Saturday, December 17, 2016

Smoking, Climate and the Putin Atom

By Bob Ferris

The ideas that smoking causes cancer, carbon-dioxide is implicated in climate change, and that Putin influenced the American election are similar in that they are complicated and multi-factored.  As a result conceptualizing the totality of Putin’s election influence as much like an atom with its constituent parts is an approach that works on many levels.

So if we think about the “Putin election atom” what are its building blocks?  Regular atoms have at their core a nucleus which is made up of composite particles known as protons and neutrons.  The protons and neutrons are made up of smaller parts known as quarks that come in six “flavors.” (See here)
Web traffic from the Ukraine increased on my blog site increased every time I posted at story on either Putin or Trump.
If we think of those elements of this that are pro-Putin or derived from Putin as the protons in the equation, we have lots of quark equivalents.  The state-owned network now known as RT (nee Russia Today) is a quark in this pro-Putin particle.  The Russian trolls and others causing mischief working overtime in Moscow (1,2,3) the Ukraine or near the Mongolian border (1) spreading specious stories across the internet or hacking are also quarks of this type.  And WikiLeaks, as much as they might deny it, are protons (1,2).

The pro-Putin Brit who published Patriot News and other similar publications is this type of pro-Putin quark too as are the Putin-leaning journalists (1,2) who are urging many to ignore evidence of Putin’s tampering because we do not have an authorizing document or an e-mail signed by Putin.  Some of the above would fall into the class of "useful idiots."

Judgement Day
I would also add evangelicals in this group who held their noses on Putin (and Trump too) because he was a “Christian” (1,2) therefore an easier ally in their fight to make the US a Christian country which it never was.  The ethical gymnastics of this argument given Putin’s performance throughout his career and his recent moves to regulate religion are seemingly inconceivable (1,2).  For a group that talks so frequently about the idea of a “Judgment Day,” we must conclude they consider this some sort of take-home test where they get extra-credit for hypocrisy and forgiven sins.

The neutron equivalents are neutral actors and they have quarks. The well-known Macedonia teenagers (1,2) and the strongly left players who posted non-stop anti-Hillary rhetorical while coating themselves liberally with the false sheen of objectivity butter fit here along with some of the Dr. Jill Stein contingent. None are pro-Putin (or Pro-Trump) per se but they gleefully carried his water by the bucketful.

Then we have the electrons which are seemingly independent but are part of the whole regardless of how they see themselves.  FBI-Director Comey is clearly an electron (1).  Paula Jones and the other Bill Clinton women were a little like these charged particles.  The failed congressional candidate from Haiti was sort of a slightly limping electron (1).

So what about Trump?  The Donald is probably all three.  He and his surrogates pushing Putin propaganda or WikiLeaks derived materials certainly seemed like full-blown protons.   The promotion of health myths and Clinton Foundation scandals likewise got him and his allies box seats in the neutron section.  And his failure to provide tax-returns, anti-Islamic rhetoric, climate denial, and overt racism made him at times somewhat like an electron.  (Perhaps Trump is a little like a proton that acts like a particle and wave simultaneously?)

So am I ignoring the functional equivalents of the rest of sub-atomic particles like the other leptons and the bosons?  No, but this is a crowded field that includes the Electoral College system, sloppy media, voter suppression, corporate meddling and failed education systems.  With some of these knowing they are part of the Putin atom and others not knowing.

The three ideas presented at the beginning of this piece also share the characteristic that they are the result of mountains of compelling evidence but are doubted by those who need to see the pistol fired.  Cancer causes and climate change are intellectual triangulation which we accept because they have been tested and no other explanation stands.  Atoms too are not seen but scientists know that they or something very similar to what they have described exists.  This—mountains of evidence—is what has been presented also in terms of the Russian interference in our election.  It bears consideration.

Danish scientist Neils Bohr who changed our thinking about atoms.
Some can look at this and shrug.  They can light a cigarette, soak their feet in waters not there a century ago, fail to give a wit about Neils Bohr, and think simply about the wonderful thing America just did in electing Donald Trump president.  But the rest of us—including the Electoral College taking action on Monday—must as thinking people and those standing up for America consider the Putin atom fully and its implications for our democracy.  To be clear the Electors will not be liked by millions of Americans for whatever decision they make, but that really should not be their main concern.  They are supposed to act as America's backstop and I hope that they remember that as this wild pitch of a president comes in their direction.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Fake News on the Loose

By Bob Ferris

I am sure that most are amazed at the amount of false or fake news flying around the internet at this point.  Having looked at it, I am also amazed at the amount of denial regarding this huge problem.  Obviously those sites that find themselves on a list or two are denying that they deserve to be there.  There are also those who are faithful to those sites who are up in arms as well.  The end result of this backlash is criticism of these lists in general. Some of which that is valid but certainly not all.  And we cannot afford to ignore this issue because some find it objectionable or even tricky.

The problem with succinctly defining all this is that it is wholly a matter defined by degrees.  There are sites that are biased.  There are also sites that are really, really fake but not visited often enough to make all lists because their impact is minor or they offended fewer.  These are imperfect analyses, but we must start somewhere and then continue to refine and improve these lists.

My approach below was to look at the eight attempts at listing problem sites and then look for agreement between those lists. What are the sites that more than a few find problematic (yellow), half find fault with (orange) and those sites that are on most lists (red)?    There are more than three hundred sites listed below garnered from this initial set of lists, but this is likely only the tip of the iceberg.

Column Codes
A = ProporNot
B = The Daily Dot
C = Wikipedia
D = Fake News Watch
E = Patheos Blog
F = Assistant Professor of Journalism at Merrimack
G = Snopes
H = US News

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Distibution Devil and the Swing State Ding Dongs

By Bob Ferris

One percent is not huge.  On some level that percentage is really quite insignificant.  But let’s think about that for a moment—particularly in light of folks talking about this election and criticizing the DNC and Hillary Clinton for losing the election because “they” lost sight of the importance of the Electoral College.

There are 365 days in a year and 24 hours in a day.  That means that there are 8760 hours in a year.  One percent of that is 87.6 hours.  Try not breathing for 87.6 hours, 8.7 hours or even 52 minutes and you will start to understand that the distribution of that percent or even a tenth or hundredth of that percentage can be extremely critical or even fatal.  Breathing and elections, particularly with the Electoral College involved, share some of the same characteristics.

Noam Chomsky, Bernie Sanders and others recognized the diabolical destructiveness of distribution in this election and warned those who supported Dr. Stein or the ascendancy of the Green Party to vote for Hillary rather than a third party candidate if they lived in swing states (1.2,3).  It is hard to tell how many in this cohort listened to that plea, but unfortunately enough didn’t that we now have President-elect Trump.

Dr. Stein’s response to Chomsky’s caution was to call him a “coward” which he is certainly not (1,2,).  She was also critical of Senator Sanders and offered herself up as a Sanders surrogate which she was certainly not in terms of electability, experience or grasp of governance.

So now Dr. Stein is calling for audits in three states.  This is commendable and appreciated.  But it should be pointed out that those three states are all important swing states where in at least two of them votes cast for Dr. Stein significantly harmed Secretary Clinton’s prospects and helped Trump.   In the other it was a combination of third party votes.  Somehow this brief sense of affection for Dr. Stein feels similar to what we feel for Glenn Beck after his recent admissions that he might have been on an errant track and caused some damage.  In essence, you want to embrace the person but it is more ceremonial than heart-felt.

The embracement hesitation above is reinforced by Dr. Stein’s current rhetoric and how she unremorsefully slips back into her “two equivalent evils” oratory which seems so indicative of someone who has not absorbed any lessons from this dreadful experience.  In regards to this, the unkind part of me thinks that she should contact Carly Simon and see if the singer is willing to let Dr. Stein use her song “You’re So Vain” in any upcoming campaigns.

Is the above a cheap shot?  Maybe, but for two things.  The first is that Dr. Stein has climbed onto the publicity wagon of this recount and is bathing in the attention that she appears to think is about her.  My sense is that she needs to remember that she raised more money for the recount in a handful of days than she raised during her entire presidential campaign.  Since Dr. Stein or the Green Party can gain nothing material from the recount, perhaps this isn’t about her per se but really about that other “her?”

Moreover, throughout this campaign Dr. Stein has enjoyed considerable support from a certain element of the media.  Some of this was ultra-liberal and some ultra-conservative with quite a bit of foreign mischief thrown in for good measure.  When looking at many of these pieces and sources this was much less about trying to forward an inexperienced and un-electable candidate and much more about the #JillNotHill thrust of Dr. Stein’s campaign.  If you want to argue against this and claim that those elements were four-square behind Dr. Stein rather than simply anti-Hillary, then why are so many of those same sources now attacking Dr. Stein for this recount effort (1,2,3,4)?

Although it is easy to lay blame on Hillary or the DNC in this “loss,” I am not sure that is absolutely warranted or deserved.  Secretary Clinton won all the debates handily and earned endorsements from nearly every major newspaper in the nation.  She also won the popular vote by a substantial and growing margin.  She wasn’t a “lazy” candidate as some have characterized her and it should be remembered that she did all of this while burdened by the unfortunate baggage of her gender, a misinformation campaign of massive proportions, active voter suppression, and an adversary who won hearts with lies and well-fertilized fears.  And Hillary had little control over those acting on misinformation or unbalanced reporting in critical swing states, but Dr. Stein did and should have taken steps before the fact rather than just after.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Electoral College, NFL Referees and the Harry Potter Solution

By Bob Ferris

I had a thought while watching football this week: Why cannot the Electoral College do their voting a little like NFL referees moderate a game?  I come to this line of reasoning because there have been so, so many political fouls in this election that the Electoral College should be able to throw a few penalty flags.  How so?

Maybe Red State Republicans should get a penalty flag for voter suppression in their states.  What would be the call?  Perhaps this would be Roughing the Constitution.  And since it was open and notorious let’s take a million votes from the Republicans in Red States as a penalty.  Seems fair.

That is not to say that the Democrats were without sins.  There probably should be flag thrown for how the DNC dealt with Bernie.  Let’s call that one Process Interference and penalize them a million votes spread across the Democratic side in the Blues States.

There was also the whole Hillary e-mail thing which really was handled poorly.  That might be viewed as Intentional Floundering.   But then we have the second FBI Director Comey announcement which clearly was Unsportsmanlike Communication after the play.  So we have offsetting penalties.

Dr. Jill Stein and LT General Flynn (Trump's candidate for National Security Adviser) dining with Vladimir Putin at the dinner celebrating the 10th Anniversary of RT (Russia Today) the Russian state-owned TV network.
Then there is the whole "Russian" thing from the DNC hacks and WikiLeaks to paid internet trolls and the likelihood of hidden Russian financial ties to the Trump Empire.  This one is hard to categorize as it seems a hybrid of too many men on the field and fans coming down from the stands and acting like players during a goal-line stance.  So here the flag flies for Illegal Intrusion.

Then there is all the fake news.  Which seemed to have been more widely shared on social networks like Facebook than real news.  This functioned much like a cadre of folks blowing air-horns every time the opposing team tried to call a play.  In the NFL this can draw a Delay of Game flag with the Electoral College this should result in a Political Interference flag.  Thrown and thrown again.

Stir into this mix penalty flags for bald-faced lying and flying yellow for un-American behavior and you start to understand that our election process, while always messy has unlikely been this stained from so many quarters in recent memory.  I can on some level understand the need for the Electoral College and can get over the disproportional per capita representation both in the Senate and less so in the House, but you cannot have those leveling factors and allow these other manipulations to stand or not be accounted for somehow in the resulting Electoral College voting when we are for the second time in this generation represented by someone who did not win the popular vote and most voted against.  And this understanding does not absolutely depend on whether or not you see us as a democracy, republic or some hybrid of the two.

I hope that the Electoral College collectively incorporates some of the above in their decisions.  Yes that would be an abnormal occurrence and would take some courage, but then they should have a strong inkling about this being about their own future as well as the future of this country.  Hopefully this body will make the right decision based upon fairness and a love of our country.  My sense is that while some will have unhappy faces if they do, most Americans would applaud a corrective decision.  And if you need some inspiration about how that would feel watch the below and the compare that to the mood in America now.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Jersey Shore meets Dallas and Moves to DC

By Bob Ferris

I have been wrestling with a lot lately.  All of us have.  This morning I am trying to wrap my mind around the idea that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner delayed the work of the Transition Team to have a territorial fight with Chris Christie—the New Jersey governor whose staff (and maybe he) blocked bridge traffic as political payback.  Jared’s animosity towards Christie stems from Chris’ efforts to put Jared’s father in prison for among other things hiring a prostitute to have sex with a witness and then filming her work product to create leverage during his trial for campaign finance violations and other charges.  Amazing.  Thanks for bringing this to White House.

It is sad that Mr. Kushner is picking this fight at a time when this country so needs leadership and hope.  It is interesting in this that he is advising an administration led by the grandson of a man who was kicked out of his native Germany for dodging the draft and there is evidence that the grandfather made an element of his fortune through the labors of prostitutes.  Weirder still is the fact that the grandson was put in office, in part, because he was the “golden boy” of Evangelical Christians who spread massive lies in order for their candidate to win.  How all this gets sorted out in the irony and hypocrisy spectrum is anyone's guess.

So now in addition to having a presidential candidate talk about the size of his member on national TV, we have an administration that is not even in office, yet seems like a hybrid from the mating of a soap opera and a reality TV show (i.e., Dallas meeting Jersey Shore).  All this while thinking and compassionate Americans watch the popular vote ticker indicate that their candidate earned something like a million more votes than the person showing no leadership but still tweeting during this ugly and acrimonious transition.

Put this all this in a pot that is liberally seasoned with voter suppression (1,2,3), fake news (1,2,3, 4,5), voter intimidation (1,2,3), and foreign intervention (1,2,3) that is all stirred by an Electoral College system that gives more power to some voters while taking it away from others and one has a hard time arguing that those marching in cities across America are unjustified.  In fact they are righteously pissed and scared all at the same time and they should be.

And while some mock the idea that California would want to make their own way separate from the US (Calexit), critics should understand that president votes in the state are about .85 (2008 figures) as powerful as the national average because of the Electoral College (see above math problem where Y equals the Electoral College).  So in addition to sending more tax money to DC and getting less back, their votes are discounted as well.

Certainly if you are in Montana where your vote weight is more than twice California’s (175%) and you get about $1.50 back for every dollar sent to DC you might see this as silly.  And Wyoming has a similar tax return but their votes count three times the national average (318%).  Essentially it takes nearly four liberal Californians to balance out a conservative from Wyoming in a presidential battle.  Seems fair, but I would urge my conservative friends in Montana and Wyoming to take a deep breath and walk in California’s flip-flops for a few steps as you might see visions of the Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill or Valley Forge appear before your eyes and you might understand the anger of a populace that is increasingly seeing their government move farther and farther away from what they believe and their core values.

During an election season we see a lot of flags and there is much talk about liberty and justice.  And there should be.  But right now we have a situation where a minority of folks far removed from the will of the people or even the true character of America are plotting a course that will make us poorer and sicker as well as damaging the quality of our lives and our world reputation.  These bad things will happen to the “normal” white people in America, but for those who are different in any manner the impact will be much, much worse.

The Electoral College can right this wrong but they might choose to avoid this responsibility because it has risks.  That is probably correct, but how long can a country last—particularly one that promotes democratic principles—when most of its citizens are watching a regime that they do not support or they voted against?  This growing disconnect between the populace and the government can be maintained for a time but it is not sustainable and fixing it later will likely be much more painful.  But that is really the essence of leadership: Weighing the facts and making a decision for the long-term good of the country.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What Just Happened to the US

By Bob Ferris

I am tired, angry and disappointed.  But I also wanted to get something out this morning by way of analysis and a catalyst for thinking.

First, we now have a president who most of us did not elect and who will be placed in office instead of a woman who got more votes.  Not a lot more, but one has to also consider the stream she was swimming against and the hurdles set for her.  Part of me wants to add the "not-a-perfect-candidate" caveat, but I realize that even that response is likely a product of what we have been programmed to think in this awful, awful election.

I do not really feel like writing today, but I think it is important to look at what contributed to this result.  A Trump presidency is a symptom rather than a root cause and we have to look at the systematic failures in order to solve this problem.  Unfortunately, most of our normal tools and avenues are lost and our last remaining bulwark is in jeopardy as the process starts in terms of the Supreme Court.

Below is my quick, back-of-the-envelope listing of problems we need to address.  Certainly others will add to this list or criticize some of my selections, but if we figure out solutions to these issues we might be able to put the "progress train" back on the tracks it was derailed from so forcefully.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

I am Hillary’s Love Child

By Bob Ferris

Given what we have seen lately in terms of a general trampling of the truth in this election, why can’t I just say the above? I put forth this statement because someone recently asked—after I mentioned that the post she sent around bashing Hillary and praising Jill Stein was written by a woman in Australia known for writing about astrology along with American political activism and posted on a site registered in Panama and owned by a pro-Palestine, Israeli businessman named Daniel Treisman—why does any of that matter?  It matters because American voters should make decisions based on fact and those in foreign countries or foreign agents should not f**k with our elections particularly by injecting falsehoods (the asterisks are for the sake of my 95 year-old mom).

About Us from World News Daily Report
Think I am overstating the ridiculousness of this issue?  Recently the World News Report Daily posted a story claiming that Yoko Ono had an affair with Hillary Clinton.  Who is WNRD?  Turns out they do not want you to know in terms of real ownership but they have the above statement on their site.  The statement is bad whether it is true or not.

But this fake story gets blasted all over the internet—particularly on right wing sites like Conservative  America, World Politicus, US Newsflash,  GOP the Daily Dose and MR Conservative  —including being highlighted in the video below.  Where this fellow goes on and on about this relationship that never happened.

Now I am not a Bible scholar by any measure but perhaps Mr. Beckwith missed some of the following passages in the King James Version of the Bible regarding rumors and the spreading of lies. Perhaps he should spend a little time looking at his own life rather than the lives of others.
James 1:26 - If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion [is] vain.
Psalms 34:13 - Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile.
Matthew 12:36 - But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
Proverbs 17:4 - A wicked doer giveth heed to false lips; [and] a liar giveth ear to a naughty tongue.
2 Timothy 2:16 - But shun profane [and] vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.
Obviously from my last post and from this one, I do think it matters. I think it matters a lot.  We got Trump because we did not steward our country and political process properly.  We let our population become susceptible to this claptrap by not demanding better educations for our children and not holding those who lead us or provide our information to appropriate or defensible standards.

So the Russian, Israelis and others feed us crap for breakfast and we not only gobble it up with glee we invite our friends over to share the feast. Though it would be easy for us to simply say that Donald Trump has made us a country with a big “kick me” sign on our back that probably gives him too much credit because this is clearly a self-inflicted wound.  And the sooner we do something about it the better.  The American political arena has been and is something to behold but it should not and cannot become the playground of foreign powers or those who would destroy our core principles by spreading lies.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Sabotage and Espionage by Proxy and Neglect

By Bob Ferris

I used to say that we need to be our own media.  If important issues are not covered or not covered appropriately we need to work to get the word out.  I still believe that but I should have added that in this we need to be better than the existing media in terms of ethics, facts and fairness.  Unfortunately many got the first part of this and did not think the second part was necessary.  Worse still others saw this as an opportunity to dupe the American public for political or financial gain.

In regards to this latter set of individuals, I am wondering how exactly spreading falsehoods anonymously in an effort to affect a US election in a manner that may harm our economy, environment and people differs from sabotage or even espionage when done by those outside our country? I do not ask this question casually as Freedom of the Press is certainly one of the cornerstone principles of our country.

Society of Professional Journalist Code of Ethics (see here for larger version)
There is in my concern some notion that there should be a push to save the tradition and integrity of investigative journalism as well as taking some action to level the playing fields for print, televised and electronically-transmitted media.  For instance, ownership information for print newspapers is provided to the public because they are often sent through the mail.  There are also ownership rules for televised media that use public airwaves.  My sense is that any website purporting to be or functioning as a news source also needs to disclose who they are and who they represent just as any other media source does and for similar reasons.

That likely might mean that we need to either regulate or shut down the anonymous “lie factories” that are enabled by operations like Domains by Proxy LLC and others that make it far too easy to fool too many people too often and not suffer any consequences for that deception.  I am not sure what the solution is for other sites registered in other countries other than vigilance and awareness particularly as we begin to more fully understand that the fighting fronts of the future might be more electronic and psychological in nature than defined by boots-on-the-ground or a rocket’s-red-glare.

This is a big issue with a lot of elements that have all come to play in this funky exercise we are calling an election this year.  Some of this has to do with the idea of equating news with entertainment and not understanding the true consequences of accepting that false equivalency.  Inherent in this is the double standard that seems to be employed which punishes legitimate journalists such as Dan Rather and Brian Williams but excuses serial offenders such as Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity as well as giving Megyn Kelly a virtual pass when she read raw excerpts from the recent Wikileaks documents without vetting them first (see above video).  While her after-the-fact apology was welcomed, it seemed a little Trump-like in terms of sincerity as the horses were running free in the pasture when she grudgingly shut the barn door.  Will Farrell’s Ron Burgundy character helps illuminate some of the problems here on some level, but perhaps it just helps us accept what we should never accept.

This illustration without this or the NOAA caption accompanied the below titled article.

The anonymous and faultless electronic frontier of the web also allows nearly anyone to say pretty much anything without being anchored to the journalistic ethics outlined near the top of this piece.  Sometimes this is done through pseudonyms on anonymous sites and other times it is done in the full light-of-day with precious few questioning what is said or the credentials of who said it.  The example above is non-political and has made the rounds.  Certainly the Fukushima incident is troubling and we need quality information about this event and the true risks.  But this “article” was written by someone who studied religion—not journalism or science—and who most recently worked as a waitress at an Italian restaurant in North Carolina before declaring herself a journalist.  Now this might seem a little snarky on my part but I really do object when someone takes an illustration—in this case a map showing projected tsunami height across the Pacific (see below)—removes the original caption so that folks equate redness with radiation threat and then blasts this all over the internet.  As someone trained in science, this pisses me off and as a thinking person I am bothered by someone pushing fiction as fact and not being called on it.  What is the societal benefit of someone without apparent ethics or qualifications spreading falsehoods?

Original NOAA map where reddish orange actually indicates lower risk of tsunami (see here). 
The proliferation and broadcasting of the above can be dealt with in various ways. Education and behavioral modification comes to mind. My teeth are set on edge when folks run water faucets needlessly because I grew up in a state with water issues.  What if we put similar efforts toward teaching folks that they need to check on internet stories before forwarding nonsense?  How do we trigger critical thinking that responds quicker than a re-posting finger?  How do we catalyze the asking of important questions such as what are the qualifications of the writer and are they held accountable for false information?  The end result of acceptance as truth of many of these posts could be more harmful than that of a carelessly running tap, but right now we seem to be incentivizing the spreading of sensationalist manure via the monetization of these sites.  I have not tested it but I suspect that there is a strong positive correlation between those sites that will ultimately bring us the most social, environmental and economic harm and the density of advertisements on those sites.  Just a guess.

The recent revelation by the Department of Homeland Security that the hacking of the DNC server is probably the work of Russians should send a sobering chill through most in the country.  Some will dismiss it by saying that we do it to them too which dismisses the act but ignores the intent: Russia would rather see a Trump presidency than a Clinton one just as Wikileaks would.  So when Fox News’ Megyn Kelly reads excerpts from the Wikileaks documents without taking time to consider or vet their content is she serving her audience or is she enabling the messaging of folks outside the country who want to influence our election and are fully comfortable with altering documents in order to accomplish that end?  All Americans regardless of philosophical and political leanings should be offended by this.  And when I look at some of the most outrageous and damaging rumors aimed at Secretary Clinton a good number of them originate on websites from outside our country.

Joseph Gales Senior
Freedom of the Press is indeed one of the rights granted us in the 1st Amendment.  I respect that right in part because I am a direct descendant of one of our nation’s early journalists Joseph Gales Sr. who paid a heavy price for expressing and publishing the truth originally in his native England.  But like all the rights that we enjoy under our US Constitution we only keep and honor that right by protecting it from threats "both foreign and domestic."  If we are truly going to protect our free press in the future we need to find ways for it to protect itself from the unqualified, unethical and the un-American that would do us and this cherished freedom harm.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Fable of the Bear, the Pioneer and the Chihuahua

By Bob Ferris

I keep thinking of an image.  It is a quintessential American image of a pioneer being attacked by a large bear with gnashing teeth and the intrepid pioneer’s knife flashing in profound but tenuous defense.    This image in many forms has defined the promise of America, but it is not immutable and should change as America changes.

Right now that image is in my mind only the pioneer character is played by Hillary Clinton.  It’s modernized in other areas too as the bear is Donald J. Trump who so represents the idea that men can only aspire to the Presidency that he thought the size of his penis was an appropriate topic for a presidential debate.  The wild bear fighting the civilizing pioneer is a classic past-versus-future scenario which is in many ways what this current battle national between progressive and conservatives is really all about.

I like bears a lot but at the same time I understand their nature.  They are wonderful creatures in many ways but have a number of character and behavioral traits that make them truly spectacular in wilderness settings, but you would not want them handling delicate negotiations or having their claws on any buttons you might not want pushed when the bear is acting particularly bear-like.  Trump plays his bear role perfectly and unerringly.  He snarls and attacks repeatedly and then shrugs his shoulders quizzically when individuals are offended or injured.  He seems to say non-verbally: I am a bear, what did you expect?

Our modern tableau is further complicated because there is also a snapping Chihuahua in the mix that has a firm grip on the buckskins of the pioneer, because the Chihuahua is blind and has trouble telling the difference between the bear who wants to lead us towards wildness and the pioneer leading us towards more civilized times.  The Chihuahua is confused because both the bear and the pioneer share some similar, metaphorical odors as they both live in the political wilds of this country.  The Chihuahua cannot in any rational calculus defeat either the bear or the pioneer, but can cause the pioneer to lose.

The Chihuahua in this equation is Dr. Jill Stein and this is not saying that Chihuahuas are bad, but they are little dogs that you would never take to fight a bear. The Chihuahua and those who follow her need to understand that with a lot of work from all of us offensive wild odors can be washed off the pioneer but not the bear as it is part and parcel of its nature.  But if the bear wins, we all lose and the wildness fomented will impact our generation and the next.  In fact it may never be erased.

Now there are those who might say that I miss-read the situation in terms of the risks or that I miss-characterize the potential impact of Dr. Stein.  To them I will say that I saw way too many tattooed numbers on people’s arms during my youth to be complacent about Donald Trump Jr’s casual reference to "warming up the gas chamber" in any context or to ignore how eerily similar Don Jr’s comments about Skittles and Syrians was to references to Jews and poisoned mushrooms made in Nazi Germany by a war criminal (1).

To those doubting the threat represented by this imagery I have presented, I will also say that I had a father who took me to do volunteer work at a veteran’s hospital when I was in my early teens so that I could see the true cost of a World War.  I remember pointedly rolling these permanently-damaged men into a church service and seeing one with a good portion of his skull missing and his head lulling as he rode in his wheel chair.  In the middle of the sermon this beleaguered soul raised his head and in in a loud voice said: I hope we all go to Hell.  The gentleman's head quickly went back down after his statement, but by father made his point.  Unfortunately, this was long ago and people forget or never knew.

So yes, older folks might understand this threat and the references in a different context and manner than those more removed from the events of World War II.  And, no, I don’t think that I am being unduly alarmist in my imagery or rhetoric.  We need to ring the bells loudly about Trump and I support Bernie Sanders' strong caution against a third-party protest vote this election because any risk of distraction above zero is not acceptable.  If you do not understand this read up on history or talk to someone who does understand.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Loose Lips May Sink Ships but Mushy Minds Can Bring Down a Country

By Bob Ferris

Many of an older bent remember the “loose lips” phrase and its implications either because we experienced it directly or are connected closely to the generation that did.  We also likely remember Walt Kelly and Pogo too in terms of meeting and knowing the enemy.  Much of this was translated into action to protect our country from threats posed by ships, soldiers, bombs and, eventually, missiles.

Unfortunately, what is assaulting the US right now is something that we cannot see and we have attached to nearly all our homes, businesses and schools.  Whatever you call this threat—misinformation, propaganda, or lies—it is flowing around our country via the internet from a number of internal and external sources.  That is a huge problem because we are vulnerable individually and we are vulnerable as a country, because we have collectively lost a few steps intellectually, logically and ethically.  Somehow, somewhere along the line our BS detectors have been removed and too many do not seem to care that they were taken.

Some of that has occurred through compromises to our educational system and some is the result of movements by those who would alter this country for their own financial, philosophical or theological gain.  Regardless of the mechanism or motivation this effort has created an unfortunate landscape where myths and opinions can root successfully and fact and reason are blown like so many unwanted tumbleweeds.  This condition has made the US susceptible to attack not by what we can see and detect but by vicious and specious electrons directed at the most gullible segments of our population.

I come to this conclusion after spending months and months dealing with internet rumors from websites spreading the most egregious miss-truths.   It pains me greatly as an American that some of the supremely ridiculous and easiest to debunk are the ones most tightly embraced.  Certainly these come from all extremes of the political spectrum, but regardless of source or bent during this election season it is extremely, extremely important to check sources and then check them again.

Now certainly the mainstream media has done a terrible job of reporting and candidate vetting during this election cycle.  Fairness and evenness have clearly been abandoned in favor of ratings.  And it does not take much in terms brainpower to understand that the needs of a network are not necessarily congruent with the needs of a diverse country of more than 300 million folks.  Selling advertisement and sound governance are not closely related.  So we have to think and be our own filters so that we do not become rumor spreaders and the instruments of own downfall.  So how do we do that?

The easiest thing to do is check your source—particularly before re-posting in the social media.  Does the website clearly state who is behind it and what their agenda is?  If they do not identify themselves you can always do a “who is” search on the URL (1,2).   If that leads to some sort of anonymous and nebulous entity you should do further checking on that story and see if others across a broad spectrum are posting it too.

The fact that others are posting it can indicate that the story is valid, but it can also indicate that you have entered some sort of “echo chamber” as well.  If you look at all the member sites associated with the so-called Liberty Alliance it is not hard to understand that if their sixty-one member sites (see below) pick up a story that they can easily make it appear broadly accepted and valid when it is not.

Look at the authors too.  Do they give their true names or are they aliases?  Are they journalists and are they concerned about their reputations?  The situation with Brian Williams and his downfall is interesting in this regard.  His network removed him because he made a false statement.  His network cares about or at least nods to credibility, but there are others that do not.  And if a website is poorly formatted and looks like it was designed by a mad-man (or woman).  Maybe it was.  And if you have doubts hesitate or wait a day before you press the send button.

Now there are a lot of emotions rolling around our great country at this point.  My sense is that much of the anger and hate is based on falsehoods.  Lies posted by those who want you to join them in their ignorance and hatred.  Stories tinged with innuendos that in the absence of the concrete or proven drive you like sheep towards a conclusion 180 degrees from the truth.

I think that most of us have had the experience of walking down the street with someone ranting something as we are trying desperately not to make eye-contact.  Websites where you cannot identify the owners, the authors are anonymous or are not run by those who need to protect their integrity are a lot like those poor souls and the information they provide should be treated as such until verified. Some of this comes from electoral exuberance, but some of it is very dark and extremely dangerous—particularly given the level of foreign electronic intervention in this election.

The foreign factor particularly from Russia and elsewhere bears attention.  A lot of my blog posts are political in nature.  Science too, but of late political.  As I like numbers I look at my site statistics and they are interesting because while a good portion of my traffic comes from the US most of late has come from Russia and the Ukraine.  These two former components of the Soviet Bloc are very, very interested in our politics and this coming election. Russia is watching us and they are laughing at our political theater as they both subtly and overtly throw sand into the gears of our political system (1,2.3,4) But they are not laughing with us but at us.  And that is a huge problem we should be smart enough to recognize.

So loose lips were a problem for our ships in our recent past, but un-vetted re-posts directed at vulnerable minds could sink literally our country in these trying times.  The Cold War may have melted with the Berlin Wall coming down but the Electronic War on America and our ideals of democracy, fairness, truth, tolerance and religious freedom is in full swing.  The most effective firewalls to that attack are a thinking populace that has the intelligence and desire to sort fact from fiction and reason from myth.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Trumps Sister from another Mother

By Bob Ferris

I have always admired Theodore Roosevelt for creating the Progressive Party in 1912.  He took a lot of heat for that and lost the election.  But Roosevelt, for all his faults, tried to take a common-sense backbone and infuse it with a bright vision for the future that would move the country forward without ripping the rivets out.  In the spinning greased teeter-totter that is politics he tried to wrap what this country needed around what the country would accept.  He, like Bernie Sanders, might have pushed this more than possible but each has influenced the system and helped Progressives understand what is possible.

I think about this now in the context of Dr. Jill Stein.  I don’t really have many thoughts on Dr. Stein other than she is kind of like the opinionated and verbose, activist doctor in the neighborhood that you might respect and might like.  That the feeling does not go much beyond that and certainly does not lead to a flashing light bulb above my head labelled “Gee, she ought to be President.”

I revisit these feelings as some of those people who walked along with my wife and I arguing for Bernie Sanders cannot understand why my “progressiveness” does not drive me to Dr. Stein.  The only response that I can offer is that Dr. Stein is not Bernie Sanders and she has not profited at all from the experiences of Theodore Roosevelt or Bernie.

Any election is an act of triangulation between finding a candidate that is most like you philosophically and at the same time is electable.  One without the other simply does not work.  Bernie is a candidate that has learned this dynamic well, but for a variety of reasons missed the mark by a scintilla in the primaries.  It is clear when one looks at Bernie’s election performance that he learns from his past efforts and finds a way to win.  Dr. Stein seems to lack this ability to profit from past mistakes so she keeps making them as evidenced by looking at the pattern of her election performance compared to that of Bernie (see above and below).

I will vote this fall for Hillary Clinton fully understanding that she may not naturally lead on some of the progressive platform items that we as progressives most support.  My vote for her and other down-ticket players is less about her and more about creating a more receptive landscape where we can achieve what we have to achieve with a President, Congress and Court that may not always push for what we want, but will allow us to push them for what is needed.

Progressives as opposed to Conservatives are supposed to be folks who embrace change and the future.  My sense of this is that we also should be folks more informed by science and driven by logic rather than emotion or fear.  In this we seriously question the logic of those voting against their own self-interests by supporting Trump.  How, pray tell, is this any more illogical than voting for someone who has proven themselves un-electable repeatedly in the hope that this will bring about change?