Sunday, December 17, 2017

We Should Remember the First War on Christmas and the Knickerbockers who Fought It

By Bob Ferris

It is interesting to see the current rhetoric about the "War on Christmas" which is being promoted by the most self-righteous and intolerant among us.  These are those who shake, rattle and roll with religion and cannot seem to have any conversation that does not ultimately swing around to some mention of God, Jesus or being saved.   They also seem to be the ones who festoon themselves with all manner of symbols proclaiming their Christianity from cross-shaped earrings and necklaces to devotional t-shirts much as the Puritans wore black and the simple as overt signs of their devotion.

We live in a country with freedom of religion, so fine...great for you.  The operative word being "you." But problems arise when the "you" seeks to include and control "me" and others not "you."  It is instructive to remember that the first War on Christmas on this continent was waged by the Puritans who banned the celebration in 1659.  These folks, unbridled and in full control of government, followed up that enlightened action a generation and half later by hanging witches including one of my long-ago grandmothers, Mary Towne Estey, on my mother's side.

Now I will admit to having double-dipped Puritan roots in that both my mother and father descend from families on the Mayflower so I cannot escape genetic responsibility but I am likely more proud of those who resisted this prohibition and understood the social value of a time-honored and frequently-pagan celebration at this time of year to chase away the frozen cobwebs of our souls.   Perhaps the laughter and frivolity of it all was a type of early Vitamin D surrogate.

Enter ancestors Annetjie Loockermans Van Cortlandt and her daughter Maria.  The former is rumored to have celebrated Christmas openly in the New Netherlands colony and the latter certainly did as we have the above receipt from Walter the Baker (Wouter Albertsz) from 1675 which includes types of cookies that were essentially Saint Nicholas treats.  It is important to note here also that the wife of Clement Moore, Catherine Elizabeth Taylor, who wrote "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (now know as "Twas the Night Before Christmas") also descended from Annetjie and her husband Olaff Van Cortlandt.  Way to go knickerbockers!

For me there are number of lessons in all of this.  First, is that there is an almost universal need throughout cultures and belief systems to celebrate something when the skies are darkest and the days most short.  We should do so regardless of our beliefs.   It matters less what you celebrate and more that you do celebrate.  So kick up your heels and do something.

Moreover, these celebrations work best on a landscape of honesty and tolerance not one that waits anxiously to pounce on the newest Starbuck's cup design or a friendly, more inclusive seasonal greeting.   Sure you can emulate the Puritans and push for a "pure" Christmas but you should also remember that you probably do so while talking about some variant of Saint Nicholas which in its purest form includes mention of the walking-lump-of-stocking-coal known as the Krampus marching in the above video.

Your celebration also likely involves a decorated tree with complicated and convoluted roots both in Paganism and Christianity.  Sure Martin Luther is credited in some circles with this "tree" idea but golly the Vikings, Romans, Egyptians, and Chinese used it also in pre-Christian times.  (And don't even get me started on the Druids.)  Even the two Judeo-Christian holy days are named either for the sun or for the god Saturn.  My point being that no matter how pure we think ourselves, we are products of many cultures and beliefs (take a DNA test).  So why not celebrate the season with curiosity and wonder rather than hatred and spite?

Theodore Roosevelt, also a descendant of Annetje Loockermans (as are the acting Fondas and Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton), was one of at least three presidents who was not holding a Bible while sworn into office.
And, finally, patriotism in this nation, which seems to be incorrectly connected with religion far too often, should start with knowing your county's history not rewriting it to conform to your beliefs.  The Founding Fathers and early settlers were from families that generally had suffered when a church or churches had too much power over them.  They were often Huguenots persecuted by Catholics.  They were also Catholics or Quakers chased out of Virginia and other colonies by Anglicans and Presbyterians.  Or even Jews and so-called Musselmen (Muslims) that took hits from all sides. Therefore, the Founding Fathers went to great lengths to provide for religious freedom regardless of religion.  We should honor that and fight efforts to pull that principle asunder.
"Oh blessed Season! Lov'd by Saints and Sinners/ for long Devotions, or for longer Dinners." Benjamin Franklin 1739
I am with old Ben: Celebrate the season for whatever reason, whoever you are, and in your own manner.  For me my inner knickerbocker seeks some ancient memory more than a century before the sleigh lithograph (at top) when Captain Petrus Douw and his wife Anna Van Rensselaer (granddaughter of Maria Van Cortland) lived at Wolven Hoeck (Wolf Corner) and drove sleighs on the frozen river where their son Volkert Petrus Douw later raced his famous horse "Sturgeon" to victory across the softened ice.  I wonder what it was like to spend Christmas in this manor house (see below) where Indian treaties were signed, a barrel of spiced wine sat, and the stone above the entry door was incised with the initials PD and AVR.  Happy Holidays all!


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Patagonia and the Truth of Theft

By Bob Ferris

Several years ago our house was burgled.  Some items were taken.  Some were of monetary value like my computer and others were of more personal value like my old pair of binoculars that I used during my fieldwork and an alligator tooth given to me in the 1950s by my great-uncle who along with my great-aunt was a patron of the artist Andrew Wyeth.  The thieves also dumped out drawers, broke things, and made a mess of our house.  My house was still there after the break-in but it was somehow diminished by the act of this theft.  I think of this now as I watch this debate about Bear Ears and the spins laid out by Interior Secretary and serial aircraft abuser Zinke on behalf of Trump and the extractive industries to counter those made by Patagonia.

Using Zinke's logic, I should not call what happen to my wife and I "theft" because I still have my house.    I should just ignore what happened and not consider myself or my space violated or diminished in any way.  In looking at this I am forced to conclude that Mr. Zinke does not understand the concept of "lying."  Perhaps he needs to be shown an example?  Enter Glenn Beck.

See video here.

It is really hard to know where to start with this chain of lies, half-truths and shadings spewed by Beck.  Let's start with the soft stuff.  He sews confusion by mixing and matching federal lands types like monuments and refuges which are legally different beasts. In this he seems to forget that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was an idea born in the early 1950s and put in play during the Eisenhower  (a Republican) administration.  Certainly it plays into his narrative to blame it on President Carter, but Carter simply signed legislation given him by Congress (ANILCA).  The map is cute too but the idea that the West was somehow "penalized" by federal lands demonstrates Beck's ignorance of history including all the federal acquisitions, wars, treaties and state constitutions that contributed to that circumstance and why. 

It should be remembered in the above that Glenn Beck is a devote of the late Mormon extremist and John Bircher W. Cleon Skousen.  If Skousen is not someone front-of-mind for you, his annotated US Constitution was often seen in the pocket of Bundy family members (see above) and is the origin of the confusion between the Property and the Enclave Clauses of the US Constitution.   It is hard to think that anyone who swallows the specious Skousen myths has a firm grasp on either truth or logic.  Even in the Mormon church this line of reasoning has been soundly rejected.

But this is about lies and lying.  Beck lies in his video each time he characterizes how federal monuments can be used by ordinary people.  These are places where all can walk, camp, visit and frequently hunt.   The photo above is of rock climbers using Bears Ears for recreation.  The below photograph from a Toyota-associated site promotes camping in Bears Ears and these folks shown are definitely off the road and doing things that Beck claimed were undoable in monuments.  What is really prohibited in monuments are the extractive and destructive actions that diminishes the value of these lands for most users (i.e., the theft).

See text accompanying this photo and other similar shots here
If you are still having trouble understanding what this is all about visit an active oil well and pitch a tent near it or try picnicking next to a uranium mine (see below example in Arizona).  Would the presence of a pumping well or the below type development enhance or diminish your outdoor experience?  This is an important question that needs to be asked of the users who vastly outnumber the abusers.  But a more important question is: Why folks like Zinke and Beck would work so hard and lie so often to convince you that nothing is being stolen or that you should hate or resent these spectacular public lands that provide so much to so many? 

I am not a large consumer, but this holiday season my money is going to Patagonia, REI and other commercial interests standing up for honesty and lands that benefit all of us rather than a few who would ruin them for the rest of America and then move on.  I might even visit Bears Ears or Grand Staircase-Escalante and if I do the latter I will probably stop by and see a friend at Hell's Backbone Grill & Farm a local business that supports these monuments when they open again in March. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Trump Investigation Should Not be a Christmas Sweater

By Bob Ferris

My mother was famous for a time in our family for gifting partially-knit sweaters at Christmas.  We would receive a nicely wrapped gift and open it to find a finished sleeve or shoulder along with skeins of yarn packed with a promise.  They were all done with love.  They were all appreciated when complete.  But the two I remember most were the one rather thick one started and gifted when I was freezing one winter in Oregon and delivered after I had moved to San Diego and the other that had a cranium-squashing head-hole which nearly removed facial features each time I tried to wear it.  Both were the result of much effort and were not useful.

These wooly offerings make me think of the Mueller investigation, because most of America is looking to him for a nicely wrapped present this Christmas and hoping it is not simply a Christmas sweater equivalent.  To be clear the Mueller investigation at this point is more like a "letter to Santa" and not yet ready to be a "wrapped present" of any sort.  There is true and necessary uncertainty as to whether a package or packages will be delivered this Christmas or next. 

Now I will stipulate that I like Christmas solely for the presents and family part.   And because I descend from Annetje Loockermans Van Courtland, who is rumored to have brought Santa Claus (nee Sinterklaas) to the new lands, my family has been celebrating this holiday on these shores for nearly 400 years (393 to be exact).  So I know that the right presents do not come without good and specific lists.

For me, those on my wish list are as much about deserved punishment for misdeeds as they are about the need to send messages about what is acceptable (nice) and not (naughty).  Certainly, Trump's inner circle needs some corrective action starting with Don Jr. and Jared.  I am honestly agnostic about Ivanka, Eric and Hope Hicks.  My sense it that these three simply drift off without the others and Trump.

The value of taking Trump himself down should be wrapped in the paper of his shady deals given sunlight and crowned with a bow that legally defines emoluments and puts better sideboards on the idea of what represents a conflict of interest.  I believe that our Founding Fathers wanted to discourage presidents from being tempted to visit the border lands of illegality or self-enrichment never anticipating that someone with absolutely no experience in public service and living solely in the shadowlands of legality and selfishness would aspire to the office.  It essentially was a cheap lock put on a house full of riches.

Roger Stone does not need an ugly Christmas sweater.  He simply has to remove his shirt.
There are others who deserve coal here beyond this self-anointed royal family.  Steve Bannon and Roger Stone, for instance.  We need to send some messages in all of this about rejecting Nixonian tactics and the unleashing and enabling of America's darkest sides.  These actions bring us nothing but trouble at home and disgrace internationally.  Here, too, we should see some carboniferous gifts for the enablers of the enablers.  The Mercers, Kochs and the NRA come to mind when thinking about those conspiring to do most of us a great deal of harm solely in the hope of gaining more riches.   Definitely naughty.

The rest on my list are probably the functional equivalents of socks, underwear or stocking stuffers.  People like Carter Page, Alex Jones, Jeff Sessions or Stephen Miller.  They like the Christmas Eve gifts we have already opened in Manafort, Gates, Popadopoulis and Flynn are welcome but do not make or break our Christmas experience as these others could.   So my true hope this Christmas is that the investigation brings to America what we need and what most of us want at this time: a correction and cleansing.  We are a great nation and deserve a complete and through investigation.  We should not have to settle for a Christmas sweater regardless of what Fox News says.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

What is Wrong with This Picture? Trump Edition

By Bob Ferris

When I was a child I would delight in playing the game in children's magazines called "what's wrong with this picture."  Big time fun.  But not as fun when we are constantly and involuntarily doing it as adults.  Here is a prime example.  At the top we have Ginni Thomas head of "United for Purpose"  presenting an Impact Award to a young film maker.  So what is wrong with this picture?

Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Virginia (Ginni) Thomas.
Certainly there are the easy things to see.  Ginni is Virginia Thomas the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas who stepped down from the now-invisible, conservative activist organization Liberty Central in 2010 because of the appearance of conflict with her husband's work.  Now she seems to head up an entity called United for Purpose.  I say "seems" because this entity has no website and does not appear in a Guidestar search or pretty much any other place on the web.  Perhaps this is not wrong, but absolutely is weird. 

Easy too to see that the event was held at Trump International Hotel.  We could insert here the commentary from when Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch spoke at the Trump location (1,2,3,4).  The arguments are basically the same.  How did a publicly-owned building basically become the club house for conservative politics and Republican fundraising?

Sean Hannity.
And then we start to look at who is getting awards.  Sean Hannity?  This is confusing because if it is for his reporting and commentary then the question rises whether the award is for his truthful statements or his false ones.  As he runs at about 50 percent truthful it could be either.  Does being half-right really deserve an award?  Ginni Thomas representing a nearly non-existent group seems to think so.

James O'Keefe mugshot.  
But the most troubling, and this is a race with many horses, is James O'Keefe and Project Veritas (see here).  In the photo at the top we have the wife of a Supreme Court Justice presenting an award to someone convicted of breaking into a Senator's office and accused of conspiring to plant a politically-motivated false news story receiving accolades in a public building leased problematically to a sitting president who made contributions to the awardee through a foundation that seems to have repeatedly violated non-profit practices and regulations.  Sorry for the run-on sentence, but really!

The amazing part is that I have only scratched the surface with this.  There is much more wrong with this picture and the associated tendrils.  Particularly when we see Senator Al Franken stepping down and not a peep out of those critical of Franken about Clarence Thomas and his history or even commentary on Trump trying to initiate a "not me" whisper campaign about the infamous "pussy tape."  All this just makes the head spin and is really indefensible by any logical or ethical person.   But that is where we are unless we work to correct this.  I am going to a protest this afternoon, what are you going to do? 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Ban Bump Stocks? Nyet...I mean, No.

By Bob Ferris

I am starting to cringe a little when I hear anything that sounds like a Russian accent.  And that is a shame, because I like a lot of things that are Russian.  My mother would play "Peter and the Wolf" for me when I was a child and I have consumed a few White Russians in my time.  That said, this negative sensitization is wholly natural for an aware American given the totality of what we know and what we are learning.  

From here.
Take this picture of a pin-loving (1), conservative sheriff and frequent Trump campaign surrogate (1,2,3) from the Midwest who traveled to Moscow and Israel in late 2015 (the same time as Michael Flynn and Jill Stein).   The picture is a head-scratcher until you know that the trip was paid for by gun rights advocates and the National Rifle Association (NRA).  Add to this information the NRA's investment of more than $30 million dollars (1,2,3) in getting Trump elected (pushing and pulling), recent disclosures about NRA Russian connections being offered to the Trump campaign (1,2,3), and the whole stinky, fish kettle full of muck represented by the interactions between Paul Erickson, Maria Butina and bad hombre Alexandr Torshin (1,2,3), and then the connections and associations cascade once the search terms are assembled.  

From here.
Sure some of the above connections can be discounted as guilt-by-association.  But, honestly, what is the likelihood that a Russian gun rights advocate (Butina) would attend and be allowed to ask a question of candidate Trump at a FreedomFest rally in July 2015 (see at 9:08), that her Russian gun rights group would invest $6,000 in bringing Trump-surrogate Clarke to Moscow five months later, then that she would end up at an invitation-only venue celebrating Trump's win with her Bridges LLC business associate and Republican operative Paul Erickson who proffered the Russian connection mentioned above?  That she has said that she helped Trump and frequently travels with Putin-ally and her former employer Alexandr Torshin seems only unnecessary icing on an already too sweet cake. 

This is a decidedly NRA-style set of arguments.  The first being that an assault rifle is a hunting weapon and the other that what they want access to is small and relatively harmless.  Both are not true.  (Maria Butina pictured above).

I am by training an ecologist and not a political scientist. My field often deals with the probability of effects being associated with parallel causes.  For me, the above shows far too many political critters all walking like "ducks" and migrating similarly to be ignored without asking some serious questions.  I commend those in Congress asking questions about this.  

Alexander Torshin at the 2016 NRA Convention.
While I am pleased that this Russian question is being asked, what about the NRA's $30 million investment in this past election?  Where exactly did this money come from?  The NRA mantra has been that their campaign expenditures are not much relative to their other activities and that they come from small donations (see here).  But while their $35 average donation from 30,000 members claim sounds nice and reasonable that yields only 3 percent of what they spent in 2016 leaving us with the inescapable conclusion that either the average donation or number of donors increased, individually or in combination, thirty-fold in two years.  Given that the NRA receives wheelbarrow loads of money from sources that cannot contribute to campaigns, such as companies with government contracts and foreign entities, questions should be asked.  This is particularly true given the NRAs push for the lifting of Russian sanctions relating to weaponry.  It would be a tragedy of enormous irony if this flag-waving bunch of buffoons saddled us with the worst president in our country's history simply so some insecure ammo-sexual could import an AK-47.  

Friday, December 1, 2017

The High Crowned Roads, Worker Ants and the Cut Cut Cut Tax Bill

By Bob Ferris

I went on a shopping run this morning and on my walk back I saw a black woman in a wheel chair.  She was missing her left lower leg at mid-calf.  She rolled down the access ramp at the crosswalk only to be greeted by a steeply-crowned Washington, DC roadway designed to drain quickly.  She was obviously struggling and her large purse was slipping slipping off her lap as she could push only with her right hand because she had no leverage with her left.  How did I know this?  Because the end of her empty left pant leg flapped as she tried to gain purchase and balance with the foot that was no longer there.  I asked if she would mind if I helped her.  She thanked me but said: No.  There was a smile attached.

This filled my mind with many thoughts but right at the forefront was a notion that what I just experienced was a metaphor for Trump's Cut-Cut-Cut tax bill.  The Republicans rejected this particular appellation but not the operational philosophy inherent in it.  The tax bill is a morass of moral decay that gives lip service to those needing help while providing serious obstacles for the lower register of society and mechanisms for quickly removing those who are not worker ants or hyper-consumers from the landscape. 

The House and Senate versions are nightmares for most Americans that will progressively strangle the poor a little like the fable of the boiling frog (see above). But it is worse than that because they are also festooned with the plague-ish pet posies of those who needed some sort of enticement to come on-board with this legislative insult.   Examples?  Sure.  How about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that makes so little sense that Jerry Taylor formerly at the Koch-founded Cato Institute called it and other extraordinary pushes for domestic production "nonsense on stilts." 

Another bad provision is that churches and other non-profits would be allowed to make political statements and endorse candidates.  It essentially sets up a mechanism that favors large political donors who heretofore could not deduct political contributions associated with elections from their taxes.  This provision opens the door for more contributions from larger donors intent on reshaping the country in their own selfish image.  Horrifically bad idea for a democracy.

I am happy that this tax bill package is running into some road blocks.  But that does not erase the sorrow that I feel that it was every put to paper in the first place.  For all those on Capitol Hill and in the White House who so frequently invoke our Founding Fathers, I would suggest that they take a little time and re-read the Preamble to the US Constitution.  These are the guiding instructions to the package of laws they have sworn to uphold.  Those currently in office seem to have the Preamble confused with the rules to Monopoly and that is a shame for all of us those that come after 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Veritas My Ass...That Smells like Electioneering...and Dry Rot

By Bob Ferris

Setting aside the dubious nature of the "public good" performed by James O'Keefe, Project Veritas and his merry gang of hyper-Christian fraudsters, there are legal sideboards to an IRS code 501(c)(3) non-profit's activities and one is an absolute ban on dipping their toes in electioneering.  So this action taken with the Washington Post and the fake story about Judge Roy Moore (1,2,3), if it can be definitively linked to Project Veritas, seems to point to this specious non-profit stepping outside that boundary.  That would seriously jeopardize their IRS status.   And I hope it does.

For a timeline of James O'Keefe's pranks and clumsiness see this thread.

Is the case a strong one?  I would think so.  Judge Roy Moore is an active candidate coming down to the wire in a very close race.  If this action had been successful and brought the Washington Post's reporting into question it could certainly have made it easier for those desperately looking for some moral cover for a Moore vote.  But if O'Keefe and crew just wanted to expose the Washington Post on this topic, why wouldn't they have used Trump or even Franken as their stalking horse?  Moreover, this coming on the heels of the infamous Lenny Bernstein robocall in Alabama is just too, too coincidental or perhaps "convenient" as the Church Lady would say.

How James O'Keefe sees himself.
And I do understand that Project Veritas has an associated 501(c)(4) which would be allowed to do this (kind of), but I strongly suspect that money for this came from the (c)(3) side which draws on many of the same sources that brought us this past election including the infamous Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund.  These funds are also very, very active in the climate denial realm so the "pain index" inflicted on most in the US by the likes of the Koch brothers and the Mercers is pretty high.

How the world sees James O'Keefe.
Lest you think this a grassroots movement, nearly 84% of the $3.7 million received by Project Veritas in FY 2015 came in chunks of $5,000 or more.  And who are these donors?  One of the 2015 donors was a foundation in New York with the name of Trump which gave $10,000.  The organization is growing along with James O'Keefe's salary which neared the $240,000 mark in 2015.  Lying and playing pranks seem to pay pretty well.

In any logical, truth-loving, or law-abiding society Project Veritas would be shut down with windows boarded up.  But that is not where we are.  We have this clump of very rich folks whose unbridled (under-regulated) pursuit of trophy capitalism is on the verge of crippling this country.  O'Keefe, Bannon and Trump are certainly helpful minions connected much like mushrooms in a forest by political and economic mycelium but they are just the "toadstools" we see most not the whole package or even the most important parts.  Dealing with the visible does little long term good without also addressing what's below the surface. 

That said, I agree that O'Keefe is creepy in the extreme, a little Roger Stone in-training.  But while dealing with him, we also need to address these masses of tendrils that enable him and are overtaking America.  Those tendrils are wrapped tightly around the net neutrality debate.  They are pushing this tax bill which will keep the rich enriching themselves and the poor destitute and then discarded once they are no longer worker ants or consumers.  They are gobbling up our media (1,2,3,4) and perverting our legislative and judicial systems (1,2) much like dry rot does to once sound joists and beams.  What is unfortunate is that we know all this and from multiple sources.  We are like a homeowner who holds five home inspections hoping that one will give a different more hopeful answer.  The reports all point to the same problems.  And like that home owner it is time we faced our problems.  We must stop or contain this rot now or lose our cherished home that formerly provided some semblance of "liberty and justice for all" and now increasingly seems to be the playground for economic, political and intellectual abuse. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Pliable Paranoia of the NRA Panty Wastes (Waists)

By Bob Ferris

I saw a meme on Facebook.  The graphic basically implied that ex-Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband Captain Mark Kelly wanted to ban muzzleloaders.  What?  I am a gun-owner who once owned a muzzle-loader reproduction of the immortal Hawken rifle made a little bit more immortal by the movie Jeremiah Johnson (above).  I loved shooting this gun that pushed rather than kicked, but it was a serious pain in the ass when it came to loading it and keeping it clean. All gun butter, sabots and boiling water baths.  Then I saw the headlines.  

But muzzleloaders are primitive weapons that take nearly a minute to reload and not like bump stocks, what is going on here?   What is going on here is game-playing and manufactured confusion by the firearms industry and the NRA.  Pretty much like what was done with the bump stock.  Want machine guns and they are illegal?  Attach a bump stock that makes them act like machine guns, but is not regulated. Want silencers on rifles that are not normally available to civilians and certainly not felons and those with violence issues?  Attach them to something that is not regulated and anyone can own without a background check.  Think this is not purposeful?  Then look to the middle below and see "this product can be purchased right now on the web with no regulation (no 4473, no $200 tax stamp, no photographs, and no fingerprints)."

See here.
It is a little hard for me to see any of Jeremiah Johnson in the sleek modern weapon above.  And why would folks only shooting a single shot care about a 2/3 reduction of black powder smoke?  I know why those on San Juan Hill did but why is this a selling point here?  It is important to look beyond the headlines and around the smoke screen offered by the likes of Tucker Carlson of Fox News (below).  Read exactly what ex-Congresswoman Giffords and Captain Kelly are suggesting (here).  

Bump stocks and this silly silencer system are in essence much like practical jokes designed to thwart the intent of laws.  Only these are not funny as they frequently result in the death of Americans.  If the firearms industry wants to remain less regulated then they simply need to behave in a manner that does not require constant scrutiny.   That seems to be a problem for them, but I look forward to a day when the industry and their NRA attack dog adopt the dual goals of a vibrant economic model and an approach that kills fewer Americans and not more.  You would think this would be obvious, desirable and easy for them, but apparently it is not.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Loss and Lessons in the Medi-Careless National Forest

By Bob Ferris

I have this sense lately that there must be this vast national forest somewhere filled with lush, green, pulp-rich trees waving in the breeze.  So many trees that grow so quickly that the wind-blown leaves act with creaking trunks to create words that actually sound like: Cut me.  

Why would I think that?  How could I not?  For near-daily my mailbox is filled with every manner of direct-mail gimmick and glossy brochure.  Is it Publishers Clearing House?  Did my wife or I give a donation to a political party or environmental group?  Is it the Jehovah’s Witnesses or those Seventh Day folks?  No, it is simply the fact that this is the year I turn 65 and all seem to know that means I will be making my decisions about an alphabet soup of Medicare options.  

I talk about this “forest” but of course it is all forests that bear the brunt of our aging.  And roughly 10,000 folks each day jump into this minimum, six-month-long, hyper-mail reality.  Using my i-phone and the back of a used envelope for quick calculations, that means that at any given time you have about 1.8 million Americans in this cycle.  Probably a lot more.

I have not kept all the paper mailed to me, but I would not think it an exaggeration that I have received at least one piece of paper per day relating to my future health care coverage.  That would mean, if everyone shared my experience, that roughly 3600 reams of paper are put to this singular use each day or 212 trees harvested from this forest which adds up to roughly 78,683 trees annually.  This is almost two square miles of average trees at average densities trees all for something that all of us need and most of us will buy in some form.   

In the grand forestry scheme of a nation our size, two square-miles of trees annually is of trivial consequence.  Perhaps, but is that thinking that makes us a better nation which we should want or a more wasteful nation that squanders needlessly which we should not desire? My sense is that these numbers are low and they are not even looking at the life-cycle impacts of those mailers in the context of a full-cost accounting methodology.   But perhaps it is less about trees and paper and more about the function and benefit of government.  Our government. 

The trees are simply one part of the forest of waste associated with caring for our aging, aged, and ill which might be marginally acceptable if it was making us live longer and better, but apparently it is not.  To pay more to get less seems not what we should be about, but here we are. 

The tragic irony here is that our "leaders" are using gross inefficiencies similar to this as a justification for cutting programs bought and paid for by the sweat and productivity of those who will be impacted by their loss.   Instead of fixing the issues those in Congress are making disparaging comments about our "noses" in the hopes that we will endorse the notion of having our proboscises slashed from our faces.  We must not let those pointing at addressable waste use it as a lever to create additional want.  

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Need to be Able Sort Pimples from Cancer on the Sexual Landscape

By Bob Ferris

I was once asked to give public testimony on the issue of a particular pesticide (Bacillus thuringiensis) to be used in the San Lorenzo River Valley near Santa Cruz to control gypsy moths.  I hate these kind of dog-and-pony shows and this was one of the worst.   I wanted to get answers about this biological agent’s impact on other invertebrate species that formed the basis for the ecosystem’s food chain, but others were more interested in theater.  

I was surrounded by those arguing that the moths would turn this valley which once received eighteen inches of rain in twenty-four hours into a desert and those wearing death-masks and chanting "Bhopal, Bhopal" because the agent in question was manufactured by Union Carbide who was responsible for the still newsworthy tragedy in India.  This all reminds me of the current sexual snowball represented by the stinky Trump-Moore-Franken goulash currently flooding the news.  All of these are bad actions but we have to take care not to equate pimples with cancer.  Holy Mueller, please save us! 

In our attempt to sort this out we have to look at a whole lot of stuff that we should be looking at anyway.  Timing and motivation are two things.  Why did Franken’s issues—which I fully acknowledge are troubling—arise exactly at this point?  Seems a lot like trundling out Paula Jones et al. during the election and that smells a whole lot like Roger Stone. And, in fact, Roger Stone seemed to know about the Franken accusations beforehand.  It is interesting that Mr. Stone uses this sexually charged phrase "in the barrel" to stake out a moral high ground but then this is the fellow who founded the anti-Hillary group Citizens United Not Timid.  Trump's long-time friend and sometime advisor is nothing if not a class act, but the fact that he has not criticized Trump or Moore for their transgressions is telling.  

Moving along.  I like to camp and when I do I scratch my crotch more and fart freely.  These are not things I do in the general public. I say this because when we talk about Senator Franken's missteps these were done in the context of a USO show and that traveling troupe.  USO shows are in many regards about "home" and "sex" (see this), but they are also traditionally raunchy affairs.  So when you sit in your living room or church and judge the artifacts of these shows out of context lurid looks and staged groping seem more offensive by far than they would have been during those events.   Look at Robin Williams (above) and Martha Raye (below) with Red Skelton.  Both Williams and Raye were frequent USO performers through multiple conflicts.  

I will leave the slut-shamming to others as it serves neither side.  That said, we cannot allow any, male or female, who actively or through self-serving complicity promotes the objectification of women to get a free pass here.   The same goes for those who believe one set of women while questioning another or accepts this unacceptable behavior solely for political advantage.  

This is a deep, deep problem that needs to be addressed.  But my sense is that in the strategical triage of this problem we need to go after the most egregious and damaging first and foremost and deal with the others--particularly those who have demonstrated growth and contrition--as potentially useful works-in-progress.  In this latter context those in the Trump, Moore and Stone camp cannot be seen the same as Franken.  

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.