Class Warfare Blog

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?

September 15, 2019

More on Meaning

In a recent post I said this: “I suggest that ‘meaning’ doesn’t really exist. Whenever someone asks ‘But what does it all mean?’ they are asking for a comforting story to wrap around events that makes them feel ‘better.’” That this opinion irked John Branyan is to its credit, I think, although I may have been too subtle; “doesn’t really exist” refers to the common understanding of the term. I offered a better definition of the term in my quote, so it “exists” to that extent.

People make good money dispensing “meanings” and I am not just referring to the religious. Our current political commentariat is riddled with people who are constantly telling us what really is going on, what this or that really “means.” We end up feeling as if we understand the political situation and thus feel more in control of our lives.

“Wishful thinking spill cleanup on Aisle 8, Please!”

As further evidence for my opinion, please consider . . . dreams. For all of human history (and I must assume the rest of human existence), people have felt and claimed that dreams “mean” something. Kings and other potentates took major actions based upon their dream interpreted meanings. An entire cottage industry, sometimes breaching over into academic psychology, was created to help people decipher the meanings of their dreams (and has done so for thousands of years).

But we have come to the realization that dream sequences are cobbled together from our very own memories. People have actually exerted some control over what occurs in their dreams (I have done this myself). Dreams seem to play a role in reinforcement of the memories we feel to be important and the pruning away of memories not thought to be important. A hypothetical process for this is for memories to be replayed in a dream and our emotional state is monitored by a subsystem. If there is a significant emotional reaction, the memory is kept, if not it is pruned. Pruning is quite important as it provides capacity for future memories. (Memory pruning has been observed as has memory reinforcement but this entire process is not fully understood as of yet. We are also aware that memories are very, very malleable and change more often than not.)

So, what do dreams mean? They mean absolutely nothing. The fact that people did and still do think they have “meaning” is evidence that “meanings” are what computer science calls “vaporware,” which is software for which there is marketing material, but there actually is no code operating.

If you want there to be meaning in your life, you need to create it. (You certainly do not want to leave this exercise to others, just as those who fear the biographies that might be written about them, often rush to get an autobiography into print.) This is a fiction writing exercise which creates a comforting story that you can wrap around the events of your life. It also has to ring “true” to your inner ear, so you can’t bullshit yourself in a major way, but minor exaggerations are always acceptable.

If the meanings most people think are real actually were real, the odds are we wouldn’t recognize them anyway. In a fit of retrospection I reviewed all of my speculations regarding why “so-and-so did what.” Somebody at work, for example, did a thing. On the way home or at home I would speculate upon why they did that thing. In reflection, I could not remember a time when my speculations were right (and I do enjoy being right so if I had been I am sure I would recall that). I was “oh-fer . . .. many” in this regard. After that, for many years, I continued to speculate as to why “so-and-so did such-and-such” and to date I have been oh-for-a-zillion, I think. I also tried to check on how good others were on determining the rationale or motivation for others’ actions and I didn’t find anyone any better at that than I was, which was abysmal. “Meanings,” as others claim them to be, seem much like reasons to me and as such are as opaque to others as I found them. This means we have no way to check whether another’s “meaning” is valid or even coherent. No fact-checking here, so I have very low expectations regarding what anyone says about the “meaning” they find in X, Y, or Z. I accept that they said something. What they believe and what is actually the case is not readily available.

 

November 24, 2018

Ancient Aliens: Declassified!

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment — Steve Ruis @ 12:54 pm
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I can’t stop watching these shows from time to time. It is like watching a train wreck or spectacular car crash, except it is intellectual. Last night’s episode was about, well, here’s the blurb from their website: “Ancient relics, including the Ark of the Covenant, that have been lost for centuries and whether they were purposely hidden and protected by an extraterrestrial source.”

Since this “show” went on for hours (I didn’t watch the whole thing.) it is clear that the “Declassified” aspect is they included material that they had previously edited out to either make the included episodes the correct length, or they felt that the bullshit purveyed was just too extreme. (As if any of this bilge would actually be classified in order to be declassified.) This is what we get by having hundreds of content channels spewing their wares 24 hours per day, seven days per week—“episodes including all of the stuff we cut out at first!” (An Aside I remember when “cable TV” came around and it was promoted as being a fount of new material. What we actually got were hours and hours of re-runs of material already “in the can,” mostly TV shows like “I Love Lucy” and “My Mother the Car.” Well, we now have all of that original content that was promised and I am starting to pine after the “good old days” in which the content was primarily re-runs.)

So, the main thread of this “episode” (actually material from several episodes stitched together) was the Ark of the Covenant. This is the worst kind of religious pandering, that of treating scripture as if it were real history.

They talked about how the Ark was ordered to be built by Yahweh himself. Really? An all-powerful god (who is now beyond space and time) is going to have someone else make a wooden box to tote him around in the desert? He couldn’t, like, create it himself? Then the box is ordered to be decorated with gold leaf (thank goodness the Israelites managed to grab their gilding materials and tools as they ran form the King of Egypt’s chariots). And then after all of the decoration, it was to be covered so that no one could see the decoration. Is this how an all-knowing, all-powerful god would behave? Couldn’t He have just created a tour bus worthy of a rock star and wowed everybody with the ability of that ‘ark” to move itself. And when the Levites attended to Him in the air-conditioned splendor of the bus, imagine the stories they would tell!

But, Yahweh gets His box. The Ark then performs all kinds of magic. If anyone sees the Ark or, God forbid (actually) touches it, they die. What? Yahweh couldn’t have put up a force field to give himself a little privacy (and air conditioning)? The AA gang actually stated the belief that the Ark contained a nuclear device in it that emitted lethal radiation! Great present for the escaping Israelites!

Not only is there no mention of the fact (yes, a fact) that no such wandering in the Sinai desert of 2-3 million Israelites ever happened. If there was no Exodus, then the entire Ark story, being an integral part of the exodus story is also fictional. The Ark exists to plug a hole in the exodus narrative, that of how does one feed 2,000,000-3,000,000 people in a barren desert for 40 years! The Ark causes “manna” to rain from the heavens and so they were fed! (It is a miracle!) Why everyone isn’t falling down with laughter at his point in this story is amazing in itself.

We atheists often ask where ordinary folks get their idea that the “histories” in the Bible are true. Well, here is a taste. At one point they are addressing the fact that the Ark disappears from the Bible. (They go on to consider whether it might have ended up in Europe, England, or even Japan or North America. Sheesh.) One of their talking head “experts” then intones: “(The Ark) disappeared from the literary history in the same way it disappeared from the material history.” Hello? The Ark only exists in a literary history. There is no historical trace of any such creation, so there is no “material history.” But that statement clearly claims that “material history” is just being reported in the literary history. So, gosh, I wonder where people get the idea that the “history” in the Bible is valid?

I also wonder where Americans dropped their common sense. Since this show began airing, the percent of people who believe that we have been visited by aliens has doubled. Well, if I guess they are willing to accept Biblical “evidence” for their faith, this isn’t too far removed.

 

April 26, 2018

Consequences of 24 Hour “News” Cycles

Filed under: Politics,Sports,The News — Steve Ruis @ 8:28 am
Tags: , , ,

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.

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.

 

June 27, 2017

The Teenification of Us

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

I am reading “news stories” in which the writer states that President Trump tweeted this and then his son in law tweeted that and…. This sounds like two young teenagers in a conversation “He went … and then I said … and then he said, and I went…”

Can we stop with the reports on who tweeted what. These are not official communications, nor are they particularly interesting. They sure as Hell aren’t “breaking news.”

December 6, 2016

All the “Fake News” that Is Fit to Publish

Apparently the latest hot topic for political pundits to pontificate upon is the idea of “fake news,” otherwise known as lies. What they are decrying is not that lies exist or that there are so many of them, but they are so easy to “publish.” Hah!

There are more lies now than any other time in human history and I am confident in that statement because there are more people alive that ever before in human history and all humans lie. And it is also true that each of us has more reach than ever before. You are, for example, reading this blog, which in effect is my personal publication organ. This was not possible even a short time ago.

What is lacking is not control over the sources of such material, after all we do pride ourselves in having a political system that protects the freedom of speech, but that people are apparently not at all skeptical about the “information” they have available.

I must insist that all news is fake news. It is the case in which every time I have been interviewed for publication that I have felt that the interview and what was published were at odds. Local papers never seem to get it right. I have heard that same criticism over the years about larger publications.

“I must insist that all news is fake news.”

The manipulations of the Bush administration leading up to the Iraq war were willingly embraced by major “news” publications, even though they turned out to be made of whole cloth. What, the utterances of our politicians are no longer trustworthy? I’m shocked, shocked I tell you … that anyone ever thought they were. Politicians look at the “press” (now “the news media”) as something to be managed or controlled, not as something to embrace as a bulwark of democracy. The “press” no longer looks at itself as the protector of democracy, nor does it have the role of scourge of dishonest politicians.

What is needed is for all of us to be a lot more skeptical. We need to ask “Where did you hear/get that?” On Facebook? Oh, that explains a lot. Apparently many Americans get a substantial amount of their news off of Facebook. WTF? Well, Facebook has a well-known reputation for journalistic integrity I guess. (No, it does not; I am being sarcastic!)

Come on, people! Get a pair! Show the whole world that you are not the gullible idiot who thinks that “if it was on the Internet, it has to be true.”

We need more guidelines. How about “Breaking News!” — Breaking news means we got it wrong, but we got it fast! And “this was verified through a confidential source” means (a) if I told you who told me, you’d laugh at me or (b) I am willing to be manipulated by someone who is unwilling to be quoted.

Our news media were on an upward trajectory away from “yellow journalism” and toward greater integrity but that trend has been reversed. In today’s journalism, opinion is promoted as fact and to make money news organs are peddling opinions without any facts. The newspaper guideline “If it bleeds, it leads” has been replaced with the 24-hour news cycle’s “Look at the shiny object, how does it make you feel?”

September 15, 2016

Our Scum Sucking News Media Have Chosen to Hide the Facts about Public Education

Newspaper after newspaper after news sources has chosen to hide the facts and instead beat the drum of a lie: “Our public schools are failing! Our public schools are failing.” One particular point of leverage is trying to sell families of color that their children would be better off in a charter school than in their “failing” local school.

“The meme ‘Our public schools are failing!’ is a lie.”

Well, let’s do some fact checking. The federal government has supplied the only consistent nationwide testing in the form of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams. The NAEP has a search engine from which you can acquire the following data:

Average scores, Grade 4 Math,
National Assessment of Educational Progress
White Students / Black Students

1990: 218.63 / 187.42
[…]
2007: 247.88 / 222.01
2009: 247.85 / 221.98
2011: 248.70 / 223.80

What these data show is that in under 20 years, Black students have achieved an average performance level higher than that of white students from 20 years ago. You can see there is still a gap between white students and black students on these tests scores, because white students didn’t stand still, they improved, too, but how did this incredible improvement in performance by Black students occur? By what magic? Surely it cannot be due to the performance of our failing public schools?

The increase in math education test performance is so great that in one generation Black kids have about two grades higher performance than did their parents at the same age.

The meme “Our public schools are failing!” meme is a lie.

And if you want to know why this lie is being promulgated, follow the money. (The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is the pot of money labeled “For Public Education.”)

If you want to know why our news media have fallen in with the liars, follow the money. More and more news organs have been scooped up by conservative owners, who expect their news organs to a) make money, and b) support conservative narratives moving us toward the glorious world they see in our future, where all of the children are above average, and government regulators disappear, and….

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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