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?