Class Warfare Blog

August 28, 2018

Remarkable … Really?

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:32 am
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I just received a special issue of Scientific American. I have been reading SA for over 60 years now so, yes, I am that kind of geek. This special issue is on “Humans” with the subtitle “Why We’re Unlike Any Other Species on the Planet.”

The first paragraph in the headline article contained the following words:

“Curiously, the scientists best qualified to evaluate this claim (that humans are special creatures) have often appeared reticent to acknowledge the uniqueness of Homo sapiens, perhaps for fear of reinforcing the idea of human exceptionalism put forward in religious doctrines. Yet hard scientific data have been amassed across fields ranging from ecology to cognitive psychology affirming that humans truly are a remarkable species.”

WTF?

Really?

Hello?

To be remarkable is to be worthy of being remarked upon. I, for example, have been observed and the remark shared “What an asshole.” That remark makes me remarkable in the area of assholiness, in any case.

Of all the myriad species on this planet, which of them is capable of making a remark? Hmmm, at last count it was one, us. While sometimes my dog looks at me askance, I suspect the message is only a projection of my thinking and not the dog’s.

Gosh, stop the presses—we are special! No shit Shylock! Are you aware of any other species which has dominated this planet to serve its needs? Maybe chickens. The population of chickens has risen right along with that of humans. Next in line, maybe cattle, and then pigs. All of these species have spread around the world and exploded in population. Are any of them capable of making a remark? I think not.

That makes us the remarking species and what topic heads the list of things we remark upon? Hmm, Satan? (No, Church Lady, shut up will you.) Our remarks are dominated by comments about other humans and even ourselves. So, remarkable is not something to brag about.

Is the whole SA issue about how we are unique, then? Well I hate to break it to you, Bucky, but the whole idea of a species is that it is unique. The original definition stated that species could not mate successfully with members outside their species (we have since learned this is not exactly true). That is the definition of uniqueness, I think.

So, what is the issue about? I haven’t finished reading it yet, but it seems to be about how fucking full of ourselves we are. Shakespeare comes to mind—

“What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—” (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2) Hamlet sensibly goes on to reject this description, but then he was a moody guy.

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August 27, 2018

Are Christians Being Persecuted in the U.S.?

According to Christian scripture, a sign one is doing their god’s work is being persecuted for their beliefs (see below).

Take a negative associated with a religion (“Why would I join them, aren’t they being persecuted?”) and turn it into a positive. Spin doctors have been around a lot longer than most people think. So Christians need persecution to be recognized for doing good work … ah, now we know why there is a War on Christmas, and a War on Christianity! If a real persecution doesn’t exist, just make one up!

Christianity, spinning reality for almost 2000 years!

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and make you bake cakes for fag weddings and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)

August 25, 2018

Even More Bullshit on Alcohol

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:15 am
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I begin with excerpts from an online post:

“Even the occasional drink is harmful to health, according to the largest and most detailed research carried out on the effects of alcohol, which suggests governments should think of advising people to abstain completely.

“The uncompromising message comes from the authors of the Global Burden of Diseases study, a rolling project based at the University of Washington, in Seattle, which produces the most comprehensive data on the causes of illness and death in the world.

“Alcohol, says their report published in the Lancet medical journal, led to 2.8 million deaths in 2016. It was the leading risk factor for premature mortality and disability in the 15 to 49 age group, accounting for 20% of deaths.

“Current alcohol drinking habits pose “dire ramifications for future population health in the absence of policy action today”, says the paper. “Alcohol use contributes to health loss from many causes and exacts its toll across the lifespan, particularly among men.”

“Most national guidelines suggest there are health benefits to one or two glasses of wine or beer a day, they say. “Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none.”

“The study was carried out by researchers at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), who investigated levels of alcohol consumption and health effects in 195 countries between 1990 to 2016. They used data from 694 studies to work out how common drinking was and from 592 studies including 28 million people worldwide to work out the health risks.

“Moderate drinking has been condoned for years on the assumption that there are some health benefits. A glass of red wine a day has long been said to be good for the heart. But although the researchers did find low levels of drinking offered some protection from heart disease, and possibly from diabetes and stroke, the benefits were far outweighed by alcohol’s harmful effects, they said.”

Leave it to the wankers who did this study that they only considered the health benefits of imbibing. Do you know anyone who drinks for the health benefits? Anyone? I can’t imagine there is one, let alone enough to study.

Imagine a study regarding automobiles. So many people get injured and maimed every year in car accidents. People spend so much time traveling to work that productivity losses are huge. And sitting in a car for extended time periods is bad as sitting is bad, bad, bad. So, the only safe number of cars is zero.

Studies that look at negative effects of anything can create a graph showing that the more people who do that thing, the more damage there is and to lower the damage to zero, you have to lower the participation to zero. But cost-benefit analyses are designed to find a sweet spot where the costs are low and benefits high, a point of compromise, as it were.

Knives! So many people get cut or get stabbed and even die every year! “Our results show that the safest level of cutting is none.”

How about some consideration of, oh I don’t know, people maybe, with regard to how much pleasure moderate drinking brings to our lives. The moderate amounts of anxiety reduction, the loosening of some inhibitions, the warm feeling a good pint provides, or a glass of really good Sangiovese? Huh? How about some consideration of “we the fucking people want to drink”? I agree that drinking to excess is a problem and needs to be addressed, but not with a throwing the baby out with the bath water recommendation.

Did they learn nothing from the American experiment in Prohibition? I wonder what they would have come up if they had studied food? Do you know how many people develop diseases due to bad eating habits. People die from diabetes and related diseases due to poor dietary habits. Would they have come up with “the safest level of eating is none?”

August 20, 2018

CEO Pay Growing Faster than Yours … Still

Filed under: Business,Economics,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:14 pm
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A recent report of CEO pay shows that the gulf between CEO pay and the pay of average workers in their companies has grown wider. I am shocked, shocked I tell you!

Articles are asking “How could this have happened?” As I have said over and over, this did not “just happen,” it was managed by the CEO’s. These people sit on each others boards of trustees to make sure that their pay increases will never be threatened. They have lobbied Congress and state houses to get tax cuts and tax provisions that favor them. We call such tax regulations “loopholes,” but loopholes are laws meant for one purpose that are used for another. These laws were passed for the purpose of increasing CEO power and wealth, period.

Take for example, Bill Clinton’s legislation to rein in the growth of “executive pay.” The situation was CEOs, through “golden parachutes” and other nonsense, were getting extravagant compensation for lackluster, even terrible, performances. So, the Clinton administration decided that CEO pay should be tied to CEO performance, an idea not so bad. But instead of tying CEO pay to some standard measure of business performance (income, profit, 5-year profit average, average wages in the company, customer satisfaction, etc.), they tied it to the value of the company’s stock, and therefore to the stock market. CEO’s rapidly took advantage of this and began getting more and more of their compensation in the form of stock options. They also started manipulating their own company’s stock price for their own gain. (I’m shocked, shocked I tell you!)

The most recent iteration of this practice is having the company borrowing money to “buy back” stock in the company. This has the effect of raising the price of the stock that remains and burdening the company with debt. The only people who benefit are stockholders and, oh, CEOs and other execs. This practice (stock buy backs) used to be illegal but as part of the package deal, it was made legal in the same era that started this binge of stock manipulation.

Who in a company is better positioned to manipulate the price of the company’s stock? Gosh, I believe it would be the CEO.

Can you spell insider trading, boys and girls? And it is legal. And it is making CEOs rich beyond their wildest dreams. And that wealth is being applied to our legislative and court processes to make them even wealthier and more powerful.

And, it all “just happened.” If you believe that, I have some lovely prime building land in Florida you may be interested in … but you might have to drain the swamp first.

August 18, 2018

Why Are We So Afraid?

On Quora, this question was posed: Why are so many Americans “tough on crime”?

One of the answers started this way:

“Americans are terrified.

“The United States of America is a nation of the coward, by the coward, and for the coward. Americans are the most frightened people you will find anywhere in the world.

“We are scared of everything. We’re scared of terrorists. We’re scared of immigrants. We’re scared of criminals. We’re scared of GM food. We’re scared of Muslims. We’re scared of brown people. If you come from any other industrialized country, and you’ve never lived in the US, it’s hard to understand the pervasive sense of fear that Americans live in.

“Americans are frightened, and this fear makes us cruel and mean.”

I immediately thought of the campaign to criminalize being a Black male (not just “driving while Black,” but existing while Black). As Jim Crow laws lost their footing in this country, some way had to be created to control Black people, especially Black men (just had to). After emancipation, one strategy was to criminalize the state Black people found themselves in. Vagrancy laws alone caused a great many Black men to be incarcerated and because they were poor and couldn’t pay their fine, they had to work off their fine … and room and board in the county jail. Voila, de facto slavery all over again. When these laws because unacceptable to society at large, the approach became “lock them up” on a much larger scale. Crimes that Blacks might commit had much longer penalties than if whites committed them. (Remember the crack cocaine sentences that were ten times longer than if powdered cocaine were involved? Guess which “possession crime” Blacks were more likely to be caught for.)

It has become our habit, through long exposure, to motivate ourselves to do anything politically by using fear. The message is “we must change because, if we don’t, something really bad will happen.”

Consider education: the report A Nation at Risk, claimed (erroneously) that our poor education system was dooming our country to second tier status … gasp, or worse! Also in education, the fear that girls were falling behind boys in math was promoted heavily at the exact moment at which girl’s math test scores had become equal to those of boy’s. (No mention was made of boy’s English language scores being much lower than girls, that was just “boys being boys.”)

The early environmental movement went to inflated extremes to gain attention. We were told we needed to “save the planet” as if it were at risk and not us.

Our “news media” haven’t helped one bit. They are not in the business of putting things in perspective, rather they are in the business of selling their wares. And the wares that sell are often the most alarming, most lurid, and most outlandish of stories.

Fear mongering is a booming business in this country.

And we are all paying for this by having fear dominate our lives. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was based solely upon fear. The slogan “Make America Great Again” implies we were great once, but are no longer …. but we could be again, just vote for me. Was there any analysis of this opinion? If a survey of world citizens were to ask the question “Which nation is the most powerful currently?” do you not think the USA would be voted to the top? (And if you didn’t so vote, would you expect to be invaded?)

When was the last time something was done politically because it was the right thing to do, rather than via a fear mongering campaign? Obamacare? The opposition to it was loaded with fear mongering, e.g. Death Panels! The national debt will skyrocket! The “safety net” will become a hammock! If not that, what?

If we insist that we will not do anything unless we are terrified, then all we are doing is waging a terror campaign upon ourselves. We are also letting the fear mongers and those who control the message in our news media to lead us around by the nose.

Welcome to the Twenty-first Century!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 17, 2018

What Would It Take?

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 7:46 am
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A common question thrown at atheists is “What would it take for you to believe in God?” Of course, they mean “their god.” I used to throw the question back at them by asking “Which god do you mean?” which in response they tend to be incredulous, as if there is only one conception of their god.

But tonight I was watching, for the umpty-umpth time, the sci-fi move Lucy. (I really like movies in which there is a strong female lead.) The lead character, played by Scarlett Johansson, has forced upon her a massive, massive overdose of a psychoactive drug, which unlocks previously unexpected powers of her brain. As a scientist, played by Morgan Freeman, tries to introduce her to three of his colleagues he stumbles a bit and finally just states that she has … powers (she does). One of the scientists immediately asks “Like what (kind of powers)?” Lucy steps up and places a hand on that scientist’s shoulder and tells him that he had a six year old daughter who was run over by a car, a blue car, with a toy bird hanging from the mirror. The scientist who is recalling this event as she is describing it gets tears in his eyes. The scientist believed she “had powers” at that point. (Even more bizarre proofs followed, but the point was made.)

We are asked to believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful magical being that created the entire universe. Some people have claimed to have had interactions with this being. Others have claimed to have relationships with other such beings. But this god cannot or will not provide any direct evidence, such as Lucy made of her powers.

Lucy didn’t stop to determine if the scientists were worthy of proofs of her powers. She didn’t hesitate or hem or haw. She simply demonstrated her powers in a way that convinced. A god should be able to divine what would convince me and be able to do that with a minimum of effort. Even if you lump together all the numbers of different Christians (the Unitarians, the Trinitarians, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Baptists, etc.) there would still be several billion people who are not convinced.

Whether it is “will not” or “cannot” provide such proofs is irrelevant. So far it is “has not.”

So, in answer to this question I now say “Ask your god, like the character Lucy, it should know.”

August 16, 2018

Ask Yourself “If They Really Believed …”

More than 300 Catholic priests across Pennsylvania sexually abused children over seven decades, protected by a hierarchy of church leaders who covered it up, according to a sweeping grand jury report released Tuesday. Since Pennsylvania has about 4% of the nation’s population, we can expect that the numbers of victims and perpetrators for the country as a whole are 25 times worse. One of the editorial responses to this abysmal situation was this:

Now, ask yourself: if those Catholic priests and other clerics really, truly believed, as Christians claim to believe their religion (down to the bone, etc.), that they were destined to everlasting Hellfire, that they would have done what they did? This is surely evidence that they did not so believe, that they would not be subject to everlasting torment because of their actions.

Either the Catholic Church is selling absolutions, in which case God’s judgment is not really God’s judgment, or a major segment of the Catholic clergy in the U.S. (and presumably worldwide) doesn’t believe in the fairy tales they tell about the “afterlife” to control the behaviors of their “flocks.”

I also wouldn’t put it past the Catholic hierarchy to double down by claiming that God will punish the miscreants (so they do not have to). Maybe they were waiting for capital punishment to be banned before coughing up the criminal clergy … naw.

The Catholic Con is slowly unraveling. I pray that that process is accelerating.

August 15, 2018

Greek Philosophy in Christianity

We are told over and over that Christianity is based upon holy scriptures. Apparently this included the holy writings of Plato (born 428/427 BCE, died 348/347 BCE).

I have been reading a fascinating book, which I will report upon later, entitled Aristotle’s Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages written by Richard E. Rubenstein. In the excerpt below Rubenstein is commenting upon the inspiration Augustine of Hippo drew from Plato, Augustine being a major architect of Christianity.

But his (Plato’s) most important contribution, from Augustine’s point of view, was to insist that the world of appearances—the world of “facts” apprehended through sense impressions—is a kind of watered-down and distorted reality, a universe of imperfect copies rather than originals. The originals, of course, exist forever in what Plato called the realm of Ideas and Christians called the Kingdom of Heaven. To this doctrine Neoplatonists like the great third-century philosopher Plotinus added the notion that the universe that proceeds originally from God yearns actively to return to him. Humans can therefore connect with the Absolute by meditating on the multiple things of this world and sensing their unitary, divine origins. Augustine was greatly attracted by the mystical implications of this doctrine …

I was drawn to one phrase in the excerpt that to me is quite telling, namely “Humans can therefore connect with the Absolute by meditating on the multiple things of this world and sensing their unitary, divine origins.”

I work with athletes and one primary topic is always how to harness one’s mind to support the kind of athletic performance one is looking for, So, I have studied that topic a great deal. One mental tool that athletes use is affirmations, which are first person comments about who one is as a person, e.g. “I am calm and under control no matter how much pressure seems to exist in a competition.” If this were true already, it would not need an affirmation to make it true, so these are things one wants to be true and one can make them true by repeating them over and over and over.

So, if humans are told that we can “connect with the Absolute by meditating on the multiple things of this world and sensing their unitary, divine origins” and we want that to be true, what exactly is going on? What is going on is we are taking something we wish to be true, but cannot be (otherwise we would not need to “make it so”) and we are making it true for us by self hypnosis.

We can shape the way we look at the world. Consider how we (Americans), as a culture, have created the situation where a sizable fraction of Americans see a Black person and think they are in danger (Look they are barbequing, right out in the open in this park! Hey, those Black people are in a Starbucks waiting for a business associate; they must be up to no good!).

The ultimate in religious experiences: self-deluded, self-reinforced. As I keep saying a religion that doesn’t coerce the behavior of the masses to serve the interested of the religious and secular elites doesn’t last long. Getting people to convince themselves of the “truths” in their religion is a high cost-effective and efficient structure for a religion.

Note This was not even the most influential effect of Plato on Augustine. More on this coming.

August 14, 2018

More on Social Control of Society

Filed under: Culture — Steve Ruis @ 9:36 am
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I commented recently that “Societies that do not control their own member’s behavior do not survive.” Obviously I am no expert but it is clear that certain memes are fed to us with our mother’s milk that are used as levers later to control what ether happens or can happen.

One of these is tradition. We do things traditionally or because of a tradition. This is basically a brake upon change. A tradition is simply a different way to say “the way we have always done this.” In a culture, this is a way to not forget important things, but how are these traditions created? They are created by people creating them … out of any sort of motivation they want. This is how an annual golf tournament is first staged. How a memorial service is begun (just do it and talk about doing it again next year). Many things are just done in the course of events and become “the way we have always done it.” Coming to my mind are things like harvest festivals and mid-winter fests. As a tradition Christmas, which seems so entrenched now, had a very tough row to hoe (look up the history of Christmas and you will see how many ups and downs it has had).

Another such cultural construct is “honor.” The concept probably stemmed from less experienced hunters being trained by more experienced hunters. It morphed into a code of conduct (actually many such codes) that we applied in militaries, secret societies, etc. In some cultures, honor is prized above many things more real. In a number of countries now there are still honor killings (India?). A young woman gets raped and thus brings dishonor to her family (WTF?) and so her family kills her. Presumably her “reward” will be in whatever afterlife is made available to her.

A third concept is pride. This has both positive and negative connotations. “Have you no pride?” is an admonishment of an underachiever. “You need to take pride in what you have accomplished!” is a compliment. “Pride goeth before a fall” is a warning to not become too prideful. It seems as if there is a pride economy out there in which you can accumulate credits. Could we live without this concept? I suggest, yes, very well.

We are social animals. We have controls on individual behavior to benefit the whole group. Gossip is one such … yes, gossip. By “telling” on everyone, no one in the tribe will be unaware of a miscreant’s misdeeds. Of course, too much of a good thing is always possible and always a mistake. Think of the opinion we have of gossips and scolds. The list above shows others.

So, why do we not educate our people as to these controls and how to function well under them? Is great puzzlement.

Postscript I had a student I was mentoring about what he could get from college. He shared some of his poetry with me. It was not even sophomoric (he was as yet a freshman) but was characterized by lacking any capital letters. I asked about this and he told me it was because of E.E. Cummings (or e.e. cummings as many like to award him) a poet who often used no capitalization. Obviously what was being copied was form and not substance. This is a common mistake of the young (I sure did it a lot). So, since copying is a major source of learning, maybe we need to educate all as to how we control anti-social behavior in our culture. We already teach about the rule of law and law enforcement as a societal control, maybe we need to look into the other founts of such control, including religion.

 

 

August 12, 2018

Thank God for Dennis Prager

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:09 am
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Since it is Sunday once again, I suppose a religion post is appropriate.

In a column entitled “Pope Francis Rewrites Catholicism and the Bible” the religious apologist Dennis Prager takes on all of the leftists in the Catholic Church, Judaism and, well, everywhere else. Here is an excerpt:

“Regarding the latter, the biblical commandment to put premeditated murderers to death is unique.

“First, it is fundamental to biblical morality. The injunction of putting murderers to death is the only law found in each one of the first five books of the Bible (the Torah).

“Second, all other sins involving the death penalty were only applicable to Jews (and for thousands of years, Jews regarded those death penalties not as literal but as pedagogic — to teach the seriousness of various offenses in an attempt to create a moral and holy nation).

But the Bible makes it clear capital punishment for murder is applicable to all of humanity. It is the first law God gives Noah after the flood, after commanding him to be fruitful and multiply. Putting murderers to death is therefore the first moral law God gives the world. Why this draconian penalty for murder? Because the penalty is a statement about the seriousness of a crime, and the God of the Bible deems the wrongful, deliberate taking of a human life the pinnacle of injustice. Allowing all murderers to keep their own lives diminishes the evil of murder and thereby cheapens the worth of the human being. In God’s words, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Genesis 9:6).

“It is precisely to preserve the unique worth of the human being that the Bible mandates putting murderers to death.”

As with all of the other freewheeling apologists, Prager deftly includes and excludes the Old Testament from his thoughts. First he states “all other sins involving the death penalty were only applicable to Jews” because, well as he states elsewhere, Jesus changed the covenant. He goes on without taking a breath to say “But the Bible makes it clear capital punishment for murder is applicable to all of humanity.” So, Mr. Prager apparently gets to decide which rules in the OT apply to us all (therefore including Christians) and which apply only to the Jews. In this manner he avoids the long, long (Long!) list of Biblical infractions of the rules that merit the death penalty. Got a teenage son who sasses his parents? Kill him! Got a bride who isn’t sufficiently virginish on her wedding night? Kill her! And, I can’t imagine the Jews getting stoned for these infractions last words were “Let this be a lesson to you all.” (“Jews regarded those death penalties not as literal but as pedagogic” … right, there was no vengeance or hatred or maliciousness or self-righteousness involved.) Oh, and old Yahweh did his thing selectively. Look up the story of David and Bathsheba and tell me that murderers get killed outright in the OT because it is “it is fundamental to biblical morality.”

He offers no support for the “kill the murderers” command applying to everyone on the planet, even Buddhists and Hindus, other than it got repeated a lot … in the OT … that only applies to Jews, except where Mr. Prager says otherwise.

He concludes (the first half of his article anyway, I didn’t have the stomach to keep reading) with the fantastical “It is precisely to preserve the unique worth of the human being that the Bible mandates putting murderers to death.” So, apparently, his god is not powerful enough to transform a murderer into a repentant good citizen. A murderer needs to be dealt with right away, even though everyone else gets a “you’ll get your comeuppance or reward when you die.” Mr. Prager seems have no faith that his god will take care of such miscreants when they die, since he claims it is necessary for us to do something now. (Expedited delivery for the real punishment?)

He also is saying that the Pope is no longer infallible when it comes to church policy. This is not surprising in that Mr. Prager was brought up an orthodox Jew, but what he claims as his religion now is unclear. The Pope is supposed infallible in such policies when it comes to Catholics, of course, so the Pope is re-interpreting the Bible dictates for them. Instead of the Kill, kill, kill! of the OT, he is basically saying “let god sort them out later.”

Mr. Prager cannot accept this as he is an uber-conservative, which I guess is his new religion.

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