Thursday, October 25, 2018

Coming Out Versus Sticking Your Head in the Sand (or Elsewhere)


Thursday, October 11, 2018 marked National Coming Out Day, a recognition and celebration of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer) community. Hard on the heels of that comes proposed legislation to define citizens as either male or female based entirely on their genitalia. Here, friends, we have manufactured division, stoked hatred, and utter ignorance of the realities of our times.

Originally, I had intended to write about my own reaction to Coming Out Day, which would have been friendly enough, but with some trepidation about getting personal pronouns wrong and the embarrassment of unfamiliarity with a whole new vocabulary of categories from the LGBTQ community. While I will share those struggles here, I have absolute disgust for the news that our federal government administration wants to....relieve us of this terrible societal burden of adapting to a new gender landscape.

When I was single, I would sometimes be hit on by gay men. I was not appreciative of that and firmly communicated such, though often the other person would smile in a "knowing" way that I found offensive. I do not consider myself homophobic in any sense, but I did find those episodes a painful reminder of how unsuccessful I was at initiating my own relationships with women. That is where my anger came from. I have also hit on lesbian women in the past and found that to be a demoralizing experience, too. In retrospect, I admire the courage it took for all of those people to communicate their own orientations at a time when it could be life-threatening to do so.

Flash forward to today. I'm glad we have Coming Out Day, and I completely respect however you choose to identify yourself. I think identities of all sorts are a HUGE deal, and I can understand if someone feels the need to assert theirs, especially if it has been oppressed, repressed, or simply unrecognized for so long. Hell, I finally identified myself as "writer" after decades of self-denial.

That said, I hope you will be patient with those of us who grew up in a time when there were still only two recognized genders, and we pretty much assumed everybody was straight. In many ways I feel I have suddenly landed on a completely different planet with all of this non-binary, a-gender, asexual, cis-....vocabulary that I have frankly not given time to learning. I am deathly afraid that if I address someone by an incorrect pronoun that I will be viewed as a bigot, or otherwise insensitive. The one thing that provokes me to anger more than anything is looking like I'm stupid.

I say all of this to be honest, and possibly preemptive. It turns out I have a lot of friends who fall into these "new" categories and I feel like I am now walking on eggshells. Doesn't change the fact I love them all. After all, I tend to make friends based on the person's behavior, values, non-sexual interests, and ability to communicate honestly and unambiguously.

There, I feel better now.....Wh-a-a-a-t?! Our U.S. President wants to draft legislation to define our identities based on our genitalia at birth? In the context of my current understanding of "freedom," this is about the most limiting legislation I could possibly dream up. It is totally political and has zero place in an evolving society. It is wishful thinking on the part of some unenlightened parties who long for "the good 'ol days." I think they call these people reactionaries.

You cannot stick your head in the sand when the cat is out of the bag. Sorry, didn't mean to mix metaphors, but you get my drift. We should be standing united in the face of such manufactured social divisions. They are all designed to distract, so that we fail to see the Wealthy White Male Privilege behind the curtain stealing our money, our freedoms, our rights, and our dignity. We are not divided, but we let them TELL us we are, and then we go and believe it in the face of all the contrary evidence. That is the ultimate fake news.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Friends We Never Meet and the Ones That We Neglect

The other day my Facebook newsfeed blew up with remembrances of someone who I never met, or even "friended," but who clearly mattered to all my associates in the birding community. People who watch birds take it seriously, but empathy for one another runs deep among them. When one of them passes it reverberates like the the call of a raven throughout their circle. It got me thinking, long and hard, about who in my world might be slipping away.

One of the friends of the deceased shared a poem by her departed friend. The poem was about how we frame mental illness as it relates to artists. I suspect that this women suffered herself from depression and was frustrated by how society sees that anguish as somehow necessary in producing masterpiece paintings, novels, and other works, yet a self-imposed weakness in everybody else. It was a powerful piece of writing.

I clearly missed out by not having known this lady. I feel anger and guilt that I had never even heard of her until she was gone, and I no longer had any options. This is the one aspect of social media that I find excruciating, a "so close yet so far" phenomenon. I mean, I suppose I could "friend" her still, and have the archive of her posts to look back on, but it would be somehow empty, you know? One cannot be everywhere at once, even in the digital age. So many people will still not connect with you, nor you with them.

The irony is that social media isn't about you, nor is it about the next person you connect to, it is about we, and making more "we" as it were. It is about moments of clarity, like that poem, moments of sorrow like that day, and moments of joy, which is of course what all artists leave us with regardless of their medium.

Meanwhile, the flip side of all your friends on social media are the ones neglected because they don't do Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever the next new platform will be. They are left in digital dust when we fail to pick up the phone, or a pen, and call or write like we know we should. Inertia kicks in, along with its best buddy guilt, and then we never get around to it, despite our own nagging impulses. Right?

Well, today I did it. I e-mailed my best friend (aside from my wife), and just flat-out apologized. I did not beg forgiveness, but granted permission for him to hate me for my abandonment of him. Of course I got an immediate reply whereby he essentially expressed that he was no better at reaching out, and that we should indeed talk soon. I had expected as much but also do not take the let's-pick-up-where-we-left-off shrug of let-bygones-be-bygones for granted, either. Life is short, complicated, conflicted, and otherwise tumultuous, prone to sudden finalities. No, I will leave him no doubt that I love him like the brother I never had.

Carl is a generous, dependable gentleman, with a wit and sense of humor that would make him a great stand-up comic if he ever wanted to be. The stories I could tell. Mostly, he just makes everyone around him comfortable and happy. I cannot imagine a greater legacy or example. He was like a second son to my mother, too, and looked in on her in my out-of-state absence, which was from 1988 to when she passed in 2014. Yet, here I have been, going on about my "business" daily and, albeit several states away, not paying him near the respect that he deserves. That changes now and changes permanently. It also gets me thinking about who else I have ignored who deserves better.

Some people are artists with brushes, pens, chisels, cameras, or even computers, but the raw medium is still life itself, and it is those rare individuals who sculpt our personal realities that matter most to us. We cannot let them fall by the wayside because their comfort zone is still where it probably should be for all of us, grounded in the tangible and not in the "cloud." Someday we will look up from our devices and find them vanished because we haven't been paying proper attention. Someday we ourselves will draw the line at the next big thing, fearing for our privacy or unable to afford the technology, or whatever other roadblock clips us neatly from society as we know it, like a feather molted from a bird.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

An Unholy Alliance

We have seen lengthy television commercials recently here in Colorado Springs that advertise the new partnership between Girl Scouts of America and Raytheon. I get it, everything has to be about girls in science careers, and STEM in general (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Still, the GSA could have found a better ally.

Raytheon came onto my radar back in 2001 or so as the second Gulf War was ramping up. I was living in Tucson, Arizona at the time and participating in anti-war protests with some regularity. Raytheon has a facility on the southern outskirts of town. They make missiles there. The company announced last May that it will be expanding its Tucson location to the tune of $550 million. Raytheon is the largest employer in southern Arizona and as such was rewarded with a five million dollar grant from the state to help with the upgrade.

There were persistent claims that Raytheon was using depleted uranium in their missile products during the second Gulf War, making them essentially radioactive weapons. That is not the only controversy that has plagued the company over the years, with problems ranging from environmental issues to workplace diversity concerns, and inflation of federal defense contracts (surprise, surprise). Raytheon may claim in their television commercials with the Girl Scouts that they want to basically "make America safe again," but their history is one of warfare and the death and destruction that results from it. Yes, they use science, but to what end? The company is the ultimate poster child for the military-industrial complex.

Apparently, the Girl Scouts of America are just fine with all of this, probably because Raytheon has money to burn. Raytheon gets to wrap itself up in feel-good sentiments provided by the warm fuzzies we get from the GSA. What is not to love? Do we not all look forward to cookie season, feeding our tummies while warming our hearts and minds with the knowledge that we are spending in support of a great cause? There is nothing but an upside for Raytheon as it greenwashes itself.

Could the Girl Scouts not find a corporation with a more peaceful platform? What about partnering with a telecommunications giant, or renewable energy conglomerate, or some other enterprise that reflects optimism for the future and has an explicit mission that reflects public interest instead of private affluence and "security" for the wealthy few? Did they bother calling Oprah Winfrey for suggestions? How about Elon Musk? Bill Gates? Richard Branson? Ted Turner?

Yes, we need better cybersecurity, and to be able to defend our own country at home, but we are mostly exporting our weapons and defense technologies to the highest bidder, under an administration that is actively spurning involvement with our traditional alliances like NATO and the UN. The ramifications seem obvious: We will have less and less national and global security as our defense contractors get greedier and greedier, their morals eroding as their profits skyrocket.

At least one friend has suggested that the marriage of Raytheon and the Girl Scouts may not be the worst thing. As women ascend the corporate ladder, she suggests, the sphere of female influence will expand (hopefully), leading to a more humanitarian approach to profit-making, backing away from the idea that there is no profit in peace. I wish I were as optimistic. I wish we had the time for a rise in the power of compassionate women.

Interestingly, the Boy Scouts of America recently decided to admit girls to their ranks. It will be telling if the GSA starts losing membership to the BSA as a result of the decision to partner with Raytheon. Not that the BSA has a history devoid of controversy, either, but now girls have a choice in organizations that can foster their future careers. Maybe both organizations will begin to fizzle and we will see a surge in participation in Junior Achievement, 4-H, Future Farmers of America, and similar clubs that lack the baggage of scouting. Maybe kids will just keep playing soccer, Little League, and video games instead.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

A Supreme Injustice


Many people are outraged over the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, and perhaps rightly so, but the real injustice is not who was appointed, but the way in which the process of confirmation was conducted. It does not bode well for the future of the country when the justice system itself becomes entrenched in politics and agenda-setting.

I am old enough to vaguely remember the Anita Hill hearings that dragged out the eventual confirmation of Justice Clarence Thomas. I am grateful to Hill for her courage and personal conduct during an excruciating process. I am also grateful for the fact that the televised hearings pre-empted my own appearance on The Jerry Springer Show, back when it was produced in Cincinnati and had not yet become the totally dysfunctional mess it is today. In retrospect, it was still a trap production, and more on that later. The point here is that when President George H.W. Bush appointed Justice Thomas, there still was a process of confirmation, a clear path that everyone followed with respect for

Contrast those events of 1991 with recent trends in filling Supreme Court vacancies. Fresh in our collective minds is the Republican refusal to allow President Barack Obama to fill a vacancy near the end of his term. Forget respect for the process, Mitch McConnell and friends flat-out suspended the process, blocking all attempts to even hold confirmation hearings for nominee Merrick Garland. That this refusal to participate in the process was not illegal, never mind unethical, boggles the mind. From announcement of his nomination to his Senate confirmation, Justice Thomas' process extended from July 1, 1991 to October 15, 1991. Months. MONTHS.

We could argue forever as to whether Anita Hill had credibility, whether her testimony had any effect in swaying some Senate votes, or even whether the effects of Justice Thomas' appointment changed the Supreme Court for better or worse. What we cannot argue is that the process was adhered to, was executed with civility and decorum, and with respect for the justice system. All of that went out the window with this latest sorry excuse for a "process."

There is wild speculation as to why the hurry-hurry rush-rush to get Kavanaugh on the bench. One claim that probably does carry some weight is that President Trump needs a powerful ally in undermining the investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 elections. It is not much of a leap to suggest that this is a "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" arrangement, with the added benefit that a now highly conservative Supreme Court is not likely to oppose gun rights, or support rights to birth control, or take a liberal stance on other critical issues that could come before its bench. Still, there is no excuse for conducting confirmation hearings with such recklessness, and complete disrespect for people who claim to be victims of the nominee's prior behaviors. Kavanaugh's conduct during the hearings should raise serious questions about his fitness for a position that demands the ultimate in professionalism.

I am taken back to The Jerry Springer Show again. I was to be on a panel of adult children of divorce. I'd already been on Donahue, so had faith in the process of television production. I can say truthfully that Phil Donahue did his homework, and had no real agenda but truth, compassion, and respect. Jerry Springer's staff wanted conflict, victim roles, and ratings. You, as a guest, were expected to comply. Donahue's process was honest and respectful. Springer's show was coercive and basically ambush "journalism."

This latest Supreme Court confirmation was not process. It was theatre. It did not even pretend to have the best interests of the nation at heart. The President is still fixated on "ratings," and this was his latest show. Hell, Rosanne Barr might have made a better nominee in that case. The citizenry knows better, the difference between entertainment and distraction and the very real repercussions of hastily-drafted personnel to places of great power. We, the people, will remember this, your disdain for process and civil conduct.