Friday, October 23, 2020

Voting Compassion and Reason Every Day

Humans are born into a world full of variables. Where you were born. How you were raised. What education your school district afforded you. The genetic predispositions evolution dealt you. The random events that converged on your experience. What you have been taught to believe. Which beliefs you've overwritten with personal convictions. The feelings that rage and cower inside.

It's no wonder humans created gods in an attempt to bring order to this maelstrom of variables. They also created ethical systems and societal institutions and valuation principles. None of these are real. They are constructs of the human mind to aid us in being more successful, in reaching out to each other and the world to fend off failure inside and out.

In the end, if our mission is to attain improved health for all while experiencing a life full of discovery, integrity and care, then one path holds much promise. This path channels our human capacity for reason and compassion to maximize our true understanding of and to judicially act within that world. 

Yet it can take real courage to step away from evolutionary desire to control rather than to nurture. Subconsciously we can be enthralled by pleasure, privilege and pain. Yes, these primal drives are part of us, but if we want better for our world it is our duty to vote for a future that rises above, seeking health for all humans, all living things, and effectively the whole planet.

No one said it would be easy. Compassionate and well-reasoned resolve takes effort. Still, we have the wherewithal to vote with our hearts and minds every single day to make the world a better place.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Become The 99% Activist

There's a lot of room for improvement in the world we live in. Nevertheless, humans are in a place of such power that each of us has amazing potential to be part of progressive change toward a healthier planet! And yet we are susceptible to age old human foibles as well, to let ourselves, our community and our world down. Somehow we need to stay motivated amidst the many anecdotal and systemic challenges.

One starting point is assign yourself a 99% goal of personal effectiveness. Too often we're told to put 110% of our effort into a pursuit. Obviously, the math doesn't work there, still our psyches might take heed if we occasionally lie to ourselves that we can do better than perfect. Occasionally.

Most of the time, we need to give ourselves a pinch of forgiveness. As a vegan, I had to forgive myself for buying a car recently that had a leather-wrapped steering wheel. I felt torn, but then again the tires on most every car are not vegan, since they often use stearic acid derived from animal by-products. I won't even begin to assess the carnist auto assemblers, corporate CEOs and the whole industrial infrastructure that my purchase in part enabled.

So yes, one can certainly nit pick ones activism to the point of absurdity. Hell, as a progressive, we are used to many individuals and corporate "persons" challenging our mores with extreme one off examples and misinformation campaigns. This then is where we need to look our ideals in the mirror and face up to the fact that idealized dreams are fashioned from long term hopes upon the foundation of our understanding to date. To that end we must always keep a chin up, our learning caps on, and step forward to fight the good fight and make a difference where we can.

So no matter what your pursuit -- green space conservation, waterfront restoration, animal abuse elimination, citizen enfranchisement, universal health care, community strengthening, or any mission that has reason and compassion at its heart, stay the course! 

Be the creative, good-energy 99% activist that gets most of the job done, so we can hand off the dream to next generation that reaches for 99.9%!

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The Transtale Heart

“I know you.”

Now that I think of it, I should not have dismissed that first, odd text out of hand. Unsolicited troll-y texts have been as common as transphobic politicians long before this age of Trump. I've deleted enough friends from the pseudo Libertarian, Christian right that being chastised on an ongoing basis about my decision to embrace my womanhood was far from unexpected.  

Still, unlike spammy one-off ads and auto-checked butt-texts that annoy the senses, there was something weirdly intense about those three simple words: I, Know, and You. But, dismiss them I did. No reply. No phone number googling to attempt an identification, no emotional acknowledgement at all. As with classic, real-world bullies, the philosophy of ignoring them and quickly moving beyond such nonsense was generally best for ones psyche as well as for real outcomes.

Twenty-four hours later, this cavalier attitude was put to the test.

“Your mother was a whore.”

Okay, the “your mother is a…” trope might be taken in jest between middle school friends. Such exchanges were akin to the laugh track of a failing ‘80’s sitcom. The remark actually felt closer to something out of an uncensored reality tv show from the '90's. In either case, there were sophomoric laughs to be had...if you were expecting it, but as it was, an anonymous matriarchal taunt sizzled with threat--even if the statement had been true. 

Nevertheless, I restrained myself. Having been bullied from youth for wearing feminine clothes, for acing all my math tests, hell, for being too nice to people who were thickens your skin. I've learned that acknowledging the hate, however juvenile in form, is to give them an energizing win. Hollywood may have taught us Americans that fighting back equates to a path of dignity, but in reality escalation rarely turns out good for anyone.

Thus, by ignoring the hateful text, I sought to be the better person, so I simply blacklisted the phone number and moved on with my day.

“I’m not bullying you.”

The text was sent from a completely different number, but I knew in my gut it was the same person. Now I became concerned. “Three is the charm,” goes the old adage. Well, I was anything but charmed. Now I knew I had someone willing to sleeve himself (could it be anyone except a him!) into a new number for the sole purpose of disrupting my life. 

It’s at this point that I decided to turn my IT experience into an advantage. I employed all the standard protocols. I invoked a dozen dark-web index searches, multi-layer packet header analyses, and dynamic IP location tracking. All this ended up telling me...absolutely nothing. The freak had covered his tracks by tunneling through a series of high-security foreign servers using SMS data packets that were dead generic. Whoever was on the other side of this daily text knew his shit enough to remain completely anonymous. Then again, he could’ve simply followed guidelines from a digital infiltration sub-Reddit to engage high PM secrecy. My only recourse now was to step up the social analysis angle.

The culprit was terse to the nth degree. The masculine bent of the texts were strong but admittedly my position was biased. The fact that my lack of response had no effect in repelling the taunts was the most unusual aspect of this cybercrime. Still, knowing all this was a start, even though I had insufficient data to submit to authorities. The complaint would merely be dismissed and I'd be more anxious for submitting myself to the bureaucratic hassle. Best to wait another day or two, gather more information and insight, and proceed from there. Of course, there was always the hope that three unanswered texts might dissuade any further attack messages.

“Not a talker, are you?”

No such luck. This guy definitely had a sociopathic edge to his messaging. Normally I’m pretty demure. At first, the internal admission that I was a woman had been fraught with constant anxiety in an unsupportive culture. Many in the LGBTQ+ community up their aggression levels to combat such backward thinking, participating in protests or at least finding a refuge in the rainbow community. But for me, in the depths of Pennsyltucky, real-world support networks were simply nonexistent. Virtual groups abounded, sure, but for me they never seemed substantial.  I was my community.

In spite of persistence, I refused to take the bait. This cyberbully was subtle; I’ll give him that. The brief statements didn't even degrade me personally. There were no long tirades expounding the sinfulness of non-binaryism, nor any manifesto mandating evolutionary heterosexuality. Weirdly enough, I didn't even detect a tone of derision. If anything, the social analysis seemed to imply this was a sibling reaching out to give me a love-imbued ribbing. Ok, maybe that’s going too far...or not far enough.

“I am you.”

And with that last and final needling text came the rub. Such an outlandish identity statement puzzled me to no end for decades.  I’ll spare you the rollercoaster of internal melodrama that ensued. Thinking back on it now, I was compelled away from the path of least resistance toward one of self-reliance and confidence. A drawn-out Netflix Prime series would spend twenty episodes on the twists and turns I went through. I’ll cut to the punch line, to the realization that the cyberbully was actually my future self.

You say you want details. Well here's the Tik-Tok version: after that last annoying text I spent my final year of high school buried in the Wikis. I delved into the intricacies of quantum physics and higher math to escape my anxiety.  Finding refuge in theoretical sciences permitted be to ascend the academic ladder and participate on CERN experiments involving tachyons. Basically, tachyons are “hypothetical” particles Richard Feynman conjured up more than half a century ago, and uniquely they travel backward in time. 

It was at that point I realized I needed to be the cyberbully for my fifteen year younger self. Suffice it to say, with a little old-school coding it wasn’t too difficult for me to piggyback an SMS script on a tachyon signal and send it back to the ‘20s. It was decidedly easy to create those taunting texts.

Asides aside, those mercurial taunts are what nudged me to hone the very talents I needed to pursue a challenging career. And yes, I was tempted to mess with the continuum further, but the 2020 U.S. elections had so many complications already that pushing the entire world’s luck to attain President Warren seemed foolish and outright dangerous. 

Of course, no story turns out perfect. As a trans-woman I feel welcome sometimes and unwelcome at others. I have a couple close friends, but haven't had any luck finding a romantic partner just yet. Still, I persevere on my journey, silently singing to myself the words of that 20th century diva at every turn: “loving yourself is the greatest love of all.” Sometimes, just for fun, I'll Snapchat that very line to myself. Upon receipt, it never fails to bring a grin. 

Jakay Allan Bechtdel, out.

(this tale was sparked into existence by my friend Rhonda, who is a time-travel enthusiast...well she loves time travel to her use of time travel in her daily life, I cannot comment)

Friday, October 2, 2020

Goodness First - The Poem

divining Goodness

choose a journey of Goodness, i must
thriving on desire
question that very Goodness, at every turn
mind on fire
contemplate, intention, method and results
no omelets

eschew all "moral absolutes" 
find flexible and effective ethicality
simple does not exist
be, mindful and compassionate
Occam's laser

non-existent gods cannot save us
modest integrity
evolution and nature don't care either
scientific hubris
Goodness flows from human abstraction
prime directive

Friday, September 11, 2020

Battling the Invisible Velociraptor: Covid-19 Risk Management

Covid-19! More Dangerous Than a Velociraptor Attack!
(mostly because humans and velociraptors never co-existed!)

For more than six months we've all been living in a world which has added a pandemic crisis on top of all the challenges we face as a species and as individuals already. In that time we've been inundated with pandemic information and precautions, so much so that too many of us have become desensitized to the risk and perhaps a little lazy at adjusting our behavior to match the risk in our personal sphere. To that end, I summarize here the latest pandemic situation and aggregate some best practices to help us as individuals, families and communities set a consistent routine to follow to minimize Covid-19 risk and limit its spread.

In the United States nearly 200,000 confirmed Covid-19 deaths (that's more than 300 times the number of fatalities from the 9/11 attacks) and 2.5 million confirmed infections. The SARS-CoV-2 is the actual name of the novel corona virus that causes the Covid-19 illness. In actuality, the infections are likely 2 to 3 times greater than observed given asymptomatic and less severe cases that are not reported. As a nation we have failed to contain the virus as yet and until we get an effective vaccine adequately distributed our country could continue for years to be in a pandemic, the state where a pathogen and its effects remain widespread and prevalent.

It's worth emphasizing that the SARS-CoV-2 is an invisible killer; the virus is resulting in the death of about 1 in every 1000 Americans, when averaged out over a full year. Older people, especially those with prior immune and respiratory conditions are at greater risk of fatality. Eight of ten deaths to date have been people 65 and over, but importantly as cited by "for everybody over about 40 [Covid-19] is significantly deadlier than anything else they’re likely to encounter during the course of a normal year."  Add into that secondary long-term effects that we don't fully understand yet for anyone infected. Harrowing as it may be we cannot ignore the serious problem at hand.

Some treatments are helping reduce the fatality percentage, but avoiding infection remains the primary response ongoing that we as individuals can daily perform until an effective vaccine has been distributed as wide as possible, a feat put in question by anti-vaccine sentiments. With these dangers in mind, I've put together several easy steps to follow to keep the risk fresh in our minds. The appropriate action subsequently can made on a daily basis to best safeguard our lives and the lives of others.

1. Each morning, remind yourself how dangerous the ongoing pandemic is. With nearly 1000 people dying on average daily in the US the danger is deadly real. If vicious dinosaurs were out killing that many people each day we could more easily see the carnage, but because the virus is microscopic and because most of us are distanced from those who suffer an often slow death, we understandably miscalculate the danger.  Nevertheless, this morning moment isn't a call for paranoia, but instead a time to breathe in deep ones resolve so as to make a mindful assessment of the viral danger to maximize personal and global safety.

2. Check you and your household for infection. Assess how you feel, ideally taking each household member's temperature as one objective measure. Coughing, headache, loss of taste, and other flu-like systems can be indications that you've contracted Covid-19. If you have symptoms call your doctor to obtain professional advice. Testing is free through CVS and Walgreens drive-thru windows. Check more detailed testing options at the CDC website here. Recognize a person can remain contagious for two weeks after showing symptoms.

3. Consult your current local infection data. Choose an evidence-backed website that aggregates the current local danger. Covid ActNow is a great one. Here you can drill down to your local county to review the level of outbreak danger in your state, your county and surrounding counties. Peruse the trends in per capita cases, infection rate, positive test rate and ICU availability, but primarily determine the current color risk level, so you can shift your daily routine to compensate.

4. Determine your active response level for the day. Here are my suggested best practices aggregated from evidence based sources. (colors correlated to Covid ActNow risk levels)

Risk Level RED: The danger of outbreak is at its highest. If at all possible, stay isolated at home, exposing yourself only to those in your immediate household. Rely on your supply inventory or, if necessary, remotely order supplies, taking especial care to distance entirely from delivery persons and to reasonably disinfect packaging. The primary mode of corona virus infection occurs via air-borne droplets; still disinfecting surfaces and washing hands thoroughly are excellent precautions. If an emergency or other situation demands you leave your household, wear a mask and stay 6 feet or more away from others, especially those people who remain unmasked. Enjoy an adventure novel, cook a new recipe or play a board game with your family at home to lesson anxiety.

Risk Level ORANGE: The danger of outbreak remains high. Operate as if at the Red Level if possible. If work or school attendance is necessary be especially vigilant with social distancing; otherwise, limit your exposure to others as much as you can. Wearing a mask that fully covers your mouth AND nose significantly reduces your chances of spreading the virus. Stay distant from those not wearing masks, and those not wearing them properly. Thorough hand sanitizing after touching public surface will reduce your chances of catching the virus as well. Keep a bottle of 60% + alcohol sanitizer handy for quick hand disinfection. Enjoy a walk away from people in a park or a scenic drive to reduce pandemic stress.

Risk Level YELLOW: Virus spreading is at reduced risk. Your community is doing well if it maintains this status. Interacting with others at work and school may be at lower risk, though staying masked is highly recommended, perhaps with the exception of those in your extended household, so long as they have not had public exposure themselves. There is still a chance of transmission, so consider socializing with others while observing social distancing. Perhaps, play a game of tennis or golf with friends, staying at least six feet apart at all times if you choose to go unmasked.

Risk Level GREEN: This is NOT back to normal. A low virus risk is still present; still your community is doing a great job if it attains this level. Observe YELLOW protocols for the most part, but you can consider participating in small group activities with others that are from YELLOW and GREEN regions. Eating unmasked together with those in your inner circle is moderately safe, and occasionally visiting eating establishments that are not crowded may be an activity to add to your repertoire, though it will increase your risk.

Risk Level BLUE: This is as nearly back to normal status as we can expect. Sadly this virus may never fully go away. Still, if you and your surrounding community have been adequately vaccinated (60% or more of the population) with a CDC approved vaccine then there's a good chance the virus spread has been sufficiently suppressed. Of course, as of this writing no approved vaccine exists, so you simply should NOT consider things back to normal until well after that time.

5. Stick to the protocol. As humans we can naturally tend toward irrational behavior if we don't directly sense a danger. By adhering to these simple steps daily, you will not only reduce your chances of catching the virus; you will also increase the effectiveness of your community, country and world in containing this dangerous pathogen. Be accountable for your actions so we all can maximize our survival rate.

6. Enjoy and be productive in your daily life. Once you have your personal COVID response protocol on automatic you'll be much better equipped to focus on your workday and on the amazing things still at our fingertips to continue enjoy a productive life. To that end, share these protective guidelines with a positive energy and spread the meme that we will get through this together.

I believe I've done a good job here sticking to a rationale that relies on evidence-based science. If you find your community or news source significantly pressuring you to vary from such a mindset, review multiple sources for evidence based information? Never rely on one source; research specifics at reputable disease control sites like the CDC, John Hopkins Hospital, and the WHO, and high quality journalism sources like NPR, BBC and The Economist.

Beyond the daily fight against the corona virus, consider supporting a robust proactive stance that will prevent and prepare for the next pandemic. Funding science research and evidence based policy via the CDC, WHO, and elsewhere will develop the best future response safeguards. Additionally, help reduce (and when possible eliminate) animal husbandry and human interaction with wildlife; this humane pursuit not only reduces animal abuse but also can significantly reduce the chances of breeding zoonotic pathogens in the first place before they jump to humans. Finally, supporting evidence-based, egalitarian (i.e. public), science and critical-thinking education will provide coming generations with a mental toolset to become motivated and ever more effective stewards, working to build and maintain an every healthier planet.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

What is a Moral Act?

In order to answer such a question we should first define terms. 

Moral often is equated to ethical. However, I sense in the word moral unusefully implies some inherent and universal good exists. Moral relativism highlights the weakness of chasing absolutism. As such, I prefer the term ethical if only to downplay any measure against a slippery, imaginary absolute. 

Divorced from an implied absolute ethical assessment can proceed.  The paradigm of goodness can be fluid, but more importantly requires explicit explanation. As examples Christian ethics, secular humanist ethics, and global biodiversity ethics name different ideologies that connect to specific paradigms of goodness, sometimes at conflict with each other as well as internally. 

To act is easier to define, though still with its subjective side. An action exercises ones agency with intent of effecting a change of some kind. Willful inaction arguably is acting at times, though any one person or organization can not possibly act on all concerns. Thus, to say that an entity failed to act can meaningfully be challenged. 

Putting the two together, the question "what is a moral act?" is unhelpful rhetoric.  If we phrase "what is an ethical act?" is better phrased, but needs to be connected to a specific ideology or world stance. Still, as with so much in life, this means we need to have an extended conversation to discuss the particulars. Only then can we evaluate whether individual or communities action conforms to the associated ethical standards. 

The challenge, of course, is to find the best, trade-off actions that pursues positive short-term and long-term outcomes. In other words, the ends justify the means AND the means justify the ends. 

If we are successful at this challenge, then shared ethical progress has a chance.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Battling the Cancer of Human Society

What is cancer exactly? When cells within an organism replicate incorrectly and in unchecked fashion. Normally the immune system targets and removes cancerous cells preventing cellular system metastasis which over time can lead to bodily function failure and death when one or several systems perform below nominal. 

Civilization and the Earth's biomes are analogous to competing organisms; one might push that analogy to represent symbiotic cells in a single larger global organism. If the right balance can found, all planetary life might thrive in synergy.

Alas, human society has become a monoculture of unbridled success to the detriment of the many global biomes that have generally thrived for millions of years. In mere centuries, the human economic power has been unleashed, culminating in free market capitalism. This economic ideology in particular has failed to sufficiently value the health of the biomes as it expands with ferocity. 

Science has provided insight that has fueled this expansion, while noting in passing how global biomes are failing while human population and consumption continue, exacerbating the damage. 

Speculatively, a mindful, compassionate civilization would prioritize significant evidence-based policy to re-establish and maintain the long-term synergy of the planet. Then, humans can thrive alongside all the ecosystems of Earth. 

Unfortunately, misguided systems of thinking have undermined the ability for society to implement an effective policy feedback loop. Magical thinking modes that incorporate religious myth, unscientific thinking, human over-valuation, and biome undervaluation have resulted in a runaway cancer-like process that continues to severely reduce overall planetary health. 

Ideally, evidence-based education can be deployed as a vaccine-like remedy. Sadly, the goal of most human education at its core remains individual success that contributes to the runaway free market system alongside misguided ideological indoctrination. If human civilization expansion and consumption continue, there is no doubt the planetary balance will fail, and a severely unhealthy, perhaps dying world will result.

If the Earth is to remain healthy, acting in unison to improve and maintain the Earth's health needs to become the primary task of  Earth creatures. To that end, of the Earth's species only humans have the capacity of mind and action to lead such global health stewardship.

As individuals and communities we can reduce our footprint and increase our participation in evidence based policy and education to pursue a healthy global outcome. Elsewise, the cancer of current societal norms will spread ever further, weakening this amazing world we belong to. Indeed, it is unlikely the Earth will die outright in the short term, but that does remain a possibility. Still, without significant change, it will gradually become a ghost of its former self edging ever closer to a multi-monoculture of humans and vast prisons of the species we feed on.