Be a skeptic, be be a skeptic

This right here cuts right to the chase on the Trump-Russia cyberwarfare thing:

It’s so easy to decide that someone must be right because their arguments play into your biases. None of us are immune: it recently happened to me initially with Eric Garland, whose Twitter feed I still follow, but now with heavy doses of salt. As I do also with “ol’ doom-and-gloom” Sarah Kendzior and “too cool for British Parliament” Louise Mensch.

Side note, I sure miss sitting around watching C-SPAN on cable.

And why follow people like Louise Mensch? Because sometimes they post links to articles like this, and it will blow your damned mind:


On Poor-Shaming

I’m back home in rural New York for a brief visit with my parents while Representative Jason Chaffetz is shaming poor people for spending too much on luxury items and not “investing in their healthcare.” 

I grew up squarely in the middle class. Mom was a teacher, Dad was a real estate broker in a fairly crappy place to be one. Mom was alway the solid breadwinner but Dad made some good investments. There were people outside of our circles who were way better off; there were other people inside and outside of our circles who were way worse off. I’m aware there were times when things were tight for us but I was never hungry, uncomfortable, or made to worry. Getting a first teenage job was something that was encouraged but not necessary for survival. On the other hand, I remember getting Basic brand food at the Grand Union (kinda like the Ralph’s “BEER” and “COLA” containers in Repo Man). I remember the angst of really wanting Reeboks but having to settle for the JC Penney knockoffs. Though, thanks to my parents’ friendship with the local ski shop owners, I got a full Gore-Tex ski outfit once, and still have the Patagonia long johns and sweater that I got when I was about 16. Oh and I got to go skiing, which back then was fairly affordable. 

I said things to and about other kids in my school, the ones Chris Arnade calls “back row kids,” that I really, really regret. I still remember in 5th grade, when I became aware of socio-economic status, that I broke off a friendship with a boy named Charles because he was poor, and hung out with other poor kids. These were kids whose parents may have been seasonally employed, maybe they were school bus drivers, maybe they were janitors. Maybe they were on “welfare.” What’s crazy is the fact that we both had jeans with those worn hems that showed after Mom let them out a little more when we grew, but I couldn’t see our common ground, only the differences. Later on, I fell into the common trope of wondering why someone who lives in a single wide trailer has a satellite dish and a four-wheeler. 

Those of use who were A students (the “front row kids”) if not overtly at least subtly mocked the poor kids who didn’t get as good grades. It was good-natured ribbing to make fun of the jock who didn’t get geometry, at least he had football to fall back on. These other kids probably didn’t eat well, probably had to work for their family, probably had abusive or broken home lives. And let’s not sugar coat it: these kids that I belittled had their own “others” and were not reluctant to throw epithets around.  I can’t figure out if this need to belittle someone, anyone, is inherent or learned.

I’m no genius for pointing out that the current administration is where it is because it is adept at using this tendency to punch down as a wedge to drive us apart rather than find common ground. I can’t say I’ve fully overcome it, but somehow a strong sense of empathy and wanting to cheer for the underdog developed in me and I’m thankful that it’s the dominant driver now. 

11-year old nihilist

I grew up about 10 miles from a US Air Force Strategic Air Command (SAC) base. In November 1983, the TV movie “The Day After” was released, and for whatever reason I and a group of other kids were sat down to watch it at church. I can’t really say whether it scared me or not. By that time—I was 11—I was already pretty well resigned to the fact that if there was a nuclear war, we were on the list of first sites that the Russkies would take out. It was, in fact, a comfort as I recall. No nuclear winter, no bomb shelter, no starvation in a mutant-infested wasteland. Just sweet, instant annihilation.

I was pretty sure I’d be able to put that behind me after 1991. I can’t believe that almost 30 years later I have to think about it again.

Sweet fucking Christ this WaPo article.

Also, background:

Science Schmience

Lab cabinets made in Athens GA headed to the Marine Institute on Sapelo Island. Dozens of people have work to do because scientists have funding.

I’m sitting in my living room this evening on 12 February with the doors and windows open, wearing a t-shirt. I’m feeling particularly feisty about climate science denial, and science denial in general. Today I decided to poke at my congressional representative on Twitter about the recently passed House bill that is designed to stifle science research by restricting National Science Foundation grants.

I took the photo that accompanies this post at work, outside the cabinetmaking shop that supplies custom cabinets to all of the labs at the university. I asked the foreman why there were so many in the hallway, and he told me they were about to get shipped out to a new (or maybe renovated) lab at the Marine Institute on Sapelo Island. It made me think about all of the people involved in a project like this from start to finish: architects, interior designers, engineers, woodworkers, wood finishers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, not to mention the many support staff who procure materials, pay for them, pay the workers, and deliver the finished product. None of this would have happened if some researchers didn’t have funding to support the work that necessitates a new lab.

Finding the Target

Some of the best advice I’ve read for those of us who are outraged with the first few weeks of Trump’s regime is, “focus your energy on one or two issues.” It has taken me some time to bounce back from the fire hose of unbelievable bullshit insanity, but it occurred to me, as a 44-year old, that I can speak with some authority about some things that I know a lot about, most notably, energy and energy economics. (If only fixin’ old bikes had any implications for national security.)

On Friday, 10 February 2017, I took a morning off of work to travel to Greensboro, GA (not quite 45 minutes away) to participate in what would normally have been open office hours for staff from Senator Johnny Isakson’s, Senator David Perdue’s, and Representative Jody Hice’s offices. I got there about an hour early and took a seat, but it didn’t take long for the Greene County Board of Commissioners Meeting Room to fill up with a crowd. Some folks I recognized from Athens, others came from Atlanta, Macon, and farther afield in Georgia, complaining that senators and representatives won’t meet with them where they live.

I got up to use the restroom and found out that you had to get in a line to sign up to ask questions or make comments, so I stood in the lobby for a while waiting to sign up. By the time I got back to the auditorium the place was packed, and instead of going back to my seat I asked my neighbor to hand me my jacket and give my seat to an older woman who wanted to sit down.

The Flagpole and others covered the dispute between staff members and the crowd at the beginning so I won’t rehash it. The compromise was that most of the staff would carry on with their open office hours and call people in one at a time, while Josh Findlay from Hice’s office would stay behind and take notes as individuals spoke to the crowd. I was close to the back of the room but there was a woman behind me who asked where the line started for people who wanted to speak at the lectern. I told her to grab the back of my vest and hang on as I worked through the crowd to get her to the line. I got in line behind her.

I think I waited about 90 minutes before my turn came up, which was two minutes before the event was to end. I read most of my prepared remarks to the crowd and got a few applause breaks. Here’s what I wrote:

My name is Jason Perry, and I have lived in Athens (30605) for almost 10 years. I grew up in rural New York surrounded by dairy farms and apple orchards. I am an engineer. I am a gun owner and a hunter. In my spare time I fix bikes for people working their way out of homelessness. I own an old truck but ride my bike to work. I am a fiscally conservative, socially liberal independent.

I am a kidney donor. In 2012 I gave my left kidney to my best friend who was suffering renal failure due to IGA nephropathy. Besides wanting to save his life, one of the reassurances that I had was that Medicare would be a safety net if I ever have complications. In addition, because of the Affordable Care Act, having one kidney could not be considered a pre-existing condition if I switch employers and insurance.

I am terrified for my friend, who owns a successful business and relies on expensive anti-rejection medication to survive. I am afraid for myself and all other living donors that you do not care about us, or other vulnerable Americans, as the Republican Congress speeds to gut medical coverage for the sake of ideology.

I am an engineer with expertise in energy conservation and renewable energy. During my career I have been funded by grants from the EPA, USDA, DOE, DOD, and the SBA. These funds were used to provide technical support to help Georgia farmers (some in Greene County), business owners, and government facilities become more economically viable by making smart choices about how they procure and use energy. Personally I have found millions of dollars in annual energy cost savings for facilities all over the state.

My wife is a scientist who pays her lab technicians with grants from the National Science Foundation. We have hundreds of friends and colleagues who are funded or are directly employed by federal agencies like the NSF, NIH, USDA, and EPA, and there are thousands more in our area.

Personally I don’t see how protecting rivers from coal slag kills jobs, but please also consider the many thousands of hard working people throughout the state that would lose theirs if you carry forward the Republican agenda of, for example, abolishing the EPA and gutting the USDA.

Finally, I urge you to listen to the group of Republicans led by James Baker III about the carbon tax. Climate change is real, and poses real and devastating impacts to Georgia farming, forestry, tourism, and the economy in general. The carbon tax is the fairest, free-market path to a fossil fuel draw-down, is favored by conservative economists, and can be done without growing the government.

I left out the last paragraph for brevity, turned, and handed the paper to Mr. Findlay with a smile. On my way out the Flagpole writer asked for an interview, which he recorded with his phone. Then I hopped in the car and headed in to work.

I was glad I had a chance to speak, but I was concerned going in to this even that ordinary Greene County residents who need help with casework would be denied service because of the disruption at this event. This concern was both out of empathy for those residents as well as for the optics that the Republican lawmakers can then turn and use against the people who are trying to express their views, despite providing no other venues to do so. For example, from Senator Perdue after the event:

Our goal is to help as many Georgians as possible who have casework concerns and need assistance dealing with federal agencies like so many of our veterans and seniors. If organized groups want to manufacture protests and continue to be disruptive, it will only deny those who really need help.

To which I reply, maybe you could do work to make it so veterans and seniors don’t have to resort to events like this to get the service they need. Still, naturally, the establishment is girding for more, and preparing to make it even harder to reach them.

News coverage of this event:


Lamar Smith: “I for one welcome our new idiot overlords”

From the Washington Post yesterday:

In a remarkable Tuesday night floor speech, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), the chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, praised the physical and mental powers of President Trump and encouraged people to get “unvarnished” news directly from the president, not from the news media.

The author closes the article with, “Smith is also a member of the House Freedom of the Press caucus.”

I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass …

When I think back upon recent months, the thought keeps going through my mind, “You didn’t do enough.” Enough with that. 2017 is the year to kick more ass than ever before. To start off, I won this needlepoint in a silent auction to benefit local abortion access.