Friday, November 17, 2017

Elephants Trump(eting)

My social media newsfeeds have blown up the past couple of days with the news of our President seeking to overturn the ban on importation of "trophy" elephant parts by American hunters who take the animals in Zimbabwe and Zambia. This seems to be a collective "last straw" in tolerance for this administration's egregious policies, symbolic of an utter disregard for anything and anyone without financial affluence.

Irony of ironies, the symbol of the Republican Party is....an elephant. When you cannot even respect the mascot of the political affiliation that planted you in the White House, you really have sunken to a new low. We are not surprised, of course, just continually disappointed and angered by your contempt for other living creatures. You show no mercy even on threatened and endangered species, at home and abroad.

The other day a Congresswoman introduced an amendment to the SECURE American Energy Act that would exempt oil companies from paying for violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. When the next spill happens, these huge corporations would be relieved of the financial burden of rehabilitating oil-soaked birds.

Meanwhile, an article in the current issue of The Nation outlined the methodical takeover of the U.S. Department of the Interior by oil, gas, and mining interests thanks to Presidential appointments and the resulting "reassignment" of key personnel. No public scandal holds a candle to the conflagration that is the wanton destruction of our country being wrought behind the scenes. Policies are being dictated by the very industries that are supposed to be regulated by our government.

Oh, and just for good measure, the tax plans proposed by the House and Senate are going to fleece you and me to pay for the opening of public lands to drilling and other natural resource exploitation, with few if any laws left in place to protect us from pollution of our air and water. Naturally, we will not have healthcare to treat us for the effects of those pollutants and toxins, either. That is apparently just fine as long as the ultra-wealthy can continue the exponential growth of their profits.

What boggles my mind completely is how anyone who is not in the one-percent tax bracket can continue to endorse policy that is literally going to kill them, or their parents, or their children and grandchildren. By extension, how can you then continue approving the performance of the President and Congress? I am left with only a handful of theories: You are hoping this administration's destructive tendencies brings about the Second Coming of Christ; you are blissfully ignorant; you suffer yourself from mental illness; you have no concept of what is truly important in life; you have no empathy for other people, let alone other life forms (see mental illness again).

Mr. President, I sincerely wish that you would finally admit that you simply do not care about the lives of the overwhelming majority of the electorate. It might be the first honest statement you have made since taking office. Actions speak louder than tweets, and it is abundantly clear that you just don't give a damn. Unless they are a family member or someone who can boost your income or your ego, you have no use for them. The rest of us are a means to inflating your own bank account and sense of self-importance.

Lately I have been at a loss for words other than the four-letter variety, and my followers do not deserve a dumbed-down vocabulary, or the vitriol that they no longer even have to search for given how prevalent it is in all media outlets. No sir, I will not stoop to that level of indecency. However, I can no longer be polite, either. That ship has sailed, and I will be doing everything in my power to thwart your horrible agenda. The people of this country already know what makes America Great, and you are hell-bent on taking all of it away from them. Not on my watch you don't, [expletive deleted].

Friday, November 3, 2017

Our Right to Competent Leadership

© RallyPoint.com and MemeGenerator.net

A few blog posts ago I wrote that I would no longer apologize for my opinions of our current U.S. President, Cabinet, Congress, and, more to the point, their policies. The pace of my exasperation seems to be accelerating, if anything. Now, I find myself questioning whether many of these people are even competent human beings, let alone government leaders. I hope you will read this post to the end, as there is something here for everyone, regardless of political party affiliation.

We deserve better, not just "different" leadership, and one must call into question whether what we are getting is any kind of leadership. Certainly not by example, unless you think off-the-cuff reactionary Twitter tweets qualify. Have you seen any acceptable standards of statesmanship, humility, gratitude, or even understanding of the Office of President from this person? Me, either. His idea of disaster relief is personally dispensing paper towels to hurricane victims?

Virtually everyone I know would be better qualified to be President of the United States. This includes people I regularly argue with on social media; and even includes people who reside in other countries, who have a better grasp of world history, justice, economics, and have a better command of the English language. I mean, you can all pronounce "diversity," right?

Pretty much every legitimate news outlet is appalled at the emptiness of this administration's rhetoric; and also decries its commitment to the dismemberment of vital agencies and policies that protect labor, the consumer, the environment, and the less fortunate members of our citizenry who are in, or on the verge of, poverty. Children are going to suffer the most if we endorse the course laid out by our "leaders." They will suffer now as public education shrinks or is abolished outright. They will suffer down the road as they become adults who must face an unforgiving landscape of unemployment, diminishing wages and benefits, unregulated products and services, poor air and water quality, and little recourse to change their circumstances.

Virtually everyone I know would be better qualified to be President of the United States....I mean, you can all pronounce "diversity," right?

Those who voted for our current Commander-in-Chief can be forgiven for their desperate desire for change. There is no question the political establishment no longer functions the way it should. The best candidates for public good are systematically erased from consideration in both the Democratic and Republican party tickets. However, it should be obvious by now that our current President is acting purely in self-interest, and on behalf of a minuscule fraction of the population that is ultra-wealthy with no sense of responsibility or obligation to anyone else, including employees, consumers, and the future generations of this great nation, let alone citizens of any other country, or the biosphere and all of creation. Maybe they are looking out for shareholders on Wall Street. Maybe. This is an administration of the short term, the now, the "to hell with tomorrow."

We should have a literal Constitutional right to competent leadership, if it does not exist already. We also need to draft some kind of mechanism for the electorate to remove incompetent individuals and their Cabinet appointees from office when it reaches a point at which their actions endanger the nation. We are quickly approaching that point, and some would argue we are already past it.

Even given the preceding paragraphs, I know this country has a habit of overcoming the worst of itself. We succeed in spite of government policies as much as we do because of them. These next three years are going to test our metal, more so than at any other point in history. I have hope in the average person, truly, but it sure would be helpful if government would just get out of the way and let us do what is best for ourselves and each other. Wait, am I sounding like a conservative now? Happy "diversary," everyone.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

An Hourglass of Inheritance and Insanity

© YoungLifePerception.Wordpress.com

John Lennon forgot to "Imagine" one crucial scenario in his classic song of that title. "Imagine there's no money" would be the lyric I would add. That unnatural resource of currency is perhaps the one thing that rules all of our so-called civilized behavior as a species. That and sex, of course. I know that my life would be a lot less complicated if money were not an issue, and recently it became an even more stressful complication in the care of my aging father.

The facility where my father currently resides has petitioned the court to appoint a "guardian ad litem" to take over all of my father's decision-making capabilities. A guardian ad litem is most often appointed in cases of child custody disputes, abuse, or neglect, the guardian being a supposedly unbiased party advocating solely for the child or other person who is incapable of fully defending themselves. I learned of this when I received a copy of the papers in the mail from the petitioner's attorney. No phone call, no interaction, just straight to a judge.

Furthermore, statements in the documents assert things that I never said, judgments I never made, and describe all of this in language that I could interpret as libelous, defamatory, and slanderous. If the retirement home my father is residing in treats next-of-kin like this, no wonder he is unhappy.

This legal action probably stems from an incident in which my father became combative, and could be construed as endangering himself as well as the welfare of others in the building. My father is a chronic alcoholic. He drinks when he is depressed, bored, and otherwise unhappy; and he either has not availed himself of recreational programs at the facility, or there are none that he is interested in, or both. He repeatedly expresses his desire to be done with life. He never fully recovered from the passing of his second wife (my stepmother) several years ago. While his emotional state continues to deteriorate, his cognitive abilities remain intact, which is why this legal action is all the more revolting.

Meanwhile, I am not in a personal financial position to take any action myself. In fact, I have no potential income on my immediate horizon. My major client employs me mostly from late spring through early fall. Yes, I do have some hesitation to visit my father for the same reasons the retirement home finds him to be a handful. He is hard of hearing, and prone to temperamental outbursts. Still, the overriding reason I do not visit is because I cannot afford the airfare. I am an only child, so I also do not have sibling help. My cousin, who does live closer, has understandably reached wit's end, and he also has his own family, and a business, to look out for.

I received the court documents late on a Friday, naturally, so contacted the attorney for my father's estate via e-mail the following Monday. The attorney is the kind of guy that makes you think twice about telling a lawyer joke. He is kind, understanding, thoughtful, and expensive. Retaining him in this matter would bankrupt me in a matter of days. I told him as much, politely. His response was that his firm's fees would come from my father's estate since this issue pertains directly to his estate.

Here is the thing. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I was rather looking forward to a bit of inheritance from my father, to ease my own financial burdens in the future. I have concluded that I will be damn lucky if the whole thing doesn't get burned up in efforts to protect that inheritance. Forget the "death tax," attorney fees and other expenses will take a greater, ongoing toll. Heck, the retirement home appears to want to get as much as they can out of him right now.

Everybody wants their cut. The yacht club got a sizeable chunk out of him to build a new bar. How appropriate. Given that the yacht club has been one of the communities my father truly has felt comfortable in, I don't object to his donation, honest. Still, the sands of money and time in the hourglass steadily slip away.

It is all I can do some days, probably like my father, to just get through, accomplish something of worth, and steel myself for the next day. My father and I are a lot alike, it occurs to me, in our isolation, our internal demons, our addictions, and our struggle not to have a bleak outlook on the future, both personally and for the world at large. At least I have my words, and expressing my mounting frustrations, dwindling hopes, and raw emotions does help. One of those hopes? That this kind of thing is never visited on you.

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.