Wasn’t Expecting That!

January 7, 2021

2021 is already shaping up to be a strange year.

Yesterday a mob, incited by the outgoing President, assaulted the US Capitol to disrupt the transfer of power to a duly elected Democratic president. The events leading up to the assault were a faint background noise in my mind, but early news sources are saying that the seditious plan wasn’t exactly a secret, leading everyone to scratch their head over the apparent poor preparedness of law enforcement.

At no point in the insurrection did I think I was watching our democracy fall. We have an imperfect democracy, being one that does not work hard enough to overcome (or in some cases even creates) obstacles to voting for Native and African Americans as well as poor people of all races and the disabled. But I was reminded that we do, at least today, have a strong enough democracy to easily deflate a violent coup. For that I am grateful.

What I mostly felt yesterday was embarrassment. The American people should never have elected as their president the kind of man who refused to leave office after a clear defeat, to the point of directing his minions and supporters to subvert the democratic process. I found myself partially agreeing with the statements of the Iranian foreign minister on the subject, and wholeheartedly agreeing with the comments of Congresswoman Liz Cheney, daughter of the evil Dick. I even thought Mitt Romney gave an exemplary speech on the insurrection. Wasn’t expecting that.

Adding to my embarrassment yesterday was the fact that I live in Congresswoman Elise Stefanik’s district. Yes, that one. The Republican who actually objected to counting election results after the attempted coup. While most Republican members of Congress abandoned their shameful plan to challenge the will of the American people to Donald Trump’s advantage, Stefanik formally challenged the results when Congress reconvened late yesterday. She did denounce the violence of the attacks, but her continued objection to accepting the results of a lawful election, in the face of all that had happened, was a clear affirmation of Trump’s violent conspiracy campaign.

Stefanik is not a steadfast soldier to the nutwing cause. She occasionally breaks ranks and votes with Democrats, reflecting the mixed political leanings of her district, which is increasingly leaning Democratic. This is the district that sent Kirsten Gillibrand to Congress. Stefanik needs a lot of support from outside this district to maintain her seat, and Trump threatened to wreak his revenge on Republicans who did not raise a formal objection in Congress to Joe Biden’s victory. Following the violent insurrection, most Republicans decided to abandon their symbolic objections designed to curry favor with an outgoing president, who will still have political influence when he leaves office. They said the President went too far. Stefanik, feeling weak, followed through with her objections. She certainly demonstrated the failings of her moral character, but I think she made a political miscalculation as well. Time will tell.

What Wednesday’s insurrection demonstrates most clearly is that people in a democracy don’t resort to violence when they are strong. Violence is the path of weakness. Trump is weak. He may even be removed from office with less than two weeks left in his presidency. It’s seriously being discussed. Stefanik is weak. The rebels who stormed the Capitol, even the bare-chested Heathen with the ripped bod, are weak. Our democracy, though certainly troubled, is strong.

The Quiet Time of Year

November 20, 2020

A late winter has finally arrived. About 25 degrees Fahrenheit and that feels cold, quite unsettling in a place where winters typically move far below zero at night for days, even weeks, at a time. First electricity outage of the winter occurred a few days ago, though for less than an hour. When I first moved to the Adirondacks, electricity outages were a constant problem, but they’ve become less frequent. Still, there’s trepidation at the thought of potentially losing heat on a cold cold night.

I went on my first hike in winter boots this week, with only a dusting of snow on the ground. Didn’t bother with the camera, since the battery becomes exhausted quickly. My first ten minutes in the cold, I decided I would only go for short winter walks this season, maybe half an hour or so. Then I stayed out a full hour and didn’t want to come back even then. I’d forgotten how special a winter hike can be, and what a good mood it leaves you with.

Rough-legged Hawks are back in Vermont! I saw more than I could count on my drive to Middlebury. They spend time in Northeast farming country during the winter, hunting small rodents in open fields. I don’t see them in the Adirondacks, probably because there isn’t as much open country, there’s more snow, and it’s a bit colder. In the spring Rough-legged Hawks will head north, as they breed in the Arctic region. They are circumpolar birds, found in North America and Eurasia.

Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service
Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service
Photo: Walter Siegmund

Gone Fishin’

September 4, 2020

Not really, but doing other things.

Enjoy music from Lisa Thiel and video by Viktoria

People Have a Right to Their Opinions

August 14, 2020

A recent fluff piece in our local paper reported on how difficult it is for “LGBT” people in rural areas to find dating partners. The response to the article was mixed. A lot of straight people responded with rapturous support. One man questioned whether dating was a topic that deserved space in a newspaper. He got some criticism for his “phobia,” but the comment that took outrage beyond Facebook onto other social media was from a woman quoting the Bible about “homosexuality” being a sin.

Some people responded that Christianity was wrong or she was wrong about how she interpreted the Bible, or even called her a “bigot.” Others were upset about how “unsafe” and “unwelcoming” and “non-inclusive” this comment made our rural community, and this is where the argument expanded. Mostly it was liberal straights seizing the opportunity to virtue signal. Whatever. Many took it further. People said they were “not going to sit idly by” for this kind of comment and that “something needs to be done” and that “there needs to be accountability” etc. etc. and in one case suggested the woman should be fired from her job. The woman stuck to her guns, quoted more scripture, and typed about what God does and doesn’t want for us. It inflamed another argument about who was and wasn’t going to Hell.

I personally began to feel a bit frightened by where this conversation went. As a bisexual woman who campaigned for gay rights at a time when you could lose your job for being out, and as a person with many controversial views, the escalation to what sounded like threats made me feel very unsafe. Not about the Bible quote–you think I haven’t heard that crap before? But the vague threats of action and the specific mention of jobs, so very familiar. People have a right to their opinions, even dumb ones, and having experienced fear for openly expressing my views, and even being persecuted for them, I don’t cotton to this idea that unpopular speech needs to be countered by people who “won’t sit idly by.”

Argue with a dumbass if you must, but don’t think you’re supporting me with chilling threats of “taking action.” You’re violating everything I have stood for. I don’t want the tables turned. I don’t want to see people who think same-sex relationships or Goddess worship or socialism or radical feminism is evil punished for their views. I don’t want to see heated rhetoric and name calling progress into arm-twisting and silencing techniques. I’ve lived in that kind of a world.

I don’t think most people understand what acceptance and “live and let live” means. It doesn’t mean enforcing the views that you think mean “tolerance.” It’s not about coercion and correct belief. That doesn’t bring a sense of safety–not in the 21st century when most oppression is structural, consisting of things like violence, economic struggle, workplace abuse, political disenfranchisement, and censorship. Having the “right” belief doesn’t mean you changed any of that, and forcing other people to have the right beliefs (or pretend that they do) isn’t going to change that either.

I’m not saying we should tolerate threats of violence or loss of livelihood. Libel, deliberately lying for malicious purposes, is rightly actionable by law. But people have a right to express their views. Even stupid ones. Even if they’re mean and rude about it. What would make ME feel safer, as a person who has experienced many kinds of abuse, is for people to develop a thicker skin.

Busy Week

July 16, 2020

Finishing up another novel this week, so I won’t be posting. Hope to be back next week.

Found in Space

February 14, 2020
The oldest extant map of the world, from Mesopotamia, circa 6th century b.c.e. No, I can’t read it.

A man on the street laughed at me the other day for reading a map. “Hahaha, a map! Didn’t know people still had those.” Now, I can’t afford a GPS right now, and I don’t have a fancy new car with navigation systems, but….Even if I could have this stuff, I like my maps.

I’ve always loved maps. Topographical maps, maps of constellations, maps of neighborhood streets, highway maps. I like seeing a thing in relation to all the other things it shares a space with. Maps can be inaccurate, of course, but then so can satellite navigation, I’m told. I don’t entirely trust any technology. I’ve seen a compass go haywire more than once, and I’ve learned to trust my sense of direction . But I think learning to read a map has helped me develop a good sense of direction.

I like having a picture in my head of where I’m going. I can’t understand people who are content to know how to get to there. “Turn right, go .5 miles, turn left.” Don’t you want a picture in your head of the landscape, to know how the streets are oriented, how the geographical features relate to one another? Don’t you want to view the whole journey at once, not just one turn at a time?

I wonder what it’s like to not have a spatial conception of the world. Like, I used to marvel at how people lived back when they didn’t have reasonably accurate maps. I felt sorry for them. They must have had to go to the highest point in the county, many times, to memorize the landscape. But maybe they didn’t. Maybe they just didn’t care, saying “I know how to get to where I want to go.” Now, with electronic navigational systems, is spatial understanding being lost again? I mean, somebody laughed at me for looking at a map.

Dracula and the Human Brain

February 7, 2020

Ah, that wonderful Madam Mina! She has man’s brain—a brain that a man should have were he much gifted—and a woman’s heart. The good God fashioned her for a purpose, believe me, when He made that so good combination.

Thus speaks Dr. Abraham Van Helsing in reference to the heroine in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I recently picked up this wonderful novel which I read as a child. I didn’t remember it at all, except that I recall thinking it rather boring in places. This reading kept me riveted.

I think if I were to get an advanced degree in English literature, I would love to write a dissertation on Dracula. There’s so much in this novel to dissect. But I want to explore here this comment by Dr. Van Helsing, because I didn’t understand it at first.

We are programmed, to the point of brainwashing, to think of the idea of “man’s brain in a woman’s body” in a certain way. This sexed brain idea, mistakenly called postmodernist, is that we must accept, without question or examination, what transgender people tell us about sexed brains and apply this concept. To do otherwise is transphobic and non-intersectional. Accordingly, a “man’s brain in a woman’s body” is a brain that hates the woman’s body inhabited by that brain. The body is experienced as a foreign object that must be changed through hormones, surgery, pronouns, or at least clothing.

Another acceptable view of the man’s brain/woman’s body concept, which doesn’t necessarily negate the body-hating one, is that a man’s brain offers a predilection for experiences and things deemed “masculine” by society: rough sports, trucks, the color blue, etc. In other words, sex stereotypes.

The interpretation of sexed brain as stereotypes can become difficult to apply in any consistent way, because these stereotypes differ across time and culture. The way around this is postmodernism, which posits that we not only can but must superimpose our subjective interpretation, steeped in our own times, onto any event, philosophy, or body of work. This rationale says that I cannot, really, understand what Stoker meant by man’s body/woman’s brain, because I am not a nineteenth century woman, nor am I Stoker. The only correct way to interpret Dracula is by affirming what it means to me.

To me the idea of a man’s brain in a woman’s body is a strange one, at least as it might relate to innate personality. As a psychiatric social worker, my understanding of the brain is that it is plastic, changing as a result of life experience. Learning a new language, taking up a new sport, being in a car accident (even without brain injury), will all change the brain. Thus, any difference in boys’ and girls’ brains at birth, even if it could be measured, cannot help but be overshadowed by life experience. Thus, a woman’s brain is the brain of a woman, reflecting her experiences in her woman’s body, including her experience of fertility and female sexual desire.

A woman’s brain is programmed to regulate a woman’s body, including her fertility, so in that sense it is different from a man’s brain. A woman’s brain recovers faster and more completely from traumatic injury, in general, than a man’s, so there’s another difference. But everything I know about the brain negates the idea that there can be a man’s brain in a woman’s body related to concepts of masculinity or femininity. If you define a man’s brain in a woman’s body as hatred of one’s own female body, that enters the realm of possibility (and also the realm of mental illness).

Not being a narcissist or a doormat, I do have an interest in what other people are saying. I am not a postmodernist. I make an effort to see through and around my preconceptions, and I do not accept unquestioningly the worldview dictated by the self-appointed priests of 21st century justice movements. So I was interested in what Stoker is saying here, once it dawned on me that it wasn’t what I assumed.

This brain that Dr. Van Helsing so admires in the character Mina is not male because it likes boy things. Mina does not appear to dislike feminine things or her woman’s body, and she doesn’t chafe against societal expectations of her. She does foray into activities normally associated with men, but she does so in an unselfconscious way. She most emphatically does not see herself as a man. Her brain is “male” because it is logical, consistent, insightful, and capable of drawing a big picture from a plethora of small data. In other words, Dr. Van Helsing sees her brain as “male” because she is smarter than he is!

Dr. Van Helsing also talks a lot about the “child brain” of the vampire Dracula. This also confused me at first, because of my conceptions of what a child brain is. I think of a child’s brain as being concrete and having limited capacity for abstract thinking. Capacity for abstract thought expands greatly during adolescence. This is empirically documented. A child’s brain is also more limited in its ability to separate fantasy from reality. I found the highly intelligent Dracula to not be hampered in these respects, so I was confused.

Finally, I realized that Dracula has the “child’s brain” in the sense of being self-centered. His personality is primitive and undeveloped. He hasn’t the ability to empathize with others or to understand that other people have different motivations and ways of seeing than himself. This is ultimately his downfall, because Mina and Dr. Van Helsing are able to anticipate Dracula’s movements by guessing at what he wants and what he will do, getting inside his brain so to speak. Dracula, with his “child’s brain,” is unable to anticipate the actions of the people hunting him, so in spite of his numerous special powers, he is at a disadvantage.

The “male” and “child” brains in Dracula illustrates how ideas about the brain are socially constructed. A postmodernist would say that this means the brain doesn’t exist at all, outside of a social or subjective construct. But then, the postmodernist brain has limited inclination to search for understanding outside pre-existing constructs.

I definitely had a child’s brain when I read Dracula as a child, although I don’t think I had a child’s brain in Stoker’s definition. The limitations of my thinking kept me from appreciating this novel when I first read it, despite my childhood fascination with vampires. I enjoyed the rediscovery.

2020 Begins

January 3, 2020

I have now been blogging for eight years. I have posted every week, without exception, usually (but not always) on Fridays.

There have been a lot of ups and downs. When Facebook was at its heyday, I got a lot of traffic from there. Then Facebook changed its algorithms, making it harder to drive interest to a website.

I adjusted, and my traffic moved up again.

Three years ago, a marketing genius at Moon Books suggested my platform needed a single completely integrated website, not a separate blog and main site. It took over six months, since it was a major overhaul, but I did it. Traffic dropped substantially.

But over time, visitors increased again.

This year, mid-September, visits to my blog decreased 75% and stayed there, and I’m trying to figure out what happened. I assumed initially that my recent subjects weren’t as interesting to other people, or that my photos weren’t so good as in the past, or that my posts were too short or too long or not as good. But it’s more than that.

So I’m rethinking this again.

One of the hardest things about blogging, that I’ve found, is that you have to keep promoting your blog. Even many core visitors won’t return automatically, but see on social media that you’ve posted again or are otherwise reminded of your presence. Competition for online attention is fierce and becoming more fierce.

The second hardest thing about blogging is that it doesn’t necessarily drive book sales. People who read a lot of books don’t spend huge amounts of time online. I get the most traffic (here and on Twitter) when I blog about something that has political resonance, and I limit the amount of political writing I do. I’m just not interested in becoming a political blogger. I have that in common with Henry David Thoreau, who only really wanted to write about nature and birds, but got a huge amount of attention (than and now) for a little tract called Civil Disobedience. He didn’t even invent the concept; he only described and defined it well.

So I’m examining why there was a precipitous dropoff that seems to be ongoing. Moon Books stopped promoting my blogposts on Twitter about that time, so that might be the culprit. I could have been getting traffic through a link on another site, and somebody removed the link, maybe when redesigning their site or maybe because I wrote something they disagreed with. A lot of people have voluntarily moved off Twitter in the past year for their censorship policies directed toward feminists, so maybe the answer is to disengage from Twitter in favor of another hangout, just as moving from Facebook to Twitter years ago redirected my audience. I think blogs in general may be less popular than they used to be. There are more online magazines, and they are well promoted, savvy to continually evolving user tastes.

I may also have to consider whether blogging might be a poor use of my time, time better spent writing books and articles for online magazines and anthologies. I may need to choose whether to direct my energies into becoming a better self promoter (not my strong suit) or a better writer. The best self promoters, in my observation, are emotionally insecure people who strive constantly to get people to like them and stroke their egos and give them positive reinforcement. They work at it everyday, from an early age. They love social media and curry favor by pandering whatever opinion is popular. Obviously I can’t change my personality, nor do I want to.

So I’m at a turning point. I may adjust and throw myself into getting my “hits” up again, or I may take a step back and ask myself “Why?” One thing I will continue to do is keep the website. With ever increasing censorship of feminists, for dumber and dumber reasons, I can’t afford to invest too much in social media presence.

I think in 2020 there’s going to be a splintering of social media traffic, moving away from giants like Twitter and Facebook into smaller fee-paid social media groups. The media companies did it to themselves, by profiting from fake news and buying into cancel culture. The Internet as a whole may be at a turning point, not just me.

New Post at Return to Mago

September 13, 2019

I have another post on the Return to Mago website. This is about beer brewing, and an account of a myth of Inanna involving beer.

Drinking beer through straws in Mesopotamia. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art.