Monday, October 16, 2017

Me, too

© DhakaLawReview.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Business as Usual

© ElectronicDesign.com

How is it that the Dow, NASDAQ, and New York Stock Exchange finish the week on an upswing after the monumental tragedy in Las Vegas less than a week ago? Hell, how are they still open? And how, in God's name, does our CBS television affiliate find it appropriate to run an advertisement for a local shooting range, right after a sobering memorial piece on Sunday Morning? Seriously. Now, I don't expect the economy to come grinding to a halt after any devastating event, but I think it should. Business as usual is supposed to offer some kind of comfort to us when our faith is shaken, but in reality it only comes off as disrespectful.

Mass shootings themselves have become something of business as usual, the periodic output of a culture and society that suffers from sicknesses we refuse to address in any meaningful sense. We have an economy increasingly based on suffering, death, and fear of both. As long as there is profit to be made from prescribing drugs, guns, and other products in response to personal and social cataclysm, that is what we will continue to do, business as usual. We'll see more ads for Zoloft and lawyers and life insurance and yes, firearms. "Have you been injured in a mass shooting? If so, call (insert your local law partners here)."

That is the basic problem, of course. We insist that the economy (business if you will) and the government, cure our ills. Legislation and products and services are how we handle everything else, so why won't they work in these cases of catastrophic violence? I would argue it is because commerce really is not solving anything. It is creating and perpetuating economic inequality, raising personal and collective stress into the stratosphere, and dividing our society in every conceivable way in the interest of promoting exclusivity, luxury, and lifestyles we are supposed to aspire to but that in reality are devoid of anything spiritually and emotionally fulfilling. Business as usual is the business of making you feel inferior while making empty promises that you can run with the rich and famous if you only invest your money in "this."

Meanwhile, our government will conduct business as usual, too, because the business of government continues to be insuring not the welfare of our citizenry, but the "wealthfare" of corporations and industry. The deathcare industry certainly gets a boost with every terroristic act, and then gun sales soar because we are conditioned to believe that if we are armed, then we won't be a victim the next time. Wow, we really didn't learn a thing from the kindergarten playground, did we?

The new bully on the block is still the old one: the gun lobbyist, the oil and gas tycoon, the climate change denialist, the bully-pulpit President, the pharmaceutical industry that profits from our misery, and on and on and on. We don't get the results we want, the results we need, as long as we let them all run rampant. We can no longer elect people to office who are not like us. We need to elect our neighbors, our literal neighbors next door, and the coworkers we admire who demonstrate leadership with compassion, respect, cooperation and compromise. People who are not so far removed from our circumstance that they can afford to ignore us.

The cure for stopping massacres like this is....us. No one else is going to do it for us. Remember Smokey the Bear's slogan? "Only you can prevent forest fires." It still rings true, and it applies to more than just those wildland conflagrations. It means fires in every other sense, too.

The fire next time....could be worse if we don't manage the forest of humanity with the proper compassion and care it needs and deserves. Products don't work. Hugs, handshakes, generosity both financial and social, and participation in your community. Those are things that work, we just need to do them more often. Tweet the positive, the non-product ideas. Post the pictures of your community garden. Let your neighbor know you care. Let us not all be where we are now, with this overriding sense of being misplaced, dropped in a selfish, fearful, and wealth-obsessed society, determined to be relentlessly marching on, Business. As. Usual.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Few Things That Interest Me

The public, and even acquaintances and friends, generally identify me as an entomologist who writes about insects and spiders, but there are a few other subjects that interest me and that I hope to be able to pursue. Generating a living off any of them is probably unlikely, but you have to do what you are passionate about, too.

I am passionate about a fir number of things!
Natural History

While insects are what I know most about, most aspects of the natural world captivate me. I could stand to learn a lot more about plants, for example. It will be harder for anyone to turn me into a maniac for geology or mycology, but I am happy to pick up knowledge here and there. Now that I am taking images of living things instead of collecting specimens, I am more apt to point my camera at birds, mammals, reptile, amphibians, and wildflowers and mushrooms. Thanks to social media, I can share what I find and learn from experts in those fields.

Comedy and Cartooning

My dream job would probably be a writer on Saturday Night Live. I love to make people laugh, especially as a way to get them to see a different point of view on the issues of our day. What is holding me back from pursuing comedy is a mystery to me. I took a stand-up comedy workshop in Tucson when I lived there, so I know that I can overcome any stage fright or other fears, though our final performance was before an invited audience of friends, family, co-workers, and others. Audiences can be mean, or at least unforgiving, but you have to try. Not every joke works with every audience. What is uproarious one night can bomb the next.

Weaver Finch Overachievers

Meanwhile, I would like to put pen to paper and generate more cartoons. Gary Larson unleashed a lot of us closet graphic humorists with The Far Side, and I continue to get ideas that I just have not executed yet. I have had some of my prior work published, but not ever paid for.

Producing Other Writers

I cannot think of another word besides "producer" that encompasses what I mean. I was once approached by a gentleman writing a book about the natural history of Virginia Beach, Virginia. Initially he wanted me to just fact-check and make suggestions on the chapter about insects. The more we worked together, the deeper that relationship grew. I ended up advising changes in style, and doing more regular editing to correct punctuation and grammar. I would love to do more of that. The only thing better than achieving success yourself is helping others achieve success through coaching, mentoring, whatever you want to call it.

Collaboration

Going back to both comedy and writing/editing, these are generally lonely pursuits. I would enjoy doing more collaborative projects with others, be they writers, artists, or photographers. A fair number of people in those professions are skittish of partnerships, fearing that their work will be compromised or upstaged by their partner. Instead, art can be enhanced by such teamwork. You just have to take the risk. I am inviting any writer or artist to take that risk with me. If you have a project that I am not passionate about, or where I lack expertise, or believe I am otherwise unqualified to undertake, I will let you know up front.

Activism

Note that I did not say "political" activism. Just the other night I attended a presentation about the conservation plans for the Greater Sage Grouse. Stakeholders of every constituency, from ranchers and farmers to energy companies, state and local governments, and wildlife biologists, to name only a few, came together to draft and implement plans that resulted in the Greater Sage Grouse not going on the federal Endangered Species List. This kind of activism and collaboration is what we need more of, on all pressing issues. Besides wildlife and habitat conservation, I am interested in being an advocate for public transit, only children, children of divorce, small businesses, and local agriculture. I would like to see weed ordinances relaxed and modified to allow gardening for food and wildlife; and I'd like to see noise and light pollution reduced considerably.

What Interests You?

I invite all of you to take stock, periodically, of what excites you, and take steps towards making things happen. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, but together we can achieve great things through collaboration and drive. Start the conversation right here if you want; or talk to your spouse, your children, your parents, your mentors and friends.

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.