Sunday, January 14, 2018

Toward Better Gender Relations


I got up later than I wanted to this morning and so turned on CBS's Sunday Morning in the middle of Oprah Winfrey's discussion with an informal panel of other celebrity women talking about the "me, too" movement and related issues. Men seem to be taking a beating these days, but we tend to be dense, and it will take more blunt dialogue to get it through our thick skulls that we must modify not only our behavior towards women, but our entire mindset when it comes to gender relations reform.

Tracee Ellis Ross said something in that roundtable that really got my attention, but I fear it was lost on a lot of people listening. The crux of her comment was basically that men no longer get to define women, as individuals or a group, in any way. Men do not get to define a woman's mood ("Smile, smile!"), her purpose (catering to men?), and definitely not her place in society (quiet and demure).

We have, unwittingly, perhaps, treated women in the same manner that we have treated non-Caucasian races and ethnic groups. We have given them "permission" to fulfill certain roles and then become hostile when they resist or get "uppity" and create their own roles, the ones they truly desire and are usually the most qualified for. Blacks, for example, are embraced as long as they entertain us on the stage, screen, athletic field, court, or arena, or otherwise perform for us Whites. They cease to be human, but are products instead, though we would never frame it that way in polite conversation.

Women are right, the time for polite conversation is up. Time for some hard lessons. I know I could stand a vastly better education myself. Women are realizing they no longer have to answer to men, to be subservient, settle for less than they are worth, or settle for less than they are capable of achieving. They are not obliged to modify their bodies or emotions for the benefit of men. They have been tolerant to the point of boiling over. Many still struggle with conflicting emotions of assertiveness and "not wanting to rock the boat." That only points to how blessedly empathetic they are. God knows we could use more of that.

Women have allowed men to deny them not only opportunities for advancement in every conceivable context, but they have bent over backwards to please us. The karma chiropractor of the "me, too" movement has been long overdue. I find myself oddly relieved by it. Maybe I don't have to pretend to be macho anymore; but I also have to confront my own attitudes, impulses, and instincts and overcome them or refine them. The scientist in me understands that human beings are still animals, and we have a long history of "base" relations to the opposite gender. Those biological imperatives are not overcome overnight. However, that our species has advanced as far as it has in other aspects of the "logical" gives me hope that the "bio" will become less of a defining element in reaching a more equal and enduring pinnacle of social evolution.

So what if the "natural order" of things is toppled, or even turned on its head? It would be a small price to pay in the short run, with massive benefits in the long term. Gender relations as expressed in the "me, too" movement are very much akin to the civil rights movement. Indeed, emphasis should be on civility as extended to all human beings regardless of any other personal attributes.

Women have a dream for equality in every regard and they are entitled to it. To paraphrase the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., they long for the day when they, and their female descendants, will live in a nation where they will be judged not by the size of their booty, the content of their wardrobe closet, their decisions about childbirth, or whether they want to be housewives or entrepreneurs, but by the way they treat themselves and others in meaningful ways. Note the emphasis on intangible qualities, made evident through positive actions. The women I know already lead that kind of life of mutual respect and dignity and assertiveness. It is a model of true leadership that both women and men should strive to attain.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Privileged Whites

White privilege undeniably drives racism in the U.S., but reverse those two words and you have the root of what cripples us all: Privileged Whites. Are all wealthy Caucasians villains in our society? No, but it is the few who are greediest and most corrupt that have captured power. The solution is to recognize their tools and strategies and then refuse to participate in their games.

One could argue that the concept of privileged Whites could be narrowed further to privileged White men. The fraction of excessively wealthy women who lack empathy for the less fortunate are simply subscribing to the model set forth by their male counterparts. It is an unfortunate perversion of feminism that suggests that if women are to succeed in a male-dominated world, then they must act like men, stripping themselves of compassion in the ruthless pursuit of material wealth.

Misguided Aspirations

The best way to combat the wealth gap, and general divisiveness in America, is to stop aspiring to excessive material affluence. Period. Refuse to compete with others. Meet your needs, live within your means, share with others what you have in goods, services, and experiences. Reject the temptation of credit, loans, and other financial products and services designed to mask the reality that we are a debt class instead of a Middle Class. Stop consuming media that feeds impulsive purchases, erodes your self-esteem, and presents a skewed reality (if not fantasy). You are not a product yourself, so stop treating yourself that way. Stop mindlessly subscribing to the idea that it is your responsibility to fulfill the obligations of others, outside of children, the elderly, and the ill. Periodic indulgences are fine, but you may find yourself in a healthier frame of mind by downsizing the number of products you already own. It is not your responsibility to line the pockets of corporate shareholders and CEOs, but that is largely what you are doing when you patronize purely commercial companies. Shop local. Support local agriculture. Heck, grow your own vegetable garden.

Feeding the Machine

We are constantly bombarded with advertising that reminds us we are unfulfilled, and essentially worthless without [insert product or service here]. Furthermore, we should strive to be more like this celebrity, this athlete, this successful businessman or businesswoman. We should at least dress the part with the latest fashions, beauty treatments, suggested occupations, and other lifestyle upgrades. It is more important to be seen as having substance rather than actually having intangible qualities like empathy, a work ethic, and compassion.

Government regulations at every level discourage self-sufficiency, like replacing your lawn with a vegetable garden, while encouraging dependence on corporate solutions, like lawn care products and services. We claim that "charity begins at home," but the tax code will not give you a deduction for helping a relative unless they live with you. Try going off the grid and see how long it is before you get harassed by local utility interests. We are thwarted at every turn when we seek to take control of our lives in healthy ways, so that the wheels of multinational corporations can keep running us over. No conspiracy theory necessary, just turn on the television and see for yourself.

What We are "Allowed"

While the media defines for us what it means to be successful, we are constantly deprived of avenues for achieving that success. Again, I am speaking of financial success, which is of questionable value in itself, but hear me out. We are not guaranteed a living wage, having to settle for a minimum wage instead, which frequently does not keep up with the cost of living. The Federal Reserve has not made saving money possible for several decades because it refuses to raise interest rates, playing on our fears of inflation. Meanwhile, a lower interest rate encourages borrowing, which plunges us further into personal debt.

What we are allowed to do to make up personal financial deficits is paltry, risky, and unhealthy for ourselves and society. We can take a second or third job, further depriving us of lives outside of work. We can play the lottery, patronize the casino, borrow money, get yet another credit card (see borrowing money), or file lawsuits. Seriously, the proliferation of lawsuits would largely cease if people did not feel that they were already owed something. The lack of a living wage incites feelings of inadequacy that people believe can be quenched through lawsuits. "I am entitled to more, to better!" Indeed they are, but through fair pay for their work, which continues to be undervalued. We are enslaved in an economic sense, insidiously, such that we are cleverly duped. It should be no less intolerable than physical slavery, or the continuing exploitation of Native Americans through "legal" theft every time their casinos make a killing or oil or gas is discovered on their lands. We are owned by corporations, make no mistake about it, but we allow ourselves to be.

Drop Out, Engage, Promote Alternatives

Personally, I all but abstain from the economy. I freelance, which is a punishing way to try and earn a living, but less so than working at a job I disdain, with people I abhor, just to make money. Consequently, I have little to spend. What I earn goes to my monthly share of the groceries, meals out, my cell phone bill (a pay-as-you-go plan), my share of automobile fuel costs, clothing from thrift stores, shoes about every two or three years, and occasional travel. That is about it. I have essentially dropped out of the material world. What has increased is my level of civic and social engagement, both online and in person. It is through social interactions that I learn what about alternative consumer choices other people are making to overcome the obstacles and injustices they face, or that our society faces. This month, one friend is attempting a Plastic-Free January, going out of her way to avoid using plastics, especially disposable versions like cups, drinking straws, and packaging. Our household is on board and looking to be even more critical of how our buying and lifestyle habits affect others and the environment.

We have to demand better, not more. We are entitled to basic standards of living and decency for all before we can look to add luxuries. The very things that do make America great are under assault right now. They include our spirit of helping others, respect for each other, and unity in achieving common goals. We no longer have the luxury, as if we ever have, to discriminate, spew hate speech, and attempt to destroy the lives of others we may disagree with. We lose our sense of community, and we lose everything. Privileged Whites are banking on that.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

"Chasing" Owls, and Saying What You Mean

Social media is nothing if not a lightning rod for raging arguments and polarizing opinions. Take for example a frenzy of commentary that erupted last week when the administrator of a wildlife photography group on Facebook announced that no one would be permitted to disclose the geographic location of any image taken of any animal species posted to the group. I had intended to include quotes from some of the replies to that post, but I have always been much more interested in what remains unspoken, and the motivations behind a person's stance on any topic.

Snowy Owl, El Paso County, Colorado
© Heidi Eaton 2010

The directive from the wildlife photographer's Facebook group stemmed from the throngs of people pursuing Snowy Owls that have strayed far south of their normal range and are showing up even in Kansas this winter. Each spotting ignites the bird equivalent of what one might call Princess Diana Syndrome. Hordes of camera- and phone-wielding citizens descend upon the place the bird was reported from. Many people are protesting that crowds are endangering the owls, causing them to expend energy in fleeing instead of hunting rodents. That may be true, but what constitutes harassment of wildlife is debatable. Maybe the people complaining just don't like crowds themselves. The point is that the public conversation is always the tip of the iceberg.

I have my theories. Given what is happening in the natural range of the Snowy Owl, I can understand wildlife professionals and enthusiasts wanting to limit impacts on individual birds. Between climate change, and the U.S. actively seeking to drill for oil in what are now protected Arctic refuges, it may be a matter of decades before the Snowy Owl goes extinct and no one has the privilege of seeing one, anywhere. The interesting thing is that few, if any, advocates for the "rogue" owls in the lower forty-eight are making this point.

You may have legitimate concerns, but claiming to speak on behalf of another species is usually done to avoid speaking selfishly, though selfishness is not a crime. Dishonesty is a crime, and that is the kind of dialogue we have with each other daily, on almost every issue whether personal or public. We fail to speak frankly. That dishonesty leaves the recipient on the other end free to make wild assumptions about your motives.

Assigning the proper location to a specimen, be it the actual organism or an image of it, is standard for the scientific community. Each data point is crucial to our understanding of distribution, behavior, and other aspects of a species. Not including that information could be construed as you having no interest in science, or furthering our collective knowledge in a era when one could argue there is a war on science.

Posting an image and then not disclosing the location can be interpreted as "I got my photo, but I'm not helping you get yours." It is an attitude of smugness and snobbery that you probably never intended, but because you did not honestly explain your motivations, we are free to make assumptions about your character.

Then there is flat-out irony. By driving any distance to see a Snowy Owl, or any other organism, you burned fossil fuels directly or indirectly, and may even have killed some other animal on the road along the way (insects at the very least). One could argue that the process used to get your image is part of the problem. You have added to the demand for fuel that is driving the encroachment into Arctic habitat. Your vehicle's exhaust is adding pollutants that are hastening global warming. The people that don't chase might claim the higher moral ground in this scenario.

We may have to come to peace with not getting "our" shot, our own personal trophy. Instead, maybe we should explore closer to home. In my Bug Eric blog I talk all the time about the potential for discovery in one's own backyard, or neighborhood. You can make a big splash with little if any negative impact. You can find something never seen before in your city, county, or state. You can observe behaviors previously unknown.

Most of all, in your speech and actions, strive to be honest no matter how selfish, strange, or surprising it sounds. It will be refreshing, and maybe it will catch on. Who knows, maybe even members of Congress will have the courage to speak truthfully. No, I'm not holding my breath.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

All I Want For Christmas Is....Less


It occurs to me, as the holidays approach ever closer, that material things mean less and less to me, and the appeal of "presents" under the Christmas tree is virtually non-existent. I am not about to rob anyone of the joy of giving, and receiving, but my personal reflection goes to what I could do without, from actual objects and conditions to intangibles. Food for thought, anyway.

Less stress would be nice. In fact, I bet a great number of us would trade the latest techno-gadget for relief from credit card debt, student loan payments, workplace politics, family drama, the daily commute, and an infinite list of other stress-inducers. Instead, the holidays seem to compact all our stresses into one neat, unbearable bundle, don't they? My personal belief is that on occasion at least, we need to avoid stress. Maybe that means spending Christmas and New Year's with friends instead of relatives. Maybe it means politely requesting that you don't exchange gifts this year, at least not the adults. Lower that burden on your charge card a little.

Less stuff would be helpful. I have so much clutter that I cannot even find a lot of what I own. How did that happen? Luckily, I barely have an income, so I am not accruing much in the way of new material these days. The problem is that I cannot seem to unload most of my existing possessions in exchange for even a little bit of money. I do not mind donating. I did that with my insect collection, do that with clothes, used electronics....but c'mon, I need to not be on the short end every time. Ah, well, there I go complaining again.

Let me think outside the box of "me" for the rest of my space in this post. Ah, less urban sprawl would be wonderful. We don't have to develop every single acre of land, or annex every suburb. We can rebuild it, make it better than it was, stronger, faster,....wait, that was the premise of The Six Million Dollar Man. It still applies to cities, though, including the one I am living in that seems to despise the idea that land use planning and "infill" are viable options. Gas, food, and lodging at the interstate exit seems to be an excuse to build an entirely new city these days. Enough.

Less government interference. Wait, wh-a-a-a-a-t?! This is coming from me, a certified "Liberal?" Who are you, and what have you done with the real Eric Eaton? Hey, if "Conservatives" have accomplished anything in the last year, it is to convince us that they were right all along: government is too intrusive, and clearly represents no one but special interests. The only problem is that too many Republicans are still blind to this reality; and they hold fast to the idea that pro life, gun rights, the "War on Christmas," and other far-right agendas are real issues and not the invention of their political party. We do have a common foe: class warfare. It is not "fake news." Ignore it at your peril, unless you are one of the "one percent."

Fewer natural disasters, please. Sigh. As I write this, wildfires are still raging in California, and we are experiencing severe drought in other parts of North America as well. We've been belted by hurricanes, inundated with floods, and scientists suspect this is just the beginning in terms of a geologic timeline. That's alright say the short-sighted economists, who beg and plead for the abolishment of environmental regulations that are all that stand between us and a climate apocalypse by what amounts to tomorrow (on a geologic timeline). Everything is expendable if it means infinite short-term profits for corporations, their CEOS, and shareholders. I know, I've said that before, but it bears repeating. Daily.

What do we do? We do less shopping. We share stuff instead. We do more donating to charities, thrift stores, and organizations that understand what is at stake and that fight tooth-and-nail to protect your rights as a U.S. citizen, member of the workforce, consumer, and citizen of planet Earth. We grow our own food where possible. We eat smaller portions. We stop "coping" by using alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and other substances. We take our clear heads and focus. We love each other. We stop living in fear. We do with less because we can.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Book Review: Wait Till it Gets Dark

The subtitle of this wonderful 2017 book is "A Kid's Guide to Exploring the Night," but parents, naturalists, camp counselors, and other adults will find it a captivating read; and it is full of activities designed to enthrall children of all ages. This book is a perfect vehicle for leaving no child indoors, no matter where you live.

Wife and husband authors Anita Sanchez and George Steele, with the help of illustrator John Himmelman, examine life after dark through the heightened senses of a variety of non-human animals. The writers invite the reader to become the eyes of an owl, ears of a frog, nose of a deer, and so forth, chapter by chapter. We are invited to embrace our own animal-ness and train our senses and faculties to become more acute. It is an ingenious strategy for any book about natural history.

The layout of the book is occasionally difficult in that one never knows whether to continue from one page to the next and then go back to read the "You Can Do It" activity box, or stay on the page and then pick up the storyline after reading about the activity. This minor drawback does nothing to compromise the quality of the text and illustrations; and there are few other bones to pick at all.

What does perplex me is the chapter "A Tongue Like a Gila Monster." Nowhere does it mention that this is a venomous lizard, not to be approached or handled. That this warning is absent when the text is discussing organs inside the mouth of the reptile strikes me as not just an oversight, but highly irresponsible.

One other thing I would appreciate clarification about is the chapter on the ability of many animals to perceive and utilize the Earth's magnetic field with "The Mysterious Sixth Sense." When mention is made that perhaps human beings may have a latent ability to relate to the magnetic field, this becomes "A Seventh Sense?" Considering that Homo sapiens is also an animal, I fail to see the distinction.

Again, these are rather minor quibbles considering that this is otherwise an excellent 60-pages of exciting natural history observation and exercises. The back matter talks about the need to preserve true darkness, general safety precautions when doing the activities, and citizen science projects that the whole family can participate in. There is a glossary (omits defining GPS, though), and valuable bibliography to conclude.

Wait Till it Gets Dark would make an outstanding holiday gift to any young naturalist in your life, or anyone who works with children in an outdoor setting. I can hardly wait for the next book by Sanchez and Steele, courtesy of muddy boots™, an imprint of Globe Pequot publishing.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

What Now?!


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


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.