated, follow the money. (The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is the pot of money labeled “For Public Education.”)

If you want to know why our news media have fallen in with the liars, follow the money. More and more news organs have been scooped up by conservative owners, who expect their news organs to a) make money, and b) support conservative narratives moving us toward the glorious world they see in our future, where all of the children are above average, and government regulators disappear, and….

Can You Spell Opportunity Cost, Boys and Girls?

Filed under: Culture,Economics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:23 am
Tags: , ,

I have made this point before but new evidence brings it into clearer focus. According to The Guardian newspaper “Religion in the United States is worth $1.2tn a year, making it equivalent to the 15th largest national economy in the world, according to a study.

The faith economy has a higher value than the combined revenues of the top 10 technology companies in the US, including Apple, Amazon and Google, says the analysis from Georgetown University in Washington DC.

“The Socioeconomic Contributions of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis calculated the $1.2tn figure by estimating the value of religious institutions, including healthcare facilities, schools, daycare and charities; media; businesses with faith backgrounds; the kosher and halal food markets; social and philanthropic programmes; and staff and overheads for congregations.

Co-author Brian Grim said it was a conservative estimate.

A conservative estimate . . .

Then, one must consider the economic principle of opportunity cost. This is the obvious, but often overlooked, point that is you spend your money on B you do not have that money to spend on A. If one were to make up a wish list of how to spend $1,200,000.000,000 per year in the U.S., would we select “religion” off of that list and nothing else? Of course, we have more money to spend on other things, but….

And for everyone who has had to learn the hard way that just because you do not spend your money on nonsensical things does not mean you will automatically spent it on sensical things, decisions have to be made and they can be worse as well as better.

Granted that, what’s in your wallet?

PS And for defenders of religion who claim “all of the good those religions do” as an offset, charitable spending by religions is a tiny fraction of their bottom line. Some diocese, for example, spend more on lawyers and accountants than they do on charity.

September 13, 2016

Why Sense Isn’t Common

If you have gotten any serious news lately you have probably heard about the Wells Fargo Bank debacle. Basically, over the past five years, Wells Fargo created more than two million checking and credit card accounts that weren’t authorized by its customers. Employees, who had strict sales quotas to hit, would secretly open and transfer money in and out of those fraudulent accounts, costing thousands of customers millions of dollars in fees.

So WFB had to fork over a fine of $145 million but none of its officers went to jail.

The reason none of its officers went to jail? Simple, they were no longer working for Wells Fargo Bank.

Since when did where you work become a criterion for whether or not you did something illegal? WTF? How about “I’m sorry, Mister Brown, we can’t prosecute the person who murdered your wife, he is no longer a murderer, he is now in the protection racket.”

Find the bastards responsible, drag them out of their new plush offices, wherever they are, and throw them in jail. Who cares if they left WFB? They did something wrong (otherwise why was WFB paying such a fine) so they should be held accountable.

At least put the sick fucks in the stocks out in front of WFB headquarters so we can rub rotten vegetables and excrement on their faces and then post their photos on SnapChat.

Interesting NYT, Interesting

The NY Times ran a piece yesterday (Teaching Calvin in California, by Jonathan Sheehan, The Stone Sept. 12, 2016) by a professor of History at U.C. Berkeley near my old stomping grounds. The author argues that there is merit to teaching about theology in as neutral a way as is possible. He focuses, though, on the outrage virtually all of his students exhibit when learning about John Calvin’s teaching of predestination, namely that God determined each human being’s destiny before the creation of the world. So, you may be going to Hell, actually probably going to Hell, and there is nothing you can do about it.

When taught about this claim “The classroom erupts in protest. Nothing has prepared my students for an idea like this. Secular students object: How can so much arrogant misanthropy pass itself off as piety? Non-Christian students are agitated, too. What kind of God is this, they ask, that took pleasure in creating man so that he might be condemned to everlasting damnation? And the various types of Christian students are no less outraged.

“’Monstrous indeed is the madness of men, who desire to subject the immeasurable to the puny measure of their own reason,’ Calvin exclaimed.” “Reasoning itself needs to come to an end before humans can experience the proper relationship to God.

I can understand this professor’s zeal in teaching college students about theology. All religions scriptures are there for them to read if they choose (for free!), but even the most religious of us can claim to have read the scripture they are so sure has come from their god.

But Calvin clearly exposes the bone I have to pick with theists. Calvin boldly claims that “Reasoning itself needs to come to an end before humans can experience the proper relationship to God.” but I have to ask: from where does his doctrine of predestination come? It is not stated explicitly in his scripture. Accordingly he must have used his reason to winkle it out, exactly the mental tool he says we are to abandon.

This is at the heart of the problem I have with theology. I am all in favor of teaching people how to think, like the learned professor is encouraging his students to do. I am all in favor of learning how we think biologically. But theology jumps to teaching what we should think. Do not think for yourself. You cannot trust your own abilities. You cannot trust the thinking of others. Who you gonna trust? It isn’t Ghostbusters, it is theocrats.

This is thought control, pure and simple. We deplore it in books like 1984 by George Orwell, but we promote it from pulpits all over this land. Even church proselytizers are given canned scripts and told if they can’t answer an objection by a subject, they should report back before answering. Surely they are not wanted to think for themselves.

Even John Calvin, that icon of Protestantism, was using his reasoning faculties at a high level . . . but only on particular topics. Calvin referred to Satan as God’s enemy. Hello? All-powerful, all-knowing Gods cannot have enemies. A snap of His fingers and all enemies are gone, well, unless they amuse Him, I guess.

At the very least, Calvin didn’t completely throw in with the “God is all-good” crowd. (“All Good gods” don’t create things like Hell.) God was unknowable to Mr. Calvin, even though Calvin claimed to know and understand His thoughts. Also, if reason is not to be employed and God’s wishes are clearly not made explicit (why?), how is one supposed to behave? According to John Calvin, it doesn’t matter. Mr. Calvin, basically throws away the tool most powerful in controlling his followers, the threat of Hell, by turning it into a non-threat. What fool would slavishly follow what they thought to be God’s will when God had god-like reasons for declaring him to be “saved” or “damned” and that decision was made a long, long time ago. Do you think He might change His mind? (Sure, admit He made a mistake and you should be saved rather than burn. That kind of runs counter to the perfect being tag so often used to describe Him, no?)

In this case, Mr. Calvin’s reason deserted him. Even if we are predestined to Heaven or Hell, there is no value in sharing that information, especially with people inclined to think for themselves.

Oh, one would think that such a stirring piece encouraging the teaching of theology would be a prime opportunity to have a discussion on the topic. So, I wonder why the NYT closed the comments section one day later after just 295 comments? I guess I have to just take it on faith that they had good reasons.











These Are My People and I Feel Shame

In the NY Times yesterday an op-ed piece ran highlighting one of my pet peeves: the over focus on dietary fat in human health issues (How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat by Anahad O’Connor, Sept. 12, 2016). Specifically, the article is about how the sugar industry bribed health scientists to publish false reports on the role of fat and sugar in human health. Here are just a couple of excerpts:

The sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead, newly released historical documents show.

The internal sugar industry documents, recently discovered by a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, and published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that five decades of research into the role of nutrition and heart disease, including many of today’s dietary recommendations, may have been largely shaped by the sugar industry.

“’They were able to derail the discussion about sugar for decades,’ said Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at U.C.S.F. and an author of the JAMA paper.

The documents show that a trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation, known today as the Sugar Association, paid three Harvard scientists the equivalent of about $50,000 in today’s dollars to publish a 1967 review of research on sugar, fat and heart disease. The studies used in the review were handpicked by the sugar group, and the article, which was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, minimized the link between sugar and heart health and cast aspersions on the role of saturated fat.”

And this isn’t a “that was just back then” issue, it is still with us.

Last year, an article in The New York Times revealed that Coca-Cola, the world’s largest producer of sugary beverages, had provided millions of dollars in funding to researchers who sought to play down the link between sugary drinks and obesity. In June, The Associated Press reported that candy makers were funding studies that claimed that children who eat candy tend to weigh less than those who do not.

Scientists are quite ordinary people so I do not expect them to be free from corruption, but accepting cash for publishing shoddy, misleading papers strikes to the core of the scientific mission, especially in the arena of human health.

We have politicians working overtime trying to reduce people’s confidence in politics, climate science, and in public health issues, all to make themselves more money. Now significant corruption within the scientific community is undermining any remaining trust that citizens might have regarding the findings of scientists.

These are my people (once a scientist, always a scientist) and I feel shame.

September 12, 2016

Essential Bill Moyers

In a cogent essay, Bill Moyers proves again why he is the Dean of American Journalists. He is able to frame our current situation better than anyone else. Please read “We, the Plutocrats vs. We, the People: Saving the Soul of Democracy.”

As you will see it has nothing to do with conservatives v. liberals, or Republicans v. Democrats, or any of the other things we focus on. It is simply the case of too much money in the hands of too few people who claim that “they earned it” when that is not really the case.


September 9, 2016

Scaring Ourselves to … Bad Policies

The NYT posted another “investigative journalism” report, this one is on crime, specifically murder (Murder Rates Rose in a Quarter of the Nation’s 100 Largest Cities, 9-9-16).

If one looks at their graphics, though, another headline could have been “Murder Rates Either Fell or Stayed the Same in Three Quarters of the Nation’s 100 Largest Cities.”

“’The homicide increase in the nation’s large cities was real and nearly unprecedented,’ wrote the study’s author …” yes, but this highlights another disturbing trend in modern journalism, the examination of the gaps but not the actual amounts. So, education reporters talk about how the gaps between black and white students has stayed the same or risen but ignore the fact that both Black and white students scores has risen considerably. Black students have increased their performance on standardized tests substantially. In one generation, Black students knowledge of mathematics has increased almost two whole grade levels (e.g. fourth graders can do math that their parents did in sixth grade)! That news somehow does not make it above the fold, below the fold, or anywhere in the paper apparently.

And, in crime reporting, how about the fact that murder rates in those cities has declined substantially since a high around 1990? They even include a graph showing this general decline but they are reporting only on an up-tick at the very end of the graph that may be part of a trend … or may not be.

Journalistic narratives are leading us astray. Violence is on the decline (per capita). Murder is on the decline (per capita). Crime is on the decline (per capita). But that doesn’t sell newspapers. The lede is still “if it bleeds it leads.”

September 8, 2016

R-E-S-P-E-C-T Find Out What It Means … To Colin Kaepernick

Filed under: Culture — Steve Ruis @ 9:27 pm
Tags: , , ,

A member of the San Francisco Forty-Niners NFL football club, Colin Kaepernick, has released a firestorm of criticism and discussion by refusing to stand for the singing of the national anthem when it is sung before each and every football game (and baseball game and basketball game and …). He did this without announcement all through this year’s pre-season competitions and was noticed only toward the end of that series of games. When asked why he was doing such a thing, he replied that he couldn’t respect a country that allowed such unequal treatment of its black and brown citizens.

Of course, the conversation got blown all out of proportion, rarely getting back to the point Mr. Kaepernick was trying to make. Some thought he was disrespecting the fans, others thought he was disrespecting the team owners, his teammates, even members of the armed forces. Of course, Mr. Kaepernick’s statement that he was disrespecting the country’s acceptance of rampant inequality as a whole went mostly uncommented on.

I would like to take a step back (you knew that was coming) and ask: why are we playing the national anthem at the start of every damned sporting event in the country?”

These are not political events. They are not sponsored by political parties or the government or any agency that is making political contributions, suggesting policy, or playing a political role at all. So, why do we begin purely social events with the playing of the national anthem?

“Why are we playing the national anthem
at the start of every damned sporting event in the country?

And why is standing up required? Why is taking off one’s hat required? Why is holding one’s hand over one’s heart required? I am sure that someone will claim that we should take every opportunity to give thanks for our country, but I find that puzzling because we are the country, so we are thanking ourselves? We are not giving thanks for our veterans or the sacrifices made by previous generations, we have other occasions at which we thank them.

And why is conforming to the demands of society during the playing of the national anthem count as an act or statement of patriotism? Surely this is mere symbolism and far from a real act of patriotism.

There is also the danger that if you repeat a ritual too often and make it mundane, it loses its power, such as asking our school children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every fracking school day (I remember pledging allegiance to the United States of Asparagus and other slight lyrical modifications.) A comedian, Robert Klein I believe, had a bit in which he auditioned replacement lyrics (“While we are standing here waiting for the ball game to start, … (I had lovely musical notes inserted here but the ferdlinger WP site won’t accept them)” was one of my favorites.)

So, what is so damned important about a song played at sporting events for quite nebulous reasons. (The actual reason, I am sure, is that once the playing became commonplace, no team owner wanted to break with the practice.)

September 6, 2016

The Case: Theists v. Atheists, Part 6 and The End

In the first five parts of this series of posts I made a few claims, namely that the dialogue between atheists and theists is both ineffective and really almost nonexistent. I argued that religions exist because they actually do benefit those who participate in them, even though I think the negatives outweigh the positives (clearly, theists do not).

And I heavily excerpted the book “Everybody is Wrong About God” by James A. Lindsay (Pitchstone Publishing. Kindle Edition) which suggested these posts. I encourage you to read this book if you find value in the excerpts.

Now I add some additional thoughts to this mix.

* * *

I describe now a social group for you: it contains both men and women who meet according to schedule in a purpose-built “house” in order to spiritually support a group effort. They wear special clothing when they attend such services and during them they sing songs, and chant ritual sayings. You can see members of this group fervently calling upon unseen forces to affect the outcome of local events. Members of this group often share communal food and drink and support one another in these group activities. Members of opposing groups often elicit scorn and if the potency of this group’s object of worship is challenged by another group, it can lead to violence.

Is this a religious group?

What I just described is an English football club support group. A group of what we would call soccer fans. (I am oh, so tired of the English excoriating us ‘Mericans for calling the game soccer instead of football. They invented the word and carried it to the U.S. and planted it here! Sorry, got distracted.) British soccer/football fans exhibit virtually all of the characteristics of religious groups, including believing in the supernatural. I point this out for two reasons: for one, we come by these behaviors naturally, and two, we can find substitutes for religious practices that satisfy these needs. In fact, the ready availability of sporting contests to be viewed is thought to contribute to a general diminishment of violence. Ritual or staged violence may displace real violence, hmm. I think that view is a bit of a stretch, but it might hold up.

Clearly people have needs for things to be passionate about, to commune with others, to share food and drink, especially drink (certain pubs in England are off-limits to fans of “other clubs” after a game lest there be fistfights). These needs can be met secularly. The fact that the countries which meet the basic needs of their citizens the best are also the least religious of countries is a telling point. There are fewer calls on supernatural agents when natural agents are effective.

I would like to see a relentless commitment to the truth in reality whatever it turns out to be. Currently the level of hypocrisy in human affairs is much too high. For example, Silicon Valley tech executives who advocate for the use of screen-based devices in our schools spend large sums to send their children to Montessori schools which forbid the use of such devices in their classrooms, even at home. Clearly the data show that exposure to screen-based devices is a detriment to developing youths but, well, it is a $60 billion dollar market and there is money to be made. It is always surprising to me that the most religious Americans are also the most committed to capitalism, a form of social interaction in which money is worshiped.

So, a basic strategy in dealing with theists is just taking care of one another. I am not talking about lavish care but meeting basic, Maslovian needs (food, shelter, health care, etc.). Societies that do this have citizens happier than the norm, with anti-social behavior being much lower … as well as religious behavior being much diminished.

This seems to be a good way forward to a better secular future, better than trying to convert theists individually. In fact, I am going to eschew trying to convert theists at all. A better strategy is to outlive them, evolve away from the toxic aspects of religious practices. Make their religious benefits readily available from other sources and the religions will shrink and eventually disappear.

There are many “harmless” theists who will recoil in shock at being portrayed in this manner. They see all of the benefits of their religious association and, through confirmation bias, see none of the other aspects. I suggest that they do not worry because god is on “their side.” Myself, I want nothing to do with a god which picks sides. I wonder which English football club the Christian god really favors, hmm.

PS I will still write posts about the flaws of religion, but this is merely a social, “preaching to the choir,” activity. I suspect that all or almost all of you who like my posts on religion are already post-theistic. I write about religion in a “class warfare” blog because it is a weapon in the class war we are currently losing. If you are part of the “out group” in our economy (most of us now) you are told to “have faith” in things like markets to change your lot. Being religious establishes a basis for such new beliefs being proffered. If you are willing to believe one fantastic thing, why not two, or three?

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