Sunday, August 18, 2019

(Almost) Remembering Woodstock

Please understand that I was only eight years old when this most celebrated of American concerts took place in rural New York state. That is why I barely remember it, not because I was there, dropping acid....Can art be the answer to civil unrest? That is one question worth thinking about today on the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.

© Belcourt.org

I sometimes lament that I was not "of age" back in the days of the Vietnam War protests, the beginnings of the environmental movement, and other great shifts in our society. Yes, I recognize that Woodstock is either highly romanticized, or vilified for the grossly unsanitary conditions and rampant drug use, pubic sex, etc. Somewhere in the middle lies the truth, and without interviewing every single spectator and participant it is unlikely we will ever get the full, accurate picture.

In the absence of social media, Woodstock represents a truly profound event, one born out of alternative print and radio media, word-of-mouth, and a longing for validation of one's anti-establishment sentiments. The commitment to attending must have been staggering in view of social and logistical obstacles. It may be the shining pinnacle of rock-and-roll music, too, validating the genre as a tool for culture change, encouraging collaborations, and energizing youth. To say that the concert set the stage for a generational metamorphosis might be an understatement....or an overstatement.

I imagine that upon arrival in that farm field, many were overwhelmed to find so many others, from far-flung points of origin, sharing their anxiety over the war, pollution, and other pressing problems. It took mobilization to get people there, and the event itself was an engine that catalyzed further action. It was both an opportunity to relax, take a breath, celebrate life, and also comprehend the magnitude of the issues before our country.

It had to be a comfort and relief to be surrounded by those of like mind, with a unity of purpose. Where are those opportunities today? The answer in this digital age is that they are mostly virtual. Those who attend marches and other public demonstrations and protests are proxies for a vastly larger village. Not everyone can afford an airline ticket (or even a bus ticket) to Washington, DC to participate in person. Some, perhaps many, fear that they would be met with hostile opposition from those who violently endorse continued racism, the proliferation of personal weapons of mass destruction, and other issues that continue to erode the fabric of our society.

Would it help to have a new version of Woodstock (not a lame reunion event) today? Is art the answer to our divide? Few performers, I wager, would take the risk that those musicians of the late 1960s did. Record producers were "the establishment," and in many ways still are. They answer to wealthy investors like any other corporation, and you rock that boat at the risk of being blacklisted. Furthermore, there are few high profile voices today that carry enough impact. Pink and Lady Gaga carry the torch for the disenfranchised, but at a deeply personal level, the level of intimate relationships be they familial or otherwise. They express lyrically an intolerance for abusive relationships, not the abuse of entire races, immigrants, and other categories of humanity. Where are the likes of Joni Mitchell?

The view from here, behind my computer monitor and keyboard, is one of utter frustration. Our inertia has us isolated physically, connected virtually, and strung out in terms of the issues that captivate us. It is an overwhelming prospect to muster the energy to break out of normal routines, to risk shaming, insults, loss of friendships, and exile in pursuit of what we know is right and just. The thing is, we don't consider the prospect of what the audience at Woodstock must have embraced: a new community, shared experiences, renewed energy, and personal validation. Peace out.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Of Science and Reverance

Last night I stumbled upon the documentary Inventing Tomorrow, directed by Laura Nix, on our local PBS (Public Broadcasting System) here in Colorado Springs. One of the things that struck me about these young women and men was how much they are motivated by reverence for nature and human history. I found the cultures these students live in to be a welcome, but stark, contrast to the culture and society American children are raised in. Science has informed their emotional attachment to nature, amplified their ability to empathize, and offered them real hope for a brighter future, one they can create.

© Quotation.io

Here in the U.S., children barely connect with their elders, let alone respect them. In many other cultures, several generations reside under one roof, or live next door, or no more than a few blocks away, the better to teach their children and grandchildren well. Personal stories are a powerful source of inspiration and action when told to children. Do we relate our own experiences to our children these days, or do we fear embarrassment, or risk empowering our youth to try daring things like peace marches, or poetry? Do we invite our children to sacrifice instead of feeling entitled to material things? Most children who excel have families that go above and beyond mere support. Fathers and mothers may leave jobs or drive their child for hours to participate in activities or meet with a mentor. Sometimes entire families uproot to be in a location that is optimal for the next step in the child's path to greatness.

While the family is usually at the core of a child's developing sense of values, the community, the "village," is also important. Surrounding a child with influential people outside the familial circle further expands the child's realm of experience and knowledge. This happens routinely in non-American cultures, and it once happened here in the U.S., too, but today we are told that every adult is a stranger, a potential pedophile, rapist, scam artist, or other devious criminal. We assume the worst now, and trust no one. We fear that sending the gifted child to university prematurely will forever stunt their growth in the social sense.....

Religion should be working in concert with science to develop young minds. Science can show what is possible. Religion, ideally, creates the bedrock of reverence for creation and cautions against a completely dispassionate approach to research, especially in the biological sciences. That is not what is happening in American Christianity. Extreme conservatism has put itself at direct odds with scientific advancement, even questioning practices like immunization inoculations that have protected humanity from illness and disease for decades (centuries in some cases).

One could argue that the religious practices of indigenous peoples reflect a much greater reverence for the natural world, but Christianity has dismissed such belief systems as "paganism," seeking to convert other cultures at every possible opportunity. Missionary programs offer poverty relief, but with the strings of Jesus attached. Meanwhile, Christianity pays lip service to a reverence for creation, even when it could claim that Noah was the first wildlife conservationist. Prayer is the only action needed to save the world, while you continue your over-consumptive lifestyle.

I have personally exposed myself to both science and religion, and found that science creates a greater reverence for the natural world. It does at times demand a detachment from your (research) subject that I find distasteful, sometimes outright wrong, but it is generally a far less judgmental community, and getting better by the day. It does not retreat into outdated doctrines that have proved toxic to scientific progress, impeded the advancement of women, and suppressed minorities. It is embracing the entire spectrum of gender identity, and continues to welcome immigrants who bring new insights, skills, strategies, and vision in meeting the challenges of the future.

In short, science is what religion should be. Go ahead and pray, it cannot hurt, but please stop wasting energy attacking science. The two should complement each other, not antagonize one another. Practice restraint in your lifestyle, be conservative in your carbon footprint, and joyful in your celebration of all things wild and free. Feed your curiosity, fascination, and sense of wonder. Support your local science fair, as well as the vacation Bible school bake sale.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Chasing Money

At this particular moment in time, I am secure enough in the fiscal sense that I do not need to chase projects for the money. That has not always been the case, and it will surely be a fleeting sense of relief. The welcome respite gives me pause in another way, more restless and disturbing than gratifying. It calls into question the idea that money should be a motivator, that everything be framed in the sense of income and expenditures.

© BayAreaDigitalSolutions.com

The constant implication in our lives is that we have a responsibility to earn an income, a responsibility to spend it and invest it to keep the economy going, and that taxation is the villain that keeps us from fully realizing our financial potential. Those directives come from those already wealthy, who attained their power by hoarding money. We think that money is the matrix that holds our lives together, and we need to free our minds of that foolish belief.

We think that money is the matrix that holds our lives together, and we need to free our minds of that foolish belief.

The only currency of any relevance and importance is energy. Some may equate energy with love, or some other emotion or notion, but what I am talking about is metabolic energy. That is the currency of living ecosystems, and it flows freely among all organisms. There is minimal banking of metabolic energy. Plant tubers might be one example. Bears putting on fat for the winter is another. These situations are the minority, though. Energy usually passes quickly through the food web.

Economies can be viewed as redundant and inefficient ecosystems in which every niche is filled by only one species: Homo sapiens. Energy flow is disrupted as some individuals hoard money instead of releasing it to continue flowing to other niches. Nature is strict in its demand that energy flow.

Perhaps the worst aspect of money is that it has allowed us to assign arbitrary value to everything. "Precious" metals and stones are precious only because we say they are. There is a fine line between priceless and worthless. Arguably, they are two sides of the same coin. The lives of other species are priceless until we decide that the monetary value of the land they occupy can be increased by developing a shopping center....and we arbitrarily decided what the land was worth to begin with.

Money limits our creativity because we think only in terms of how we will benefit financially. We dismiss important endeavors before they get off the ground because [whining] "that's too costly," or "we can't make any money doing that." A cost-benefit analysis too often destroys potentially great achievements.

Money also actively encourages the invention of unnecessary products and services. The marketplace is full of disposable goods, mass-produced decorative objects, and all manner of substances passing themselves off as food and drink that are destructive to our individual and collective health. We are all children in the face of advertising, so easily convinced that we cannot live without a given item. Money fuels the conflict that filmmaker Ken Burns describes as the "I want versus we need."

Money allows us to judge one another not by the content of our character, but by the sum of our bank accounts, to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Wealthism should be as repulsive as racism, but instead we collectively aspire to be financially excessive. More importantly, we want to exclude others from our sense of entitlement and privilege. We want a very tangible expression of our success, but ironically define success by tangible expression. We never arrive in this scenario. It is the treadmill of status, nothing more. It is a process that erodes society instead of elevating it.

We can no longer afford (and I use that word deliberately) to allow ourselves to be conditioned to believe that money is a limiting or freeing element of our society. What is priceless? Empathy. Respect. Honesty. Patience. Persistence. Volunteerism. Be examples of those things. Add to that list, because it will get you thinking about what is truly value-able. Meanwhile, I challenge you to imagine a world without money. What would it look like? Could we operate more justly and more efficiently without it?

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Observing World Population Day

Today is World Population Day. What does that mean to you? What is the intention of this observance; and is it possible to reflect dispassionately but critically on what it means to have so many human beings on planet Earth?

© AskIdeas.com

It turns out that the United Nations established World Population Day in 1989, two years after the estimated landmark human population of seven billion was reached. I dare say it has remained well under the radar of the average U.S. citizen, in part because so much polarization surrounds anything to do with issues affecting population. Were it not for CBS Sunday Morning last Sunday, I would not have known this day existed, let alone that it was occurring this week.

The current UN Secretary General summarizes this year's key points in this statement: "The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is the world’s blueprint for a better future for all on a healthy planet. On World Population Day, we recognize that this mission is closely interrelated with demographic trends including population growth, ageing, migration and urbanization." Ok, first I have heard about the 2030 Agenda, too.

When many Americans hear the term "population," they internally add the word "control." Visions of a dystopian society in which the government dictates who can and cannot have children immediately clouds our vision. We even have previous historical examples, the latest being China's experiment with human reproductive....directives, shall we say. Perhaps no freedom is as valued in the U.S. as the freedom to have a family. We have fertility clinics for those facing physical impediments to reproduction. Our entire capitalist economy is based on the assumption that you will bear children that will consume goods and services throughout their lives. Certain religions place procreation at the center of their belief systems, too often with various warped results ensuing. Infringing on reproductive freedoms, or even suggesting that continued population growth is not necessarily a good thing, is met with instant and severe hostility.

Young American women face extreme social pressure to have children, this onslaught coming mostly from other women. It is a very real phenomenon that, like population, is seldom discussed. Meanwhile, economists, business leaders, and politicians whine about a labor shortage should birthrates continue to fall in the Western World. These same men fail to acknowledge that they readily outsource labor as it is, automate jobs where they can, and often refuse to grant paid maternity leave, pay a living wage, or offer health insurance.

We may struggle with these social issues, but other nations suffer poverty, in part because their populations may exceed the carrying capacity of their geographic boundaries, but also due to civil war, diseases afflicting their citizens, and myriad other factors. As much as the "developed world" lives in denial of its overly-consumptive per-capita lifestyle, it runs away at warp speed from suggesting that population is some other country's problem. Consequently, nobody talks about it, let alone takes action.

It is high time we make human population a regular topic of conversation, debate, whatever you want to call the dialogue. We must begin by having mutual respect for each other's personal decisions as far as child-bearing is concerned. Then we can go on to find agreeable standards for collective conduct and personal responsibility. It goes back to trust, that most fragile of human attributes, so endangered in our fearful society today. We have to trust the judgment of others as to what courses of action are appropriate for them given circumstances of physical and mental health, finances, spiritual subscriptions, and other factors which may be peculiar to that individual alone.

The old saying that it "takes a village to raise a child" has truth behind it, despite the cliché we consider that statement to be. The village is a global one, now. The world is watching. The universe is asking you to be kind, loving, and gentle to your fellow man. We are capable of making this work, but it takes work.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Fizzling of the Fourth of July

I have never felt less like celebrating July Fourth. The nation is a mere shadow of its former self, and it has little to do with this current presidential administration, though the White House and Congress aren't helping much. The problem is our collective lifestyle, our beliefs, and our attitudes. Frankly, we do not deserve a big party.

The official name for the holiday is Independence Day, and the fact of the matter is we have never been more dependent in our daily lives. Facebook goes down and you would think it is the apocalypse. Drop your smart phone and your digital life is over. No big deal, but we forget we are flesh and blood, heart and soul. We cannot separate our real lives from the electronic facsimile. Our avatar is who we are now. Pay no attention to the man standing physically before you.

Meanwhile, we have failed to learn skills that should be universal: cooking, basic home repairs, mending and altering clothing, balancing your checkbook, gardening. If the grid fails, if one of the four corporations responsible for food distribution goes bankrupt, we will be panic-stricken. Sheer mayhem will ensue. How is that independence, self-reliance, or even behaving reasonably, when you have abdicated your personal responsibilities and allowed yourself to become dependent on others to fill all of your needs?

At the same time we are willingly relinquishing control of our lives, we are at an all time low in our trust of other people. Businesses are out to scam us, the government is taxing us into oblivion, and criminals of one kind or another are lurking everywhere. The church is full of pedophiles, and we don't think much better of the Boy Scouts, and other historically trustworthy organizations we used to send our kids to. We have become isolated and overly dependent at the same time. Products, from guns to alcohol, and services are offered as the only solutions to our problems, when our problems stem from our paranoid minds and our lifestyle choices. You are agreeing with me because you do not see your own lifestyle choices as destructive.

Convenience is king now, and we will happily ignore all kinds of unethical business practices if it means we can get candy on the cheap, whenever we want it. Our coping skills are addictions, available twenty-four seven at the corner Walmart, or online with one keystroke. We are prisoners of our choices, unable to see healthier alternatives. We would rather Facetime than be face-to-face with each other, truly present in the moment. It is more convenient to press a key, flip a switch, turn a machine on, ask Alexa.

We are all guilty, to differing degrees, but to paint ourselves as superior to others is just another facet of the same diamond of destructive indulgence. We are nothing if not self-righteous, and we go to great lengths to reinforce it. Is my blogging a way of stroking my own ego? I would like to think not, but I should be acutely aware of the potential. We are asleep too much of the time, too preoccupied, oblivious, dismissive, willfully ignorant. Our culture is pulsive: impulsive, compulsive, repulsive.

We talk much about the kind of world we want for future generations, but I suspect that our founding fathers would barely recognize the United States. Do we not owe as much to previous generations as those yet to be born? Some strides have been great, but we have replaced slavery with alternative forms of racism and oppression including mass incarceration of "minorities," voter suppression, and all manner of discriminatory practices in all our human institutions. Our patriarchy still barely tolerates women.

We are not locked into our current patterns of behavior, as individuals nor as a society. We are no longer purely instinctual animals, though we are animals. The thing that sets us apart from other creatures is our ability to change our minds, and with that our actions. The devil we know is the devil that will kill us unless we take that leap of faith into the "what if" of good deeds, and the substitution of experience for the material goods we cling to presently. Don't wait, don't follow, but lead by example.

The fireworks will still go off tonight, the band will play on, and too many of us will wave our flags mindlessly. Fine. Tomorrow, once the party is over, make a point to give your life meaning. Weed the garden of your heart and soul.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

In Praise of "Weeds"

You have been sold a bill of goods if you believe that all "weeds" are created equal. Weeds is in quotation marks because the majority of what we call weeds are simply native wildflowers and grasses that volunteer themselves in our carefully orchestrated urban and suburban landscapes. Allow me to explain.

A primrose sprouts defiantly from a sidewalk crack

We create villains to open opportunities for the invention and marketing of products and services to kill them. Meanwhile, the actual villains are exotic plants propagated by the nursery and landscaping industries, which then escape cultivation to wreak havoc on natural ecosystems. Everybody in the business sector wins, but you are out of pocket for a good deal of expense, and natural habitats are abused or at least compromised, in the process.

Lawn services and weed killers should be trending down by now

This is not a conspiracy as much as it is a marketing strategy that has gone so far as to encourage legislation of local municipal ordinances that may explicitly prohibit homeowners from allowing their property to revert to any semblance of a natural ecosystem. Ostensibly, these "nuisance laws" were created in an effort to ensure public health and safety, seeking to eliminate refuges of "vermin," pests, pathogens, and excessive pollen, and mitigate fire risks. The stereotypical weed ordinance is one which prohibits grasses or brushy vegetation to exceed a specified height. The junk vehicle discovered while mowing the lawn is a running joke.

Home Owners Associations (HOAs) have taken this to a whole new level, with their attention to minutiae rooted in preservation and enhancement of property values. In the case of the authority my spouse and I are under with our townhouse, this has resulted in removal of some trees, replacement of juniper hedges with rock substrates, and continued embracing of water-guzzling lawns. Keeping up appearances means more to these organizations than enhancing the health of local ecosystems.

Clover is a bee magnet and fixes nitrogen: Win-win!

What we should be doing is advocating what I call "weed tolerance." Even naturalized plants have their benefits. Dandelion is among the first plant to bloom in spring, offering a vital nectar and pollen resource to butterflies, bees, and other insects when nothing else is flowering. The clover in your lawn is a bee magnet, plus the plant is fixing nitrogen so you don't need to fertilize as often, if at all.

Ok, Chinese Clematis is a genuine noxious weed

In fairness, there truly are weeds that have no place in the landscape. You can find them as state-listed noxious weeds. The United States Department of Agriculture has conveniently compiled a database of these most-wanted (maybe most-despised is a better term) plants for you to use in determining which plants you need to eliminate from your yard and garden, or avoid when shopping for plants. This is an ever-changing list as more information is gathered about the impact of each commercially available plant. It was not until recently that Bradford Pear and Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii) became enemies instead of friends in the landscaping community. Keep tabs on the list for more additions.

Wild rose, with more open blossoms, is friendlier to bees than cultivars are

Increasingly, more attention is being paid to providing for native pollinating insects, and supplying breeding birds with the insects necessary to raise a brood of chicks. You can search endlessly online for resource after resource, but you may wish to start with books like Bringing Nature Home, by Douglas Tallamy. Dr. Tallamy and his colleagues and students have worked tirelessly to demonstrate conclusively the differences in ecological impact between native plants and exotic plants. Native plants, including many species we currently define as "weeds," sustain far more species of insects and other wildlife, as they are already adapted to soils, precipitation, and other variables where they thrive naturally. This makes the plants hardier, better able to withstand heavy impacts from herbivores, diseases, and other agents that affect plant health.

Yellow and white composites are favorites with bees and butterflies

Want help that is even more localized and informative? Join your state's Native Plant Society. Here is a list of them in the U.S. and Canada. Also avail yourself of the Cooperative Extension Service, typically associated with your state's land grant university. There is usually at least one office in each county, located in the county seat.

The tide does appear to be turning, even with those weed ordinances. While some cities have begun relaxing their codes, other municipalities have reversed course completely, actively encouraging citizens to "go native" with revised laws and financial incentives. Use these success stories to argue your case locally for similar innovative strategies.

Don't forget about evening- and night-blooming flowers like blazingstars when landscaping

Lately I have been enjoying the weeds that have been flourishing here in Colorado Springs thanks to an exceptionally wet, cool spring. There are flowers blooming that I have never seen before now. How do I translate my appreciation for vegetative rebellion into something meaningful to those who have bought into the neat and tidy vision of the marketplace?

Penstemon growing in a vacant lot in Colorado Springs

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Is The Abortion Issue About Something Other Than The Sanctity of Human Life?

I have studiously avoided the most hot-button issue of our time, abortion and the right to choose, but I can no longer stand by silently. What I can do, finally, is refrain from a string of profanities and repeating most of the statements you have already heard. I can continue in my longstanding tradition of not sharing "memes." I can also call for honesty in the debate, if only be sharing my own sentiments. Yes, I am yet another old(er) White male, but please bear with me.

© Christian Seebauer and Look-Act.com

Ironically, it was a meme shared on Facebook by a colleague that got me believing that civil discussion might be possible. The meme began with the conventional argument that making abortion illegal won't halt abortions, but will simply make the procedure unsafe. The next panel in the meme re-hashed the idea that abortion rates drop when there is easy access to healthcare, affordable contraception, and comprehensive sex education (presumably including a long, hard discussion of "consent")....

It was the ending panel in the meme that got my attention. It asserted that if one does not endorse measures designed to prevent unwanted pregnancies, then what you are supporting is "'pro control-of-women' and you should be honest about that." Wow. It is the very last part of that sentence, that plea for honesty, that we need to take to heart. Yes, you should be honest about that, about everything.

That is the definitive, overriding problem of our time: honesty. We know some of our beliefs and selfish motivations are distasteful, so we will sacrifice the innocent, put words in the mouths of the unborn, do whatever it takes to justify our continued patterns of behavior and sustain our (outdated?) beliefs. That even extends to warped interpretations of the word of God, the Bible, and other religious documents.

I don't think there is any question that many older men, especially White men, object strenuously to any attempt by women to assert their rights, demand equality, and otherwise threaten the dominion of the patriarchy that has architected our culture and society since....well, pretty much the beginning of our civilization. This stubborn and persistent thirst for power is no doubt expressed in the creation and execution of legislation around abortion.

Why do so many women stand in support of these measures, then? Not being a female myself, I cannot pretend to answer that, nor should I. However, I do suspect that many women are uncomfortable with the idea of independence. My own mother was forced into independence when my father divorced her. It was a hard road for her in the early 1970s when divorce was not common, or at least not publicly discussed; and she had been out of the workforce for well over a decade. Re-entry at an older age was difficult, and most of her superiors in the workplace were....men. Enough said.

As near as I can tell, the other, unspoken motivation for advocating for abortion bans comes down to the desire to protect souls without sin, or with the least sin. This would go a long way to explaining why the birthmother is left out of the debate, and why there appears to be little support for child welfare, health, nutrition, housing, education, and other necessities of childhood in the sense of an earthly existence. The "defense of souls" argument would also explain why some religious conservatives do not object to the death penalty. The person has sinned, and is going to hell anyway, so why not hasten his or her arrival at that destination. Since only humans have souls, this might explain a lack of interest in the protection and conservation of non-human organisms, while still clamoring for the teaching of creationism alongside evolution.

If my assumption that "pro-life" advocates care more about the hereafter than the here-and-now is correct, let's start talking about that in an honest manner instead of going to such great lengths to disguise that core principal. If I am completely wrong, I will gladly sit back and listen to your explanation. Keep in mind, however, that I have a pretty good B.S. detector and I will call you out if I sense you are still trying to deceive me.

Mostly, I want to know what is really at the heart of all arguments, about every issue, not only abortion. Be honest and I cannot level accusations or make ridiculous assumptions, or have to guess your intentions or desires....or make blog posts like this where I am left to channel only the straws I am grasping at.