Class Warfare Blog

September 19, 2017

Drowning in a Sea of Bullshit

William Mathis is Vice-Chairman of the Vermont Board of Education and Managing Director of the National Education Policy Center. He recently wrote “Losing our Purpose, Measuring the Wrong Things.” Here are a couple of quotes from that document:

Having high test scores was falsely linked to national economic performance. In hyperbolic overdrive, the 1983 Nation at Risk report thundered, ‘the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people.’

After 35 years of this same Chicken Little jeremiad, the nation is still the premier economy of the world, leads the world in patents, registers record high stock prices, and is second in international manufacturing. (For the nation as a whole, the independent Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates that we do not have a math and science shortage).

By declaring schools ‘failures,’ public monies were increasingly diverted to private corporations. Yet, after a half-century of trials, there is no body of evidence that shows privatized schools are better or less expensive. Large-scale voucher programs actually show substantial score declines. The plain fact is that privatization, even at its best, does not have sufficient power to close the achievement gap—but it segregates. It imperils the unity of schools and society. This proposed solution works against the very democratic and equity principles for which public systems were formed.

Spot on. How many truth tellers will it take to get people off of the current set of false narratives? I cannot answer that question, except to say “more.”

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September 18, 2017

Evolution Isn’t True, But Creationists and Christian Apologists Keep Referring to It As If It Were

Christian apologists are fond of claiming that evolution has adapted our minds for survival but not to recognize ultimate truth; for that we need religion/Jesus/whatever.

There are so many holes in this argument, that it makes me weary just addressing it. Before even starting, aren’t these the same people who say the Theory of Evolution is false? Well, let’s get started.

First, if one accepts that evolutionary processes have adapted our minds to allow us to survive and not to recognize absolute truth, how is it the Christians are so damned sure they have found the Absolute Truth™? And, just what the heck is absolute truth? The only examples they can offer are trite word games, e.g. there are no married bachelors. Is anything worth discussing regarding the world and our experience in it an absolute truth? I am going to need some non-trivial answers to that question before I consider this anything more than a rhetorical device to get the false idea of absolute truth slipped sideways into the discussion so that it will be acceptable. It is not.

Then, how the heck does one state the premise “that evolution has adapted our minds for survival but not to recognize ultimate truth” with a straight face? A premise is something that is obviously true, or provisionally true for the sake of the argument which will prove it to be true. If you start a discussion with a bald-faced unfounded statement, you aren’t going to get anywhere reasonable at all, let alone soon. This is a typical rhetorical con, one favored by Christian apologists, is to slip their conclusion into one of their premises in an innocuous fashion, and then voila!

Let me step back and address the science here: consider the metal facility of imagination. Then consider a human being, maybe a Homo erectus, who sees the grass rustle not too far away on the African savannah. Is that due to a zephyr of the wind … or is a predator stalking him? Only the power of imagination allows both of these interpretations. If one favors the wind interpretation and one is right, there is no harm that can come from that. Same is true if one thinks it is a cheetah and one is wrong. If one thinks it is a predator and moves away, that is a good result, but if one thinks it is wind and not a predator and takes no action, our erect man may end up becoming a meal. Clearly, there is a prudent path to take, and that is wind or predator, I will avoid that area. (Note that this is just Pascal’s Wager in a different guise, worked out by the being not even an Homo sapiens.)

Survival is favored by imagining that predators exist, even in cases where they do not. In other words, imagining predators has little down side and a possible big upside. Obviously this cannot be taken to an extreme as one would become paralyzed. If used judiciously, a being can survive and even thrive.

This survival-based mental adaption of imagination is what allows, or causes, us to believe in invisible agencies, just a step away from animistic gods. So, it is evolution that allows us to believe in gods or God, but not in absolute truth. The idea of absolute truth was concocted by people wanting to brag that their knowledge was better than yours. (Oh, yeah, well, I have Truth Squared™!) There is no such thing as absolute truth, it is just another weapon in the rhetorical tool bag of apologists. “Your puny truth is merely human concocted. I spit on your puny truth! I have Absolute Truth™, so there!”

There is no absolute truth or absolute morality, or absolute anything … outside of religion. Inside of religion there is but it is mystical and supernatural, aka make believe. I guess in this sense the premise of “that evolution has adapted our minds for survival but not to recognize ultimate truth” is true as there is no such thing as absolute truth, so evolution could not create an ability to recognize it (since it doesn’t exist!). Evolution did, however, supply us with a bullshit detector and this is what this argument clearly is.

Cultivate your bullshit detector. It will help you survive!

September 14, 2017

Racism is as American as Baseball

Filed under: Culture,Race,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 10:53 am
Tags: , , , , ,

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 11, 2017

Let’s Bring Back Public Humiliations

Every school child can tell you about an Early American tradition of public humiliations in which people were locked into stocks and pillories with a small sign indicating how their behavior was detrimental to the community. People would then through words and actions (pelting the miscreants with rotten vegetables, spit, etc.) share their disgust with the miscreant so displayed.

While I don’t know if I want to go that far, I do think it is past time we bring back public humiliations. I would start with Rush Limbaugh. Mr. Limbaugh shared with his greatly shrunken radio audience that he thought about Hurricane Irma. Here’s a taste:

“So there is a desire to advance this climate change agenda, and hurricanes are one of the fastest and best ways to do it. You can accomplish a lot just by creating fear and panic. You don’t need a hurricane to hit anywhere. All you need is to create the fear and panic accompanied by talk that climate change is causing hurricanes to become more frequent and bigger and more dangerous, and you create the panic, and it’s mission accomplished, agenda advanced.
“Well, the TV stations begin reporting this, and the panic begins to increase. And then people end up going to various stores to stock up on water and whatever they might need for home repairs and batteries, and all this that they’re advised to get, and a vicious circle is created. You have these various retail outlets who spend a lot of advertising dollars with the local media.”

Much of what Mr. Limbaugh says is implied rather than spoken outright (he does have lawyers advising him), so he didn’t outright say that the authorities and news media are lying to you, but he heavily implied just that, which leads to people having less respect for the recommendations of those very same authorities.

So, Hurricane Irma was blown up by the desire of media outlets (boo, hiss) to bolster the sales of bottled water and the like sold by their advertisers (Limbaugh). This, of course, is side-by-side with satellite photos showing Irma to be four times the diameter (8X the area!) of the incredibly destructive Hurricane Andrew, that created billions of dollars of destruction in Florida as well as quite a number of deaths.

Shortly before the hurricane hit, Mr. Limbaugh exited the state of Florida to safety, making him the biggest hypocrite on our airwaves. Mr. Limbaugh will not own that he was wrong, or that he might have cost people their lives through his “advice” which he claims is based upon “data” from the National Weather Service and other reputable sources (… right …).

I suggest that Mr. Limbaugh be the inaugural subject to a new public humiliation ritual for the sin of feeding his fat ego at the expense of his fellow citizen’s lives.

 

September 9, 2017

NRA Quietly Backing Democratic Presidential Candidates

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:43 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

The NRA has been quietly funding some Democratic candidates for president for the 2020 election, noted an inside source. The election of Donald Trump has been a disaster for the guns and ammunition manufacturers. Without the threat of a progressive administration “taking away our guns,” there has been no impetus to stock up and guns and ammo sales have plummeted.

While Mr. Obama was president, gun sales soared as repeated NRA campaigns focused on plans of the Obama administration to confiscate Americans’ guns. During Mr. Obama’s time, of course, no such plans were made, neither were there actions taken, with only a few mild suggestions to Congress for reforms. Mandatory background checks at gun shows or universal background checks were recommended, even a one gun per month limit on sales was suggested but none of these were acted upon. Still the threat of confiscation was a constant topic in the circle of gun owners.

Since the election of Mr. Trump, the sales of guns and ammunition have fallen dramatically. While the NRA will not admit it publicly, privately officials are saying that a Democratic president will be much better for business, hence the attempts to support candidates now. Early money is like yeast, our source told us.

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

So What?

There is a major climate change report out (and it ain’t good news) that is awaiting approval by various agencies. The draft document has been leaked to the NY Times, if not other sources, and in a NYT report the following was stated: “The E.P.A. is one of 13 agencies that must approve the report by Aug. 18. The agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt, has said he does not believe that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming.”

“The agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt, has said he does not believe that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming.” Interesting. My response is “So what?”

Is Mr. Pruitt even qualified to have such an opinion? Let’s see … Mr. Pruitt was trained as a lawyer before he went into politics. Well, he might have specialized in environmental law, so … according to Wikipedia Mr. Pruitt “entered into private practice in Tulsa where he specialized in constitutional law, contracts, insurance law, labor law, and litigation and appeals.” Hmmm, no mention of environmental law. Maybe he has undertaken an extensive review of the scientific literature on climate change, you know, read a few thousand journal articles, attended conferences, that kind of thing? Anybody got a guess as to how likely that was? Yeah, I came up with zero percent, too. He has no training, has put in no study, so he knows squat of that which he judges.

Mr. Pruitt has no basis for his opinion other than political ideology, so his opinion is irrelevant at best. I suggest he may be making the same mistake as the Kim Davis of 15-minute fame. She confused her job as one of exercising her personal judgment instead of determining whether all laws were complied with in the issuance of a marriage license. Mr. Pruitt may think that his opinion has merit. It does not. His job is to ascertain whether departmental protocols were followed in the creation of the report, and if so, sign the damned thing.

Apparently President Trump also has an opinion … <sigh> … okay, Mr. Trump was trained, er, graduated from the Wharton School of Business at the U. of Pennsylvania….

August 3, 2017

Why Are Americans So Afraid?

I was reading an article over at AlterNet with the title above. The subtitle is “Facts Take a Backseat to Deeply Ingrained Fears.” That article takes a fact-based approach in that they point out that violence has been and continues to be on a decline (for a very long time, even including world wars). That is per capita violence, not necessarily total violence as the population is still growing rapidly. That article’s author concludes that the fear people possess is a belief rather than a conclusion from the facts. A bit of discussion of fear mongering and they were done. I am using the same title, but they were asking the question; I will try to answer it, in part.

They didn’t quite go one step farther and they really need to. Why is America so afraid? That is the emphasis they missed. What might be the basis of American fear? We have experienced far less terrorism than much of the rest of the world, yet we seem to be more afraid, for example. The connection that they missed is that the U.S. is also one of the most religious countries in existence. If you compare our church going rates to, say, Great Britain or France, we are way out in front. It may be the case that not even a majority of Britons believe in a god.

And what is the foundational basis of the form of religion we currently espouse? Fear and belief. And what has been happening in the world of religion in the U.S.? Currently there has been a major increase in market share of the “nones,” those who respond to polls, like the Pew Poll on Religion in America, that their religion is “none.” The Nones have doubled as a percentage of the population in the Pew poll for instance. Atheism is spoken about and written about widely. Conservative religion in this country, in response I believe, has upped the drumbeat. The standard message has always been “we are a sinful nation” and “we need to repent our evil ways or God will punish us.” “If we only were to accept Jesus as our Lord, we would be ‘saved’ from eternal torment when we died.” That sounds like a fear-based campaign if I have ever heard one.

And as churches close or they see large reductions in their numbers of parishioners, the pressure gets increased on the standard message. We are more sinful that we were in the past! We are in even more need of belief! The world is descending into a miasma of degradation! Church going rates are decried as being at all-time lows when, in fact, the church-going rates a little over one hundred years ago were a small fraction of what they are now. They mean a “recent low” but that doesn’t have the impact of “all-time low.” Often this message isn’t all that overt, but it is there. And it provides a base for the feeling of fear from the purveyors of violence. There are secular fear mongers, too (Republicans), but I won’t mention their names (Republicans).

This is not accidental. The cadre of very rich people who are trying to subvert democracy in this country, like fear. They also prefer fear that is not based in fact because real fears have real causes that must be addressed. False fears can be “solved” by the same magic that created them in the first place. You may wonder how long we can be kept in a state of fear. To me, the answer is clear: centuries. If you look at how long many in the South have feared the reprisal of Blacks for how they have been treated by the white community, you will see a history of fear management. During the slave period, whites were ever fearful of slave revolts and any hint of such a revolt produced a vicious backlash. After emancipation, vagrancy laws and sundown laws were used to keep Black Americans in a state of near slavery. Jim Crow laws kept Blacks and Whites from interacting and developing any real relationships. It also kept Blacks weak in that in this country money = power and if you don’t have any money, you don’t have any power. The term “poor Black” became almost an oxymoron in the postbellum South.

The latest manifestation of the fear campaign is to make sure that white Americans saw Black Americans, primarily males, as criminals. By jiggering the laws, a large percentage of the Black male population ended up behind bars. Even when they got out, they were ex-cons and had trouble getting jobs and, well, money = power. This stereotyping campaign has been so effective that many police officers are so afraid of Blacks that they shoot 11-year olds with cap guns and even shoot White women because they don’t take the time to really look at the situation. The laws have told them that if they feel fear, they can shoot. And we have made damn sure they feel fear, a lot of fear.

Feeling fear without reason is the tool of the cadre of very rich folks who are trying to capture our democracy. Trying, hell, they basically have captured our democracy. When was the last time Congress passed a bill that the American people supported? Polls showing 60%, 70%, even 80% public support for legislation which then fails to pass. For example, we cannot seem to deny convicted felons, or people with restraining orders, or the mentally deficient the right to bear arms! That would contribute to people feeling safer and where’s the upside in that? People are so in favor of reasonable gun laws that a majority of NRA members support some of them. But … nah, they really don’t want you to feel safer. People want government-supported health care? Too bad, that would contribute to an overall sense of well-being and safety, so, nope, can’t be done.

The politicians are running the show, but it is religion, American religion, that has provided the base for their fear mongering actions, and, interestingly the religious still support them. The minor fact the Evangelical Christians supported Donald Trump in droves tells you all you need to know. And if you think I am exaggerating read the book Democracy in Chains.

The money = power equation works quite simply. By accumulating a large fraction of this nation’s wealth, the people in this category can have a small cadre with enough wealth to exert more power than the rest of the country can. If you wonder why unions have become powerless. If you wonder why wages have been suppressed for so long, start thinking about money = power. It works both ways. Since we do not have it, we have no power. Since they have it, they have the power, enough power to get their money declared a form of “free speech” by the fucking Supreme Court. Now their expenditures to keep democracy in chains is protected by the Constitution!

July 28, 2017

The End of the Debate

Well, at least part of it. There is an ongoing debate in this country over who was our best president, with Lincoln, Washington, and Franklin Roosevelt leading candidates. There was the flip side of that in the debate over who was the worst president, with James Buchanan, Warren Harding, and Andrew Johnson leading that pack. (For perspective G.W. Bush barely makes the top ten on the worst list.)

But this debate, at least the second half, is over for the foreseeable future. Donald J. Trump, even with his term of office barely half of a year gone, is on a trajectory to swamp any consideration of another for the “Worst President of All Time” honor.

As Diane Ravitch put it recently “Put together Trump’s vulgar, crude performance at the Boy Scouts Jamboree with the vulgar, crude language and behavior of The Mooch (the new Communications Director), and at some point you have to ask, like the line in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, ‘Who are those guys?’ No dignity. No class. No decency. No honor. No sense of propriety. Just plain old fashioned bullies and loudmouths. Know nothings. Vulgarians.

Yep, we are talking a slam dunk here. Can’t wait for the award ceremony. I suspect Mr. Trump will choose to speak while accepting his “honor.”

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