Friday, April 6, 2018

My Neighborhood Cat

My cat Misty is an indoor-outdoor cat. She came to me that way, and I have experienced how unhappy she is when I have to confine her indoors for medical reasons. She gets in and out through a cat door I had installed next to my back door.

The cat door is locked, so I don't get visits from other cats or raccoons or rats. It unlocks when Misty touches it while wearing a key fob on her collar. When she loses her collar, I need to find it if I don't want to replace the collar, the key fob, and her ID tag.

These items being troublesome and costly to replace, I have accompanied them with a tracking tile that I can locate with an app on my phone. When the tile is close enough (its range is 50-100 feet), the app notifies me and the tile itself starts to play a musical tune. I use it most often to locate Misty while she's wearing the collar and I need to take her to the vet.

Twice in the past three months she has come knocking on her cat door without her collar and I have had to let her in the back door (and out again, and in again . . . ). The first time this happened, the tracking tile didn't work. In addition to a limited range, it has a limited life. It needs to be replaced every year or so, and I had heedlessly ignored a warning of its imminent expiration when it crossed my screen. I looked for the first collar in my back yard and asked my tenants to look for it. No dice.

So I bought her a new collar, adorned it with a backup cat door fob and the ID tag from my previous cat, and ordered new tracker tiles and cat door fobs. When the new tracker tiles appeared, I put one on her lovely new collar.

It was only another month or so before she came a-knocking at the cat door without the new collar. Grrrr. I fired up the tracking app on my phone and walked around the backyard. No luck.

Every so often, one of my neighbors stops me on the street to report seeing Misty in their backyard, or that she came into their home for a visit. So I figured she must have dropped the collar in one of their backyards. With the limited range of the tracker, though, I would not be able to find it from the sidewalk.

So I crossed my fingers and headed up my street towards neighbors who knew Misty. A few houses up the hill, I saw a vaguely familiar neighbor talking with someone else. When their conversation was over, I hailed the woman. Told her that my cat might have lost her collar in her backyard, and could I come and scan for it. She led me into her yard, the tracker went off, and we could hear the tile's music playing from the backyard next door. My neighbor, being taller than me, looked over the fence and saw the collar on a table in the yard. So we went next door and asked the ladies to retrieve the collar from their backyard. They did so, and we had a nice chat about how cats dislike wearing collars and how some have figured out how to use bushes to pull them off.

I rejoiced in having neighbors to help me take care of my pet, and made a mental note to promptly replace the tracker tile when I am warned that it may be  it running out of juice.

Friday, March 9, 2018

What is Community?

Today's buzzword is community. What is community? How is it created? What circumstances foster it? How is it revealed?

The word "community" comes from a Latin root that means "common." A community is a group of people with something in common. More specifically, it is "a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics and which either is perceived or perceives itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists."

I come to the question of community as a member of the so-called LGBT community. Outsiders may see the LGBT community as a monolith, but it contains many sub-groups who see themselves as communities: political activists, artists, the leather community, etc. And any one person can be a member of several overlapping communities depending on her neighborhood, gender presentation, occupation, activities, religion or lack thereof, and so on.

I find it helpful to separate two kinds of community: communities by identity and communities of caring. By identity, I am a retired older lesbian living in San Francisco, and my affiliations include a synagogue, a brunch group, and two support groups.

How is a community of caring formed? Good question. Some communities of identity include caring for each other as an element of their identity, such as religious congregations and extended families.

In my experience, a community of caring develops when members of a community by identity allow themselves to depend on each other. When they explicitly or implicitly agree to come to each other for support, and have a reasonable expectation of getting help.

I saw this happen when members of my brunch group had surgery, and the others visited them, sent and brought food, helped them with chores, and encouraged them. We take each other to medical procedures and the emergency room. We call each other to listen when we just need to vent.

Pretty much any community of identity has the potential to develop into a community of caring. As I see it, the key is for members to express openness to supporting each other. For as many of the group as are willing to explicitly agree to help each other to the extent of our ability. And to express this agreement not just once, but regularly.

And then, in any group needs will develop. If the members are in contact with each other, and believe that they have a mutual aid agreement, they will ask each other for help and receive it, and the group will grow stronger and closer with each need met.

Corporate Citizens

Remember Mitt Romney saying that corporations are people? If they have the legal rights of individuals, they should at least have the same responsibilities.

But no. The law views corporations as profit machines without personal liability. They are encouraged, if not required, to subsume any concern for their employees or customers, or the environment, to the insatiable need for shareholder profit. Not only must each year be more profitable than the previous year, but it must be more profitable by a larger margin than the difference between the two previous years.

These are not sustainable goals. There are only so many customers who are willing and able to pay ever-increasing prices for anything. And when companies try to make the same products more cheaply, the quality drops, or automation robs people of jobs, or off-shoring moves the jobs overseas and the quality may drop, or the environmental damage caused by the company worsens. And corporations cause much poverty and mental and physical illness by demanding ever more work from people who are given fewer resources to do it with, or less control over how to do it, or fewer benefits like health insurance or pensions for doing it, or no job at all.

I think that the laws governing corporations need to require them to bear the same responsibilities they now have to their shareholders also to their employees and customers, and the environment. And these laws should be enforceable by anyone affected by corporations, and egregious violators should face criminal penalties including prison and corporate dissolution for violent corporate side-effects such as mine disasters, poisoned rivers, and huge explosions.

Nowadays, corporations are like toddlers running around with guns. They kill people all the time, but they’re not expected to do any better, and they’re not punished or rehabilitated. This must not continue.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

I Should Be Doing Something

I spend far too much time thinking about things I should be doing. This is a fruitless and often painful activity, but I continue to indulge in it. Why?

Well. My thought processes are not uniform. A whole committee of voices participates in my decision-making, and they pull in opposing directions. For example, I have a childish member who really enjoys thumbing her nose at the others, saying "Nyah, nyah. You can't make me. So there." An older committee member protests that my status as retired means that I don't have to do anything I don't want to.

But many members of the committee feel lazy, guilty, ashamed, and unworthy to live when I'm choosing to read or play games on my devices instead of creating something, taking care of business, reaching out to friends, stretching, or just getting out of the house. Shouldn't feeling that bad outweigh the pleasures of doing my own thing?

Then I look more closely into the members who advocate for inaction, and find one who is shy, another who is slightly agoraphobic, and a third who is convinced that keeping still and silent keeps me from the attention of some great, malign force. That's pretty powerful stuff.

On the third hand, the other committee members feel competent, capable, and energized by getting stuff done. But even they are undercut by the knowledge that most of the stuff will have to be done again not too long from now.

I have confronted the problem of "shoulding" on myself many times in the past, and come up with two ways of coping. One, which rose to the status of a resolution one year, is to view each "should" as having only two possible responses: either do or not do (and let myself off the hook for not doing); there is no leaving it undone while beating myself up for not doing it. The second approach is advice I formulated for myself as a retiree: do as much fun stuff as my body and emotions can handle, and as much good as I need to do to preserve my self-esteem.

The first, Yoda-like, approach calls for moment-by-moment mindfulness. The second calls for planning future activities to balance pleasure and productivity, and then to carry out those plans.

Perfectionism sometimes gets in the way of making plans. Many of my committee members strive so heartily for perfection that they cannot decide what to eat or watch on TV without obsessing. The saner members of my committee frequently have to remind them that at every point in life there are many good enough choices, and no single perfect one. Moreover, any particular choice that seems to be working out badly can usually be abandoned and a different choice made. Very few choices are carved in stone. Each new moment I can do something different. This is not an affirmation or aspiration, but a statement of fact. Being alive and human means having the ability to make different choices. Choices are what living consists of. Every moment is an ocean of possibilities, a sea of opportunities limited only by my imagination.

And maybe that's my problem -- a failure of imagination. My whole career and avocation have been in non-fiction writing. I haven't created characters, worlds, or plots. On the other hand, every now and then I imagine an invention that might be useful, but don't do anything with the idea. Maybe there's an inventors' suggestion box somewhere where I could pass these ideas on to someone who could either realize them or tell me who has already done it.

Then I start to wonder if I should be doing warm-up exercises for my imagination. Or would that just be another way to "should" on myself?

Computer Woes

Watching my computer twiddle its little electronic thumbs is the new "watching paint dry," but worse. At least you have a painted wall after watching paint dry. A watched computer, however, may never boil. If it does stop twiddling, the odds of it having completed the assigned task are about even.

Computers are so frustrating. When they're good, they're very very good--and fast--so that our expectations are set very very high. On the other hand, when seconds and then minutes pass while it twiddles, it feels like hours, seems like days, and creates despair.

At the moment, I've just optimized one disk drive that needed it. The other drive that needed it wouldn't even let me try to optimize it. So I figured that a restart might help. Well, it might help, if the machine were to let me restart it. But no, it's stuck on the "welcome" screen where I've typed in my password, and now, five minutes later, the little twiddling animation has frozen in its tracks. Which is a really bad sign. I feel a 'control-alt-delete' coming on. Cross fingers. Nope. Now what?!

So I held down the power switch until the machine shut off, then turned it back on. Now we're back to the twiddling welcome screen--take two. And now it's frozen again. Bummer.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Liberal Values

I have some thoughts about an interview with Jonathan Haidt on the moral values of liberals and conservatives. His episode of the podcast On Being was entitled “The Psychology of Self-Righteousness.” See (10/19/17 podcast).

He and other researchers used a standardized test to separate liberals from conservatives. Then they asked liberal people to take the test as if they were conservative, and vice versa. What grabbed my attention was that conservatives are a whole lot better than liberals at putting themselves in the other side’s shoes. As a card-carrying liberal, I was shocked and offended. Aren’t we at least as smart as conservatives?

Haidt said in the podcast that people who study the bases of morality generally recognize five major values: kindness, fairness, loyalty, authority, and sanctity or purity.

All five values are recognized in most human societies that have been studied. The prevailing theory is that they evolved along with humans because they give us the ability to form stable groups involving more than a single family, groups whose members cooperate with each other to feed, shelter, and defend themselves. These abilities meant that more of us survived, so natural selection promoted people using these values.

As time passed, some of these values lost their allure to some people. In cultures that are western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic, the rights of individuals are held at least as strongly as values that support group identity. In particular, while kindness and fairness remain valued among liberals and conservatives alike, liberals do not join conservatives in placing equal value on loyalty, authority, and sanctity.

One theory about this difference is that liberals hold a sixth value – liberty or freedom. As a result, we abhor oppression by anyone. While conservatives value loyalty against betrayal, authority against subversion, and sanctity against degradation, liberals fear these values as the basis of racism, misogyny, and authoritarianism.

It seems to me that conservatives place limited value on liberty. As far as I can tell, they value liberty only in the sense that they don’t want the government to keep them from getting as rich as possible or from oppressing others. For example, conservatives resist regulations to bar banks from making risky bets with depositors’ money. Also, some Christians argue that their religious liberty gives them the right to discriminate against LGBT people, and to impose their own rules about abortion and contraception on all women, whether Christian or not. I think that most liberals recognize the right of groups to set standards for their own adherents, but not to impose them on outsiders.

To return to the original question, I think we liberals are bad at putting ourselves in the mindset of conservatives because we don’t share their respect for the values of authority, loyalty, and sanctity. We don’t just fail to understand these other values, we actively reject them as leading to oppression.

Perhaps we liberals can appreciate the values of authority, loyalty, and sanctity (or at least understand them enough to hold civil conversations with conservatives) if we temper them with the principles of liberty and freedom.

Placing final authority in a single human leader strikes us liberals as opening the door to tyranny.  We believe that the checks and balances created in our Constitution are necessary defenses against authoritarianism. Perhaps we can recognize that we value authority in the rule of law, even if we reject rule by a single infallible leader.

Loyalty to America First can lead us to ignore our duties as human beings to people of other nations who have come to make their lives in America. We are a nation of immigrants; even the First Nations migrated here from other lands. Fear of immigrants comes from viewing our country as a lifeboat that will capsize if too many board. But America is more like a potluck supper. The more people come, the more food they bring, and the more varied foods there are for us all. Perhaps we liberals can appreciate loyalty to our country until it tramples on the rights of real or suspected immigrants.

Those who value sanctity often pass laws to impose rules derived from a particular view of God. Such laws infringe the First Amendment rights of all of us to worship in our own way. Most religions encourage their adherents to behave with kindness and fairness. Perhaps we liberals can recognize the value in all religions without letting any one of them run roughshod over the rights of those who subscribe to a different religion or to none.

Anyway, that’s what I hope. If more liberals can recognize that the values held by conservatives go beyond self-serving hypocrisy, we can hold civil conversations with them, and perhaps even accomplish some of what we can agree that our country needs.

Friday, September 1, 2017

My Mysterious Watch

Some 20 years ago, I bought a Seiko quartz watch at Costco. It kept better time than the Timexes and Bulovas that preceded it. And I've worn it every day since. I have worn it so thoroughly that I needed to take it at least twice to a jeweler to have scratches sanded off the crystal.

About a week ago, I was shocked to realize that it was running 10 minutes behind the actual time. When the battery has run down in the past, the watch slows down and stops over the course of a day or so. That was a bit weird, but I dutifully went out and bought it a new battery.

A few days later, I discovered that it was 40 minutes behind. So it wasn't the battery. I decided that two decades of service may have been all that the watch had to give, and ordered a new watch online. I ordered another Seiko quartz, but one with more contrast between the colors of the face and hands, And, I happened to notice after choosing it, it runs on solar power.

About three weeks ago, I bought a bracelet of iridescent hematite beads. I rarely wear jewelry, but the beads so mesmerized me that I wore the bracelet every day - mostly on my right wrist. However, for a couple of hours most days, I wear a brace on that wrist, and have been moving the bracelet to my left wrist after I noticed how uncomfortable it was under the brace, and so I could still see the bracelet.

This morning I picked up the bracelet and it brought a political button up with it. I hadn't realized that the beads were magnetic. Had the magnets slowed my watch while I was wearing the bracelet on the same wrist? And if so, did this damage the watch permanently? I hit the Google, and the answers seem to be 'yes' and 'no,' respectively. So I took the bracelet off and put the watch back on. So far, so good. But I don't plan to return the new watch when it arrives. Improved readability and no need for batteries are worth the investment.