Friday, November 10, 2017

Flying Moore is Less Airlines to Doom

By Bob Ferris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Tragic American Metaphor Looming on the Verizon

By Bob Ferris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Ad Hominems, Theories and the Bible

By Bob Ferris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Sorry Art of Republection

By Bob Ferris

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

From here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Fabric of America Mercerized is not Strong, Shiny or Silky

By Bob Ferris

The current political and emotional condition of the United States demands that we turn over rocks and look at what lies beneath.  And when you turn over a lot of the rocks related to most of what is causing us unrest from Trump and Bannon (pre and post-White House) to the climate change debate and the Christian Evangelicals policing everyone else's lives except their own we often see two names: Robert and Rebekah Mercer (center and left below).   We have in many respects been "mercerized"and this process is not making us stronger, shinier or silkier--though the tension and caustic elements seem correct.

Think I overstate?  If I were in a cruel mood the answer here could be: The Mercers' involvement in a pile of political mischief is as plain as the billboard-sized forehead on Rebekah's face but that would be as inappropriate as naming a political action committee Defeat Crooked Hillary PAC (which Rebekah did).  So there we are.  And Rebekah was helped in this enterprise by David Bossie of Citizen's United fame after this super-PAC was repurposed post being run by Kellyanne Conway (below) and pushing Ted Cruz.   It should be noted that Citizen's United paved the way for super-PACs and their less than "super" reporting on donors.

Donald Trump and Kellyanne Conway at the Mercer's "Heroes and Villains" party.  Fun! Any guesses on which they are portraying?

Others have spent extensive time trying to document the political efforts of the Mercers.  It is not really something that the Mercers seem to want to talk about, but we should.   They were big supporters of Citizens United post-suit which functionally allowed them to mess with our lives much more than before and hide behind a "cloak of invisibility" which suits them just fine.  But once they and others helped develop the tool, they got down to work to use it and defend it.

Like what?  How about climate change?  Are you are concerned about the "red-team" being assembled by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt?  The Mercer's have funded the Heartland Institute that compiled a helpful list that they submitted to the EPA containing some people sort of dealing with this issue and some just with issues themselves. (I'll leave it as that, but read the piece.) The Mercers have also provided funding for Art Robinson of Oregon Petition fame and who now wants to collect your urine and the bizarre group Doctors for Disaster Preparedness that likes to give awards to notorious climate deniers.

Concerned about Wikileaks and collusion with Russian?  I wonder if Rebekah was when she contacted the CEO of Cambridge Analytica (a company partly-owned by her family) to see if she could convince them to help Wikileaks provide public access to the hacked Clinton e-mails.   It is troubling and head-spinning that a family with a penchant for privacy would be so aggressively cavalier about the privacy of someone else's illegally obtained e-mails.  But I guess when you embrace the "golden rule" it only really applies to others.

Circling back to Citizens United, that was a big investment from many so it needs to be protected, right?  So what do you do?  The obvious answer is that you load the Supreme Court so the decision cannot be overturned. And what bus do you ride to do that?  Again the answer is obvious: The big, anonymous money-river loop-hole you already created in the first place.   And that is what the Mercers and their allies did: They poured money in to making sure that Merrick Garland was out and Neil Gorsuch was in.  But their funding was not limited to that money, the Mercers also shoveled cash into the Federalist Society that pushed the Gorsuch nomination to Trump.  And Gorsuch is playing so well with others on the panel.  Good job.  Thanks.

From here.

Worried about health care and the attacks in Congress and by the president?  Confused by them wanting to do so much damage to the American people?  Perhaps you shouldn't be confused as this illustration above for New York gives at least the Mercer family's interests in having this system crash down around our ears.  And there is Leonard A. Leo helping here and on the board of The Federalist Society. (Hint: You should still be worried.)

"The family’s charitable foundation has plowed money into the Government Accountability Institute, run by Peter Schweizer, author of the 2015 book, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Government and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich. Schweizer and Rebekah Mercer collaborated as executive producers on the movie version of Clinton Cash, which was co-written by [Steve] Bannon."  In here.
From Washington Post article cited on Southern Poverty Law Center page.

Then there is Breitbart.  The Mercers have invested millions in Breitbart and, directly and by extension, in Stephen Bannon.  I recently was challenged by someone electronically to prove that Bannon was a racist or Nazi through his own personal quotes.  My counter-argument is that it did not matter whether Bannon was a racist of not but whether or not he created a safe place for racism and bigotry. In spite of Bannon's protestations, Breitbart has become the "third place" for the Alt-Right (i.e., couch with Fox News blaring, gun shop and Breitbart) This is the so-called dog whistle argument or you-are-who-you-attract. Since Bannon took over leadership of the publication, the rhetoric in the comment sections has trended uglier and whiter.   And while Bannon and crew put up false denials about their "Nazi problem" this posturing hardly reconciles with the e-mail thread between Bannon, Breitbart staff and foreign provocateur of intolerance Milo Yiannopoulos.
Word cloud of Trump insults from here

Angry yet? No? Well what if the reason you heard words or phases like Crooked Hillary, God, immigration, Hillary's emails, the wall, Mexicans and Muslims so much from Trump, Breitbart, Fox News and then echoed by the Russians and crews of foreign enablers was that data-mining or psycho-graphic profiling indicated that these were the words for a Trump win in the states that could fall his way and thus game the Electoral College system?  Far-fetched?  Cambridge Analytica claimed that they use psycho-graphic information and then said that they did not.  Golly, which time were they telling the truth and where were the lying?  

Google helps us some in looking at how this was rolled out.  The terms Breitbart+Crooked+Hillary show up 209,000 times.  If it was not an effective message and one that was tested, you wonder why they used it so much. Interesting too is the word "God" which you would think would burn Trump's lips. Going back to Google again we examine the ratios of total mentions of Donald Trump versus associations of Donald Trump+God.   Did those rations change?  In fact they did, those from 2013-2017 (0.224) were nearly twice those from either 2005-2012 (0.125) or 2003-2007 (0.135).  Interesting too that in 2017 to-date (i.e., after the elections) the ratios of God associations more resemble those in the previous ten years.  Go figure.  Neither of these analyses are definitive, to be sure, but they indicate areas of concern or needed questions.

But under all of this is the question of reasonableness, particularly in a Democracy or Republic.  There is no reason in a land of more than 325 million people that any family or collection of families should have this much influence over so many aspects of our lives.    The Mercers, the Kochs and others of similar controlling inclinations are not elected officials and we have not handed them our country in any formal way, but there they are thumbs on the scales.  Mercerization is a process that makes cloth better in several important measures, but this Mercerization of our national fabric exemplified by this terrible president tricked upon us and this cabinet of horrors cannot stand and remain unaddressed.  Perhaps the coming arrests will help but should only be the start of the process.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Election Mischief: Illegal Alien Misses Masquerading as Miles

By Bob Ferris

My wife is truly a wonderful person but she does have trouble with numbers.  Evidently, she is not alone in America, particularly when thinking critically about election mischief and the relative impact of approaches.  This idea comes to me with reports of illegal aliens voting in Pennsylvania.  So it is true!  But then we get to the numbers.  (I have added the "iconic" clip above from the forgettable movie Used Cars because it includes a plot line about a mile of cars and it resembles much that we have seen in this election. A large part of the American voting public is portrayed by the man in the white accented shoes.)

According to NBC one voter out of 172,000 in Pennsylvania was an illegal alien.  Those bastards.  How dare they do this and influence the election by 00.000581 percent?  I am outraged.  Even flummoxed, maybe.  Why if we put this in terms of miles we would be talking about an influence of less than one-half inch in a mile.  What? And these people turned themselves in and the glitch that allowed them to register has been corrected.  It is hard to maintain anger over something so small that has disappeared into the vapor, but folks did and are.
From The Nation

The flip-side of this is the issue of voter suppression.  A single bill in Iowa is projected to disenfranchise 260,000 voters out of 1.6 million.  That figure hovers about 16 percent impact.  Jumping back to that mile, we are now talking about 585 feet rather than .36 of an inch.  Let’s see which has more impact?  Anyone?  Anyone?

But those who push this ant of an impact do so in order to distract you from seeing the rattlesnakes and landmines that are also in the room. Take, for instance, Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity member  Kris Kobach--a man one K short of you know what--and his push for the infamous Crosscheck voter purge program that has been shown to have 200 false positives for each potential problem it finds (1).  Or voter suppression efforts in North Carolina (1,2), Texas (1), and Wisconsin (1) as well as those states that suddenly found they did not have enough money to keep rural voting places open.  I guess this latter action has come because Democracy has just become too, too expensive.  But maybe not.

As an occasional educator it hard for me to fathom that folks have a difficulty with this (see above).  When one thinks and considers, it becomes fairly obvious that a fraction of an inch is smaller and less important than hundreds of feet and by logical extension that illegal aliens voting is less important than the issue of voter suppression--particularly in a system that bends over backwards to be fair to those outnumbered.  What pathetically poor irony springs from states over-represented in Congress and with a higher per capita pull in the Electoral College to be purposely stripping some of their citizens of representation.  If you wanted to be shocked and outraged that is much, much better place to start and one of number of reasons why we are now constantly embarrassed and endangered by the collective carbuncle that now occupies the White House (except on weekends when playing golf).

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Politics of Believing

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

By Bob Ferris

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Playing Presidential Jenga in Space

By Bob Ferris

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Asleep at the Bump Switch

By Bob Ferris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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