Ephemerals

A number of spring flowers are known as ephemerals.

They show up for a short time, are often glorious, and then they’re gone. Some of them thrive on forest floors before the trees are covered with leaves. They soak up the sun that streaks through the brown, bare branches and then, once the trees are covered with leaves that absorb all that sun, the flowers disappear and the roots wait under the ground for next spring. Come July, or October, or late March, we tread the same paths through the forest and there’s no sign of them.

In Virginia, we have bluebells that gloriously carpet the forest floor near wet, boggy places. We have the even-more-rare trilliums, which I’ve always envied for my garden — although now I no longer have the shady spots where they would grow. One of the first wildflowers to appear is false dead nettle, a grey-purple flower that’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it.

What’s ephemeral for you? What needs seizing now before things go back to “normal”?

Photo of trilliums and bluebells at Virginia Arboretum by the blogger. If you copy, please link back.

Monday at the Movies

Carol Klein’s series is, without meaning to be, a gentle introduction to the Wheel of the Year. She’s on Britbox and YouTube.

Elections Have Consequences

I was on an interesting Zoom discussion today with some other Pagans about how introverts and extroverts have handled COVID isolation. There was some thought that, at least for young people, the introverts may have had a more difficult time, because they’re not as skilled at reaching out to other people. People normally reach out to them and they have to navigate how much contact is too much. So figuring out how to reach out for contact was difficult for them.

Today was also the second time I’ve been able to be with my family in the past year. We had brunch on my screen porch and then I took them for the drive through the country that was my only real way to get out of the house for over a year. “See, this is the place with the lambs, and this is the railroad, and these are the cows (we have a silly family joke about cows, out, standing in their fields), and here’s the apple orchard, and . . . .” I can’t tell you how many times I got myself through some difficult hours imagining a meal on the porch with them. It’s wonderful to watch my grandson eat, to pour my daughter in law some wine, to pass the appetizer to my son. It’s wonderful.

My BFF is scheduled to be vaccinated and I’m very much looking forward to seeing her in person. My other dearest friend is waiting patiently for his shot and I’m imagining getting to hop in his truck for some new adventures, to seeing his new home, to just gabbing and gabbing.

I recently attended a small gathering of activists, all of whom were thoroughly vaccinated. It made me a little bit giddy — I’d been literally alone in my house with the cats for over a year. Getting hugged (!), chatting, sharing wine, just being around other energies — it was all glorious and, also, overwhelming. Once I got home, it took me a looooong time to settle down for sleep.

Our grassroots group recently tried to reserve a venue for this Fall and — every place is full. Weddings that have been put off for a year are now being booked. The CDC says vaccinated people can travel and, whoah, people in my neighborhood of retirees are making serious travel plans. All week the neighborhood has been full of people’s grandkids, as schools were out and newly-vaccinated grandparents have been giving overwhelmed parents a few days off.

This is all totally and completely due to the fact that we threw Trump out of office. If you voted, donated, volunteered — thank you.

Picture found here.

Go Tend Your Own Altar

I don’t spend as much time on social media as maybe I should. But by the time I make the beds, empty the litterboxes, write postcards for candidates, take a long walk, and cook some veg, well, there’s not as much time left as I’d like. But apparently Pagan social media is full of people lecturing each other about “closed practices,” and when it’s OK to say “spirit animal,” and who is and who is not appropriately discussing gender.

So at the risk of making everyone angry, I’l say this. Humans share practices — and those that they don’t share get stolen. Painting animals and outlining hands in ocher on cave walls. Melting bronze and casting it into shapes. Agriculture. Keeping bees. Cooking food in fat. Weaving. Making baskets. Raising pigs. Cracking shells and pulling out the soft animals inside. Making a tea of willow bark to ease pain. Using an arch to make an entrance. Writing. Using plant substances to induce ecstasy.

More than almost anything else, humans are the kind of animal that copies. That shares. That mimics. That borrows and adapts. And, so, in cultures from Japan, to Egypt, to Greece, we have a myth about an old woman who pulls up her skirts and does a dance to make people laugh. We have some version of a pancake, or tortilla, or pita, or crepe in every culture — a good way to eat yummy food folded inside a piece of carbohydrate. We sing songs at religious rituals, we burn incense and candles, we perform ritual dances.

But lately social media is full of Pagans lecturing other Pagans on what they MUST NOT do. So we have children who never met a Romany lecturing everyone else about how reading tarot is a “closed practice” that no one but native 100 % Romany may ever practice. A lovely young woman I know recently took to social media to lecture people about the use of the term “spirit animal.” People who misuse the term must, she said, “go sit under a tree until you get your shit under control.” Apparently someone misunderstood the difference between a spirit animal and a familiar. There are a whole lot of other ” closed practices,” too. Everything from making herb tea from local plants, to yoga, to various forms of meditation are open to have any random person on social media declaring them to be “closed,” and then, even if you’ve practiced them successfully for decades, well, tough.

Byron Ballard has shared two bits of wisdom that I think may be relevant. The first is the concept of “social strip mining.” Corporations came into Appalachia and strip mined the resources out of this area and left the residents poorer than they were before. That’s bad. That’s not the same as learning how to smelt bronze and going back to your continent and making bronze instruments. That’s not the same as being in Georgia, learning how to grow and ferment grapes, and going home to Rome and making wine. ‘That’s ripping off the local people and leaving them worse off then before. So, don’t do that. Don’t strip mine other cultures of their resources and leave them worse off. But that’s different from learning from and adapting various practices.

Byron’s other bit of wisdom is what I call the Ballard Query. Byron asks: “[A]in’t you people got no gods to worship? No holy days to celebrate? No Ancestors to deal with, er I mean venerate? In short — don’t you people have some sacred work to do? Justice work? Environmental work? Community weaving?” Honest to Goddess, if you have enough time to lecture people you don’t know on social media about the difference (I think there is one) between spirit animals and familiars, maybe you have time to go bless the boundaries of your local elementary school, to cook food for your local soup kitchen, to call your Senators about voting rights.

Baby, ain’t nobody made you the grand arbitrator of Pagan practices. Go tend your own altar.

Picture found here.

Towards a Feminist Internet

It’s not news that social media – and the internet more generally – have not, in fact, lived up to the early, utopian promises of connecting us all in one peaceful, harmonious, global community where information is free and power resides in the hands of people rather than large institutions (whether those be corporations or governments).

The polis of small associations that de Tocqueville admired in the US has devolved, particularly during this pandemic year, into a corporate-owned space where algorithms push the most divisive and angry content at us with the goal of keeping our attention, harvesting our data, and selling ads, all of which Anne Applebaum documents in a recent story for The Atlantic.

One of the particular ways the internet, and social media more specifically, are “awful” is the harassment of women. From #YourSlipIsShowing to Gamergate to Chrissy Teigen being driven off Twitter just over a week ago, the internet is a terrible place to be a woman.

But as a recent piece in MIT’s Technology Review by Charlotte Jee points out, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, a feminist internet would be better for EVERYONE. Subscription is required to view the article, so I will summarize some of the main points below:

Jee’s piece quotes Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch: “women have very little idea of how much men hate them,” and goes on to point out that the internet has, sadly, educated many of us. As the article goes on to state: “The same sexist message runs through much of the vitriol: ‘Stop speaking, or else.'” 

If something is free, that means you’re the product. And, as Jee points out (echoing Applebaum and quoting Feminist Internet founder Charlotte Webb): “Hate makes money.”

The lack of diversity in the tech industry is a MAJOR reason for this. While the tech industry has done well including Asian men, it lacks representation of most other demographic groups, and is particularly lagging in including women, regardless of race/ethnicity.

As Jee writes:

In fact, many of the internet’s early pioneers believed it could become a neutral virtual world free from the messy politics and complications of the physical one. In 1996, John Perry Barlow, cofounder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote the movement’s sacred text, “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.” It included the line “We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.” Gender is not mentioned anywhere in the declaration.

Women’s voices are not present in tech conversations, and men lack the necessary experience to think about how tech inventions might be used to stalk, harass, and harm. They are not equipped to perform, as Jee calls it, a “gender impact assessment” prior to launching any new program, product, or service. And so they don’t, and so women, particularly those in public-facing jobs like politician or journalist, are routinely subject to a tsunami of misogynist hate that more than occasionally has real-world impacts just for daring to have a public voice.

What would a feminist internet look like?

Jee highlights the work of the Association for Progressive Communications that cooperatively created 17 principles of a feminist internet in 2016. As Jee puts it:

The principles state that a feminist internet would be less hierarchical. More cooperative. More democratic. More consensual. More customizable and suited to individual needs, rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all model.

Women technologists are working on a variety of specific projects, ranging from a tool called Block Party that filters abusive accounts to creating gender-neutral voices for voices assistants like Siri and Alexa whose current form “perpetuates a stereotype of passive, agreeable, eager-to-please femininity that harks back to the 1950s housewife” to interrogating AI processes and algorithms for all forms of bias to a potential Facebook competitor, Herd, due to come online later this month. Jee also poses some “top down” ideas that would involve legislation and sensible internet safety protections enforced on Big Tech firms.

Applebaum’s article includes a number of specific suggestions as well, including a nonprofit model similar to public broadcasting, reducing anonymity through “self-sovereign identity,” government and industry taking active steps to promote civic discourse, and the proliferation more localized sites where civic engagement can become “usefully boring.”

Will people want a “usefully boring” internet experience? Applebaum writes:

…some skepticism about the attraction of the forums is surely warranted: Aren’t we all addicted to the rage and culture wars available on social media? Don’t we use social media to perform, or to virtue signal, or to express identity—and don’t we like it that way? Maybe. Or maybe we think that way only because we lack the imagination to think differently.

Or, as Jee puts it in the conclusion to her piece:

Ultimately, women have the right to be online without fear of harassment. Think of all the women who have not set up online retailers, or started blogging, or run for office, or created a YouTube channel, because they worry they will be harassed or even physically harmed. When women are chased off platforms, it becomes a civil rights issue.

But it’s also in all of our best interests to protect one another. A world in which everyone can benefit equally from the web will lead to a better mix of voices and opinions we hear, an increase in the information we can access and share, and a more meaningful experience online for everyone.

Sounds pretty good to me.

Image found at Feminist Internet.

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Tunes on Thursday

Words for Wednesday

This is an old favorite, so appropriate for just now.

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

~ William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

(Belated) Monday at the Movies

I didn’t know she practiced voodoo.

A Bit of Prestidigitation

There’s a lot of attention on social media concerning Georgia’s new law that proscribes giving food or water to people standing in line to vote. Everyone is (rightly) incensed at this. But let’s stop for a minute and make sure we’re not being played.

Why is giving food and water to people in voting lines even a thing?

Certainly at the nice, majority-white, suburban and rural places where I’ve always voted, no one is handing out food and water. Why? Because no one is in line long enough to need food or water. Generally, there’s no line at all, except maybe just before and after work and, even then, the line might be 10 or 15 minutes long.

No, handing out food and water is a thing because racists make people of color stand in insanely long lines, sometimes for many hours, in order to vote. And people hand out food and water so that voters won’t get out of line because they’re starving or thirsty. And somehow, we’ve just gotten to accept that that’s the way things are and so we’ll work around those lines by handing out bottles of water.

But the real problem is that no American should ever have to stand in a long line in order to vote.

We know how to make sure people don’t collapse of thirst while waiting to vote. We let people vote for several weeks before Election Day. We let people request ballots by mail and then we arrange for them to either mail their ballots back or to drop their ballots off at secure drop boxes. And, we make sure that there are enough polling locations and voting machines for them on Election Day. It’s not complicated.

I have a suspicion that the prohibition on food and water is designed to attract all the attention and outrage. Meanwhile, the bill includes some other provisions that pose an even greater threat to fair elections. And, I suspect the prohibition is also there so the courts can strike that provision down, thereby looking reasonable, while leaving the other pernicious provisions intact. (Legal severablity is too long a topic for this post, but legislatures have learned how to use it to their advantage.)

We need the Senate to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act (Congress already did so). For that to happen, the Senate is going to need to modify or abandon the filibuster. I’ve been calling my Senators every morning urging them to do so NOW! Remember when the Senate threatened to take away health care and we all called every morning? Phone were busy pretty much all day, every day. We need that kind of effort to protect our democracy. Please put your Senators’ phone numbers on speed dial and start calling them every morning.

It’s not going to be some great victory to preserve the right to give people food and water while they stand in impossible lines to vote. The victory will be getting rid of those lines. Don’t let them distract you.

Picture found here.

My Annual Tax Post

Short version: If we want nice things, we need to be willing to pay for them.

Spouse and I are DINKs – double income, no kids. We’re not in the top 1% or top 5%, but we are in the top 10%. And we make our money by working – income, not investments or trust funds or whatnot. X hours = Y dollars. We also live (yes, by choice) in a pricey city with high SALT – state and local taxes.

Under TrumPutin’s #GOPTaxScam, our taxes went up, by about 20% – not 20 POINTS, 20%. So yes, it was an increase that we felt, but it wasn’t like all of a sudden, we could only afford Top Ramen, scratch-n-dent fruit, and day old bread at the grocery store (ah, grad school!).

But it pissed me off. Because I was paying MORE taxes so that the top 1% could pay less. Yes, we’re perfectly comfortable, even with our Trump Tax Increase, but that is messed up.

Why am I writing about this now?

Because the Biden/Harris American Recovery Plan will slash childhood poverty by 50%. That is, to quote Joe himself, a “big fucking deal.”

The problem is, it’s a one-time deal. So it will slash childhood poverty for ONE year.

Are Spouse and I getting those “periodic” (which still hasn’t been specifically defined) payments just for having kids? Nope.

Did we get any of the stimulus checks? Also nope.

But I’m totally cool with my taxes going up permanently to help struggling Americans, including parents. That’s what living in a community means. We all want community goods, so we all have to contribute to paying for them. And those who can afford to pay more should.

I’m NOT, however, cool with my taxes going up to fund tax cuts to people who need them even less than I do.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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