Thursday, December 7, 2017

What Now?!

© davidwarkentin.blogspot.com

That is the story of my daily life now, asking that question; as in "What is the catastrophe du jour?" What is it that the local, state, or federal government is doing today to screw over those of us who actually understand what matters, what is in the public good, and what is necessary for long term survival and prosperity? The current state of the world has left me impossible to live with. My wife endures my almost daily bouts of ranting, understandably pleading with me to "calm down." Were it only possible.

I am a little better than I used to be. Were I still at my thirties, even forties, level of maturity, we would have been replacing our television every other week because of some heavy object I would have thrown at it. I would quite possibly have a criminal record for trespass, protesting without a permit, or some other violation of local codes. I would be cursing a blue streak in public, as an accent on loud outbursts in banks and government agency offices. I have toned it down, Honey, you have to believe me.

This is setting up to be the perfect storm of all things ugly. The attack on our public lands is relentless and brutal. Meanwhile, the tax "plan" that will effectively redistribute wealth from the middle class to the ultra-rich guarantees that we will not be able to donate as much to the watchdog groups that have in previous years been able to thwart dastardly government plots. Charities are going to be starved by the new tax codes, and that is all part of the plan, no conspiracy theory necessary.

Even the sexual harassment revolution, which is otherwise a very positive movement, has quickly devolved into desperate political party power grabs. Democrats and Republicans alike are now seeking to unseat each other's best Representatives and Senators so they can be replaced by their own party's candidates.

Many of us face local, state, or regional issues as well, and our energies are thus splintered and diluted. We end up compromised in our output for our employers, and in our devotion to our families. Freelancers like me spend our days signing petitions, blogging, posting to social media, and otherwise engaging in passionate advocacy that fails to pay our bills; but we cannot stand idly by. The City of Colorado Springs has big plans for "my" backyard prairie wilderness that I want to have declared an Open Space. I even did a television interview earlier this week, and am approaching my City Council district representative about holding a public meeting before things get any more complicated. No doubt you, dear reader, face some local problem of your own. Maybe you are in southern California and just got displaced by a wildfire.

Smart as we are, do we not get distracted easily by tweets from the President, the latest celebrity gossip, the impending royal wedding, the supposed War on Christmas, and other media-manufactured garbage that passes for the news these days? I would rather they just fill the five o'clock broadcast with cat videos from Youtube. It would be more informative, and a hell of a lot less depressing. It would also unite us instead of dividing us. Who does not enjoy a good laugh that is generated from something unrelated to politics, religion, or business? Instead, we are bombarded with stories that pit us against each other while the wheels of the aristocracy are free to continue undermining our livelihoods in every way, shape and form.

I cannot help but do what I do best: write, from my heart, my mind, my soul, in hopes that by hammering away on my keyboard I am hammering away at injustice, little by little, together with others doing the same thing. I aim to generate empathy, compassion, and enthusiasm for what could be, rather than what is, or what could get worse.

A video is going viral today of a man desperately trying to capture a wild rabbit just feet away from one of the California conflagrations. It is in many ways the most perfect analogy for our times. The video is at night, the man an anonymous silhouette of emotion and determination, intent on saving this one little creature. And, spoiler alert, he succeeds. What difference does it make, you ask? It means everything to the rabbit; and each positive action, no matter how small, adds up. Do your bit.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Dieting and Other Punishments

© HealthPartners.com

I am privileged to have many friends, both in real life and through social media. One of the recurring themes I see, especially among female friends, is dieting and weight loss. Some are able to handle this aspect of their lives in a healthy fashion, and others struggle. Personally, I think it is a shame on our society that we put women in a position where they self-reflect in anything but a positive way. Meanwhile, overeating, binge eating, and other eating disorders are usually the outcome of stressors that we have to identify and address.

One of the smartest quips ever uttered in the weight loss industry was made by Richard Simmons. No, really. One of his most famous sayings is "It's not what you're eating, it's what's eating you." Look at our "coping skills" in the United States: eating, smoking, drinking alcohol, drug use, gambling, pornography, excessive exercise, and other addictions. It becomes a never-ending cycle of stress, addiction, and rehab. We need to cure the stressors, but that is not going to happen in our current capitalist economic model.

Combating stress in any meaningful way is problematic if you look at it only from a profit-making perspective. Stress is difficult to define, and we tend to frown on the idea of leaving your job, your spouse, or abandoning your children, to name but a few triggers. Stress is subjective, and not outwardly obvious. The effects of stress are obvious, and so we market solutions to the symptoms rather than the cause. A vacation is surely the best prescription, and we will even float you a bank loan or credit to make it happen. Vitamins and supplements and energy drinks will help you get through your day. Treat yourself to that pizza, bacon cheeseburger, ice cream dessert, or other favorite comfort food. You get the picture, but this is where the treadmill starts.

Oops, overdid it with the food? Try [insert any commercial diet plan here] to get back to normal. This "solution" only adds another degree of stress, and so it is no wonder that diets fail. Maybe we start drinking now, too.

The idea of "cheating" on a diet is also harmful. It implies wrongdoing and initiates feelings of guilt and shame, which add to stress and reinforce a poor sense of self-esteem; which makes one more likely to "cheat" again, and so on and so forth. This is not the same thing as cheating on a spouse or significant other, or cheating on a test, or breaking any kind of vow or law, yet how many of those on a diet equate it with such? Baloney. Forgive yourself, if there is even anything to be forgiven for.

As long as money is to be made from treating the symptoms of stress, the diet, cosmetics, and personal finance industries are going to keep peddling destructive "solutions" instead of devoting resources to get to the roots of it all. Our personal goals should be to resist not the temptations of the marketplace, but the personal behaviors and situations that lead to stress. We don't need punishments for negative coping mechanisms, we need alternatives to those bad habits.

We also need to alleviate stress to begin with. Maybe that means limiting your time with family over the holidays. Maybe that does mean taking time off from your workplace. Maybe it means going off of social media if the feedback you are getting from sharing your struggles is anything but supportive and understanding. If we do these things, then the impulse to overindulge in anything harmful will ebb, at least a little bit.

So, how do I cope in healthy ways? I make sure I get outside and take at least a 30-minute walk every day, weather-permitting. I take breaks to watch the odd "guilty pleasure" television show. I should read more, a lot more, and it is one of my goals to make that a higher priority. I draw, and I write, and I take photographs, for pleasure as well as part of my income. Am I successful one hundred percent of the time? No, of course not. Probably not even 70% lately, but I forgive myself for that.

Please share your own secrets for stress-relief success in the comments. We need to encourage each other more than ever.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Things to be Thankful For....While They Last

Note: This post was ready to publish last week, but I wanted to give a friend an opportunity to convince me that the net neutrality situation was a non-issue. That was a mistake. I remain unconvinced that what the FCC intends to do would not wreck things beyond repair.

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It is not difficult to find things to be grateful for during this American Thanksgiving holiday. The question is whether you will still have that sentiment at this time next year. Much of what we take for granted is now in serious jeopardy thanks to this edition of the Presidency and Congress. Life as we know it may not survive through the next three years. One could argue that optimism about the future has been the first casualty.

Amur Tiger
Wildlife

Elephants, and lions, and tigers, and Polar Bears, oh my. They may be trophy-hunted or poached into extinction, or killed off by the policies exercised by climate change deniers. Science has no place in federal government right now, unless it can be used to accelerate the extraction of fossil fuels in the interest of "secure" energy of U.S. origin. The only bright spot has been the President's apparent reversal of his bid to overturn the ban on the importation of African Elephant parts by trophy hunters who kill their victims in Zimbabwe and Zambia. He has faced more public pressure on this one issue than any other so far, and he is apparently bowing to it. Good to know.

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Public Lands

The onslaught against nature continues with a proposal to raise one-day admission fees to popular national parks a whopping $50.00 to $70.00. Yes, our parks are starved for funds for maintenance and other services, but that is thanks to a bloated Department of Defense budget that amounts to corporate welfare for private contractors, and wasteful spending in other areas as well. The conspiracy theorist in me believes the astronomical entry fee proposals are designed to drive down park visitations. Even people who can afford those prices may boycott the parks on principal. The less the attendance at parks, the more our President and Congress can argue that those public lands should be opened up to something truly beneficial: leases for oil, gas, and mineral extraction. The government will not see the profit, but the multinational corporations doing the work certainly will, which is the whole point. Meanwhile, leases are already being drawn up for properties managed by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and other agencies.

© ACLU.org
A Neutral Internet

Do you think the World Wide Web is just fine as it is? Me, too, which is why I am aghast that the Federal Communications Commission, again led by a Presidential appointee, plans on allowing ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to pretty much write their own rules for access to the internet, both for users like you and me, and for those who provide services and content online. The oversimplified scenario is that if you want access to some of the websites and apps you are enjoying currently, you will have to pay more. Likewise, if you want your business to continue enjoying a (high) profile online, you will have to put up more money to get the same amount of customer traffic. Gee, I wonder who gets rich in all this (rhetorical question, sorry).

Meanwhile, alternative media, the non-fake news we turn to for the real scoop, will get overwhelmed by traditional media that can afford to get its message out there. Organizing protests, boycotts, petitions, and other means of dissent will become infinitely more difficult if people have to choose between different social media outlets, or are now unable to afford access at all. It might be the final nail in the coffin for dissent.

What Next?

That question could be taken two ways: What other atrocities of policy are we in for? Or, what do we do to stop this runaway train? I cannot recall a time when I have written more about public issues, signed more online petitions, or (ever) written to my Congressperson than I am doing now; and it has nothing to do with political affiliation. I honestly feel I am being personally assaulted because of my passion for liberty, wildlife, creative enterprises, small business, the sharing economy, local agriculture, and rights to freedom of (non-hate) speech, healthcare, and safety. This administration is not good for anybody, except the ultra-rich who are also greedy.

What we have to do is avoid despair, and keep up the pressure. Keep informing each other. Raise awareness of issues as you yourself become aware of them. Raise funds for organizations battling against this administration on the streets, in the courts, and elsewhere. Mostly, don't lose friends over disagreements.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Elephants Trump(eting)

My social media newsfeeds have blown up the past couple of days with the news of our President seeking to overturn the ban on importation of "trophy" elephant parts by American hunters who take the animals in Zimbabwe and Zambia. This seems to be a collective "last straw" in tolerance for this administration's egregious policies, symbolic of an utter disregard for anything and anyone without financial affluence.

Irony of ironies, the symbol of the Republican Party is....an elephant. When you cannot even respect the mascot of the political affiliation that planted you in the White House, you really have sunken to a new low. We are not surprised, of course, just continually disappointed and angered by your contempt for other living creatures. You show no mercy even on threatened and endangered species, at home and abroad.

The other day a Congresswoman introduced an amendment to the SECURE American Energy Act that would exempt oil companies from paying for violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. When the next spill happens, these huge corporations would be relieved of the financial burden of rehabilitating oil-soaked birds.

Meanwhile, an article in the current issue of The Nation outlined the methodical takeover of the U.S. Department of the Interior by oil, gas, and mining interests thanks to Presidential appointments and the resulting "reassignment" of key personnel. No public scandal holds a candle to the conflagration that is the wanton destruction of our country being wrought behind the scenes. Policies are being dictated by the very industries that are supposed to be regulated by our government.

Oh, and just for good measure, the tax plans proposed by the House and Senate are going to fleece you and me to pay for the opening of public lands to drilling and other natural resource exploitation, with few if any laws left in place to protect us from pollution of our air and water. Naturally, we will not have healthcare to treat us for the effects of those pollutants and toxins, either. That is apparently just fine as long as the ultra-wealthy can continue the exponential growth of their profits.

What boggles my mind completely is how anyone who is not in the one-percent tax bracket can continue to endorse policy that is literally going to kill them, or their parents, or their children and grandchildren. By extension, how can you then continue approving the performance of the President and Congress? I am left with only a handful of theories: You are hoping this administration's destructive tendencies brings about the Second Coming of Christ; you are blissfully ignorant; you suffer yourself from mental illness; you have no concept of what is truly important in life; you have no empathy for other people, let alone other life forms (see mental illness again).

Mr. President, I sincerely wish that you would finally admit that you simply do not care about the lives of the overwhelming majority of the electorate. It might be the first honest statement you have made since taking office. Actions speak louder than tweets, and it is abundantly clear that you just don't give a damn. Unless they are a family member or someone who can boost your income or your ego, you have no use for them. The rest of us are a means to inflating your own bank account and sense of self-importance.

Lately I have been at a loss for words other than the four-letter variety, and my followers do not deserve a dumbed-down vocabulary, or the vitriol that they no longer even have to search for given how prevalent it is in all media outlets. No sir, I will not stoop to that level of indecency. However, I can no longer be polite, either. That ship has sailed, and I will be doing everything in my power to thwart your horrible agenda. The people of this country already know what makes America Great, and you are hell-bent on taking all of it away from them. Not on my watch you don't, [expletive deleted].

Friday, November 3, 2017

Our Right to Competent Leadership

© RallyPoint.com and MemeGenerator.net

A few blog posts ago I wrote that I would no longer apologize for my opinions of our current U.S. President, Cabinet, Congress, and, more to the point, their policies. The pace of my exasperation seems to be accelerating, if anything. Now, I find myself questioning whether many of these people are even competent human beings, let alone government leaders. I hope you will read this post to the end, as there is something here for everyone, regardless of political party affiliation.

We deserve better, not just "different" leadership, and one must call into question whether what we are getting is any kind of leadership. Certainly not by example, unless you think off-the-cuff reactionary Twitter tweets qualify. Have you seen any acceptable standards of statesmanship, humility, gratitude, or even understanding of the Office of President from this person? Me, either. His idea of disaster relief is personally dispensing paper towels to hurricane victims?

Virtually everyone I know would be better qualified to be President of the United States. This includes people I regularly argue with on social media; and even includes people who reside in other countries, who have a better grasp of world history, justice, economics, and have a better command of the English language. I mean, you can all pronounce "diversity," right?

Pretty much every legitimate news outlet is appalled at the emptiness of this administration's rhetoric; and also decries its commitment to the dismemberment of vital agencies and policies that protect labor, the consumer, the environment, and the less fortunate members of our citizenry who are in, or on the verge of, poverty. Children are going to suffer the most if we endorse the course laid out by our "leaders." They will suffer now as public education shrinks or is abolished outright. They will suffer down the road as they become adults who must face an unforgiving landscape of unemployment, diminishing wages and benefits, unregulated products and services, poor air and water quality, and little recourse to change their circumstances.

Virtually everyone I know would be better qualified to be President of the United States....I mean, you can all pronounce "diversity," right?

Those who voted for our current Commander-in-Chief can be forgiven for their desperate desire for change. There is no question the political establishment no longer functions the way it should. The best candidates for public good are systematically erased from consideration in both the Democratic and Republican party tickets. However, it should be obvious by now that our current President is acting purely in self-interest, and on behalf of a minuscule fraction of the population that is ultra-wealthy with no sense of responsibility or obligation to anyone else, including employees, consumers, and the future generations of this great nation, let alone citizens of any other country, or the biosphere and all of creation. Maybe they are looking out for shareholders on Wall Street. Maybe. This is an administration of the short term, the now, the "to hell with tomorrow."

We should have a literal Constitutional right to competent leadership, if it does not exist already. We also need to draft some kind of mechanism for the electorate to remove incompetent individuals and their Cabinet appointees from office when it reaches a point at which their actions endanger the nation. We are quickly approaching that point, and some would argue we are already past it.

Even given the preceding paragraphs, I know this country has a habit of overcoming the worst of itself. We succeed in spite of government policies as much as we do because of them. These next three years are going to test our metal, more so than at any other point in history. I have hope in the average person, truly, but it sure would be helpful if government would just get out of the way and let us do what is best for ourselves and each other. Wait, am I sounding like a conservative now? Happy "diversary," everyone.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

An Hourglass of Inheritance and Insanity

© YoungLifePerception.Wordpress.com

John Lennon forgot to "Imagine" one crucial scenario in his classic song of that title. "Imagine there's no money" would be the lyric I would add. That unnatural resource of currency is perhaps the one thing that rules all of our so-called civilized behavior as a species. That and sex, of course. I know that my life would be a lot less complicated if money were not an issue, and recently it became an even more stressful complication in the care of my aging father.

The facility where my father currently resides has petitioned the court to appoint a "guardian ad litem" to take over all of my father's decision-making capabilities. A guardian ad litem is most often appointed in cases of child custody disputes, abuse, or neglect, the guardian being a supposedly unbiased party advocating solely for the child or other person who is incapable of fully defending themselves. I learned of this when I received a copy of the papers in the mail from the petitioner's attorney. No phone call, no interaction, just straight to a judge.

Furthermore, statements in the documents assert things that I never said, judgments I never made, and describe all of this in language that I could interpret as libelous, defamatory, and slanderous. If the retirement home my father is residing in treats next-of-kin like this, no wonder he is unhappy.

This legal action probably stems from an incident in which my father became combative, and could be construed as endangering himself as well as the welfare of others in the building. My father is a chronic alcoholic. He drinks when he is depressed, bored, and otherwise unhappy; and he either has not availed himself of recreational programs at the facility, or there are none that he is interested in, or both. He repeatedly expresses his desire to be done with life. He never fully recovered from the passing of his second wife (my stepmother) several years ago. While his emotional state continues to deteriorate, his cognitive abilities remain intact, which is why this legal action is all the more revolting.

Meanwhile, I am not in a personal financial position to take any action myself. In fact, I have no potential income on my immediate horizon. My major client employs me mostly from late spring through early fall. Yes, I do have some hesitation to visit my father for the same reasons the retirement home finds him to be a handful. He is hard of hearing, and prone to temperamental outbursts. Still, the overriding reason I do not visit is because I cannot afford the airfare. I am an only child, so I also do not have sibling help. My cousin, who does live closer, has understandably reached wit's end, and he also has his own family, and a business, to look out for.

I received the court documents late on a Friday, naturally, so contacted the attorney for my father's estate via e-mail the following Monday. The attorney is the kind of guy that makes you think twice about telling a lawyer joke. He is kind, understanding, thoughtful, and expensive. Retaining him in this matter would bankrupt me in a matter of days. I told him as much, politely. His response was that his firm's fees would come from my father's estate since this issue pertains directly to his estate.

Here is the thing. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I was rather looking forward to a bit of inheritance from my father, to ease my own financial burdens in the future. I have concluded that I will be damn lucky if the whole thing doesn't get burned up in efforts to protect that inheritance. Forget the "death tax," attorney fees and other expenses will take a greater, ongoing toll. Heck, the retirement home appears to want to get as much as they can out of him right now.

Everybody wants their cut. The yacht club got a sizeable chunk out of him to build a new bar. How appropriate. Given that the yacht club has been one of the communities my father truly has felt comfortable in, I don't object to his donation, honest. Still, the sands of money and time in the hourglass steadily slip away.

It is all I can do some days, probably like my father, to just get through, accomplish something of worth, and steel myself for the next day. My father and I are a lot alike, it occurs to me, in our isolation, our internal demons, our addictions, and our struggle not to have a bleak outlook on the future, both personally and for the world at large. At least I have my words, and expressing my mounting frustrations, dwindling hopes, and raw emotions does help. One of those hopes? That this kind of thing is never visited on you.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Me, too

© DhakaLawReview.org

No, I am not a woman who has been sexually harassed in any way, shape or form. I am, instead, a man who is guilty of inappropriate behavior, in my past, if even unwittingly. The standard of what constitutes sexual harassment has changed considerably over the last few decades, and that is a good thing in the sense that no one should have to tolerate even the lowest, most passive forms of abuse.

For the record, I am making a sincere public apology to any and every woman I have offended, whether I realized it or not at the time. I am totally ok with assuming whatever degree of guilt I deserve for the unwanted touch, the "compliment" on a woman's external beauty, or any other gesture or language that was or is unacceptable to the recipient. I am better at taking shame and using it to better myself these days than I would have been at a younger age. I am eternally grateful to the women who have asserted themselves and told me in no uncertain terms that my conduct was intolerable, even if a single incident.

Each woman has her own personal threshold for what she is willing to accept or, more likely, overlook when it comes to misconduct by males. Men have to understand that and make the assumption that almost anything said or done in the arena of sexuality (even the outskirts of sexuality, to include beauty and attire to name two) could be interpreted negatively by any woman. Men should not express physical intimacy unless unequivocally invited to do so.

I vividly recall having expressed a desire for affection from a woman, being politely but firmly rejected, and learning from her the next day that she had a stalker. The fact she did not throw me out of her home the night before speaks volumes about her strength, tolerance, and trust. Naturally, I apologized profusely, but, to this day, not enough for my own conscience. We remain friends and I will always hold her in high esteem. The point is, I assumed incorrectly that she had not experienced the trauma of harassment. It amazes me that women still trust men at all in the face of our misogynistic society.

Last Sunday my Facebook newsfeed was full of "me, too" posts from nearly all of my female friends who have experienced the indignity and shame and guilt and horror of sexual harassment in one form or another. I remain appalled by that, but sadly not surprised. As one woman pointed out, this does not even include women who never told their parents, spouses, or authorities about the harassment they experienced, so are not about to disclose it on social media. Understood.

I would hope the tide is turning, but we cannot rely on men in power to address this epidemic in any meaningful way. Even leaders of this country have either confessed to sexual harassment or been implicated for it. Many powerful men feel entitled to conduct themselves in any manner they see fit, whether they create victims or not as a result. If your code of conduct is ruled only by whether or not you have done something you could be prosecuted for, then you are missing the point. This is an insidious plague that casts a constant chill over women.

The solution is going to be the average man taking an above-average stand, every day, when they witness sexual harassment. It means conducting oneself with a degree of self-censorship in word and deed that we have not paid enough mind to until now. I have pretty much vowed not to hug anyone I do not know, unless obviously invited to do so. I will be more careful with what I once considered "compliments," that were in reality thinly-disguised attempts to initiate sexual intimacy.

Today, I am married, and am a better man for that institution. Having a spouse makes you more keenly aware of what is (or should be) acceptable behavior and what is not. We, as men, need to unlearn behaviors we learned from our fathers, uncles, and other male role models in our youthful lives. We then need to take the new standards of positive behavior to our sons and other boys in our community. We must earn respect, and teach boys they must also earn it. Right now, every woman on the planet has the right to assume the worst about us. I don't want to be the one implied in "me, too." Do you?