Class Warfare Blog

March 28, 2018

What Would Christies Do?

Filed under: History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:08 am
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I read another Quora question based upon the questioner’s belief that Noah’s Ark, or evidence for Noah’s Ark, has been found. I believe I have posted before that this event is more than highly unlikely, first because the tale is almost certainly fictional wisdom literature (You better be good or God will kill you and your little dog, too!), but specifically because after the entire planet has been underwater for a year or more, there would be no suitable building materials available: no straw, no wood (not waterlogged), etc. although there would be some stone. So, what would Noah’s family’s shelters, livestock pens, and altars be made of? Piles of small stones? Well, there is this giant pile of lumber sitting there that no longer had a use, so I expect that, if this really happened, the ark would have been dismantled to provide a wealth of building materials. And as time wore on, I am sure having some part of the ark used to make one’s dwelling would be looked upon as being lucky or holy or some other nonsense and soon an expanding population woudl guarantee that the ark would be gone, dispersed, burned, carved up.

Now I have to think that this search is wrong-headed. First, finding that evidence would mean more to Jews than Christians and Jews are quite few in number. So, if you were going to go looking for tangible artifacts to support Christianity, what should you look for? Think about it; I will wait.

<insert Jeopardy theme music here>

If you came up with “remnants of the cross” or “the Holy Grail” or some such, you are a victim of indoctrination. I ask you: what was Jesus’s occupation? All say he was a “carpenter,” with that term not quite meaning what we think of today as a carpenter, but more of a jack-of-all-trades handyman, who worked a lot with wood. Jesus would have been taught his craft when he turned a certain age, 11, 12, 13 whatever, so he would have a body of work created over a 20-year span before he went off on his wild hare chase. So, over that time, he must have made a great many pieces of, say, furniture: stools on which to milk goats, benches, chairs, tables, etc. And being a good craftsman, perfect actually, would have involved a little self promotion so, on the bottoms of these pieces don’t you think he would have written or carved “Made by Jesus of Nazareth, 7 Goatherd Street, Nazareth” or some such? If a contemporary were to pick up one of these pieces second hand and wonder where he could get more, there needs to be a connection to its maker, no? And these pieces, I mean, made by a god! They would be beautiful to the eye, sturdy, long lasting, etc. Find one of these pieces and cha-ching! Can you imagine what such a piece would bring at auction?

What would Christies do?

(Hint: they would go out of their fricking minds!)


March 27, 2018

Determinism and Free Will

Filed under: Economics,Philosophy,Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:10 pm
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I have written more than a little about free will and this post is a supplement to that. I have been reading a little about the alternatives to free will, primarily determinism, which is a claim that every decision we make is caused by events outside of our control. I have no problem with that argument, just the driving of it home saying that Determinism Rules, Dude! I think this is yet another example of human exuberance to come up with an answer when we are not yet ready for one. This is my position of free will, too. I think most decisions are made sub- or unconsciously and we understand so little about those processes that to exclude them from discussions of free will thwarts any chance at a reasonable conclusion.

So, are all of our decisions caused? Are our behaviors ruled by the “cause and effect” that works so well in the sciences?

I have been reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s works. I just finished “Fooled by Randomness” and have started “The Black Swan.” Mr. Taleb (he has a Ph.D. but doesn’t flaunt it) got his start as a financial instruments trader. He points out over and over, that most human activities are ruled by chance, yet we stubbornly refuse to admit that, seeing systems and patterns in behaviors and numbers that we believe show underlying structures that make things like the stock market predictable. He points to daily stock market reports, an example of which is “the market tumbled 1.7 points today, reacting to the announcement that blah, blah, blah.” He says that statements like this makes financial reporters entertainers rather than journalists. The market indices fluctuate during the day and from day to day. All of them fluctuate more than 1.7 points per day, so a change in any index of 1.7 index points cannot be distinguished from noise. Yet we insist on ascribing reasons to these fluctuations. We also know that the ocean’s tides rise and fall twice a day, so measuring the height of the water depends on what time you measure it. We also know that waves create artificial highs and lows that will move a float up and down in mere seconds. No oceanographer would mistake these normal fluctuations for changes that require action (like sea level rise), but we often do in settings like the stock market.

Our brains were shaped by evolution to do some amazing things. Unfortunately some of these things are counterproductive. For example, we judge the likelihood of something happening by the frequency we encounter that thing. This worked really well when we only encountered things in real life, like when was the last time you witness a murder directly, for example? But, we see the evidence of crime after crime on the nightly news day after day and conclude crime is on the increase; it is not; crime reporting on the news is on the increase, crime itself is decreasing and has been for decades. So, it is easy to fool ourselves using our very best mental skills.

One of our strongest mental skills is pattern recognition. It is so strong we see patterns where none exists, even in sets of random dots and numbers. In the case of financial markets we are making an even bigger mistake. In science we postulated first that invisible entities controlled the behavior of natural phenomena (spirits and ghosts). We then had a bunch of people argue that natural phenomena obeyed laws (the law of gravity, conservation of energy, conservation of momentum, etc.) and that the behaviors of physical objects was predictable based upon these laws and so they were! (Damn!) So, we came to believe in physical cause and effect. Now if we apply this belief to social systems, like financial markets and free will, will it also work? Well, the physical laws have an underlying structure that supports those laws existing. Do morals and financial markets and the like have such a basis? I do not think so, but more importantly, if there is it hasn’t been demonstrated that there is. In order to prove that nature was based upon laws, a whole lot of predictions had to be made and prove out to be right before people accepted that a root foundation for physical laws existed and could be relied upon.

But financial markets, well that’s another story. After every catastrophic collapse of some market or other, the market gurus go around and find one of their kind who predicted that the collapse would happen, and hype them as someone with special knowledge. The problem is that at any point in time, every possible outcome is being predicted and no matter what happens, you can find somebody after the fact that will have predicted correctly. This is not a successful prediction. In science, once you work out the laws involved, you can teach them to others and everyone ends up making correct predictions, not just a person here or there.

Human overreach in pattern-recognition puts, I suspect, too much faith in cause and effect, the underlying mechanism of determinism. We know that quantum mechanical effects are far from cause and effect rooted. We know that a great deal is “caused” by randomness. (If you go out to dinner, you are going to eat something. If you go to an Italian restaurant, you are very likely to eat something Italian. If …). Are we ready to conclude that free will is an illusion and all things are determined by cause and effect? I do not think so.

March 26, 2018

Oh, The Irony!

When the American Experiment in self-governance began, the creators of the government we now possess were significantly concerned that the hoi polloi, the “middling sort,” as they called them, not get too involved in the process. The Founding Fathers were elitists, by design. They felt that only people like them had the education, the perspectives, and experience to lead the government.

One of the fears expressly stated was the fear that if the poor got control of  the government that they would use the government’s powers to strip the wealthy of their wealth. Most of the FFs were quite well-to-do, don’t you know. (Like you I was shocked, shocked, I tell you!)

This fear: that the poor would go after the wealth of the wealthy, has lived on in the hearts of most of the wealthy persons since the later eighteenth century and exists today.

In all of that time, I can only think of one period in which the wealth of the wealthy was effectively restricted and that was due to the New Deal of the quite wealthy President Franklin D. Roosevelt (who was called a “traitor to his class” for his efforts). People often point to the 90% tax bracket introduced during WW2 and kept there after (even under Republican Dwight Eisenhower) as an example of  wealth stripping by “the people.” But this doesn’t hold up. This onerous tax bracket didn’t kick in until one had an annual income in excess of $100,000. Considering that the average worker’s income was around $3000, this was quite a lofty salary. So this 90% tax bracket applied to very few people. Plus SS taxes were quite low in the 1950’s as opposed to now. (Thank you, Ron Reagan!) And one can argue that effective tax rates (the rates people actually pay, not listings in tax tables) are higher now than in the 1950’s, so this does not wash as an example of a time in which the rich were attacked by the poor. The actual slowdown of the accumulation of wealth in the 1950’s was, I believe, caused not so much by policy (some was) but by a feeling of “we are all in this together” due to the war, making it harder to screw your neighbors.

There are, however, more than a few periods, including the one in which we are in now, in which the wealthy have joyfully robbed the poor and middle class. (Oh, the irony!)

If you are unfamiliar with wealth inequality (really it should be termed wealth inequity because really no one is arguing that all should be equally wealthy) you need to educate yourself on this very hot topic. Wealth “inequality” as currently defined is at an all-time high, worse than it was in the Gilded Age or any other period in U.S. history.

The entire process of civilization has been fueled by coercing inexpensive labor out of the masses to benefit the religious and secular elites. Any advantages of civilization that have been gotten down to the poor are the result of trickle down process and we all know how effective those are. Still, a certain amount of this is acceptable but when it gets excessive, as it is now, the torches and pitchforks tend to come out and, well, there are more of us than them.

I think we all need to take a page out of the playbook of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and establish a single issue voting block. I will no longer vote for any candidate who has an A or B rating from the NRA, in support of their effort. (Vote them out!)

How about a wealth inequality inequity single issue voting block? Establish a few parameters and then VOTE THEM OUT. Unfortunately this will go badly for all Republicans and the corporate Democrats. On second thought, strike the word “unfortunately.”

March 24, 2018

The Men Who Built America!

There is a new series of TV shows under this rubric. The first such series was about labor crushing industrialists. This one is labeled: The Men Who Built America: Frontiersman. You know, like Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, etc.

In the long standing tradition of the winners writing the history, these “men” are portrayed in U.S. history of icons of bravery, basically heroes. Unfortunately, that is not what motivated them. The central and western parts of the nascent United States were claimed by Spain, England, and France. At various times, these countries authorized Americans to go awandering in the “wilderness,” otherwise known as “Indian Country.”

Of course, all we are looking at here is the point of the spear of white supremacy. Everyone knew that the continent was occupied, by Native Americans, but they weren’t white, don’t you see.

The U.S., even when it was just a set of colonies of England, was created as a capitalistic enterprise. (Many people don’t know that the Plymouth Rock Colony was a business venture with a corporate charter and all.) And as far as the “Americans” were concerned, land was wealth and land was there to be taken … so they took it. The “frontiersmen” established the resources of the “unclaimed land” (“Hey, the damned Indians didn’t even believe in owning the land!” was their claim.) and made maps. And, well, they carved out a few plots for themselves; for example, Davy Crockett was a major land speculator. The next thing to happen was “settlers” were moved in, uh, well-armed settlers. That the land already had cities, nations, and villages was obvious to one and all, but it was still considered “unsettled” by white people.

This practice, generally supported by regional, state, and the U.S. federal governments, continued until we reached the Pacific Ocean. Even when we ran up against national boundaries, such as with Canada and Mexico, we didn’t stop then.

Presumably, you have heard of the Texas Rangers. Rangers were not exclusive to Texas as many states, especially southern states, had collections of rangers. Well, the Texas Rangers were instrumental in acquiring the states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. Basically, a small army of Texas Rangers sailed down to Mexico and moved inland to Mexico City. There they terrorized the city’s population and politicians, shooting up whole sections of the city. The price to get them to leave was … wait for it … the succession of the states we now call California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas to the U.S. And, besides, those Mexican people were brown and not white, so we screwed them over with no hit to our consciousness. Extortion’s not a sin when done in the service of white supremacy, is it?

The “historians” followed this up by deifying the trespassing poachers who began it all: the frontiersmen. (They also turned many a criminal into Robin Hood-like figures.)

Oh, and the firepower generated to perform this wholesale theft and slaughter (it was easier to eradicate the Native Americans than evict them, so we rode through villages and shot everyone: men, women, children), that firepower was the justification for the Second Amendment to the Constitution. The militias referred to were not state or governmental militias, but volunteer and corporate militias, like the Texas Rangers. Governmental Militias were established in Article 1 of the Constitution, so the Second Amendment was just about arming hordes of Black slave and Indian killers.

As a school child I was educated to be proud of my country. I now realize that much of that “education” was propaganda covering up the mass murders of and illegal and immoral land appropriations from the original inhabitants of this land.

We did not make war, most of the time, we just moved in and when anyone complained we shot them. Easy peasey. But it was all okay, the clergy told us the Bible said it was. And then the U.S. History course offered in our schools whitewashed what was left.

The War on Christianity, Again, Still?

Filed under: Religion,Science,Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 9:46 am
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Sometimes an ad is all it takes to get me thinking. This is a book ad I saw come up on BookBub:

Why Science Does Not Disprove God
By Amir D. Aczel
Does scientific advancement disprove the Bible? A renowned writer and mathematician says no — and argues that theories put forth by geniuses like Albert Einstein can actually bolster one’s faith in God!

At the same time I see myriad condescending questions on Quora website directed at atheists. My question is why all of the animosity from theists toward science? We are told that there is a War on Religion, a War on Christianity? If this is a war, it can only be a war as described by the Three Stooges. (Remember “The bazookas were bazooking: zook-zook!”) In reality, science does the  not give a rat’s ass about any gods, demigods, spooks, ghosts, demons, etc.

What I see is scientists doing science, but if a scientist achieves any prominence, especially in cosmology, or biology (hint: contains evolutionary theory), they are asked their opinion about god. Why on Earth would this question get asked of scientists when science has nothing to say about the topic? I suspect it is to show what atheistic, godless fiends scientists are, but that’s just a suspicion.

Many people point to the fact that most scientists are without religion. I argue that that is just a manifestation of education. The more educated you become, the less likely you are to be religious. It even holds true for divinity schools! I think that an education, any decent one, teaches you how to think and that leads to a rejection of religions, which ask you not to think.

The hurt and outrage of theists as to the damage science is doing to their fairy tales seems to be the cause. They seem to be constantly picking fights, then asking why we are so belligerent.

These are the same people who are claiming quantum theory proves god (it does not), or that the Big Bang theory proves god (it does not), or as in the book above why science does not disprove god (it does not because it has never tried). Often they get the science wrong, abysmally wrong. An amateur Christian apologist was wonder why, if the Theory of Evolution was a fact, at the top of every scientific article on evolution is the word “abstract.” Apparently the not very well learned apologist is not familiar with scientific publishing where the norm is to give a one paragraph (or at least short) summary of the article’s contents, called an abstract. This device allows busy scientists to figure out whether the article is worth a close reading. Logically, the heading for the abstract is “Abstract.” Sheesh.

Theists, listen, you gotta stop sending apologists to a gun fight with pea shooters; at least give them a knife or a real weapon.

I suspect that this fictional war being proclaimed on Fox News and elsewhere is due to a loss of prestige and deference religions used to have. There are so many people now who do not care about, or who actively question, these “rights” that religions traditionally have exercised that it is being noticed. And “tradition” is “just the way we have always done things” which therefore is hard on people when it changes. Data now show that religion is in decline in many areas of the globe and concomitantly in those areas in which religion is becoming less favored, the people are reporting to be happier. Could it be, as I am claiming, that religion is a tool of oppression, wielded by the elites to keep the masses in line, so their labor can be sucked off to the benefit of the religious and secular elites? Do you think?

March 21, 2018

But That’s the Fun!

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:13 pm


NASA has a satellite orbiting Jupiter right now, called Juno. Juno has been providing never before seen data about the largest planet in our solar system and that data is shredding previous conjectures about how that planet should act.

“The data’s telling us our ideas are all wrong,” says Randy Gladstone, lead investigator of Juno’s ultraviolet spectrograph. “But that’s the fun.”

“But that’s the fun.”

Scientists don’t mind being proven wrong because that means they are making progress. Just as driving down a dead-end road won’t get you anywhere, using incorrect theories to make predictions only gets you wrong answers, and wrong answers are what are sought out as proof the theory needs adjusting, as well as providing hints as to how to adjust them as a good theory always accounts for the vast majority of known facts.

Now imagine a biblical archeologist in the “holy land” declaiming over a new discovery, such as the city of Jericho having no walls in the period described in the Bible in which Jericho’s walls “came tumbling down.”

“The data’s telling us our ideas are all wrong,” says Dr. Bert Blather, lead archeologist on the Jericho excavations. “But that’s the fun.”

How long do you think he would keep his job, do you think?

Trump Derangement Syndrome

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:43 am
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When Mr. Obama was president a term was bandied about: the Obama Derangement Syndrome. This term referred to the rather crazy behavior associated with that presidency. By extension, if for no other reason, we now have the Trump Derangement Syndrome.

The unfortunately thing, for us, is that the Obama Derangement Syndrome referred to the behaviors of Mr. Obama’s enemies, the sheer craziness inspired by having a Black man in the Oval Office. The Trump Derangement Syndrome is not so positioned, but is rather about the President himself.

Rather than having psychologists trying to explain why Mr. Obama’s enemies were behaving in such a deranged fashion, we have psychologists trying to deduce why Mr. Trump behaves in such a deranged fashion.

I have a simple explanation. Mr. Trump is of below average intelligence and above average arrogance. Had he not inherited great wealth, he would have lived a quite unremarkable life, possibly confined to criminal institutions. But, we are now learning that wealth/power actually affects people’s brains, making them less empathetic, compassionate, and more arrogant. Christian beliefs exacerbate this in the claim that wealth is a sign of their god’s favor. (How this “principle” got extracted out of their scriptures is beyond me, and I suspect everyone else.)

This is a bad combination for anyone, let alone a sitting U.S. president. This also brings to mind the possibly apocryphal curse “May you live in interesting times.”

March 8, 2018

I Am So Tired of Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Filed under: Entertainment — Steve Ruis @ 11:02 am
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It seems that eight out of every ten science fiction and fantasy books being published is of the apocalyptic sort. Granted that many of the “new” authors are self-publishing and often try to mimic successful writing, especially through choice of topic, but still.

I have enjoyed a few such works, but really just a few. Somne of the things I have enjoyed about science fiction and fantasy is the experience of different cultures (even if fictional), how contact with completely alien species illuminates our own, the sheer adventure of traveling the stars, the technical conundrums that ensue from such risky explorations, the impact on the future of our species based upon exposure to the environmental and cultural forces of alien places, and so on.

Apocalyptic novels and stories exploit these same issues but from a standpoint that we failed massively as a species and have either nearly wiped ourselves out or are close to doing so. The protagonists are no less heroic, but the setting is depressing.

As a teacher I warned students, often, that if they look closely they will find that their best efforts as students, to date, were in digging themselves out of holes they themselves dug. I encouraged them to consider what would result if they skipped the step of digging the hole in the first place and learned to marshal those best efforts to get above where they were, rather than back to the level they started at.

Heroic actions in war-torn landscapes to me are not as interesting because the fighting is to get back to where we once were. I am more drawn to stories that extend from where we are not to where we might get. That is more inspiring to me.

Sadly, those works are being swamped by zombie and alien and human apocalypses and then people scrambling around trying to recover some of the better pieces. <sigh>

Your Friendly Neighborhood Pollyanna

Are Religion and Gaslighting One and the Same?

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:47 am
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Here is an excellent description of gaslighting. At first it appeared to be just an essay on psychology, but upon reflection I think it has something to say about Evangelical Christinaity.

March 7, 2018

God’s Message to Mankind

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:45 pm
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Finally, scientific proof of God’s existence has been proven by this photo taken by the Hubble telescope of a part of the Carina Nebula in November 2010.

(Source: Dusty Pulver on Quora)

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