Monday, September 6, 2021

The Branding of "Never Forget"

© MicheleRamsey.wordpress.com

American culture is obsessed with tragedy and hero-worship. Nowhere will this be more evident and celebrated than during the twentieth anniversary of September 11, 2001. I fully expect a television news anchor to wag their finger as they implore us to “never forget.” The branding of that phrase has clear implications, and they are not flattering nor socially or psychologically healthy. There is reverence and remembrance, and then there is something more insidious, divisive and destructive.

The phrase is now the name of a website for a charitable organization dedicated to a memorial and educational program surrounding 9-11. Fear not, the media will never let us forget that tragedy, because we elevate it above almost all others: America as victim. It is archived not only in memory, but in every conceivable medium of communication. It truly feels like it happened yesterday, because most events in the digital age endure. We collectively know the biography of every life lost, every hero, every perpetrator.

We should indeed have reverence for life, but all lives. Sacrifice and service need not be public, by profession (first responders, healthcare workers, military personnel), or even disaster-related. It should be a regular exercise instead of something spectacular. Yes, we should remember our collective history, but we tend to pick and choose which events to mark on the calendar.

…. the implication is that we are to never forget that our enemies are non-white, non-Christian, and often non-American.

It is telling that the events the media instructs us to never forget are tragedies affecting mostly white people, and/or establishments that we hold sacred, namely financial institutions and schools, churches, retail marketplaces, and entertainment venues. This is why we have to be reminded by ordinary citizens that Black Lives Matter. We seem to largely ignore other historical calamities, and ongoing offenses against non-whites.

Maybe we should remember that we massacred indigenous peoples, stole their land, and erased their culture. It is a continuing tragedy under the guise of the public good, and even missionary work. Maybe we should never forget that we enslaved generations of Black people, and currently incarcerate them disproportionately, execute them on the street with no judicial process, and discriminate against them as we always have in education, wages, and the workplace. Maybe we should recall internment camps where we placed Asian Americans during World War II, and recent immigrants from south of our borders. Maybe we should remember that we invaded Iraq.

No, the implication is that we are to never forget that our enemies are non-white, non-Christian, and often non-American. In reality, the real threat to peace, freedom, liberty, and equality is white supremacy. This is what we need to be reminded of daily, not just on the anniversary of some horror, not just on Juneteenth. Our sworn enemies are largely manufactured from white entitlements. Why should we be surprised that they object to our hubris?

Meanwhile, heroic figures are usually white saviors, be they first responders, healthcare workers, political leaders, or celebrities in the entertainment industry raising funds in the wake of a tragedy. Real heroes, of course come in all colors, everywhere along the gender spectrum, from all religions, and all economic classes.

We prosper most, collectively, when we embrace, advocate for, and promote all peoples, especially those not endowed with white privilege. The whole planet would be better off if we listened to indigenous cultures and learned their sustainable practices of land stewardship.

Want to be a hero? Be fearlessly authentic, have an open mind, listen more. Revel in being ordinary, but strive for excellence, equality, true justice, and leadership by example. Ask yourself what you can do without so that others can have what they need and deserve. Be honest, and speak honestly. Yes, it will make you vulnerable, but we need to normalize vulnerability and empathy.

You are not required to step into line with toxic ideology or conventions that serve no one but those who already have privilege. That is what freedom truly means. You are not a “race traitor,” you are a world citizen. Never forget that.

NOTE: Dr. Michele Ramsey's essay is also recommended reading.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Book Review: In One Yard: Close to Nature Book 2

I was introduced to Warren A. Hatch several years ago by a mutual friend. He sent me a copy of the original In One Yard: Close to Nature, which I regretfully never got around to reviewing. I will not make the same mistake with Hatch’s sequel. This book has much to recommend it, no matter where you live.

Mr. Hatch resides in Portland, Oregon, USA, and every organism shown in the book was discovered on his property, the yard of which is only one-sixth of an acre. Clearly, exploring even this small an area can result in constant discovery and astonishment. A reader is going to be inspired to put the book down frequently so as to go looking for mosses, lichens, insects, arachnids, algae, and other living things right outside their door.

This “ignition switch” alone is what makes this book unique and critically important. One could consider it an exercise in vanity (the first book was self-published), but by documenting various species in depth, and showing the reader how he captured the detail and drama of each creature, it becomes a blueprint for how you can do the same. Why you should go to the trouble is self-evident in the countless, captivating images.

The text both explains the natural histories of the organism, and challenges the reader to make their own observations. The stories are an interesting and effective mix of the author’s personal experience, additional knowledge gleaned from literature and correspondence with world-renowned experts, and a periodic, friendly “Mr. Rogers” query to the reader. The author does not put himself above the reader. He defines scientific words with each use, and understands that occasional repetition is a good thing.

The first book was a large, magazine-like paperback. Book two is a smaller, hardback volume. Both are slightly “busy” in their design and layouts, and if there is any fault to the new book, it is in the literal fine print of “Extra Notes” that may be difficult for those with poor vision to easily read. The images are so overwhelming in their excellence and detail that almost anything else can be forgiven anyway.

The one thing that surprises and disappoints is that this book is flying under the public radar. Mr. Hatch’s prior works have rightly received critical acclaim from the scientific community. Hatch has produced posters and DVDs that have also garnered generous reviews; and he was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London in 2003. This is an exceptional honor, as the society was founded in 1788 and has only about 2,000 members. Admirably, Hatch lives a car-free lifestyle.

In One Yard is the perfect complement to Douglas Tallamy’s books Bringing Nature Home, and Nature’s Best Hope. Hatch’s books show you exactly what can result if you cultivate native plants and make even minimal effort to observe and record. Yes, he has invested heavily in the equipment needed to produce what you see on the pages of the book, but what a payoff.

Ideally, we need more Warren Hatchs. More people should do an ongoing bioblitz of their home and property, and share the results widely through blogs, vlogs, Youtube, Instagram, and other media, if not an actual hardcopy book. Be creative. Buy this book as an inspiration and model. In One Yard: Close to Nature Book 2 is available exclusively through Wild Blueberry Media, LLC for a very reasonable $35.00 (postage paid). Don’t take my word for it, just ask Sir David Attenborough who effuses that the book is “splendid” and “it spurs me on.” When a world class, globe-trotting naturalist asks “….whether I haven’t looked at my yard with the concentration and insight that you have,” that is high praise indeed.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Team World

My wife likes to watch the Olympics. Generally, I could not care less. It seems to be too much pomp and circumstance, too nationalistic, and not much fun for the athletes. I do think we can improve, both as the Olympiads themselves and, more importantly, as spectators.

In my Fantasy Olympics, every participating country would leave with ten medals of varying colors. The field would be that level, that competitive. The overriding priority of the Olympic Committee would be to welcome more new countries every Olympiad, and recruit more diversity for each event. The commentators would shut up and let the performances speak for themselves. Enough nit-picking critiques, please. Explain the rules of rugby, though. How do you stop the other team again? Also, how has no one been killed by the hammer throw?

Those of us television viewers and in-person audiences, should we ever have those again, can up our own game. We can stop taking the games so seriously. We can be “traitors” for a moment and cheer for another country’s representatives. Where is the crime in that? Heck, if belugas were in the swimming events, you can bet your bottom dollar I would be rooting for them.

We need to trust our athletes to do what is best for them, and therefore their comrades. The backlash over Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw says a lot more about our character than it does hers. We have unrealistic expectations and, unfortunately, they are often couched in racism, too. Our white privileged society “values” other ethnicities primarily as servants and entertainers (and I lump athletes in the latter category). Those are the only professions we “allow” them any material affluence, and even then, only if they meet or exceed our grotesquely inflated demands for record-breaking efforts. Disgusting, but we don’t give it a second thought until one of those athletes is brave enough to stand up for themselves.

The Olympics tends to be a missed opportunity to get a glimpse into other cultures, and here in the United States we will never be encouraged to learn the continuing impacts of colonialism and economic expectations on other nations. We want Latin America to keep giving us baseball pitchers and bananas. What do we care about them otherwise? Yes, I am exaggerating (barely) to make the point of our sense of entitlement.

The fact that we demand the Olympics be held at all in the middle of an ongoing global pandemic says enough, does it not? The “world stage,” I keep hearing, but what we need is world parity, not simply in athletics, but in global health and economics. Dominance disgusts me, in any form. It is a reminder of oppression and inequality that comes from privilege and colonialism.

If you want to unfollow this blog because it makes you uncomfortable, because you view the author as a “race traitor,” or a conspiracy theorist, that is your right. However, I suggest instead that you ask why you have the sentiments you do, and whether they are serving you any longer. Stop letting Olympic athletes be proxies for you. Step up your own game and join Team World.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Misplaced Again

My wife and I are moving, from Colorado Springs, Colorado to Leavenworth, Kansas. I kid that we are moving to Leavenworth voluntarily, not as the result of incarceration, but the truth is that I am still not a willing participant. Her parents live there, and she wants to spend more time with them. I like my in-laws, so no problems there, but I also spent most of my adult life avoiding my own parents. Even now that both are deceased, I have zero interest in “going home” again.

Like most men, I don’t do well when I interpret a situation as one in which I have no choices. This is especially true when it comes to expenditures that are required for home and car repairs, insurance, medical costs, and other non-elective expenses. Having no choice can also apply to relocation when you either agree with your spouse’s decision or start looking for a divorce attorney. In no way do I “blame” my wife, but I see the window closing on a more optimal retirement scenario for us.

I would have preferred moving farther south, at least. The more I age the more intolerant I have become of extended periods of cold, or rollercoaster weeks like we have here in Colorado. At least we have plenty of sun. Meanwhile, Leavenworth is best known for prisons, the fort, and churches, three institutions that I largely abhor. Mostly, I want to live in a place that reflects my identity, my appreciation of, and dedication to, equality, justice, and inclusiveness.

Over the years we have accumulated far too many material goods, and purging them has been painful. Going through my own parents’ belongings, journals, and keepsakes, and discarding most of it, has left me feeling like I have betrayed them once again. At a visceral level I can’t help but think I am erasing their existence, rendering them invisible and irrelevant. I know that is not the case, but my entire childhood was one of denying that their tumultuous marriage, and eventual separation and divorce, had no impact on me. Then, as an adult, the PTSD asserted itself and I became a crusader for the rights of children of divorce.

The pictures, the household objects, they all symbolize the anger, the longing for stability and peace, and the resentment of the absence of anything resembling normalcy. In retrospect, neither my mother nor father were properly equipped to be parents. My mother did astoundingly well in spite of that, but she was overprotective. My father was just flat-out angry all the time, or on the verge of it. “Mamma’s boy” and “you’re just like your father” were not compliments, and I could not do right by one parent without insulting the other.

My wife put their cremated remains in the same suitcase. I thought they were already there, and was surprised they had not burst into flames all over again. Not funny, really, but they had no reverence for me, either. Yes, I am spiteful. I can be mean and hateful, though I am more aware of the triggers now.

What has been even more painful is what we cannot find in the course of cleaning and packing. The self-portrait in graphite that I did in college is nowhere to be seen. I am most devastated at losing my own creations. I already sacrificed my insect collection, an endeavor of forty-some years. It was the right thing to do, donating it to a museum where it will be properly cared for indefinitely and made available to scientists around the world. Still, I can’t point to it and say “I did that.” That is hugely demoralizing. Like most men, I don’t do well with intangibles, either. There is no observable value to them. My identity is closely tied to what I have produced, if only because that is what our society demands. We must demonstrate concretely our accomplishments. That can be a topic for another blog post.

What am I left with? Where, exactly, am I going, apart from a small town? Why is it not enough to be taking my person with me? Why do I assume I no longer have freedom, in any sense of the word? What do I have left to do, to be? Where would I rather be? When would I rather be? Who am I really, and how do I reconcile the past and the future?

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Real "Cancel Culture" Harms Real People

In yet another spectacular display of incompetent leadership, democrats in the U.S. have allowed republicans to define “cancel culture” as a series of trivial matters in the marketplace, while those same republicans initiate and enact legislation that represents true cancellation of human rights. The electorate should be intolerant of this, and act accordingly.

© NewRepublic.com

The world is not going to fall to pieces because we have fewer Dr. Seuss books. In fact, the decision to discontinue printing some of those titles was made by the publisher, not driven by democrats or any other political entity. Socially responsible corporations are a rare thing these days, and should be applauded and rewarded.

Compliments also to toy manufacturer Hasbro for re-branding Mr. Potato Head as Potato Head in recognition of the reality of non-binary people and transgendered persons. These landmark decisions, without interference from politicians, without threats of litigation, and in the face of potential consumer backlash, represent bravery and compassion. Could we only say the same for our elected officials.

No, at the state level, legislatures and governors are waging war against the most vulnerable and underrepresented citizens, actively encouraging continued discrimination, violence, and poverty. It is utterly transparent that the measures being taken constitute a power grab, or a means of perpetuating toxic power. White, cis, straight, patriarchal supremacy (“white supremacy” fails to convey the full scope of this paranoid, colonial mindset) no longer bothers to cloak itself in the flimsiest of disguises.

In Georgia, new legislation aims to not only make voting more difficult, but a downright punishing exercise for anyone but conservative whites. One highly-publicized initiative would make it illegal to serve water or food to voters standing in line awaiting their turn to cast a ballot. Gerrymandering, reduction in the number of polling places, and restrictions on mail-in ballots are already crippling minority populations in their ability to exercise their right to representation.

Similar voter suppression laws are pending in forty-two (42) other states. This would appear to be an abuse of Article I of the Constitution that gives states the right to oversee federal elections, not to mention flagrant violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Cancel culture is very real in these instances. Republicans are trying to cancel your voting rights, pure and simple.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas, the governor signed a bill that prohibits medical professionals from providing care to transgender minors. Considering the suicide and attempted suicide rates of youths who identify as non-binary, or as different from the sex they were assigned at birth, this bill can be considered a death sentence. It also violates the hypocritic oath to “first, do no harm.” Harm is exactly what such legislation does. It is an attempt to literally cancel someone’s identity, to erase them from existence in the legal sense.

Cancel culture. Real cancel culture is colonialism, slavery, failure to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, red-lining, gentrification, cultural appropriation, immigrant detention, a less-than-living wage, student loan debt, the examples given in previous paragraphs. Please, feel free to add to the list. It is appalling, intolerable, and worthy of revolution.

It seems apparent that we cannot rely on even “blue” allies to stand up for the most vulnerable among us. Fine. Let us unleash our creative energies. Take to social media. Meme the hell out of this on Facebook with examples of real cancel culture. Hashtag the crap out of this on Twitter. Instagram this until that is all anybody sees. Overwhelm everything until we have justice.

We can also reward truly inclusive businesses. Donate what you can to organizations standing up for BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other vulnerable demographics. Buy Potato Head for every toddler you know. Read them Dr. Seuss.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Armed, Angry, Male, and White

By now you have no doubt tired of worn-out arguments for and against increased control over accessibility to firearms. I will spare you those in the wake of the latest mass shooting events in Boulder, Colorado and Atlanta, Georgia. This is a complicated, tangled issue, but it boils down to a pattern of dysfunctional upbringing in a societal sense.

White males in the United States are reared by a collective culture that constantly pits them against everyone else. The implication of white, cis, straight male superiority is so pervasive and subtle that it is almost never questioned. When groups representing different demographics begin asserting the same rights enjoyed by white men, they are framed as threatening, demanding “special rights” that would somehow usurp the rights of others.

Immigrants are taking “your” jobs, we are told. A black man would not have been promoted were it not for affirmative action. A woman’s place is in the home. These statements, these terribly destructive traditions, stubbornly endure and color the perspective of white male experience and expectation. Your economic success, your place as the head of household, your entire self-worth are yours for the taking, even at the expense of others.

We have been utterly convincing in our indoctrination of white male youths in their birthright of superiority, but have failed absolutely in providing coping strategies when they are inevitably defeated in their attempts to achieve their “destinies.” American men are horrible at dealing with intangible pain. Many of us are instilled with the idea that in order for others to understand our (internal) heartbreak, humiliation, and suffering, we must (externally) inflict physical pain on others. This is how domestic violence happens. This is how mass shootings happen.

What we lack in providing healthy, introspective, mindful solutions to disappointment and frustration, we more than make up for in products of violence, from political rhetoric to automatic weapons. Products are seldom the solution to any problem, but they are critical to economic engines, so are not only tolerated but actively encouraged. Let me repeat: externalizing your internal pain is currently acceptable, even if it kills or maims other people in the process. This is the message being sent loud and clear, on an infinite loop.

Who benefits from broadcasting such vitriol? Those with even more white privilege than you enjoy. We have allowed ourselves to be divided by an excessively privileged minority that knows it cannot endure if the illusion of differences between everyone else evaporates. As long as we are blaming the “other” demographic category, we are ignoring the man behind the curtain, to borrow from The Wizard of Oz.

A just society requires the exact opposite of what the United States has espoused throughout its history of colonization, slavery, racism, oppression, and suppression. Individual success is not dependent upon the defeat of everyone else. Indeed, our definition of success has been strictly material since….forever.

How do we end violence? How do we finally unite? We must immediately reject, erase, and rescind every message purporting the superiority and entitlement of white males. The irony is that in the sacrifice of false supremacy, we will all gain materially, have a greater sense of self-esteem, and lose the stress inherent in artificially propping up a worthless model of what it means to be a white male.

Yes, we need sensible regulation of firearms in this country, but we must demand more of ourselves as white males in accountability for violence of any sort. We must learn appropriate behaviors for expressing emotional and intangible pain instead of externalizing it inappropriately. No, we have not been taught how to do that. It can be our legacy to figure that out. Our non-white brothers can help us get there if we let them. Our gay brothers, too, and our wives, our sisters. Listen to them.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Mars, Thylacines, Ferrets, and Defending Science

The last few days have been full of headline-making science stories. We landed another rover on Mars, cloned an endangered species, and may have rediscovered a species believed to be extinct. If this is all great news, why are some scientists so defensive? The Twitterverse is a strange entanglement of overlapping galaxies, and this week is bringing out the best and worst in the scientific community.

© USFWS National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center via Phys.org

Depositing a self-propelled data-collecting rover on a distant planet is a technological achievement for which the creators and support personnel should rightly be proud. Among the congratulatory and celebratory voices, however, were those who complained immediately that such milestones unleash an inevitable flurry of public resentment over tax dollars being spent on the “luxury” of space exploration. Public perception, they claim, is that interstellar endeavors are a waste of time, money, and other resources when we have urgent problems affecting flesh-and-blood people here on planet Earth. Landing a rover on Mars while citizens in Texas and other southern states were freezing in the wake of a polar vortex was a coincidence of, dare I say, astronomical proportions.

At the other end of the spectrum came news that is igniting excitement from the public, but criticism from scientists. A video announcement was released suggesting that a trail camera had possibly detected a family of three thylacines, the infamous “Tasmanian tiger,” a large carnivorous marsupial that vaguely resembles a dog. The thylacine was last documented conclusively with the last wild individual captured in 1930. The man in the video has turned over the trail cam images to experts for their evaluation, rather than posting them immediately to the internet. That cautionary act enhances his credibility.

Unfortunately, the immediate reaction of the scientific community was overwhelmingly negative. The consensus seems to be that hunting for thylacines is a fool’s errand, a waste of time, money, and other resources when we have urgent problems affecting endangered species that we know for a fact exist, if by a thread. Sound familiar?

Conservation scientists appear threatened by competition from those still looking for thylacines, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and other species believed extinct. However, the Formosan subspecies of the Clouded Leopard was declared extinct as of 2013 and yet rediscovered in Taiwan last year. We are, in fact, still discovering new species of mammals every few years. Criticizing scientists engaged in those efforts amounts to a form of bullying and is at best unprofessional.

Meanwhile, it was also announced that scientists in Colorado successfully cloned a female of the highly-endangered Black-footed Ferret. Rarely has anyone been able to spin the science of cloning in a positive fashion, but here we are. At first blush, this does not appear to be cause for elation because it means the youngster is a genetic duplicate of its “parent.” In this case, the female she was cloned from died back in the mid-1980s, so this little one does represent an enhancement of the gene pool.

The only criticism anyone can level at the ferret story is that the species still needs intact prairies, and a prey base of prairie dogs, to sustain and increase its numbers. Here in Colorado, anyway, agricultural interests (to include ranching) and developers, and fossil fuel extracting companies all seem hell bent on eradicating prairie dog towns.

All of us, scientists and the general populace, at least here in the U.S., are guilty of accepting the idea of scarce resources for which we must compete. This is especially true of federal budgets that allocate only so much to each public concern. Pressure needs to be exerted on Congress, and the corporate sector, to be more responsible in budget decisions. What good is a bloated defense budget if we don’t have a country worth defending? Why are only majority shareholders and executive officers of publicly-traded companies the beneficiaries of corporate wealth?

We vote for government representation at some level at least every two years, but we vote in the marketplace daily. We need to make our spending dollars count in both our consumer choices and in our private donations to causes we believe in, from civil rights to endangered species to space exploration. Let’s stop complaining reactively, and be more proactive instead.