Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Stinging Disconnects of Experts on Nothingness

Near one of my favorite walking and biking paths on the Willamette.  

By Bob Ferris

Being fully a senior now and absolutely retired I am joining other seniors in senior stuff.  For instance, I am a member of two walking groups and one that bikes.  I also am in a writing group.  These activities expose me to a lot of exercise and ideas as well as opinions.  Great stuff that keeps me semi-fit and thinking.

During one of my walking groups, the one that does six to eight mile hikes, I mentioned to the woman next to me that many of us moved to Eugene, Oregon from hotter places and now the heat had found us again.  We actually put in air-conditioning two years ago.  She disagreed, in part, because my comment smacked of climate change.  She does not believe in climate change and assured me that it was not any hotter here now than it had been in the twenty years that she had lived in the Willamette Valley.  I countered softly that I had been at Oregon State University in the early 1970s and it was cooler then.  I left it at that.

The next day was the walk-and-talk group which goes about two miles stops for coffee and then returns to the Campbell Senior Center.  While roaming the streets of Eugene, the topic of yellow jackets was raised and the same woman stepped forward and said they were more numerous now than they had been in the past.  Hmm.  She ended by saying she felt that the increase was because of the hotter weather.  Everyone nodded at that.  I turned and gave an eye roll worthy of the Manafort trial.

I wonder how so many in this country have become so conditioned to where the obvious could be completely obscured by a treasured belief or the fear of an unknown future.  This example is glaring but there are others.  For instance, I was recently responding to a comment on a Facebook thread where someone decried that they were sick and tired of being lied to by scientists and environmentalists about climate change and other matters.  Being both I requested that the poster be specific because these were serious accusations.  I got the climate change is "just a theory" response and the we-must-be-lying because we use words such as "probably" and "likely" in papers and dialogues.  He also requested that we have this discussion off the thread and that I wait until he got home and retrieved files from his "research."  My response was that the charge was made publicly so the debate should be public as well.  He never got back to me and now the thread is stale.  People have moved on kind of like they have from one Trump scandal to another.  Moving from sad to numb.

I took a little time to see who this poster was and it turns out he is a real estate agent in Arizona.  His LinkedIn profile shows that he went to a community college for a time and then graduated from a real estate program called a "college" which he proudly put in his education section.  I suppose because of his likely scant exposure to science that I could excuse the "its just a theory" comment.  He probably does not understand the fingernails-on-the-blackboard effect of that phrase on someone with training in the sciences.  But the purported weasel words--probably and likely--should have resonated intellectually with someone in a profession so dipped in functionally similar disclaimers.   If you read real estate documents you will find they are littered with protective language that basically says these are the facts as we know them but there could be other stuff such as termites or dry rot in spaces that could not be inspected.    Do their conditional statements mean that real estate agents are liars?  I guess I would be forced to say "probably" not with just a little bit of irony.

I worry about this complete lack of reason in these examples, but I believe they are also indicators of deficiencies in self-awareness and empathy.  I often when someone is speaking about climate change authoritatively and incorrectly ask them how often they deal with polynomials or issues of statistical power.  More often that not the response is that they never do or that they do not know what I am talking about.  Both are telling comments as those who deal with climate change regularly work with complex equations with large numbers of variables and complicated statistical analyses.  What this says about the person expressing "knowledge" is that they are experts in the materials they have been fed rather than experts on the topic due to examination of the primary literature or personal experimentation.  That does not mean they are not intelligent, but their stored knowledge from faulty sources is about as useful as a PhD in say #Pizzagate or #Voodoogate granted by Trump University or Prager U.

The idea of empathy and the lack thereof is important.  My general practice in dealing with conflict on complex issues is to study each of the opposing sides and to look for ways to explain the complexity in terms that each side can understand either together or independently.  If you have family farmers on one side talking about market prices and environmentalists on the other side talking habitat destroyed nothing will be solved.  But when it is understood that both parties are victims of agricultural policies that tend to favor processors rather than producers and tend towards crop surpluses and fence-row-to-fence-row planting regimes progress happens.  This is a rational approach, but that is not what we are encountering in the climate debate.  I do not sense that the realtor mentioned above empathized at all with the scientists or environmentalists nor was there an apparent willingness to do so.  And that is unfortunate.

To have this amalgam of observational disconnection, hampered self-awareness, and paucity of empathy in the general populace is problematic but to have it as we do in a president, an administration, and a large section of our elected officials at this particular junction is having and will have devastating consequences for this generation and those to come.  But that is why we have Secretary Zinke arguing that what is happening in California has no link to climate change while he and the president are pushing fracking and pouring the coal to it--literally and figuratively.  The yellow jackets, fires, floods, and disappearing lands are trying to tell us something.  We only have to watch, listen, and think.  But for some of us that seems too much or too scary.     


Monday, August 6, 2018

Doing the Guns and Oil Swerve

These flags at Darlington are confusing given that NASCAR owners stand firmly with Trump against the National Anthem protests.  Perhaps they are all doing the Guns and Oil Swerve.

By Bob Ferris

I am not a huge fan of conspiracies or guilt by association, but when related coincidences cascade like Niagara Falls during a wet spring, folks should notice and ask questions at the very least.  Right now there is this strong and unmistakable smell in the air of guns, the NRA, Russia, and oil all simmering away--perhaps they are in the same cooking pot but maybe not.  Jumping back a metaphor, I would suggest that the splintering barrel of our democracy probably cares little about whether each and every drop conspires together to do it harm while the collective weight of it all smashes its staves harder and harder into the rocks below.

Classic Guns and Butter Curve with editorializing from here.
To understand and grasp the nature of this figurative river one has to understand that the water flowing represents all interests that want guns and oil to be sold or consumed without any restrictions or barriers whatsoever.  They want a system that allows for maximum free-flow of these commodities.  And as a consequence these waters are doing all that they can to remove all the figurative rocks (regulations), branches (laws), and boulders (political resistance) in their way.  And they want to wash all these impediments away regardless of public consequences.

NASCAR entrepreneur, NRA board member, and African lion hunter Richard Childress who was also one of the co-chairs of Donald Trump Jr's 2nd Amendment Coalition.  

Need examples related coincidences? The NRA's financial troubles have been much in the news lately along with questions about the NRA breaking successional tradition following the arrest of the red-headed Russian Maria Butina by making Ollie North president rather than second-vice president and NASCAR entrepreneur Richard Childress (above).  I remembered Childress because of his involvement with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) and his pushing NASCAR and Wrangler marketer David Allen as CEO in 2007. Allen soon took an anti-wolf position which was essentially an attack on the Endangered Species Act and science, but did not address climate change or roads associated with oil development which both obviously impact elk (admittedly, I have some skin in this game 1,2,3).  Strange?  Probably not in the context of the Guns and Oil Swerve.

Mushrooms and mycelia.
And who knows what role Childress took, if any, in gaining oil money for the NRA or in getting Lucas Oil Products (owned by Forrest Lucas) to form a relationship with the RMEF via their rodeo sponsorships, but collectively we are seeing mushrooms that are likely connected by a network of mycelia that we are not meant to see. 

Forrest Lucas could have an interest in the continued use of oil and the ease of access.
The network nature of this is particularly apparent when we understand that enterprises owned by Childress and Lucas work in partnership.  Lucas was also on Trump's shortlist to be Secretary of Interior.  And the effort to gain a presidential pardon along with the private jet that flew the Hammonds, who were the catalyst for the Malheur Wildlife Refuge stand off, public lands resistance poster children, home from prison were provided by none other than Forrest Lucas.   This latter was not a mystery when one understands that doing away with federal lands or reducing restrictions on their use means easier access to fossil fuels.

Certainly the above could be coincidence stacked upon coincidence, but when we have a president who consistently moves in exactly the direction of these guns and oil interests, we would be fools not to have a healthy curiosity and concern about that happenstance.  Moreover, when we look at the June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and Russian interests being draped in a protective shield of "it was really about adoption" we should understand what that actually means in the context of these related sanctions and others as they inhibit the ability of certain Russian oligarchs to do international business including those actions relating to fossil fuels.

And why would the president stutter at all with imposing or enforcing  Russian sanctions so much supported in both houses of Congress unless he was doing a Guns and Oil Swerve?  It is impossible to argue that America is made greater by having more guns, increased pollution, and put on a faster track to climate change, but that is exactly what this guns and oil stance does and we should object strenuously to this broken logic and those connected below the surface pushing it each time we speak and vote.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

BREAKING FAKE NEWS: Chinese Workers Caught Embedding TRUMP 2020 Campaign Flags and Banners with Cooties

Actual Cooties found at Chinese Factory (FAKE PICTURE)
By Bob Ferris

Perhaps nothing can be more absurd than the headline of this piece that I just posted.  It is not true except that it is truly FAKE NEWS.  It is on the racist side too.  It is also a politically-charged and philosophically-motivated un-truth.   Yep, all these things.  But how different is it from what the current occupant of the White House spews each day?  How dissimilar is it on the absurdity scale than say a buy-American president in a silly trade war with China ordering campaign items from a Chinese Factory and having his ill-advised and un-popular tariffs hamper delivery of his painfully optimistic purchases?  And why should a lowly hobby blogger like myself adopt a higher factual or reality-based standard than the one employed by the President of the United States and his staff?

If you look closely you will see photographic evidence of cooties in the factory and on the flags (FAKE PICTURE)
If this president thinks serving a platter-full of absurdity to the American people each day is best for the country, then who am to demure from my duty?  Given this example above and others such as leading people to believe that Mexico would pay for a wall that harms them, or having the American taxpayers spot him a cool $12 billion because of a miscalculated and ill-considered trade gambit, it would appear to be almost un-American to tell the truth, treat countries (other than Russia) with diplomacy and respect, and take just one, single, thoughtful moment before charging ahead with something serious prior to considering fully the implications of your actions (Viva Leadership!).  I am just woefully sorry that I could not do this pledge to action at 3 AM via an angry toilet tweet.

Admittedly I might have to play catch-up here as I am new to this lying, hypocrisy, and absurdity game.  My background is in science and we are kind of funny about honesty, robust investigation, and untarnished reputations.  I am retired now so I will be able to put my full efforts towards this.  It is like the right-handed learning to write with the left, but if it is in the country's interest, I am the president's man.  Trust me...or is that don't trust me?

I know that I will also have to school-up on the inappropriate too. Trumps diving into the National Anthem controversy in the NFL is masterfully inappropriate, perhaps even bigly or big league.  I believe I should start slow with something easy like talking about the chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago or the stately bouquet of Trump-brand wines when other matters of policy stand ready to explode or need adult attention.   I had thought of praising Ivanka's clothing line instead of being concerned about Trump bullying Iran or these Cohen tapes, but curses she has stolen that opportunity from me choosing to dedicate herself to public service rather than competing with Kylie Jenner over who is the most self-made, trickle-down daughter. 

I feel pressure here because Trump lies so much and so often.  As a beginner I believe I should be entitled to a handicap or some sort of rotating mulligan for when I slip and tell the truth.  Of course this is all ridiculous but unfortunately not inappropriate given where we are.  Again the headline is fake, I have no personal knowledge of Trump flags and banners infected with cooties, and I am not turning over a new leaf in terms of truthfulness. 

My post is simply in response to the 507,000,000 Google citations (above) found that relate to Trump bending the truth beyond breaking so much so that the LA Times felt the need this morning to ask the following two questions: Is there anything this administration will not lie about? And that Trump supporters will not swallow?   My fear in this is that some well-meaning soul will take this seriously and take action to stop those cootie-infested flags and banners from reaching our hollowed shores.  Oh crap, there I go again.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Red Sparrow Nightmares Sketched in Sheetrock Dust

By Bob Ferris

My wife and I are big fans of audio books.  They take the tedium out of long drives or repetitive tasks.  For the last week I have been slapping spackle on a bathroom wall and listening to a novel downloaded to my i-Phone from Hoopla.  It is a spy thriller by Steve Berry called The14th Colony and it adds flair and speed to my putty knife strokes.  Perhaps that is good, maybe not.

Maria Butina at NRA convention.
Berry's work focuses on the conflict between Russia and the US so my work reflects this and my anger over how much this fictional work reflects our current reality.  This feeling is salted with a recollection from a recent group hike where one of my fellow trail stompers suggested that I read the Red Sparrow series.  Hmm.  I look at a dried ceiling swoop giving me cake frosting where I wanted smooth and I wonder if it is an ironic swoop as we hear news about the recently-arrested, red-headed Russian agent Maria Butina pedaling guns, God, and dissent across a country not hers, but sadly becoming so.  Red Sparrow, indeed.  Ha.  Hilarious, but not really.

It is amazing that this NRA-linked woman seemed to pop up everywhere once people looked.  For a spy she strangely appeared to be playing a neon-lit version of the "Where's Waldo?" character crossed with a stereo-typic fem fatale, even down to offering sex for political access and favors.  This latter bit of information puts her National Prayer Breakfast appearance in an interesting and head-shaking light right alongside the Christian Swingers for Jesus.  But that is where we are.

This angel food frosting swirl on my bathroom ceiling I will be able to sand out fairly easily but I do not think this rancid stain Russia has purposely spilled on the foundation of American Democracy will be solved as handily.  This effort will be further challenged as there are elements in this country that are already rationalizing the stain and some that are even making noise about embracing it digging in their desk drawers for thank you notes to send towards Moscow.  It is hard to imagine the depth of damage caused until one looks at the above meme and realizes that there people in this country that believe and defend this nonsense. 

My bathroom project is wearing me out and I frequently hope that someone younger and with more enthusiasm will magically appear and finish the walls and floors for me.  My wish for America is similar in that I hope that our youth will understand the risk we face just as many of us did when we were just coming to voting age in the 1960s and 1970s.  The cult of Trump has been sold strong by those with money and power but so was the Domino Theory.  My solution is fairly straight-forward at this point:  I need a strong arm and clean sandpaper.  Our larger solution is simply about registering voters and getting them to the polls.  Register and vote.