Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Sixty

That is how many years I have now persisted. About 720 months, or 3,128 weeks. Twenty-one thousand, nine hundred days. Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred hours. Over thirty-one point five million minutes. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Not that I am counting, I never have. It does seem as good a time as any for recollection and realignment, though.

Time and stress appear to be accelerating. I do not like what I have allowed the events of the last few weeks alone to turn me into: a soul with increasing suspicion and distrust of even close friends. I now assume the worst and am surprised by acts and signs of empathy and validation. Those defense mechanisms yank me back to my childhood, the separation and ultimate divorce of my parents, when I was a “momma’s boy” but also “just like your father.” Neither was a compliment. As an only child, I had no witnesses to call. The lies. Trick talk.

School was no escape. Bullying back then, the “dainty” kid with the butterfly net, the “fairy,” the other epithets suggesting I was a wimp who deserved ridicule and shunning. There was no refuge but isolation in the woods, and in my room where I drew pictures, read books. Did my few friends empathize, or pity me?

What saved me were mentors. Out-of-family adults who assign you self-esteem and connect you to scholars or hobbyists in your field of passion are critical to advancing your youthful well-being, if only through momentary distractions punctuating your misery. It can be enough to keep you going. It can be enough to steer you away from drugs, alcohol, suicide, or simply running away.

In college, my affinity for natural history collided with the realities of academia. I was no longer rewarded for simply having an interest and appreciation of other organisms. The mathematical abstraction, and obsession with quantification, walled me off from the flesh-and-blood animals that got me interested in science in the first place. I felt betrayed, and carried that resentment for four years before dropping out.

Fast forward to adulthood. I almost certainly had PTSD from my tumultuous childhood, like the concussion I got in high school football practice. Back in the day they didn’t know the true symptoms of either condition. A concussion does not have to knock you out cold. I thought I was fine (the divorce didn’t affect me, I proudly claimed), then everything got blindingly bright, I felt a bit light-headed, and maybe slightly nauseous. I went to tell the coach who was still running the drill, but in thirty or forty seconds I felt fine again and walked away (probably from therapy, too). Tick-tock.

I have always been at least one step behind in the best medical and psychological solutions available. Old school antidepressants prevented me from becoming too sad, but they didn’t allow me to be happy, either. I was emotionally flat-lining through life during that period. Eventually, I found two twelve-step programs that reached my subconscious and revealed the buttons I was letting people push. I began re-wiring my mind, but it is an ongoing process and I am still not up to code. Trick talk still echoes now and then.

All of this is not to say that I have had a morose, unremarkable life. Far from it. I have witnessed two total solar eclipses, seen the aurora borealis (in rural Indiana of all places), a comet (Hale-Bopp), and a volcanic eruption (Mt. St. Helens on July 22, 1980). The Vietnam War ended, and the Berlin Wall fell during my lifetime. Glimpses of hope. I got married, in spite of the horrible example of my parents. My wife has made me a better man, but still less than she deserves.

In some ways I long to be older still, at least sixty-five. I could get the vaccine faster. I could contemplate retirement, qualify for senior discounts. The thresholds for each seem to always be just out of reach. Mostly, though, I do not want to witness any more s***. If I think too long, I can’t die fast enough. I have lost all optimism, but that will never be an excuse to stop trying to influence others in positive ways. One day at a time, indeed. Sometimes one hour, one minute. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Blogging and Booking Onward

Well, that was some year. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I feel a little like a trapdoor spider cautiously peering out from under its lid to see if it is safe to come out for a bit. As I write this the U.S. capitol is under siege from disgruntled supporters of our outgoing president. In other, unrelated(?) news, I’ve scheduled my second colonoscopy in five years.

It is my hope that all of you are healthy, still reasonably sane, and have not experienced any unanticipated losses of family, friends, and colleagues as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic, or any other tragedy for that matter. Maybe you found the experience helpful in creating a new trajectory for your career, or an opportunity to learn some new skill, or indulge in a long-neglected hobby. I wish nothing but positive things for all of you.

The quarantines, lockdowns, and other restrictions allowed me the perfect circumstance to write not one, but two book manuscripts in 2020. Wasps: The Astonishing Diversity of a Misunderstood Insect, published by Princeton University Press, is already available for pre-order in the U.S. and Canada, and will be in stock for regular orders come late February. The landscape of the publishing industry is one of legal and geographical territoriality, however, and we still need publishers for Wasps in the UK and Europe, Asia, Australia, and other continents. Please comment if you can suggest a publisher, or are affiliated with one. Thank you.

Meanwhile, the other book is still in production and I am not at liberty to discuss it for now. It is also entomology-related, though.

Media appearances and promotions for the wasp book are already being scheduled, and I will post relevant announcements and such on my other blog, Bug Eric. I anticipate making regular posts about wasps the entire year, and Sense of Misplaced may take a backseat to that intention, we shall see.

The other big news from our household is that we will be moving from our current location in Colorado to Leavenworth, Kansas. Not because we are going to prison! The town is where my wife’s parents live, and we want to be close to them in their golden years. I will miss the mountain views and seemingly eternal sunshine here, but there is much to be said for being at the boundary of the Great Plains and eastern deciduous forests. We will also have an honest-to-goodness house, with a yard, something we do not enjoy at our current townhouse and its HOA.

Between book projects, I will need to find other work. I am hoping to find some clients I can write for online, as well as insect identification contracts. I love sleuthing the identities of various arthropods, especially in the interest of scientific research projects at the ecosystem level. Collaboration in general is something I look forward to engaging in more often.

Thank you for your patience this last year, I hope I haven’t lost you as a loyal follower during the book projects. Please do not be shy about asking what you would like to see from this blog in the coming year. I welcome suggestions and helpful criticism.

Friday, November 6, 2020

America: Fixer-upper or...?

My spouse enjoys the modest suspense of those renovation and rehab shows on HGTV. Invariably, a project that seemed straightforward confronts some basic issue that must be addressed lest the entire structure be doomed. It is an apt comparison to the United States in the wake of our most recent nationwide election. The U.S. still has a modicum of curb appeal, but venture beyond the fa├žade and it is worrisome.

Copyright wvhub.org and Turn This Town Around Whitesville

One could argue that our democracy and/or republic is structurally unsound. The foundation, erected by our forefathers, appears remarkably stable, only a few constitutional cracks that we can chalk up to the contractors simply being non-clairvoyant. The language in the homeowners’ manual is perhaps outdated, too, but that can be forgiven. We’ve had upgrades, like the Emancipation Proclamation, but since then it has been mostly a new coat of paint here, new flooring there. Cosmetic changes are nice, but they often conceal damage we would rather not address.

The twenty-first century has finally exposed that we have load-bearing walls holding up glass ceilings. Our support beams have dry rot or worse. Mold has crept in after periodic floods of repression, oppression, and sheer neglect. The door is stuck shut, the plumbing shot, and the wiring is not up to code. Porch pillars, and pillars of our communities, are not what we thought they were. Our privileged experiences are not reflective of the entire populace.

As an entomologist, the term “structural pest” comes to my mind. Subterranean termites. We have not been treating for them, and now we are suffering the consequences. It is telling that termites are pale, and shun the light for the darkness of their tunnels. They are blind or nearly so. They are oblivious to whatever source of cellulose they are munching, intent only on feeding themselves and their siblings, all the progeny of a bloated matriarch. They are incredibly successful in their destruction, and completely unaware of their colossal impact.

This election revealed the termites, and it was personally punishing. It turns out that many of us have been termitophiles, blindly associating with others who have, in their privacy, been gnawing away at our nation’s health and welfare by failing to advocate for those less privileged. We either did not know them, or they metamorphosed, gradually or rapidly, into something we were not expecting. That is what really shakes me in the aftermath of the election: Personal, emotional, invested infrastructure is failing. I had assumed my friends were also my allies, my load-bearing walls, and fellow construction workers helping make the world better.

It is a curse of the empathetic and vulnerable to have compassion even for those who would smite them, or at least undermine the values they hold dear. Agonizing decisions are made daily, now, as to who in your personal circle you have to let go. There are plenty of rationalizations for saying farewell, and at least some may be legitimate if not necessary. You cannot repeatedly compromise your personal mental health by being an apologist for a friend who clearly does not stand for your own principles. It is not “social embarrassment” or “politics,” it is myself recognizing that many in our world need protection from harm, while you do not.

Parting ways may be doing your former friend a favor, too. As their own circle of friends diminishes, it may force them to abandon the outdated infrastructure of belief they have clung to for so long. That is not meant to express any kind of moral superiority, mind you. Please be wary of that.

Termites (the insects) in other parts of the world are not always structural pests. They create some of the most complex and efficient architecture of any animal species, complete with “central air” in some cases, underground mushroom gardens in others. Termites are the foundation of many ecosystems in savannahs and jungles and deserts. Ironically, they do not know their limits, and probably believe they are the superior organism in their realm, overcoming attacks from aardvarks and anteaters, and spreading their colonies far and wide. They are also unaware that they truly are important to the health of the planet.

In this regard we are not like termites, unless we abandon all logic, science, reverence, and hope. We will need to invest heavily, and consistently, in acknowledging the rights of all peoples, and advancing the appointment of the disenfranchised into positions of power. We don’t have to wait for another national election to begin the necessary demolition and restoration.

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Monday, October 12, 2020

Facts, Opinions, and Lies

A friend on social media recently posted to ask the difference between facts and opinions. I assumed they already knew, but it is a useful exercise to ask ourselves that question periodically, and ruminate on what constitutes truth and honesty versus lies and manipulation. The following is an abbreviated version of my own assessment, please take from it what you will. You are also encouraged to share your own perspectives in the comments. United States readers, please exercise your right to vote next month.

Facts are, ideally, bits of information for which there is widespread consensus as to their validity, achieved through independent and unbiased evaluation with reproducible results. This is essentially the scientific method, writ large to cover non-scientific subjects. Consulting documentation from a variety of resources that yield the same answer is usually indicative of something factual. There is consensus that gravity exists, for example, and no one is going to suggest water is any other compound but H2O.

Are facts absolute? Not always, and not always indefinitely. This is another lesson science can teach us: today’s conclusion may not hold up tomorrow, if a newer, better tool of evaluation is made available, or the same tools do not yield the same results as those found previously. This demonstrates the importance of peer review, and continued repetition of experiments and observations.

An opinion is a personal interpretation of observations and experiences that lead you to a perspective or conclusion that may or may not reflect reality. Opinions are important, as they can illuminate another side to a subject or condition that others may not have entertained previously. The overriding emphasis here is on “personal.” You may share this opinionated definition of “opinion” with me, or you may have a different description. Perception is very much reality for individuals in abusive households, toxic workplaces, and similarly oppressive conditions. The reality of the abused will differ from that of the abuser.

A lie is a knowingly false assertion disguised as fact. The important aspect here is intent, not the tidbit of “information” provided. A lie essentially has an agenda, or is used to further an agenda. An agenda is irrelevant to a fact. Let me repeat that: an agenda is irrelevant to a fact.

One can argue that politics and religion are the least fact-based endeavors of humanity, overrun with agendas, opinions, lies, and manipulation of the English language. This is because the principal agenda is one of power-seeking, or maintaining power that is owned already. Any matter of genuine importance to the citizenry is fair game for twisting, depriving, or enforcing in order to strengthen the power of those with existing privilege.

The worst kind of lie may be in architecting a false agenda and assigning it to the opposing party (and “party” refers to any individual or group, political or otherwise). We see this abuse committed repeatedly in campaign advertising leading up to elections. Marketing professionals are ninja-level experts when it comes to manipulating language to trigger the desired audience response. “Defund the police” is graphically equated with a flaming cop car by opponents of those who seek accountability of law enforcement, for example.

How can we avoid becoming susceptible to lies, distortions, and manipulation? Dust off the dictionary and keep it handy. Avail yourself of dependable fact-checking sources online. Be more personally inclusive of people of color, lesbians, gays, transgendered persons, non-binary individuals, and others who suffer from a profound lack of privilege and respect. Broaden your circle of associates to include those who may be of differing political or religious affiliations.

Cultivate a sixth sense of truth- and motive-detection. Ask whether media use of the word “democracy” is habitually conflated with “capitalism,” for example. Such exercises can help unmask hidden agendas, in this instance related to the preservation of concentrated corporate wealth, as opposed to an altruistic pursuit of justice and equality for all, regardless of privilege.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Supreme Injustice

You do not know where this is going, just from the title, do you? Oh, he’s going to write about the rush to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat. No, he’s going to write about the verdict in the Breonna Taylor murder. The answer to both assumptions is “yes.”

The press and the pundits have revealed themselves to be tone deaf by not linking these two events. The Supreme Court is still viewed largely as all about decisions that affect privileged white folks, while individual cases at the local and state levels are of vastly more importance to people of color….at least unless and until they reach the Supreme Court, which they too rarely do. One decides what kind of life decisions you can make for yourself. The other decides whether or not you are, or were, entitled to live at all.

The Kentucky decision regarding Breonna Taylor’s assailants, and I don’t know what else to call them, regardless of whether they were representatives of law enforcement, completely devalued her life. That there was not a single shred of empathy is appalling. It is also evidence of no intent to hold police accountable for their behavior towards people of color. Ever. That we are not talking about how to elevate this issue to the level of something that should be addressed by the Supreme Court is telling.

No indictments, no appeals, obviously, but there should be another avenue for the victim and their kin, beyond civil litigation that does nothing but determine monetary damages. It is clear that this kind of preventable tragedy is going to keep on happening without intervention from some greater authority. Short of God, it would be the Supreme Court.

The high court (and I’m not talking about the basketball gymnasium in the same building) is entirely too politicized, and that is putting it politely. This particular vacancy could not have come at a worse time, when Republicans and Democrats are at such polar opposite ends of the spectrum, let alone right before a potential change in the party in power at the executive level. Fortunately, it is not lost on the press that to ram through a conservative nominee just prior to what could be another contested election would favor the incumbent President. That scenario alone should be the end of the debate: no nominee until after the inauguration.

Our judicial system is about one thing and one thing only: law. Please do not confuse the judiciary with religion, morality, or God. Those are all separate things. Religion is a human institution like business and government. Morality is an independent social construct to help inform our daily personal conduct towards others. One could argue that God, too, is a human invention, and It may be, but from my own perspective, I at least view It as an independent entity that does not play favorites, even between species. I digress.

The ideal nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court would be an individual with impeccable examples of personal conduct, who has respect for the history of the court, who has a depth of legal experience commensurate with the position, strong research skills, and a mind open to persuasion through constructive deliberation with their colleagues. They should be moral, yes, but not be a vehicle for imposing their definition of morality on the citizenry.

The ideal nominee realizes that respect for previous decisions is at least as important as the impact of what they rule for future generations. Lastly, but not least, they recognize their power to elevate the lives of minorities to the same level as those who enjoy white (male) privilege.

Justice and equality and ethics should all have the same definition. At the least the application of justice should have ethics as its driving force, and equality as the goal. That ethics so seldom plays a role in the process is heartbreaking and infuriating, at all levels of our judicial system. I’ll be paying more attention to the judges on my November third ballot this year.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Soul Purpose

You do not have to be religious, nor even spiritual, perhaps, to recognize that there is a part of your being that is completely independent of everything tangible and external that others perceive about you. If you are of a theological persuasion, then please take time to reflect on whether that internal identity squares with your chosen denomination. Then, act accordingly.

Do you know what is not white, black, brown, red, yellow, male, female, or non-binary, gay, straight, queer, or other, young or old, rich or poor, democrat, republican, independent, libertarian or anarchist? Your soul. That’s right, your soul is none of these things, and that is not an exhaustive list. Those external qualities are immaterial to your central persona. Your soul can only be corrupted if you allow it to be, if your mind and body do not fuse with your purpose, your innate sense of peace, justice, equality, and connection to all other species.

There is no shortage of influences that can conflict with our soul. We are biological entities, and that immediately entails a mind that can be bent, a body that can be compromised. We are inherently social animals, and vulnerable to coercion, brainwashing, and other tactics designed to benefit others at the expense of ourselves. We fall for distractions from the more important concerns of the day, losing ourselves in entertainment and “coping” mechanisms like alcohol, tobacco, drugs, gambling, and other vices.

Civilization has erected economies with the sole purpose of aspiring to, and attaining, gratuitous material wealth at the expense of whole classes of the citizenry. Economics dictates what is acceptable as an avocation based again on external characters of race and sex. We demand that women bear children because the economy needs more consumers, whether or not those children ever amount to anything “productive.” After all, we outsource and automate the production side. Women are also considered servants of men. We expect black people to serve us through entertainment professions: athletes, musicians, actors, and comedians.

While the private, business sector has made clear its rules of social order for the benefit of overly-privileged straight, white males, the public sector of government has largely agreed with, and reinforced, those parameters. We have yet to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) for women. Laws and legislation continue to ignore the poverty, mass incarceration, environmental injustice, voter suppression, unemployment and underemployment, and crime that plague entire communities of people of color (not an exhaustive list of woes). In many instances, laws are passed that make matters worse.

Religion should be a savior, or at least a voice of reason, insisting that all of “God’s children” are created equal, but too often the church is mute when it comes to demanding reform. The Bible, like the Constitution and economic theory, is now revealed to be insufficient for a more complex age where the meek are finally asserting their God-given rights. Of course we are going to adhere to outdated rhetoric if it continues to preserve conditions that allow us, personally, to prosper in terms of financial and social rank.

Are police going to stop killing black people? Are we going to stop believing this is “justifiable” use of force? Only when we start seeing through to our souls. When we stop assuming anything based on perceptions of exterior presentation, and preconceived expectations of what is “permissible,” we will begin to advance. We have to start by looking at ourselves that way. A mirror reflects only the body, our occupation merely reflects our current economic role.

Our mind is the closest thing to our soul, and we must free it from undo influence. That may well require economic sacrifice, even hardship, to honor what our soul insists upon. Your life purpose may have nothing to do with your career. In fact, that is probably the case for everyone if our “soul purpose” is to architect a more fair, sustainable life for every human being, and for all species. If that is not your personal answer to your life’s purpose, let’s hear your rebuttal. Our collective dialogue must begin to transcend everything we have come to believe defines our very existence because right now we are denying the existence of others.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Those Who You Thought You Knew

© Costawomen.com

There has been an unspoken understanding in the community of birders and other naturalists that one’s belief that other species matter automatically assumes the same sentiments are extended to all members of our own species. If the last four years have taught us anything, it is that we do not know each other at all. How we reconcile that, or whether we even choose to acknowledge that condition, will steer the future of the entire planet.

What began as simple disbelief that the United States had elected the current occupant of the White House has since become an outrage. Every step of the way it evolved and crystalized into clear recognition that the President has zero empathy for all other human beings, unless they are in a position to improve his personal economic and social status. Initially, we forgave our friends who voted for this person. We could empathize with their desire for change, for someone outside the establishment politics that rule our national government. We sought understanding, but maybe gave up eventually and returned to a relationship with those friends that had nothing to do with politics.

The expectation is that among those who espouse an all species matter philosophy, every other belief aligns

Then came the “me, too” movement, and after that the global pandemic, and in the midst of that the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis policemen. The same friends who had voted for our President were eerily silent through all of that. We were appalled already because they were quiet when borderland policy was incarcerating refugees and immigrants in conditions we would not tolerate for violent felons in prison, and separating parents from children. The rise of Black Lives Matter finally appears to have made things….excuse the analogy….black and white.

The conversations on social media finally exposed the depth and pervasiveness of hatred, even by people we had formerly respected. It was, and still is, jarring to our core. Birding communities that had been divided over etiquette in “chasing,” listing, and observing birds are now divided between racists and inclusivists. The expectation is that among those who espouse an all species matter philosophy, every other belief aligns, including impartial justice, equal rights (not special rights, whatever those are), and acceptance, not mere tolerance, of non-binary identities, and the full spectrum of sexual orientation, including asexual persuasions.

Other animals must change physically to cope….Us? We have only to change our minds in order to adapt.

We begin re-evaluating all our personal relationships, from childhood friends to the person who we trust to fix our computer when it breaks down or behaves strangely. More devastatingly, we question ourselves, and whether we can truly trust anyone to be sincere in their sentiments, and embracing of equality.

”Wait until they come for your heroes,” we are told, as statues fall and monuments are defaced. They already have “come after” John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, and others I once revered, but I appreciate the enlightenment and have no fear that the accomplishments of such people will be eroded. Learning the full story, warts and all, is called education, and it has long been overdue.

The success of every species is its ability to adapt to change, but Homo sapiens has the hardest time with that. Other animals must change physically to cope with our ever-widening urban and agricultural landscapes, alter their food selection, and learn to take advantage of human mistakes and neglect. Us? We have only to change our minds in order to adapt. Politics, religion, and economics are the enemies of human adaptation. They cling more fiercely to the past than any other social institutions because those past rules and assumptions serve them in their rise to greater and greater power.

In the end, the inescapable conclusion we reach about those we thought were our friends is that they do not truly care about what is truly important. They fail to understand that only by elevating the status of less privileged people will we ever achieve the sustainability and prosperity that enables other species to thrive alongside of us. The time has come for sacrifice, not continued exclusion. Material gain, or even comfort, can no longer be tolerated when it means oppression of others. A different lifestyle or identity in no way diminishes your own. The only threats to your white, middle-class life are the stereotypes and fears your have manufactured. Get over it, or get out of my life.

Note: This may be my last post unless Blogger retains the "legacy" option as an alternative to its "new," abominable interface. I tried doing this post on the new interface and it was essentially impossible.