Class Warfare Blog

May 24, 2017

A Picture is Worth …

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:53 am
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Which of these men is happy to be there and which is not? Which stands off to the side so as to not be too closely associated with the others? Which of the women looks happy to be there?

Joy, oh joy, is only felt by the vacuous one.

May 22, 2017

Our Cultural Heritage: Witches

Filed under: Culture — Steve Ruis @ 8:34 am
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I see witches in the conversation stream … not actual witches, but discussions of said. There are cultures in existence that still “believe” in witches. (Isn’t belief wonderful! Imagine a life with no boundaries!) It is clear to me, though, that the idea of a “witch” is clearly a male invention.

My logic is simple: women are weak, weak of body and weak of mind, consequently any woman exerting power (real or imagined) must be doing it with supernatural (aka unnatural) help. And since “God is good” and wouldn’t really do anything to harm a man(!), that supernatural help must be in the form of help from evil spirits … ergo, witches.

How do you recognize a witch? No, it is not a pointed hat or green face as school children think. Look for sources of power, like beauty or a royal title or high political office or even just a “wife” who seem to dominate her poor husband.

All you have to do to understand this is think like a man … ? WTF?

May 15, 2017

We Don’ Need No Protection Cause Racism Ain’t No More

According to The Nation magazine:

“On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, ruling that states with the longest histories of voting discrimination no longer had to approve their voting changes with the federal government. A month after that decision, North Carolina – where 40 counties were previously subject to that requirement – passed the country’s most sweeping voting restrictions.

“The state required strict voter ID to cast a ballot, cut a week of early voting and eliminated same-day voter registration, out of precinct voting and pre-registration for 16 and 17-year-olds. On July 29, 2016, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit invalidated these restrictions, which it said targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision” in violation of the Voting Rights Act and 14th Amendment.”

If I remember rightly, the Supreme Court argued that singling out those states for “special treatment” under the Voting Rights Act (basically requiring any changes to voting laws to be screened for approval by the Justice Department) wasn’t needed any more because, well those states had reformed and were no longer what they were. Besides there’s racism everywhere.

So, here we are just under four years later addressing racist voting regulations which “targeted African Americans ‘with almost surgical precision’ in violation of the Voting Rights Act and 14th Amendment”  in one of those very states. I am sure glad their ain’ no racists no more in No’th Carolina.

Three cheers for the Supreme Court … uh, no?

May 3, 2017

Getting Sharp with Razor Blades

Filed under: Business,Culture — Steve Ruis @ 2:35 pm
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I am getting very tired of things invented just to be able to make money and which actually do not create any value. (tag line Capitalism Amok!)

What got me thinking about this was razor blades, of all things. I had blanched at the last time I went to buy razor blades. They were thirty dollars for six “cartridges.” And I was in a discount store! So, I had my eyes open for an alternative and I found “Harry’s” (A good shave at a good price!) and they had a special offer on a handle and a set of blades, so I took a chance. The handle was quite nice (plastic but not flimsy) and the blades, er, cartridges were similar looking to many of the others. When I tried shaving with one, I discovered that there was a bit more drag than with a new Gillette cartridge, but they seemed to retain their sharpness for longer. The Gillette blades grew more dull faster. And they were a small fraction of the cost, so I was good to go.

Then I needed to reorder blades and I received a different cartridge, one “new” and “improved.” Nothing can be both new and improved, I assumed this one was new and better than the old one. Why change the design if it isn’t to improve the quality? Well, these new cartridges had much more drag than the old ones. They were still using (supposedly) German steel (not surprising as they have stopped making steel in the U.S.) so what was the problem? I looked at the new design and noticed that now there are five blades when before there were four.

I was disgusted. I then ran across an article extolling the virtues of old safety razors, like our fathers used, especially since you didn’t have to track down an old one; they were still making them. I hadn’t used one of these in over 50 years but the article was convincing. I bought an inexpensive razor and, at the recommendation of the article razor blades from Amazon: 100 blades for $10! Now we are talking! My cheap core soared like a bird.

The really interesting thing I learned when I took my first shave was that I got the best shave I had had in my memory. Not recent memory, all of it! I also got a bit of a nick, being out of practice with that instrument.

Why did this single edge razor perform so much better than these high tech modern ones. It was all very puzzling. The old razor took much less pressure and seemed to do a better job without needing a lot more strokes to get the job done. Then it occurred to me.

Can you see the gaps between the blades? They are there but really small.

Do you know how a knife cuts? Most people think that a knife cuts like a saw but really a knife is a pressure generating tool. The entire weight of a kitchen knife plus whatever force you add to that (usually not much is needed) gets distributed on a surface of very little area: the knife’s edge. Pressure is “force per unit area” and is calculated by taking the weight involved (weight is a force) and dividing it by the area it is spread over. How much area do you thing a knife’s edge has? (Hint: damned little.) And, of course, the only part of the edge that counts is the part in contact with the carrot or whatever, the rest doesn’t matter. A weight of just a few pounds (combined weight of knife and simulated weight added by your skillful manipulation of the knife) divided by a very tiny area and you get enormous pressures. This pressure basically pushes the carrot apart. (This is also why dull knives are so dangerous. The pressure created over a dull edge is much less which leads us to press harder and harder which leads to slips and … ouch!)

What is true for a knife is also true for a razor blade. When one blade was replaced by two you increase the area of edge by 2X. Now if what you were cutting was two times wider, that would have averaged out, but those blades are not cutting the same hairs. So, two blades, three, four, five…! We now have five times the blade area, so we have to use five times the push to get them to cut the same as the old razors.

So, thinking like “two blades ought to be twice as efficient/good/etc. than one” lead us down the garden path to $6 shaving cartridges (Each!) which do no better than the old one-bladed ones. We did not check our thinking; we just accepted their marketing as true and forgot about it. (Remember the frog in the pot of water with the temperature slowly rising?)

Does a two-bladed razor require half of the strokes to do the job? I didn’t notice any effort saving all the way up the ladder to five-blade “cartridges.” I did notice fewer nicks, though, even though I was pressing harder and harder all the time. The reason there are fewer nicks is plain to the naked eye. If you look at one of these cartridges, you will see than none of the blades is exposed much at all. This is where the safety razor had its fault. It exposed a lot of blade and that blade mowed down facial hair like a scythe; it also could nick you if you didn’t pay attention. To help with this, new safety razors have different amounts of blade exposure built in and there are various blade designs, etc. to enable a best set up for your face and skin.

It is a whole new … old … world. Old and Improved!

The Ann Coulter Brouhaha

Filed under: Culture,Education,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:25 am
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I don’t get it. Ann Coulter is taking umbrage at being denied a speaker’s platform at the University of California’s Berkeley Campus. Commentators are going some what berserk over this as being part of a trend in which well-known conservatives are being shut out of liberal bastions, the universities. Issues of free speech are being bandied about.

In the case of Ms. Coulter I must ask:

  • Has she ever inventing something?
    • Has she ever discovered something?
    • Has she created ideas that are new?
    • Has she ever done anything important?
    • Does she have anything to offer but her own opinions?

Our universities are places in which we educate people, should not these invited speakers have done something, created something, or discovered something that would enable them to pass on their wisdom to newer generations? Is our only criterion an “invitation” from a campus club?

Is having provocative opinions now “enough” in the way of societal credentials to have a platform at a major university?

April 23, 2017

A Vision of Rational Decision Making Denied

In a comment on another site, I stated that I had an overarching goal for my teaching “career,” which was the promotion of rational decision making and that I retired from that profession a defeated man. In my last post I commented that “Currently scientists are seeing that we tend to think better in groups, that no individual has all of the puzzle pieces but in communication with others, clusters of puzzle pieces get formed, and then clusters combine to make larger clusters.” We are social animals; we work better in groups. Now we find that we even think better in groups.

My work on rational decision making lead me to this same conclusion. You see, we invested in “interest-based decision making.” This came about as an investigation of less confrontational collective bargaining processes, but we realized it applied to all collective decisions.

I will not bore you with regard to the details of this process but I will point out two of the keystones. The first is that at the beginning of every decision-making process was a complete investigation of “the problem.” Before a problem could be addressed, everyone needed to know what it was and understand it, so this took up much of the “decision-making time.” It also paid immediate benefits. Groups did come together to “address an issue” only to find out that when they tried to clarify it, all involved decided it was not a problem. In one case labor and management came together to solve a problem only to find out that for management, there was no problem, that the problem that labor had to resolve. Management offered support but felt it was not a “stakeholder” in the issue, so should not be making any decisions about it. Labor concurred.

The second keystone was before solutions to identified problems were explored, the “interests” of all of the people involved had to be shared. These were the conditions and reasons that any solution had to satisfy to be viable. Typically, all solutions had to be affordable, had to not break laws, etc. But when exploring the interests of a group, interests like “being seen to be playing fair” arose, as did “fulfilling fiduciary responsibilities,” and “displaying competence.” This part of the process was called “putting the why before the what.” This was especially important for people just “wanting to have a seat at the table,” to be involved. Many people want to be involved, but if the do not have any interests a solution needs to satisfy, they aren’t a stakeholder and do not need to be involved.

This process seems, from the outside, to be cumbersome and it can be but is actually very efficient over time. Over time, the interests of groups become clear and known. People show up to interactions having clarified their idea and have brought any data they think pertinent (usually sharing it ahead of time) as to what problems are so that phase can be addressed rapidly. The big plus is that the solutions that come out of this process are just better. they are more accepted by the decision-making group, who share their acceptance widely and that gets people on board and buying in more rapidly. And better solutions need less tweaking and last longer, a definite bonus. Plus, it was easier to recognize good solutions, because to get that label, an idea had to solve the problem and meet all of the interests of the parties involved.

One example of such a solution is that my last employer, a $150 million a year enterprise, never negotiated salaries with labor. The reason? Each labor segment of the enterprise received a percentage of the income of the business. If revenue went up, everyone got raises. If revenue went down, salaries could go down, but in reality, people were motivated to find cost savings so that did not happen but the process was in place if it had to. As a labor negotiator, I was shocked that labor gave up negotiating salary because that was our “big hammer.” We would always save salaries until last and negotiate working conditions, et. al., first. If we were denied any progress in the early stages, the wage demands would get larger and firmer. This was Negotiating 101. But here I saw management and labor jointly trying to solve problems without the “big hammer” hanging over their heads, because they honestly wanted to be good partners and be part of the solutions, not part of the problems. Go figure.

Contrast this situation with the way we “solve problems” politically. We start with a solution. This is often a proposal or a bill. Then we “score the bill,” that is try to figure out what the costs associated with the “solution” are. Then we assess the political viability of the bill. Will there be enough votes to pass it? Will the President sign it? Is a veto override possible?

At no point is there any effort made in sharing the problem or clarifying it for a wider audience. Instead, some simple homily is offered. Often the titles of the bills are telling, “The American Patriot Act” and “The Affordable Car Act,” or “No Child Left Behind.” And that is it. A great deal of scurrying around to get “support” from this group or that is done, but next a vote is taken (or not).

This is amazingly obfuscatory. Historically, communication was poor, so we assumed that our legislators had our best interests at heart and that they understood what the problem and the solution were and would do the right thing. Right. We quickly saw that political deal making and pandering and profiteering held more sway than some “having our best interests at heart.” But we still go about this in the same fashion even though mass communication is firmly embedded in our society.

Imagine that for any problem that legislation might be offered to solve, there were a period in which the problem had to be clarified and explained clearly and publicly. Plus the interests of all parties involved would have to be stated. If some private group, like the AMA wanted to chime in, it would have to state its interests. If that list did not include some obvious interests we know they held, then it would be clear to one and all that that group had “hidden agendas.” Those issues could then enter the public debate. (Anyone who thinks that the AMA does not have an agenda to protect the employment rights of certified doctors and prevent any doctor not so certified from working, needs to think again. All professional societies have these interests.) Then after these two phases have occurred a work group would be constituted to write the legislation. (We think better together than apart.) We would not have dueling bills, we would have one. That no one party would get all that they desire is probably the norm. That better solutions would be had than just taking the ideas of one or two people and ramming them through, would also be the norm.

Part of the listing of interests, of course, would be a listing of the “campaign contributions” from all parties affected by the legislation to the legislators.

I guess you can see why I feel defeated. I have participated in both processes. One builds relationships, increases job satisfaction amongst decision makers, and creates better solutions that last longer. The other … doesn’t. It is not as if we do not know how.

April 19, 2017

Bashing Conservatives

I was commenting on something posted on Swarn Gill’s very good blog “Cloak Unfurled” and I thought that you, my wonderful readers (Practicing your pandering you are. Shut up, Yoda.) might like to share. The topic was “liberals bashing conservatives.”

The current liberal bashing of conservatives is, in my opinion, a delayed response to the conservative bashing that began before there was social media. The phenomenon that was Rush Limbaugh is a good marker. Prior to Mr. Limbaugh, bashing of liberals had few column inches anywhere and no distinct voice. Before the first Gulf War I found his radio show and actually enjoyed listening to it as he lambasted caricatures of liberals (Femi-Nazis, etc.). At first this seemed in good fun but then I noted a commitment to lying that caused me to turn him off. He then became almost 100% politics-focused but kept bashing the liberal side as clueless, etc. In his footsteps, there followed the Fox (sic) News hordes and Glenn Beck, etc.

There was no particular response from the left-wing media (as claiming a liberal bias has always been a lie—to true conservatives, the truth has always been left-wing).

With the advent of social media, the anonymity provided right-wingers cowed into keeping their mouths shut due to social pressure (Why can’t we call a nigger a nigger? What’s wrong with that?) now had voices not subject to social pressure, in fact they could bask in the amounts of social outrage (impotent rage) that they could provoke. And now we have liberals bashing of conservatives … anonymously and the world turns

This escalation of rage in the debate, however, serves only one group: the oligarchs already in control of the U.S. government. While our heads are spinning around, we aren’t addressing our sole problem, the one solutions to all of the other problems must lead through, … them. For them Donald Trump, the master distracter is a god send. Until we address the oligarchs and pull their fangs, swathed with money, we will not be able to get through to climate change, off shoring of jobs, the real problems we face because they will just have too many paid thugs running interference for them.

 

April 6, 2017

I Don’t Get It

The definition of “it” in the title is probably very, very long (very!). In this case it is our current debate about healthcare.

There is continuing support for certain functions of government to be paid by the government. Unlike knuckle-dragging conservatives, I do not see “government” as being some outside agency closely representing a skin cancer (something you want shrunk and or carved out), but as a representative of “us.” We are completely fine with “single payer” K-12 education. Citizens and non-citizens alike can register their children to attend a neighboring school and there the children receive an education with no further costs. (Yes, I do know there are myriad costs associated with a child in school, but those are not directly related to the education they receive.) This is, accurately, not a “single payer” system as multiple government agencies are involved, so maybe a better description is “government paid” for this schooling. We also have many other services that are “government paid.” For one, the military. For another, our government offices. When you go to your local councilman or alderman’s office for information or a complaint, there are no fees associated with those services. In all of those cases, the “government”—remember that means “us”—picks up the full tab.

The argument goes that those services are “essential,” that is we all need them and money should be a barrier to whether or not you receive those services.

Oh, there are also the police, fire services, the courts, etc. There are many things that fall into this category of “things we all pay so everyone can partake equally.” In some cases, this is the “many” protecting itself from the “few.” Many vaccinations are low cost, even free, to avoid the spread of diseases.

I don’t get why health care is not one of those things.

I understand that people, especially politically conservative people, have bought into a capitalistic “pay as you go” culture, uh, well, kinda sorta. The biggest proponents of “individual liberty/individual responsibility” are not all self-made people, many inherited money. If Donald Trump had invested all of the money he inherited in stock market index funds, he would have four times as much money now as he claims to have, according to some accounts. (So much for him being a good businessman, he has managed to lose only three quarters of his potential net worth. He is, at best, a mediocre businessman.) The Koch brothers inherited millions (and built upon those, yes). Mitt Romney, who claims that nobody helped him, was given two million dollars of “seed money” to help him get started as well as being given access to his really well-connected father’s associates. The Walton clan … well, daddy made the big pot for them.

For those without great wealth in this group are people who received help along the way from government (aka “us”) agencies. Help with their educations, help with business loans, help from other government agencies, etc.

But them poor people, they lack drive and ambition. They should go out and start a business. Really, you mean those business startups that have a 90% failure rate after three years? Where would they get the money to take that very risky venture? The banks? Wall Street? Venture Capitalists? (Sorry, laughing so hard my sides are aching.) If you haven’t noticed, over the last 30-40 years, businesses have stopped investing in their own business. They have accumulated trillions of dollars of cash reserves that are just sitting there. So, these are the people poor people are to emulate? (Step 1 Pile up a mountain of money. Step 2 Sit on it. Neoliberal Business Practices 101)

Poor people need to go out an get a job, then? Oh, do they mean the jobs conservatives have suppressed wages on for decades so they do not pay enough to meet a person’s expenses? Those jobs? All of the anti-union, anti-minimum wage rhetoric is not coming from poor people, it is coming from the same conservative ass holes who are insisting that everyone should “pay as you go.”

I do not want single-payer healthcare. (Currently I have Medicare and a Medicare supplement policy, and I pick up the slack those two do not cover, so there are at least three payers there, certainly at least two.) I want government paid health care. It is at least as important as an education for our kids, if not more so.

There’s more but my spleen just gave out.

* * *

Poverty is not due to a lack of character, it is due to a lack of cash. (I don’t know who said this first.)

March 20, 2017

I Just Don’t Understand

Filed under: Culture,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 7:29 am
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There is a continuing debate over what an atheist is. That this debate continues is baffling. I read about agnostics, hard atheists, soft atheists, militant atheists (Oh, my!), etc. The only reason I can imagine for carrying on these conversations (they are not debates) is they provide opportunities to disparage atheists. I will make this simple: there is a one question test to determine your status as an atheist. Here it is:

Question: Do you believe in the existence of a god or gods?

If you answer “no” then you are an atheist. If you answer “yes” then you are a theist of some stripe (there are literally thousands of variations).

If you answer “I do not know,” then you are an idiot. The answer “I do not know” applies to questions that one hasn’t considered in full or at all or cannot come to a conclusion based upon the evidence offered. This “question” is at the center of all organized religions and if you have had any contact with a religion at all, then you have considered this question. The few of us who have not had any contact with a religion are usual those raised by staunch atheists who deliberately didn’t teach their children about other people’s beliefs in their gods.

If you have addressed this question but decided that you will believe what everybody else believes, for whatever reasons, then you are an idiot.

If you have considered this question at length and still haven’t come to a conclusion, then you are also an idiot. Gods are supernatural beings, like fairies, unicorns, ghosts, zombies, etc. Do you have any evidence for the existence of any supernatural entity, any at all? If you do, please rush that information to researchers who have been looking for centuries for such evidence and found exactly zero.

If you are one of those who accepts the beauties of nature as evidence for the existence of your god, then you must accept that it is also evidence for the existence of all supernatural beings: unicorns, pixies, necromancers, and the rest, which puts you in a distinct minority … of idiots.

So, now that you know what characterizes atheists, can you tell me what they have in common?

If not, you have not been comprehending this as you have read it. Atheists do not believe in a god or gods. Other than that they have … nothing … else … in … common … except maybe exasperation with the people who deliberately do not understand that.

March 14, 2017

Betsy DeVos and The Christian Right’s “Big Ideas”

In Rolling Stone there is a big article on our new U.S. Education Secretary (Betsy DeVos’ Holy War by Janet Reitman). (How did Rolling Stone get from being an “entertainment” magazine to the only U.S. magazine with the balls to publish the truth?”)

Here is a condensation of one part of that article:
A staple in modern evangelical teachings is the concept of Christian spheres of influence – or what the evangelical business guru Lance Wallnau dubbed the ‘Seven Mountains’ of society: business, media, religion, arts and entertainment, family, government, and education – all of which urge the faithful to engage in secular culture in order to ‘transform’ it. The goal is a sweeping overhaul of society and a merging of church and state: elevating private charity over state-run social services, returning prayer to school and turning the clock back on women’s and LGBTQ rights. It would also be a system without a progressive income tax, collective bargaining, environmental regulation, publicly funded health care, welfare, a minimum wage – a United States guided by a rigorously laissez-faire system of ‘values’ rather than laws….

More than a few people have questioned my writing about religion in a Class Warfare blog. I tend to write mostly about fundamentalist religions, such as the DeVos family beliefs, because they are seriously at odds with reality. Tell me if you don’t think these people have a political agenda.

For example, look at the list of “features” of our society the DeVos family would rather we did without: a progressive income tax, collective bargaining, environmental regulation, publicly funded health care, welfare, a minimum wage, etc. Notice how these are all ideas that conflict with basic Christian ideology. These are very rich people, Ms. DeVos’ father created Amway, but I don’t expect them to sell all of their worldly goods and go follow Jesus any time soon. The Bible is full of regulations, pages and pages of regulations, including one to be a good steward of the land, hardly in line with the elimination of environmental regulations. Did not Jesus tell his followers to go forth and heal the sick and did he not complain when someone else did likewise (as long as it was in his name)? This is hardly compatible with the elimination of publicly funded health care. People don’t realize how much poverty and ill health there were in our senior citizens before Social Security and Medicare were implemented. These two government programs alone are responsible for pulling massive numbers of old folks out of poverty and desperation.

What the DeVos family and their ilk have done is made a new religion
out of being  politically conservative and rich.

What the DeVos family and their ilk have done is made a religion out of being politically conservative and rich. They are dead set against progressive income taxes and estate taxes as a form of “rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” Again, this is hardly Christian, but it is right out of the rich man’s plutocratic playbook.

And we now have that new time religion at the highest levels of the US federal government with an attitude of “Well I’m rich and if you aren’t, you can go suck eggs,” the embodiment of Christian charity.

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