Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Politics of Believing

Note: In fairness to Isaac his actual remarks had a quotation mark before "my ignorance" which indicates those words were spoken by someone else.

By Bob Ferris

I am in another electronic debate on climate. The person involved, hammered by 10 penny nails to his beliefs, maintains that while he accepts that "global warming" is happening, that it is natural and not caused by humans.  In defense of his position he offers the below graphic which makes me think immediately of the above Asimov graphic, IBM Selectric and all.

Our believer has offered up this graphic as well as pieces from conservative writers questioning the scientific consensus on climate change and our role in it.  One of his proffered pieces was written by a gentleman with a liberal arts BA (1) and the other with a BA in philosophy (1).  The graphics and citations come entirely from the conservative world and from non-scientists.  My argument is that he is offering a political opinion and he disagrees saying the he has taken an "objective" approach.  Hmm.
From here.
Several of us in the thread have asked the gentleman for his credentials and also for his technical arguments indicating that our current regime of climate change is not human-driven.  He refuses to provide either arguing that both are irrelevant to the discussion.   His opinion has the same value as ours.  Our believer further argues that the opposition is another side of this debate with consensus as well, ergo these sides are essentially equal.  Now this strains me some as 97% certainly seems much, much greater than 3% and there is not really even a consensus or unity within that 3%.  But that may just be me and hundreds of scientific societies around the world.

I have always liked the above quote by Daniel Patrick Moynihan.  I think with a little remolding it can be applied to this situation.  It is not a problem for this gentleman or any person to have an opinion.  Yahoo, great. Where the problem comes is when that opinion addresses the scientific or technical.  If one wants to step into that realm and have an impact credentials and rationale for involvement become as relevant as the arguments presented.  In my mind, a combination of credentials and strength of argument are those forces that take the raw coal of random opinion and push it more towards being the diamond that lives in the realm of facts.

If one wants to offer up something as a "political opinion," that works too if identified as such.   Possible examples include: I am a conservative and do not believe that climate change is man-made or I am a liberal and think that fossil-fuels are evil.  Both of these statements clearly identify which horse brought you to the party.  In this person's case all external links provided were from sites with political biases and not sites that pedal science.  It defies logic that science would flow out of outlets where content is provided by non-scientist that overtly embrace an ideology.  Not impossible but unlikely.

But I think that we have reached a point where unqualified opinions on climate change should not be countenanced.  The ads by Holiday Inn Express (above) were cute but in real life and with real consequences feeling smart just does not get the job done and we need to call out people who think it does.  So I am back to it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Playing Presidential Jenga in Space

By Bob Ferris

Suffice it to say the American public has many concerns on their minds right now.  And much of that has to do with this growing pile of scandals swirling around this presidency as well as this administration's attacks on nearly every aspect of the quality of our lives and our essential welfare.  All are affected either by being frustrated trying to pluck reason from this nonsensical set actions or dizzy from way too many ethical and logical summersaults trying to defend these specious undertakings.  But what would we expect other than disruption and disappointment from a president most did not vote for and from an abetting Congress that neither reflects us ideologically or champions our well-being? 

Settling aside the fact that Trump dodged the draft and was sent to military school because of discipline issues, he was never, ever in the Army.

The perfect, illustrated abstraction of the above disconnect is Trump’s Twitter feed.  We as Americans are rightfully concerned about what affects us and Trump is concerned about what affects him.  Therefore, he posts about his feuds with Senator Corker, an ESPN personality, the NFL, and Tillerson.  He also posts about those who praise him like the New York Post (owned by Rupert Murdoch of Fox fame), his ex-wife Ivana who gives him credit for the stock market (she is also promoting a book), and a new book written about him by someone associated with the ultra-Conservative site The Daily Caller.    And in addition to praising his administration's actions in Puerto Rico, the president re-tweets a praising post from an account called Israel & USA Forever which has was born this past August and is associated (see below) with a pro-Trump, ultra-orthodox, Israeli named Yanki Farber who also posted the above on his Twitter page (i.e., fake news from a foreign source.)  

So we have citizens in Puerto Rico still without power and clean water, fires in California with more than a dozen dead, four Green Berets killed in Niger, and the University of Hawaii just sent an email to its students with the subject line: In the event of a nuclear attack.  Any one of these issues seems of more important than whether the presidential IQ is higher than that of the Secretary of State, but not in this administration's mind.  There is a monumentally-sad ridiculousness to all of this which returns us to the title of this piece.

Jenga is a game that relies on gravity.  You take out rectangular pieces until the tower of blocks collapses (see top) because it is too unbalanced and pulled down by gravity.  With the Trump administration the pile of pulled blocks in the form of scandals and ethical or moral missteps now seems taller than the tower itself but still it stands like this game is being played in space (i.e., the final frontier) in the absence of gravity.  This country desperately needs for gravity to re-appear.   Gravity in the form of judicial action--federal level or state--or in the form of gravitas exhibited by members of Congress via leadership or direct action against this multiply-flawed administration.  Admittedly, that will take sacrifice by some who currently enjoy power but perhaps it is time for them think about the last time they and all their constituent were truly proud of their actions.  Gravity will not stay away forever and the American public will remember those who brought back this needed force and those who left us to float around without safety lines or life support.  

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Asleep at the Bump Switch

By Bob Ferris

Way back in a sillier time there was something called “the bump.”  It was a dance that encouraged polyestered Caucasians to embarrass themselves on the dance floor (see above).  That innocent bump has been forever replaced in my mind by the bump stock of Las Vegas infamy.  

Admittedly I am a senior citizen and though not quite in the cap-and-ball set I still consider my thirty year-old Remington 11-87 shotgun a pretty cool advancement over my single-shot Ithaca.  I have never taken the plug out of that weapon nor have I ever filled the magazine of my even older Marlin 30/30 to capacity.  Why would I?  But that it not the culture of many and therein is a problem that we need to talk about.

The above video pushes the idea of this bump stock and how you can game-the-system by not having to pay more and go through pesky licensing or screens.  Yahoo.  What fun.  But where in this are the cautionary remarks?  Where in this are the rationales for having a weapon that simulates full-auto or even two or three-round bursts?  We have outfits and drama but absolutely no reason at all.  For that we need the below video.

So now we know.  We need bump stocks for zombies and perhaps red-haired cow girls with ample upholstery.  I suspect that we are supposed to gather from this too that cordite is some sort of modern substitute for Hi Karate or Brut.  One can hope that maturity, time and loving criticism will make these appurtenances as obsolete as these scents, but I think that it will take some serious legal intervention to swim upstream through the marketing.

Lawn darts: Gone but not forgotten.
Now I can already hear the objections from Congress and the agencies.  We cannot mess with our freedoms and rights!  I have three examples to offer here: Shoes, shaving cream and lawn darts.  I have to take off my shoes at airports every time that I travel because of that deranged fellow in England.  I have also dumped countless containers of shaving cream and toothpaste because of similar concerns.  And lawn darts—which were pretty fun too—are no longer darted because they were deemed a dangerous product.  Given how quickly these were accomplished, why is there even a hint of hiccup before action here?  

Over time the emphasis has changed.
That is an embarrassingly rhetorical question.  Obviously, we still have bump stocks, high-capacity magazines and way too many assault-style weapons because of the NRA and gun manufacturers want us to.  Those of us of an age remember sporting goods stores when the stocks were all of wood and five rounds of anything seemed more than you needed.  But that was before hunters became shooters and a munitions mystic was purposely created in this country that is so far removed from our hunting heritage as to not resemble it at all.  

Unfortunately those who should speak up first and loudest about this have not.   In fact, many have been complicit selling the idea of so-called "black guns" as being great hunting weapons (1,2,3).  Normalizing the idea that military-style weapons should be accepted everywhere.  And, yes, I do remember sporterized Mausers as well as the extraordinary lengths folks would undertake to make them not look military.  

Moreover, this argument that black guns are popular and therefore should be acceptable is lost on me too.  I might be more receptive if the arguments were that these weapons increased conservation or environmental literacy but exactly the opposite is happening as these guns coupled with high-capacity magazines are favored at so-called predator derbies, which head in another direction all together.  And we should be smart enough to understand that broadening what we shoot at (and how) is not the same as increasing public lands, improving wildlife habitat, or enhancing game populations. 

So color me old or old fashioned because I do hold onto these dated notions such as that hunting arms should look like hunting arms.  I also believe that  hunting is as much about ethics as practice.   And I would argue that civilians--even those who are veterans or patriots--should not aspire to own weapons that are only appropriate for killing people and conducting war.  

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Swearing Southern Belle and the Sad Parade of Thoughts and Prayers

By Bob Ferris

Years ago I was told the silly story about a wild and foul-mouthed southern belle whose parents were so desperate for change that they sent their beloved daughter away to a northern finishing school for two years.  While the young woman was away her best friend stole her beau, another friend took her place as top student and was given a sports car as reward, and another got the dress our belle wanted and wore it to the cotillion she missed.  When she returned home and met the happy, new couple on the street and was told they were to be married, her only reply was: That’s nice.  When the sporty car drove by and her mother pointed it out, her response was: That’s nice.  And when she visited her third friend and saw the coveted gown on a dress form in the bedroom corner and the girl told her how happy she had been her reply was likewise: That’s nice.  Her mother noticed all this and remarked about the change in her and asked how the finishing school had managed this miraculous metamorphosis.  He daughter answered: Oh I am not really different, the teachers just taught me to say “that’s nice” whenever I am tempted to say “screw you.” (This is not exactly how I heard this but my 96 year-old mother occasionally reads these posts.)

I think of this story as we hear this sad parade of “thoughts and prayers” comments from the elected leadership in this country in response to this cavalcade of natural and man-made disasters--most recently the tragedy in Las Vegas.  Because those effected by hurricanes, unbridled bigotry and mass shootings are starting to understand that “thought and prayers” issuing from elected leaders are the functionally equivalent to “screw you.”  

From here.
Perhaps these elected leaders need to understand or be reminded that they are not our “spiritual leaders” as much as they wish to think, but rather legislative and administrative leaders tasked with the job of looking out after our interests—all our interests.  “Thought and prayers” should be given, if so desired, but only after a concrete plan for corrective actions or a pledge to deal with the situation are offered up.   That is the their job.

I understand that invoking something higher abrogates responsibility as well as eases guilt over inaction by misplacing the blame or adding confusion.   But somehow I doubt that a supreme being or beings are really sitting somewhere wishing that our elected officials would completely ignore the science on climate change or fail to see clear and constitutional pathways for limiting the massive damage done by unhampered access to certain types and classes of weapons or their miss-use in public settings.  

So, elected and appointed officials, please save your “thoughts and prayers” and even your “warmest condolences” for later and do your jobs.   For if you do nothing but pray, how will we know you are praying at all and not just hanging your heads in shame?