Were All Religions Started As Con Jobs?

Steven Ruis makes a very good case that all world’s religions started out by some bullshitter making up a story (out of whole cloth) in order to gain power, prestige, wealth, and so on, and then somehow figuring out how to get his/her fellows to believe the bullshit story.

Those of you who are religious (as I used to be), probably believe that all the OTHER religions are made-up lies. Naturally, one is far more likely to see the wrong things in what OTHERS believe than in what we ourselves believe …

We all agree now (don’t we?) that all that stuff about Zeus and Hera and Minerva and Thor and so on was all made up: the Greek, Roman, and Norse myths were not accurate accounts of how the world began or guides to how we humans should behave. However, the Roman poets that I read back in Latin class in high school got a lot of praise and wealth by helping make up those myths  — and I don’t even recall Homer, Ovid, or Vergil pretending that they actually watched the gods or heroes doing any of that stuff they wrote about. I don’t know of anyone who seriously believes in the old ‘Classical’ religions today, but at one point you could be killed for not doing so.

And as far as my Buddhist or Hindu friends are concerned, I don’t recall there being any technology being around under that Bo tree to verify whatever it was that Gautama was (or was not) experiencing when he got ‘enlightened’ (or whatever), and we certainly don’t have anybody claiming to be an objective reporter on the doings of Krishna or any of the other pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses.

And Scientology? The only amazing thing about that total pile of bullshit* is that anybody at all believes any of it!

* (Actually, I should apologize: that’s an insult to male bovine feces: they are excellent fertilizer for your garden, as long as you let them ferment in your compost pile for a while. They sometimes contain a lot of weed seeds that will germinate in your garden where you don’t want them to. Horse manure is much less useful to most gardeners, because horses don’t ruminate (chew their cud and digest and re-digest their food in the presence of lots of microorganisms in various stomachs order to extract every gram of nutrients). Horse manure is the best thing for growing many types of mushrooms… But I digress. Maybe I should call it ‘blatherskite’ or  ‘codswallop’?)

You can certainly extend that skepticism on to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which are all based on the first five books of what we call the ‘Bible’ or Tanakh. Think about it. While many folks (including me at one point) believe(d) those stories literally, if you look at it objectively, we don’t have any trustworthy witnesses that recorded the words, thoughts, or deeds of God, Adam, Eve, or Moses at the time or right afterwards… I mean, how could you be present at the creation anyway?

Also this: historians and archaeologists have shown by very careful, painstaking research that pretty definitively that essentially none of the Exodus story ever happened in real life: Serious Biblical scholars now conclude that the first five books were all made up during the Babylonian Captivity (which really DID happen). The later books did have some historical basis, but they are far from being an objective source. (Nor are the ‘Histories’ of Herodotus, Livy or anything else. If you think today’s news stories are biased (and of course they are – even the choice of what stories go on the front page or are the teasers on the TV broadcasts are editorial choices), then try journals of 100 – 200 years ago. Even Faux “news” almost looks even-handed compared to reporting during the Civil War, etc. It seems to me that today’s reporting is much more complete and makes much more of an attempt to be unbiased and objective than ever before. But I digress)

Back to Ruis’ thesis, the ‘Old Testament’ then served to cement the Hebrews into a separate tribe which obviously still exists today (no mean accomplishment). Don’t forget that Judaism (as with all other religions from Central America to Africa to Europe) ended up supporting a privileged caste of priests, who got to eat the fatted calves and perfect poultry that was brought to the temple as offerings to God. ‘God’ got to smell the aroma, the priests got to eat the nice barbecued meat… Nice work if you can get it and don’t have a conscience!

Again: it’s not like people really thought that calamities were because so-and-so didn’t sacrifice his/her own children. They didn’t exactly do a double-blind test to see what would happen, unlike scientists of today who do their level best to weed out their own biases, LEST THEY BE MOCKED BY OTHER SCIENTISTS for falling into a logical fallacy! In which case, the ideas exposed by the erring scientist are discarded or modified by others. Unlike with religion, where somebody who lived a long time ago supposedly knew everything, predicted everything, and nothing in the writings can ever be changed; anybody who dares to try to make changes is accused of heresy. That’s completely the opposite of the way science works. As scientists keep learning more and more about the way the universe actually works, the more they discover that their initial ideas were incorrect. No doctor is going to use the theory of the Four Humours to diagnose your ills, for example. NASA’s spacecraft don’t use astrological signs or the Ptolemaic model of the universe, and they keep finding brand-new worlds that we never dreamed of even a few decades ago!

That’s one of the reasons why I prefer science to religion or even novels: there’s always something new being discovered; there is lively debate about what evidence is admissable and what it proves; and nobody is considered to have all the answers. (Yes, any serious amateur astronomer today can point out to you places where both Einstein and Newton were wrong — as great as their insights were!)

There are still billions of people who take on faith one or the other version of the Big Six Religions; one clue that these religions might not be all so wonderful is that throughout history, governments have waged untold wars and committed countless massacres, supposedly because other people didn’t believe as they did and didn’t offer worship and respect to their own doctrine and group of ‘spiritual’ leaders.

Now, when scientists propose explanations

Now, there are plenty of wonderful people that believe all kinds of nonsense, and I am very sure that I, too, believe a lot of things that are just plain wrong. But what one thinks, believes or says doesn’t necessarily dictate how one behaves. I bet that there are all kinds of really cruel things advocated in the sacred texts of any religion. Fortunately, most people do NOT practice those things any more. Unfortunately, there are those who do: those who bomb, behead, blow up, beat up, imprison, incinerate, or shoot others for not following the rule of God or the Leader …

Here’s the link:

https://stephenpruis.wordpress.com/2018/11/14/marks-and-con-men-in-the-religion-con/

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Privatizing Government for Private Profit and Public Poverty

from RestoreReason.com.

I just listened to “The Coming Storm”, by Michael Lewis*. I didn’t carefully read the description before diving in, and thought it would inform me about the increasing violence of weather. Rather, I learned about the privatization of weather, or at least the reporting of it, and the Department of Commerce.

Turns out, the Department of Commerce has little to do with commerce and is actually forbidden by law from engaging in business. Rather, it runs the U.S. Census, the Patent and Trademark Office, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Over half of its $9B budget though, is spent by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to figure out the weather. And figuring out the weather, is largely about collecting data. “Each and every day, NOAA collects twice as much data as is contained in the entire book collection of the Library of Congress.” One senior policy adviser from the George W. Bush administration, said the Department of Commerce should really be called the Department of Science and Technology. When he mentioned this to Wilbur Ross, Trump’s appointee to lead the Department, Ross said, “Yeah, I don’t think I want to be focusing on that.” Unfortunately for all of us, Ross also wasn’t interested in finding someone who would do it for him.

In October 2017, Barry Myers, a lawyer who founded and ran AccuWeather, was nominated to serve as the head of the NOAA. This is a guy who in the 1990s, argued the NWS should be forbidden (except in cases where human life and property was at stake) from delivering any weather-related knowledge to Americans who might be a consumer of AccuWeather products. “The National Weather Service” Myers said, “does not need to have the final say on warnings…the government should get out of the forecasting business.”

Then in 2005, Senator Rick Santorum (a recipient of Myers family contributions) introduced a bill to basically eliminate the National Weather Service’s ability to communicate with the public. Lewis asks his readers to “consider the audacity of that manuever. A private company whose weather predictions were totally dependent on the billions of dollars spent by the U.S. taxpayer to gather the data necessary for those predictions, and on decades of intellectual weather work sponsored by the U.S. taxpayer, and on the very forecasts that the National Weather Service generated, was, in effect, trying to force the U.S. taxpayer to pay all over again for the National Weather Service might be able to tell him or her for free.”

It was at this point in my listening that I began to think how this privatization story was paralleling that of education’s. In both cases, those in the public sector are in it for the mission, not the money. In both cases, the private sector only “wins” if the public sector “loses”. In both cases, it is in the interest of the private sector to facilitate the failure of the public sector or make it look like it is failing.

Just as private and charter schools profit when district schools are perceived to be of lower quality, Barry Myers has worked hard to make government provided weather services look inferior to that which the private sector can provide. As Lewis points out, “The more spectacular and expensive the disasters, the more people will pay for warning of them. The more people stand to lose, the more money they will be inclined to pay. The more they pay, the more the weather industry can afford to donate to elected officials, and the more influence it will gain over the political process.”

Myers clearly understood the private weather sector’s financial interest in catastrophe and had no qualms about maximizing on it. One of those opportunities presented itself in Moore, Oklahoma when the NWS failed to spot a tornado that had spun up quickly and rapidly vanished. AccuWeather managed to catch it and immediately sent out a press release bragging that they’d sent a tornado alert to their paying corporate customers 12 minutes before the tornado hit. But, they never broadcast the warning…only those who had paid for it got it. This focus on profit above all else is why when the Trump Administration asked a former Bush Commerce department official to provide a list of those who should lead NOAA, Barry Myers’ name was not on it. “I don’t want someone who has a bottom line, or a concern with shareholders”, said the official, “in charge of saving lives and protecting property.”

That sentiment is how I feel about the provision of “public” education by private and charter schools. I don’t want someone who has a bottom line, or a concern with corporate shareholders, in charge of educating America’s children without full transparency and complete accountability to taxpayers and the public. Rather, when taxpayer dollars are funding a service previously provided by the public sector, the potential must be weighed, for damage to the common good caused by the motive to profit.

Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening today. As described by Jim Sleeper in a recent Salon.com article titled “Republic derangement: A party I used to respect has gone off the cliff”,** “the disease of turbo-marketing [is] reducing American education, entertainment, social media, politics and the dignity of work itself to levels determined by a mania to maximize profits and shareholder dividends, no matter the social costs.

No, I’m not saying there aren’t problems with the public sector. But, the idea that the public has more control over a private corporation than it does over a public entity is ludicrous. The idea that parents have more say over a charter school’s Education Management Organization (EMO) or a private school’s owner, than they do over a school district governing board is ludicrous. Ever try to attend an EMO’s board meeting, let alone be allowed to make a “call to the public” at one? How about gaining visibility to the financial documents of a private school? Not happening.

The key to public sector performance is public engagement. For-profit corporations are generally motivated by profit. That is as it should be. Public entities are generally motivated by doing good for the public, again, as it should be. Neither is inherently bad or good, they each have their place and purpose. In some cases, there can even be a good mix of the two, such as with the U.S. Postal Service. But, the focus on privatization is currently being overplayed, to the detriment of our public institutions and the common good of our Nation and our world.

Truth is, government can provide a valuable check on corporate greed. Likewise, fair competition from the private sector can provide a check on the potential for government complacency or really, that of any monopoly, private or public.

Balance is the key. As Simon Sinek said, “The trick to balance is to not make sacrificing important things become the norm.” One of the most “important things” in my mind, is to care for those who do not have the capacity to care for themselves. To ensure ALL OUR children have the opportunity to lead healthy, productive lives, no matter the circumstances of their birth, or the zip code in which they live. In the words of John Dewey, “What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.”

*https://www.audible.com/…/The-Coming-Storm-Audi…/B07F43574T…&
**https://www.salon.com/…/republican-derangement-a-party-i-u…/

Resignations from DC Schools Task Force

I am reprinting a letter of resignation from two members of the task force that was supposed to analyze problems with DC’s regular public schools and charter schools. (Disclosure: I have met one of the writers several times)

Mary Levy and Caryn Ernst Resign from Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force

Mary Levy and Caryn Ernst Resign from Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force

November 10, 2018
To: The Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force

c/o Paul Kihn, Acting Deputy Mayor for Education

From: Mary Levy and Caryn Ernst

We write to submit our resignations from the Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force and to state why we have declined to endorse the report just released.

We do this because the report and recommendations fail to deal with the most important elements of the Task Force’s basic mission: to formulate a clear vision to guide the relationship between the traditional and charter education sectors; to significantly reduce student mobility, particularly mid-year mobility; and to create a meaningful framework for opening, closing and siting schools that reflects a sensible vision for public education in the District of Columbia.

There are big underlying issues: Will the City provide an excellent matter-of-right DCPS path from PK through high school in every community in a system that is accountable to them and their elected officials, providing families with shelter from the “chance” of the lottery and the need to traverse the city? To do so would require making that an explicit goal and implementing policies to achieve it. Will the City close more DCPS schools or have charter schools take them over? Does the City recognize the different obligations and challenges of DCPS matter-of-right schools and charter (and other DCPS schools) and the implications of those differences? The report and recommendations, at best, leave these issues open and yet addressing them lay at the heart of the Task Force mandate.
We and others have raised all these concerns during Task Force meetings, in a November letter we sent to the DME, the co-chairs and members of the Task Force, and in comments on the draft. Parents and community members at the public engagement sessions also spoke to these issues

Our voice is not represented in the tone or the recommendations, nor in a minority report. We believe that charter schools are not a substitute for excellent by-right DCPS schools in every neighborhood. Policymakers’ talking to each other does not constitute a framework for opening, closing and siting schools. We fear that the only steps on student mobility facilitate rather than reduce it.

We understand that this task is difficult and that efforts were made, but at bottom, after two and a half years of effort, the key finding of the Task Force seems to be that no real consensus could be reached on a vision or on ways to meaningfully address the key challenges the Task Force was created to address. The report suggests that we are generally on the right track and therefore conveys a sense that the absence of a vision and a framework for where we want to go is not a serious problem. We do not share either view and as such, the report does not reflect our views in letter or spirit. We cannot therefore endorse it.
CSCTF Report final.pdf

A Tennessee Smackdown of Privatizing Education

Very cogent analysis here of how vouchers, on-line charters, for-profit charters, and charters in general are helping to destroy public education – and not helping students.

https://www.johnsoncitypress.com/Column/2018/10/28/Snake-oil-charter-schools-and-disengenous.html

Published in: on October 28, 2018 at 5:53 pm  Comments (1)  

Secret, Time-Traveling, Corporate Pro-Charter Chancellor Selection Panel Meets TODAY

Valerie Jablow explains how the panel that was supposed to consist of DCPS parents, students and teachers got packed with charter-school advocates and officers of the billionaire, anti-public-school Walton and Gates family fortunes.
Reading how the judge in the case mostly disregarded the parents’ case against the illegal composition of the board is dispiriting — but, I guess, business as usual in today’s ever-more corporately-Run America.
The link to her article at EducationDC is here.
Published in: on October 9, 2018 at 6:47 am  Leave a Comment  

The “Secrets” Behind Moskowitz’ ‘Success Academy’

It’s very simple: expel all of the students except those who are EXTREMELY compliant.

John Merrow has provided the SA disciplinary code, which is draconian in the extreme. The following are their LEVEL TWO infractions:

  • Failing to follow directions
  • Failing to complete work
  • Being off-task
  • Arriving late to school/class and/or violating school attendance policy
  • Violating the Dress Code
  • Being unprepared for class (which includes, but is not limited to, failing to bring a pencil, not completing homework, etc.)”

Level ONE infractions include :

“Slouching/failing to be in “Ready to Succeed” position (SPORT or Magic 5 position)

  • Calling out an answer
  • Chewing gum or bringing candy to school
  • Minor disrespectful behavior”

I taught 7th, 8th, and 9th graders for about 30 years. I think I could count on one hand the number of kids who never, ever violated any of those.

In fact I am quite sure I violated a good number of those myself — and I was generally a well-behaved kid and very engaged in school (except for a period of time when I was enrolled in a school in France, didn’t speak the language, and had no idea what was going on).

Let us also recall that regular public schools are these days, and more and more, explicitly forbidden to suspend kids for anything short of bloodshed. Which means that in a lot of regular, non-selective public schools (and also some of the non-selective charter schools as well) teachers have an almost impossible job: unmotivated students can and do come to class late or not at all, not supplied with pencil, pen, paper, or notebook, and can be almost 100% depended on to NOT have done any homework.

If a teacher should attempt to enforce disciplinary rules as exist under Moskowitz at any regular DC public school (or at non-selective charter schools like Cesar Chavez) the administrators will simply laugh and send the student right back to class. In fact, the administrator might even berate the teacher right in front of the class!!

Parochial schools of yore were never quite so strict!

Clearly, any family that sees that list of rules, and who knows that their child tends to be active, to call out answers, to get out of their seat without permission, to protest if they perceive unfairness (real or otherwise), is probably going to think that this is not the school for them.

And a few rounds of having to take off work for days at a time to try to get their child back into class is probably going to convince them to withdraw their child.

Only the most compliant and passive kids remain. All the others are long gone.

How on earth can Moskowitz claim that she has some secret sauce? How dare she?

Published in: on October 2, 2018 at 1:04 pm  Comments (3)  

DC Mayor goes “all in”, but the wrong way: Chooses a professional education privatizer for Deputy Mayor for Education

Valerie Jablow spills the beans on the new DC Deputy Mayor for Education, who is not a career educator but someone with very tight financial, foundation, family, and business to the folks (like Pearson) who’ve been profiting mightily off privatizing public education across the US.

Read her excellent article here:

Published in: on September 29, 2018 at 6:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Charity is no Substitute for Justice”: the Jeff Bezos Boondoggle

Just think: the richest man in the world wants to open up early childhood centers that run like Amazon — where low-paid workers work like, and are paid like, serfs.

Larry Cuban and Audrey Waters explain.

Published in: on September 24, 2018 at 2:50 pm  Comments (1)  

Interesting: How the Great Recession Should Have Been Handled

In brief: instead of bailing out the banks (and their billionaire stock- and bond-holders) and their CEOs, bail out the poor folks who got stuck with all those fraudulent and impossible-to-pay mortgages and student loans.

Here is the link.

(This erasing of bad debts is by the way precisely the wording of the last lines of the Lord’s Prayer! It’s not “trespasses” in Greek, Latin, or Aramaic: it’s “debts” that are supposed to be forgiven!)

Published in: on September 20, 2018 at 10:31 am  Comments (2)  

Sunspot Has Re-Opened

The strange recent shutdown of Sunspot Solar Observatory is over. I was told by someone purportedly from their visitor center by phone, an hour or so ago, that they are open for visits again.

AURA, the agency that owns the place, wrote that it the mysterious shutdown was neither because of aliens nor the need to hide important military secrets, but rather just a way of capturing a dangerous criminal.

Here is the press release from AURA, which runs the observatory.  I extract a few paragraphs:

“The facility closed down in an orderly fashion [one September 6] and is now [Sept 17] re-opening. The residents that vacated their homes will be returning to the site, and all employees will return to work this week. 

AURA has been cooperating with an on-going law enforcement investigation of criminal activity that occurred at Sacramento Peak. During this time, we became concerned that a suspect in the investigation potentially posed a threat to the safety of local staff and residents. For this reason, AURA temporarily vacated the facility and ceased science activities at this location. 

The decision to vacate was based on the logistical challenges associated with protecting personnel at such a remote location, and the need for expeditious response to the potential threat. AURA determined that moving the small number of on-site staff and residents off the mountain was the most prudent and effective action to ensure their safety. 

In light of recent developments in the investigation, we have determined there is no risk to staff, and Sunspot Solar Observatory is transitioning back to regular operations as of September 17th. Given the significant amount of publicity the temporary closure has generated, and the consequent expectation of an unusual number of visitors to the site, we are temporarily engaging a security service while the facility returns to a normal working environment. 

We recognize that the lack of communications while the facility was vacated was concerning and frustrating for some. However, our desire to provide additional information had to be balanced against the risk that, if spread at the time, the news would alert the suspect and impede the law enforcement investigation. That was a risk we could not take.

(I’m quite sure it wasn’t aliens, but I am a little dubious about the dangerous fugitive explanation. After all, if you were running such an investigation, wouldn’t you WANT to have the public alerted as to what the suspect(s) supposedly looked like?)

What do you think?

And here are a few other links for the paranoid and/or the curious:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/a-solar-observatory-in-new-mexico-is-evacuated-for-a-week-and-the-fbi-is-investigating-no-one-will-say-why/2018/09/14/ea006a96-b78b-11e8-a2c5-3187f427e253_story.html

This next one has been updated to indicate that the place re-opened yesterday.

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/09/remote-solar-observatory-remains-closed-after-mysterious-evacuation

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on September 18, 2018 at 1:52 pm  Comments (1)  
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