Class Warfare Blog

September 21, 2017

Wealth Concentration Has Consequences, Severe Ones

I guess I can’t recommend to economic good sense of Yves Smith enough. In her latest post, Insanely Concentrated Wealth is Strangling our Prosperity she makes the simple point, and backs it up with irrefutable evidence, that the biggest problem with wealth concentration is that the wealthy don’t spend their wealth. As they accumulate more and more, that is wealth taken out of circulation, and becoming idle it does no one else any good. Job Creators, my ass.

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September 19, 2017

Consuming Religion

In a review of the book Consuming Religion by Kathryn Lofton (University of Chicago Press, September 12, 2017) the author is quoted as saying:

And this is what I want to emphasize in my study of consumer culture and religion: religion is a word for how people consciously organize themselves in the world and unconsciously are organized by the world. Insofar as ours is a world built by material and immaterial networks and grids, I think we’re missing out if we think of those networks and grids as secular or irreligious.

We are missing out insofar as we are missing what I have found as the archival intention of designers. Namely, to organize themselves (and us) into a world they get thereby to organize. The problem of collectivity is the danger of assimilating into any grid. The possibility of collectivity is the strength we have to rewrite our frames, together, to design different societies.

I see in our country that conservative rich people have capturered or are capturing religion and our society, from which our recovery will be very difficult. They are indeed engaged in an exercise in which they get to organize themselves (and us) into a world they get thereby to organize. Consider Bill Gates and other billionaires disrupting public education, a subject they know little of and what they do know is wrong. Think of the Koch brothers reconstructing American politics along the lines their father, a founder of the John Birch Society, would approve.

I plan to check out this book.

Do think of the word consuming in the title as both an adjective and a verb.

September 14, 2017

Racism is as American as Baseball

Filed under: Culture,Race,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 10:53 am
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Some baseball fans unfurled a banner with the above printed on it at last night’s Red Sox baseball game. Of course they were ejected … for telling the truth. (Actually there is a team policy forbidding “signs of any kind to be hung or affixed to the ballpark,” but I was feeling snarky writing this.)

Actually I believe this statement is true but baseball may show us the way forward. Baseball had a racist past. Early on, people of color played but soon enough, Backs and Hispanics were banned from the professional game. (There were still plenty of “colored” baseball players, but they usually were relegated to playing on and against teams made up of just Black and Brown players in front of Black and Brown audiences.)

In 1942, as almost everyone knows, the “color barrier” in white, major league baseball was broken by Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey. Robinson, the player, took the abuse on the field while Rickey, the schemer behind the effort, took the abuse from other baseball executives and from fans in his mail.

Many brave actions were taken by players supporting members of their own team and many despicable actions were taken by players not supporting members of their own team but eventually everything was sorted out. I saw my first major league professional game in 1958 and by then there were quite a number of Black and Brown players. What I did not know was that even my team, the S.F. Giants, had a self-segregated clubhouse. The Blacks kept to themselves, the Hispanic players kept to themselves, and the whites kept to themselves, mostly.

Fast forward to now and you see major league teams in which Black, Brown, and White players mingle, enjoy each other’s company off of the field, support one another when they have family issues, etc. It isn’t a perfect world, but it is far, far better than where it began.

Sports teams, in general, have embraced Rodney King’s plea of “Can’t we all just get along?”

The U.S. is not the last bastion of racism. Racism is a live and well elsewhere around the world. But racism is a smear on a facade of a country claiming to be a better place, an exceptional place. It is time we address our racist past and our racist present and make ourselves an exception, rather than a manifestation of the rule.

September 6, 2017

On Dependency

He’s a good boy and a better science writer than I ever was. Go buy a copy!

I am reading my son’s new book (Eating to Learn, Learning to Eat by A.R. Ruis) which addresses the history of school lunch programs in the U.S. One of the “concerns” that comes up frequently in the political debates is the “fear of dependency” if kids were to receive a free lunch at school everyday. (Yes, I know. It just goes to show you how many fucking morons there are.) This was not much of a debate for parents but was for the rich (White) power structures of American cities.

The evidence that children showed up at school either malnutritioned or just plain hungry were readily available. Kids were also diseased and pest ridden back in the day. That many men couldn’t pass a physical to be inducted into the Army for World War I made school lunches a national issue as well.

This is not my topic. My topic is the “dependency” claim made by conservatives and conservative interests. The conservatives have used loaded and coded language for all of my life in these debates. The “dependency” fear mongering is steeped in racism and politics.

The reason conservatives eschew giving “handouts” to poor people is not that such will make them dependent, although they hammer on that drum insistently. Their real fear is that poor people will become politically dependent on the people who are providing the assistance and then will vote for them. Conservatives do not want to get into a competition as to which political party, say, can be in charge of the “handouts” because that will just inflate the size of the assistance through competition, so they do not want to play that game. But neither do they want the Democrats, say, to become the party that provides the assistance and then gets the votes. It is not about dependency but to whom they would be dependent.

On top of that they believe that the votes of poor people will be for ever increasing “handouts” that will then require increased tax revenues from the rich to support them. So, they fear monger: such assistance promotes “dependency, is “socialism,” etc. Actually they also believe that the poor are not worthy. The Black and Brown poor are obviously not worthy, but neither are the White poor, even the working White poor. In the mind of Conservatives, if those people were worthy, they wouldn’t need assistance! Talk about a prosperity gospel … in reverse.

We are all familiar with the parental advice to not feed stray cats and dogs as the family will soon have a new pet to feed. I spin this when visiting old friends or relatives I haven’t seen in a while when the topic of their children comes up. They are invariably bigger than the last time I saw them so I say “I warned you what will happen if you fed them!”

If you feed a child or a hungry adult, all you are doing is reducing the amount of hunger in the world and allowing them to grow or live normally. You do not draw the line there. If your Vegan neighbor crashes your barbecue party and complains to you about the menu … that’s where you draw the line.

August 24, 2017

Why is Colin Kaepernick Still Unsigned?

The Guardian summed up the situation thus:

The NFL season begins in two weeks and the quarterback who took the San Francisco 49ers to within seven yards of winning the Super Bowl four years ago does not have a job. His absence isn’t difficult to explain. His refusal to stand for the national anthem last year as a way to draw attention to racial inequality in the US has apparently made him toxic to the league’s owners who fear a backlash from white fans and corporate sponsors offended by a perceived lack of patriotism.”

So, the obvious question is why is “patriotism” symbolized more by a mindless participation in a ritual than in the actual exercise of rights of citizens as defined by our constitution? In a similar vein, why do people equate support of our military as support for our country? Are we not more than a support system for a mighty fist? How was Colin Kaepernick being “unpatriotic”? How possibly could exercising one’s rights as a citizen be unpatriotic? Is the argument one of balance? Is overt and vicious racism no good reason for disrupting the jingoistic symbolism surrounding a football game?

I wonder how this would all have gone had Kaepernick been white? I am sure team and league officials would have huddled with a star white quarterback and figured out a symbolic way to “address the issue.” which typically would be a grant of some money to a symbolic organization, the quarterback would then have been hustled in front of some microphones to read an apology written by his publicist, and then everyone would be back doing what made this country great: making money, for fuck’s sake! That’s patriotism!

August 8, 2017

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall …

Filed under: Culture — Steve Ruis @ 8:05 am
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I just read an essay (“Unlearning the Myth of American Innocence” by Suzy Hansen) that absolutely wowed me. (Wow!) The topic: what it means to be white in America or possibly to be American in the rest of the world. Profound, disturbing, and highly recommended.

We don’t seem to see this kind of piece in the US, instead we have to read The Guardian to find such gems.

 

 

 

July 13, 2017

Creationists on the Rise!

I have been filling in a few holes in my viewing of late and I decide to give the HBO documentary  “Questioning Darwin (2014?),” another try. I only got a few minutes into the show the first time and this time I must have gotten a whole quarter of the way through. And, truth be told, it seemed fairly even handed. What I was shocked about is the sheer audacity of the cherry-picking of scripture by the Ken Ham crowd (Answers in Genesis, the Creation Museum, et. al.). When faced with the Problem of Evil, Mr. Ham simply shrugs this off because of all of the changes that occurred because of Adam’s “sin.” If it hadn’t been for Adam’s disobedience of God, we would all be living forever in a paradise … according to those given voice in this documentary.

But is this actually what scripture says? And, I do not here from the fact that the creation story in Genesis is actually a fictional tale meant to make spiritual points with Jews. These people believe that Genesis is historical truth, no doubt about it … even though the Jews, who are responsible for the existence of that book, claim otherwise. I am not starting there. I am working from the viewpoint of the people who believe that Genesis is either first- or second-hand knowledge of what really happened.

Let’s start with Adam’s disobedience of God’s instructions. Going against God’s instructions is the definition of Biblical sin. It is the Creationist’s definition of right and wrong, good and evil. But God’s admonition was: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Clearly neither Adam, nor Eve, understood the difference between good and evil, having not yet eaten from the tree, so what was the basis for the punishment?

The Creationists in the documentary essentially claimed it was Original Sin, although the idea of Original Sin doesn’t occur in the Bible, having been first alluded to in the second century by Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, and expanded in the fourth century by Aurelius Augustinus. But even if it isn’t mentioned, the source of Original Sin is God’s curse. God said that “when you eat from it you will certainly die.” But Adam and Even did not die, instead they were banished and their children were condemned as sinners before they were even born … with no way out from under that sentence for thousands of years. So, who created all of that depravity? Looks like “God did it,” is the answer again.

These Creationists also seem to think that Adam and Eve were immortal and that their sin brought death into the world. That is not backed up by scripture, because unless all of the animals were immortal, too, there had to be death. If they thought that Adam’s and Eve’s sin brought death to immortal humans, then why did God say: “22 … ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’” and then “23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”

So, the whole point is that God showed no equanimity here. He could have just waved away Adam and Eve into nonexistence and then grabbed some mud to make a new Adam. He could have turned time back before Eve took her bite and strangled that serpent (it was not a snake; it had legs!). He could not have allowed the a serpent access to the Garden until Adam and Eve had had their shakedown experiences. He could have relented, restored them to their pre-bite status and warned them sternly to “Not do that again!” No, he condemns the entire race to depravity, hopelessness, and a Lake of Fire as a retirement home, for ever and ever, amen.

So, the Creationists are saying that the Book of Genesis is the literal truth but they have made up a whole lot of back story that is not in the Bible to support their worldview. In addition they have made up a whole lot of bullstuff about Darwin that conflicts with the historical record. They correctly, though, fully recognize that if Darwin is right, they are wrong. This is the source of their animosity. One commenter stated baldly that if he were not the subject of special creation, then he wouldn’t be “special,” he would be just another animal. He didn’t go on and say “And we all know that isn’t true …” he just left that hanging. Imagine, an argument that God has to exist because … ego gratification!

I just couldn’t finish the documentary because it is just so much bilge. They can indoctrinate their children and preach anti-Darwinism from their pulpits, but in the end God’s Creation will have the last laugh.

 

 

July 9, 2017

The Puzzlement of the Talents

Filed under: Culture,Science,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 6:33 pm
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I have been going back and forth with one of my students, who is in many ways my intellectual superior, over the nature of “talent.” I have argued and continue to argue that their ain’t no such thing. He argues that surely there must be.

I argue that scientists have looked and looked for a biological source of a talent and come up dry. There does not seem to be such a thing. What I am talking about is a specific talent, such as for baseball or poker or the violin, not a general propensity to be good at something. People with “talent” seem to progress rapidly and effortlessly in their chosen endeavor. I argue that in most cases what people are observing is a developed skill. When somebody sees a basketball star execute a slick play, gosh they just have to be talented. Of course, the commenter hasn’t seen the dozens and dozens of hours that move got practiced.

People in my camp argue that a physical skill, e.g. hitting a baseball or playing the flute comes from a considerable amount of practice. We acknowledge that people have built in attributes that make them stand out amongst beginners and allow them to learn faster than the crowd. Tall people have an advantage in basketball, for example. (Coach John Wooden used to say “You can’t teach quickness or height, so I recruit for those.”) Baseball requires good hand-eye coordination, strong wrists, and, etc. But is there a talent for baseball? I do not think so. (As an example, think of the multi-sport star athlete in high school. were they born with talents for all of those sports or are they just a good all-around athlete who practices hard?)

My argument is that high levels of skill are developed through training. Training is only pursued when there is interest, so the people who seem to “have a lot of talent,” tried something and were good enough at it that they liked it and so pursued serious training for a time. For example, Mozart was considered a musical child prodigy. But Mozart’s father was a music teacher and Mozart spent many, many hours in practice because, either he had to or he enjoyed it. Expert analysis of Mozart’s early compositions, those of his youth, indicated that they were rather derivative and ordinary. But how many youths are composing serious classical music at a young age? We tend to compare these “prodigies” with ordinary adults in the same endeavor, not with the greats of that endeavor.

One of the counter arguments offered against my position is so many people used the word talent in describing their situation, surely it can’t be just made up. Actually I think it was just made up. I offer, but cannot prove, the following scenario as justification. A youth shows behavior beyond his years. His parents fear demon possession, but a passing clergyman, eager to claim all good happenings for his god, counters that the child has “a gift from god.” These “gifts” became “God-given talents” over time, again to claim their god as the source of all good things (but not the bad things—interestingly, the bad things come from the Devil, or Satan … nobody asks where they came from).

So the idea of a talent was spin. It was an explanation of something that was borderline uncanny that was acceptable to most all people. The existence of talents/gifts was not questioned because they were so common (most people tend to be good at something) but when finally some scientists set out to find the basis for talents, they came and continue to come up with nothing.

If you are familiar with the Bell curve, aka a Gaussian distribution, it is obvious that our attributes and abilities are spread over quite a range. My height, for example, puts me in the top 2.5% of Americans. My IQ puts me in the top 0.5% of Americans. People that are way out on the tails (both high and low) are considered “different.” So, somebody who shows abilities far exceeding the expectations set up for his/her age can be singled out. But I do not see humans who are “off the charts” in their abilities. I see many kids who have opportunities and a few who embrace them seriously and a very few who excel at that activity. We do not sit around and discuss the child who quits right away. (This is a stupid sport; I am going home!) We sit around and ooh and ahh about those whose performances exceed our expectations. We say “They have talent.” What that means, in my thinking, is “They have developed a great deal of skill.” They stand out because they developed that skill faster than others, so at a younger age. Studies of “whiz kids” and “Wunderkinder” do not show a common continuation of their rate of progress into adulthood, many plateau off or “burn out” (not literally). How many stellar performers are you aware of who were child prodigies when young? Not many is my guess.

So, talent? Meh, not so much.

What do you think?

July 5, 2017

Why Don’t Atheists Just Run Amok?

Filed under: Culture,Morality,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:38 pm
Tags: , , ,

One of the claims of god-fearers is that atheists are dangerous because they have no basis for their morals. Without a god to dictate what “being moral” is, and enforcing that moral code, there is just nothing stopping atheists from raping, looting, and killing, now, is there? I propose to explain why this is not the case, so that the god-fearers can understand.

This is just one point of many that can be made, like “It isn’t any fun,” but the primary reason that atheists don’t just run amok is that is just isn’t safe. Has anyone ever seen atheists run amok, specifically because their is no divine retribution, anyway? I have never heard of such a thing. I have read about numerous cases of bad treatment of people because they weren’t considered real people by the appropriate religious experts, but no amok running, per se.

Getting back to my main point: running amok ain’t safe. Let’s start with a hypothetical situation: a beautiful woman lives on an atheist’s block. If he were to go rape her, I mean, what could go wrong? For one, she may be a martial arts or MMA expert and she may beat the shit out of him. Or she may have a brother, father, uncle or other relative who owns a baseball bat and they may beat the shit out of him. (We have made this an element of society in the form of law enforcement. In Chicago, cops regularly beat the shit out of people, and shoot them, and then drag what’s left in for a trial.)

Obviously there is a great deal of downside to this running amok. When word got around, you could lose your job. Other people would shun you for being an asshole, etc. So, let’s say you embrace the badass nature of amok running, plus you are not a dumb atheist, but a smart one. You realize that to be able to run amok without negative consequences, you need a gang of atheists. There is safety in numbers, it takes a village, etc. So, you gather a gang, all ravening atheists, who form a mutual protection society. You go rape some woman and a male relative of hers takes offense and a baseball bat and comes looking for you and … Bob’s your uncle, you have a dozen guys there to greet him when he shows up. Easy peasey. But the problem with this approach is there is nothing stopping the aggrieved members of society from forming an even bigger gang and beating the shit out of your gang and you, of course.

Such behaviors: bullying, running amok, etc. only “succeed” in the short turn. Eventually you get the shit beaten out of you, or dead. (Ask Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi.)

So, the real reason why atheists just don’t run amok is that running amok is a lot of work and it just isn’t safe. Get along with people, treat them well, and you will lead a better life. This running amok idea may sound good to you, but it sounds miserable to us. It just isn’t any fun, you see.

July 3, 2017

NRA Changing Spots?

Filed under: Culture,Morality — Steve Ruis @ 8:01 am
Tags: , ,

In a recent and controversial ad, the National Rifle Association’s spokesman, Dana Loesch accuses “their” ex-president of endorsing “the resistance,” a movement of demonstrators who “smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports — bully and terrorize the law-abiding.”

I never thought the NRA would turn against the Bundys (Cliven, et. al.) like that. Is there no steadfastness in that organization?

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