Class Warfare Blog

April 27, 2017

Good and Evil? Meh.

I find the ideas of good and evil puzzling. In a world of almost infinite variation, these two absolutes continue to exist in people’s minds, often as an unnecessary dichotomy. Of course, there are organizations dedicated to their continued existence but, really, they are not useful terms, at least not to us. Mostly they show a lack of imagination or a desire to manipulate.

We are always trying to quantify things; that is normal for us. But we also tend to play one-upmanship in contests for status. There is a PGA commercial running now with famous golfers talking about how early they get to the practice range. The times quoted get earlier and earlier in response to what the others claimed until they are completely ridiculous. It was designed to show how competitive the golfers are and serves that purpose. It works, of course, because we have all played the game. (And please do not respond that this is a hyper-competitive, male-only game. Just listen to a group of mothers talking about their children and you will see the same process.)

So, when someone asks you “how bad was it?” There is a tendency to exaggerate. (I thought I was dying. Excruciating—worst hangnail I have ever had. etc.)

But like most things, these are just gradations on a scale. There is, for example, no “tall” or “short” or a clean dividing line between them. (I am tall enough to be in the top 3% of Americans in height, but when I played center in basketball in college, I was a puny shrimp.) Similarly, where are the dividing lines between “bad” and “evil” or between “good” and “bad?” These do not exist, for good reason. There are gradations of good and bad like there are of tall and short, but no absolutes.

What happens when we use absolutes, though, is we fall down a rabbit hole out of ordinary discourse. These absolutes do not acknowledge that there is a bit of everything in each of us. For example, by all accounts, Hitler was good to his mother.

By labeling things as “good” or “evil” we create categories based upon similarities that are not close to being exact. For example, do Adolph Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer belong in the same box?. Certainly not based upon their body counts. But both are simply labeled “evil.” Remember the “Evil Axis” of G.W. Bush? Such characterizations set people up for overly simplistic “solutions” to problems. As examples: We must oppose evil (because we are the good guys). We must oppose ISIS, it is evil. And, the ultimate: we must make war on terrorism! WTF? This makes no sense at all.

The terms good and evil exist as manipulators of human emotions and for no other reason. They are vague and unhelpful terms designed to be vague and helpful to those using them, to manipulate their hearers into doing their bidding.

When you next hear the term “all-good” or “ultimate evil,” think “all tall” or “ultimate short.” Those are about as useful as descriptors as the former.

April 12, 2017

Why Do People Ask Stupid Questions?

I was reading a book last night that listed several existential questions. You know the type: Why am I here? Why is anyone here? and so on. (This is the kind of academic question that was mocked by Bill Cosby’s brilliant bit ‘Why is there air?” The jock’s answer was that there was air to blow up basketballs, to blow up footballs.) But the last question struck me and not in a good way: “Am I just a robot or do I have a soul?”

Am I just a robot or do I have a soul?

Okay, I get the bit about “having a soul.” Souls are a variation on the “God of the Gaps” argument. The God of the Gaps argument is if there is any gap at all in our worldly knowledge, it is filled with “god” as an explanation for what we don’t know. Before we knew what lightning was we assumed it was caused by a god. That gap in our knowledge has been filled, so no more lightning gods are needed. (Sorry, Thor.) So, anything mysterious or puzzling about the nature of our experience as human beings and, yep, that’s caused by the soul.

Basically the idea of a soul is rather pathetic. It comes down to some very deep thinking (not). First off, no one wants to die. (The joke goes that there were people who wanted to die, but they died before passing on their genes, so we are the only ones left.) Innately, we want to keep living. But second, we all die. Even the people in literature who die and are brought back to life: Lazarus, Frankenstein’s monster, etc., eventually they all die (again?).

Let me take a moment out and concede that a number of people every year die and come back to life. “Being dead” is a medical diagnosis and such things can be got wrong. The consequences can be tragic. When his tomb was reopened, the philosopher John Duns Scotus (1266 – 1308) was reportedly found outside his coffin with his hands torn and bloody after attempting to escape. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) In fact, enough people were entombed who had not died that bells were installed in some mausoleums as well as various designs for “safety coffins” incorporating similar mechanisms were patented during the 18th and 19th centuries and variations on the idea are still available today. So “resurrections” are not necessarily imaginary. My point is, resurrected or not, everyone has eventually died.

And when we die, our bodies decompose. Our flesh molders away, leaving inert bones that, cartoons aside, never get up and dance again. Clearly no part of our bodies “lives on” so if there were to be a part of us that does live on, it must be invisible. So, souls stem from the facts that: no one wants to die (we all want to live on), everybody does die, and since no visible part of our bodies seems to survive, the part that does must be invisible. Voila, a soul is born!

Now, let’s look at the “just a robot” part of the question. Just a robot? This is a smear. This is a setup. This is a comparison like how much friskier your dog is than the dead dog over there. Just a robot?

Think about robots for a second. The term was invented by Karel Capek for a play he wrote in 1920, although organic versions can be identified going back to golems (a robot made of clay) and other creatures, but Capek’s play is the first instance of the idea of a mechanical robot in human literature. And in human literature robots stayed, through “Forbidden Planet” (a movie so bad it is good), and myriad science fiction books. Not long ago, though, “robots” started showing up in the news: robots that helped make cars, robots that did medical operations, etc. And fairly recently, we have been treated to robots for the home: robots that vacuumed our floors, robots who were pets, and the Japanese have been working on robotic people. (The sexual tastes of a significant number of Japanese men do not include the words “human” or “female” for some strange reason.) Soon, our cars are expected to be robots, driving us around like we are Ms. Daisy.

In just one hundred years robots have gone from the realm of imagination to household objects. Now, extend that line of development one hundred more years, then one hundred more and a couple of hundred more after that. Can you honestly say that “just a robot” would be a thing of derision? Such things could be physically more capable than humans and computationally more capable also. They may even achieve consciousness and we would then be debating their status in our societies (tool or slave?).

The phrase “Am I just a robot” exhibits a distaste for any description of human beings as being a product of biological evolution. But humans being biological constructs is a quite successful explanatory framework which has answered many, many questions about why we are the way we are and why we think the ways we do. This concept is the “go to” concept for scientific researchers looking for the roots of human health, disease, and behaviors. The reason for this is that it has been damned successful. You do not have to like it, but it is undeniable.

Have all human activities being explained through the “we are meat robots” hypothesis? Of course not. But we have been trying for only a little over one hundred years so far. Extend that line of development one hundred more years, then one hundred more and a couple of hundred more after that and we shall see. The categories of robot and human may not even remain separate. Currently there are research efforts to merge electronic modules into people’s bodies given the blind the ability to see and the immobile the ability to move. (Yes, now.)

So, what struck me originally with “Am I just a robot or do I have a soul?” is how are these two a dichotomy? Surely this question is at least multiple choice. Could not human beings be the result of an alien biology experiment? Could not human beings be an experiment of a god: creating conscious beings without souls to see if we missed them? Why is the list so small: I have a soul or I am a meat puppet.

Clearly, this is a false dichotomy. This is like the recent presidential election when we were presented with a choice of two individuals, neither of whom was at all desirable or suitable to be president. When you force a false choice such as this, the results are not at all helpful.

The question stacks the deck for us having souls. So why must we have souls? Well there is the argument (above) explaining the logic, but a more powerful urge is unveiled here. We have souls because we are special. (Cue the Church Lady.) Of all creatures, we are different. Not only are we different, we are better. We are better than those Neanderthals and other hominids because they didn’t have souls. Only we have souls. We have souls because a god loves us and wants us to live forever.

Pathetic, absolutely pathetic.

Right now people are debating the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in our society (as being on the path to artificial consciousness?—hey SkyNet was powerful enough to make Arnold Schwarzenegger an international star!). Maybe we are getting ahead of ourselves; maybe we should be spending a bit more time on the consequences of natural intelligence and the lack thereof.

April 9, 2017

Inquiring Theists Want to Know!

Theist apologists are always coming up with questions for atheists, kind of like the questions Catholic kids come up with for their Catechism teachers, e.g. “If God is all-powerful can he create a rock so big even he can’t lift it, Father?” Here is one of the latest:

Without a personal Creator-God, how are you anything other than the coincidental, purposeless miscarriage of nature, spinning round and round on a lonely planet in the blackness of space for just a little while before you and all memory of your futile, pointless, meaningless life finally blinks out forever in the endless darkness?”

Gosh, as an announced atheist, this makes me want to go slit my wrists, but I am laughing too hard to undertake that task with any skill, so I will just tackle this question first.

Underneath all of the snark embedded in this “question,” is a feeling of superior knowledge, that the questioner knows that without his creator god, life is just futile. (None of the other creator gods will do, don’t you know.)

So, “a coincidental, purposeless miscarriage of nature,” hmm. Well, I can’t be a miscarriage because I actually was born, but coincidental, I’ll own up to that. My parent’s believed in planning their family and I was the third of the two children they planned, so, coincidental I am.

Now, “spinning round and round on a lonely planet in the blackness of space.” I can detect no spinning. There is a gym nearby that offers spinning but I do not subscribe for that. The planet is “lonely,” that I do not get. The solar system has eight major planets, some minor planets, and myriad moons, etc. This guy makes it sound like there is the Sun and the Earth and little else. He must be reading his Bible. Maybe he means that I am lonely. Well, if I am, then I am very picky regarding having friends with over seven billion other humans to chose from, plus myriad other non-human companions I could entice to come live with me (for free room and board). No, I am not lonely; he got that wrong.

“In the blackness of space?” We seem to be quite well adapted to the light-dark cycles on our planet. The Scandehoovians who experience almost no “dark” during the winter go a little batty behind that, so “dark” is apparently a good thing for us. I like looking up at the dark sky and seeing all of the pretty lights, so not really dark at all, so he got this wrong, too.

But, yes, in a little while (littler all of the time) I shall die and kinda-sorta be forgotten. I still remember my parents and grandparents and other deceased relatives, so I expect to remain in memory of my younger relatives for some time. I am named in a family genealogy that goes back to the 1700’s and am recorded in a number of diverse histories, so will be “remembered” that way to some extent, and I have written close to a dozen books, which will remain available for a very long time, possibly many decades, but really I will not give a shit as I will be dead.

I have to ask, are all of those people supposedly in Heaven and Hell enjoying their immortality? Are they “remembered” by the living? Is not everyone remembered by your God who cannot forget anything (otherwise He would not be all-knowing), so is not everyone, in your world view, remembered forever and ever? Very puzzling attitude then for for you, a believer, to have.

And “your futile, pointless, meaningless life finally blinks out forever in the endless darkness.” I am looking forward to the endless blackness, far preferable to the Lake of Fire you promise my kind. But where do you get “futile,” and “pointless,” and “meaningless” from? Are you saying that because you are a Christian, your life is automatically not futile, not pointless, and not meaningless? If so, you are going to have to provide some details. What is your purpose in life? If it is to end up in Heaven at the side of your God, isn’t that a little self-serving? It sounds a lot like “I am going to get mine and the rest of you can go roast in Hell.” Many of your ilk tell us that good deeds will not get us into Heaven, but faith will, so you exalt people who do not do good deeds by have faith over people who lack faith, like me, who do good deeds. Sounds a lot like “I am going to get mine and the rest of you can go roast in Hell.” It also sounds as if you believe that your God has a plan for you. (He believes in family planning, unlike our current GOP.) Can you tell me what your plan is so I can see whether or not you are meeting your quarterly goals? No? Another thing I just have to take on faith, I guess.

And, last, regarding “meaning” as applied to one’s life. Meaning is something that is created in the hearts, minds, and words of others. You can read about the meaning of people’s lives in Wikipedia, for example. These meanings are divined, if you will allow the use of that word, from others observing our deeds. So, one creates the meaning of one’s life by doing. I can live with that.

And, I can die with that.


February 9, 2017

Hey, Alfie, Whatsis?

Filed under: Philosophy — Steve Ruis @ 1:01 pm
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As regular readers know I am a hot and cold fan of philosophy. In a recent series of blog posts Sam Harris and a noted philosopher got into an unexpected and very protracted disagreement over what the word “truth” meant.

These discussions make me want to gouge my eyes out and go looking for an honest man. They are right up there with claims for there being “objective moral principles.” Hey, if all humans were to disappear, the physical universe would still be there (not that we would know as there would be no “we” left). That is objective reality. All morals, however, would disappear. That is the definition of subjective. Why is there any discussion of this?

These discussions prove that determined intellectuals can fuck up just about any reasonable discussion.

January 12, 2017

Having a Reason to Live, But Wait There’s More!

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:26 pm
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In my last post (Having a Reason to Live, January 12, 2017) I focused on what having a “meaning” for one’s life means. But one sentence in the letter to the editor of that Canadian newspaper from a theist subscriber has continued to have reverberations in my mind. It was the claim that if the letter writer were to subscribe to a secular worldview he would conclude that “I exist on a tiny planet in a minor solar system in an empty corner of a meaningless universe.”

Let me ask a rhetorical question at this point (of you): what do you think would happen to us if all of the other galaxies (200-300 billion by count at this point) were to disappear in an instant? Poof, they are gone and what happens next … to us?

Got an answer? I do.

Basically noting that happens in those other galaxies affects what happens here on Earth. Life would go on quite as it has.

So, why was all of “that” necessary to be created? Why create 200-300 billion galaxies when only one was needed to support life on Earth? It certainly wasn’t to create the conditions to support life here on Earth. In fact, other than the solar system, we could do without the rest of our own galaxy about as well as we are doing with it in existence. Those other 100 billion stars and their planets? Poof, they are gone. Well, that would cause some effect. Other than the Moon and the other planets, the night sky would be black which would be kind of boring, but unless you believe in astrology, those other stars in the sky have no effect on us here, so we can live without them. (Actually the Bible tells us this!)

This Hubble Telescope image shows spiral galaxy ESO 137-001.

This Hubble Telescope image shows spiral galaxy ESO 137-001 plus a lot of meaningless extra stuff.

So, whether or not you live in a created world, the rest of most of the universe is meaningless: meaningless for theists; meaningless for secularists.

Unless . . .

. . . unless, there are “people” on those other planets circling those other stars, in our galaxy and all of the other galaxies, and those people are creating meaning for their own lives. Then … then, the rest of our universe has meaning … just not for us.



December 24, 2016

Yes and No?

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:59 am
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A N.Y. Times columnist had a column with the provocative title “Pastor, am I a Christian?” in which the author expressed some doubts about the standard theology of Christianity. The theologian he interviewed on these doubts gave him pretty much the party line so there was little of interest there, but the comments … the comments, now they were interesting.

One such comment said the core of Christianity was Jesus’ mission, basically to sacrifice himself to save all of us from Original Sin. (Basically, He sacrificed Himself, to Himself, to save us all from Himself—Thank you, John Zande!) The very next comment said “Wrong.” Another comment said that the important part of Christianity was not the superstitious mumbo-jumbo but “Jesus’ teachings.”

I have already posted ad nauseum about the “mission” aspect of  Christianity but I have said little of Jesus’ teachings, that is his philosophy. What about that?

It seems that most Christians honor the teachings of Jesus by ignoring them. These “teachings” are relatively sparse, being mostly repetitions of prior scripture, hence not original to Jesus. So, there is little to discuss, as most of that was already in evidence before the Jesus story was written.

Of the new stuff, Jesus told a fellow to sell all of his worldly goods and give what he made from that sale to the poor. I do not see this advice being followed all that much. Most apologists indicate that this advice was only for that man alone and was not meant to apply to every one. I guess they didn’t think he was serious when Jesus said that a rich man had as little chance of getting into Heaven as a camel to go through the eye of the needle. (This term may have been in common use, the “Eye of the Needle” being claimed to be a gate in Jerusalem, which opened after the main gate was closed at night. A camel could only pass through this smaller gate if it was stooped and had its baggage removed. So, it wasn’t impossible, just quite unlikely.) Since, in this country, the goal of every rich person seems to be getting richer, my guess is none of them are Christians.

Jesus also told people to disavow their families and to follow him, presumably not to the point of becoming human sacrifices, but in this context to follow his teachings, I guess.

He also said that Jewish laws were all intact and were to be followed to the letter. I don’t see any Christians doing this, either.

So, “following the teachings of Jesus” is something almost no one is doing even given the fact that Jesus said almost nothing new or novel. (I say “almost” because right now it is truly nothing new or novel, but you never know when some new document might be discovered.) Basically, Jesus said “Be a Jew and meet me in Heaven.” The rest is quite debatable.

In another piece in the Times a day later (today) quotations and photos of many artists who died in 2016 were offered. One that struck a chord was from Umberto Eco:
I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.
This kind of explains everything. Our brains are pattern recognition engines. We see patterns everywhere and when we do not see patterns, we make them up. So, we are constantly trying to see patterns as they allow us to predict future events and, hence, be safer. If we notice that when a tiger is sneaking up on us through the grass, there is a certain movement in the grass, then we equate “specific grass movement = tiger” and get the heck out of there. There is no penalty if we are wrong, such as when the grass was moved by the wind instead of a tiger, but a severe penalty is possible if we ignore or do not see the pattern and heed it.

So, we run willy-nilly asking “God” (a pattern) to show us a “sign” (also a pattern). And, lo and behold we see them! (Surprise, surprise.) If you combine this very understandable aspect of human brains with a penchant for making shit up, religion is explained quite well, including beliefs in the teachings/philosophy of Jesus when there is really no “there” there.

PS For those of you who wonder why I write about religion in a class warfare blog, religion has been and is being used to oppress those who would oppose the oligarch’s plans for our future. We are told to be meek and mild and that our reward will come after we die. This is so the rich people can have their reward while they are still alive.


November 23, 2016

Steven Pinker on a Lesson We Have Failed to Learn

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 1:02 pm
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(Steven Pinker is an evolutionary psychologist and author)

“Perhaps the greatest discovery in human history, one that is logically prior to every other discovery, is that all of our traditional sources of belief are, in fact, generators of error and should be dismissed as sources of knowledge. These include: faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, augury, prophesy, intuition, clairvoyance, conventional wisdom, and that warm, invigorating glow of subjective certainty.”

Can you imagine what politics would look like without all of that?


November 16, 2016

Philosophical Selfies

Filed under: Philosophy — Steve Ruis @ 12:02 pm
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I have been reading a sociology book of late, which is stretch for me as I have a low opinion of the field. (I used to claim that I had invented a perfect cure for insomnia: simply give the insomniac a sociology textbook and ask them to read it and 15 minutes later they would be asleep.) But I like to challenge my prejudices, so onward I read. There were a number of points made I found interesting, then the subject of “self” came up. What constitutes a self (myself, yourself, themselves, etc.) comes up in sociology (needed for definition of society) as well as psychology and philosophy.

What I find is that often people become entranced with the idea of “self” and carry it to extremes. People start with the fact that all of us can carry on a conversation in our heads that no one else can hear. This leads to the idea of having an “inner self” versus “our outer selves.” We “are” variously: parents, workers, volunteers, musicians, cooks, etc., each of which, to some, is a “self.” Writers often emphasize searching for our “real self” because there are so many of these “selves.” These people, I think, confuse “what I am doing now” as some kind of different persona. In actuality, in order to fit into any group you need to conform to the rules of said group. Showing up to a cooking class wearing a baseball catcher’s gear would definitely be considered weird as would showing up for baseball practice wearing a chef’s hat. each of these behaviors would lead to others judging you and possibly shunning you. In general, we all tend to “go along to get along” and adopt each subgroups norms for the time we participate in them. If our job requires “business attire,” we wear a suit. When we are invited to a party that recommends “cocktail attire” we do not show up in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and flip flops. Each of these activities is really not a separate entity we could label as a “self.” They are just something we are doing.

“Why the search for our “real” or “inner” self? It seems to me to be
a search for a nonexistent “soul” that out religious traditions insist exists.”

But the idea that we can talk to ourselves, think to ourselves, gives the impression that the outer projection of our personality is not our real self. On the contrary I think it is. If we are a “go along to get along” type, we readily conform to any group’s norms, no problem. If we are rebellious, we tend to be rebellious across the board. There is no mystery here, people tend to be quite consistent.

So why this persistent feeling of “layers upon layers” and “I contain multitudes” when we think of our mental lives? Why the search for our “real” or “inner” self? It seems to me to be a search for a nonexistent “soul” that out religious traditions insist exists. It has to be down there somewhere. The mindset that we have a soul presupposes the idea of an inner self and fuels such language and thinking.

Reality seems just the reverse. Consciousness is an emergent property of human brains. It really exists only on the “outside.” All of the different manifestations we present to the world outside of us are simply ways to “fit in” and not attract undue attention and to attract “due attention.” This is even exemplified by those who are otherly directed: the flamboyant extroverts. Even those who want to be “the baddest dude in town” are looking for attention of a particular sort. They avoid “undue” attention but revel in the ability to attract attention that repels the rest of us, their “due attention.”

So, each of us wants to be part of society or a subgroup of society, we want to be acknowledged as existing and having some standing in our community. Even the “born to be wild” outlaw bikers formed clubs (the Hell’s Angels, etc.). If I may reiterate a famous football coaches frustrated comment: “They are who we thought they were.” It should not be such a surprise.

Since consciousness is an emergent property it is on the outside. Dig down an inch or so and it becomes dark and unilluminating. The light is on the outside. We should be looking at how that outer skin of consciousness interacts with those around us rather than looking deep inside for a non-existent soul-self.

You can see who you are in a selfie … if you just look.

November 4, 2016

World Series Afterthoughts

Filed under: Philosophy,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 9:12 pm
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cubslogoI just finished watching the victory parade of the 2016 Chicago Cubs, who just two days ago won the “World Series” best of seven games mini-tournament. As a resident of the city of Chicago, I couldn’t be happier, but it wasn’t that long ago that I had basically given up on watching sports because, well, it was all so meaningless. Then an editor of the Atlantic magazine made a comment about sports, namely that they possessed a “magnificent meaninglessness.” At that point I realized that “meaning” was overrated in the first place and sports allowed one to pretend they were meaningful, they allowed us to be passionate and to root for our team, but not so that others would take mortal offense at our actions. I have yet to hear of a war being fought over a team or event and I hope never to. (Do you hear me, soccer fans?) So meaninglessness wasn’t a bug, it was a feature.

This World Series, I thought, was fabulous and it would be whether the Cubs had won or not. (I am a Giants fan and when the Cubs eliminated the Giants in the playoffs, I felt it was okay to root for the Cubs.) Here are some other thoughts:

  1. How can one not like the Cubs? They have quality players who are young and very talented and play the game right with a blend of humility and common sense. They have a nice blend of rookies and veterans and play intelligent baseball.
  2. It is a shame someone had to lose this series. Cleveland’s players played their hearts out and came within an eyelash of winning.
  3. Why does every baseball player when photographed in their dugout, chose that moment to spit?
  4. Apparently Fox Sports 1 is locked in as the network to cover the World Series for some years which is a shame. Their coverage was absolutely awful. Now, I understand that baseball games have had declining ratings for many years now and the networks covering them have been looking for ways to spice them up to draw more viewers, but sheesh. Fox started irritating me by injected commercials and interviews into innings (I could skip over the tedious and drawn out pre-game shows). Baseball has always been an advertiser’s delight because there is a natural break after every half inning of a nine inning game, but squeezing in more commercial shots between batters? C’mon man!

And the broadcast crew (not the pre-game or post game stuff, those can be avoided, but the in game announcers … would … not … shut … up. It was if they were broadcasting radio. Joe Buck would tell us who was up at bat and what the count was as a reminder and would call balls and strikes when the little box in the corner of the TV screen had all of that info on display continuously. Then they would be telling stories that were barely relevant when important things were happening on the field. Their cameramen would be taking close-ups of player’s faces in the dugout who were deep in conversations but the shot wasn’t wide enough to show who they were talking to, nor would they speculate on what the conversation was about.

The on screen “enhancements” were lousy, as usual. When a home run was hit they would show a colored line in a replay, supposedly showing the path of the ball into the stands, except you could see the ball in the same shot and it was clear the colored line was somewhat close to the ball but not on the path the ball was taking, making the line … what, another path the ball could have taken or … maybe just eye candy for the underage set?

And the strike zone graphic. The effective strike zone of most umpires is over the plate and from just under the batter’s knees to about their belt buckle (when standing straight up, not in their normal stance, otherwise Rickie Henderson would have drawn a walk every plate appearance). Some of the players were in the range of  6′ 7″ tall  and others closer to 5′ 9″ tall but the box never changed size and often it was clearly positioned too low for the player at the plate. Then, of course, on important pitch replays they used a graphic, with a swoosh line for the ball’s trajectory, leaving behind a circle where the ball crossed the plate. If the grid was in the wrong place, the graphic conclusion was incorrect and it often was. This was clearly shown a couple of times when a replay from an overhead camera showed a different path than the one described both verbally and graphically.

And the bullshit statistics they kept coming up with … argh! In baseball, statistics are used for myriad purposes, but the Fox Sports 1 statistics were typically bizarre, things like “the youngest player to hit a home run in a World Series Game, since year yada, yada.” At one point they breathlessly explained that in one game the #3 and #4 hitters in the Cubs lineup had combined for seven hits and that had never happened in a World Series game before. So … what? Particularly uninteresting were the “Cubs firsts” when they compared home runs with the team’s previous win, in 1908, which was in the “dead ball era” of baseball, an era in which almost no one hit home runs. In the dead ball era, baseballs were used so long in a game that they became so dirty they couldn’t be seen as light faded into evening. Now, if a ball touches the “dirt” (it is not really dirt, and I’m not sure there is any dirt in it) it is removed from play. Such comparisons were stupid to say the least. Now all of the games are played at night, then they played in sunshine, etc.

There is one comparison that seemed valid, though: there were more people attending the Cubs Victory Parade and Rally today than lived in the entire city of Chicago in 1908, the last time the Cubs won.

The best trivia question today was Cubs’ owner Tom Ricketts asking the crowd: how many years has it been since the Cubs won the World Series? The crowd dutifully answered: “108 years,” and Ricketts responded “The correct answer is … zero years.” And so it is.

September 9, 2016

Scaring Ourselves to … Bad Policies

The NYT posted another “investigative journalism” report, this one is on crime, specifically murder (Murder Rates Rose in a Quarter of the Nation’s 100 Largest Cities, 9-9-16).

If one looks at their graphics, though, another headline could have been “Murder Rates Either Fell or Stayed the Same in Three Quarters of the Nation’s 100 Largest Cities.”

“’The homicide increase in the nation’s large cities was real and nearly unprecedented,’ wrote the study’s author …” yes, but this highlights another disturbing trend in modern journalism, the examination of the gaps but not the actual amounts. So, education reporters talk about how the gaps between black and white students has stayed the same or risen but ignore the fact that both Black and white students scores has risen considerably. Black students have increased their performance on standardized tests substantially. In one generation, Black students knowledge of mathematics has increased almost two whole grade levels (e.g. fourth graders can do math that their parents did in sixth grade)! That news somehow does not make it above the fold, below the fold, or anywhere in the paper apparently.

And, in crime reporting, how about the fact that murder rates in those cities has declined substantially since a high around 1990? They even include a graph showing this general decline but they are reporting only on an up-tick at the very end of the graph that may be part of a trend … or may not be.

Journalistic narratives are leading us astray. Violence is on the decline (per capita). Murder is on the decline (per capita). Crime is on the decline (per capita). But that doesn’t sell newspapers. The lede is still “if it bleeds it leads.”

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