Class Warfare Blog

March 15, 2019

Blood Magic . . . I Wonder Where That Came From?

In the recent Christchurch, New Zealand, massacre of Muslims, one self-identified suspect posted a manifesto which stated, in part: “The origins of my language is European, my culture is European, my political beliefs are European, my philosophical beliefs are European, my identity is European and, most importantly, my blood is European.”

“My blood is European.”

Mate, your blood is red, just like the rest of us.

The role of blood in our cultural imaginings is deep and to its core bogus. For example, in this country’s history, we had laws establishing how African-American people were. We used terms like “octoroon” which now is defined as being “a person who is one-eighth black by descent” or basically having one Black grandparent. But the common people talked about one eighth of a person’s blood being Black. Others said that “one drop” of Black blood made one Black. (This was always puzzling to me because these same idiots claimed that white blood was stronger and better than black blood, so someone with a 50%-50% mix should be classified as white because the 50% white blood was stronger, no?)

Blood magic was borne of ignorance of all but a few basic facts (the primary one being if you lost enough blood, you died). It was promoted through superstition and bias and prejudice (your enemies had bad blood). But what keeps it going centuries after it has been debunked as nonsense?

Ah, culturally blood shows up as a mystical power in religions. Christians and Jews can read about blood magic in their Bibles. They can read about how menstrual blood makes women “unclean” for several days of the month. They can read about how we were all saved “by the blood of a lamb.” They can read about blood sacrifices. They can read about how being born carries sin which resides in the blood. They can read about dietary restrictions involving blood, such as the Torah forbids the consumption of the blood of an animal. (Imagine forbidding the glory which is blood sausage. Amazing.)

So, while us secularists are trying to reduce superstition and ignorance, the religionists are reinforcing it.

Oh, and the manifesto writer which claims “my identity is European” is apparently an Australian. His European language is rooted in the Near East. His DNA is roughly two thirds African in origin and one third Asian in origin. European political beliefs? Really? Is there any political belief you cannot find embedded in Europe? This poor sod is seriously confused . . . but he sure does know how to sling buzz words at a right-ring audience.

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. (Anonymous—please do not comment that it was Mark Twain, it appears nowhere in his writings or reporting upon him.)

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February 26, 2019

For Want of a Word the Meaning Was Lost

An article in The Guardian was entitled “The Grand Canyon turns 100.” Uh, hello? Just what the creationists want to hear. (They believe the Grand Canyon was carved out by the Great Flood!) The headline should have been “Grand Canyon Nat. Park turns 100.” That’s right, the park was signed into existence 100 years ago on the 26th of February. (Thanks, Teddy!)

I know people have short attention spans and they need headlines that grab people attention, but a lot of people only read the headline, so it should be accurate, don’t you think? And it is not as if these articles are fighting over space in a printed newspaper … sheesh!

An Establishment of Religion?

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 7:29 am
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In the religious news today is the “Bladenburg Cross Memorial,” a mammoth 40 ft tall Roman cross erected with private funds as a memorial to those who lost their lives fighting World War 1 (although it was rededicated in honor and memory of all veterans decades ago). At some point or other it became public property and is now being adjudicated as a “government establishment of religion” before the Supreme Court. As someone who advocates that it is a not a good idea to place sensitive body parts on an anvil and handing out hammers, this problem could be solved without making a court case out of it.

Solutions are quite easy to come by. For example, if those favoring keeping such a memorial are earnest, allow them to buy back the monument and place it back in private hands. Selling it to a veterans organization for $1 to maintain in perpetuity would be a nice gesture.

Possibly the reason why a veterans organization would not accept the deal above is the fact that the concrete cross is crumbling, with the government paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair it over the years. Since it is on the verge of collapse, instead of repairing it, it should be lovingly dismantled and replaced with a secular monument to honor the service of all veterans of all religions. This should be less expensive than continuing to pour money down a rat hole for repairs (which haven’t worked by all accounts).

The last thing we should do is make a federal case out of it with the current set of clowns on the Supreme Court, looking to rewrite the Constitution more to their liking and to Hell with the rest of us.

 

February 7, 2019

Finding Meaning in Life

Many theists argue that without their god(s) life would have no meaning. This, of course, belies the efforts of many to establish their bona fides in their lives for themselves.

The current era of plutocracy in the U.S. shows the wealthy over and over acting upon the belief that they are rich for a reason, that their wealth makes them worthy, worthy of providing guidance (by funding philanthropic endeavors … of their choice, of course), and in funding political movements, e.g. the Koch brothers, because they know what is best for us.

All of these efforts bring to mind a quotation from a giant of social commentary: “The fortunate man is seldom satisfied with the fact of being fortunate. Beyond this, he needs to know that he has a right to his good fortune. He wants to be convinced that he ‘deserves’ it, and above all, that he deserves it in comparison with others … good fortune thus wants to be legitimate fortune.” (Max Weber, 1915)

In this I am reminded that for those “fortunate” enough to make over one billion dollars per year (there have been as many as over a dozen in recent years) that making a billion dollars of income in one year equates to making $532,000 per hour for every working hour of the year. This means one of these “worthies” made more in one afternoon than I did in almost 40 years as a college professor. I do not think of this as compensated labor as no one’s labor is worth that much. The only way one can “make” such an income is by scamming the system. If we need a name, we could call it “legitimized theft.”

So, if the theists are right and the meaning of our lives is granted by their god, why are these plutocrats scurrying around “cementing their legacies” or “managing their brand” or all of the myriad things they are doing to legitimize their wealth? These legitimized businessmen all claim that capitalism is based upon competition, but have acted to reduce the amount of competition in their area of business like beavers (think Bill Gates and all of his European monopoly law suits). I guess saying one thing while doing the opposite comes easy to those “of wealth” which is what they seem to have in common with the theists who support them.

February 3, 2019

More on Stolen Gifts

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:10 am
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In my recent post, Stolen Gifts, I pointed out that religions have hijacked ordinary abilities and declared them to be gifts from their god, which has a number of consequences, one being we are expected to feel grateful for our “gifts.” Another is that we are to see their god at work in our lives and not as some distant, removed supernatural superhero.

Giving this psychological sleight of hand a bit more thought I realized that it is a double edged sword for the religions, cutting both ways, not just to their benefit.

As a child I was fairly successful in youth sports. Largely this was due to the fact that I was substantially taller and stronger than my educational classmates. As we grew up, these advantages diminished and almost disappeared. I was confronted by others whose athletic “gifts” were far greater than mine. I specifically remember turning up for the first day of basketball practice as a sophomore in college only to find roughly 60 guys in the gym, at least three quarters of whom were better players than me. On day two of practice, we were down to 30-35 guys left, again, most of whom were better players than I was. By day three we were down to about 18, the normal number of players who would practice and I was still there (hadn’t been cut or quit). Basically I was willing to pay the price (there were hours and hours of conditioning drills in those early practices) and was stubborn enough to not quit (I had been cut from teams before but had never quit). What I could have done had I more “talent” I can only dream of.

The same could be said for my intellectual gifts. I had a high IQ but either didn’t get the guidance I needed or I didn’t make the effort needed to expand upon that “gift.” I saw many, many other students who seemed far brighter than I was. I persevered by didn’t light any fires.

So, if these were my “gifts from God,” what should a child think who was born into a flawed body or was starved as a child until they were physical or intellectual derelicts? Why them? What should children think who were born infected by AIDS, or as a foster child of ours was, born with seven illicit drugs in her blood? The usual answer is “God works in mysterious ways” or “No one can know the mind of god.” These are spoken without irony by people who will turn around and tell you exactly what their god thinks and why it is clear as air what you should be doing.

But why indeed? Why are some showered with gifts and others starved of them. Why does god play favorites? Why would god “choose” a people to favor? Are we not all “God’s children”?

Obviously I tend to over think these things … but someone has to to point out the sheer mendacity and silliness of these concepts. The brilliance of Christianity is its design to have its practitioners take over the task of acquiring fresh, new believers, while reinforcing the beliefs of people already in the flock. If all of this required professional religionists, then we would be much less subjected to this religion. Small armies of ordinary people, often through unthinking meme transmission are doing much of this work. Having ordinary people going around saying things like “what extraordinary gifts your child has been given” makes parents glow, while lowering any suspicion they might have of vested interests in the comment. Thus these memes get passed around like a disease vector.

January 28, 2019

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 10, 2019

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.

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.

December 27, 2018

Fear Mongering for Fun and Profit

The Atlantic magazine published an article this last April with the intriguing title “The Last Temptation,” subtitled “How evangelicals, once culturally confident, became an anxious minority seeking political protection from the least traditionally religious president in living memory.”

I didn’t finish the article but it started in the same vein as so many others, with Donald Trump and his high percent of the evangelical vote. The article did suggest, though, that there had been some kind of sea change in evangelical attitudes over the past half century. One paragraph summed up their opinion:

“The moral convictions of many evangelical leaders have become a function of their partisan identification. This is not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption. Blinded by political tribalism and hatred for their political opponents, these leaders can’t see how they are undermining the causes to which they once dedicated their lives. Little remains of a distinctly Christian public witness.”

Finally, we get to the crux of the matter. Things changed when some “elites” decided to convert Christian conservatives into a political force. Believe it or not, early on most American Christians thought that the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling was a good thing, that such decisions should be left to families in consultation with clergy and health professionals, that government shouldn’t be involved. Abortion did not become a “wedge issue” until it was forged into one.

Similarly, as in all other political “mood shifts,” the usual motives involved were: money, power, and fear. In the case of mobilization of evangelicals as a political force, fear was the chosen tool. Evangelicals were and are taught that the world is becoming an ever more sinful place, when that conclusion is far from the truth. They are taught that there is a “war on Christianity,” that morals are sinking fast and that something must be done! Older citizens living in suburbs came to fear Black criminals over the much greater threats to their safety.

All of this was perpetrated, of course, by religious and secular elites, to serve their interests, not the interest of ordinary citizens, Christians or not. George W. Bush is famous (infamous?) for brushing off the Religious Right’s demands for “more” from him by saying “those people are never satisfied.” All they had gotten was a paltry office and a president-appointed officer.

The only resolution of this awful set of circumstances is for all of us to admit that we have been “played” by our political leaders. They all need to be replaced, based upon their records. While it may not be possible to expect complete honesty (within some limits) from our leaders, wouldn’t it be refreshing if we got some? Certainly fear mongering and lying continuously need to be shamed out of existence.

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