Class Warfare Blog

October 17, 2019

WTF? In This Corner . . .

In this corner we have bigotry and hatred . . .

A U.S. District Court judge in Texas has overturned the protections written into Obamacare for transgender people, ruling they violate the religious rights of healthcare providers who hold religious beliefs that oppose the existence of transgender people. (WTF? “Oppose the existence . . .”)

And in this corner we have the Constitution of the United States of America . . .

(First Amendment) Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; . . .

(Fourteenth Amendment) No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

“Obamacare” refers to a law passed by Congress. This federal judge has decided that it is okay for individual “healthcare providers” to deny transgender people health services because of “religion.”

How is a healthcare employee practicing their religion while doing their job? Answer: they are not (formally or by the law). The religious can say that their religion informs them every minute of ever day (Jesus told me to choose the corn flakes this morning!) and I do not doubt that there are some folks like that. But what part of their secular job is exercising their religion? Answer: no part (formally of by the law).

How about “when taking a secular job, perform the duties of the job or seek employment elsewhere.”

So, the federal government is not allowed to go into any church activity and say “this is not allowed” but apparently Christians are allowed to tell the federal government which secular laws they will obey and which they will not.

So, what would Jesus do, Christians? Jesus healed sinners. Jesus healed lepers! Modern Christians apparently do not measure up to that standard. Would not the kindness of a Christian healthcare provider possibly help transgender people “see the way?” In what way would a Christian be diminished by helping a transgender person regain their good health?

Do not Christians oppose the existence of Muslims? What about divorcees? What about people who wear garments of mixed fibers? Where does one draw the line? How about “when taking a secular job, perform the duties of the job or seek employment elsewhere.” If your religion does not recognize gay marriage, do not get a clerk’s job (aka powerless job) processing marriage licenses in a state that has legalized gay marriage. If your religion claims that animal blood makes you unclean, don’t get a job as a butcher. If your religion says that people of color are abominations, don’t take a retail job of any kind. If your religion says that you should serve only Christian people, get a job at a church . . . if they will have you.

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October 2, 2019

A Consequence of Getting Old

Filed under: Culture — Steve Ruis @ 11:38 am
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I had a very good friend, dating all the way back to undergraduate school. We had an ongoing “distance relationship” cemented by a mutual love of the S.F. Giants baseball team.

We would email back and forth several times every year about the Giants or my friend’s trips abroad and to Spring Training games in Scottsdale, Arizona. He seemingly went to Spring Training every year. He asked me to come along one time and I explained that going to Spring Training was on my bucket list but I just couldn’t justify the expense at that time. He wouldn’t hear of it and offered to pay my hotel fees and he made it happen. He did this twice! We had a great time both times and those memories will live with me forever.

Recently I sent my friend an email, about baseball of course, and thought nothing of it when I didn’t get a reply (we both are busy people and not every email gets answered). But I started to wonder as I hadn’t heard from him, I thought, in quite some time. So, I sorted through my Friends and Family emails and found four emails I had sent that had not been answered. So, I sent yet another email and a snail mail letter to his address. I got no response from either … until I got an email from the executor of my friend’s estate, to whom my letter had been forwarded. I assume you saw that coming but I did not. My friend had died of a heart attack more than six months earlier.

So many memories came flooding back. “He was too fricking young!” I thought. He was younger than I. <sigh> And I didn’t notice his death until more than six moths afterward.

Today I was talking with a colleague who lived in Arizona and I commented that he lived close by another colleague of ours, Stewart Bowman, and was informed that Stewart had died about six months ago. Stewart was younger than I also.

The writing is on the wall.

I am ready to die, but if I have a few more years, there is still much I want to do and part of that is to make all of the arrangements needed to take care of my situation when I do. There are several books still waiting for me to have the time to produce them. (Yes, they are written already.) Lots of things are still lined up on my “to do list.”

Invariably in such events I think about what I will be leaving behind. My baseball friend, for example, had a massive vinyl record collection (stored in “bookcases” I made for him) and a large stamp collection as well. Since he had no living relatives, all of that will be disposed of somehow and so whatever material wealth we collect gets dispersed upon our death.

We live on in the memories of all who knew and loved us. I expect those who will remember me after my death will also pass on and then even that aspect of “life after death” will dissipate. I have a small archive of published works that will still be available for quite some time after I pass, but eventually those will pass away as being obsolete or uninteresting.

I wonder if those people who believe in some sort of conscious afterlife think about observing their memory slowly, or rapidly, fading away to nothing? I wonder what those people think they will be doing in that afterlife. I was a teacher for 40 years and have followed that with a decade and a half of education content production and coaching. I like helping people. Nothing gets me more energized than someone telling me that I have helped them. In Heaven, no one will need help, no? So, what do people do? Sit around and watch cable TV reruns? Some claim that they will be blissed out just being in the presence of their god, but the sheer repetition of that seems to undermine the effect. If it doesn’t and there is some sort of “Bliss Effect” operating, then Heaven is sounding closer to 1984 than some form of ongoing bliss.

Thankfully, I don’t need to worry about that. One of the joys of atheism—No Heaven, No Hell, No Worries.

September 20, 2019

So I Do Not Have To

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:49 am
Tags: ,

Rewire News has posted a review of The Family (Almost-Blockbuster Netflix Series ‘The Family’ Exposes a Christian Network Whose God is Power). I got through two of the episodes but have been resisting viewing any more. The sanctimonious surety exposed that these people think they can do what they are doing because the “are right” makes me want to gag.

September 15, 2019

More on Meaning

In a recent post I said this: “I suggest that ‘meaning’ doesn’t really exist. Whenever someone asks ‘But what does it all mean?’ they are asking for a comforting story to wrap around events that makes them feel ‘better.’” That this opinion irked John Branyan is to its credit, I think, although I may have been too subtle; “doesn’t really exist” refers to the common understanding of the term. I offered a better definition of the term in my quote, so it “exists” to that extent.

People make good money dispensing “meanings” and I am not just referring to the religious. Our current political commentariat is riddled with people who are constantly telling us what really is going on, what this or that really “means.” We end up feeling as if we understand the political situation and thus feel more in control of our lives.

“Wishful thinking spill cleanup on Aisle 8, Please!”

As further evidence for my opinion, please consider . . . dreams. For all of human history (and I must assume the rest of human existence), people have felt and claimed that dreams “mean” something. Kings and other potentates took major actions based upon their dream interpreted meanings. An entire cottage industry, sometimes breaching over into academic psychology, was created to help people decipher the meanings of their dreams (and has done so for thousands of years).

But we have come to the realization that dream sequences are cobbled together from our very own memories. People have actually exerted some control over what occurs in their dreams (I have done this myself). Dreams seem to play a role in reinforcement of the memories we feel to be important and the pruning away of memories not thought to be important. A hypothetical process for this is for memories to be replayed in a dream and our emotional state is monitored by a subsystem. If there is a significant emotional reaction, the memory is kept, if not it is pruned. Pruning is quite important as it provides capacity for future memories. (Memory pruning has been observed as has memory reinforcement but this entire process is not fully understood as of yet. We are also aware that memories are very, very malleable and change more often than not.)

So, what do dreams mean? They mean absolutely nothing. The fact that people did and still do think they have “meaning” is evidence that “meanings” are what computer science calls “vaporware,” which is software for which there is marketing material, but there actually is no code operating.

If you want there to be meaning in your life, you need to create it. (You certainly do not want to leave this exercise to others, just as those who fear the biographies that might be written about them, often rush to get an autobiography into print.) This is a fiction writing exercise which creates a comforting story that you can wrap around the events of your life. It also has to ring “true” to your inner ear, so you can’t bullshit yourself in a major way, but minor exaggerations are always acceptable.

If the meanings most people think are real actually were real, the odds are we wouldn’t recognize them anyway. In a fit of retrospection I reviewed all of my speculations regarding why “so-and-so did what.” Somebody at work, for example, did a thing. On the way home or at home I would speculate upon why they did that thing. In reflection, I could not remember a time when my speculations were right (and I do enjoy being right so if I had been I am sure I would recall that). I was “oh-fer . . .. many” in this regard. After that, for many years, I continued to speculate as to why “so-and-so did such-and-such” and to date I have been oh-for-a-zillion, I think. I also tried to check on how good others were on determining the rationale or motivation for others’ actions and I didn’t find anyone any better at that than I was, which was abysmal. “Meanings,” as others claim them to be, seem much like reasons to me and as such are as opaque to others as I found them. This means we have no way to check whether another’s “meaning” is valid or even coherent. No fact-checking here, so I have very low expectations regarding what anyone says about the “meaning” they find in X, Y, or Z. I accept that they said something. What they believe and what is actually the case is not readily available.

 

September 11, 2019

Socialism Bad, Capitalism Good

I am not going to state anything novel here but will reinforce things already said. Currently there is an aspect of our political discourse that is summed up by the title of this post. It is, of course, false. What the “defenders of capitalism” are arguing for is the status quo in which we have a quasi-capitalist system, but one that protects the rich and screws the poor.

Think back on the Great Recession of 2008. If you are a pure capitalist, then a great many financiers, bankers, investors, and brokers should have lost all their money (everything but the bare minimums allowed in bankruptcy proceedings). Through greed they backed the wrong horses.

But the word “bailout” then comes to mind. To coin a phrase “there are no bailouts in capitalism” just as “there is no crying in baseball.” If you have taken college-level courses in capitalism, nowhere will you find governmental bailouts as a structural part of capitalism. These sweet deals are brokered by rich people with the people who serve them to protect their wealth.

It was argued that “we couldn’t let such-and-such a bank or insurance company fail.” Wha? Failures is what capitalists brag about. It is what keeps them sharp. It is the leading edge of “competition.” Without failure, just what is capitalism? All of those people should have failed and learned from the experience . . . or not. So, what did they learn instead? A sucker is born every minute?

So, when you hear anti-socialist rhetoric realize that it is from the wealthy, or paid for by the wealthy, to protect the good deal they have going, nothing more and nothing less. And this is actually rebounding upon the rich. Younger Americans hear the anti-socialism rhetoric and they think “Ah, this is what we need to counter those greedy ass hats.” The young are embracing socialism more and more as the rhetoric against it is ramped up. And the harder the rich squeeze the poor and middle class, the more these younger Americans are embracing some form of democratic socialism.

They also aren’t stupid. They see countries like Sweden which are capitalist, just not capitalist as we are. They have a form of democratic socialism, in which the inherent negatives associated with capitalism are suppressed. The government acts on behalf of the people and offers basic services that seem to be the norm in civilized countries. They recognize, as do all thinking people except captured economists and bought politicians, that capitalism is self-destructive unless it is controlled significantly. In this country, the wealthy have turned phrases such as “government regulation” and “unearned income” into either non-terms or epithets. Why would they want there to be no controls on capitalism? Because in this country, when things go well, they profit enormously, and when the crashes inevitably happen, their paid-for politicians step in and the “public” bails them out. This heads I win, tails you lose system benefits only the wealthy, so their support of it is no surprise. The actual surprise is the support existing in the general population for this robber baron mentality.

August 22, 2019

What Motivates Trump’s Supporters?

Like many of you, I felt that the primary motivation of Trump voters was the economic stagnation of the middle class and middle America. The elites were getting richer, hand over fist, while we were getting squeezed by employers and creditors, and that left us with the only option of getting mad. That may not have been the primary motivation, however. This a “must read” article from The Guardian.

A New Poll Shows What Really Interests ‘Pro-Lifers’: Controlling Women by Jill Filipovic.

The subtitle is “According to their own survey responses, anti-abortion voters are hostile to gender equality in practically every aspect” (I assume they meant “every respect” at the end there.)

And, of course, at the source of all of this misogyny? Well, you figure it out.

August 19, 2019

I Have A Theory . . . No, You Don’t

Filed under: Culture — Steve Ruis @ 11:36 am
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It has become commonplace for people to use the phrase “I have a theory . . .” in casual discussions over drinks or blog posts on topics from child rearing to politics.

In almost every case, they do not. What they have is an opinion . . . not an hypothesis, not a theory, not a conjecture, an opinion.

Unfortunately, English language reference books are based upon frequency of usage and soon the word theory will be synonymous with “wild ass guess.” Currently definitions of “theory” start at something like “a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained” but often as not have included things like “an idea used to account for a situation or justify a course of action” which includes, I believe, wild-ass guesses.

Maybe we need a new phrase like “I have a totally unsupported idea that I would like were it to prove true.” Or “I have a non-evidenced reason that ideologically suits me to use.” But really, the word opinion (“a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge”) suits quite, quite well.

August 17, 2019

Can You Pronounce Counterproductive, Boys and Girls?

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 10:43 am
Tags: , , ,

Ole Steve King (R, Iowa) is in the news again, this time endorsing rape and incest as part of an anti-abortion crusade. This is yet another example of the incredibly counterproductive efforts of conservative politicians.

The gauze has been removed from our eyes, if indeed there were any left, to now clearly see the racist and misogynist roots of the American conservatives in general, and the GOP in particular. Possibly because they have become experts in getting voters to vote against their own interests, they have been working very, very hard against their own interests, too. Here are a couple of examples.

These knuckledraggers have been working feverishly to make abortion as impossible as they can make it. They have put restrictions on abortion clinics, thereby driving so many out of existence that in some states one cannot be found. They have been pushing more and more anti-abortion laws in the states and are angling to get the Roe v. Wade decision of the Supreme Court expunged or severely amended. These efforts run counter to their racist roots, however. Anti-abortion efforts means that more black and brown babies will be born than white babies as black and brown people have higher birth rates. (I looked them up; I did not just assume this fact.) More black and brown people will mean more black and brown potential voters and eventually the end of white supremacist politicians. These idiots, were they true to their racist roots, should be falling all over themselves to provide government paid abortions for all black and brown citizens as their racism trumps their abortion objections (pun intended).

Conservatives were appalled when college age youths were running amok opposing the Vietnam War. How dare they! They were still wet behind their ears and were not paying deference to their elders. Abominable. Consequently, conservatives, using bogus arguments (nobody even fact checked them!), got federal bankruptcy law amended to disallow student debt to be discharged under bankruptcy. This combined with federal funding guarantees of student loans has led to an immense amount of student dept piling up . . . more than credit card debt in this country. In this manner college students and college graduates are chained to the status quo by their debt. They can’t afford to “stick it to the man” if that would mean losing their job. So, that settled their hash!

But, the student debt crisis has produced a decline in homeownership, marriage, and childbearing rates among the young. The mostly white college-educated young are having fewer children (because of economic insecurity) and avoiding homeownership as an unaffordable excess, and therefore don’t see marriage as having any advantage over shacking up. So much for encouraging “positive family values” that the GOP is so enamored with.

So, these racist idiots are encouraging more births of black and brown babies and discouraging the births of white babies, diminishing their own political futures thereby.

Is there no one in charge of the American conservatives? Oh, Trump. I guess that explains a great deal. The lunatics are in charge of the asylum.

Postscript For the younger generation, the title is a hearkening back to Mr. Rogers, a television personality focused on teaching children.

 

 

August 16, 2019

The Family: A Start

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 7:00 am
Tags: , , , ,

I watched the first episode of The Family, a Netflix documentary on a shadowy group called “The Family” or “The Fellowship.” This group is a quasi-religious cult with the stated purpose of, well let one character explain it as he explained why the central character was been proselytized: “You are here to learn how to rule the world.” The first episode is set in a stately mansion near Washington, D.C. and power brokers from there and around the world “stop by” for discussions with the leaders of The Family.

The documentary assumes a pattern that I assume will be carried through. Stitched between statements made by real players in this organization and its investigation are enacted scenes of events as described by an insider who lived through them. I can’t say how much research is behind verifying the claims of the main character, who wrote a book about it, etc.

Ever wonder where is came from in a “separation of church and state” country?

I did get a frisson of anxiety when a leader in the group hands out to our man a copy of their guidebook. It is entitled “Jesus” and consists of the four New Testament gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, that’s it. (To quote Astro, the dog, “Ruh roh.”) Later a female character (all females are quite subservient so far) says “Jesus is a real person, a real person, not some abstract idea and He wants you to know Him.” (Of course the only books of the New Testament which speak of Jesus being a real character and not an abstract idea are the four New Testament gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.)

We are then introduced to Doug Coe, the leader of the Family, whose main contribution (at this early point) is to establish his main point, that of “The more invisible you can make your organization, the more influence you will have.”

In a “dorm room” discussion between the young men (the women are housed elsewhere) the discussion comes around to King David and how he had more than a few character deficits. The point to the Family group, however, was that “God chooses people and whatever you do, God will stick by you.” (Ooh, ooh, ooh, can I be the one to tell them what God wants? Can I, can I?)

I was about to write a piece on the Book of Daniel when this viewing happened. That book is very “prophetic,” but that may be because it was written 400+ years after when it claims to have been written. Events that have already happened are really easy to prophesy. (Try it, you’ll like it.) But the key element of that book and one that is glossed over (and over and over) is that Yahweh’s promise to the Chosen People is that they will have dominion over all of the other peoples of the Earth. That is the end game, that the Hebrews, and now the Christians by inheritance, will be rulers of the world including you, me . . . everybody. This is the core message of Christianity. Christians too often stop short at the coming of Jesus and the creation of the New Paradise on Earth and in Heaven, but the narrative goes on with the entire Earth under Yahweh’s thumb, in the form of a global theocracy. (Power to the Chosen People!) If you haven’t yet found a reason to oppose Christianity, maybe the Family’s clearly stated purpose is that thing. And there are good reasons that Christians don’t emphasize that purpose which, of course, they criticize Islam for. (Only in the movies does the villain take the time to explain that global domination is his goal, bwah, hah, ha! This is because it scares the shit out of the rest of us.)

It seems as if “the Family” is an organization dedicated to that end. And there are clearly no democratic principles behind this organization. It is a “Christian” organization, therefore totalitarian through and through.

To see just how different this theocratic vision of the future is from, say, Greek philosophy, consider Aristotle’s idea of the driving force behind societies. According to him, virtue is the prime focus of a well-lived life (seems Aristotle was a bit of a Stoic). To him, “ethical virtue was a habit disposed toward action by deliberate choice, being at the mean relative to us, and defined by reason as a prudent man would define it.” Virtue is not simply an isolated action but a habit of acting well. For an action to be virtuous a person must do it deliberately, knowing what he is doing, and doing it because it is a noble action. In each specific situation, the virtuous action is a mean between two extremes. Finally, prudence is necessary for ethical virtue because it is the intellectual virtue by which a person is able to determine the mean specific to each situation (from a summary of Nicomachean Ethics, the emphases are mine).

I don’t thin civic virtue is mentioned in the Bible; just submission to the will of Yahweh/Jesus; conform, don’t rebel, etc.

The American Constitutional founders were highly focused upon building a secular government that evoked civic virtue from its citizens, so that they (We the people . . .) were constantly balancing their individual welfare with the welfare of the common good.

I do not know whether I can stomach viewing more episodes of this documentary . . . I probably will . . . in small doses, because, well, know your enemy! These people are clearly not supporters of a democratic future for this country. They are accruing power for a reason. It can’t be good, no matter how much Jesus they slather upon themselves.

 

 

August 13, 2019

Kitchen Knife v. Semiautomatic Weapons

Gun advocates here in the U.S. usually speak with disdain of Australia which had the temerity to enact significant gun control laws. Well, The Guardian has reported on a killing rampage by a man in Sydney (Sydney Stabbing: One Woman Killed and One Injured In ‘Terrifying Carnage’ in CBD). As I understand it, CDB stands for “Central Business District” in that bustling metropolis.

According to the article “A man who allegedly stabbed a woman to death in Sydney’s central business district before attacking others on a busy city street with a butcher’s knife was arrested carrying information about terrorist attacks and extremist ideologies on a USB drive.”

So, a killing rampage (one dead) and “terrifying carnage” (one dead, one wounded) and the Aussies are shocked.

What a bunch of pikers! Can you imagine that happening here in the U.S.? Wouldn’t even make the back page of the front section of the newspaper and maybe not even the 6 o’clock news on the telly.

All those people and the wanker didn’t even have a semi-automatic weapon. He could have mowed down dozens, if not more. And the two “heroes” who stopped this lunatic, with a chair and a milk crate, wouldn’t have had a chance. They would have needed, at a minimum, a “good guy with a gun.” Milk crate . . . pft!

What is wrong with Australia? Don’t they even have Wal-Marts? Clearly their deranged gun policies aren’t working.

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