Friday, November 10, 2017

Flying Moore is Less Airlines to Doom

By Bob Ferris

I am conflicted over these most recent allegations about Judge Roy Moore.  I take them seriously, as we all should, because they speak to his character and also to the treatment of women and young girls.  But I am confused as to how these new allegations became the “straw” that broke the camel’s back when all the other well-documented reflections of character did nothing to the fabled dromedary’s spinal alignment.  In this, Judge Moore is truly Trumpian as he is a candidate who has spent a career misstepping and being offensive in one way or another (1,2,3).   These "past" flaws somehow became “old news” exactly at the time when they should have been most relevant.   

Screen shot from Republican ad against Roy Moore during the Primary (rated mostly true." 
It all makes me think of airports.  What?  People often buy homes near airports because they are cheaper.  They like the economy of these purchases and then convince themselves that the noise is not too much or that they will adjust to it.  And, golly, the shower is nice and it has a basement.  Then they find that they cannot live with the noise so they campaign to control the airport through flight timing or frequency.  Or they simply move.

Our elections are becoming more and more like these bad real estate decisions where voters are ignoring obvious and fatal flaws but pulling that lever anyway.  And now we have arguably the worst president in our nation’s history and Alabama stands poised to elect a senator who reenforces everyone’s worst stereotypic view of the state.  

Hardly a man charging fearlessly into the future.  From Alabama Newspaper (here).

Whether or not Judge Moore did what he has been accused of has yet to be established (1,2,3).  But the proactive defenses offered by some of his supporters are visible and well-recorded (1,2,3).  How can women, minorities that have been historically subjected to slavery, and anyone wanting Alabama’s metaphorical “tide” to rise take comfort in a defense that clings to behavioral standards from two millennia past?  Not to mention that there is no contemporary evidence and little global consensus that the facts portrayed happened exactly as stated (Okay, this was a gratuitous climate change denial dig).

And then we have Steve Bannon comparing the Trump “Pussy” tapes to the release of the Moore accusations.  Setting aside all that is Breitbart, the ill-timed Comey statement, and any number of over-blown conspiracies launched by those in the Trump camp or others during the last national election, what is he actually saying here?  It would seem odd if he were arguing that matters of character and past actions are not relevant when considering how someone will conduct themselves in the future.  It seems strange too that he would use an example of something that was true and well-documented to cast doubt on something similar hoping people would judge it false.  

My sense is that Bannon is exactly like that real estate agent selling houses near the airport whose sales skills override the buyer’s good sense.  He speaks of engine noise snidely and dismissively therefore it does not exist and should not be important to you.  He walks you straight to the great shower avoiding the kitchen where the windows rattle when the jets take off.  He checks his watch and speeds you to the basement just before the largest plane lands all the while saying that he just loves this place and wishes he could live there too.  But his interests are not yours, because he lives far from the airport in a place unaffected by that which will ultimately change your life for the worse.

We, and particularly those in Alabama, need to look deeply at issues of character and past actions.   And then vote based on those and other considerations.  That makes more sense than listening to sales people pushing another bad product that stands to cause us great harm.  

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Tragic American Metaphor Looming on the Verizon

By Bob Ferris

I am sure by now many of you have seen the above commercial or some iteration of it.  Funny (ha-ha)? No, not really.  If we take the protagonist here and distill him into his essential parts, what do we have?  We have a horribly rude individual who is glaringly wrong and who seems utterly immune to corrective information from experts.  But he certainly has something to sell.

Unfortunately, this is a type of individual who we see far too often in our electronic travels through debates on all sorts of issues from climate change and economics to constitutional law and gun control.  This character, in many ways, is the poster child for that mass of individuals (both far-right and far-left) released from their intellectual and emotional kindergartens and unleashed on the scene before, during and after this last election.

Harsh?  Not even close when we consider all the pain and suffering that is being or will be released on most of the American public because of the rude, wrong and non-self-editing behavior of these players as they blithely traipse past truth to "alternate facts"and the seductive coziness of conspiracies.

Why would I include this Verizon fellow in the same thought train as the rubes who fall for the tripe pedaled by Alex Jones his ilk?  I do because I feel they fundamentally prey on the same or similar demographics.  Verizon does it for the same reason that the Mercer-Mind-Machine has done it.  It pushes buttons deep in some brains that lead to desired results.   The Russians are doing it too which is not all that surprising given Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (pictured in the center above with his frequently slobbering dog).

Am I picking on Verizon?  Maybe, but then there is the commercial with the same character coming into a group of technical and perhaps scientific types (above).  Here our character offers up the suggestion of a product coming from two companies being like "balsamic and oil" which is pointed out to be factually inaccurate.  Verizon boy pulls "his public" into the idea that scientists are goofy or should be discounted by snidely offering up the rudimentary, scientific analogy of H2O.  The technical types agree that combining two elements that actually do come together to form something else is more apt.  But who watching this would gain anything approaching a positive vibe about these lab-coated folks? The guy on the scooter is obviously more fun and cooler.  (Of course, our flippant hipster would not have much to pedal were it not for the folks he just smugly dissed.)  

This seems like little stuff.  But we have a Congress and president who frequently give science and scientists not always subtle disrespect.  They work hard to discredit the work and process of science. In this context, institutionalizing these little slights and digs take deeper meaning and become darker indeed.

I grew up during a time when learning about science in schools inspired awe and anticipation for what could happen in the future.  We cannot make progress let alone remain great or become greater if we do not remember the value of science, scientists or experts in any realm.  We doom ourselves if we lazily ignore or actively celebrate these denigrating acts.  I will freely admit that Siri drives me a little bit crazy but then I think about where we were in 1939 with an element of the precursors known as Voder (see above).  We can project this sort of advancement from past-to-now out into the future but not if this American intellectual tragedy is allow to continue or expand.  Sure, hug a scientist and tell it will be okay.  Better yet raise one of or enable one.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Ad Hominems, Theories and the Bible

By Bob Ferris

I generally go for a hard bike ride on Wednesday mornings followed by a good cup of coffee and the relative quiet of a favored cafe.  This is where I sometimes write.  The ideas building as I pump up and over the hill.  It frees my thinking.  But this morning…and I did not even made eye contact.
HIM: You can sit there.  I put my vest there so middle-aged women wouldn't sit there and bother me while I blogged. You look normal.

I looked up to see a man in the corner with his thumbs working madly on his device.  I had not even seen his vest.  My mind was focused on what was in my brain and trying to get that though my finger tips and onto an electronic page.  I also needed the coffee.
HIM: I am just so upset about the Clintons and the hundreds they have killed.

This gentleman’s worst nightmare was noisy middle-aged women but I did not think that he truly understood that my worst nightmare was him when I was trying to write.
ME: Just stop.  At this point in time, I simply cannot deal with nonsense.  Particularly when we know that Manafort had three passports and used burner phones.
HIM: I’ll admit that Trump has made mistakes.  But I bet you probably believe in climate change.
The conversation went downhill from there, in part, because this person talked about the 19-year stalling of warming and Kali Yuga cycles just before using the phrases “just a theory” and “the Bible says” all in one sentence.  (Crap, Hell is real.).  

So after getting a litany of this Nobel-prize-winner-says-this about global warming and this PHD scientist says this about evolution—completely debunking it!  I asked him about his background.  Bio-chemistry was his response.  
ME: Did you get a degree?”   
HIM: Well, no.
I probably rolled my eyes.  I just couldn’t help it.  
HIM: That is an ad hominem attack.

How many times have I heard or read that defense?  Ask someone about their credentials or question their motivations because of funding or affiliation and boom: Argumentum Ad Hominem.  It pops out like a yellow penalty flag on a familiar green field.  But should it?  The answer to that is complicated but basically is: No.   Qualifications, motivations and associations are relevant to the strength and validity of arguments, particularly those a technical nature (see here).  

Not all lenses are the same and some make it more difficult to see what is before you.

But part of this is culture.  Those of us educated in the sciences regularly have to present our credentials and accomplishments prior to ever offering up a position on anything.  It is reflex and we are often befuddled by those who do not feel this urge.  Moreover, those not of this practice tell us something about the lens through which they view science and how it can become distorted through their personal optics by belittling or dismissing this behavior.  All of us have optics and we all bear that burden but lenses are not all the same in their bending and modification of what comes through them.

This could almost be characterized as a reverse deflection, because my new "friend" made a point of emphasizing the Nobel Prize and that the person he rolled out on the evolution argument was a PhD and an adjunct professor (neglecting, of course, to point out that this gentleman teaches science and religion rather than evolution).  How come these credentials were so important but not those of others including himself?  

He is gone now.  And I can finally sit with my thoughts, not the ones I came in with.  I notice that he left his cup and napkin on the table rather than busing it.  It seems metaphoric of the messes left for others and other generations to clean up.  Maybe that it too harsh, perhaps it is just carelessness or inattention.

This is my closing paragraph, so I should have a point, right?  I have two.  The first, and I rarely heed it, is that these arguments infrequently lead to enlightenment or enhanced understanding.  I should have picked up sticks the minute he made the offensive comment about middle-aged women, but I didn't.  My second point is that if you do stay do not fall into the ad hominem guilt complex as you have every right and justification to talk about credentials, motivations and associations in these types of discussion.  They are often as relevant as the specific arguments themselves.   Hopefully the ride back over than hill and home will wash some of this away.  Did he really say that Kali Yuga cycles were mentioned in the Bible?


Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Sorry Art of Republection

By Bob Ferris

I seem to remember a less than memorable movie that showed a potential groom's disastrous first meeting with his future in-laws.  They went walking in a park and the fellow found that his fly was fully down.  He did a hey-what-is-that-over-there move not looking first while he address his errant zipper.  Had he looked he would have seen a pair of aggressively amorous dogs the focal point of that view.  Yahoo for first impressions.  Luckily, his future bride’s parents were the forgiving type.    But what this character was engaging in was a classic move know as "deflection."  The Republicans--particularly Trump--are doing a lot of that lately so much that we might actually need to new term: Republection. 

From here.

How does republection work?  Let’s say you have a president who is by most measures a racist or at least someone who enables racism (1,2,3).   What would a good republectionist do?  The answer to that is create a narrative delivered by a person of color (1) who calls the Democrats on their KKK links and their racist past.  Perhaps also being a little careless with the facts or images (1).  Done. Make sure it is blasted everywhere (1,2,3,4).  There are number of amorous dogs in this but the main one is that the sole remaining block of offending former Democrats tied to the KKK are those from the South who are now Republicans.  The evil they highlighted switched parties and now sits with them.  

Of course, the Republicans are ready with counter arguments including one that talks about the fact that the highest concentration of KKK membership every was in Indiana.  It was something like thirty percent of all adult white males.   I suspect the inference is that Indiana was a non-slave state so the North was full of KKK too.  But this is a strongly red state.  And Mike Pence former governor of this very Republican state is now vice-president. So it is them anyway. Republection.

So is republection common?  Yep.  And a lot of the time it is sprinkled with "projection."  How common?  Well the last eight tweets by the president in a row this Saturday and Sunday are republections.   All eight.  They are posted below from most recent to oldest.

Republection:  Look at taxes and tax cuts not the Russian investigation.

Amorous Dog(s): Just how exactly is this investigation in DOJ or Congress affecting the tax talks?  Congress is committee-driven and it is not like there are staff taken from the "tax project" to work on the Russian investigation.  What's more, the Mueller investigation and the charges are not connected to the tax talks as they are in the federal courts and Department of Justice.

Republection: Clinton is guilty not me.  Look at her, not the Russian investigations.

Amorous Dog(s): There are no facts pouring in.  The fact that she and others paid for the dossier has been public for some time.  And who exactly is he asking to "do something."  And what is he asking them to do?

Republection: Blame the Democrats.  This is their fault not mine.  Do not look at the Russian investigation.

Amorous Dog(s):  There are investigations by both parties, but the "moving train" is the approved charges that we announced on Friday (1,2,3). A lot of folks believe that there was collusion or that it should not be ruled out (1) and that those under investigation should be concerned (1).  And Mueller is a Republican as was Comey.  

Republection: Uranium deal, her e-mails and Comey.  This is almost too shrill and desperate to comment on.

Amorous Dog(s): Disproven conspiracy, irrelevant (and addressed), and the problem with Comey is that you fired him.

Republection:  It is Hillary's fault.  She caused this.  Do not look at the Russian investigation. 

Amorous Dog(s): The dossier was first financed by Republicans and only later by Clinton (1).  Opposition research is a normal campaign activity.  This was disclosed a long time ago.  Clinton et al. made some mistakes but that does not take away from the dossier.  What is not normal is what was found out about Trump and his colleagues in the research.   

Republection: Look at Obama-Care.  It is his fault that the premiums are too high.  And quit looking at this Russian stuff.

Amorous Dog(s): Many including the CBO attribute the rate hikes to Trump (1,2).  And how can Dems own it?  The Republicans control both Houses and the Presidency.  The Republican also helped shape the ACA.

Republection:  Look at how well I am doing things and do not look at the Russian investigation.  

Amorous Dog(s):  These documents were scheduled for release in 1992 and delayed.  Some of the documents were not released (1).   This had very little to with Trump per se.

Republection: Look at Michael Moore.  Don't think about who from my campaign will be arrested this coming week or soon.

Amorous Dog(s): Michael Moore's show closed because it a limited engagement.  

I have not expanded on these tweets to any great extent, because it is really not needed.  Number eight above which is the oldest tweet gives a hint of what is to follow.  It opening line "While not at all presidential" is really the theme of these postings but it could also serve as an epitaph to this administration.  

Though some will see these tweets as logical and appropriate, they are problematic psychologically and, probably, legally too.  But what truly stands out is their desperation.  I do not absolutely know what I want or expect over the next few days and beyond from the courts and Mueller.  I am not even sure I want people to go to jail or just simply to go away.  In an ideal world the best solution would probably be a collective set of actions that would most closely approximate a "do-over."  And by that I mean a soup-to-nuts approach starting at presidential nominations and debates.  This approach would also apply to cabinet and judicial nominees up to and including Gorsuch.  But, in parallel, an overhaul is need as well in terms of policing the actors and the processes as this has become too much about winning and gaming the systems and not enough about those with winning ideas that will lift America to greater heights not just make the already-rich much richer.