Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Tired of Apologizing

A not-so funny thing happened yesterday when I posted to Facebook a tongue-in-cheek desire to see irony come to life and have Hurricane Irma collide with Mar a Lago and leave everything else in Florida unscathed. Several people admonished me for wishing ill will on others, and one person insinuated a threat (since retracted, apparently). Well, I have the following to say to you: I am not always a nice guy; I was making a symbolic wish, not expressing real-life desire for destruction; and I am tired of apologizing for my contempt for this President and his policy decisions.

© CommonConstitutionalist.com

As I have said previously and repeatedly, this is not about politics, it is about policies that are impinging on human rights, undermining our economic stability, threatening international relations, and exacerbating our environmental woes. I am not a lamb of leftists blindly following a liberal agenda. My beliefs and philosophy are a product mostly of my own experiences; and as I age, material things mean less and less to me while intangible and vaguely definable qualities like happiness and creativity become increasingly important.

I do not wish to subtract anything from anyone, let alone wish for annihilation of any living being. Quite the opposite. I want those in power to stop doing those things: subtracting civil rights from certain categories of humanity; subtracting wealth from what was once the middle class (and is now the "debt class"); subtracting environmental, consumer, and labor protections from everyone and everything.

Trump has been his own brand of hurricane, dismantling everything holding this country together, from race relations to our standing in the international community, to freedom of the press, to the financial underpinnings of infrastructure, public education, and the scientific research that makes the U.S. a world leader. He is naturally unapologetic, and spews worse sentiments in Twitter tirades than I could ever come up with in a full-length blog post. His only area of consistency appears to be his contempt, even for his subordinates, one of which he seems to fire almost weekly. His only agenda is corporate profits, mostly for himself as reflected in his stubborn ignorance of the concept of conflict of interest.

The undoing of this President may be, ironically, a Congress that seems increasingly resentful his brand of my-way-or-the-highway "leadership" and unwillingness to compromise, or even work with, the legislative branch. The spectacular failure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare" to those who fail to benefit financially from it) may signal something of a congressional backlash that is likely to worsen come midterm elections. It could worsen one way or the other, of course. We who are constituents of our Representatives and Senators could continue to be robbed of our rights, perhaps in a more subtle fashion that escapes media attention, be it "fake news" outlets or alternative channels.

I do have hopes for reconciliation. The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, as is the case with most natural disasters that are indiscriminate in their targets, illustrates that we as citizens still retain a sense of community, an instinct for compassion, and the strength and will to step up and meet the most difficult of challenges, paying no mind to the differences that, in our long stretches of tranquility and comfort, ordinarily divide us. No one asks the survivor stranded on his roof what his political or religious affiliation is, or his sexual orientation, or whether he is on welfare. Only his current welfare, defined by his physical and mental state, matters.

Meanwhile, I often find my own solace in comedic relief, be it politically correct or not, from my own mind or the minds of others. Some people won't forgive me for it, and I have to accept that. I refuse to be condescending to them and can only wish the same in return. You can, of course, just ignore me altogether, refuse to participate, like our President who fancies himself as the only person capable of making America great again.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Guest Post By Jessa Thurman - Vegetarianism

This week I fortuitously intersected a Facebook post by Jessa Thurman, a graduate student in entomology at a university in the Pacific Northwest, and invited her to allow me to post it on this blog. Vegetarianism is socially awkward for many non-vegetarians, and this may be the best explanation I have come across yet, eloquently written and free of the contempt too many folks have for anyone with a different diet than they themselves have. I thank Jessa for letting me share this, and I hope she keeps writing.


Around 7 years ago, I stopped eating mammalian meat. At the time it wasn’t a decision made for any other reason outside of how it was making me sick. After eating beef or pork, I would feel sick to my stomach, as though the meat had become stone, and would often have to sleep for 5 to 7 hours after the pain began or just revisit what I ate. It was easy to pick out the other foods that followed this trend: mammals or ‘red meat.’ What was even simpler was the decision and action to stop eating these kinds of meat. Meat was more expensive and there were plenty of cheaper, healthier alternatives. Chicken or fish worked as one substitute if I ever needed one, and I didn’t have to give up my favorite meals. Soon I felt much better and even lost a bit of weight. I continued the diet to avoid other mammals whenever I encountered them like lamb, deer, and kangaroo, even though the last one had peaked my interest. And I followed through with this choice because it just wasn't worth how bad it made me feel.

Simply saying I was allergic to the meat or couldn’t eat it immediately calmed those who challenged my dietary choice and at the time I didn’t think much of those challenges. Once I started college and began my studies in biology however, I started considering human impact on the Earth. The majority of our agricultural land is devoted to growing livestock feed with the main feed ingredient, corn being grown on 90 million acres of land (USDA - U.S. Department of Agriculture) and according to the FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations], livestock grazing occupies 26% of Earth’s ice-free land. This translates into most habitat destruction for agriculture being driven by our high demands for meat. On top of the habitat destruction, livestock are also responsible for about 7% of total greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to global climate change (FAO). The increased frequency of dramatic climatic events like drought which has led to the recent intensity of forest fires tearing across the US or Hurricane Harvey which is currently causing floods in Texas, are all linked to global climate change. In light of these major issues, not to mention animal cruelty, my once simple decision became more philosophical. It was a small change I could make to decrease my Carbon footprint - a personal decision.

My life choice to not consume beef or pork became more of an environmental choice and I adapted it to include buying more of my groceries from local farmers and limiting my other meat consumption. All of these changes, for me, were very easy to make. The recurring problem was instead having to explain and often defend my choice to others who eat a lot of meat. Their challenges, I understand now were made more so out of defense for their meat-eating rather than malice, but I think it should be repeated that I and many other people who have made dietary or life changes, make these choices for ourselves [italics mine]. I've witnessed more intense challenges for vegetarians and vegans for their dietary changes, but why do they seem to threaten your way of life? People who make these life choices 1) are not suffering for it and 2) are not harshly judging all meat eaters. Everyone's life is different and sustainability is a goal we continuously work towards rather than a line we cross.

It’s been a long time since I made this original change and I have debated posting about it in the past because from the same critics, I feel like they perceive this dietary choice I've made is a status I want to flaunt. Instead I just want to share how and what I am doing to lessen my Carbon footprint, and this particular change is one that came easy for me. I know I am imperfect in many other ways, but I'm working on that. I assume everyone is and want it to be known that I and others like me, be they vegetarians, environmentalists or others, generally aren't 'Nazis' for the planet who glare and gossip about how you are enjoying that burger right now. So next time, please don't roll your eyes at our dietary choice or challenge our philosophical basis for making it. It's our life and we're all making different changes.


I could stand to take several lessons from this: Be less judgmental period. Eat even less red meat than I do now, and strive to eat less meat of any kind. Read more things from Jessa Thurman.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Can Instagram Make the Internet Nicer? Should it Try?

© San Pedro Sun

Last night I watched a segment on CBS's On Assignment program about how the CEO of Instagram is experimenting with the elimination of negative comments on user posts. Some critics say this is the first step down a slippery slope of censorship. Are they right? Can we collectively agree on any limitations of "free speech?"

The current target of the Instagram clean-up campaign seems to be online bullying, not quashing dissent, or opinions on the issues of our time. I find it hard to argue anyone, or any company, in the communications industry, who wants to stop enabling the abuse of the First Amendment as it applies to personal attacks. To my untrained information technology eye, it would appear easy to craft code that blocks a person's name, plus derogatory, libelous, defamatory, and hateful words, from making it online in social media. Does this stop the hate itself? Of course not, but again, social media is currently enabling those who intend to inflict emotional terror on others.

You argue that it should not be the responsibility of a media enterprise to edit and police its users. It is up to the victims of abuse to fight back. How, exactly? What if it is not in your nature to retaliate? How do you know that fighting verbal fire with fire will not escalate into physical abuse? I would argue that any tools available to diminish personal attacks on others should be deployed in the interest of a calmer public. We need more compassion, and if it has to be "imposed" through careful regulation, then so be it. Yes, those bent on abusing others will invent new slang epithets to get around the code, but right now there is no work (or thought) involved in berating another person online.

Words and ideas that have no other intention than to do harm to another party, be it a gender identity, race, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation, or place of origin, or those with disabilities, or whatever, have no place in our social conversations. Period.

What comes next? Won't certain organizations and their public figure spokespersons be muted online and elsewhere? Will they no longer have a platform to speak from, or places to convene? Unlikely, but public pressure is growing, and the will of the People must be respected. Consensus is building and it appears that tolerance for a rhetoric of hate is diminishing rapidly.

Here in Colorado Springs, it has come to the attention of residents that the Cheyenne Mountain Resort will host a conference for VDare, a White nationalist and anti-immigrant group. The conference is still scheduled for April, 2018, but the resort is taking a beating on Facebook, Tripadvisor, and Yelp. It will be interesting to see whether the VDare conference will need to look for a new location.

Right now we at are a collective low point of name-calling, inflammatory speech, and violent protest and counter-counter protest as the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia blatantly demonstrated. This cannot be classified as "free speech," certainly not as our forefathers intended it, and arguably not by any measure. Words and ideas that have no other intention than to do harm to another party, be it a gender identity, race, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation, or place of origin, or those with disabilities, or whatever, have no place in our social conversations. Period. Personally, I find it distasteful even coming from a stand-up comic.

When your goal, through your words and actions, is to deny civil rights to another class of human beings, then you are forfeiting your own right to free speech and, by extension, all the rights you are seeking to deprive others of.

I would not have expected Instagram to be a leader in a social revolution trending toward a more loving, or at least hospitable, online dialogue. After all, it is a huge financial gamble for a company to make such policy changes, at the risk of alienating a large segment of its users, as well as its shareholders. It remains to be seen whether a backlash will cause the company to retreat toward the status quo. Still, I applaud them for doing something to protect the most vulnerable among us. Meanwhile, we should each take up our own proverbial sword and shield and love gun, and start leading by example ourselves. We don't have to wait for others to do so.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Can You Live Too Long?

© Shutterstock.com

Earlier this week my father turned ninety-two. At least, we're pretty sure, when you get over ninety it is easy to lose track. There was really no celebrating, at least not with me here in Colorado and him in Washington state. It got me thinking again about whether an extended lifespan is really a good thing.

Almost a year ago now, my father sold his house and went into an assisted living facility, initially in the most independent wing. One broken hip later and he was forced into a more "managed care" wing that took away his independence. He hasn't been the same since. He had fallen in the parking garage while trying to get into his vehicle to go renew his driver's license. The outcome of having him off the road is probably a good thing, but I wouldn't tell him that. He has always been an excellent driver, but at his advanced age, anybody is going to be slower to react to traffic situations.

Dad calls his new home "assisted dying," and I find it hard to argue with that. In their defense, such facilities cannot do much for someone in relatively good health, but with reduced mobility. The best they can do is wake me up at one in the morning to tell me he has fallen again, and refuses to go to the hospital. I'm not at my most reasonable at that hour, and if he is lucid enough to comply with response protocol, then he can make his own damn decisions as far as I'm concerned. He's paying seven grand a month to live there, he ought to have some say in his care. That reminds me, I need to get a better itemized account from them.

Truth be told, my father's welfare began to decline after his second wife passed away, rapidly, from cancer, in July, 2006. Like me, he has never been that successful when left to his own devices. Our genetics have probably managed to get us this far in spite of our lifestyle. My father's coping mechanisms have always been anger and alcohol, and I have had to unlearn a good deal in order to get through my own days, and become the most minimally desirable spouse. At least I can articulate my emotions most of the time, something his generation never learned to do.

Ironically, our phone conversations are much more peaceful now. This is mostly due to his difficulty in hearing and, even more to the point, his resignation. He tells me not to worry, he has had a good life, and he is happy to go to sleep permanently whenever that happens. We still worry he might try and hasten that final goodbye, so his firearm is safely locked away; and we do what we can to prevent enablers from furnishing alcohol, though that has been impossible so far.

My father's business, for most of the time I was part of his life, was making custom jewelry, and I can say without bias that his designs were ahead of their time, exquisite in attention to detail, and worthy of every penny he charged for his creations. His skill extended to woodworking and model-building, too. Unfortunately, his current accommodations do not provide ample room to execute anything artistic, and it is probably best that he does not have access to sharp objects anyway. What is left, then? He has no interest in computers or the internet, like many of his era, and in some ways I envy that; but it means that he has fewer things to distract himself from tedium.

At his age, my father really has seen it all, or at least all that he wants to, and I find it excruciating that there is no socially acceptable exit for folks who have no joy in living this long. I would think that by ninety or so you would have earned the right to decide when you have had enough. Heck, here I am at over fifty-five, and I am already not liking what is on my horizon. All the benefits one has traditionally gotten as they age are either being taken away, or the age limit increased, forever putting senior discounts and other privileges just beyond one's reach. For shame! Where are my incentives to go on living?

I do hope that my father passes peacefully, without undo pain and suffering, even if he inflicted that on my mother, and myself in my childhood. I've no more animosity towards him, though I still have my truths about him, many of which are not pleasant. As a culture, though, we have a long way to go to make life worth living for our elderly. They are more than a revenue stream for care facilities, for pharmaceutical companies, and investment firms. They are living history, tangible wisdom, and our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. They deserve better.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Through

I can see you through the knothole
Playing behind the fence,
But what a great big world you're missing.
Of the pain and agony of war you do not know,
And the joy of freedom you can only guess.
Your world is the sandbox and the jungle gym,
And your innocence is enviable.

I can see you through the chain link screen,
Playing baseball behind the backstop,
And what a great big outfield before you.
You can be anything you want to be.
Your idols are doctors, lawyers, and policemen.
So you take the pitches as they come,
And your choices are so limitless.

I can see you through the plate glass window,
Playing student in the classroom,
Giving direction to your teenage life.
Decisions to make and deadlines to meet,
And rules to break and friends to greet.
Life leaves you hanging in doubt and hesitation,
And your attitudes are so rebellious.

I can see you through the one-way mirror,
Standing in front of the scale.
Finger-printing and posting bail
Are routines you are not accustomed to.
Who will you dial with your single phone call?
You have decisions to make in hallowed halls,
And your innocence is questionable.

I can see you through the spaces between the iron,
Playing cards behind the bars.
But what a small world you are locked into.
Of the pain and agony of prison you have a clue,
But of the joy of freedom you can only guess.
Your enemies are doctors, lawyers, and policemen,
And your choices are so limited.

I can see you through my tearful eyes
Lying in the open casket,
But what a great big world you left behind.
You could have been anything you wanted to.
So you took the pitches as they came,
And life left you hanging in doubt and hesitation,
And judgment of your innocence is out of our hands.

© Eric R. Eaton, circa 1981

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Parents These Days

© Kitchenette.Jezebel.com

There was a time that I thought I hated dogs. Then I realized that what I really don't like are some dog owners. I am beginning to think the same about children. Kids these days? No, more like parents these days.

Earlier this evening I had an exchange with a neighbor whose children, and their friend were running around outside our townhouse complex shrieking and screaming. This happens almost every day, and some days I am less tolerant than others. I opened my front door and said "Can you please stop shrieking?" It was then I noticed a father figure on the porch of a unit in an opposite building. He said "They're kids. It is before ten o'clock [PM], so no, I won't tell them to be quiet."

I closed the door, unable to think of a retort, and worried that the confrontation could escalate. A short while later our doorbell rang, and after a short debate with my wife, went down to answer. The young father was walking away when I opened the door, but returned to give me a piece of his mind. He had a cigarette in one hand and gestured with the other. At least he looked me in the eye while making excuses for why he let his children run around playing loudly.

"The outdoors is where kids are supposed to let out their energy," he explained. "Kids are supposed to be quiet indoors." Ah, I see, the old children should be seen and not heard in his house, but out in public there is a different standard. "Why don't you take them to a park?" I asked. I cannot recall his answer for that. It was something like "Why should I?" "I pay rent here, same as you" he stated, as if that gave him the right for his family to behave any way they see fit. "Telling my kids to be quiet? I'm not cool with that," he went on. "I'm not cool with not having my opinion respected" I replied, more or less.

Our townhouse buildings are two stories tall, and arranged with only a sidewalk and very narrow strips of lawn on either side. I explained that sound is amplified by that kind of close architecture. He was not impressed and told me to close my windows. I refrained from giving the obvious answer, which is that this is impractical when the temperature is well over 80° Fahrenheit. Despite insulation, it still gets stifling if we don't have the windows open and a fan or two going. Further, our buildings are not soundproof, so closing the windows at most muffles outside noise.

What I really object to, of course, is that this gentleman, and I use the word loosely for this twenty-five year old father, has no respect for others and no interest in teaching his kids to be respectful, either. He said I could file a noise complaint against him, like his other neighbors had apparently done, and I told him that I would rather not have an antagonistic relationship with my neighbors. He ended our conversation by saying that it was "like talking to a brick wall, then," and I muttered "same here, apparently" as I turned and closed the door," perfectly appalled by his utter disregard for his neighbors. Now I live a bit more fearfully not knowing whether he has weapons he is willing to use, or a mind that dwells on retribution and aggressive tactics.

So, kids will be kids, you say. That is what irresponsible parents say. He probably had a permissive or ill-equipped father himself, and he knows no other way. Neither does he want to bother learning proper parenting skills. I have little tolerance for that. I do not like women with "toy" dogs they pamper and carry around in their purse to enhance their snobbish and snooty personality. Neither do I like macho men with large, aggressive canines that reflect their own hostile ego and warped sense of masculinity.

I have decided I also do not like parents who raise spoiled brats with an undo sense of entitlement; and parents who abdicate their role in teaching their children how to be grown-ups, so that when they come of age they have proper respect for others, and not so self-centered and uncaring as to become a drain on society instead of a force for good will. I remember when parents were embarrassed by their child's bad behavior because it reflected badly on them. Now they defend their kid's bad behavior. You know that village that it takes to raise a child? I am that village, and I will call you out.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Driving? Then Just Drive

© Autobidmaster.com
My wreck was not this bad, but still....

I was going to write about this even before my minor one-car accident, but that event just served to drive the lesson home in a most painful way. When you are behind the wheel, the only thing you should be doing is driving. Nothing else. Absolutely zero distractions period. I drove our 2002 Saturn SL into a rocky ditch at about twelve miles per hour because I was fiddling with the air conditioning buttons. I was lucky. I almost rolled it, but didn't panic and gently maneuvered back onto the roadway. Still, the car suffered enough damage to alignment that it would have been over $3,500 to get it repaired; and that did not include both right side doors. No injuries, just a bruised ego, but I can write-off the rest of my summer now as the car is totaled.

I am never that guy. Ever. I don't eat or drink while my vehicle is moving. Heck, lately I don't even have the radio on. I certainly don't text, or even answer my cell unless I am parked or at a stop light. I don't put on make-up or comb my hair (what little is left of it, getting grayer by the second after this incident). My full attention is on the road in front of me, with occasional glances in the rear view mirror. I drive defensively, fully anticipating that every other vehicle around me is driven by a maniac, idiot, or simply oblivious operator. I leave plenty of space between myself and the car ahead, stop well behind them at intersections, and always use my turn signal. I do everything in my power to insure my safety, and the safety of others. Except on Thursday, June 27.

I was in Cheyenne Mountain State Park, making my rounds of the restroom buildings in search of moths attracted to the lights the night before. The day was heating up quickly, and my last stop was at the bottom of a steep, winding road into one of the campgrounds. On the way back out, I decided to turn on the A/C. It did not feel like any improvement, so as I crept back up the road at no more than the designated fifteen mile per hour speed limit, I looked down to see what buttons might make a nice breeze happen. Looking back up it was already too late. The car had missed the curve and over the embankment I went. Camera, cooler, and backpack all went tumbling against the right passenger doors. There was the sound of crunching plastic as the exterior of the doors cracked, and an unsettling scraping sound as the undercarriage skipped over the large rocks in the ditch.

I got the car back to a parking lot and made an inspection. The passenger doors looked really ugly, but aside from some scratches underneath, things seemed remarkably ok. I was not even leaking any fluids. It did become apparent that something was dreadfully wrong as I drove out of the park, though. The car, left to its own devices, swerved to the right. Hard.

My wife accompanied me to the mechanics she has trusted the car to before I inherited it, and we got the results of their assessment the next morning. It would take more than our free lifetime realignment guarantee to get the car driving straight again. Several bent parts quickly escalated repair costs into the stratosphere. We simply don't have that kind of money to throw at an elderly automobile. It appears we will manage a whopping $150 for it at the local wrecking yard. There is not enough metal in it to warrant a bigger payout.

Let's get back to the moral of the story: Any kind of distraction while operating a motor vehicle can kill you, literally or financially. It can kill other people. It can shake your confidence to its core. There is no possible way there can be a good outcome from multitasking on the road. Something, or someone, is going to suffer, probably permanently. You are using up your nine lives every time you attempt to do anything other than look at the asphalt and other vehicles and pedestrians and bicyclists and motorcyclists and wildlife and stray pets and traffic signs and signals and....You get the picture. It is crazy out there in traffic, and even when there is no traffic. You have to assume something could go wrong at any time and be prepared to act in a preventive fashion. You cannot do that if you are having a phone conversation, taking a bite out of your burger, or even turning to look at your passenger. Eyes on the road. Please, I'm begging. Don't be like me on June 27.