Class Warfare Blog

January 28, 2019

Stolen Gifts

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:16 pm
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I am a sports fan and still a sport coach at this late stage of my life. I find that the word “gifts” is lavishly applied to athletes. At the same time, I see athletes who have committed to thousands upon thousands of hours of labor to create their talents. The talents are, of course, built upon the physical frame bequeathed to an athlete from his parents (and their parents, etc.) but the idea that their talents are “gifts” given to them is part of a religious highjacking.

To theists who insist that all things flow from their god, it is an easy step to tell their children that they have “god-given gifts” as well as telling them what to do with their gifts. Certainly one shouldn’t squander one’s gifts, one should be grateful for them, etc.

This highjacks evolutionary programs already in place. We are supplied with hardwired responses to gift giving. We feel good when giving a gift to someone we think worthy of one. We feel “grateful” to the gift giver when receiving one. We wish to reciprocate by giving a gift back. All of these things got hardwired in because they help stitch tribes and societies together by reducing strife and increasing mutual devotion which increases survivability of offspring.

So, just as religions have highjacked a word like “father” and used it as priestly title (thereby acquiring unearned authority), they have taken any attribute of an individual that is laudable and called it a “gift from god” and laid the expectation thereby that you be grateful to the gift-giver.

Imagine how you would react to a child at a birthday party who insisted that all of the gifts received by the celebrant were from him? We are so used to this outrageous claim from the religious that we find it “ordinary.” It is not. It is a tool of psychological control.

These same people highjacking gifts are also quick to shed any blame for gifts that go wrong (in their eyes). If one is homosexual, the blame falls upon the individual for their poor “choice” and not the god who gave them that gift. If a child is autistic or clumsy, or poorly formed, these are not gifts from god by signs of personal failings of either child or parents.

If “all things come from god” then “all things” means “all things.” If you are going to cherry-pick the good things and claim they came from your god, then you must accept homosexuals into your church’s bosom because your god gave them that gift. It is your job to figure out what that means, not simply to justify your personal feelings by “blaming the victim.”

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Not a Very Capital Idea

Filed under: Culture — Steve Ruis @ 12:11 pm
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When I was a babe, acronyms were punctuated. For example, the IRS was “the I.R.S.,” to alert people to the “shorthand” being employed. (It was also standard, to use the full name followed by the intended acronym or contraction in parentheses, when first mentioned, for example “. . . the Internal Revenue Service (I.R.S.) . . . ” again to alert people of the use of the shorthand version. We dropped the periods some time ago. Afterward we just used “all caps” to signify an acronym.

All of that is now out the window (is there an abbreviation for defenestration?) and AIDS has become Aids, the FBI the Fbi, the IRS became the Irs, NASA became Nasa, NOAA became Noaa, and so on. These are now thrown in with no explanation or clarification, you are supposed to know them already.

As casual as people have become with capitalization (due to cellphone typing?) we are setting ourselves up for even more miscommunication with this new practice.

And … at around the same time, titles have been decapitalized, e.g. The Sound and the Fury has become “The sound and the fury.” even so far as to have a full stop/period at the end of the title! (Note Titles are rarely sentences requiring a period.) I do not see how these changes improve our ability to communicate.

As mentioned, I think the source of these changes has probably crept into ordinary usage because of cell phones. The “keyboards” of these little fuckers are arcane at best. Earlier on, if you hit the “All Caps” button, it stayed on. Now, often as not, it lasts for only one character, so if you want to type “NASA” you have to hit <Caps Key> then N, <Caps Key> then A, <Caps Key> then S, <Caps Key> then A! Eight strokes whereas if the caps key stayed on until taken off, it would be five. No wonder that people send messages looking like they have been written by e.e. cummings.

I think article and book titles got screwed up by magazines, trying for ever more trendy looks in their pages. Most ordinary creativity comes through breaking rules (extraordinary creativity involves setting new rules). So magazine article titles, which were ordinary in their capitalization became eye catching by “breaking the mold” or “breaking the rules.” Actually I think this began with advertisements which are in the “Hey, look at me!” business big time. From there it spread to the rest of the magazines pages. (Can you remember back when people were complaining that they couldn’t tell the adverts from the articles in trendy magazines? This was because they were copying one another’s styles. Now, we are used to it, although still fooled as to which is which from time to time.

Punctuation evolves. We no long hyphenate fireplace (fire-place) or tomorrow (to-morrow). We no long use periods between the letters of an acronym. Most of these things are good things as they pare away unnecessary characters (FBI doesn’t need periods (F.B.I.) because of the all-caps being used as a signifier already. I sincerely hope that when such changes occur and they are found to be unhelpful, that we either change them back or to something else that is.

January 14, 2019

Why Would Teachers Strike?

The teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) are going to strike. Why would they do that? As all union officials know (I was one previously), strikes are “lose-lose” propositions, so their only justification is that without one, the losses will be much greater.

In reasonable school districts, teacher strikes just do not happen, that is because of mutual understanding and respect. On the other hand LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, who came to the job with no background in education, commented to a reporter regarding the strike that “There are ways to educate kids that don’t rely on a physical body.” In other words, teachers are not necessary.

I wonder if the good superintendent would have the same attitude were he to need a substantial surgery, or were facing a threatening lawsuit, or whose tax forms were in terrific disarray? Would he have said “There are ways to operate on people’s bodies that don’t rely on a doctor.” or “There are ways to defend yourself in court that don’t rely on a lawyer.” or “There are ways to straighten out accounting messes that don’t rely on accountants.”?

Were this gentleman a skilled negotiator he would have realized that uttering such a statement, especially to a reporter and no matter how much he believed in it, had no “up-side.” It not only doesn’t produce any positive effect for “his side” but it mobilizes those on the “other side” against you. If you want labor peace, start with respect (it is easy to grant, not so easy to earn) and understanding (The rule for negotiators is: “seek first to understand before being understood.”).

I am not totally opposed to non-educators being selected for these positions, but I am against stupid people being hired for such positions.

January 10, 2019

They Used to Hijack Airplanes, Now It Is The Government

President Trump is trying to hijack Congress. Congress was given the purse strings of the nation, not the Executive branch. This was one of those old-fashioned “checks and balances” things. But Mr. Trump is telling Congress, pass the legislation I want (authorizing the expenditures I want) or suffer the consequences, Basically he is saying that he won’t do his job (faithfully execute the laws of the US of A) unless Congress gives him what he wants. “So, give me I want or I shut the government down.” <signed> Donald J. Trump If this were being done by a foreign agency, it would be considered an act of war.

I wonder where he got the idea?

Oh, I remember, it was back when the Republican Congress tried to hijack Mr. Obama’s Presidency. Basically they said “give us what we want or we will not extend the national debt limit.” The consequences of not extending that limit was that the government couldn’t pay its bills and employees and could default on the payment of its debt obligations, ruining our credit rating. The final such tantrum by the GOP cost many billions of dollars as I suspect that Mr. Trump’s tantrum will, too.

Does no one else see this as an infringement on the powers granted the Congress by the Constitution? Does no one else see that refusing to “faithfully execute the laws of the US of A” is an offense that could result in the removal of Mr. Trump from office?

I mean, there is a saying that “all is fair in love and politics,” but it is just a saying. It isn’t the Constitution, for pity’s sake. Mr. Trump seems to think that not paying “his employees” is an ordinary bargaining position. If would be is he were still a scummy slum lord in New York, but now he is playing with the big boys and I hope someone hands his head to him.

They Want It Both Ways

A common trope among the vocal rich is that handing out money to the “poor” will make them lazy. “Handing out” and “handouts” refer to welfare, food stamps, a higher minimum wage, you name it. On the flip side, they also claim that “redistributing” money from the rich to other where through higher progressive taxation will remove all of the incentive to invest and innovate.

So, at one end of the spectrum, allowing the poor to keep more of what they make or bumping their wages up to a bare subsistence level will result in them opting out of their jobs (more money = laziness) but allowing the rich to keep more of their income will encourage them to work harder, innovate more (more money = initiative).

Obviously this is merely a reflection of the class disdain the rich have for the poor. The poor are poor because of character flaws, moral weakness, lack of intelligence. The rich are rich because of their sterling character, moral strength, and brilliance. (Donald Trump … uh, is the exception that proves the rule?)

Also, is there any indication either of these “narratives” has any merit?

There is a well known phenomenon in business that as businesses grow and become larger, they tend to grow stagnant. They innovate less and their managers become more interested in milking the cow they have rather than finding new cows. In the recent tax giveaway to businesses, were the billions saved in taxes used to innovate, used to upgrade production, used to compensate workers, any of the things it was claimed it would do? Apparently, the funds were mostly used to buy back stock, which drives up the price of the stock, enriching shareholders and executives with stock options (you do get what you pay for).

Another economic “natural experiment” was the 1950’s and 1960’s economies. Marginal tax rates were sky high from the necessity to acquire funds to pursue World War 2. President Eisenhower refused to lower them, even in the peacetime following. Unions were empowered and laws were passed to provide some leveling of the playing field between labor and capital. So, were people enjoying the good times on welfare? Was there any laziness to be observed? Was innovation stifled because the rich were starved of the funds they needed to fuel the innovations? I think you know the answers to all of these (no, no, no).

So, what is with these narratives?

They aren’t new, they have been around for a century or more. They are, like religious apologies, arguments that sound reasonable but have no basis in reality. They have become memes among the rich folks, repeated often enough to be transferred from generation to generation. They are even sold to ordinary working people because they do sound reasonable and are repeated over and over. The rich are the job creators! Bah, customers create demand, demand creates jobs, and demand in our economy is mostly domestic demand which is stifled due to wage suppression activities on behalf of the rich.

The code word in use is “redistribution,” by which they mean that the rich are taxed and that money is “given” to the poor. The fact that much of the wealth the rich have accumulated is due to “redistribution” through other means is never mentioned. (Look up the history of the oil depletion allowance to see where the majority of the oil barons in this country came from.) The rich are in the business of bribing their politicians (not ours, we can’t afford them) to pass laws that benefit them. Our “representatives” do favors for the rich and nothing for the poor. For example, President Trump’s lackeys rolled back Obama-era regulations that prohibited coal companies from dumping toxic waste into the streams and rivers we draw our drinking water from, redistributing the consequences from the coal company executives to ordinary people. (1. Don’t get sick. 2. Die quickly.)

January 8, 2019

E Pluribus Unum

I like to watch “reality” TV shows, as opposed to the unreality TV shows marketed as reality TV shows (like The Apprentice, Survivor, etc.). The shows I like are those in which people show off their crafts. I have always enjoyed watching the choreography of a short order cook while in diners, so I like cooking shows. I used to do a bit of wrenching on my own cars, so I like auto repair and customizing shows and I ran across a delightful show the other day, “Barnwood Builders.” This is a work crew, located in West Virginia that fell into the profession of dismantling log barns and houses for reassembly (Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle). These are very likable people. They are hard-working, fun-loving, and honest Americans who refer to themselves as “hillbillies.” And I guess they are, some of them even live in “hollers.” (For the foreign-based readers of this blog a “holler” is vernacular for a hollow in the land, a plot of land with gentle hills around it.) They also show a deep respect for the original builders of these erections, who usually used little more than an axe to shape the logs stacked to make the buildings. The modern crew uses traditional tools but modern ones too.

Their self deprecating humor and pun throwing is quite refreshing in its playfulness (and cleanliness). For example, in discussing finding workplaces for which the directions were a little … vague, shall we say (such as “over thataway a fur piece”), the line is “throwed out” that “Those people believe hillbillies don’t have GPS.”

These folk are typical of the Americans I have run into in my travels. I haven’t been to every state but I have been to the four corners and visited much in between and most of the people I have encountered seemed very likeable, nice people, hard working, honest.

So, what has happened to us? We seem now a nation divided. On the coasts we have pointy-headed intellectuals who don’t have the sense to come in out of the rain and in the middle we have “deplorables,” whatever that means. Why is there all of this misperception and mistrust. I suspect it is because we have all been conned for far too long politically, but still.

Back when I was a youngin’, the nation’s motto was E Pluribus Unum, a lovely Latin phrase that means “out of many, one.” It spoke to the Grand American Experiment in self governance whereby we would govern ourselves, that “we didn’t need no stinkin’ kings or popes” to govern us. And we would do it by forging one will out of many. This was accomplished through disputation and diplomacy politically through the “go along to get along” facility of compromise, thus we could get to a single place for all Americans. That didn’t mean we all got what we wanted, but each component of American society got something close to what they wanted from time to time and not too far from what they were comfortable with most of the time. However, in many conservative circles today, compromise is a dirty word, something never to be entertained and we are now in a win at any cost political culture.

In 1956 we jettisoned E Pluribus Unum, in favor of “In God We Trust” and look at how that turned out. Seems “God’s Children” love making war with one another. Since it has been that way for a very long time I guess that is what we can trust this God fellow for. Maybe we should go back to our former motto. It conveys a goal worth getting.

Other Ways of Knowing, Part 2

Filed under: Reason,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:46 pm
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In the ongoing war between faith and science a common claim is that science is not the only way to acquire knowledge, that there are “other ways of knowing.” Along with this I see question after question on the Quora website asking atheists about what “evidence” would convince them to believe in God/Jesus (like we tell them and then they produce it … strange question). The number of these latter questions is smaller than the usual ones asking atheists to prove there is no god or asking for evidence that there is no god, but they are numerous enough.

So, many of these arguments center on “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” arguments which are too nonsensical to take seriously but the “other ways of knowing” response is intriguing. Usually they are referring to “revealed” truth or some such thing through “personal experience” (as if there were any other kind). Interestingly enough, in the vast majority of times in which revealed truths have some up against scientific truths, the revealed truths have come out poorly. This lead me to the following line of thinking.

In legal contests, if one side makes an argument that there is only one interpretation of the evidence and that interpretation circumstantially leads to the guilt of a defendant, the only requirement of the refutation of such an argument is that another equally plausible interpretation be made … not proved, just made. So, if the argument is “god did it,” then in spite of the evidence, all that is needed is an equally plausible interpretation of the “evidence.” Well, that has been provided and, obviously, it didn’t work.

So, consider the following hypothetical scenario. A favorite meme of the ancient alien speculators (they are not theorists) is that an alien race came to this planet and “adjusted” our genetic material to make us who we are now. What if that were true?

So, a flying saucer (or any other equivalent space craft) lands on the White House lawn and after a small diplomatic interlude, their representatives claim that they came back to check on how we were doing, because X numbers of thousands of years ago, they “adjusted the DNA of a hominid ancestor of ours to result in … us. They provide more than credible evidence of this deed (videos, tissue samples, explanations of the DNA “adjustments,” etc.

What happens to the “other ways of knowing” at that point? I suggest that all of them are blown out of the water as the hooey they are. The claim that there are “other ways of knowing” is simple a ruse to protect their “knowledge” from critical inspection.

I suggest that this is not the only scenario that results in all of those “other ways” of folding up like a cheap cardboard suitcase left in the rain. (Cheap cardboard suitcases were the ancestors of cheap plastic suitcases.) Another would be the discovery of significant life on another planet, which could come about through contact or communication remotely. If we found that their set of “beliefs” about nature were different from scientific truths and ascribed to “other ways of knowing,” we would know we were talking to their bullshit artists who were part and parcel with our bullshit artists.

Can you think of other such scenarios? Wouldn’t a benign one of these be lovely? Traumatic for some but lovely collectively. (One can empathize with the traumatized (and I would), but you can’t put your balls on an anvil, pass out hammers, and then complain of the pain you suffer.)

January 7, 2019

But Who Is the Magician?

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:57 am
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Most people know that performing magicians use gestures with one hand to attract attention from their other hand which is busy doing the trick. In national politics, Donald Trump is the Distracter in Chief, the waving hand that draws our attention away from the Republican machine which is doing its best to eliminate environmental regulations, consumer protections in the law, health insurance coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, miscellaneous favors for the rich, and many of the other gains made by the people over the past forty years or so. Mitch McConnell is doing his best to pack the federal court system with people who are not representative of the people (very, very conservative white guys).

So, if Mr. Trump is the distracting hand, and the GOP usual suspects are doing the tricks, just who is the magician? (Ignore than man behind the curtain!)

Just askin’.

January 6, 2019

As an Authoritarian Trump is a Piker

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 1:42 pm
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You really have to go to the church to find real authoritarians. Take for example Pope Pius IX. I quote from a fascination book Prisoner of the Vatican: The Popes, the Kings, and Garibaldi’s Rebels in the Struggle to Rule Modern Italy, by David I. Kertzer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Kindle Edition).

“In December 1864, as part of his effort to combat liberalism, the pope issued what may well be the most controversial papal document of modern times, the encyclical Quanta cura, with an accompanying Syllabus of Errors. While the encyclical itself received relatively little attention, the Syllabus— listing the eighty propositions associated with modern life that no good Catholic could subscribe to— was another story. It held that no Catholic could believe in freedom of speech, freedom of the press, or freedom of religion. Catholics were forbidden to believe that the pope could live without a state of his own or that there could be a separation of church and state. The last proposition attracted the most attention, for it rejected the view that ‘the Roman Pontiff can and should reconcile himself to progress, liberalism, and modern civilization.’”

“The pope soon followed this gathering with a much more ambitious event, summoning all of the world’s bishops and cardinals for a grand Ecumenical Council. The first such council to be held in Rome in over 350 years, it had two goals: to endorse the Syllabus and with it the pope’s condemnation of the modern age, and to sanctify the principle— not previously an official part of Church doctrine—that the pope was infallible.”

Old Pius IX got his infallibility … by vote (although he threatened to proclaim it himself if it were not voted in).  but it was somewhat truncated only to Ex Cathedra pronouncements and so didn’t include encyclicals like Quanta cura.

Can you imagine The Donald proclaiming himself infallible and publishing a list of what Real Americans must believe? I can imagine it but that would be quickly followed by the appearance of a straightjacket as Mr. Trump was being lead away.

“It held that no Catholic could believe in freedom of speech, freedom of the press, or freedom of religion.” Amazing. We were still licking our wounds from the Civil War so I suspect that U.S. citizens barely noticed and it does make some sense of the bias against Catholics felt in various parts of this country.

Oh, and Pius IX was all for religious tolerance … for Catholics … but not for anyone else and stated so outright. His point was that the One True Church™ should not be treated like all of the imposters.

They just don’t make authoritarians like they used to.

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