Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Yard Sign Politics

Traveling about by bike provides a perspective that becomes more and more unique the more time one spends driving around in a car. For one thing the blind spot on a bike is just where you are not looking. Another thing is the comparatively slow rate of travel. Combined these two elements of the bicycling experience change the world into a place where one has time to see almost everything one is looking at.  I think there is a metaphor in there that might be useful during an election year for a participatory democracy.

This is how I found my Bernie sign.


What one can “see” better while cycling can include conceptual connections laid by allowing the mind to travel over and over a bit of information. This is done with a partial focus that allows many competing perceptions to weigh in on what the final form of the mentally masticated idea will be.  This soft mental focus is required by cycling as too much introspective focus increases the likelihood of catastrophically interacting with some of the more solid parts of reality.

I was a dozen miles away from home and a couple miles from the nearest house; biking along with a woman whose new acquaintance was yielding up the most interesting things. I was almost too introspective to see the corner of the sign in a dry drainage ditch several meters off the road. The sign was as far off the road as one might expect it would be possible to Frisbee a flexible political yard sign.

I unclipped and took the few steps into the tall grass needed to identify the sign as a Bernie sign. Someone had obviously taken the presumably pilfered sign and discarded it as close to the middle of nowhere as they could manage.  I would return later with my car to retrieve it. 

The primary portion of Utah’s caucus-primary system took place yesterday. Because of the overwhelming republican majority in the state the eventual general election winners are chosen in the republican primaries.

In one surprising race there may be a high-profile GOP nominee who is not the defacto winner of the general election. In the last general congressional election Mia Love barely (by 5 points) won a specially gerrymandered district after outspending her relatively unknown opponent by almost 8 to 1. Doug Owens is back for a rematch using the same effective “I am not Mia Love” campaign that resonated with voters; this time he may win. I do not like Mia Love at all, but I suspect many in the ultra-conservative district may not vote for her because she is a dark-skinned woman; this almost has me wanting her to win because people will not be voting against her for properly honorable reasons… almost has me wanting her to win, but not really.

The democratic primary nominated a transgendered candidate to challenge Mike Lee. Almost anyone would be better than Mike Lee, and Misty sounds better than most. One of two transgendered candidates named Misty nominated in the mountain west, she likely will be defeated by a slightly larger overwhelming majority than her cis-gendered white male primary opponent would have been defeated by. Mike Lee ran unopposed in the GOP primary because what I think does not really matter.

The stretch of road where I found the sign is itself a local political issue. It is the second most important cross valley road in Tooele, and it is in a state of severe disrepair. Two candidates for county commissioner came to my door in person to tell me that the road would be fixed because of their leadership; it was an easier sell for the fellow who was not the incumbent.

Political yard signs are a special class of speech. Destroying or removing them is a special class of illegal in all 50 states. In some states taking political yard signs could theoretically carry a five year prison sentence. One of the reasons for the first amendment is to protect the discourse needed to create the informed population that can responsibly decide issues with their votes. Sometimes a yard sign is all a person gets to say in the discussion, and throwing someone’s yard sign into a ditch out in the middle of nowhere is an attempt to silence them. Some people in Tooele obviously think that violating a person’s constitutional rights is an activity they are empowered to perform.


Bernie did really well in the Utah democratic caucus, but he will not be the democratic nominee, and so the message the Bernie sign expresses is no longer important. I followed Bernie here in the state, and even attended a rally with AYD. I will take the little yard legs off the sign and save it to remember the fact that he ran. If the Bernie campaign ever sends me the bumper stickers I bought I will put them all together in a box.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Hpoxia blues

If you are an “out” atheist then you have been asked about death. This last Father’s day I had extended conversations with three people who had lost their fathers; two of them were experiencing their first father’s day since the death of their father. None of the three asked me what happens after you die, and that did not really hit me as strange until today when a couple people in a row asked me that. 

My father is alive, and I got a wonderful card from AYD and AOD that reminded me that I was a very-much-alive father to two wonderful people. The card was so great it had me bawling as I re-read it several times.

Atheists are asked “what happens when you die” regularly. I think this is done in part in an attempt to put the Atheist off balance, and it does to an extent. Nonsense is a very difficult thing to accommodate in most conversations. If you do not believe me try asking someone something like “What does the blue jello say when man-in-the moon marigolds make paper?” in the middle of an otherwise reasonable conversation.

"I intend to live forever, or die trying" -Groucho Marx

I do realize that people think about death a lot more than they think about what quivering foodstuffs might have to say, but the answer to both questions is “nothing”. Blue Jello cannot talk, and you are NOT anymore after you die. All the extra information in the stupid question about blue Jello does not make talking Jello any more plausible, and the centuries of writings on death does not make anyone less dead when they die.

"I'm gonna live till I die" - Frank Sinatra

I sometimes punt the question by saying something like “I’m not sure how anything happening after you die could work.” This is not meant as an invitation to tell me something about Jesus. If there was something about Jesus that helped with any kind of post mortem information transfer it would be written up in some book that I would have probably already have read.

"It's not that I'm afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens." - Woody Allen

You don’t need to tell me about re-incarnation either.

"Death is a fearful thing" - William Shakespeare

I really want to respect you as a believing individual. Engaging me in arguments about life after death makes that hard. If you can’t answer the question “how can that possibly make sense” then your argument is not going well even before you open your mouth.

"I'll sleep when I'm dead" -Warren Zevon

The Abrahamic believers have additional burdens put upon them by their scripture(s). People –notably Lazarus- have supposedly come back from the dead. They should have known something about it, but they were mum on the topic.

"Death is the tyrant of the imagination." -Bryan Procter

These days we do have all sorts of people dying, and then coming back to life with fantastic stories, and then writing a book. Nobody really believes them, and without a little hypoxia-induced dementia I doubt they believe themselves.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

F-18 melting

The summer solstice marks the midpoint of the melting season for arctic sea ice. This year we are on track for another record low. The minimum extent of arctic sea ice occurs near the autumnal equinox, which is on September 22nd this year (14:21 MT on a Thursday); on that day the sun will dip below the horizon, and a frigid night will fall on parts of the arctic. Until that time the constant sun will melt anything it touches.

About a week ago the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSDIC) completed transition of sea ice data gathering from the broken DMSP (Defense Meteorological Satellite Program) F-17 satellite to DMSP F-18. The data from DMSP F-18 had been considered provisional, and showed a shockingly low total arctic sea ice trend. The DMSP F-18 data is no longer provisional, and neither is the shocking sea ice trend.


Arctic sea ice coverage data provide some of the most objective information about the heat level of the planet. Melting sea ice will not raise the level of the oceans. One reason the arctic sea ice coverage is such a good data set is that sea ice looks a lot different than ocean water. This makes it ideal for remote sensing.

An area is considered covered if it is at least 15% sea ice. This means that there is a lot of open ocean in areas that are scored as covered by sea ice. This also means that weather phenomena can compress the sea ice into a very small area, and make it look like a lot of sea ice has been lost at once. This sort of adjustment is common this time of year, and we have not seen a big adjustment in this year's data yet. There was a big adjustment just prior to the summer solstice in 2012, and the current sea ice levels are almost exactly what the post solstice 2012 levels were. If there is an adjustment this year we could see a very low record low level of Arctic sea ice. If there is no adjustment we may see a record low similar to that seen in 2012.

Because there are so many active climate change deniers making noises this campaign year I feel somewhat like I should say something about trendings and confidence intervals. Instead I am just going to wave my little flag and tell you, my readers, that it looks like some interesting data are on their way.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Warm Litha Wishes

In a few hours the earth will slowly stop tilting the arctic towards the sun, and begin the process of tilting the southern pole towards it. The rate of change slows until, for a moment, there is a time in between seasons. The farther away from the equator a person lives the more profound the impact of this shift in tilt.

Litha is the name given to the ritual celebrations of the summer solstice in the northern lands. This year the night pagans will also have a completely full moon to dance their celebrations of midsummer’s night to. If one cannot hear the music of the spheres calling out all sorts of secrets tonight then one is not listening.

Lying on one’s back and looking at the moon creep across the night sky can create a marvelous feeling of slight disorientation. The earth is not so unmoving. A soft-focused gaze and a smile can help one imagine the incredible sensation of movement through the solar system. We are actually moving, but our perception is insulated from feeling it by atmosphere and the local gravity of the earth’s mass.

At such times when my imagination kicks into high gear I like to feel the connection between myself and the sum of all things. The connection of my perception to the properties of so much of reality that allows it to actually be perceived. The connection of the particles assembled into the atoms that make me to the expansion of the universe. The connection of those atoms to the early suns that lit the gas clouds condensing into sol and Earth.

I would also feel the connection between the warmth of my pulse to the possibilities in your embrace.

The rituals of Litha celebrate the green things nurtured by the longer days of the northern hemisphere. Flowers are woven into hoops that are worn on the head like a crown. We imagine love as the product of so much abundance of life. The believers pray to the goddesses of love. The cynical suspend for a moment our derision of love, and for a moment something new is possible. I would hold onto some of those possibilities today.

I hope you all have a great Litha. Imagine some possibilities. Imagine some impossibilities. Stretch out your imagination, and hopefully find that it does something new for you as the earth tilts us all into the new season.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Horny Toad is Niether

The heat of summer came rolling invisibly across the high desert today. In a minute the temperature raised ten degrees (Fahrenheit) and a wind rose from every swirling direction at once. It will be hot, hot, hot this weekend, and I am hoping some of that will be in a good way.

A windy rise in temperature apparently puts the local large long-nosed leopard lizards “in the mood” for love. I saw a large female firmly in the grip of a much smaller male. They looked like an eight legged two tailed awkwardly hobbling mutant lizard. They could barely run away as my shadow fell across them and their tiny lizard brains yelled “RUN” someplace in their heads.

long-nosed leopard lizard, Gambelia wislizenii

The lizard brain is thought by many to be capable of only four or so thoughts, emotions really. This is largely because lizards are only seen as displaying a vanishingly small subset of the capabilities inflicted on humans by their big primate brains.

“The lizard brain is hungry, scared, angry, and horny.” - Seth Godin

The “lizard brain” spoken of most profoundly by thinkers is not the evolutionarily untouched (mostly) actual lizard brain found in actual lizards; it is the core feature of the big fatty tissue in our head that is the human brain.

It is popular, slightly illuminating, and incredibly easy to view the human brain as a series of layers that represent stages in evolution. On the outside is the cerebrum where all of the advanced skill sets have been mapped. Nestled inside the squishy shell of the cerebrum are the elements of the Limbic system; you can find many of the primal mammalian capabilities mapped to this region. Nestled in the Limbic system, perched on top of the spinal column, is the reptilian complex; aka the “Lizard Brain”.

Those feelings the lizard brain purportedly enables for us are strong behavior drivers. We tend to think of them as the cause of uncontrollable obsessive activity. The very idea of lizard fear can conjure images of a trembling crouched figure hugging their legs in anticipation of doom. However, there are a lot of evidenced control mechanisms for the lizard brain feelings; even in actual lizard lizard brains.

This is the time of year that I see many species of lizard out walking. In addition to the amorous long-nosed leopard lizards, I also saw several “horny toads” today. The “horny Toad” is a species of lizard –not an amphibian like true toads- that has patches of short tiny spines on it. All the “Horny Toads” I saw today were solitary. The temperature shift had not informed the “Horny Toads'” lizard brain to begin mating; in other words the “Horny Toads” were neither.

Despite the fact that the lizard brain feelings are obviously controlled anyone who has a brain knows that they are marvelously powerful once invoked. It is easy, therefore, to picture the rest of the brain huddled close to this source of power so that the connections to it could turn it on without bouncing around the skull a few times first.

By manipulating the lizard brain we add power to the bonding feelings that make us humans such a cohesively gregarious species. We eat together and so hunger bonds us. We feel safe from being ostracized from our social clique when we are in it. We feel anger at those not like us, in thinking or appearance, and that bonds us to those that are members of our tribe. Lastly we feel a yearning to be intimate with specific members of our tribe; by modulating this very powerful urge the brain creates a set of emotion patterns known as “Love”.

I know this whole post is an exercise in hand waving masquerading as neurobiology, but it allows me to now describe Love as a series of connections between the powerful lizard brain motivations and all the other layers of the brain.

  • Bad poetry get you to fall a little too hard with that inappropriate significant other who never got a real job? Well, there are a couple synapses for that.

  • Did your daughter interpret her social status wrangling of the football star as love after a couple months? Well, there are synapses for that.

  • Did your father suddenly become immune to his drinking problem because of the way his new bride took up all his attention? You guessed it, synapses.

The effects of love may be the creation of neural paths that re-enforce the recognition and bonding with a lover. These can be mapped and measured. The causative phase of love remains only poorly understood through the analysis of related phenomena like nurturing or lust. This allows me to wave my hands with impunity. Not that actual facts would stop me when I am talking about love.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Snake in the grass sighting

On occasion one comes across the odd idiom while out hunting metaphors. Idioms are a much more rare form of metaphor, but provide a pleasant diversion from the task of taking things too seriously. The relative rarity of idioms is due in part to the fact that every aspect of reality can be made part of a common metaphor; idioms must be established by common usage, and this fermentation can take decades.

Today I saw a “Snake In The Grass”.

It was a small snake, and there really was not much grass. I took this picture to provide proof of my sighting. The snake was very still and accommodating as I took it.


This metaphor for treachery, alluding to a poisonous snake concealed in tall grass, was used in 37 b.c. by the Roman poet Virgil ( latet anguis in herba). It was first recorded in English in 1696 as the title of a book by Charles Leslie.

From what I know of snake biology the act of purposefully hiding in order to get close enough to effectively strike a human would not be a very good survival mechanism. Striking humans is a defense mechanism, and it does not increase the odds of getting food or help to establish some territorial boundary. The snake strikes to dissuade the human from killing, which some humans do because snakes strike and are sometimes poisonous.

So why isn’t this idiom a metaphor for generations of miscommunication becoming codified in a pattern of negative interactions?

Monday, June 13, 2016


I insist that there were at least a dozen other people, like myself, who did not have a clear picture of what happened at the Pulse nightclub massacre until this morning. Notifications popped up on my phone that people I was actually unaware lived in Orlando were “checking in” as ok. News notifications popped up saying that they knew nothing or contradicting what had just been said in previous notifications. Stories about multiple gunmen wounding a dozen people gave way to one gunman killing a couple dozen. Donald Trump apparently said something, and the motivations for the killings were unclear.

Near some fetid swamp and Disneyland, a description of the whole of Orlando, a man slaughtered people he did not know for reasons that sound alien when I read them aloud from news stories. The hundred people who were gunned down were not engaged in anything profound or particularly worthy. They were doing things a lot like what was distracting me from the news of their plight. There was nothing more subtle in my tasting the flavors of a meal I had just bought on the tongue of the acquaintance I had bought it for; is that Sriracha, and was there even Sriracha on the table? These are not questions whose answers will shake the world, but what other questions are worth asking when eyes sparkle and smiles melt together.

The morning’s news was already full of spin about the motivations, and I learned all the petty justifications for not thinking this or that had anything to do with the reasons behind the horrific realities of the massacre. I read that it was homophobia, but not religious. I learned that it was not due to ISIS despite some declaration because of something. Donald Trump had said something. Whacky, and not in a good way, Christian pastors were declaring some harsher judgement on the victims than the perpetrator.

The confusion was all too familiar, and in the coming weeks we will surely see older cars plastered with stickers proclaiming this event to have been staged as false flag theater to promote the gay agenda. Donald Trump will say something. We will be told over, and over, and over that this has nothing to do with Islam and that most Muslims do not shoot up nightclubs.

Islamic scripture unambiguously calls for killing homosexuals, and many Islamic states regularly execute people for the crime of engaging in homosexual activity (“kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done.”). Homosexual acts are not the only activities requiring harsh sentences. Applying the rules of the Quran (and more specific supporting scripture) to American society would be impossibly damaging. American Muslims have begun the process of secularizing their belief system in ways that make incorporation possible. The scripture may require the killing of homosexuals, but “we don’t actually do that” is the method of living the scriptural teachings.

It is VERY good that there is a moderating movement amongst the vast majority of the millions of Muslims in America. Christians have, for the most part, grown out of the extremely punitive interpretations of their scripture, while mostly maintaining that they have not fundamentally changed the way scripture works in their lives; Muslims should be able to do the same.

Most people have an internal moral compass that prevents them from going out and killing people. They have this regardless of what their religion says they should do. Can we blame the religion when someone without a working sense of right and wrong does something horrific in part because they find justification in the scripture of their religion? I think we have to!

Discarding bits of obsolete mythology of imaginary beings is not hard. There is no reason to keep it. There is no reason to give lip service to a religion’s innocence when it refuses to expunge those parts that explicitly call for actions that resonate with the motivation behind an atrocity like the Pulse nightclub massacre.

We can enthusiastically agree, as a culture of actual humans, that murdering people en masse for trivial actions, like trying to chisel companionship out of mutual attraction, is just wrong. This is a guiding principal. Any scripture or teaching that muddies the water or contradict this clear idea is just wrong as well. A religion that upholds a scripture that explicitly calls for hating and killing people for reasons innocuous to any reasoned human does not get a “pass” because most of their adherents are actually not out killing folks; it is just wrong.

Stop the hate.

Stop the killing.

Pull down the walls of the temple that protects the words of hate.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Poe Poe Pitiful Me

One of the most revered forms of American literature is the horror story. Several of my European friends are confused by the appeal of Ambrose Bierce, or HP Lovecraft, or the amazing EA Poe. I don’t know if Poe is my favorite, but each of his stories resonates with a terror I have built from unremembered incidents mortared with free-floating anxiety.

Last night I went to a lovely interpretation of several of Poe’s stories presented by a local theater production group called Meat & Potato Theater. The production was called “con·temp·POE·rar·y” and included songs composed from the plot of some of his stories as well as a puppet interpretation of the pit and pendulum. It was innovative and interesting.

The biggest reason I went was that Beatrice had broken the ghosting and asked me to go. I went knowing it was an emotional ambush. She had sent me a couple hate-filled emails that mentioned a dozen convoluted insults she had received over the course of our years-long relationship that had come to an abrupt confusing halt that-wasn't-really-an-end-or-something over the course of two face-to-face meetings spaced over two weeks. The final “fight-or-meeting” involved us declaring our love for each other while crying and feeling like crap. That’s not even a fight; is it?

In Poe’s “A Cask of Amontillado” the protagonist lures an unsuspecting victim who was guilty of some insult into a dark and malodorous trap by offering him something that he would be irresistibly drawn to taste. In Poe’s story the lure is a cask of sherry. The lure of the possibility of some emotional connection to Beatrice would prove irresistible to me, but any one of you, my readers, would know that as well as Beatrice and her conspirators; I am an easy mark when tempted by love.  

“This is a very good joke, indeed. Many times will we laugh about it” EA Poe (cask of Amontillado)

Whatever our last icky interaction was the follow up was week-after-week of ghosting followed -just yesterday- by a couple emails dripping with hate, but including a strange invitation to rebuild something from the starting point of “friends” at the end. I, of course, jumped on this apparent invitation as if I could not help myself. I could watch myself putting out vulnerable feelers, and getting partial assurances in return. Beatrice suggested this play as a place to meet. There was a little too much serendipity in the choice. She was an event organizer for a “Queer Friends” (QF) meetup group event to see the play, and I had a ticket from an aborted date that ended weeks before it had taken place. I had applied to be in QF quite a while earlier, and the organizer had sat on my application till shortly before this event. QF is a small 600 person Salt Lake City social meetup group for people in or connected to the LGBTQ spectrum, and is the dating group for the inner circle of event organizers, like Beatrice.

In Poe’s story “The Pit and The Pendulum” the protagonist explores a strange pitch-black cell by feel. He attempts to discern the dimensions of the cell in the absence of any visual information. He creates a reference point, and uses familiar methods of determining distance. Instead of fully realizing the nature of his pitch-black surroundings these familiar groundings only reveal the horror of a slime covered dungeon room with a deep pit in the center populated by huge rats. The clever and familiar methods only help to underscore the depth of the terror.

“Listen! Listen, and I will tell you how it happened. You will see, you will hear how healthy my mind is” EA Poe (The Tell-Tale Heart)

I only asked Beatrice to be gentle with my feelings. I did not want to be the third wheel in some PDA festooned date she was having with someone else. She acknowledged the request, but didn't specifically agree to it; I was specific though: “I will not go if this is a date night with you and someone else”.

In The Murders of the Roux Morgue Poe creates a protagonist whose reasoned investigation reveals more horrific and bizarre information as it progresses towards its fantastical final discovery. The lack of information provides clues to the investigator as often as the presence of bizarre evidence. Even as the case inexorably turns somewhat bizarre it does not give away the final bizarre twist.

Beatrice stopped communicating with me before the play. She knew the window it would take for me to get from work to the play would probably be 3 hours since I would need to change. During this window the woman I thought she might be on a date with RSVP’ed for the play; I knew this because the commute went early and I had a bit of time to log on to see if Beatrice had warned me of an impending date. She had not warned me; nothing from Beatrice.

“His results, brought about by the very soul and essence of method, have, in truth, the whole air of intuition.” EA Poe (Murders at the roux morgue)

I knew the play was going to be an emotional ambush. The cruelty and vindictiveness needed for that sort of low-blow attack was mirrored in the hateful speech of the emails. One of the features of the emails was a switch in tone like Beatrice was trying to put in more barbed phraseology suggested by others. She accused me of contradictory offenses, and suggested that some behaviors were the normal actions that illuminated the degree of abnormal activity for one offense just before using them as indicators of mental insufficiency in another.

If she wanted an ambush so bad I would give her a victim. It was just an evening. If she needed emotional blood I would bleed for her; silent and stoic. My vanpool riders were amazed that I would go with what I suspected was going to happen. I felt embolden. I was looking and feeling strong. I had a few notches I could be taken down.

I had the Barista at Starbucks take my photo so I could have proof that I was smiling as I prepared to go to the ambush

I arrived at the theater right on time. For a second I felt dread as I approached the large glass windows fronting the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center building.

“There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart—an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime.” EA Poe (Fall of the house of Usher)

I got a nod of recognition when I sat down on the far right hand side of the row of QF. There were two people sitting between myself and Beatrice. The woman I recognized as her probable date sat on the other side of her. I said hello to the woman who I had met at a previous event sitting next to Beatrice on my side, but she was strangely dismissive of my hello. Beatrice and her date barely acknowledged me. When the play began Beatrice and her date began stroking each other’s thighs, and holding hands when that got too hot.

At the intermission the two women on either side of Beatrice went to the bathroom, and Beatrice feigned a distanced hello to see if the PDA was working. I tried to provide a heartbroken smile to justify her subterfuge that got me there for the hurt.

The second act began with the woman sitting next to Beatrice on my side snuggling into her so aggressively that it had the lesbian couple sitting behind them sniggering in slight disapproval. I was in awe at just how terrific this ambush was. I was ambushed by a threesome of over-the-top PDA. Right now they are assuredly having much more fun exploring the possibilities of that affection than I am writing this post.

I thanked them as I left, and walked with a strange energy to my step back to my car.

“And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired.” EA Poe (The Masque of the red death)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Ghost Dove

This is a cross-post with Daily Dead Bird

I saw a bird carcass today that stared at me with a haunting hollow gaze that followed me as I walked past it. It was so disconcerting that I retraced my couple-few steps to see if it was paralyzed or dazed. It lay on its back with unruffled feathers and the legs pulled in slightly. I imagined it sat like one of Audubon’s recently killed specimens; waiting patiently to become the animated subject of one of his paintings.

As I looked down at the bird its gaze was deeper than I imagined a bird’s could be. I imagine birds, especially doves like this bird, having the flighty stare of the eponymous “bird-brained”. The gaze was deep and black. It was several seconds of staring, and perhaps a shift in my shadow that let a little more light fall on the carcass, before I noticed a bit of skull in the stare. The bird’s head had been hollowed out, presumably by insects overnight, and the complicating stare was only shadow.

I believe the bird’s death progressed thusly: first the bird was flooded with the emotions and pain associated with the insult that killed it, then, as the support systems went offline, the brain ceased to provide an adequate mechanism to coordinate thoughts and everything was dumped as a jumble of unfiltered perception, then the brain turned off and there were no more thoughts. Later the brain would be eaten by insects. I bet the insects bored their way into the fatty neural tissue through the delicately soft and wet eyes.

“The eyes are a doorway to the soul” –unknown

There is a line of classical belief that takes the knowledge that the brain is the thinking organ of the body and uses faulty logic to suggest that those creatures which eat the brain gain some of the thoughts of the creature that used that brain while alive. There should be some pupating maggot meditating on the fact that the sunflower seeds in Hickman Canyon are particularly tasty this year. Another is probably just reliving the question: “Will this red tailed hawk be my friend if I say hello?”

Although it is somewhat humorous to imagine some carrion-feeding insect reliving the last bad decision of this bird it requires too many peculiar leaps of irrationality to make that something that is believable. The implications are interesting. Imagine a dermestidae beetle, which ingested the last fateful decision of the dove, being eaten by another bird; would this confer selective advantage to the new possessor of this dead dove’s wisdom? Could wisdom and knowledge be calculated by caloric content?

We impart meaning and substance to the fate of our most precious organs, but the more incredible implications of that become awkward to process. This is one of the things that faith is used for; to stifle questions about the implications of what is believed. I think it is better to just not believe. Just because it is fun to imagine fantastical possibilities does not mean we have to also believe in them. Belief is so cumbersome that it prevents imagining the complete vibrant spectrum of fantastical impossibilities.

I had seen the bird staring at me. I imagined that it was lying paralyzed beside the road; only able to plead its case with the look in its eyes. I had wondered, for a few brief seconds, if it thought I was a predator or instead a creature that would save it from being easy unmoving prey for a predator. I imagined all of these thoughts, most of which were probably too complex for a live dove’s brain, occurring just behind that hollow stare.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Sign for Utah Pride Parade 2016

Here is the finished sign I talked about a couple posts ago.  It is amazingly similar to the original design.  Clearly legible from a long distance.  I like it.  It is made with a measurable amount of win.

But there is hidden win behind the artsy semi-free-form lettering and awesome color scheme.  This sign is made of fiberboard, and is orders of magnitude stronger than ones made with standard poster-board or foam core.   This sign could withstand the impact of a vigorously launched rock or bottle.  In order to leverage this capability I designed a handle setup that allows the sign to work as a shield.  Here is a picture of the back.

 I put some paint on the back so I could tell which side was up without looking at the front.  The handle system is constructed from two sections of 2x3s and 2 pieces of 1 inch hardwood dowel.   The dowels act as the actual handles.  Here is a closeup of a dowel.
The handles allow the sign to be carried without grasping it from the sides.  Fingers do not obstruct the front of the sign, and the fingers are protected from being bashed.  This was, of course, the real reason for the handle system, but the fact that it turns the sign into a modestly effective shield is a bonus capability.


And here is the sign just about to be used in the parade:

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Transgender Studies

I am in love with a transgendered woman, and this fact has caused some issues in my life that might be of interest to anyone else who finds themselves in such a situation.

The real reason I’m writing this is because the relationship has ended in a spectacular ghosting, and I am not handling it as dispassionately as the situation requires. Writing helps me organize my thoughts so they do not go crashing into one another as they pinball around my skull. If this helps someone else it is a wonderful thing.

The love in question is of the complete investment kind; pride gambled and proposals made. The ghosting took my best friend and lover. These are problems with falling in love, and I am currently recommending against doing that with anyone of any gender, cis or trans.

1) You are gay

To the individual, like myself, who is a 0 or 1 on the Kinsey scale this is a bit of an interesting discovery. I think a male at the 5 or 6 end of the scale might have a more difficult discovery, that of being in love with a woman, to process, but I do not know how they would get there. People in the middle bisexual ground of the scale might be able to divide up each gendered interaction so as to avoid any big new discovery.

Yes there were people who called me “FAG” or acquaintances who drilled down on describing the moral repugnancy of homosexual interaction in the same sentence as asking me about that person who drove me around in that red infinity. There were also the changes in attitudes at work, and the dis-inclusion in events. These are not the stuff of an important personal discovery, but I do wish I had talked more about them when they happened so that I could have avoided some of the secret festering that gave these incidents any importance at all. They are not worth mentioning now except to state that they are not worth mentioning.

The fact that you are gay is probably not a factor in the interaction you have with your transgendered love one; although it might be. I do not have much breadth to my romantic experiences with transgendered women; there is just this woman with whom I fell in love (let’s call her Beatrice after Dante) and another woman with whom I went on one date. The single date woman took me back to her place and while we were sitting close on her couch offered to show me pictures of her on her (pre-transition) Mormon mission, and offered to show me pictures of herself on the boys’ basketball team in high school, and offered explanations about how the transgender “thing” was related to soft-core porn and a desire to cross-dress that got out of hand. My reticence to warm to the idea of realizing she was male baffled her.

Beatrice insisted that I was not gay to my face, but gleefully identified as “All of the Above” when asked by people whose opinions she valued where she fell on the LGBT spectrum; it only takes simple arithmetic to figure out what that meant she thought of me. This was a little dishonest, but it was probably due to her changing her mind about what she thought depending on the situation in which she was thinking it.

Since the moment I realized the ghosting was a permanent situation -and I avoided this realization- I have been trying to date. After a few dates, and some minor physical contact, it is common for a woman to want to know something about your previous love interests, and that latest one which still darkens your countenance like a cloud across the full moon when mentioned attracts a good bit of special attention. Reactions range from one end of a spectrum where a former flame, whom I was sure would never speak to me again when I dumped her for Beatrice, accused me of purposefully having Beatrice be transgender in order to hurt her; “That was so hurtful of you” and “That really creeps me out”. On the other end a new interest declared that “She knew that there was something different about me; that I was gay!” when I told her Beatrice was transgendered, and she then proceeded to put her tongue in my mouth to demonstrate how that excited her.

I have few lesbian acquaintances, and they tend to be a little more academic in deciphering the interactions of men with transgendered women, at least when they are dealing with men, or at the very least when they are dealing with me. Here is an example: “I tend to see transgendered people as homophobes who had to switch genders to become comfortable with their sexuality. That comes from my own academic training in queer and gender theory, is actually a position shared by a lot of lesbian feminists.” What this is saying is that I am gay and Beatrice actually hates me for it. Given the way I’ve been ghosted this might be surprisingly insightful.

Instead of creating some synthesis of the information that most people in my life: “do not believe a transsexual is a woman” and the fact that Beatrice was the woman I loved I attempted to simply ignore everything (including Beatrice) that suggested Beatrice was in a special class of women. I thought of her simply as possessed of exotic charms, and was all the more enthralled as a result. Perhaps a synthesis of information would have made it less awkward to be a non-homosexual gay male.

Interestingly my several gay male friends did not consider me gay. This brings me to the second important aspect of loving a transgendered woman.

2) You are a perverted abomination

In high school a good friend came out to me, and we are still good friends. He will answer my awkward questions, and fill in the gaps I manage to create while stumbling them out with knowledge about me and what I might really mean. When I “came out” to him about my love for Beatrice he called me an abomination. “Perverse” he called me. These were the knee-jerk reactions, and he quickly began dialing them back; trying to re-frame them as a bad joke.

When a transgendered woman undergoes gender reassignment surgery they flay open her penis and sew it back together into a convoluted pretzel of penis bits that resembles a natural vagina. Watching a video, even a cartoon, of the procedure can be cringe-worthy for any man, but here is probably no group of individuals more sensitive to the unnaturalness of this procedure than men who like both their own penises and the penises on other men.

Other gay male friends would talk in hushed tones of how awful the genitals must be; as if the insight of people who thought vaginas in general were icky would tell me something new and devastating. Nobody ever got around to asking me how things worked or felt; I never got the chance to answer that there was just a wonderfully sensitive point of interaction between this woman that I loved and me, and that it was all beautiful and Beatrice. Yes, I realize how delusional that sounds, and I "just never mentioned" being in love with a post-op transgendered woman to many of my gay male friends or acquaintances.

The genitals are so important. If you fall in love with a transgender woman do not fool yourself into ignoring the status of her genitals; they are not central to her identity but ignoring the status just because you love her regardless is not adequate. The status of the genitals is so important that the transgendered woman who undergoes gender reassignment surgery puts her life at significant risk and endures tremendous pain to change that status. Beatrice and I started dating before her gender reassignment surgery. She returned from California and recovered in my bed while my daughters –as much as is possible for teenagers- helped to care for her.

I was told by non-romantically connected transgender acquaintances that no male could provide the validation needed for a transgendered woman’s acceptance of her own genitals. This revelation would come in the form of intricately detailed stories.  It is vitally important to have the input of other people when dating a transgender woman as talking about special issues with her will confuse the fact that she is "a woman - period" (yes I am aware of the twisted double entendre there), and that confusion will abort most meaningful dialog; especially critical conversations about subtle transgender identity issues.  "Passable" and genital adequacy are important identity issues that cannot just be dismissed with the waving of hands. 

Beatrice would talk of her desire for a female lover, and I would know that would make me obsolete. I could never share access to my genitals with her and say that hers were just as good and mean anything worthwhile by it. It was taking on a female “friend with benefits” (hours after securing a pledge of romantic and sexual fidelity from me) that started the clock on the last two weeks she would ever speak to me.  Most of what she had to tell me those two weeks concerned her complete and sudden unavailability, and my own insignificance.

This kind of sudden change is not just incidental to the problems a man faces when he falls in love with a transgendered woman, and it brings us to the next issue.

3. Abandonment and trauma issues.

I have presented the problems that I faced, but these are trivial compared with the trials a transgendered woman must endure. People would just slip around corners to avoid me when I walked through the Tooele Walmart with Beatrice, but when she was not there I was treated like an almost normal person, and almost wished I was still being avoided. The transgendered woman can expect to be abandoned by friends and family in addition to the annoying acquaintances who shop at the same time. Beatrice raised several children who –two because of the influence of the Mormon church- have not spoken to her in years; they have not spoken, their spouses have not spoken, the grandchildren have not spoken. There is a palpable loss that I could not comprehend those times I held her sobbing frame into the night those losses remembered themselves. AOD and AYD would receive unsolicited hugs the next time I saw them and wonder why I was tearing up just to see them.

The hurt inflicted on transgendered women by those they love (and by strangers, but whose sting hurts worse?) can result in PTSD. I have never met a transgendered woman who has not experienced profound and horrible hurt. Beatrice was comparatively lucky to have only experienced the truly heartbreaking treatment that she did, but the trauma associated with abandonment can result in PTSD symptoms. These include: Panic attacks related to unconscious triggers, Hyper-vigilance related to perceived threats, Emotional flashbacks, Vulnerability in social situations, Attraction to those who are unavailable, and Heightened emotional responses related to abandonment triggers, such as feeling slighted, criticized, or excluded. In severe cases PTSD can lead to drug or alcohol abuse, depression, self-depreciation, and even complete sleep deprivation with hallucinations and suicidal ideation.

These issues are not specific to transgendered women. Many non-veteran members of our society can exhibit them: Drug addicts, Childhood abuse survivors, and others. They are not issues that are best dealt with by ignoring or actively minimizing them, and they can spiral out of control into life-altering episodes if left unchecked.

The two weeks of disjoint imperative panic that lead to the ghosting was not the first severe episode of past trauma induced behavior. When Beatrice was recovering in my house I offered to let her stay there as long as she wanted, and I told her that I hoped she would want to long after she was fully recovered. I did not realize that such an offer would cause severe panic. She almost immediately HAD to leave; she had no coherent reason and attempted actions like lifting heavy suitcases because she perceived the threat of popping stitches and bleeding out on my floor as less dangerous than staying with the man who loved her. Conversations dashed down logical dead ends just to get somehow from whatever was being said to the end that was needed to escape the threat. If not for the medication and pain I do not think she would have ever come back into my life; the current ghosting was done with a sober mind, and though it appeared no less panicked, there is no mediating externality to turn her around.


If you fall in love with a transgendered woman you may need to find out about her triggers, and discover ways of responding to them that may be outside of your experience set.  

I’ve used up too many electrons on just three issues. There are more, but so few will even read this far.

In places the bitterness of my feelings about the breakup have washed over you with my words. I did write this in part to look at those feelings. I have learned to house the impossible hope of her return with the imperative that I just move on to some imagined goal. Neither is based in reason, but if I don’t tie them to a bit of virtual paper they crash about in my head and make a mess of things.

This essay is not designed as a dispassionate analysis of all the things that lead to the breakup. Rest assured that I contributed mightily to the end, but this is my essay, and I did not want to write that stuff down here.  There is also the confusion of an on and off relationship.  The whole thing is messy the way love is when it hits reality; at least the way it hits the reality of my life. I’ve got all the crap in my head though, and I’ve played it back till the anxiety and self-recriminations burn it onto my more random thoughts.

I don’t think loving a transgendered woman is any harder or more doomed than loving a genetic girl, but all love is probably doomed. Loving Beatrice was more than easy. There are specific issues though, and I hope, if you are in love, you can avoid some of the situational specific landmines I stepped on.

And if you can’t, well, I told you so.