Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Pies, BASF and the Anatomy of Climate Deception

By Bob Ferris

I recently had a conversation electronically with someone who I thought reasonable but who disagreed with me on much.  Disagreement is fine and expected.  But dishonesty or misrepresentation should not be.  Climate change is a simple concept.  It is the idea that past climate will be different from future climate for a number of well-documented and easily understood phenomenon.  It is something that looks at what we call the delta after the Greek letter (shown above) which in scientific circles stands for change.  It is just a slice not the whole pie.  

But then we see a meme like the above.  As much as I love having those who look at complicated issues compared to those of a more simian nature, this meme starts with a transparent insult and then drifts cleanly into the area of dishonesty by implying that scientists or others who should be listened to on climate change are claiming that hurricanes are caused by climate change.  They are not making this claim (1,2,3,4).   What scientists are claiming and have always claimed could be characterized as an anti-BASF argument. 

An anti-BASF argument?  Yes, in the 1990s chemical giant BASF (no endorsement here) made the claim that they did not make products per se, they made products better.  So if climate change makes hurricanes bigger and wetter, the phenomenon of climate change makes these damaging weather features worse (i.e., an anti-BASF argument).

So maybe climate change should take a page from the BASF marketing manual and start saying: I am climate change I did not create hurricanes, cyclones, drought or fire seasons, but I can make all of those worse.  And maybe those denying climate change and creating memes to sow doubt should try a little thing called "honesty"because we as a nation need to serious head back in that direction.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Unfortunate Rise of the Putin-Puppet Patriot

Bob Ferris

When I was a child we would catch newly-released and naive hatchery trout with cheese.   This was because they had been trained to eat un-natural foods and often reacted to baits that mimicked those items cast on the surface of their rearing ponds.  I remember this poignantly as I read about the Russian-generated Facebook page pushing Texas succession with more than 100,000 followers.  Just so you know, the Russians in this case are the young kids casting cheese balls to the un-savvy salmonids.  
Most active domains pushed by Russian bots on September 16, 2017.  Recognize some names?

It is too smoky to go outside and my shoulder hurts so today I will think and write.  My topic this morning is inspired both by looking at the “Heart of Texas” site (see below) and others of similar ilk as well as the Hamilton 68 site tracking Russian bot traffic.  The Hamilton 68 site is telling as you look at those sites mentioned most by Russian bots.  The combination led me to the land of supposition and a question: If I were Putin and wanted to cause maximum damage in the US, what institutions, systems and relationships would I attack?  

What could be more "All-American" than a Russian Facebook site pedaling fake Thomas Jefferson quotes?

To get a handle on this I started to think about those aspects of America that have made me most prideful throughout my life.  Top on my mind at this point is education.  We once not only educated ourselves affordably but we shared that amenity generously with the world.  We didn’t see it as a profit center but an investment.  Nor did we see it as a mechanism for religious indoctrination.  Now we seemed to see it as both.

I also took pride in our melting pot myth and the idea that we would always stand for the down-trodden particularly if they had the smell of the underdog about them.  We were the country that stood up to bullies and stared down despots.  And when we could not immediately solve the problem we gave those impacted safe shelter.  We were not always right but our hearts tended to be in the right geography.

Theodore Roosevelt stood for public lands and against corporate abuses.  Here he is with conservationist John Muir. 

I am proud too of our public lands legacy and our efforts to protect human health along with reversing past environmental damage.   Our environmental protections and public lands accomplishments were once the envy of the world.  Which irks me as I see us throwing all this away because fossil fuel companies need our resources to be cheap and our environmental forgiveness ready so that they can make more money while dodging taxes.    

I also took pride in our free press in the Morrow (above), Cronkite and Brinkley mold.  These and others of their era were giants turning over rocks where needed and finding what was hidden beneath our view.  Not always perfect by any means but protecting us from the most serious threats in their own way.

President Johnson and Martin Luther King after the signing of the 1965 Voters Rights Act.
And there are others.  Our political system with voting opportunities for all and status as a world leader even when it meant sacrifice.  The Separation of Church and State, freedom of speech and expression were big ones as are our entrepreneurial spirit and scientific achievements.  In short, all of the things that made us…well…not Russia.

See here.
My guess is that those who wanted "us" not to be “us” anymore by greatly weakening all that makes us special took a similar inventory.  And then they thought about ways to undermine these core principles by creating fake campaigns or giving a little extra shove to the ill-conceived ones already in progress.  My second guess is they had already done the calculus of considering what could be achieved through direct conflict and what could be wrought with trickery.  The cost-benefit analysis came up trickery.  So here we are.
The Clinton Uranium Conspiracy was pushed by Trump and amplified through sites like the Gateway Pundit.

Some of this is obvious like the election mischief and the promotion of conspiracies ranging from Pizza-gate to those dealing with Clinton's role in uranium sales to Russia (above).  But we have always had conspiracy folks.  They were the guys who walked around public events handing out leaflets that made no sense but we took them to be polite and then recycled them in the nearest receptacle.  The internet, often with the help of these merry prankster-like bots, has now amplified the impact of these fringe theorists.  And that is where we are right now with a lot of crazy, anti-American ideas walking along the edge of a steep cliff with Russia gusting hurricane-like wind in the form of bots and electronic miss-information hoping to push them and us over the lip into oblivion.  

Much as they try white, blue and red are not the same as red, white and blue but some do not look closely enough and are fooled.
If you think that I am over-reacting and a touch too paranoid then look at what is happening with all of the above issues or make your own list.  And in my mind it matters not whether the ideas originate with Russia or the bad ones they like are amplified by them--meddling is meddling.  Similarly it makes no difference to me, or all of us, whether Trump takes an action from Putin's destabilization playbook because of inner voices or whispers of a more Cyrillic nature.  All, regardless of source, act to disrupt what makes us strong and well...great.

Cheese Bait: RT (Russia Today) wants us to Share and Tweet. 
Want examples? Why for instance did Trump pardon Joe Arpaio if he did not want to put a Liberty Bell-sized crack in the US Constitution as well as stir the pot of racial discord?  Why is Trump operative Roger Stone taking an interest in dead-beat rancher Cliven Bundy if it was not another kick directed at the ribs of our founding document while at the same time making the argument for federal land divestiture?   Why is Trump the first president to disagree with 97% of scientists on climate change?  Why is he provoking North Korea and trying to crush progress on health care?  Why is he injecting a particularly virulent form of Christianity into our governance?  And why these mad and illogical pushes for a voter commission chasing myths and a wall that cannot possible address the issue of concern?  And don't get me started on freedom of the press or issues involving those who live or think differently than others.  None of these actions make sense unless viewed through the lens of disruption and destabilization.

Which brings us back to the beginning and cheese bait.  Far too many Americans are helping in their own demise because they reflexively (i.e., without thinking) bite on what they are conditioned to nibble without looking first for the damaging hook.  It is unfortunate that a Share or Retweet button is pushed before the actual thinking part of the brain is engaged.  Perhaps while the finger is hovering it might be a good idea to look and see if a favored news source such as Breibart, Fox News or True Pundit is also promoted by these Russian bots meant to do us harm and then ask: Why?   The same goes for RT (Russia Today), Sputnik and the pro-Putin blog Zerohedge regardless of how artfully they wrap the issue to in red, white and blue to hide the rusty hook.   


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

There is Nothing Civil About War

By Bob Ferris

All this talk about a potential civil war in this country really makes me a little anxious. I have always taken a certain pride in the fact that nearly all my ancestors on both sides of my family fought to preserve the Union. In our family we did not have brothers fighting brothers or fathers fighting sons. We collectively seemed to know what we were about.  But we were not always that way, particularly if we jump back another two centuries to the English Civil War or more properly characterized as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.  I suppose since this series of conflicts was started with a prayerbook that we could also call it the War of Three Religions (Episcopal, Presbyterian and Catholic). 

I will admit here that this series of conflicts has always confused me because of its multidimensional nature.  Some argue that it was simply about the rich and the poor.  Others say it was over governance.   And we also see it reduced to Cavaliers and Roundheads like it was some near-decade-long Super Bowl.  But this ignores the roles of kings, popes, bishops and parliaments.  My sense is that it was more a soupy conflict of all these elements and more, regardless of what Hobbes, Marx and others say.  

Sir Oliver Cromwell 
I dropped into this topic while still researching some of the links exposed from my investigations of my family’s Graham roots in the borderlands between England and Scotland.  One of the threads in question dealt with the Chanoler family of Guisborough in Northern Yorkshire and their connections to the Ingoldsby family.  Anne Ingoldsby’s mother was a woman named Elizabeth Cromwell.  Certainly a familiar surname and then I saw it.  Her father was Sir Oliver Cromwell.  Crap.

The Slaughter after the Siege of Drogheda in 1649
My reaction was prompted by the Fortescues.   An ancestor by the name of Faithful Fortescue lost two sons including our direct ancestor Chichester at the First Siege of Drogheda in 1641-42.  The Fortescues decamped from Drogheda soon thereafter but when Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell attacked and defeated the place in 1649 he put many of the residents to the sword in a notorious massacre. The good news is that “our” Sir Oliver (pictured above) was the Lord Protector's uncle and not him. 

Sir Faithful Fortescue
Sir Faithful is an interesting fellow in this as he was a Royalist and then fought with Cromwell briefly only to head to Scotland to the royalist side once again. He exemplifies the labile nature of allegiances in this series of wars.  Perhaps this is why he went by the nickname of "Faskie" in Scotland.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that this potential “civil war” that folks such as Alex Jones and Roger Stone are banging drums for is more multidimensional like the series of English conflicts than what we saw during the 1860s in this land.  The Three Kingdoms conflict became so complicated because everyone was upset but they were upset for different reasons and in the end they had separate visions.  Folks in Ireland and Scotland both fought Cromwell and his New Model Army but for different reasons and with disparate end goals in mind.  My sense is that this type of amalgam slips easily into conflict but does not drift so easily towards resolution of any lasting consequence. 
Sir James Graham
In thinking about this I return to the Grahams—in particular James Graham of Montrose—more relative than ancestor.  James believed in the monarchy balancing Parliament, but felt that the Presbyterian clergy should play mainly in the realm of spirit rather than politics.  In his fight he was able to enlist the largely Catholic Highland Scots as well as the Royalists in Ireland.    In the current context I cannot help but compare this to Trump’s cabinet and those in his executive circle—together in conflict but not resolution.  This same comment could be made about this weird alliance of the very rich, very religious and very hateful stirred and heated from afar by the very envious.  

It should be remembered as we look backwards for clues about the future that tearing something down or destroying the beneficial accomplishments of others is much, much different than building a positive and jointly held vision that helps us all.  Now many may scoff at genealogy as vanity but it is also history and perhaps through it we can learn of our ancestors' triumphs as well as their failures and follies.  Perhaps through this exercise we can strive for the former and avoid the latter.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Oblivious Ignoring the Obvious

By Bob Ferris

Sitting inside a small dwelling captivated by an air quality index (AQI) that for three days was worse than Beijing’s while entertaining house guests whose Rogue River rafting trip was derailed by unhealthy air gives one time and cause for thought.  Particularly when some of that time is spent also looking at the tragedy of Houston and other parts of Texas in the wake of Harvey.  These all strike me as threads of the same sad cloth.  

Which cloth?   It is the deadly and devastating fabric woven by greed and inattention that seems to be worn proudly by those careless in their choices of politicians and nearly gleeful in their acceptance of flawed policies.  Unfortunately when enough of them wear this cloth we all do.  In this, these oblivious folks are much like cattle fed feathers who think it food because it is covered by molasses.  And the Trump administration is buying sweetener in the guise of unfulfillable economic promises by the trainload so that this segment of the population will think deregulation a robust and beneficial idea.  

The idea that the AQI for a span of time in Eugene, Oregon increased ten-fold is profound when you experience it and sobering when you understand that the citizens of Beijing live with these levels daily.  As much of this problem in China relates to coal use in power plants it strikes me as beyond incredible that any rational person would argue that coal is the answer to anything.  But pushing coal they are while using the sledge hammer of jobs to knock down opposition and crush the ideas of regulations or risk.  

There is a pathetic sadness here because experience tells us that being a successful president is not about selling the American people an old technology that causes them and others harm but success comes from leading all towards a future approach that benefits us all. The fact that this president does not even understand what he sells and thinks that “clean coal” is about a post-mining process rather than the chemical make-up of the product just causes head shaking of a monumental magnitude. Which makes us jump to Houston and Harvey to look at more of these threads.

In my consulting days I would visit Houston frequently.  I was always amazed and somewhat sickened by the skyline of buildings some purposely designed to look like gold.  It was city built on naked avarice and seemed not only unembarrassed by this fact but proud.  It is not surprising that this environment anchored in greed was fertile ground for the likes of Joel Osteen and others willing to remold or twist a religion to mirror the moral character of this city and others of similar ilk.  This manufactured disconnect from morality was designed to license sanctimony.

I would argue that there is nearly a co-evolutionary relationship between the sort of trophy capitalism we see in Houston and this so-called Prosperity Gospel that includes Joel Osteen as well as Donald Trump's spiritual ally, the also thrice-married Paula White.  The above clip is from an appearance on the Jim Bakker Show (yes that Jim Bakker).

But then comes the deluge.  Now to those watching with eyes wide open, we see two things immediately.  The first is that Houston’s growth without consequence attitude was a failed approach as it made the city vulnerable to disasters (1,2,3,4).  Good planning may slow projects down but it is also designed, however imperfectly, to make sure that most structures are not built where they should not be like at the bottom of a dry lake bed.  This crucial component to development was stomped out by the "congregation" on their way to worship the golden calf.  

The second apparent factor is climate change.  The storm Houston experienced was more than likely made worse by the very picked fruits of Houston’s wealth—the exploitation of fossil fuels.  Moreover, the industry’s denial of the impacts of carbon dioxide in order to make more profits longer contributed to the level of damage from this event (1,2,3).  While there might be some celebration of the karmic nature of this, I think we would all be better served by focusing on empathy and correction rather than retribution.   

But all beasts, for better or worse, want to survive and conservative beasts tend to want to survive in their present state without change.  Here we see that we must “pray” for those in the path of the storm and then pray for those who survived.   This praying implies God’s hand in all of this--his (or her) responsibility--but not ours.  The more and harder we pray for divine intervention the less we are able to embrace the concepts that poor land-use planning and lack of climate change response are the driving forces in the disaster.  In the illogic here we are meant to believe that putting one’s hands together and shouting to the heavens are more effective actions than filling sand bags, stockpiling water, collecting canned goods or—heaven forbid—providing shelter in a mega-church created in the name of one who was clearly dedicated to charity and helping the down-trodden.  

We should not be surprised that Joel Osteen (above) first said his church was inaccessible when it was not and then claimed he held back aid because he was not asked.  My sense of true charity is that it is mostly an unexpected and unsolicited act.  If it is what you do naturally; there is no hesitation. And why would one expect that charity would spring from a well drilled expressly to wash away the guilt of greed and shift blame for any consequences of these acts of our exploitation to God?

The large question here is Houston’s future and whether or not this wake-up call will lead to changes there and a realization that we need to do better when the city is rebuilt and when we look at infrastructure projects elsewhere.  We need to follow Japan’s model of rebuilding an modernizing after being largely destroyed during World War II rather than London’s model of rebuilding roughly the same structures on the same streets after their great fire of 1666.  

I worry, however, that the enculturated illogic of Houston will persist.  Perhaps too much effort has been invested in climate denial, pushing America to illogic, and in side-stepping the responsibility of exploitative actions to grasp the true opportunity offered by this tragedy.  Part of my doubts come from a recent story on CNN about a statue of the Virgin Mary “surviving” a fire during Harvey.  Though the piece did not identify this as a “miracle” per se the implication was there in the imagery.  What does this story say about our society that anyone, anywhere would accept that something that was inflammable not burning in a fire was remarkable let alone miracle-like?  And why did CNN not take a picture of a “surviving” rock or garden gnome instead if they did not want to communicate this idea?   

Hopefully, my fears are unfounded and we will wake up.  But to do  this we will have to overcome this problem of the obscenely rich empowering the supremely unqualified while choking the life out of institutions designed to enhance our country’s human capital and protect our status as world leaders.  I also hope that this current administration is the bottom of our fall rather than the start and that we are learning from the reactions from those in business, the arts, sciences and from moral leaders that Charlottesville and Houston have to be turning points.  

I speak in terms of "we" above rather than just of those in Houston because at the end of the day we all pay for the destruction and restoration of Houston either through government funds, insurance premiums or elevated gasoline prices.  The results, therefore, should act to restore all of us otherwise they are meaningless at a time when we need great meaning and shared success to reunite us.