Sunday, October 7, 2018

Microwaved to Oblivion

By Bob Ferris

I have been thinking a lot over the past week or so about the content of that old Dire Straits song that included a refrain line about installing microwave ovens (above). Not a surprising association as my wife and I installed a new microwave oven when the old one started running just as we opened the door.  It was like the machine was possessed.  I seem to be on one of those manual labor cycles as this was also the week when I started building a home office in our garage.  I have blisters on more than my little finger and thumb.

While we waited for our new microwave oven my wife filled the empty spot above our stove with a sketch we ended up calling Magnetron in honor of deceased appliance.
Building anything requires a little design and then making a lot of lists.  Those lists require shopping to fill them.  So recently I made a trip to Lowe's for sheetrock, insulation, plywood sheeting, and a pre-hung door.   Now I have made jokes recently about those who jump to help me when I wrestle with the heavy stuff and my need for a t-shirt that reads: I am really not as feeble as I look.  This bit of gerontological bravado said, it was nice when two Latino gentlemen saw me in a process of summoning strength from Odin or some such and unbidden grabbed an end of the double-packed sheetrock and helped me hoist it onto my cart.  I had heard them speaking Spanish before and I hope they appreciated me thanking them in kind.

Once I had my cart loaded with several hundred pounds of materials I pushed it towards the check-out stand.  A young Asian lad half my size in a red vest assured me that he would be happy to help me load it on my truck.  Hmmm.  A week before, when I was much younger, I demurred a like offer and then took some pride at pushing a similarly burdened cart half-way across the parking lot and then loading it myself.  But this time, remembering the truth of that experience, I accepted his offer and went to retrieve my truck.

The start of the garage office.
Our Lowe's has two lanes in the loading zone.  When I arrived the left-most lane was ironically occupied by a bright and clean white truck with Trump-Pence stickers and a look that cried new-car-smell.  I was slowed getting to my space as the truck owner who was dressed head-to-toe in black with gray hair slicked back lazily sauntered across the pavement in overly polished cowboy boots.  He appeared unaware that someone else had places to go and things to do.  Eventually this man in black ambled over to the pair who had helped me earlier with the drywall and started giving them what appeared to be work directions as I parked my twenty-one-year-old Toyota T-100 with its Bernie bumper stickers and covered with speckles of white pine and tulip popular sap in next to his. 

True to his word the Asian kid appeared as if by magic ready to help.  He gazed for moment at our dueling bumper stickers parked in close proximity and mentioned how it reflected the country.  As we humped the first pair of gypsum sheets into my truck bed we started to talk politics.  He acknowledged that his political awareness spanned only one presidential election cycle, but that he sensed something was terribly wrong and getting worse.  He is right.

On my drive home I reflected upon the imagery of my shopping experience.   All that I had seen on my visit this fall morning sang of the problems, conflicts, and hope that is America in 2018.  It started with the melting pot demographics that many are trying to ignore or reduce and traveled to the elderly still working long past when our parents retired.  The loading zone too.  My new "friend" in the pointy boots proceeding as if rules and customs had no meaning to him is absolutely the same critter as those whose business practices purposely straddle the gap between the lawful and lawless or who aggressively duck taxes and civic responsibilities.   It was all there, if only you looked.

As I arrived home and started the unloading process, I thought that perhaps next month those shopping this country's aisles for candidates might speak up and tell the cleaned-and-pressed cowboy and his allies that the loading zone is not for parking.  It is time that we remind them that parking zones work not because there are parking zone police but because people following rules is the right thing to do if this particular society is to survive or thrive.  We must again be led by those who drift towards being the best that we have to offer not those who happily waddle in the worst.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Cruz-ing Through Broken Logic

By Bob Ferris

I remember a dialogue once between my slow-drawling late uncle in South Carolina and his grandkids.  This happen when my younger relatives found out that my uncle was actually born in New York State.  Their immediate response was: Grandpa your'e a damned Yankee.  My uncle and I are from a long line of Yankees so the response was logical. I think of this now as Senator Ted Cruz--a Canadian-born son of a Cuban immigrant and a lady from Wilmington, Delaware--coats himself in regionally-iconic BBQ sauce as a defense against a multi-generational Texan from El Paso named Beto O'Rourke

The move by Cruz is disingenuous.  How disingenuous?   My sense is that it is as bad as sending mailers that look like official court summonses (see above) so that people, likely older folks, open your campaign literature.  There is some debate as to whether this is just ethically questionable or also illegal on either the state or federal level, but we have to ask ourselves in this: When exactly did overt lies or ethical lapses become less than disqualifying for candidates?  It is hard by any measure or logical analysis to conclude that our current electoral landscape is not completely analogous to the water quality in post-Florence North Carolina.  But that is exactly where we are.

Blind partisanship comes to mind as an explanation.  How else can we reconcile phenomena like Evangelical Christians embracing a political figure so absolutely contrary to their avowed values?  The same sort of question can be asked of those who put women on a pedestal in their personal lives so quickly turning on a woman when she makes legitimate complaints about the behavior of a man.  Right or wrong should not simply be a matter of whether or not someone wears an elephant or donkey pin.  Those who were so quick to jump on Al Franken, but urge restraint with Brett Kavanaugh need to seriously check the calibration of their moral compasses.    The same is true for those who fail to condemn or stutter in their responses to Neo-Nazis or White Supremacists. 

I, like many in this country, am hopeful that corrective action can be taken that will swing the pendulum back to some reasonable state where science, logic, ethics, and other similar factors are elements that influence ideologies rather than those elements being driven solely by political party membership.  Some of this optimism comes from a hopeful expectation associated with those of the emerging generation joining voter rolls.  But this idea is also tempered by the reality that those born in this era of hyper-partisanship can hardly long for something that they have never known.  When I worked in DC there was still some bi-partisan flavor to the place.  I know this is desirable because I experienced it, but how exactly does someone born around the turn of the millennium grasp this concept, particularly when the textbook bullies in Texas are expunging mentions of Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller in the classroom?

This country used to have a policy of "don't ask-don't tell" when it came to gays in the military.  That policy was repealed, though admittedly that fight continues on many fronts.  What I think that we need to address of current situation in the context of the previous paragraph is a practice of "do ask-do tell."  For instance, if you are a newly-minted voter ask about those times when bi-partisan action brought us the Endangered Species Act, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other measures that served all Americans.  And those of us of an age should make special efforts to tell these stories to those who need to hear them.   If you need inspirational imagery, I would suggest that you watch footage of North Carolina as those Americans find their waters compromised by coal ash, pig poop, and more than a million dead chickens.   That is what we are trying to avoid and what will come steaming towards us if we do not wake up.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Senatorial Embarrassment or I am Glad He is Not My Doctor

Snail Darter.

By Bob Ferris

I am on the road traveling back to my native California through the smoke near Shasta and then going once again into the smoke near Lake Tahoe.  So I cruise down and hit the free breakfast in my hotel  and pick up a USA Today because I think the eye-contact rules for New York subways also apply to hotel breakfast rooms at 6 a.m. before coffee is fully absorbed.   There on the front page is a picture of a flying bald eagle and an article about the Endangered Species Act which is under attack in Congress and with this all-regulations-are-bad president.
"As a doctor, if I admit 100 patients to a hospital and only three percent recover enough under my treatment to be discharged...I would deserve to lose my medical license with numbers like that."  Wyoming Senator John Barrasso  
In the piece there was the above quote by Senator Barrasso.  Hmm.   I am sure the good senator thinks he hit it out of the park with a lead-in quote that was highlighted on the front page of a publication that is widely distributed.  I really like analogies, so let's take a look at this one.
The obvious issues here is whether or not the analogy works and are the elements relevant to the argument.   Certainly threatened and endangered species are analogous with patients and extinction is absolutely analogous with death.  Good job there, Senator, but it gets a little tricky after that and therein lies the rub sprinkled with the disingenuous. 

If a doctor had ninety-seven patients die out of one hundred, the disease or injury was survivable, and the doctor failed to follow a prudent course of treatment then his or her license would and should be at risk.  But what if the doctor worked on Ebola patients,  at a hospice, or in palliative care?  These conditions would certainly change the appropriateness of this analogy and the endangered species story seems a little more complicated than the senator allows. 

What if that doctor stumbled onto an epidemic with constantly increasing numbers of admitted patients, here and in other countries, was trying to do the right thing yet the hospital administrators would not pay for or authorize the appropriate treatment?  That scenario fits better with what we see in terms of listed species and funding above.  But it gets worse because the hospital administrators in this more appropriate analogy are not only withholding funding and, therefore blocking needed treatments, they are walking the analogous hospital wards selling cigarettes, booze, and candy bars from a pushcart.  It is not hard to understand that the hospital administrators in this analogy are a combination of those in Congress and appointed officials at the Department of Interior. 
 “I believe the primary impediment to species recovery is lack of dedicated resources at both the state and federal level. While I’m still reviewing Sen. Barrasso’s proposed legislation, it does not appear to address this serious challenge,” Sen. Tom Carper (Del.), the panel’s top Democrat, said in a statement.
That group of "hospital administrators" includes Senator Barrasso who is pushing a bill to revise the Endangered Species Act.  His nearly homeopathic solution is to solve a situation created by states unable to manage a crisis by having them more involved in the solution.  His approach also includes getting the regulated community more involved in the process.  This is the child with bloody knees learning to ride a bicycle thinking that success will come more quickly if only the training wheels are removed so that the bike moves faster.  It is a silly approach.

I agree with Senator Barrasso that poor results catalyzed by irresponsible actions should be recognized and addressed.  The fault in this equation clearly rests not with the doctors admitting patients and then treating them, but with many of the hospital administrators that have done all that they can to restrict the number of patients and the extent of their treatment while doing nothing other than promoting the root causes of their illnesses.  These "administrators" have analogous licenses too that are issued every few years by the voting public.  And that is a thought that should be remembered in November.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

What Makes Us Weak and Vulnerable in the Sub Zero War with Russia

By Bob Ferris

I have run campaigns over the years and many of those have been on complex issues and quite a few of those have left the landscape littered nearly knee-deep in facts and arguments.    These latter efforts often take a form that is nothing short of intellectual carpet bombing which brings to mind what this country is now suffering at the hands of Russia.   Too harsh? Too alarmist?  So what would you call running campaigns that ultimately result in the death of Americans?  I would argue that the "hot war" morphed into the "cold war" and now what we have is the  "sub-zero war."  And all wars have casualties.

If you do not know what the above are then your view of the anti-vax threat might be different than mine.
Not convinced?  Let's look at the news this last week that Russian bots and trolls were pushing anti-vax myths far and wide across the electronic universe (1,2,3,4).  It does not require much in the way of reasoning to understand that getting Americans to cease vaccination regimes will result in serious harm and even deaths.  Those of us of an age remember times before the polio or German measles vaccines widely available and many who study history also know that smallpox infected blankets were used against unvaccinated Native Americans by the British at Fort Pitt as a weapon in 1760s.  This effort seems to be no less of a launched weapon and we should treat it as such.

And if you really want to dig deeply into the dish of paranoia now before us, it is interesting to note relating to the above that two of the more vocal anti-vax advocates, Lucija Tomljenovic, PhD (1,2,3,4) and Tetyana Obukhanych, PhD (1,2,3,4), are Eastern Bloc exports from Croatia and the Ukraine, respectively.  Revealing here also are two groups Vaccine Choice Prayer Community (VCPC) and Physician for Informed Consent (PIC) which are intellectual islands supporting the anti-vax movement and populated in large part by the ultra-religious, extremely conservative, and scientifically-compromised.  Tomljenovic is a vocal member of VCPC and Obukhanych is a founding director of PIC.  If further evidence of this collective mindset is needed I would suggest that those interested look at Tomljenovic's account of finding God and rejecting evolution as well as the presence of arch-conservative and climate denier Dr. Jane Orient on the board of PIC (1,2,3,4,5)--no organization that embraces science would have this notorious person on their board.  But let's move on.

The news of late also contained a study that examined the health impact of weaken coal regulations.  The EPA's studies (1,2,3,4) indicate that the lessening of these protections could result in 1400 additional deaths per year.  This country went bat-shit crazy when terrorists killed roughly twice that number in the 911attacks yet here we have a foreign country (1,2,3,4) that aggressively helped install the Administration that would allow these deaths when the former Administration would not.  It is ironic that many of those same 911 folks who were outraged seem absolutely silent about these Americans who could die from this.  To them I guess it is a cost of doing business, but death is death even when truth is not truth.  Again this move hurts the American people but it is also related to climate change which means fossil fuel interests. 

Rosneft is important in the Russian oil equation.
Russia is the second largest oil exporter in the world and first in terms of natural gas.  Something like 30 percent of the Russian GDP comes from oil and gas exports. Russia is a net exporter of oil and gas so demand for fossil fuels is very important to them.  In a nutshell, belief in climate change is financial Kryptonite to Putin and his oligarch buddies.  With this in mind it is no huge surprise that the Russians were potentially linked to the 2009 Climategate hacking, have primarily backed candidates from the US that are members of the party that currently rejects climate science (1,2,3,4), and flood the internet with climate denial claptrap (1,2,3,4). 

Mike Pence and Franklin Graham meet one of Putin's top clerics (from here).
Part of what purposely distracts us from all of the above is keeping us armed, angry, and hateful.  Russia's attention to the NRA (1,2,3,4), their fanning of the Black Lives Matter flames (1,2,3,4), and their association with David Duke and other white supremacists (1,2,3,4) are all excellent examples of this.  But I would also argue that breaking down our barriers between church and state work similarly.  Not only that but it rips away one of our most precious and strongly-held principles.  In this light, Franklin Graham's visits to Russia and meetings with Russian leaders seem less benign (1,2,3,4).

I apologize for this this long and complicated ramble, but I am an ecologist and I look at systems and seemingly disconnected happenstances with the understanding that they are probably all connected in some manner.  This anti-American snowball grows fairly un-noticed because it is made up of so many seemingly unrelated elements.  It makes little sense until you look at the round ball of it.   Then patterns appear. 

Some will argue that it matters whether someone has become more hateful, increasingly religious, less accepting of science, or more conservative through Russian influence or under their own Fox and Breitbart-driven steam but I am not convinced it matters.  I suspect our Founding Fathers could have given a fig whether King George was mad or simply mean.   They still would have launched this American experiment and now it up to us to protect it from this generation's bombs bursting in air and rocket's red glare.  Vote and urge others to do so!