Saturday, May 27, 2017

What Would Francis Think?

By Bob Ferris

A number of our men, indeed all who have not had the small pox are & soon will be under Inoculation.Alexander Scammell to Timothy Pickering, Jr. Valley Forge, 28 February 1778.  

Washington and Lafayette at Valley Forge. 

I do not know all that much about my ancestor Francis Chaffin, but I do know some.  I know, for instance, that he was born in Littleton, Massachusetts near the end of January in 1730.  And that he was married to Rebecca Cummings in nearby Acton on April 26, 1756.  Records indicate that he was a member of the Acton militia in the 1750s so he likely fought in the French and Indian War soon thereafter.

Statue representing Minuteman Captain Isaac Davis killed at Concord.
I know also that his father was an English emigre named Robert Chaffin and was little noted too, but that his maternal great-great grandfather was Dolor Davis who came to Boston in 1634.  I know too that Dolor and Francis were both carpenters and farmers as were many in these family lines.   Historic papers tell us also that Francis and his son, Francis Jr., along with more than a dozen Chaffin and Davis cousins including Isaac Davis (portrayed above) and Joseph Chaffin (see below) signed a document on September 29, 1774 enrolling them in the Acton Militia in preparation of anticipated troubles.

Joseph Chaffin Powder Horn 
Continental Army records indicate that father and son enlisted for three-year terms during the Revolution.   And I know that Francis died of smallpox three days after his forty-eighth birthday at a place called Valley Forge in Pennsylvania while serving as a Corporal.  He left a wife and seven mostly-grown children.

Although my siblings and I descend directly from more than a dozen soldiers who served in the American Revolution, Francis will be on my mind this Memorial Day because he was the one who died.  He gave his life for a dream of a country.  He died in a fight to free this land from rule by an entitled elite, the heavy-handedness of corporate influence and too much power resting in the hands of the Church.  That he died of smallpox rather than a musket ball, bayonet stab or saber cut matters little in the grand scheme.

There will be much running through my mind as I think about Francis this Memorial Day weekend and beyond.    But one thing seems to dominate my thoughts and that is a question.  If I were somehow magically able to sit right next to a freezing, but fevered Francis and show him what his sacrifice and that of others wrought would he be proud of what we had become?   Would he have thought that his sacrifice was justified?  What, indeed, would Francis think if he could see us now?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Cherry Picking, Faulty Logic and the Analytical Skills of an Avocado

By Bob Ferris

I am involved in a discussion about media bias with someone on Facebook.  This person just offered up a Harvard study that contained the above graphic relating to media coverage of Trump's first 100 days in office.  His argument flowing from this is that Fox News is not biased because they "balance" negative coverage with positive commentary of Trump's performance.  It is balanced, don't you see?

This observer has embraced the FOX rhetoric rather than noticing that FOX is on average 34 points different than other news sources covering the exact same issues.   When presented with the above graphic which essentially tells the same story about the FOX bias, he rejects it and sticks with his his original mantra that began with the claim that the Washington Post is slanted and biased.  And he closed with this "You can believe what you believe-that is what they want you to do.  I know I am informed."  Just, wow.

But this is not just a sin of the FOX for lunch crowd.  Yesterday, I ran into the above.  Evidently, we are supposed to believe that teeth are the sole determinant of  diet.  Of course this sets aside our gut morphology,  collection of digestive enzymes and our evolutionary history (1,2).  Moreover, it ignores that chimpanzees, which are mostly vegetarian, have some pretty impressive canines (see below).   To be clear, for health and environmental reasons, we should not be eating as much meat as we do, but our dentition is not one of the compelling arguments.

The FOX and tooth arguments presented above are similar to those we see employed by those denying climate change (1,2,3).  Someone cherry-picks a specious proof and then runs with it (see below graphic).   This whole type of exercise seems to straddle the line between lie and faulty logic.  I suppose the latter softens the realty of the former to the perpetrators, but not materially to those observing.

From here
At the core of this is the idea of seeking truth in some manner.  My background is in science and for me that means looking at the broader setting and circumstance and trying to determine the answer based on critically examining information.  This is a far, far different exercise than having a belief and then searching for those bits and pieces that support your belief, while ignoring those that do not.

It is perfectly fine for people to say that they are conservative so they only visit conservative news sources.  It is fine too for vegans to proclaim that they eschew meat for environmental, ethical or health reasons.  And it is acceptable that those who fear their lives will be changed or they will suffer economically to oppose fossil fuel regulations.  What is not acceptable is using these deceptive methodologies as rationales, because that is not only disingenuous but it makes people who do legitimately look at these issues think that you have the analytical skills of an avocado.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

And Then There Were None

By Bob Ferris

I am probably spending far too much time digging deeply into the jungle of weeds surrounding this whole Trussia (Trump-Russia) situation.  There are many of us in this same boat, but that makes sense as this is really shaping up to be a situation that sinks us or acts to fix some of our substantial flaws.   Now I also have to admit that this whole affair has angered me and made me vindictive.  So when I was asked last night by a friend what I hoped would happen out of this, I answered: something long, drawn-out and bloody (figuratively not literally). 

Donald Trump and Michael Flynn

On my bike ride home home from an event, I started to think about this and for some weird reason an image came to mind.  That image was of the movie Ten Little Indians after the book by Agatha Christie which sadly had a much more racist title when first published in 1939 (1,2).  This image stuck with me down Lincoln, across 15th and past the Fairgrounds.  By the time I was pedaling along Amazon Creek turning onto Polk I was starting to think about which “ten” involved should go down and go down hard.
David Clarke (1)-Michael Cohen (1)-Betsy DeVos (1)-Boris Epshteyn (1)-Michael Flynn (1,2)-JD Gordon (1)-Franklin Graham (1)-Rudy Giuliani (1)-Jared Kushner (1)-Mitch McConnell (1)-Paul Manafort (1)-Robert Mercer (1)-Carter Page (1)-Mike Pence (1)-Erik Prince (1)-Paul Ryan (1)-Wilbur Ross (1)-Jeff Sessions (1)-Roger Stone (1)-Rex Tillerson (1)-Donald J. Trump (1)-Donald Trump Jr. (1,2)-Eric Trump (1)-Ivanka Trump (1)
This required thought.  What screens should be employed in terms of who should potentially be made an example of and who should be soundly slapped on the wrist and shown the door?  My sense is that we need to focus on those who have caused the most harm to our country and our system of government.  This is a huge menu (see above) at this point and we must be cognizant that we can only eat so much and that the meal needs to be balanced to do us the most good.    
Donald Trump and Paul Manafort

Russia and Trump loom in this, but we also now understand that current guidelines and mechanisms are no guarantee of acceptable behavior in the White House if the one in power has no internal governing function or moral compass (1,2,3,4,5).  We also have political donors who think that democracy should be a function of wealth (1,2).  We also have a number of media outlets that believe that public airwaves and bandwidth should be used to mold the public to their desired point of view rather than to inform and enrich society as a whole.  Corporations too have confused their tacit obligation to provide public benefit as an anointment empowering them to determine what is good for the country. And Evangelical Christians have tossed aside their moral outrage and sewn up their nostrils to play in this game because they feel it brings them one step closer to the Christian nation they desire.  

Eric Prince

When I look at the above list of players there are likely some that will meet their fates or be removed from the field via other actions.  Rex Tillerson (AKA Wayne Tracker), for instance, needs to face the music in the Exxon climate change lawsuits (1,2) and that seems an appropriate path.  Ryan and McConnell should pay a price for putting donors and party above our founding principles and the welfare of our country--voted out or deciding to spend more time with their families works.  Mike Pence needs to leave in a similar manner perhaps taking a clue from Jason Chaffetz.  

Carter Page

Ultimately when I pressed myself for "ten" I ended up thinking about them in two tiers.  The top tier individuals, if convicted of something, should experience jail time and fines.  There was nothing casual about their involvement and their actions were shady enough to warrant this treatment. The Second Tier deserve similar fates--probably not jail time for a variety of reasons, but certainly something beyond public shaming.  When the dust clears the Trump brand should be compromised and monies gained since inauguration should be remitted to the US Treasury.  I would love to see the whole Trump family forced to take classes in business ethics but I suspect that would be a lot like trying to write on water.  

Jeff Sessions

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III should be judged by his peers and asked about his involvement in the Comey's firing and the meaning term recusal (1). He should also be questioned about his failure to disclose his contact with the Russians before his former colleagues in the Senate (1).   Robert Mercer because of the Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway and Breitbart connection bears some deep responsibility here for bringing this ugliness to our nation seat of government.  That is bad enough but it becomes much worse if there is also a Russian connection.  At the very least, that tree needs to be shaken thoroughly and then shaken again.  

Robert Mercer
The Evangelical Christian aspect of this is tricky.  Freedom of Religion is an incredibly important founding principle of this country which is expressly compromised by those seeking to make this a Christian Nation.  There is no simple solution here but something must be done such as remove IRS non-profit status or hold hearings on inappropriate religious electioneering.   We as a country need to send a clear message that we value religious freedom but will oppose those who would make us a Theocracy.

First Tier Candidates:

1. Michael Flynn
2. Paul Manafort
3. Roger Stone
4. Eric Prince
5. Carter Page

Second Tier Candidates:

6. Someone Named Trump (I am agnostic as to who.)
7. Jeff Sessions
8. Robert Mercer or Similar Super-donor
9. Franklin Graham or Jerry Falwell Jr. 
10. ?

Those who have read down to here will notice that I left number 10 blank. That is an invitation for discussion.  I am interested in what others think about who should be on this list and who should not.  This must be an active discussion and it should be bi-partisan. Have at it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Horse Called Comey

By Bob Ferris

The philosophical-consistency police are having a field day on the Comey situation (see above).  Apparently it is inconceivable to them that Democrats who wanted to fire or punish FBI Director Comey for his meddling in the 2016 Election can now be angry that he was fired.  Rather than go into a tirade about Trump’s campaign promises versus his actions, let’s look at a hypothetical.

Let’s say you live in the country and your only transportation is a horse.  But your horse bites and often tries to brush you off on trees and rocks.  After a particularly bad smack into a tree, you curse the horse and decide the sell it.  You ask the neighbors who might have a horse to sell.  They are unaware of horses for sale and it is really not the right season to buy a new horse.  So the need comes up for you to ride into town and you climb upon your horse, because it is all you have and you need it then.  Your sentiments about your horse have not changed.

In the night someone steals your horse.  Your neighbor finds you jumping up and down yelling.  He asks you what is wrong and you tell him about your missing horse.  He counters that your response is illogical as you hated the horse and should be glad that it is gone.  You explain to him that he clearly misses the point as right now you have to get into town for an emergency.  James Comey is that horse.