Class Warfare Blog

July 2, 2020

The Misuse of COVID-19 Statistics

Filed under: Culture,Reason,The News — Steve Ruis @ 12:25 pm
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I know Americans are virtually statistically illiterate but one thing keeps bothering me.

I read today in a local Chicago newsletter that “Illinois saw 828 new confirmed cases of Coronavirus and 30 more deaths in the past day. Both numbers were increases from previous days this week, but are still part of an overall decline since the peak of the crisis in mid-May. The weekend’s deaths were the lowest numbers in three months.”

Hello?

The deaths recorded today were of people who contracted the virus days or weeks ago. The numbers of cases reported and deaths for any particular day/week etc. are not correlated. If, say, it takes 13 days on average to die from COVID-19, then the deaths of any day are linked to the number of diagnosed cases from 13 days ago.

The US as a whole has seen a recent surge in the number of cases of COVID-19 with the daily numbers reaching record levels. Then people are commenting that the brighter side is that the number of deaths hasn’t gone up. They need to wait a bit to even know what the effect of that rise in diagnosed cases results in.

March 6, 2020

False Dichotomies

The corporate news world has a secret weapon . . . that being fairness. Even Fox (sic) News labeled itself as being “Fair and Balanced” for many years (but have stopped using that tag line, which means . . .).

Here is how it goes: a “news” program brings on a guest who decries man-made climate change. Then out of “fairness,” they bring out a guest who thinks man-made climate change is hooey. That’s fair, right? Both sides of the “debate” get their argument heard.

But if one were to have scientists as guests in this scenario, roughly 97% of climate scientists, the ones who have actually studied the scientific problem, have one view (It’s real, bitches.) and only 3% think that it is not man-made or not primarily man-made. To be “fair” you would put 97 white balls in a fish bowl and three black balls and pull one ball at random each time you had a climate change scientist as a guest. If you got a white ball, you selected a scientist of the 97% cohort and if a black ball a scientist of the 3% cohort.

If one were to use the global population as a guide, roughly (Pew polling numbers) 68% believe climate change is a major threat, 20% believe it is a minor threat, and 9% believe it is not a threat.

But this is not enough of an advantage to the advocates for the status quo, that is the people who are making money hand over fist doing business the way things are now. So, the dichotomy became a dichotomy of view points. Guest A representing one view, and Guest B representing the opposite view, no matter whether those views are representative of the population of experts.

But, wait, there is more!

Often the view favored by the plutocrats is presented by a doctor of something or other: medical doctors, dentists, engineers, etc. Medical doctors are preferred because they are given the honorific title of “Doctor” even though their doctorate is not at all germane to the discussion under way. Consider as an example Doctor Ben Carson. But the use of the title “doctor” lends credence to the position of the person speaking, even though it is not applicable. Professors are called “Professor” even when what they profess isn’t the subject at hand.

This is yet another reason why I do not watch televised/computerized news programs. Their objective isn’t getting at the truth of a matter, their object is . . . just what is their objective, do you think?

November 18, 2019

When Punching …

Filed under: Politics,The News — Steve Ruis @ 12:49 pm
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… make sure you are not punching uphill!

 

November 19, 2018

The Mass Media Are Giving Capitalism a Bad Name

Last night on television, one could watch a couple of documentaries. One was The Clinton Affair, an account of a presidential impeachment from 20 years ago. The other was an MSNBC “special” called Betrayal, The Plot That Won the White House, an act of treason by a GOP candidate for president from 50 years ago. Apparently we now have red and blue entertainments.

Other than treason being a mainstay in GOP national politics, both of these seem to be aimed at making money off of our political divide. There are enough Clinton haters to acquire a substantial audience for the first and enough Nixon haters to acquire a similar audience for the second.

This, of course, is as we are undergoing a major challenge to our fundamental system of government and there are topics galore that the public needs to become informed about. I do not see what benefit rehashing either of these stories has for people now. Nixon’s treason was undermining the Vietnam peace talks as a private citizen, is of a pattern. Ronald Reagan committed his treason in the Sandinista Affair and earlier in undermining Jimmy Carter’s negotiations to free our captives in Iran (in order to get elected). The details of Mr. Trump’s treason(s) have not been elucidated as yet. (I also have my suspicions about G.W. but that is another story. None of these have stopped or even slowed down people voting for these or other candidates from that party.

And, clearly, the more our “mass media” are asked to conform to the “standards” of capitalism, the more they become rootless seekers of profit. At one time the head of CBS News said something alike to “The news division doesn’t need to make a profit; I have I Love Lucy for that.” Today’s “news media” are scrambling for “revenue streams” to stay afloat and under such conditions will succumb to the dictates of survival of the profitable. Pandering to “red” and “blue” audiences comes natural as does ignoring the role a free press plays in holding our leaders to account. (Doing it after they are dead is a tad late.)

August 18, 2018

Why Are We So Afraid?

On Quora, this question was posed: Why are so many Americans “tough on crime”?

One of the answers started this way:

“Americans are terrified.

“The United States of America is a nation of the coward, by the coward, and for the coward. Americans are the most frightened people you will find anywhere in the world.

“We are scared of everything. We’re scared of terrorists. We’re scared of immigrants. We’re scared of criminals. We’re scared of GM food. We’re scared of Muslims. We’re scared of brown people. If you come from any other industrialized country, and you’ve never lived in the US, it’s hard to understand the pervasive sense of fear that Americans live in.

“Americans are frightened, and this fear makes us cruel and mean.”

I immediately thought of the campaign to criminalize being a Black male (not just “driving while Black,” but existing while Black). As Jim Crow laws lost their footing in this country, some way had to be created to control Black people, especially Black men (just had to). After emancipation, one strategy was to criminalize the state Black people found themselves in. Vagrancy laws alone caused a great many Black men to be incarcerated and because they were poor and couldn’t pay their fine, they had to work off their fine … and room and board in the county jail. Voila, de facto slavery all over again. When these laws because unacceptable to society at large, the approach became “lock them up” on a much larger scale. Crimes that Blacks might commit had much longer penalties than if whites committed them. (Remember the crack cocaine sentences that were ten times longer than if powdered cocaine were involved? Guess which “possession crime” Blacks were more likely to be caught for.)

It has become our habit, through long exposure, to motivate ourselves to do anything politically by using fear. The message is “we must change because, if we don’t, something really bad will happen.”

Consider education: the report A Nation at Risk, claimed (erroneously) that our poor education system was dooming our country to second tier status … gasp, or worse! Also in education, the fear that girls were falling behind boys in math was promoted heavily at the exact moment at which girl’s math test scores had become equal to those of boy’s. (No mention was made of boy’s English language scores being much lower than girls, that was just “boys being boys.”)

The early environmental movement went to inflated extremes to gain attention. We were told we needed to “save the planet” as if it were at risk and not us.

Our “news media” haven’t helped one bit. They are not in the business of putting things in perspective, rather they are in the business of selling their wares. And the wares that sell are often the most alarming, most lurid, and most outlandish of stories.

Fear mongering is a booming business in this country.

And we are all paying for this by having fear dominate our lives. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was based solely upon fear. The slogan “Make America Great Again” implies we were great once, but are no longer …. but we could be again, just vote for me. Was there any analysis of this opinion? If a survey of world citizens were to ask the question “Which nation is the most powerful currently?” do you not think the USA would be voted to the top? (And if you didn’t so vote, would you expect to be invaded?)

When was the last time something was done politically because it was the right thing to do, rather than via a fear mongering campaign? Obamacare? The opposition to it was loaded with fear mongering, e.g. Death Panels! The national debt will skyrocket! The “safety net” will become a hammock! If not that, what?

If we insist that we will not do anything unless we are terrified, then all we are doing is waging a terror campaign upon ourselves. We are also letting the fear mongers and those who control the message in our news media to lead us around by the nose.

Welcome to the Twenty-first Century!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 26, 2018

Consequences of 24 Hour “News” Cycles

Filed under: Politics,Sports,The News — Steve Ruis @ 8:28 am
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I will start with a comment about sports reporting. Yesterday, the Cleveland Cavaliers won a game in dramatic fashion over the Indiana Pacers in the NBA playoffs (basketball). The Cavaliers now have a 3-2 advantage in a best of seven series. One more win and they move on to the second round of playoffs. The other team goes home with a “better luck next year” wreath. All of the yada, yada, yada surrounding the game, though, shows a lack of appreciation for the basic situation.

The Cleveland Cavaliers were supposed to win that game and should be described as being very lucky that they did not lose it. At the end of the “regular” season, the top eight teams are placed onto a playoff grid based upon their won-lost records. Then the first ranked team plays the eighth-ranked team, the second-ranked and the seventh-ranked teams play, etc. So, an advantage is built in for the better teams in that they are given weaker opponents (at least initially). Additional advantages are given to the higher ranked team in that four of the seven games are scheduled to be played in their home stadiums, with the first two games being played on their home turf, giving them the ability to get a “good start” to the series. This is the basis of what is called the “home field advantage” or “home court advantage.”

The team with the advantage gets to play at a site in which they get to sleep in their own beds, eat home-cooked meals, drive their own cars, practice in their own practice facility and compete on a field/court with which they are more familiar than anyone else. (The Boston Celtics old home court, the infamous Boston Gardens, was so irregular that a ball dribbled from one end to the other would not make the same sound on any two bounces. The floor had dead spots, live spots, unlevel spots, you name it. It was never repaired because the Celtics players knew what to expect everywhere on that court, but their opponents did not. Why give away such an advantage?)

The “visiting” team had none of those advantages. They sleep in hotel beds, eat restaurant food, practice in unfamiliar surroundings and compete at a disadvantage on the opponent’s favorite court.

And then there are the fans. The word “fan” is short for fanatic and there are stories that would curl your hair about what fans will do to give their team a further advantage. I leave that topic up to your own research.

In a seven game series in basketball or baseball, the home field advantage is significant. Teams are compared on their records “home” v. “away.” Good teams almost always have a better record at home rather than in other venues. This is due to the “home court advantage.”

So, the “home team” is supposed to win! Cleveland was supposed to win that game last night as it was in their home arena and had every advantage in doing so. Cleveland is the higher-ranked team. Cleveland is supposed to win their series. That they had to struggle so heroically on their home court to win a game they were supposed to win is not a good sign. Instead the focus is on how brilliant their star was, how well he performed, how he won the game for them.

So, why are these things not emphasized as they were in my youth?

I think it is a consequence of the 24-hour news cycle. If you turn on a TV at any hour, you can find sports programming. When I was young, that was not the case. (When I was young, there was nothing on TV from 12 midnight to 6 AM; all you would get was “snow,” the visual noise of your TV trying to process no signal at all.) The sheer volume of reportage has increased many fold. For example, the first NFL Super Bowl had a 15-minute introductory show. Currently, every NFL game during the ordinary season has two to three hours of introductory material, provided by multiple channels! The Super Bowl is hyped for two weeks, almost nonstop. This is typical of modern sports reporting.

And with that much time to fill, you cannot just repeat the basic parameters of a series. So, those basic “truths” get diluted, diluted, and diluted some more. And what do they get diluted with? Necessarily, they are diluted with less important details. For example, human interest stories abound … now. What impact do these have upon the outcome of the game being covered? Answer: none.

The “basic truths” of sports competitions are being buried in oceans of irrelevancies.

We can also fault the shallowness of the reporting. Whenever the Olympics comes around, we are inundated with stories of Olympians, of how at a young age they decided to “go for the gold” and then we are shown “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” in all of its drama. Why, at no point, do these reports put things in perspectives? Why do they not point out that a huge majority of those with “Olympic Dreams” did not even make their teams and are nowhere to be seen? Why do they not point out the unfairness of the competitions staged to make the teams and the myriad of other political issues surrounding those sports. They will point out Olympic organizing committee corruption because it is now part of the genre, but little else of what goes on behind the scenes is shown. Oh, and cheating gets reported, somewhat.

So, this is a bit of the impact of the 24-hour news cycle on sports reporting.

My whole purpose in laying this out is to ask: “What is the impact of the 24-hour news cycle on political reporting?” Instead of sports reporting in which nothing is really at stake, in politics lives and livelihoods are at stake. There are real consequences in the political arena. What basic truths are being buried in irrelevant details? Could a politician, latch onto this as a modus operandi, and bury us in irrelevant details to hide what is really going on? Deliberately feed “The Beast” (the reporting media) what they like to eat and to hell with the public’s need to know. The salacious sells, so the heck with in-depth economics reporting or business reporting.

Could somebody do this?

Yes, his name is Donald Trump.

 

 

 

 

 

April 9, 2018

Patrick Reed: Master’s Champion … From a Broken Home … WTF?

A professional golfer by the name of Patrick Reed won the prestigious Masters Golf Tournament yesterday, a major breakthrough in his career. To celebrate this achievement a number of “news” sources decided to run stories about how Mr. Reed is estranged from his immediate family. Apparently he and his wife and wife’s family are quite at odds with Mr. Reed’s family.

And I have to ask: what the fuck does that have to do with Reed winning the most important golf tournament of his professional career? None of these stories was looking for the motivation that drives Patrick Reed to professional excellence. In fact neither of the stories explained the rift in his family. This is a huge invasion of privacy. What if there was a family betrayal of Mr. Reed? Would anyone be served by making that public? What if Mr. Reed is an atheist and has been disowned by his Christian family (or vice versa)? Is anyone one served by such a revelation?

One article even brought up allegations of him cheating while playing college golf, of course none of these allegations were proved.

What are these articles but cheap gossip, possibly published to tar Mr. Reed’s accomplishment. As I read these pieces with a growing sense of outrage, I kept looking for the point of these articles, something other than an interest in the salacious details of someone’s private life. I found none.

Just because someone is celebrated for athletic achievements, doesn’t mean we are allowed access to their private lives. This does not come under the public’s right to know that is so bandied about. This might have been different if Mr. Reed took some sort of political stance involving family values or its ilk, but I have seen no evidence of that.

I think hit pieces run like this need right next to the “Like” button a “Fuck You, Asshole, Mind Your Own Business” button.

February 2, 2018

Do You Buy This Argument?

Clearly our educational system is failing, heck it has failed. In the last 100 years, the average IQ of Americans has been stuck at 100 and if we are going to solve the problems of the future, we need to get smarter!

Is this a valid argument?

Do you accept it?

You should not.

IQ tests are “re-normed” every year, that is the average IQ test score, whatever it is, is defined to be a score of 100. Studies have shown that actual IQ scores are 10% higher now than they were 100 years ago, which means that a tester with a score of 100 (aka “average”) now would have had scores 110 back then or a tester back then who scored a 100 would score a 90 now.

So, this “complaint” about “the system” is taking what is actually a positive result and making it sound negative. This is not a new practice. People have been cherry-picking evidence since the dawn of making arguments. Often this is exacerbated by ignorance but possibly as often this is done with full knowledge of such distortions. The unfortunate thing for us is this practice is becoming acceptable to large swaths of the American people.

We see it in politics and we see in religion. For example, Christian apologists keep trotting out arguments that were disproved centuries ago as if they were new. I can’t believe all of them are ignorant to the facts, so some of this is done deliberately. What happens to an apologist who is caught out, basically telling an “untruth”? The answer: nothing. Similarly, in politics, politicians who lie and are shown to have known the truth ahead of the lie suffer no ill effects. We used to have a joke from many, many years ago that went: Q: How can you tell a politician is lying?, A: His lips are moving. This was considered funny and was based partially upon the fact that politicians are not allowed to tell the truth in many cases due to security issues (it is illegal to release “top secret” info) or they have been ordered by political superiors to not tell the truth yet (timing issues), etc. Now, lying is so commonplace that politicians don’t even bother responding to journalists who catch them lying. It is almost as if they are saying “Of course I was lying … didn’t you see my lips move, fool!”

If we are to save our democracy, we need to become better participants as citizens. We need to make sure there is a penalty for lying. To do this we need to stop trying to be universal experts in every political issue that comes up as that is a Herculean task and we are not demigods. Pick a topic (climate change, dark money, gerrymandering, whatever) and set out to become educated about that topic. Heck pick two topics, but whatever topics you pick, learn about the nuances. Then fire away.

In the absence of an educated citizenry, we will fall victim to arguments that sound valid, such as the one above, created by those wanting to manipulate the process and do not care for the truth, the people as a whole, or democracy in particular. We are many, they are few. No matter how many of us chose to become “experts” in a particular topic, we will still be many and they will still be few. But if we continue to flounder and, watching the “news,” bounce from topic to topic we really know nothing about, we will fail. We are many and they are few … and it is easier to organize a few than many.

Oh, and the answers you seek are not available on the “news.” In fact, I am not sure there is anything of value any more in the “news,” so if you think you are keeping up on current events because you watch “the news” on TV, you are being duped. I never watch TV “news” and when I stopped, I became much better informed on the issues I care about.

December 22, 2017

I’ve Been Dreading This Day

Filed under: The News — Steve Ruis @ 11:23 am
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I just read on BillMoyers.com that Mr. Moyers is retiring his blog. He is now well into his eighties and if anyone deserves a restful retirement it is Bill Moyers!

Thank you, Bill!

Bill Moyers has stood for the highest quality journalism for many decades now and his retirement will be felt. This is a time when journalism is in decline. It has happened before but this time seems particularly critical as plutocrats are actively undermining what democracy we have left. Propagandists seemingly abound on almost every street corner (certainly every intersection of the Internet) and quality journalism is hard to find.

Thank you, Bill!

I find myself reading the NY Times with increasing skepticism, even disgust as they seem to be trolling for dollars in any way they can as respectable journalism is not selling well right now. They also seem to be almost a poster child for what “corporate media” has become. I subscribe to The Guardian (U.S. bureau of a U.K. news organ) and scour blogs for more honest takes on current events. The days of Edward R. Morrow, Walter Cronkite, Chet Hundley, Ben Bradlee, and David Brinkley are far behind us. I consider Bill Moyers the last of that long line of inherently respectable and trustworthy journalists. It wasn’t always like that. Journalism may have attracted the likes of Samuel Clemens, but it was hardly a reputable undertaking for many, many years. It seems that the profession is heading back down from the heights of those worthies.

I will miss Bill Moyers, and even though we differed on a number of topics, I respected his opinions as always being well thought out and well said.

Thank you, Bill!

I wish … I dearly wish … that this could be a passing of the torch moment but I see no one in U.S. journalism worthy of such a nod, would that there were.

Thank you, Bill!

PS The BillMoyers.com site will apparently remain as an archive site and for that I am thankful as we will be able to go back and see how many times he and his colleagues were prescient.

 

December 17, 2017

Strange Narratives

Filed under: Politics,The News — Steve Ruis @ 10:20 am
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I am hearing and reading all over that the senatorial election in Alabama was won because of the African-American vote. Someone took the trouble to check this and looked up the turnout and Democratic party support of Affrican-Americans is the previous few important elections. Everything was “same-same.” Now this was a special election and it is often the case that voters don’t show up for them as they would general elections and African-Americans did show up and did vote for the Democrat, but not in extraordinary numbers.

What won the election for the Democrat was a bump in whites voting Democrat. Substantially more whites voted democrat that in previous elections (no where near a majority, but a significant increase of support in the largest demographic segment, means a lot of votes), which seems to be the reason for the Democrat victory.

So, why the bogus narrative? Incompetence? There must be some political operatives that could have seen a “whites turning against Trump” possible narrative in this and yet, not a peep from the usual suspects.

I find myself still needing to go overseas and to blogs to get news I can trust.

This is a sad day for democracy, the lifeblood of which is accurate news reporting and analysis. (Granted, the “news” during the Revolution was little better than propaganda, but we are supposed to be getting better over time, and we are not.)

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