Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Ear Bud Cord Argument

Lake Whatcom during my walk.
By Bob Ferris

I am tired today of the politics of waiting for the other shoe to drop or simply disappear mid-air.  And I cannot gin up interest in the current war of words between Eric Trump and George Conway.  How can this really be of interest?  So I will cause trouble, offend, and affect controversy elsewhere.  But not because Facebook is bullying me to do so.  I write because ear bud cords are on my mind.

I will preface all of this by saying that I have spent time over the past two weeks talking with mathematicians and we have invariably talked about quantum mechanics.  I say this so you'll know the lands which I travel.  Which beings me back to this cord that often tethers me to my i-Phone and also to the concept of intelligent design.  Whew.  (Yeah, hold on.)

So there are people who argue and argue strenuously that there must be some intelligent, guiding force behind what has happened biologically on this planet.  I suspect that they believe that Genesis in the Bible alludes to this either literally or allegorically.   The logic apparently is that nothing as complex as our species and all the life around us could have evolved without some serious intervention regardless of the several billion year time frame involved.  They reject fossil evidence or explain it away.  These evolution doubters disregard genetic evidence and observations such as the change in moth color from white to black in England during the Industrial Revolution when the tree bark became darker with coal soot. 

I thought about this some this morning as I pulled my ear bud cord from my pocket only to find it tied in a complex series of knots including a square know which I cannot always tie correctly on my first attempt. I had put this cord in my right front jeans pocket yesterday when going on a six-mile hike around the north shore of Lake Whatcom near Bellingham, Washington.  The jeans rested over a chair while I slept so this complex knot (and others) was tied into the cord in an infinitesimally short, geologically, period of time without much in terms of external inputs and no apparent intelligent intervention. 

I suspect that there are two conclusions that can be drawn here.  The first is that some being or entity tied the knot perhaps to fool me into thinking that evolution was real and intelligent design not so much.  I suppose you could argue too that intelligent design and associated forces only applies to the big and important stuff like football games, golf shots, or whether or not your job survives these trade skirmishes, but that seems a selectively corrupt approach.  Kind of like believing in the Ten Commandments unless this really hot model or actor crosses your path and you think your spouse won't find out.

The second option is the simple notion that stuff happens and given enough time and enough elements lots of improbable stuff happens in wondrous ways.  I am in that camp.  I don't feel a huge compunction to thank some deity for tying a square knot in my ear bud cord.  The only true mystery here, if there is any at all, is why my square knot is not a miracle while an image of Jesus on toast or a pizza is.   Something to ponder when trying not to burn up brain cells trying to figure whether we will emerge from all of this with our country intact and not run by those who would worship my knot.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Apples and Orange-ness

By Bob Ferris

Many years ago one of my employees had an intern.  During the hiring process the intern was brought into my office and we were introduced.  That was my sole contact with the individual in question.  Time passed and I was told that the intern showed up for three days and then mysteriously disappeared.  Months later the former intern surfaced again in my office explaining the absence by telling me about a nervous breakdown.  Just before leaving my office the person turned to me and said that I was not responsible for the incidence.  What? I suspect my feelings at that time are much like Obama’s feelings now that the Trump camp is trying to equate the former president’s "culpability" over the Charleston church slayings by Dylann Roof (above) with this president’s responsibility for the pipe bombs or the recent killings the Philadelphia synagogue. 

Now I know were are deep in the times of false equivalents but this seems well beyond the garden variety three-card monte that we are calling politics today.    While Trump has a history of stirring the pot of racism, misogyny, and nationalism both directly and through crafty double-speak, President Obama has no such history.  Obama did not attract and then fail to condemn those who waved Confederate flags at his rallies nor did he call people of color animals.  The former president did not create this cloud of confusion that serially vilifies immigrants, non-Christians, and non-whites creating a cloak of homogenized hatred woven from ignorance and fear.  

But Obama did empower and for many in Trump’s camp that appears to be a balancing sin.  It is probably why this huge leap in illogic floats before them when normally it would sink ladened by the weakness and sadness of the argument.  Here demonizing people of color is considered much the same as telling them they deserve better and should vote for those who might give them a leg up out of the current pit of their lives.  It upsets the apple cart of those who cannot prove superiority via accomplishment or intellect and need other means such as stilts constructed of bigotry and intolerance to make them appear taller than they really are.  This is an argument fully steeped and stained in the tea of “uppity.”

This idea that the juice behind this funny argument stems from the belief that those who are black or brown in some way bring this on themselves becomes even more strange when that critique seems echo-chambered by someone like Nikki Haley who is not only a person of color, but a woman and a daughter of Sikh immigrants from India.    Given this, it seems horribly strange that she would find herself carrying a bucket of this putrid water.  

Ms. Haley is not an isolated phenomenon as we have also seen the bizarreness of Kanye West who separated himself from politics this week and India-born, Trump-pardoned, conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza retweeting posts with hash tags #burnthejews and #bringbackslavery in July.  D’Souza apologized and claimed these were both mistakes in his mad dash to publicize his movie comparing Trump to Abraham Lincoln (above).  Mr. D’Souza misses the bigger point here and he and the other two mentioned need to cast a clear and self-reflective eye at the slobbering, hateful, and freshly-laundered minds that parade behind their banners.  Perhaps have them over for an intimate confab and see how that works.

I am hoping that most will see the specious nature of this collective line of reasoning.  It is almost laughable but it is not really.  The fact that some in America accept this is tragic.  That it seems to constitute a viable political strategy indicates a depth of peril in this nation that is near impossible to contemplate.  

Solution?  It is Halloween so ideas about candy come to mind.  We are now an intellectually diabetic and politically obese nation and the White House hands us a bag of butterfingers and M&Ms when we really need to reach for an apple and pursue exercise with a relish.  Perhaps the most effective workout will be to get up and find a way to polls to exercise our most important franchise and vote.  I filled out my ballot this morning and will help where I can to make sure other voters do the same free from pressure and intimidation.  We all need to do this.

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.