Class Warfare Blog

August 4, 2020

A Pandemic Rude Awakening?

The GOP and to some extent the Democrats have been suppressing wages of working people for decades now. Worshiping at the altar of profits, the route to greater and greater profits has been to lower taxes on businesses (in essence transferring them onto individuals) and reducing the cost of production, which is dominated by wages paid to workers. So, wage suppression has become a fine art in corporate circles.

A consequence of this approach is that people, aka “consumers,” have less and less disposable income to buy the output of American businesses. American companies have taken the strategy to the max. Many jobs that could be kept here have been exported to “low wage” countries, which now turn out to be not so low wage because the wages in those countries have been rising (It’s the demand, idiot!) and transportation costs, obviously, went up a great deal, management, too.

The Pandemic Recession, looking to morphing into the Pandemic Depression, is showing the short-sidedness of the short-term pursuit of profits, profits, profits. Here is an excerpt from a Naked Capitalism post on small businesses:

“It’s depressing, but not exactly surprising, to see a major New York Times story about one-third of the small businesses in the city have died or expected to shutter. Needless to say, it’s not just restaurants.” How’s Your Economy, Small Businesses Death Watch Edition

Small businesses in NY City, it is reported, constitute 98% of the employers and account for 3 million jobs in the city. The businesses close, the employees are without jobs, and while jobless, they will be having trouble paying their bills. This will crater other small businesses and away we go . . . spiraling down the economic toilet.

So, I am told (by Dwight Eisenhower, no less) that one shouldn’t criticize unless one has a better alternative. (It is far too easy to tear something down and much harder to build something up. Take that you “creative destruction” purveyors.) So, what is the alternative? Easy peasy. Be patriotic. Keep jobs here, pay higher wages, make less profits.

What was that? I just saw a Republican running past me with his hair on fire, sputtering “Higher wages . . . less profits . . . Arggghhh!” Please do realize that many believe that in our “pay as you go culture,” a business must make a profit to continue to exist. But even this dictum is soft. I had a fellow professor leave teaching to set up his own business. His first major mistake was he didn’t pay himself enough. At the end of his first year, he had profits, which he paid business taxes on, which he then paid to himself, which he then paid income taxes on and thus got double taxed on what he had made. He learned to pay himself everything that might be considered to be a business profit, and paid income taxes on those sums but no business taxes. His business happily perked along make no profits to speak of . . . but I digress.

The titans of commerce have taken the “We have to make a profit,” an acceptable dictum, to “we have to maximize our profits over every other consideration we can conceive of.” This is dubious at best. There is no limit to how much profit can be extracted from a business (as a percentage, not in absolute terms) consequently using “we have to maximize profits” as a motivation is an incentive without any boundaries whatsoever. This is a fatal flaw of capitalism: there is no limitation on greed.

What if corporations considered one of their “products” to be “reliably good jobs for people in our community,” or “creating healthy lives for our employees,” or even “creating happiness for our employees.” Don’t laugh, all of these have been stated by corporations as goals in the past (or their equivalents).

No one begrudges companies or corporations reasonable profits. Everyone should begrudge corporations who make obscene profits by grinding their employees under their heels to make them.

August 2, 2020

There’s Wrong and Then There is Wronger (and Wrongest?)

Filed under: Culture,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 7:52 am
Tags: , ,

I was watching the Cubs baseball game last night and the announcers announced the temperature at the start of the game was “room temperature,” right at 72° F. An inning or so later one of them wondered why 72° F ended up standard room temperature (here in the U.S.). So, during a commercial message one of them went online and found an answer. He stated that 72° F was standard room temperature because that temperature was derived “from internal body temperatures being 98.6 degrees ±, thus making the temperature of skin to be around 72-76 degrees Fahrenheit.” So, room temperature was skin temperature apparently. The two announcers lauded having so much wonderful information at their fingertips and how it was so much better to know than to sit in ignorance.

I am sitting there thinking WTF?!

There is a clinical term for when one’s skin temperature is equal to room temperature, what was it now . . . oh, yeah, DEAD! My memory came up with a number of 92° F for skin temperature and a very quick search came up with a better number, a range actually: roughly 92° F to 98+° F. (Your fingers are exposed to the environment more so than, say, your armpit and so are colder. Your armpit is close to the conditions existing inside your body so the skin temp there is close to your internal body temp.)

So, the answer the baseball announcers come up with, how could it have been so wrong? Well, it was a quote from the Quora web site. Quora is a question and answer website on which people ask questions (sincere and not so) and other people supply answers (also sincere and not so). Whether the answers are right or wrong or in between isn’t curated.

So, the answerer on Quora either was blowing smoke or was told something that sounded right by someone else, or . . . whatever, and then the announcers shared this incorrect information with a couple of million people.

This is certainly indicative of our current culture.

We are at least past the “it has to be right otherwise they wouldn’t let them put it on the Internet” stage but not very far past. As was the case before the Internet, you have to know a lot to be able to find correct information. My favorite example from those pre-Internet days was looking up how to spell a word in a dictionary. So, to begin what do you need to find the listing for that word in the dictionary? The spelling, of course!

So, if you are looking for something on the Internet, you need to look at more than just the top listing provided by a search engine. If you have no way to verify whether what you looked up is reliable, you need to refer to several such items to see if you can find a consensus. You need to consider the sources of those bits of information. (This was one of the errors the broadcasters made; one of them needed to know that Quora answers are not necessarily dependable.)

And then when you mention what you have found, you begin the statement with “According to <reference> . . . blah, blah, blah.” This does not include using “According to the Internet . . .” as the Internet has no opinions or knowledge of its own, only what has been posted there by others. (I know the Internet. The Internet and I are friends and, trust me, you’re no Internet.—If you recognize the quote from which this was crafted, you are older than you look.)

And this is how any number of conspiracy theories and bogus movements get started. I honestly do not believe that there is a Flat Earth Society, or whatever they are called now, that is full of committed believers. I am more likely to believe it is full of iconoclasts and people who like attention over approval (almost always males, btw). But some of these other people are not healthy psychologically and it is not good for them or society in general to be so provoked.

If you are wondering why “72° F (ca. 22° C) ended up standard room temperature here in the U.S.” you can look it up and the real answer makes a great deal of sense.

July 31, 2020

Astrology Has an Interesting History

Filed under: Culture,History,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 10:09 am
Tags: , ,

Astrology goes way back so I assume it has a pre-history (going back 6000+ years or so) but there is little we can learn about such beliefs before there were written records of what they were. In any case we can learn two things from this long-standing belief. For one, people looked up and studied the points of light in the night sky and the other is that they knew fuck all about what was really happening.

In our western tradition it seems that astrology took off with the ancient Greeks, four to five centuries BCE. It seems to be founded on a belief that the gods or a god set “the heavens” in motion and that those same gods mapped out human destinies onto those motions and positions.

Okay, time for a little science. The vast majority of the planetary bodies formed from an accretion disk that was rotating around our star. Consequently, all of the planets formed in that manner exist in the same plane (roughly) and orbit the Sun in the same direction. Consequently mapping the positions of the planets against the circular horizon (circular in appearance any way) gives a reasonable structure as to the positions of the planets in the night sky.

Also, all of the other stars are so far away that their motions are imperceptible from here, they are the “fixed starts,” meaning fixed into positions. They rotate about an axis viewed from where we are, many videos show this phenomenon and these appear frequently on our TVs. This rotation of the “fixed starts” is an illusion, of course, based upon the fact that the Earth rotates once per day on its axis. (And for those looking for deity designs in that one day per rotation fact, that is just where we got the time term of a “day.” Light to dark and back to light seemed to repeat and it did . . . because of the Earth’s rotation. (Which is slowing down, by the way, by 1.78 milliseconds per century!).

So, the positions of the fixed starts didn’t change in relation to one another. The only things that changed positions were the planets and moons of the planets. And back in the Greeks hey day, there were five known planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) and the Moon and the Sun. The Babylonians, apparently, invented the zodiac, being sets of fixed stars wrapping around the skies equator, to provide locations in the night sky that (a) could be referred to, and (b) found. The planetary bodies were then mapped as they made their way around this circle.

To believe in astrology, and let me be clear, almost everyone did back then and possibly many, many still do, one has to believe in predestination, that is a destiny for each of us has been ordained (usually by the gods or a god), and you have to believe that your destiny has been mapped by the gods onto the positions of those planetary bodies around the zodiac. (Those “bodies” positions, btw, are perfectly predictable using the laws of science, so changing someones destiny would require a god to shift the position of a planet or two and then change everyone’s memories and all records of that change. (Whew!)

While there has been much written about and claimed for astrology, no mechanism has been given for the direct influence of the planets on our lives, so the gods have to be behind this, ordaining what will happen and then expecting us to seek security through secret decoder rings or whatever.

Knowing what was going to happen to one in a time in which life was far from predictable was very much to be desired, so people consulted astrologers frequently, especially when large undertakings were in the offing. If such an undertaking were fraught with danger and loss, well, destinies were in the control of gods and there were rituals and sacrifices to gain a change in fate. These practices fit hand in glove with the thinking of those people at that time.

The astronomers of the time, who also believed in astrology, didn’t see a connection between their mathematics-based exploration of the skies with astrology, but if they had, there is one thing they could have discovered.

If one plots the positions of the planets on the horizon, as is apparently done in serious German schools of astrology to this day, you can get certain arrangements of the “planets” around that circle and various interpretations can be made.

But, how many unique “prognostications” can be made from these arrangements for any particular day? Hundreds, thousands, maybe. But circa 500 BCE there were roughly 90-100 million people alive on Earth. If they were all to ask for a horoscope to be cast on a particular day, would they each get a forecast unique to them as an individual? I doubt it. There are not enough “heavenly bodies” being tracked and positions they could be in to cover that many people.

Now there are 7+ billion people on Earth. We are not limited to the five observable with the naked eye planets as were the ancient Greeks, but even if we include all of the planets and many of their moons, are we going to come up with 7+ billion unique horoscopes? (Inquiring minds want to know. Note For those not of a certain age, this phrase was used to market a supermarket tabloid, called the National Enquirer. They were famous for defending themselves, in court, during a libel suit by saying “Everybody knows we make this stuff up.”)

So, in order for one to continue to believe in astrology, one has to believe in: determinism, our destinies are created by a god or gods which have the power to change those destinies, and that somehow, some way, 7 billion different horoscopes can be created on any day of the year.

This is why astrology qualifies as a religious belief, a belief in the absence of evidence, not because of the evidence.

 

 

 

 

July 28, 2020

Motivations According to Conservatives

Unemployment insurance has been, irrationally, deeply controversial. It has always faced bitter opposition from conservatives who claim that it would discourage workers from seeking jobs.

This is a part of their “those people are lazy” mindset which is joined with the belief that if “those people” didn’t have to work, they wouldn’t.

Let’s see how this belief plays out if taken to heart.

In our “pay as you go culture,” you have to pay for everything: you pay for the food you eat, for the shelter over your head, and you pay for the utilities to keep that space livable, you pay for health care. You pay for all of this by getting a job that pays “enough.”

Let’s do an experiment—one that actually has already been done any number of times, but hey, this might be the first time you thought this through. Let’s offer someone who has one of those “keeping body and soul together” jobs, one that pays just enough to be able to pay the rent, keep the TV on, and feed himself (no family), the same amount of income, but he doesn’t need to go to work to receive it.

The conservatives will immediately see this guy in a hammock sipping a mint julep. He just got his ticket punched to Easy Street! Well, we all now know what “staying home” is like during this pandemic. Does it feel like Easy Street? “Are we not entertained?” So, after lolling about for a bit, this “lazy bum” we are paying to do nothing gets the idea that he could get a good job and really expand his income. After all, the government is covering his nut, but not for vacations, cars, or a family. Do, you think this guy would settle for another boring dead end job like he had before? I tend to think he would aim higher. If he applies for 10 jobs but doesn’t get one of those, what has he lost? He still has food and shelter, so he is not desperate. I think we can count on human ambition being at least moderately high. Having that minimum income to backstop him, he is less likely to settle, not more likely.

And what does this say about the shit jobs people were doing for poor wages? What would happen if people said “Why should I break my back for little more than the basic income I get automatically?” Quite a number of those jobs would go wanting. Consequently . . . if you believe in market forces . . . those jobs are not worth doing, or if they are, higher wages are going to have to be paid to entice people to do them.

And, what would a lot of people opting out of the job market do for those seeking jobs? Hmmm . . . fewer applicants for the same number of jobs means higher employment rates. Conservatives can’t argue this is false because they have been claiming for years that Mexicans, illegally in the U.S., are taking jobs away from Americans. We have argued that there aren’t a whole lot of Anglos seeking work in the roofing business in the Texas summer or in the fields picking vegetables, but the conservatives insist that Mexican “illegals” are taking those jobs away from Americans. If so, it has to work both ways. If poor people stop applying for the shit jobs they have been doing, there will be more jobs for Americans who want them.

Now, small business owners will complain (they have little power otherwise) that if they have to pay higher wages to keep people in the jobs they have on offer, they will go out of business. Again, let’s consider a small thought experiment. So, you Mr. Small Business Owner advertise for an employee to fill one of your shit jobs, and several desperate people apply. You pick one and you train them. They perform in a lackluster manner and quit or get fired after a short stint “on the job.” And so, you are back advertising for a replacement . . . again, which you will hire, train, and . . . well, I think you see the cycle. If, on the other hand, the job pays well, and this owner tells an employee they have to pick up the pace, they are much more likely to do so, because the impact of losing a higher paying job is greater. Many people won’t want to lose such a job and so will try harder. Fewer adverts get put, less time is spent training new employees, less over time is paid covering for employees who got fired/quit, etc. Which process is less expensive to the SB owner? I don’t think the answer is obvious.

Conservatives seem to think the very best motivation for poor people is desperation (you have all seen the drug company commercials showing poor people unable to afford the medicine their dependents need, the problem is not invisible). They, of course, reserve special scorn (“lazy and shiftless”) for the racial minorities who are poor, but all of the poor are painted with their wide brush. (They work out their schemes on the Black and Brown poor, and then they always bring it home on the White poor . . . always). On the other hand, in their lives and the lives of other white, privileged Americans, their salaries are more than adequate to meet a family person’s nut for the whole family, and while it may not be enough to pay for a McMansion, or private schools for the kids, and a Porsche, it is enough for cars, vacations, a paid healthcare plan, and a few splurges, etc., and the motivation preferred by this class is greed, pure and simple. They laud hedge fund managers and other financial fat cats as examples of what you can do if you apply greed to your work life.

So, basically, conservatives have very low opinions of the motivations that move people and I suspect that is because they have a low opinions of people in general, other than themselves and their close associates, of course. And I wonder where they learned to have a very low opinion of people . . . religion!

Such a Deal!

I was reading a blog post on Bruce Gerencser’s web site recently and he ripped off yet another thought-provoking statement. Here it is:

“Cultural Christianity is all about what people say and not what they do. This is the predominant form of Christianity in America. When asked, do you believe in the Christian God? most Americans will say, Yes! It matters not how they live or even if they understand Christian doctrine. They believe, and that’s all that matters.” (Bruce Gerencser)

Here is a key flaw in the fundamentalist/evangelical Christian viewpoint. Basically they say, to be saved from the terrible fate of God’s curse, all you need do is accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. That’s it. Accept Jesus and . . . done deal . . . you are saved.

You don’t have to do anything else. You don’t have to join a particular church, as the Catholics do. There is no requirement to do good deeds. You do not have to donate money to the cause. There is nothing else you need do to avoid the Lake of Fire you were condemned to.

Consequently, many Christians (most?) violate Christian mores/ethics in great number. This is the allure apparently. You need do very little and Bingo! you are saved. Of course, the religions promoting this theological point are really missing the mark. If Christians were, in addition, supposed to do good works to maintain their “Get Out of Hell Free” status, they could be doing a great deal more good in this country, and the world, too. Imagine that churches could put on brag sessions in which members would “share” all of their good deeds done each week. “I helped an old lady to cross the street.” “I mowed my disabled neighbor’s front lawn.” “I visited a sick congregant in the hospital.” “I volunteered at the food bank all day Saturday.”

Natural competition and good, old fashioned one-upmanship would lead to an expansion of such efforts. Who cares if these actions are ego-driven, good things are getting done. But unlike Noah’s Ark, missing this boat apparently is no big deal.

Making Christians by asking very, very little of them is a proven path to success, success in the form of numbers of congregants. But now that people are thinking more and have more access to information and other people via the Internet, it is becoming apparent to many others that there is an even lazier way to avoid that Lake of Fire—become an atheist!

Become an atheist and voilà, you are no longer subject to the curse of a god which does not exist. And, there are no church meetings, no dues or tithes, no required beliefs, no deadly sins, in fact, no sins at all. No singing songs along with a bunch of other people who also cannot sing. No listening to lectures that are boring in the extreme. No effort need be made whatsoever.

Disbelieve and you are saved—saved from a fate worse that death and the myriad things listed above, and that is only a partial list.

Disbelieve and you are saved. Much easier than believe and you are saved.

July 26, 2020

Those Death Panels . . .

Those “death panels” the Republican opponents of the Obamacare legislation warned us about have finally popped up . . . in the Republican state of Texas!

Texas hospital forced to set up ‘death panel’ as Covid-19 cases surge

 

July 25, 2020

With Apologies to Lerner and Loewe

Musical theatre for 2020 and possibly the campaign song for Donald Trump’s re-election campaign:

Why can’t the poor be more like rich?
The rich are so honest, so thoroughly square;
Eternally noble, historically fair.
Who, when you win, will always give your back a pat.
Why can’t the poor be like that?

Why does every one do what the others do?
Can’t the poor learn to use their heads?
Why do they do everything their parents do?
Why don’t they grow up, well, like the rich instead?

Why can’t the poor take after the rich?
The rich are so pleasant, so easy to please.
Whenever you’re with them, you’re always at ease.

One rich man in a million may shout a bit.
Now and then, there’s one with slight defects.
One perhaps whose truthfulness you doubt a bit,
But by and large we are a marvelous sort!

Why can’t the poor take after the rich?
‘Cause the rich are so friendly, good-natured and kind.
Better companions you never will find.

Why can’t the poor be more like the rich?
The rich are so decent, such regular chaps;
Ready to help you through any mishaps;
Ready to buck you up whenever you’re glum.
Why can’t the poor be such chums?

Why is thinking something the poor never do?
And why is logic never even tried?
Applying for welfare is all they ever do.
Why don’t they straighten up the mess that’s inside?

Why can’t the poor behave like the rich?
If I were one of the poor who’d been to a ball,
Been hailed as royalty by one and by all;
Would I start whinging like a jilted lover,
Or carry on as if my home were in a tree?
Would I run off and tell no one where I’m going?
Why can’t the poor be like me?

Adapted from “Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?” from My Fair Lady by Lerner and Loewe.

July 17, 2020

Oh, Oh, Oh, the Cancel Culture

The American Right Wing has lost its mind again. And it is such a small thing it is hard to find once lost, so I feel for them. I also wonder why they call it a right wing as there is no left wing any more and a bird consisting of one wing and a body cannot fly . . . but I digress.

Regarding the “cancel culture,” the Right is decrying the few protests that have resulted in right-wing speaker’s speaking gigs getting canceled, mostly because of Internet protests.

“Ow, ow, ow,” they cry, earning a Snowflake Award.

I have commented before on the role the Internet has played in the expansion of atheism and racism in this country. The Internet provides forums which creates distance between those interacting and, in many cases, anonymity. This has allowed many people, previously squelched by public opinion, to speak there minds.

In the case of atheism this has allowed many atheists to find out that they are not alone and there are a great many other people who have the same thoughts and attitudes. Since this has expanded and reinforced people of this ilk (of which I am one) and we do no harm to our fellow citizens, I consider this a net good thing.

In the case of racism, the exact same thing has occurred. Prior to the development of Internet chatting, racists were more and more isolated and racist comments became less and less acceptable across the country. The reason was public disapproval. Gossip and shaming are social controls that evolved millennia ago to help us keep society reined in. And then came the anonymity of the Internet and racists, separated from those who would chastise them for their comments, found fellow travelers and were reinforced in their attitudes. They discovered that they weren’t as alone as they thought they were. Since racists do harm to our fellow citizens, even if minimally spreading bad attitudes toward certain groups of people, I consider this a net bad thing.

And, now we are here.

Now we are seeing public gossip and shaming catching up with the special interest groups on the Internet. We cannot be present to squelch bad behavior but we can do it via the Internet! No longer are torch lit parades necessary to flaunt one’s approval or disapproval of a social group, one can do it from the comfort of one’s home while wearing pajamas.

And, who disapproves of this esteemed social mechanism rebalancing itself from having gotten out of whack through unforeseen new technologies? The bastions of the status quo, the protectors of tradition, aka cultural inertia, the supporters of social institutions like churches, police forces, the military . . . the Grand Old Party, the Republicans.

As always, in politics in this country, it really does depend upon whose ox is getting gored.

July 9, 2020

Trump Wanted Closed Borders . . . And Now He has Them

By mishandling the COVID-19 pandemic President Trump has gotten an unintended benefit: closed borders. Of course, the borders are being closed by the other countries involved and not Mr. Trump’s administration, but a promise is a promise. Mexico has closed its border with the U.S. . . . to prevent the spread of the disease that is raging in the U.S. but not so much in Mexico. Canada has closed its border with the U.S. . . . to prevent the spread of the disease that is raging in the U.S. but not so much in Canada. The EU has closed its “borders” with the U.S. . . . to prevent the spread of the disease that is raging in the U.S. but not so much in the EU.

Mission Accomplished, President Trump, Mission Accomplished . . . say it now. . . .

From today’s The Guardian:
“Canadians have spent the past three months in isolation, away from businesses, friends, families and schools,” said Lori Turnbull, a professor of political science at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. “They’ve done all this to make sure that they survive the public health crisis. They don’t want the border to open and have Americans bring it up here. The contrasting pandemic experiences of the two countries aren’t just a result of luck or geography: experts point to widespread access to healthcare in Canada, as well as high levels of trust in government and public health officials.”

 

July 4, 2020

Similarities Exist . . . For a Reason

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:10 am

Definition: Religion
When a small group of people tell a larger group of people how to act for imaginary rewards.

Definition: Politics
When a small group of people tell a larger group of people how to act for imaginary rewards.

I guess it isn’t a great surprise that politicians and the religious found common cause . . . in telling ordinary people how to behave and in so doing control their behaviors (to benefit guess who).

The rewards for the ordinary people are imaginary, the rewards for the politicians and divines are tangible and substantial.

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