Greta Thunberg: Most important message ever

I am at a loss for words. Seriously, there is not much I can add to the 1st video below.

Information about climate change is all around us. Everyone knows about it; Most people understand that it is real and it that poses an existential threat, quite possibly in our lifetimes. In our children’s lives, it will certainly lead to war, famine, cancer, and massive loss of land, structures and money. It is already raising sea level and killing off entire species at thousands of times the natural rate.

Yet, few people, organizations or governments treat the issue with the urgency of an existential crisis. Sure! A treaty was signed and this week, Jeff Bezos committed to reducing the carbon footprint of the world’s biggest retailer. But have we moved in the right direction since the Paris Accords were signed 4 years ago? On the contrary, we have accelerated the pace of self-destruction.

I want speak out—and, of course, this Blog post is my way of doing it. But I am at a loss for words, because everything I want to say is so deftly articulated by 15 year old Greta Thunberg. I cannot possibly add to or improve upon her message.

Greta is not your typical hero. She is a child, has Asperger’s, and is a high school Sophomore, yet she is a truant. That is, she regularly skips class, because she feels that doing her own thing is more important than education. She is absolutely right…

This week Greta educated the UN, US Congress and former President Obama (because the current president cannot grasp her message). She also led a protest campaign that attracted millions of Millennials in more than 100 cities across Asia, Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

Greta Thunberg is racing to save the world—and all of humanity while she is at it.

Rather than link to her talk before Congress or the UN, or this overly-slick PSA, I choose three videos. The last one is only 49 seconds). Don’t have the time to pause for a video?—not even at bed time? Please reconsider. This one is really, really important. Even more important than not texting and driving. If ever you felt that there was something to communicate to your circle and pass onto your family, this is it. Your children are counting on you.

In the first two videos, Greta makes interesting point. If ever you imagined hearing an alarm bell, your ears should be clanging with these statements…

▪ 1st video, below

Greta was puzzled by an apparent incongruity when she was 8 years old: How is it that a widely reported existential threat has not resulted in a Stop-The-Presses, all out campaign to eliminate the threat? How is it that a majority of people claim to support the cause, applaud at speeches, support the Paris Accords—and yet the burning of fossil fuels has increased and the destruction of jungles & rain forests is accelerating? The carbon budget of the Paris Accords has already been ⅔ consumed! Even worse, scientists now believe that the budget was too relaxed. Even back then (3 years ago) things were worse than we had believed.

▪ 2nd video, below

Although Greta states it without emotion (a symptom of Asberger’s), she was surprised to find that America has climate change ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers’. Without a hint of sarcasm, she explains that in Sweden, everyone understands the facts.

Please view these videos. Is there anything in your day that is more important? I doubt it. Saving the planet is no longer a slogan. It’s our only chance at survival—and that chance is getting slimmer with each day.

1. Ted Talk (11 min), Stockholm Aug 2018

2. Trevor Noah TV episode (9 min), Sep 14, 2019

3. Meeting President Obama (49 sec), Sep 18, 2019

Betty’s Table: Something completely different

Let’s start with a backstory. The real story is in the last ⅓, but don’t jump ahead just yet! We’ll paint a backdrop of rich texture and introduce key characters: Me, Betty, my mom and brother, Betty’s son, Gaston and my daughter. But wait! I’m getting ahead of myself.

Do you remember Betty? Of course you do! She was friends with my older brother, Chuck, after he graduated from college. I was still in middle school, but I looked up to her and hoped that she would become my sister-in-law. How cool is that!

I grew up in a Chicago suburb. In this photo from the 1970s Betty prepares a Sedar meal at our home. (Hence, a box of Matzo on the right).

Betty and Chuck never felt the electricity needed for romance. But we didn’t lose Betty to the wind. She formed a close personal and professional friendship with my Mom. They worked together at Mom’s antique store and the two of them started several business ventures.

Eventually, Betty got married and moved to France with her new husband. He had managed a Chicago restaurant, but got a job at much fancier restaurant in Paris.

I visited Paris in the 1980s after graduating from college. Betty had already been there for 4 years, and our families had all but lost touch.

This was an impulse trip. Northwest Airlines started non-stop service to France. To announce the new flights, they cut the fare to $99 with no advance reservations needed. It was as easy as stepping onto a bus. And so, I flew to Paris for a long weekend. I had no plan, didn’t speak the language, and didn’t know anyone—except Betty and her son, Gaston.

When Betty moved to France, Gaston was just 8 years old. Now, at 12, he was speaking French more fluently than his mom. I borrowed him as personal translator and tour guide. (Today, he lives in Poland with his son and daughter).

On the left (1980s), 12 year old Gaston shows me the Eiffel Tower. 20 years later, I visited with my daughter (not shown). On the right, Gaston returns with his daughter. Life comes around!

Betty’s Rising Star

Any friend of our family—or Betty’s family—knows that she is incredibly artistic. She has always been oozing with talent. Regardless of the medium, painting and sculpture are second nature to her. In France, she became a sensation—living and working there for more than 20 years.

But recently, Betty divorced and moved back to Chicago. Eventually, she started a summer arts camp for children in Wisconsin. I am certain that she would have renewed many projects with Mom, but my mother died of Ovarian cancer years ago. That chapter has ended for all time.

Betty continues to thrive as an artist. She paints murals and is constantly offered private commissions to paint a specific thing—or for a special occasion. With rising stature and prolific output, she is doing well.

Poignant and Affective

Now that you have the background, here is a very short story. It’s more about me than it is about Betty. If you’re into happy endings, you may want to wait for the unwritten epilogue. This one is filled with happy memories, but very sad as it reaches present day. That’s because the happy memories may be only in the past.

Today, I experienced a pang of nostalgia and a terrible emptiness. To empathize or console, click to enlarge the photo collage and look closely at each image…

Betty paints a table for Ellery

Photos in the top row were taken 36 years ago. Bottom photos were taken today. This was my kitchen table for all but eight of those 36 years. It got lots of use, even after it was replaced in our kitchen. But now, I can’t bear to look at it. It sings out too many happy memories. Memories of the past. Memories that overwhelm my constitution.

Top Row (May 1983): Mom took the 3 photos in the top row. Betty is customizing an expandable table with a mural for my new home. Flowers and birds line up perfectly, with or without the expansion leaf. Just as with this ostrich egg, Betty’s Escher-like talent can wrap an illustration around a surface and lock it back onto itself like a jigsaw puzzle.  »

Bottom Row (August 2019): The bottom row shows the table being loaded onto a dumpster in front of my home. It saw its last meal a few months ago. Now, I am divorced and alone. My daughter has just left for college on the other coast. She is 2,700 miles away and the home is just too filled with stuff to sell, rent—or even to continue using on my own. I need to downsize. And to be honest, the happy memories of the past are too painful for this table too stay so close to me.

Homework at Betty’s table

In 2011, I flew across the country to care  for my ailing father. Back home, my wife remodeled the kitchen and bought a new glass table. Since then, Betty’s beautiful table has lived in our cellar. But, even after we separated, it came upstairs frequently—as if it wanted to be sat at and used. I have dragged it up and re-assembled it whenever we had a cookout, when my daughter operated a lemonade stand, and even after my wife left the nest. She occasionally borrowed it for an event of her own. I was happy to loan it to her. After all, Betty and this table have been a silent part of our lives for so long.

But now, it is time to shed a tear and say good bye.

This was a grand table. Just like the love for my daughter, it is still sturdy and functional. I love it and I will miss it. Even though the choice is mine, I cried as I took it out to a dumpster to become buried in a landfill of rubbish. Just like people, it will eventually return to its organic roots.

No one will ever sit at this table again. No one will ever eat at it. No one will ever think of Betty, when they gaze at the beautiful art—except, perhaps, in this sad story.

I wonder how Betty is doing today? I wonder if she ever thinks of Mom. I wonder if she will ever see this article. I may see Betty again, but once the dumpster is picked up, I will never again see Betty’s beautiful table. Perhaps, you will shed a tear with me. I just don’t know if I did the right thing.

I considered including a photo of my daughter’s princess wand next to my Halloween wig. But for now, I cannot bear to share it. Wig and Wand at the top of a box in a trash dumpster—too much to deal with.

The dumpster will be at my home for 10 days, as I sweep out a lifetime of memories—mostly happy ones. Why am I sad?

Can I Check Web Sites Visited by my Kids/Staff?

Early this morning, I was asked this question at Quora. It’s a pretty basic request of network administrators, including parents, schools and anyone who administers a public, sensitive or legally exposed WiFi hot spot.

Is there a quick and easy way to view, log, or otherwise monitor the web sites visited by people on your home or office network?

Yes. It’s free and and it is pretty easy to do.

It gets a bit trickier, if the individual on your network is using a VPN service that they have configured on their device.[1] A VPN does not stop you from logging their browsing, but all of their activity will point to the VPN address instead of the site that they are actually visiting. In that case, there is another way to monitor their activity. See note #1, below.

Before getting into this, I should mention that I believe that using covert methods to monitor a family member’s online activity is a terrible method of parenting. In my opinion, there are better ways to deal with the issue—parenting techniques that don’t undermine trust as they deal with safety.

I can think of at least three methods for logging the websites that people on your network visit. In the explanation below, we will focus on #2. For more information, dig into the notes at the bottom of this answer.

You can either…

  1. Configure your router to store logs of visited IP addresses [2]
  2. Set your router to use the DNS server at opendns.com, instead of the default server offered by your internet service provider. This involves a simple setting available in all routers. (Replace default DNS server addresses with 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220)
  3. You can set up a proxy which redirects web traffic to one of the computers in your house or a third-party service. This is how the monitoring software for parents and custodial services monitor or block web traffic.

In the remainder of this quick tutorial, we focus on method #2..

Once you configure your router to use the two DNS servers at OpenDNS.com, create a free account on their web site. Then, enable the logging feature. It not only shows you visited domains, it maps them into actual domain names and subdomains—making it easy to search, sort or analyze traffic.

You can download a spreadsheets and sort by number of visits or by the domains visited. Logs are maintained for only two weeks. So, if you wish to maintain a history, you will need to visit OpenDNS and download them regularly. (Check their user forum. Someone has created a safe, single-line DOS command that downloads these activity logs to your PC).


[1] VPN, Onion Routing and Encryption

If an individual in your home or office is using a Virtual Private Network [VPN], they are effectively covering their tracks with method #3, above. You can see their connection to the VPN service, but that service is either trusted to destroy logs of visited web sites, or anonymize traffic, by routing it through a chain of users that have no way to back-trace and identify the requester’s address.

Since their traffic originates on your network, there are other things you can do to monitor their activities. For example, if they are not using end-to-end encryption, you can use method #3 yourself, to route data in and out through your own PC or service.

[2] Logging the IP address or domain of visited web sites is not a feature of all routers. I have three recent model routers — and only one of them has a feature to log traffic in and out of the network.

[3] OpenDNS cannot discriminate the individual device in your home or office that has accessed websites that it logs. The logs include the traffic for all HTTP access that originates through your internet service subscription.

But some remarkable feature of OpenDNS (other than it being completely free):

a) It speeds up your overall internet experience noticeably! Like Google’s free DNS service, it is more robust and more redundant than the default DNS settings recommended by your internet service provider.

b) It maps every IP address into a domain name. So when you log in to check your logs and statistics, you don’t need to figure what the numbers mean. You view a list that makes sense. You can even search for certain words or web sites.

c) It permits you to block websites based on a very rich set of 100 criteria, including violence, adult content, hate speech, etc.

d) It offers graphs of your network access including overall volume. An example is shown here:

Are cats useful for controlling rodents?

Everyone knows that cats are natural born hunters. Their brains are wired to catch mice and other tiny varmints. It’s their raison d’être—their primary purpose of existence.

But asking if cats can catch mice is very different than asking if they are good at controlling a rodent population. Far from it! In fact, a well fed, well cared for cat does exactly the opposite. It will infest a suburban home faster than an open door smeared with peanut butter and cheese. Allow me to explain…

I live in the suburbs of Boston. That’s my house below.

My neighborhood has no rodent problem. Apart from early morning walks with my dog into the woods, I have never seen a mouse, vole, gopher or chipmunk with one very big exception. I’ll explain later. Typically, the only rodents I see are squirrels on lawns and a pet hamster or gerbil in a neighbor’s terrarium…

That was before I became a cat owner. But, I have lived in the same house for 35 years. During that time, my family has had 6 cats (not all at the same time—But, thankfully, our cats have all lived past 20 years).

Our cats have access to the outdoors. They have their own door and can come and go as they please. They occasionally get into a scrape with a raccoon or another cat, but they have managed to avoid cars. But here’s the thing…

Earlier, I said that I never saw a mouse, a vole or a chipmunk. You might think this is because our cats scare them away or catch them on sight. Far from it! In my experience, cats don’t control or eliminate mice—they party with them!

Let’s be clear: Apart from a pet or a laboratory, I never saw rodents until I owned cats. In the Fall and Summer, they bring mice, voles and chipmunks into the house every single day. And they rarely kill or seriously injure the little critters. Instead, they drop them in the kitchen (where I am cooking or working) or at the foot of the bed (where I am trying to sleep). Anyone who knows cat behavior understands that they gloat over their accomplishment and that they consider it a treasure for their human companion. They want high praise for delivering a fresh, intact toy.

So, in response to your question, a well-fed suburban cat is a rodent magnet! It may be different, if you live in the city or on a farm, and if your cat is perpetually hungry. But my cats hunt for friendship and for gifts. And this results in a rodent influx rather than rodent control.


Postscript: Rabbits are a different story altogether

Our cats also bring in an occasional bird, frog and snake. As with rodents, they take care to minimize hurting the creatures that they bring into the house. They are either playmates or gifts for their human companions. But, rabbits get special treatment…

For some reason that I cannot fathom, my cats exhibit a more traditional, predatory behavior when it comes to rabbits. At least once each month, they bring a wild rabbit into the house. They systematically torture and then slaughter it—typically, before I wake up. They decapitate the poor thing, disembowel the intestines and dismember the carcass. Then, if I am still asleep or out of the house, they devour every little bit except the tail and heart. Seriously! Upon close inspection of the murder scene, there is no evidence of a skull, fur or teeth. Even the spinal cord is gone. The only explanation is that the perp eats everything. With the exception of the aforementioned tail and heart, there is only a smear of blood on the floor.

In the photo below, we stopped our rabbit killer before it completely eliminated evidence of it’s gruesome act. At left, is an empty hide and a leg. On the right is the large intestine. Had we not intervened, even the guts and fur would be gone.

Holy Cow! I just discovered Almond Milk

Is almond milk healthier or better tasting than cow’s milk? Here is what Consumer Report says, but you may find my own experience more illuminating…

My Experience

For better or worse, I consume a large quantity of milk; a gallon of skim or 1% every week since early youth. I grew up in an era when kids were urged to drink 4 glasses each day. Breakfast cereals and oatmeal demand milk and ice cream was everyone’s favorite treat. But now, I am more health & environmentally conscious. I have finally begun to explore alternatives.

I can’t speak with authority on which is healthier—milk or a milk alternative. But, in just the past 24 hours, I certainly have formed an opinion about fat, carbs, taste, texture, sustainability, animal cruelty, shelf life and just about anything else you might ask.

Why Bother?

Take your pick: Fat, carbs, sustainability, fear of growth hormones and antibiotics—and for some consumers: a sensitivity to naturally occurring lactose or casein.

Why Not Soy Milk?

Soy is the #1 milk Alternative. But you won’t find me singing its praises. So, let’s get this one little detail off the table from the get go: Soy is banned from this analysis based solely on taste. For me, taste disqualifies it as a milk substitute. I never thought that soy milk tasted right—either straight up, in coffee or on cereal. It just seems a bit off.

What About Almonds?

I have no idea why I waited a lifetime to try almond milk, especially considering that milk is my comfort food and I love snacking on almonds.

I just bought my very first: a 96 oz plastic container of Silk brand, unsweetened almond milk, and I am totally floored. Wow—It is fantastic! Smooth, seductively aromatic and quite sweet (even though it is unsweetened, with only 30 calories per cup). It goes perfectly with breakfast cereal, both hot or cold. (N.B. I have not tried it in coffee, because I drink it black).

Appearance / Taste:

To my palate, Silk unsweetened almond milk tastes surprisingly close to 1% or 2% dairy milk. Any almond milk has a slight nut taste and a warm color (light tan instead of bright white).

Why did I wait decades to try almond milk? I have no idea. I will try making it at home, but—for me—stabilizers, calcium, vitamins, and preservatives are not important issues. My hot buttons, are taste, texture, carbs, fat content, animal cruelty and sustainability.

Protein, Vitamins & Calcium

Dairy and Soy have protein, but almond milk does not. Getting enough protein is not an issue for me. I eat plenty of meat, fish and peanut butter. On the other hand, store bought milk is an important source of calcium and vitamins. The two national brands of almond milk, Silk and Almond Breeze, are fortified with Vitamin A, D & E. They have 50% more calcium than cow’s milk.

Carbs

For me, this is the big kahuna. Until recently, I was borderline diabetic. My doctor demanded that I lose weight, exercise and cut way back on carbs. I listened, and my health is much better for heeding his advice. If I hadn’t, I would be pricking my finger and shooting insulin. More importantly, I would prefer to keep my eyesight and toes.

A cup of 1% dairy milk has 12.2g of carbs; most of it from lactose, a form of sugar. Lactose-free milk has about the same carbs, because the dairy replaces lactose with another sugar. Silk unsweetened almond milk tastes great. I don’t find it lacking in flavor or sweetness. Yet, it has only 1g of carbs; 92% less than dairy milk. [continued]…

Cost, Shelf Life

I am slightly concerned about cost and shelf life. Compared with the house brand of dairy milk, Silk brand almost milk is about twice the cost. According to the label, it remains fresh for 7~10 days, while store bought dairy milk typically has an expiration of 10~12 days. Since almond milk comes in a slightly smaller container (96 -vs- 128 oz), hopefully, that this won’t be a problem.

Conclusion

I am hooked, even before comparing brands or testing recipes at home, I prefer almond from the very first taste. After consuming 2,600 gallons of cow’s milk (52 gal/yr * years since childhood), I am convinced that almonds beat cows hands down.

But, you may not share my priorities. You might react to lactose or casein or you might not like a slight nut flavor. You might want a natural source of protein or feel that almonds don’t do justice to morning coffee. Check out the comparison below and then try almond milk for yourself. Let me know what you think!

Taste
Cost
Primary Food
Shelf life
Calories/Fat
Total Carbs
Spectacular—better than milk
About 2x the cost of milk
Produced with no heat and little energy/resources
Once opened, it is 30% less than milk
30 calories and 2.5 grams (not saturated)
1g (no sugars!) -vs- 12.2g in cow’s milk

Several acquaintances have asked if I accepted cash or consideration for expressing this positive opinion about almond milk and Silk brand in particular. Not at all. My opinion and decision to publish is personal and extemporaneous. I have no commercial ties, referral fee, free samples or any consideration. I have no contacts with any vendor or food purveyor.

Shifting Politics: Perhaps Texas can be redeemed, afterall

I love Texas! I love horses, wide open prairies, cowboy lore, beef, The Alamo and Texas Instruments. San Antonio and the area around El Paso is way cool. I especially love the independent spirit of limited government politics.

I’m not too keen on an economy that is still tied to fossil fuels, but I get it. Texas, Oaklahoma and Pennsylvania were the spigot of a carbon-based industrial revolution. The economy grew up hand-in-hand with the automobile and natural gas piped directly into homes, businesses and powerplants all over the country. It was a time before we became dependent on foreign nations. It was a time before we learned about greenhouse gas and a fragile environment. Gradually, even Texans are accepting the science of man’s relationship with nature—educating children, motivating citizens and retraining thousands of workers.

But seriously. What’s not to love?

Well, for one, there is an undercurrent of rural xenophobia. At least that’s what I have heard. To be honest, I have yet to meet a Texan that does not appreciate Mexico and the contributions of Mexican Americans—even during an extended house hunting trip deep in the heart of Texas, I sensed generous and tolerant citizens. If hate is brewing, it is still buried deep below the surface.

The Demographics

Outside of large cities, much of Texas is a single-party state. And the party is not mainstream Republican. At least not the Republicans that anyone over 40 was taught to respect. You know—the one that stood for limited taxation, but still understood the need for a safety net. The one where neighbor loved neighbor and religion was a personal conviction; not peddled with the conviction of superiority. It certainly is not the party that I once called home—the one that represents shared goals of limited government, personal freedom and modest checks & balances on the redistribution of wealth.

Something happened on the road from Regan to Palin to Trump. The modern evolution of rural, red Republicans is a bastardized version of party politics, alternatively known as Tea Party or Trumpians. It is characterized by head-in-sand intolerance, hate and xenophobia. Its lies are not accompanied by shame nor even awareness. It spews forth misogyny and it changes position with the fears and intolerance of donors. And the biggest alarm: It injects a bible into our democratic system of pluralistic governance. Is that the basis of a democracy? When has that formula ever worked?!

Fortunately, this is beginning to change—and the change is spearheaded by MJ Hegar who is running against Tea Party Congressman John R. Carter, man without a clue. This video is sheer genius! Perhaps Texas will move away from hate and find its footing.

As you watch the video below, consider that Air Force Major Mary Jennings Hegar is a search and rescue pilot who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan. After her helicopter was hit by enemy fire, she continued her rescue mission. She crashed on that mission while returning Taliban fire. She won the Purple Heart and a distinguished flying cross with valor. When she was denied ground combat service because she is a woman, she sued the Pentagon and won.

If you are Republican, try to overlook that Hager is running as a Democrat. In the end, it’s not about party. Parties mash disparate issues into a ‘platform’ and punish candidates for statements or deeds outside their red lines. They are incompatible with independent thinkers who consider the common good (i.e. the collective needs of all constituents). They don’t tolerate officials who vote their conscience.

Reflect, instead, on Hegar’s message. She is tolerant, inclusive, compassionate and willing to continue working for a country that constantly tries to shut doors in her face.

Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or Independent, MJ Hegar is my kind of woman!

Sex Equality: I’m With Her

A Wild Duck guest editorial

Lydia Begag is a high school junior at Advanced Math and Science Academy in Massachusetts. She got our attention when she published an editorial critical of the school’s uniform policy. With eloquence and articulation, she laid out a brilliant and persuasive argument that the policy was anything but uniform. It was ambiguous, arbitrary and discriminatory.


I’m with Her
Ideas Regarding Sex Equality—Forget the Rest

Political and social turmoil are everywhere we turn, especially in the early months of 2017. Lunch conversations, small talk at work, and, of course, the media we consume have all become related to a singular topic: the United States government and its workings. Emotionally, I want to curl up in a ball and block out the political nonsense being spewed left and right until the day I die (pun very much intended)—but I feel intellectually obliged to confront the controversy.

All who live and breath America understand why politics have always been a hot topic for debate. Every ideology, action, and word are potentially contentious. Such is especially the case with modern feminism. Everyone seems to have a different opinion of it and portrays it in different ways, from the group of men wolf whistling at a woman on her way to her car after work to powerful cultural figures who associate themselves with the movement. Before we can even begin to familiarize ourselves with conflicting beliefs towards women and feminism in general and their reflection of a worrisome mentality, it is crucial to first understand feminism’s roots in the United States, and how interpretations of the word and the movement have varied throughout the years.

Feminism begins its legacy in 19th-century America, where its first-wave arises at the Seneca Falls Convention of July 1948. Prominent feminists of the era (including Elizabeth Cady Stanton—more on her later!) issued a Declaration of Sentiments for women that emulated the Declaration of Independence their husbands had crafted 170 years earlier. The document asserted that women had fundamental rights that were denied without cause, including suffrage. However, the first-wave feminist movement raised a series of questions regarding whether it was acceptable to promote black civil rights over and into women’s rights. Should the rights of black men be prioritized over establishing and recognizing rights for women? Should black women be considered in the fight for gender equality as well, or would that undermine the cause white women had been fighting for for so long? The moral conflict eventually resulted in a success for the women’s suffrage movement in 1920. White women, led by famous feminists such as Stanton, Alice Paul, and Lucy Burns, gained the right to vote in federal and state elections via the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Women of color, however, were left in the dust and did not start to gain suffrage until 1965. This type of exclusive feminism did not end when women of color gained suffrage; it has proven itself to be significant even today.

The list of American feminist milestones goes on and on. Women experienced sexual liberation in the Roaring 20s, when life was grander and more exquisite than ever. They essentially took over maintenance of the U.S. economy when men went  to fight in the world wars, and Rosie the Riveter was born. Women were also becoming increasingly influential in politics. Such milestones included the first woman to run for president on a major-party ticket in 1972 to landmark Supreme Court cases asserting that a right to privacy does include guaranteed legal accessibility to abortion and contraceptives. Title 9, the amendment to the Education Amendments Act of 1972, enabled girls in schools across the country to receive the same benefits as their male peers. All of these milestones reshaped a woman’s role in society throughout the 20th century onwards, but they did not come without drawbacks. The ’20s was an intense era of sexist and classist attitudes. Female sexual liberation resulted in extreme objectification. After WWI was over and soldiers came home, women were whisked back into the households to resume their roles as obedient housewives. Male dominance made running for public office harder for a woman, despite having the opportunity. And let us not forget the controversy surrounding a woman’s right to privacy. A significant factor involves religious morals and/or other ethical reasoning that are not related to gender equality, but it is impossible to ignore the misogynistic rationale that many pro-lifers exhibit. All of the achievements we’ve had have seemingly been countered by just as much dissent as support, a persistent reality since Abigail Adams urged her husband to support gender equality.

We are currently in the era of what fundamentalist feminists call “Take A Shot Every time You Offend Someone With One of Your Comments.” That term, of course, is colloquialism at its finest. You’re probably more familiar with something called third-wave feminism. This type of feminism has become increasingly less focused on the kind of feminism Stanton was prominent for (Yay! Exclusivity!) and more on queer and non-white women. The concept of intersectionality was introduced in the late ’80s just before this third wave began. It has received great support by women of color and those who had always been ignored by exclusive feminists, but as we already know, dissent is just around the corner.

The most popular criticism focuses on a lack of cohesion. First wave feminism fought for and gained female suffrage. The second wave fought for the right for women to have access to equal opportunity in the workforce and an end to legal sex discrimination. What is third wave feminism’s goal? Is there even a goal, or are its advocates serving as the world’s determinators of what is PC and what is not? The stigma around the feminist movement has existed ever since its origins in this country, but the increasing disassociation of women from the term ‘feminism’ has become alarming in recent years. For every outspoken celebrity and political feminist there is out there (think Emma Watson, Shonda Rhimes, Nancy Pelosi) there is an equally prominent female figure that opposes the movement, such as Lana del Rey, Tomi Lahren, and Shailene Woodley. Here’s the kicker: these role models usually aren’t misogynistic or demeaning. They simply seek to avoid affiliation with the word itself and its modern day supporters. This is understandable; we’re a country founded on grounds of freedom. If a person doesn’t want to associate themselves with a movement, there’s no obligation to. However, the fact that women don’t even want to be labeled feminists because of what it has come to signify is something I find very problematic. I don’t see this as an inadequate reflection of what 21st century women believe in, but rather a poor reflection on the feminist crusade. The way I look at it is this: apples don’t fall off a tree because they are too heavy. Rather, they fall off because the stem is too weak to support them.

This creation of a conflict within a conflict has led to major confusion on what “right” feminism is. As defined by Merriam Webster, “feminism” is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. This most basic meaning of the word is something most women, if not all, should consider when they debate  whether or not to label themselves a feminist. Sex equality is really the only thing the third-wave feminist movement should be focused on. Issues such as racial inequality, and rights for LGBT and disabled persons, are a matter for a cause much broader than feminism (think egalitarianism). The more narrow a movement and its fight becomes, the more likely it is to accomplish its goals. The first two waves of feminism all had a set goal in mind, which was something that followed core feminism to the nines. In the midst of all of the social unrest that has risen since the ’80s, the feminist movement has been trying to take over the egalitarianist one. However, if women ever wish to gain social equality between the sexes, it is necessary to narrow the cause to its fundamental roots.

Another issue with the modern feminist movement is that, in the effort towards sex equality, many feminists have interpreted being equal to men as trying to act just like them. Men and women are different, biologically and perhaps psychologically, but of equal value. To quote Mary Ramirez’s “Dear Daughter: Here’s Why I Didn’t March For You”: “…we are biologically and physically and emotionally different from men, but that doesn’t mean we’re less. It means we’re special.”

Nonetheless, achieving social equality between the sexes is something I consider crucial, particularly for the girls just starting to grow up in this country. It is disheartening for women to live in a world where, from the moment we start to grow up and find ourselves in a male-centric society, life becomes a tale of denigration and overt sexualization. However, the problem with using modern feminism to change this sexist attitude is that it has turned into a male resentment club, and no longer seems to revolve around sex equality in society. Off the top of my head, I can think of multiple times where the “feminists” surrounding me on a daily basis have remarked on female superiority or denounced women who do not wholeheartedly accept their idea of feminism. Feminism should preach equality and acceptance. Instead, it has turned into a catty game of doing to the men what the men have done to us. We live in a world where raising people up has turned into knocking others down. Vulgarity and impertinence has turned into the ideal image of a “strong” woman, and has become more and more acceptable. The idea of a feminist who respects others’ opinions has seemingly been swapped with one that thrives off of the idea of being regarded as “bitchy,” angry, or disrespectful. We’ve come a long way since our feminist founding mothers marched down Pennsylvania Avenue fighting for suffrage, and unfortunately, it’s not for the best.

Envisioning myself in the world of politics five or ten years down the road…I won’t pretend it doesn’t worry me at times.Influential female politicians over the years have found not their beliefs or their policy agendas as the primary subject of media conversation, but rather whether or not they’re menstruating or have considered cosmetic surgery. Seeing myself and others in my current situation has worried me as well. Despite growing up in a privileged setting where I receive nothing but acceptance from my family, the school and work environment has offered me and similar girls slut-shaming, catcalling, and the craftiest of off-hand remarks (“Who are you trying to impress today with that outfit?”). A multitude of women who come from different backgrounds have experienced similar toxicity in their surroundings. Ultimately, any setting for a woman can be a problematic one, and a promotion of classic feminism could turn things around. To me, an advocacy for respect on both sexes’ parts—rather than claimed superiority—would be transformative in making these conditions for bearable for young American women and men. Right now, what we have is extreme exclusivity and not enough acceptance.

Want to call yourself a feminist? Great! Reluctant to associate yourself with the movement but still support sex equality? Sounds good! Don’t support sex equality and a reversal of traditional gender roles? That is still okay! Obviously if an opinion undermines the cause you are fighting for, you’re not inclined to encourage it. But what the American public needs to realize is that, when advocates contradict the cause of unity and respect with their actions and words change will not come. Crudity does not empower you; it only cheapens you.

As mentioned before, narrowing down the movement’s goals is also crucial in moving forward. In comparison to many nations around the world, the United States has seen great success when it comes to fighting for sex equality. The third-wave feminist movement does have some valid issues to advocate for—domestic violence, raising awareness for rape victims, pay discrimination, etc.—but also chooses to focus on trivial causes like Free the Nipple and eliminating “manspreading.” Perhaps it is because we have obtained legal equality (thanks, first two waves!). But now that social equity has become the main focus, a blur of ideas and beliefs have resulted in a chaotic, incohesive movement. If you consider feminism at its core, the social issue to fight for is clear. There are many causes worth fighting for: racial inequality, ableism, and marriage justness, to name a few. But for the love of God, leave the aspects that do not relate to sex equality for the egalitarians. They’re there for a reason.

Author’s Note:  Add a comment or question below. I will respond promptly.

— Lydia Begag

United Air: Public relations nightmare

Check out the last minute of this Jimmy Kimmel video. It is a spoofed TV commercial for United Airlines. Based on recent events, it seems pretty authentic. Kimmel’s monologue is pretty funny too!

I have heard from a few people who defend United—offering an explanation of overbooking policy—or the rude defiance of the Asian doctor that was dragged out of the plane bloodied and on his back (and apparently, with a broken jaw). But, no matter how you spin this, United was incredibly foolish to issue a patently offensive statement about how clients were unfortunately “reaccommodated”.
Yeah! I’ll agree that it was certainly unfortunate. But, I am not too sure about this being an example of airline accommodation. Check out the Twitter reaction.
Typically, these things blow over and the public searches for the next low fare—even if it is lower by only one dollar. But this time, I think that United may feel the pain. Their methods and the ensuing arrogance of CEO, Oscar Munoz, are tantamount to flipping a middle finger at paying passengers.
Good luck with that, United Airlines!

Friends at odds with ideology?

At Quora, I play, “Ask the expert”. Hundreds of my Quora answers are linked at top-right on this page. Today, I was asked “Would you stop being friends with someone—if you discovered that they are against gay marriage?”. This is my answer…


Would I stop being friends? Of course not. But I must qualify this answer…

If their position on abortion or marriage is driven by blind, rabid, religious ideology, then I probably wouldn’t have considered them a friend in the first place. In my circles, one’s personal faith should be a guide for moral behavior in a pluralist world. It should never be a substitute for science, common sense, or tolerance. So, for the purpose of this question, I will assume that they are not a right-wing religious conservative.

So, would I stop being friends? Not at all; as long as I can relate to them—intellectually or emotionally. Perhaps not on this matter, but at least on other issues that matter to both of us. My friends have a diverse matrix of opinions, and these often don’t coincide with my own.

Let me offer an example:

I live in America. I am Never Trumper. That is, I believe that our new president has a mental illness and that his election to high office has the potential for disaster (or at least significant ridicule and ‘missed opportunity’ among nations).  Among my extended circle of several hundred medium-close business and personal contacts, I know of only two individuals who supported Trump in the election. And now, 2 months into his presidency, they still support his policies and even his unstable, irrational temperament.

Do I still like these individuals; talk with them; and friend them on social media? Of course! A friend is a friend until they betray you—or until your perspectives are so far apart that you cannot reasonably communicate nor even relate to each other on all the other matters that count.

As I observe one of these two friends continue to support our president in light of behavior that I cannot accept, I begin to realize that he and I interpret events quite differently. We certainly don’t see eye-to-eye on a leader who—for me—is so clearly sophomoric, aberrant and dangerous. Sometimes, I wonder if I can call him a “friend”. But then I reflect on the tangential facts. They matter:

  • I think about all the reasons that we became friends, and the things that he has done for me
  • I think about his qualities, his family, and his work ethic
  • I think about all the people who view the world as he does

After all, Trump won the election and at least 40% of the popular vote. Since less than 1% of my friends voted for him, I may be in the majority—but I have probably lived in a bubble regarding domestic politics. My understanding and appreciation for the political landscape has been challenged.

Here is a second scenario (much more brief): I attended university in a state where smoking and drinking were legal, even for students. Yet, in college, I never used cigarettes or marijuana, and I had not yet started to drink wine or beer. I associated these activities with a derelict upbringing—and so I refused to room with, study with or become friends with anyone who drank or smoked. I even resisted socializing with acquaintances who had a friend who drank or smoked.

In those days, I was referred to as “square”—a term that means rigid, authoritarian, unbending and unrealistic. As you can imagine, I did not have many friends, until I lightened up a bit!

In summary, the question begs anyone who has firmly held beliefs to ask themselves if their beliefs should dictate their associations. Friendships are built on trust and shared experience—not just ideology or even important issues of the moment. In businesses, alliances are built on a common interest. But in life, friendships have more to do with nurturing, respect, selflessness and other personal qualities. Opinions on specific issues matter, but they are far down on the list of human qualities.


I originally ended my answer here. But, in consideration of all the above, I must point out that the ideology-friendship debate has limits. For example, I could not remain friends with someone who believed that the world was created in the past 6,000 years, that LGBT should be marched into concentration camps, that global warming is a hoax, that we must live under Sharia Law, or that woman should not be accorded personal freedoms and basic human rights. (I am not referring to abortion—that’s a bit more complex. I refer to FGM, the right to an education, to drive a car, or to not be covered in a burka). These are all issues of profound ignorance or intolerance. They represent two special classes of hate.

I didn’t mention my abhorrence and intolerance for these things, because of the way in which the original question is structured. It is highly unlikely that I am already friends with anyone so ignorant or intolerant.

VILE: USA treatment of tourists under Trump

 

I wrote this during Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress (Day 40 as president). Pundits
praised his conciliation and delivery. Trump stayed on-point and appeared more “presidential” than in past.
This post is about action; not talk or appearance. It is testimony of his leadership earlier on the same day.

This weekend, Mem Fox—a well-known Australian children’s author—was pulled aside at the airport upon arrival. She describes a horrifying and undignified experience. One that made her abhor our country. Others in the room were treated even worse. Those who were not white, English-speaking and upper-middle-class were yelled at and mercilessly humiliated. No toilet or water was offered to arriving passengers—even a young woman with a baby.

You might wonder what was the reason for suspicion? She certainly doesn’t fit the profile of  a terrorist. Many American children grew up with her books. This was her 117th visit. She is white, wealthy, educated and articulate. (None of these traits are required to visit the United States). She was pulled aside and interrogated because her airline ticket appeared to be paid by her American publisher. The immigration official claimed that she was attempting to sneak in—and work in America, illegally.

Ms. Fox isn’t the only tourist to come forward today. The French Holocaust historian, Henry Rousso, was held for 10 hours at immigration. Was his entry suspicious? He has taught at Columbia University in New York and Sorbonne in Paris. He was visiting America to give a Keynote Address at Texas A&M. But just as with Mem Fox, the immigration agent learned that he was receiving a fee for his speech. He was told that he would handcuffed and deported on the next plain to Paris. If not for a sharp lawyer at the University, he would have been shipped away in humiliation and disgrace. Rousso sums up the experience by observing: “The US is no longer quite the US.

Their experiences make a mockery of the Emma Lazarus’ words at the base of Miss Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Apparently, under a Trump regime, even the upper class, the academics, and the distinguished don’t make the cut.

Is this the friendly and welcoming face that we wish to show our foreign visitors and academics? Do you think that they will travel to the United States or do business with us, if clueless border control agents behave in this manner?

What Chutzpah, Xenophobia, and misguided attempts at protectionism! Unfortunately interacting with minor officials under Trump seems a lot like the interaction between German citizens and Jack boots of the Nazi SS or Gestapo.

For many individuals like Fox and Rousso, it’s not just about fake news, narcissism, a string of lies, fearing the press, lashing out at critics, lining pockets at taxpayer expense, surrounding oneself with racists or buffoonery. Instead, it’s personal; it’s ugly; it reflects on all Americans; and it is reprehensible.

It doesn’t require a bipartisan gaggle of psychiatrists to recognize that our president is seriously deranged. That diagnosis is just plain common sense. Additionally, it doesn’t require a political analyst to observe Republican congressional leaders squirming in their chairs or struggling to show unity on the evening news. At least not if you avoid the ‘fake news’.

Now, we must summon the strength and the resolve to do something. Trump must not complete his first year in office. Even if his paranoia, vindictive ethos and contempt for the truth abates, think of the missed opportunities, the mass exodus of talent, the likelihood of a military orgy. Think of the lost business deals, the serious environmental damage and the fostering of hate between cultures. Think of a woman’s right to choose and the hard won LGBT right to marry and to be who they are.

Think about Mem Fox and Henry Rousso. I wish that I could get over the slimy behavior from his campaign trail, but here one last jab… Think about a leader who brags about his p*nis size and about grabbing woman by the p*ssy. Think like an individual who cares about the future of our nation, our alliances and our planet. Raise your voice. Join your neighbors. Seize the day. Do something!

In years of writing, I never thought that I would end an op-ed piece like this:

  • Resist
  • Defend
  • Restore our lost ethics and compassion
  • Embrace diversity—It is a core strength
  • Speak out for the environment
  • Deal honestly and fairly with other countries; lest they flee a relationship
  • The truth matters

21st Century Gender Sterotyping? Not so Fast!

Jennifer Wright (@JenAshleyWright) kicked up a firestorm last week, when she tweeted a photo of two side-by-side magazines on a newsstand. The contrast between cover features of Boys’ Life -vs- Girls’ Life is startling. With characteristic sarcastic wit, she tweeted:

“Why are you feminists always complaining?
We treat boys and girls exactly the same.”

For those who are reading this without the image below, the current issue of these magazines calls out to readers like this:

  • Boys: Would you like to build and fly the next generation of jet fighters?
  • Girls: What on Earth can you do with your hair and nails this weekend?

Boy'sLife-vs-Girl'sLife

The difference between these covers suggests that the respective magazine editors are pushing 19th century aspirations onto the next generation of women. It’s a reminder of the differences in the way we perceive the sexes. But does this contrast present a fair and balanced comparison?

Certainly, there is work to do—but, the stark difference between these magazine covers may not point to a societal ill in the way that seems to jump off the screen.

  1. Despite similar titles, these magazines have very different audiences and goals. I doubt that Girls’ Life is aimed at the broader demographics of Boys’ Life. The subscriber base evolved to target the girls of Toddlers and Tiaras. I am exaggerating by pointing to a narrow demographic, of course! but it sells to girls who already aspire to be future homemakers, or who simply have the fashion obsession that is still the hallmark of many preteen girls.
  2. Unlike boys, girls really do have more options for viewing their future and their careers. Feminism and technological/political empowerment is not yet universal or even universally embraced. Some families, particularly among the south, among religious conservatives, and among hard-hat towns dependent upon muscles and mining, still promote the notion of TFRs onto the next generation (traditionally female roles). Right or wrong, it brings us to point #3…
  3. It’s clear that there is a stark difference between covers: “How can I build a jet fighter?” -vs- “What will I do with my hair tonight?” But, it is all too easy to assume that we understand cause-and-effect. That is, the difference is likely to be a reaction to market forces, rather than the publisher’s attempt to shape desires. One cannot find fault with delivering content based on consumer demand.

If you tell me that there are plenty of girls that hope to build or fly a jet fighter, I will nod in agreement. But if you tell me that there is an equal fraction of boys who obsess over their nails, hair and the color of a blouse, I will wonder if we live on the same planet.

My teenage daughter is clearly in the former group: She imagines, asks tough questions, builds, tears down, and then builds a better gizmo from scratch. She codes Android apps and creates massive murals for the local shopping mall. But, some girls care about classic ‘girly’ things, at least during their early years. And here’s a surprise…

Many of these gilrly girls exhibit just as much technical proficiency and self-confidence as their empowered peers. They are assertive, independent, financially savvy, and aware of their equal political and career footings. Helen-Gurley-Brown-vintageYet, many of us feminists bristle at the thought of a female child who obsesses about their hair and nails (at least to the point of subscribing to a magazine in that venue). In fact, the two are not mutually exclusive.

So, can I still call myself a feminist in the mold of Betty Friedan or Gloria Steinem? Perhaps not. I am more likely to identify with a less militant Helen Gurley Brown. She was all about empowerment and sexual equality. Yet, somehow, she avoided pushing the sexes to be completely indistinguishable and androgynous.

Do you disagree? Do you think that I exhibit a Luddite attitude that is at the core of a chauvinistic society? Don’t just let it grate on you—Be a Wild Duck! Leave a comment.

~Ellery

Supreme Court Ruminations

Although this Blog covers political issues in at least 1/3 of posts, I have never written about the Supreme Court. Perhaps this is because—despite politicization by partisans—this branch of government is distinguished by the fact that it enjoys a high approval rating by the American public. For the most part, Americans believe that our top justices are motivated by truth and a desire to apply the law fairly.

The observations below are just bits & pieces; Ellery’s insight into political thought. Some day, I may return to add or expand on these topics…

On Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg opining about Donald Trump

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

It’s hard to fault Justice Ginsburg for adding to the alarm that all thinking people feel concerning the popular rise of a xenophobic, self-centered misogynist. While a Supreme Court justice is expected to maintain a poker-face throughout their career, Ginsburg probably feels a patriotic obligation to do something other than remain quiet regarding a course of events that could well lead to riot and national ruin.

I have nothing against Mr. Trump personally—but I admire anyone with influence who refuses to keep quiet.

On Congress delaying Supreme Court review/ratification until the election

Judge Merrick-GarlandSpeaking of the Supreme Court, just where is it written that the US Congress can shelve their duty to review and ratify a judicial nominee, just because the president belongs to a different party—or because he has entered the last year of his term? That’s ¼ of his elected term. I mean c’mon folks: It’s your sworn duty. Do you job! Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland is not a partisan appointment.

For the record, Judge Garland has previously been vetted and exulted by a Republican Congress. He has distinguished himself as he supervised the investigation into the Alfred P. Murrah building bombing in Olklahoma City.

The never ending issue of safe & legal abortion

What is it that pro-life advocates don’t get—concerning the benefits of a secular, tolerant and inclusive government? I realize that lifers feel strongly that abortion is murder.

But there must be a line between government protection and a person’s own body. To draw the line of government oversight and meddling in the bedroom is beyond outrageous…

‘Pro-choice’ is not a nihilistic philosophy. Advocates do not set out to end the life of a fetus. Just as with end-of-life care, we believe that incredibly difficult and personal medical decisions belong with family and physicians rather than neighbors and government bureaucrats.

And while we’re at it, Planned Parenthood is not a tool of Satan. I can’t imagine an NGO that has done more to elevate women and serve their needs with sensitivity and compassion. Planned ParenthoodWhen you consider the shocking legal restrictions on facilities, tools, professionals, medicine and basic information, this organization shines like a beacon into the dark abyss,

Got Pokémon Go? Not Wesley Crusher!

If your a Trekkie, you remember Wesley Crusher, the young ensign, and son of the ship’s doctor on Star Trek, Next Generation. The character, played by Will Wheaton, appeared regularly for the first four seasons. But beginning with Season five, he made sporadic appearances as a guest star.

tumblr_inline_mqzrxpodNn1qz4rgpIn “The Game” (season 5, episode 6), Wesley locks lips with Ashley Judd, in her first on-screen kiss. It certainly wasn’t Will Wheaton’s first kiss. In “The Dauphin” (season 2, episode 10), he smooches with Salia, a shape-shifting alien with a penchant for morphing between a glowing pile of Jello into the more pleasing form thedauphin1-300x229of teen actress, Jamie Hubbard.

But I digress…

Wesley and his romantic interest hitch a ride on his former ship and discover that a virtual reality game is spreading across the crew like Ecstasy, or more specifically, like Pokémon Go, a Nintendo app that—just 5 tumblr_inline_mqznzssqzs1qz4rgpdays ago—no one had heard of. Now, it runs on one in five smart phones and is spreading like wildfire.

No phenomenon has ever spread across 20% of the population in 5 days. Not in the physical world—and not even in the digital realm. Edison’s gramophone and Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone are indisputably more crave worthy inventions than catching cartoon characters in imaginary balls. Yet, it took these earth shattering inventions twelve years to achieve market penetration.

Kitarian Game on Star Trek Next Generation

A quick pleasure? Use your thoughts to slide the red disks into the funnels.

The Tienanmen Square tank boy and the blue dress (I still claim that it is gold and white) are just bits and pixels. Yet, even these touchstone photographs spread across the country slower than the current Pokémon Go craze.

And just like the eyeglass-mounted game on the Enterprise, Pokémon Go taps directly into the pleasure center causing players to lose sense of where they are and what they had set out to accomplish. How can I be so sure of it’s nefarious capacity for mind control? After just five days, it is implicated in malware scams and armed robberies. It is every bit as addictive as crack cocaine, and possibly as destructive.

Forcibly tapping Wesley’s pleasure center via a game

Forcibly tapping Wesley’s pleasure center via a game

Do you think I’m kidding? When people are addicted to a VR app, bending their will is not difficult. Just ask 1,014 Star Trek crew members who were hypnotized and repuposed by a Ktarian mind control game. If it hadn’t been for the quick thinking of Wesley Crursher and his girlfriend, Ensign Robin Lefler (played by Ashley Judd), we’d all be speaking Ktarian today!


Postscript: This article is more about a Star Trek episode than it is about a new game app. I have always wanted to write a short post about a terrific television franchise that has touched so many people across three generations and all continents. The sudden spread of a new Internet sensation has simply given me the excuse to do so. Just like “Blink of an Eye”, The Game is indelibly written into my psyche. The parallels with an addictive new game that even captivates my AirBnB guest, Javier, and my neighbor, Lois, is eerie and raises questions about the causes, mechanisms and effects of mind control.

NC House Bill 2. Ignorance? No. Intolerance? Yes!

Indiana Governor Mike Pence must be breathing a bit easier right now. It was just a year ago that his zealous support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act threatened to undermine every business sector in the state,

Of course, that was a year ago. Governor Pence has signed legislation that revises the law to prevent potential discrimination. Although the revised law doesn’t outlaw LGBT discrimination, the stench around Indiana lawmakers has abated because a year has passed since the glare of a media spotlight. Now, the spotlight is focusing on North Carolina, where House Bill 2 is threatening that state’s fiscal health.

For Indiana, the rebellion was led by sports teams, including national gatherings like NASCAR. With North Carolina, it is led by musicians and, of course, business. In just the past two weeks a slew of venues was cancelled or sidelined, including concerts by Bruce SpringsteenPearl JamMaroon 5 and Itzhak Perlman.

Business and enterprise has a slightly longer time horizon than concert bookings, but the handwriting is on the wall: PayPal withdrew plans for a new Charlotte operations center because it opposes the law; the center would have created more than 400 jobs for the city. Deutsche Bank froze plans to add 250 jobs.

How bad is the public backlash? The Charlotte Observer reports that House Bill 2 could cost the state 5 billion dollars. That billion with a ‘B’.

North Carolina House Bill 2

Yes. This is the bill that thumbs its nose at the Obama administration after the White House issued guidance on common sense gender policies in public restrooms, especially in public schools, where it threatened the withdrawal of federal funds.

I won’t pretend that the issue is black & white. After all, a frequently repeated argument asserts that this ruling (or clarification of Title 9, as the White House characterizes it) permits a pervert to enter a girl’s bathroom by dressing as a woman or claiming to be transgendered, and that such entry poses a threat to children. The argument sounds reasonable—at least, that is, until you think about it for 10 seconds.

To illustrate my own take on the “Bathroom Bill”, I will support the common sense rights of transgendered individuals in using facilities that match their gender (as opposed to their birth sex)—by countering the arguments espoused by this angry, bipolar transphobic who is yelling his opinions at a Target store. He may be more vocal on the issue, but his logic is identical to every argument for shutting down Title 9 protections.

Caleb is the WildDuck reader who referred me to this video. He  exclaimed “Look at this ignorant nut and how a shopper takes him on,” This is my response to Caleb and anyone who is sitting on the fence about LGBT self determination…


Although you and I both disagree with the shouter in this video, Caleb, the term “ignorant” is not my first choice to describe this guy. I think that he is either a nut case, or he is off medication. But let’s consider his key argument: He claims that men can dress as women and take pictures of children in a kid’s bathroom.

  • I have not seen a kid’s-only bathroom—not even at Target. And so, I think that he is referring to the women’s bathroom.
  • There has always been the potential for a man to dress as a women and slip into a women’s bathroom. If the guy looks passable as a girl (whether transgendered or not), this activity cannot be easily prevented by Target or by turning back the transgender/Title 9 interpretation. After all, no one checks identity or gender when a customer ducks into a bathroom.
  • A pervert can just as easily take pictures of little boys. Just as with homosexual clergy, the proclivity to ogle little boys may be more common then it is with girls.
  • If a child is young (i.e. if she is defenseless), a parent or bigger sibling is generally in the bathroom too. When parent is with child, there may be a stranger taking covert photos, but who the h*ll cares? He doesn’t pose a threat—and he is more likely to be identified and reported.                                 [continue below photo]

hb2civilrightsviolation0505

For all of these reasons, an inclusive and tolerant Title 9 interpretation is reasonable. The people who oppose tolerance are those who hate the idea that transgendered people exist (or worse: want them to be “cured”) . They oppose rights for personal and religious reasons. But, religion and exclusion have no place in government policy.

I admit that I paused to reflect on this issue—and a closely related issue regarding public school funding last week. But my reflection was brief. SNL-RFRA-sTransgendered individuals aren’t hurting anyone, nor damaging the fabric of society. Moreover, the opportunity to photograph kids in a bathroom is not increased by permitting individuals to use the restroom that matches their gender identity. That few people are likely to even know that their gender differs from their birth anatomy, makes this issue a red herring.

A Wild Duck Analysis

The fervent zeal to turn back transgender guidance is based on religion, hate, ignorance or intolerance. These traits have no place in government. It can be difficult to separate our fears from our better judgement, but these traits must never influence the law. Each member of society deserves civil rights. Congregate with whomever you wish, but our community laws should not attempt to repress benign behavior.

RelatedBad for Business:Laws that Bully LGBT

Ellery Davies is a recovering homophobic. Fortunately, recovery started
decades before Indiana and North Carolina stuck their heads in the sand.

Wild Duck Adds Quora Answers

I have posted as AWildDuck for 4½ years. I have also written for Lifeboat, Yahoo, Engadget & Sophos NakedSecurity. But in just the past 3 months, Quora.com has published more of my answers than all other venues combined. More than half of Quora posts were solicited by editors or members.

This month, I became Most Viewed Writer for 7 Quora topics, and among the top 50 writers in many others.                   [Continue below]…Quora_Most_Viewed_splashWriting as “Ellery Davies”, I am a top contributor for Bitcoin, Virtual Currency, Cryptocurrencies, Routers, Local Area Networks, Gravity and Digital Currency. Since these are topics discussed here, my Quora posts are now linked at top right   »
—with the latest post on top.

Gifts: Which of these things is not like the other?

Time for a pop quiz: Which of these things does not belong?

not_these_gifts-s

wristwatch      • wallet      • pen      • chocolates     • eyeglasses

Actually, it’s a trick question. If your giving to a man, four of these five gifts do not belong on your list—Not, unless you want smiles and gratitude as fake as a $3 bill.

I am a frequent contributor to Quora. For the most part, I write about Bitcoin and economics, but occasionally, I answer reader queries about physics and math. Sometimes, my answers are voted to the top of the heap.

Today, I was asked to describe what would qualify as the world’s worst gift. The topic is fluff, of course—but now and then, fluff can lead to a good thought experiment.

Of course, the concept of a good gift or a bad gift is highly personal. If you are allergic to flowers, then a bouquet of roses may be a very bad gift. Likewise, giving a bra may mean one thing to your lover, something different thing to your neighbor’s daughter, and with a completely different meaning when presented to your heavy set, male boss.

This may be my own emotional boil, but I have always told my family to avoid gifting me a wallet, watch, personal jewelry or a fountain pen. Today, I would add a mobile phone. (That is, unless my preferences have been published in a registry or gift list). For me, any of these gifts is very likely to qualify as a “worst gift”.

Why?! It’s not that I don’t like these things. In fact, it is the opposite. But I would rather make the choice for myself. To illustrate, think of the old standby for any businessman: The neck tie. Imagine how the giver feels when they realize that you never wear it. Imagine how you feel, when you realize that your little girl has never seen you wear it to work.

Some of these things shown above are functional and some are just ornamental, but each combines personal taste with identity and an individual’s unique sense of aesthetics. The choice of an accessory projects a unique style and taste. Unlike a box of chocolates or a dozen roses, the other gifts are not fresh or consumed and the giver expects these durable and personal items to be worn or used at some point down the road.

Without close consultation, you wouldn’t buy your friend eyeglasses or an expensive ring—even if you knew the prescription. For most men, a lot of thinking goes into the purchase of a cell phone, a wallet, a special pen or a watch.

Here’s a better idea: Skip the material gift altogether. It simply compels them to reciprocate, potentially leading to further stress. Instead, tell that special person how much he/she means to you. Offer to clean the house, take them to the doctor’s office, or sit with them in the aftermath of a personal tragedy.

Leather-iPhone-Wallet-by-PortelMost important, show your friendship and understanding when they are at their lowest. To help someone less fortunate, bring them on your next family vacation. These gestures demonstrate friendship, empathy and a sense of importance in your life. They mean more than a big screen television.

In case some generous reader disagrees—insisting on a culture of giving material things—consider getting me a wallet this holiday season. But not just any wallet. Get this one by Portel. I don’t use an iPhone, but I dig the slim fit and weathered style!

Ellery Davies is co-chair of The Cryptocurrency Standards Association and former
CEO of Vanquish Labs. He writes for Lifeboat Foundation and Naked Security.

Planned Parenthood: Undercover Video Kicks Up Firestorm

When I started this Blog, I committed to publish clear and blunt Wild Duck opinions on even the most controversial issues. But I also made a promise to myself to refrain from commenting on a few things, simply because I didn’t want to use my Blog for these issues, nor defend my belief system:

  • Personal vendettas against vendors, no matter how egregious the practice
  • Religious beliefs of any public figure
  • gagThe abortion debate

Two Down; One to Go

Despite pure intentions, the gag rule had to go. I have already violiated the first two prohibitions…

a) Personal Vendettas

First, there was my interminable frustration over a ludicrous string of billing errors by Verizon (it was resolved only after 3 years, 150 phone calls and 120 statement credits). Incompetence and disrespect for customers of this magnitude begs to be shared.

Rent-a-Terstappen desk-s2Then, there was the unforgivable lies, deceipt and theft by Rent a Terstappen—the Dollar / Thrifty car rental franchise at the Frankfurt airport. If they tried these tricks in the US or anywhere else in Europe, the franchise owners would be in jail and the corporate office would be decimated by a class action suit.

Finally, Keurig/Green Mountain has finally removed restrictions from their Keurig 2.0 brewer,due, in part, to this scathing review of their haughty business practices.

b) Religious Beliefs

Religion keeps popping up, just like Whack-A-Mole. I have finally come to realize that it was an unrealistic and unnecessary editorial restriction. I don’t really care to debate your faith or my background—I just don’t feel that any reasonable and representative government should recognize, support, defend or lie in bed with any religions, period.

First, there was the town that wanted to balance the display of a public Christmas tree with a public Hanukkah menorah (Editor’s Tip: Get rid of both. Neither belong on public property). Then, there was the US congressman who believes that the universe is 6,000 years old and the New Testament is his working job manual. He is a member of the Space Sciences committee and makes decisions that affect NASA.

Finally, I wrote a popular piece that justifies an agnostic belief (or is it a lack of belief?). And, of course, I have frequently published stories about Islamic extremism and Daesh (aka ISIS OR ISIL). Anyone who participates, contributes or sympathizes with the so-called Islamic Caliphate SO-oo-o needs to be dragged out and shot.

…And so, now there is but one frontier to cross. That is, my self-imposed prohibition on treading into the topic of abortion and public policy.

c) Abortion

Looking over the first three years of this Blog, I find that abortion has rarely been mentioned; only referenced in two political articles.

The problem isn’t that abortion is a contentious issue. A Wild Duck thrives on contention. In case you hadn’t noticed, I love to justify my opinions. fetusBut, the ethics and legal recourse are difficult to debate, because the Pro-Life camp believes that abortion is murder. If one party to a debate believes that the other side is engaged in unjustifiable homicide, the two will forever be locked in a stalemate. Sure, abortions will go on. But, depending upon prevailing winds—religion, ethics & politics—they will either be legal or illegal.

FWIW: Wild Duck is Pro-Choice

I am staunchly Pro-Choice. There! I have said it. But, beyond the next few paragraphs, I don’t care to justify my opinion on the issue. It could not possibly serve any point.

A women’s right to choose the disposition of her body, her womb and her unborn baby (or ‘fetal parts’, depending on your ilk) should be supreme and inviolate—until a child is born and is breathing apart from the mother. Pro-choice is not a nihilistic philosophy. Advocates do not set out to end the life of a fetus. We simply believe that incredibly difficult and personal medical decisions belong with family and physicians rather than government.

Pro-choice advocates believe in family and their capacity to make tough personal choices. We don’t survey the ethics and religious doctrine of neighbors and we don’t bring a community of pundits, analysts, and our neighbor’s clergy into the bedroom or our doctor’s office. Callout-abortionThere must be a clear delineation between an individual’s medical and ethical decisions and the rights granted to a new life—even if a fetus could survive apart from the mother. I feel strongly that government should stay uninvolved. The dividing line (the point at which society should forcibly intervene or punish) should be the birth of a child.

Sure, a fetus is viable and every bit as human just before birth, but a mother doesn’t abort at a late stage with callous recklessness. It is a very tough choice. One must ask if this difficult choice should be made by family with their doctor, or by a government, reigid rules and popular consent. The decision demarcation cannot be conception or anytime before birth.

I have often hoped that, someday, a simple, easily obtained medication (like Plan B) would make this entire debate moot. But nothing is that easy. Abortion options that are too quick, too simple and too easily concealed raise other serious questions… Has the family weighed all options? What if someone slips an abortion pill into a woman’s drink? I will not address these questions. This article is about a current news event.

Planned Parenthood: Signs of Trouble

One issue that is squarely in the spotlight this week is the sale of fetal body parts. When there is a potential for money to exchange hands, the incentive can drive the decision to abort or even influence a doctor’s methods and practices. For this reason, federal law prohibits the sale of human body parts. But it allows for the the donation of tissue and organs and it allows for the use of human tissue in medical research.

This video, released two days ago, has sparked a firestorm. It has also sparked the fury of Republican presidential candidates, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. They promise congressional investigations and a push to defund Planned Parenthood.

In the video, Deborah Nucatola, a senior director of medical services for planned parenthood, casually discusses abortion procedures and organ harvesting with an undercover investigator for a right wing group. Clearly, the investigator is after a smoking gun and he wants to generate media hysteria and a congressional backlash. He succeeds in spades. But what exactly does the smoke point to?

One day after the story broke, defenders of Planned Parenthood argued that although the discussion was in a shockingly cavalier, nothing illegal was offered or discussed. Dr. Nucatola mentioned a paltry $30 or $100 dollars to cover the added cost of having the doctor save and preserve specimens. Although details are gruesome, the fee clearly does not constitute “selling body parts” including some that may be illegal. Yesterday, The New York Times, defended Planned Parenthood in this article. Factcheck.org (admittedly, a democratic web project) makes the same point here.

But Is The Video Damning? You Bet.

I support Planned Parenthood. For nearly 100 years, they have been a beacon of truthful information, respect and victim empowerment. They balance fanatic zealots who seek to undermine a woman’s natural right to have providence over her own body.

The tangible issue raised by the undercover video is whether the incentive to sell or even donate fetal tissue and organs influences the choices made by pregnant women or the methods employed by abortion providers. And, of course, whether it influences the motives and actions of Planned Parenthood. But no one is selling body parts. This was not the 600 pound gorilla—the intangible issue hit home by the video. It is the tone with which life-terminating procedures are discussed. It comes across as cavalier and disrespectful…

I stand with Planned Parenthood, but I do not stand with supporters who feel that the video is anything less than destructive. Callout-Planned_ParenthoodIt points to a problem with attitude, ethos and consistent signaling. The video reflects poorly on Planned Parenthood and their mission.

Likewise, another undercover video from Inhuman, captures Planned Parenthood CEO, Cecile Richards, in a wink-and-nod at the very end of the video. This, too, reflects poorly on Planned Parenthood. While it is likely that Ms. Richards was simply patronizing a visitor that she wanted to get rid of, it doesn’t reflect well on the organization or it’s mission.

Perception & Reputation

The survival of every organization—even churches, governments and non-profits—relies, in part, on a marketing component. I am less concerned with how the enemies of Planned Parent spin this video than I am with how it perceived by it’s supporters.

The bottom line is that the brand has been tarnished. Recovery will be arduous and, perhaps, long in coming. It is not a forgone conclusion that Planned Parenthood will recover. But it is also a fact that Planned Parenthood stands for freedom, privacy, woman’s rights, and the sanctity of family. Even if the organization is damaged or destroyed, we must never forget the noble mission for which they stand.

Related

Fool’s Mission: Asserting Open Carry Rights

There is a cottage industry afoot that entails making an amateur video of yourself or a friend asserting the right to walk down the street with a gun, but without a badge. After all, we live in a country with a 2nd amendment (the right of citizens to bear arms) and some communities drive this point home by having explicit open carry laws.

LiveLeak.com has recently staked their fame on videos submitted by yahoos, often featuring gang members or reckless youth brazenly taunting police. (“I was just walking down the street officer…minding my own business!)”. In one particularly troubling video, a guy walks into a police station wearing full body armor and carrying an AR15 assault rifle. He calls this behavior a “2nd amendment audit”. Yeah, right! By the same logic, you could test your right of peaceful assembly by surrounding a midnight girl scout campfire with gang members carrying grenade launchers, hand cuffs and duck tape.

There is no confrontation in the police station audit, but check out this video, instead…

Drop to the ground!

This is not a video about race, guns or constitutional rights. It is a video about two individuals and their girlfriends making an a*s of themselves.

It’s not the message about race that bothers me…

In this video, one protagonist is white and the other is black. But before we get into the sub-plot, let’s address the main premise… Do these guys have a constitutional right to bear arms?

Yes they do! But there is no national consensus on what it means to “bear arms”. Do they have a constitutional right to display automatic weapons as they walk down a street? That’s certainly in doubt. If so, then you could extrapolate this to a right to carry grenades and chemical bombs. Do they have a right to openly carry weapons down the streets of this particular community? Perhaps. Maybe. I don’t know.

But even if their actions are intended to assert their rights or demonstrate a bias toward black males, they are still idiots. Regardless of laws and rights, a society lives on norms of conduct, safety and behavior. Quote me all the rights that you wish; we still can’t have citizens walking down the street with assault rifles or Uzis. Unlike the police, there is no way to know if they have been adequately trained, screened for mental health, enraged by a recent incident, or simply looking for trouble.

These guys are clearly jerks. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t understand their motives. I was once young, arrogant, with a chip on my shoulder, and also an idiot. Too bad that there isn’t a better way to communicate across generations and save these dolts from making the same mistakes in an effort to assert their ‘rights’.

The Narrator’s Other Message

To be fair, the accompanying article explains: “The white guy did not have a gun pulled on him, the black guy never got a chance to say anything before a gun was pulled on him.” The video shows two separate events. One in which a white man is challenged without apparent fear or violence and the other in which an officer draws a gun on a younger black man and yells for him to drop to the ground before engaging in any discussion. Is there a point here about race, balanced law enforcement and prejudice? Sure! But that doesn’t change the fact that both men are idiots.

Let’s be clear. Race is not a main point of the video. In the opening scene, a lunkhead states that he will stage a provocative exercise for “educational purposes” and to ensure that the state of Oregon does not trample on his rights. As to the race angle, there are certainly other ways to research and present sociological data. In fact, it can be done in a manner that solicits the viewer to reflect on their own bias and perhaps take action in changing perceptions and practices. But this certainly wasn’t a primary motive for the white guy wanting to demonstrate his rights. He just wanted to poke a bobcat with a sharp, flaming stick. In his book, it makes him hot stuff; a really big cheese. In my book, he demonstrates about as much sense as a soft boiled egg.

What do you think? I would particularly like to hear from some gun rights supporters. Is it reasonable to demonstrate your rights by walking down a busy street with an assault weapon?

Bad for business: Laws that bully LGBT

I really tried to ignore the brouhaha over Indiana’s thinly veiled discriminatory law. There is little I can add to the public discourse. In my circles, it seems kind of obvious that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) will be short lived. After all, even with a public demonstration of a narrow mind and intolerance, no governor can stand against business for long.

For those who have lived under a rock these past few weeks, a quick study might ask What’s the big deal? After all, we have a federal law with the same name. But there is a big difference! The federal law protects individuals from government intrusion or coercion, while the Indiana law was crafted with the opposite intent! It allows individuals (business owners or employees) to claim a legal basis for their interaction with others. It sets the stage for commercial discrimination and goofy legal defenses…

Saturday Night Live suggests giving businesses helpful signs to show that they embrace the new law

Saturday Night Live offers a friendly storefront sign to businesses that embrace the new law.

Under this law, a McDonald’s cashier can contest being fired for telling each customer to praise Allah—or for refusing to serve customers who don’t respond in kind. After all, he is just exercising his religious freedom. This doesn’t just open a can of worms—It sends a crop duster to spray worms over the entire state!

This slideshow from Huffington Post presents first-hand quotes and tweets from 26 politicians, corporate heads (Apple, Nike, Twitter, Angie’s List, Yelp, NASCAR, etc).

Some people stand with the Indiana governor, such as former governor Jeb Bush, and senators Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum. But it is revealing to note that no corporation or sports team wants this pretext to commercial discrimination. They are vociferous in distancing themselves.

Of course, not all politicians stand with Indiana Governor Mike Pence. The governor of Connecticut is a lightning rod in mustering dissent. So are the mayors of Seattle, Denver, and Washington, DC. You can imagine the statement from Oregon’s governor Kate Brown (she is openly bisexual).

Yea, brother! Are you a straight, God-faring Christian?

Indiana Governor Mike Pence: Straight, God-fearing and bad for business

Financial repercussions are beginning to mount. Angie’s List is canceling a $40 million expansion of their headquarters (this means fewer jobs!). The alternative rock band, Wilco, has canceled a tour stop in Indianapolis. Salesforce.com is canceling a business deal. The Colts, NCAA and NASCAR cannot easily relocate, but they are apologizing to fans and reminding them that these venues welcome all fans–both on and off the field. Anyone in my FanDuel NASCAR fantasy league will be more than aware of how passionate I am about this troublesome issue. Hillary Clinton called it a “sad decision”. The founder of Yelp calls it “unconscionable”.

Governor Pence insists that the law is misunderstood and that it was not intended to be a pretext for commercial discrimination. In response, check out the opening section of a letter signed by Angie’s List CEO and the heads of eight other large corporations. It points out that intent is not really the point. It’s all about effect:

Regardless of the original intention of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, we are deeply concerned about the impact it is having on our employees and on the reputation of our state. All of our companies seek to promote fair, diverse and inclusive workplaces. Our employees must not feel unwelcome in the place where they work and live.

To clarify the law, Governor Pence is rushing a corrective ‘fix’ into the legislative docket. That’s just another head slapper. Why bother?! You don’t fix lunacy, you drive a wooden stake through it, bury it, and hope that your opponents forgive or forget.

Wild Ducks wonder how long Hoosiers must wait before Governor Mike Pence rolls back his spiteful and bad-for-business legislation. We also wonder how the governor could have acted on such bad advice. On the other hand, if he acted on his personal conviction, then — red state or blue state — I wonder how he became governor!

The Baby Exchange

Can telling a white lie to a child backfire? It did for me.

From time to time, at AWildDuck, I offer an observation or op-ed on a topic of human interest. This one is not about current events, the price of gold, law or politics. Nah. It’s just Ellery relating a personal experience and a lesson learned…

When my teenage daughter was 3 or 4 years old, I took her with me for a routine blood test (my test and not hers). On the way to the hospital, I explained that we would be visiting the same hospital where we ‘bought’ her. She seemed to accept the explanation. She even asked if the hospital had a variety of babies from which new parents could choose.

car seat tantrumLater, during that same ride, she became irritable and whiny. She complained about something unrelated to our hospital conversation. In an effort to calm her, I made a terrible blunder. Actually, it was just a joke. At least that’s how I saw it. But to my daughter, is was an ominous threat…

I told her, “If you don’t calm down and behave, I will ask the doctor if I can return you for a refund or maybe exchange you for another model.”

Suddenly, she became very quiet. I assumed that she had simply stopped fretting over whatever was bothering her. I interpreted the sudden tranquility as evidence of good behavior.

[One hour later]…

Throughout the appointment, my little girl remained as quiet as a church mouse. I figured that she must simply be processing the fact that blood can be drawn from a person’s arm. When I completed the brief procedure, I realized that we were directly across a hall from the obstetrics ward. I hadn’t visited since my daughter was born. It seemed a good idea to check it out under less stressful circumstances. Holding my girl’s hand, we walked over. Almost Immediately, I spotted the doctor and head nurse who delivered my daughter.

Doctor_Nurse-a

Dr. John DeLoge & Trish Hardigan, RN

“Cupcake”, I said. “I want you to meet some very special people. This is the doctor and nurse that brought you to Mommy and Daddy.” My daughter froze. At first, she offered only a blank stare, Her eyes were as big as saucers.

Gradually, I realized that my precious cupcake was in a state of shock. Her eyes welled up in tears. She began to wail at the top of her lungs while hyperventilating.
“P-l-e-e-e-z-e, Daddy! Don’t give me back to the hop-pis-tal. Don’t exchange me for another baby!! Pleeeze don’t do that!! I promise that I’ll be good! I will never whine or talk back again—EVER! I promise, Daddy! I want to live with you and Mommy! Don’t exchange me!”

Realizing that my precious girl was terrified and that the terror was caused by me, I held her tightly and explained that I was wrong to tell her what I did. I explained that Mom & Dad’s love is unconditional and that parents never return babies.

She calmed down and we headed for the parking lot. But not before the nurse reminded me that a parent must never place a child’s security in doubt—nor assume that a toddler could understand a joke that trifles with the security of the family unit.

I agree.