Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Diagnosis Social Media

© SocialMediaImpact.com

Yesterday, though I had not exercised much, I found myself with a sore hip at one point when I got out of my chair from in front of my desk. I seem to be a bit better today, but I was all ready to take to social media to determine whether it was something worth getting checked out. You know, because my friends, the majority of whom did not even attend medical school, would be so helpful in making an accurate assessment of my situation. Also, everybody else does that, so it must be an acceptable form of diagnosis.

Alas, it is probably not the best idea to run to Doctor Facebook or Nurse Twitter complaining about inexplicable ailments. God forbid you go onto Instagram ER. Thanks, dude, I can't un-see that now! One friend on Facebook once posted that he had just been bitten by a copperhead, a dangerously venomous snake here in the U.S. The most helpful responses were on the order of "I hope you are posting this from the hospital." Really, what is the point in a situation like that when you know you are far better off to drop the phone and get yourself to medical treatment immediately? As venomous serpents go, a bite from a copperhead is rarely life-threatening, but you can still lose a digit or something if you procrastinate. It's called "complications."

If social media were a prescription drug, or even an over-the-counter remedy, its label would include the disclaimer "results may vary," in bold lettering. Maybe it depends on who your friends are. Those engaged in the same profession, hobby, or family situation may well be able to say been there, done that regarding whatever accident resulted in the injury to your body or ego, or that of your offspring if you are serving as proxy for a younger patient.

This is not to say that there are no tangible, ultimately concrete benefits to taking the social media ambulance. For starters, it beats self-medicating. You may find that one of your local friends can attest to what excellent care they have received from Dr. X, or how well the Fix-it Clinic over on Main Street treats their walk-in patients, honors (insert your insurance company's name here), and brings you coffee while you wait. Those are probably the best kinds of outcomes we can hope for when we complain about our aches and pains.

The other kind of social media post happens when you are already under care, about to undergo a surgical procedure, or facing rehabilitation and other recovery-related matters. This is when your community of social media "physicians" can do no harm. We are more than happy to pray for you, offer our sincerest get-well-soon wishes, and even come visit you if that is possible and you desire it.

The real bottom line in posting our physical and psychological woes is that we don't want treatment suggestions as much as we want empathy and sympathy. Feel-good messages are what we seek in the comments under our posts. Misery really does love company, and I think it is just human nature to act on those desires. Be careful what you wish for, though. TMI (Too Much Information) is frequently shared once you start a thread like that. Do you really want to know about Uncle Joe's infected bunion in detail?

One thing most of us should do more of is express gratitude for our current good health. I am as guilty as the next person for taking my vitality for granted, thanks to guaranteed meals, clean water and breathable air, shelter, education, a relatively stable financial situation thanks to my spouse, medical insurance coverage, proximity to hospitals, caring friends and family, and a lot of other tangibles that too many people on the planet, even here in the U.S., do not have. It really is our responsibility to look out for those less fortunate, and help them reach the standard of living that we already enjoy.

Well, I better get up and move around a bit, lest my hip stiffen up again. May you all enjoy excellent health today, and every day, and have a joyous, charitable holiday season.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Non-profits: We don't need "free gifts!"

'Tis the season of giving, but I have to wonder sometimes whether material generosity, while perhaps well-intentioned, does not undermine more important principles and charitable efforts. Is it just me, or do others also find it annoying that otherwise worthy non-profit organizations use the promise of a "free gift" to encourage you to join? Personally, I would rather have as many of my membership dollars as possible go directly to the cause.

Here is a list of all the "free gifts" that I have found enclosed, or for which I am eligible with membership to organizations varying from Natural Resources Defense Council to Audubon to Nature Conservancy to World Wildlife Fund:

  • tote bag
  • Address labels (enclosed)
  • bird guide app
  • fleece blanket
  • plush toy animal
  • bird feeder
  • lunch tote
  • a penny (enclosed)
  • umbrella
  • travel cup
  • water bottle
  • calendar (enclosed)
  • petition (enclosed) Hey, asking something more of me is not a bad thing!

Ok, I get that you want me to advertise your non-governmental organization (NGO) by sporting that tote or knapsack, drinking from that cup, or hanging that calendar in my workplace. Since I have now collected four unsolicited calendars, I can have one at home, too, plus my summer house....Wait, I don't have a summer house. Who do you think I am?

Even the address labels would be fine....if any of us actually used "snail mail" to deliver anything any more. I doubt the utility vendors, loan providers, and credit card companies even glance at the incoming bills we are remitting. I think if I saw "free annual report enclosed" on an envelope, whereby I assume you would account for all of your spending of our membership dollars, I might even open it up and take a look.

Two pieces of mail did get my attention with what I hope is the future of membership recruitment, at least in part. The American Indian Relief Council, which is now Northern Plains Reservation Aid, promises a $2-for-$1 Matching Gift Challenge. The American Indian Education Fund wins me over a bit with their persistence: the first, and so far last, time I donated was back in 2008. They also promised a "matching gift offer enclosed." The Audubon Society finally jumped on this bandwagon and is offering a dollar for dollar matching gift, with a deadline of December 31.

The real gift we all want is the gift of accountability. Literally, in the financial sense of accounting. We want to know our hard-earned dollars are doing what we think they should be, be that providing relief to indigenous peoples, purchasing land that will be set aside in perpetuity as wildlife habitat, or some other noble, tangible outcome.

We recognize you have overhead in the form of employees, offices, travel, legal representation, utility bills, publicity, and other necessities in this day and age of business competition realities. What you may be lacking is marketing research, focus groups, and more tech-savvy means of membership recruitment, judging by how archaic your mass mailings have become. I have been getting the same offers since at least the 1980s. Get innovative already. Get to know who your members, or prospective members, are and what they expect and desire. Really, how many tote bags do I need?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

When the Dog Bites

The back of my right calf, courtesy of a dog

I am not usually hard up for material anyway, but occasionally something happens in my personal life that disturbs me enough to prompt a post. I was bitten by a dog the other day. Yeah, that will get your attention, even if it was a little yippy-yappy thing. In the wake of the event, all my other encounters with aggressive canines came flooding back along with long-buried hostilities and unresolved conflicts.

I take a walk through my neighborhood almost daily, and Thursday, November 17 was no exception. At one point in my route, which I have passed countless times, a pair of small terrier-like dogs were playing in a yard. As I passed on the sidewalk, they barked and gave chase, nothing terribly alarming....until I felt pressure and a mild sting on my calf. I was so surprised that the little nipper may have gotten me again, though not as acutely. I backed out into the street shouting "Hey!" numerous times, loudly.

A neighbor across the street was silently raking leaves and witnessed the incident. He might as well have been a statue. I asked if he knew who owns the dogs, and he pointed to the next house. Indeed, the pair of pooches ran there next, still barking. The one that bit me made efforts to do so again. More shouting from me, into the open garage of the owner's home. Nothing.

I finally shouted the house number and told them they needed to get outside. A petite Hispanic woman eventually emerged. I told her rather angrily that one of her dogs bit me. She told me to "calm down," and barked commands in Spanish that sent the mutts running into the garage. I repeated, even more assertively, that one of her dogs bit me. As she made for her garage I said she better pray that I don't get an infection out of it; and she muttered back something to the effect of "I hope you don't get an infection, too." I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt that is what she said, anyway.

Upon returning home in snow and rain, I discovered that at some point my mobile phone had been lost. I exchanged my coat for a rain jacket and headed back out. I found my phone easily, and though it was wet it was still operational. Now, I finally turned my attention to the bite, and found that despite heavy jeans, it had broken the skin. The bite most resembled an abrasion, though, so I didn't treat it except for showering later.

Taking to social media, I found out that, by law, you must report pet bites to the proper authorities. Here in El Paso County, Colorado, the Humane Society takes care of that. I answered a few questions and told them I had no malice toward the dog, or even its owner, despite her unsympathetic nature. I hoped the dog would not be removed for quarantine and was assured that a ten day in-home quarantine was standard.

It was interesting to read some of the responses to my post on Facebook. Some of my friends were only mildly sympathetic, too. Several even gave the thumbs-up "like" to my status. Not sure why I deserved that. Others commented that "at least it was a canine [and not a cat]." Cat bites are really bad news, I'm told. I politely replied that I am not generally in fear of being attacked by felines during my walks.

The whole cat versus dog thing is really starting to get my dander up. Far more people pile on the cat-hater bandwagon than even acknowledge the danger that unrestrained dogs pose to other pets, wildlife, and people. Then again, we all know that the only "good doggie" is yours, right? I am guilty, too. Logan was an adorable dog. All the other canines in the neighborhood were pretty much Cujo. I recall occasions in which I had to maneuver myself between Logan and some off-leash, unfriendly dog to avoid something heinous from happening.

I do believe pet-related laws need more tooth to them; we need harsher punishment for irresponsible pet owners, dogs or others. I am not a mace-carrying, knife-wielding, or gun-toting pedestrian, and never intend to be; but, bear in mind that the demeanor of your pet speaks volumes about you, too. I am not inclined to have a positive opinion about your personality if your dog is belligerent, loud, and otherwise obnoxious. Forgive me if I don't believe you when you say "he won't bite."

Thursday, November 17, 2016

About the Safety Pin Thing

© NYdailynews.com

It appears that no good deed, or symbol, goes unpunished right now. Take the safety pin, which some American citizens have taken to wearing on their clothing. We'll get into the meaning of that, but you'd think they were wearing swastikas or something given some of the social media backlash. My own bottom line? I'm wearing the damn pin.

The U.S.A. cannot take credit for the origins of the safety pin phenomenon. No, that would be Great Britain, in the wake of the "Brexit" fiasco (though the initial idea seems to pre-date that event, too, according to a Snopes.com article). Along with the desire to separate from the European Union came a minority opinion that it was also time for refugees and immigrants and other minorities to be expelled from the UK. These vulnerable groups were met with open hostility by thugs who thought the vote gave them license to be abusive. Wearing a safety pin became a message of solidarity with those groups being persecuted.

Fast forward to the current situation in the U.S. where our recent election has likewise inspired hate crimes or at least incidents that come dreadfully close to falling into that category. People of Color, immigrants, refugees, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, and queer individuals, as well as women (regardless of whether they are in any group other than....women) are all experiencing insulting, intimidating, and violent conduct by....well, I have no words to begin to describe the lowlife scum conducting themselves in this manner.

Many folks here have now taken to wearing the safety pin as not only a show of solidarity, but as a symbol that says "I am a safe person to approach, to seek refuge in situations where you feel fear or are being taunted or victimized." Well, to hear some people frame it, the safety pin is just another prop to make Privileged White people feel better about themselves, to assuage their guilt for having let things get out of hand in the first place. It is an empty promise, and literally the least they can do for the underclass in lieu of making donations to organizations, volunteering at the soup kitchen, or whatever else is deemed more helpful and demonstrative if one is truly empathetic. To be fair, those accusations of "slacktivism" might have some merit. I will admit I don't go out of my way too much, as often as I should, for anybody, regardless of their circumstance. Still, I think the safety pin detractors are missing the point.

The safety pin is not about race, gender, sexual orientation, economic class, or anything else aside from HUMAN DECENCY. Excuse the "shouting," but this is about demanding that ourselves and others behave in a manner acceptable to each other regardless of our differences, visible or not. We who wear the pin recognize it as a badge, a way of deputizing ourselves as ambassadors of good will and decorum.

Let me tell you this: should I ever witness a situation in which someone openly supportive of President Trump faces unprovoked insults or intimidation tactics, I have that person's back, too. We are all guaranteed the same rights, regardless of political affiliation, too. I suspect it won't be long until we all denounce both Republicans and Democrats anyway, as completely unresponsive to the electorate.

What good is accountability if we demand it only of our public officials, and not of ourselves and each other as ordinary citizens? Hostility makes us no better, and arguably worse, than politicians. There is a fine line between being assertive and being angry. I am not sure that either Trump or Hillary Clinton understands that. I am very sure that too many of our electorate don't get it, either. For now, I will gladly wear a safety pin as a symbol not only of solidarity, but of empowerment, no matter which side of the political spectrum you are on.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Sudden Centrist

© JoeMohrToons.com

In the wake of the election results, I find myself in the odd and frustrating position of "centrist," trying to pull friends back toward each other, or at least back from the brink of hostility or despair; all the while trying to stay true to my own convictions and beliefs.

For many of us, I think we feel like we are in a real-life version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, whereby our friends have been replaced with alien duplicates. They look the same, but we are now questioning whether they still possess the same values, sentiments, and other intangibles that had us come to love them in the first place. We also feel guilty for our sudden suspicion.

I notice we are good at telling each other what to do lately. Stop whining. Get a job. Stop protesting. Start protesting. Emotions like jubilation from victory (how about those Cubs, huh?), disappointment over defeat, or angst over the unknown are all legitimate. If you are a woman, a minority, immigrant, LGBTQ, or other traditionally marginalized, non-Privileged category, then even fear is understandable. It is going to take time and empathy to even begin to settle things down.

Blame also seems to be an overriding theme, at least on social media. Blame the third-party voters. Blame the uneducated ruralite. Blame everybody but yourself. Well, I am not about to cast blame on anyone who voted at all. It would have been nice if the forty-six percent of our electorate who abstained would have participated. I am also not about to make vast, sweeping statements about relative intelligence or assumptions of any other kind. We are all individuals and if we don't know each other personally then we should not be casting stones. I scroll right past any Facebook post that even mentions any of the above groups because I know where you are going before you even start. Don't start.

The most troubling situation, of course, is when you thought you knew where a given friend, or even family member, stood, and when they behaved out of character from your expectations, then you were shocked, even appalled. The key word here is "expectations." Unfortunately, expectations and assumptions are closely related. Did our friends then "fall short of expectations?" Maybe we weren't really listening to them to begin with. Maybe we don't fully appreciate their struggles, their experiences, their lives. We better get better at that, and right away.

That is at the heart of it, though, assumptions and expectations, and the breakdown of trust that results from that. Not only do we not trust others any more, we assume the worst until proven otherwise. Well, you cannot prove yourself worthy of respect if you are dead, or beaten, or harassed, or threatened. Furthermore, if you are the one doing the violence and insulting, you automatically forfeit respect. Completely. Forever.

One of my dear friends, who I know personally, and who shares a love of nature with me, has just returned from an overseas trip looking at exotic wild birds. She has volunteered to sit with me and explain why she voted how she did. I look forward to this. I might learn something. I will learn something. I already have learned something: real friendships endure differences of opinion on how to fix problems.

It will be harder to reconcile with far-flung friends who may be on the other side of the country, as being a writer is essentially the same as being unemployed and therefore I have no travel budget for a face-to-face. I do hope that friends who I have connected to each other, but may not know each other that well, will be patient and reserve judgment before "unfriending" or "de-tweeting," or whatever. I urge all of us to think before we speak, not to shout, and assume the positive if we assume anything at all. We have to have faith that our friends have not become climate change deniers or racist, misogynistic bigots overnight; that they will still have our backs if our public lands are threatened by sale or development, or we ourselves become victims of persecution.

The ultimate goal must be to rebuild trust. The Village should not be your enemy. What is unacceptable right now, as it should be, is bigotry, hate, violence, property damage, and wanton destruction of our social fabric, be it from the Left or the Right. Surely, we can all agree on that.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Can We Still Be Friends?

© American Psychological Association

That may be the biggest question resulting from the outcome of our recent Presidential election. Many of us were shocked to find that close personal friends were opposed in the choice of candidates that we endorsed, however enthusiastically or reluctantly. The candidates were not nearly as important as the values, ethics, and potential policy decisions they represented, and that is of course what is at the core of our national divide. "Splintering" is more like it, actually. So, how do we reconcile with those closest to us? Do we want to? I would say that we must at least make the attempt. Here, I'll start.

What I cannot fathom, as someone who was greatly enthused by Bernie Sanders, and reluctantly supportive of Hillary Clinton, is how some of my friends could willingly sacrifice values that I thought we had in common, for the sake of a very vague description of "change." How can you be an ardent wildlife conservationist, for example, and potentially be throwing public lands under the bus when it seems abundantly clear that a Trump presidency will not value biodiversity and wild places at all? Please explain that.

How can you claim to value human diversity and vote for a candidate who has made it abundantly clear that only the most beautiful people deserve good things, that women are to be servants of men, and that immigrants and refugees have brought only grief and strife to the White Privileged class instead of enriching our collective souls as they do? If you believe, as I do, that a candidate's vocabulary and gestures and other behaviors predict his or her potential actions once in office, then how can you not be genuinely frightened of the prospects? Hey, I was appalled by the "basket of deplorables" quote, too. What was shocking was how stark that comment was in comparison to an otherwise mostly positive picture Clinton painted of the electorate.

Perhaps one thing we can agree on is that no presidential candidate in recent history, maybe even in our lifetimes, has been someone we can personally relate to. Time and time again we are forced to choose between ultra-wealthy, arguably elitist, representatives of a corporate-dominated business world that looks out only for itself, its shareholders, and its CEOs. Employees, consumers, and our environment and climate are expendable, if not actual obstacles to success. Why can't you see that?! Actually, enough people do see that, enough that it nearly got Sanders the democratic nomination. The bullying tactics of the Democratic National Committee are what delivered Clinton instead. Meanwhile the fumbling ineptitude of the Republican National Committee permitted the rise of President Trump.

Ok, back to our basic question of whether we can be friends. It boils down to the "I feel your pain" scenario. If you do not have empathy for each other's fears of what could have been (Clinton) or what could come (Trump), then we don't have hope. We have to clearly articulate those sentiments, fearlessly, and then listen to the other side without judgment. We have to realize that we need to help each other rise, start electing each other, putting those people who we can relate to into places of power where we know we will be listened to.

We live at a unique time in which social media and the digital age are leveling the playing field. We don't have to appeal to corporate interests to run for office. We have Facebook, Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and so many other campaign options at our disposal that bypass the traditional gauntlets. We can do this. First, though, we have to stay friends.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

State of the Union Divide

My new masquerade in the interest of personal safety: As White and Patriotic as possible

Never have I felt such a sense of being misplaced as I do right now in the wake of this U.S. election cycle. I was less anxious after September 11, 2001. The title of this post is misleading, too. We are not a country divided, we are a nation that is shattered. Placing the entire federal government leadership in the hands of a single party sets up the potential for unimaginable tragedy.

"It's no good believing in somebody else
If you can't believe in yourself
You give them the reason to take all the power and wealth."

"Turn it Up"
James Samuel Harris, III; Terry Lewis; Alicia Renee Knott; Ronald Isley; Marvin Isley; Ernie Isley; O'Kelly Isley; Rudolph Isley; Christopher Jasper
Try Anything Once
Alan Parsons

The working class, the poor, minorities, immigrants ("illegal" or documented), the LGBTQ community, women, children, and many other conveniently-lumped groups of human beings have legitimate, profound complaints with current leadership. About the only group without an axe to grind are those with White Male Privilege, yet we elected about the most privileged White (well, orange, close enough) male possible to the highest office in the land. Yes, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) rammed Hillary Clinton down our throats when it was glaringly apparent that Bernie Sanders was a cut above, able to address fully the wealth inequality that is at the core of the angst of the electorate; and without any attendant scandal. Still.

Part of the problem is that our electorate is so fragmented that their votes are based on a single issue. Blacks want a leader who will keep them alive, then, hopefully, give them more opportunity for advancement in society. Republicans are not going to reduce mass incarcerations, let alone pledge a moratorium on fatal shootings by police.

Meanwhile, immigrants from everywhere, not just south of the border, want equal opportunity. We need to work on overcoming language barriers, but they are not "taking our jobs" as many would have us believe. Frankly, nobody should be doing dangerous work like that of migrant workers for a sub-minimum wage, without proper healthcare, nutritious food, and secure lodging. "Cheap labor" is an insult that encourages poor performance, a litigious society (lawsuits are viewed as getting what the plaintiff feels is owed to them already), and a screw-you attitude toward our nation as a whole. After all, look who literally prospers from the fruits of their labor.

Women did not vote in overwhelming numbers for Clinton. I suspect many wanted the symbolism of a female leader, but were uncomfortable associating themselves (or their votes) with someone of dubious repute. Did she earn her way to the top by sticking to her values and principles, or did she compromise time and time again to survive and advance? Why they saw Trump as a viable alternative is beyond me.

Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of the campaign leading up to the election was, well, the campaign. The media failed completely in holding discussion to issues of core importance. Trump was, is, and always will be, an entertainer first, a businessman second, and everything else a distant third. He was allowed to take his act, unrestrained, to every debate, town hall, and public appearance. Don Rickles could not have done it better. The insults. The distractions. The vulgar humor.

The act of running the country, however, is not a celebrity roast, or even a reality television show. It takes diplomacy, of which Trump has demonstrated zero aptitude. It takes tolerance, to which Trump has turned a deaf ear. It takes humility, for which Trump scores in negative numbers.

Trump appealed because he gave us the promise that all we had to do was elect him and all our problems would magically disappear, like he is the Great Houdini or something. Again, the showman emerges, with no substance behind it. Are we so lazy that we will freely admit we want someone else to do the work, even if that "work" in the short term undermines long range opportunities for prosperity for ourselves, our children, and others?

Despite the results, I would still like to believe the majority of U.S. citizens want our nation to be an example of charity and good will, both at home and abroad. We believe in rewarding good work, holding ourselves and each other accountable for our actions or lack thereof, and actively punishing wrongdoing.

"We believe....in freedom and charity
as long as I get mine."

- "Dancing on a High Wire,"
Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson
Ammonia Avenue
The Alan Parsons Project

What I fear is that a sizeable minority will take this political moment as a sign that they have permission to exercise their White Male Privilege even more destructively than is currently the case. Trump rallies have been a horror show in this regard, and I am not looking forward to inauguration day. There may be civil unrest for months, but the good news is there will no longer be complacency from any party dedicated to civil rights. We have clearly been living under a false sense of security.

Left to political devices and political "will" and whims alone, we are never going to rise to our true potential as a nation. We don't have all the answers, either, and until we embrace the successes and innovations of other countries as well as those here at home, we will flounder; and enjoy a global reputation as a population of gluttonous egomaniacs. Sound familiar? I'm Eric Eaton, and I approved this message.