If we Do Not Play God we Play the Devil

We can only be one or the other

The Anthropocene[1] has arrived and with it have come warming temperatures, rising and acidifying seas, and numerous species extinctions. There is no doubt that our species created this new epoch, but there is certainly a question of what to do now that it is here. I do not claim to know what the answer is, but I do feel pretty confident saying that the answer is not to use the excuse of “not wanting to play God” as an all-powerful thunderbolt to smite down any and all proposed conservation, restoration, and adaptation measures. At this point if we refuse to “play God” we choose to play the devil by default.


It is certainly valid to criticize ecosystem management and climate change mitigation plans based on their perceived likelihood of success or their risk to benefit ratio. For example attempting to imitate the temporary cooling effects of large volcanic eruptions by injecting sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere is a terrible idea, because it is likely to increase drought risk by weakening the Asian monsoons (Oman et al. 2005) and will do nothing to remedy the problem of ocean acidification. In the case of other attempts at large-scale ecosystem restoration, however, the benefits outweigh the risks. One famous example is the re-building of the formerly severely degraded ecosystems on Southern California’s Channel Islands. This heroic effort involved eradicating all of the introducedrats, pigs, sheep, and turkeys; re-introducing bald eagles after DDT led to their disappearance from the islands in the 1950s; trapping and relocating the golden eagles that moved into the islands to feed on piglets and island foxes in the bald eagle’s absence; and capturing large numbers of island foxes for captive-breeding and later reintroduction once they were no longer in danger from death from above[2].

Channel Island fox and native vegetation. Image from Wikipedia.

Those involved in this monumental feat of ecosystem restoration were accused of “playing God” by their detractors, but ultimately these “deity wannabes” succeeded. Today on the Channel Islands birds are safe from predation by rats, plants are recovering from decades of overgrazing, and island foxes have become sufficiently abundant to be removed from the endangered species list. Had decisions been guided by a fear of playing God rather than the hope for healthier ecosystems, island foxes would likely be extinct by now and the islands would be increasingly barren. Clearly Edmund Burke was right when he said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Furthermore it is fundamentally hypocritical on the part of humanity to claim that aggressive steps to save ecosystems are trespassing on God’s domain, but that aggressively, but perhaps ignorantly, destroying ecosystems is perfectly kosher. Humans have drained wetlands, leveled forests, dammed rivers, blasted coral reefs, and otherwise altered ecosystems to suit our own needs at the expense of the rest of creation. If these acts have not inspired God to set the (literal) horsemen of the apocalypse on us I am sure (s)he can forgive or even bless us for using our current scientific and technological might to repair some of the damage our species has done in the past. I am no scholar of religion, but the Bible seems to place a lot of importance on restitution for past sins. Let us not use a foolish principle as an excuse to not clean up the mess we have made.

Unfortunately, however, humans do have some distinct disadvantages when compared to deities. We are neither all-knowing nor all-powerful. Some of our efforts to restore ecosystems may backfire and end up causing further damage instead. To compensate for our fallibility we must carefully consider the impacts of any restoration or mitigation plan prior to putting it into practice. Once a plan is in practice we must carefully monitor its effects and be ready to make changes if necessary. There also may also be a certain upcoming environmental catastrophes that humans, clever as we are, cannot invent our way out of. Recognizing these to avoid fighting unwinnable battles will also be critical. Just because some battles are unwinnable, however, does not mean that other environmental triumphs cannot be won through determination, creativity, and hard work. It is better to “play God” than to do nothing and allow the diabolical consequences of degradation to prevail on our planet.


Oman, L., Robock, A., Stenchikov, G., Schmidt, G. A., & Ruedy, R. (2005). Climatic response to high‐latitude volcanic eruptions. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 110(D)

[1] The geological era in which human activity is the dominant influence on the climate and environment.

[2] Golden eagles eat foxes, but bald eagles do not and the presence of bald eagles and the absence of lambs and piglets have prevented golden eagles from returning to the Channel Islands.

Open Letter to Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan

Dear Mr. Speaker:

According to the news reports I have seen lately you are currently in the process of deciding whether or not to endorse Donald Trump. I am writing to request that you refuse to endorse this dangerous demagogue. I know that as an oceanography PhD student I cannot claim to know more than the Speaker of the House about politics or governance, but I make this request not as a politician or an activist, but as a patriot and a person of conscience.

The truest form of patriotism is the willingness to put the interest of one’s country before one’s own interest and certainly before the interest of any particular political faction. This sort of patriotism was what drove the men of the 442nd Infantry Regiment to serve their country bravely during World War II even after the US government had unjustly relocated their families to internment camps. This patriotism and commitment to the belief that “all men are created equal” is what inspired heroic white civil rights activists to join heroic Black civil rights activists in protesting segregation, at great risk to their reputations and even their lives, even though they were not personally harmed by such a system. This was the sense of patriotism that inspired President Lyndon Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964 even though he knew that doing so would cost the Democratic Party the support it had enjoyed from Southern whites since the end of Reconstruction. And this is the sort of patriotism I am asking you to show by refusing to endorse Mr. Trump.

I am aware that if you make the heroic decision to repudiate this Mussolini-quoting, race-baiting, misogynist you will face a certain amount of criticism from the cult of personality he has assembled, but I think we both agree that insults are less intimidating than either Axis bullets or lynch mobs. You, Mr. Speaker, have the rare opportunity to help defend our country against a thin-skinned would-be American Putin without exposing yourself or your family to any physical danger. I sincerely hope you have the courage to take this opportunity and help prevent Mr. Trump from occupying the highest office in our (still) great nation.

I also understand that certain members of your party have been willing to endorse Mr. Trump, because they see him as the only way to allow a Republican to control the White House for the first time in eight years, but allowing someone of such appallingly bad judgment to lead our country just to advance the fortunes of a political party is unconscionable. Mr. Trump has attempted to divide the American public along racial and religious lines, has threatened to curtail freedom of the press, lies continuously in public statements, traffics in conspiracy theories, advocates torture in clear violation of the eighth amendment of the US Constitution, and was recently praised by North Korean state media. This is not the type of person we want leading our country.

I sincerely hope that you will refuse to endorse Mr. Trump. It may be necessary to accept some short setbacks for your political career and your party in order to avoid the long-term damage that would be inflicted on this country by a Trump presidency.

Thank You and God Bless America:
Abigail Libbin Cannon

New Year’s Resolution for 2016: Let’s Stop Criticizing People’s Looks

I’ll start this one by airing my own hypocrisy. I recently compared Donald Trump’s hair to a dead cat on Twitter. It was unnecessary and I regret doing so. I should have saved my criticism for his racism, xenophobia, and willingness to lie blatantly and repeatedly to the American people.

Thankfully, however, this post is not primarily about Donald Trump. It’s about the tendency of all of us to claim that the people we disagree with are ugly. I know that when I say I’m a feminist certain people will assume that I have a face like Medusa, legs like Chewbacca, and a body like Jabba the Hutt. Unfortunately, as justifiably aggravated as many feminists are with this offensive and inaccurate stereotype, we often resort to similar tactics. This leads some of us to categorize all anti-feminists as chubby, pasty, neck-bearded subhumans, which is both generally untrue and unhelpful to our cause.

The first reason we should refrain from snarking on people’s looks is that we wouldn’t enjoy having it done to us. We have made it abundantly clear that we don’t think “fat-shaming” or “skinny shaming” is appropriate when applied to us so we must also refrain from treating our detractors this way. If we’re hoping for a future where people aren’t distracted from rational debate by flab-pulling and zit-squeezing, let’s work to create it now by attacking our opponents’ ideas rather than their waistlines.

Furthermore, insulting those with whom we disagree only makes our own causes look weak. Good debaters know that if someone has to resort to insulting an opponent, particularly an opponent’s appearance, it is a sign that the insulter is too mentally feeble or defending a cause too unworthy to come up with a legitimate counter-argument. As it turns out, how easy or hard someone is on the eyes has very little to do with whether we should open our ears to what they have to say.

Finally, appearance based insults seem not to be a very effective way to reduce enthusiasm for people we disagree with anyway. Contrary to my initial plans, my critique of Trump’s coiffure has not crashed his campaign. Conservatives have also spent two decades proclaiming their disgust for Hillary Clinton’s appearance, but her continued political relevance shows how ineffective this tactic has been.
I’m certain that 2016 will give liberals and conservatives, feminists and anti-feminists plenty to fight about, but let’s not let physical appearance be one of those things. Doing so is irrelevant, ineffective, and degrading to us all.

A Cultural Guide to Coastal Californians

goldenstate          Adjusting to foreign cultures can be challenging for some people. I’ve learned from experience that Costa Ricans are unlikely to correct your Spanish if they think your mistakes are funny, even when you end up saying “Cogí muchos peces hoy” (I fucked a lot of fish today) when you’re trying to for “Agarré muchos peces hoy” (I caught a lot of fish today), and Japan is not a good place to talk back to your parents in public[1]. I’ve also learned that many non-Californians experience culture shock when visiting the Golden State or are confused by the behavior of Californians they meet outside the state. As a Native Californian[2] I feel I should help explain things to those not fortunate enough to have been born on the “edge of the world and all of Western Civilization”[3]. The behavior of Coastal Californians can be understood through the context of our cultural tendencies of informality, equality, hyper-individualism, superficiality, and chillness.


Silicon Valley tech types are already notorious for wearing hoodies to business meetings, but this tendency towards informality seems to have extended to Californians of all social levels. Many of us count flip flops as formal wear or wear yoga pants to work. This informality also extends to speech patterns and the only people Californians, including young children, routinely address as Ms. or Mr. are schoolteachers. Calling someone, other than perhaps a police officer, Sir or Mam can also be interpreted as an age-based insult. Non-Californians should not take it as an affront if a Californian initially fails to comply with a dress code, but should feel free to use the Californian’s first name when asking him/her to find different shoes.


While race and class based differences in opportunity exist in California, we don’t like to admit this. We are even more loath to presume ourselves to be above anybody else or for anyone to think they are above us. This is why we don’t give direct orders unless we consider a situation to be critical and why the British concept that individuals should “know their place” is viewed with outright hostility. This is also why Californians are so proud of our state’s reputation for tolerance of the entire spectrum of races, cultures, and sexual orientations.


While Californians tend to be politically liberal, we’re not big collectivists, as the unfortunate number of anti-vaxxers in our ranks should prove. While not unwilling to help others, we resent anyone who we feel makes unreasonable demands on our time and energy or claims that we owe them assistance. This also makes us reluctant to ask others for any difficult favors, but especially grateful for any help we do receive. This means nobody should expect to crash at a Californian’s house without asking first and should not even ask to borrow our cars for any extended period of time. We try to pay back and favors we do receive and if we cannot reciprocate in kind we may offer money to the friend who helped repair our computer or dive gear and it surprises us that non-Californians sometimes take offense at this.

This hyper-individualism can also be seen in the idealization of non-conformity among Coastal Californians. Many of us are more interested in “doing our own thing” than either leading or following. Eccentricity is seen as a virtue so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. Many different lifestyles are seen as equally valid, and a comparatively high number of us belong to religions that our parents do not.


My fellow Coastal Californians aren’t going to appreciate this, but we do have a tendency to value form over function. In spite of our informality we would rather wear a stylish Patagonia fleece to work than a cheap one from Old Navy. Californians also put more value on our own physical appearances than do most other humans. The upside of our concern with appearance is that we are more likely to exercise and wear sunscreen and less likely to smoke, but the downside of our concern with appearance is that we’re also more likely to spend obscene amounts of money on clothing or plastic surgery and to fear the natural results of aging the way others fear cancer. We consider it extremely rude to say anything negative about someone’s physical appearance, because we would be devastated to hear the same thing said about ourselves. In other words you won’t find out that we’ve noticed that you gained weight until after we congratulate you for losing it.

Coastal Californians also have trouble forming deep emotional connections with other unrelated humans unless we are sleeping with them, and sometimes not even then. Luckily for us we’re tolerant of non-monogamous lifestyles so we can make as many deep emotional connections as we find necessary. This also often leads us to assume that any man who calls any other non-related man every week is in a homosexual relationship. Nobody will think any less of him for this, but he may be frustrated by a lack of female flirtation if he turns out to actually be straight.


Where chillness lies on the emotional spectrum.
Where chillness lies on the emotional spectrum.
How Californians vs. Non-Californians react to irritation
How Californians vs. Non-Californians react to irritation

If California had commandments our first would be “Always be chill.” “Chill” can be described as happier than average, but not ecstatically so. This can also make us appear to be stoned even when we aren’t and it’s an attitude that most people already associate with our state. What non-Californians have a bit more trouble understanding is the consequences that the desire to maintain chillness has on other aspects of our behavior. Apparently non-Californians engage in a strange behavior where their level of expressed anger or displeasure at a stimulus correlates to its severity. Among Coastal Californians anger is binary; while the switch between off and on is not easy to flip, because being a hothead is extremely un-chill, once flipped a formerly civilized Californian transitions almost instantly from Green Goddess to the Incredible Hulk. While some may feel vindicated to know that Coastal Californians do have a dark side buried beneath the laid back exterior, it’s inadvisable to attempt to demonstrate this. Californians also tend to erroneously expect others to have this same binary response, which is why when non-Californians express more reasonable levels of anger to us we tend to assume that person now has an issue with us permanently unless we are informed otherwise.

The behavior of Coastal Californians, like the behavior of anyone else, makes more sense if one understands the cultural context that it occurs in. I hope this can help non-Californians be a little less confused when they visit our state, although since I value equality I would never insist that they assimilate completely, and I’ll be chill about it unless they act like they’re better than me or call me fat.

[1] The whole restaurant fell silent.

[2] Does not have the same connotation as Native American or Native Hawaiian.

[3] From “Californication” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers

Don’t Try this at Home, Or Abroad Either

Lions hunting, not being hunted, in Namibia's Etosha National Park. Spring 2010.
Lions hunting, not being hunted, in Namibia’s Etosha National Park. Spring 2010.

Cecil the lion was relatively famous, at least by lion standards, in life, but anti-trophy hunting sentiments have turned him into the most macabre sort of dead celebrity. Rumors are flying, but we do know that Dr. Walter Palmer paid roughly $54,000 for the ‘privilege’ of traveling to Zimbabwe and shooting a lion. It has been alleged that Dr. Palmer’s guides lured Cecil out of the Hwange National Park with bait so Dr. Palmer could shoot him with a crossbow. The Zimbabwean government is claiming that to do so was illegal and Dr. Palmer has responded by throwing his hunting guides under the safari jeep and claiming that he had counted on them to secure the necessary permits and make sure his hunt was conducted lawfully and that any illegal actions are their fault and not his.

The problem with this argument is that anybody who knows anything about Africa knows that Zimbabwe is hardly the land of law and order. Wildlife poaching is rampant (Wadhams 1-August-2007), hyperinflation has led to the complete collapse of the currency, and the government is notoriously corrupt and repressive and is headed by Robert Mugabe who feeds off his people like a vampire[1] and serves up his country’s endangered species at official banquets. Dr. Palmer’s excuse of “I trusted my guides to conduct the hunt legally” rings about as hollow the claim of “The pimps told me that the girls were over 18 and not trafficked” made by somebody caught with his pants down in a Bangkok brothel.

The inaccurately named "White Lady" (thought to actually depict a male shaman) pictograph is believed to be around 2000 years old. Unfortunately it has faded considerably due to tourists pouring water on it in order to make the colors more brilliant for pictures. Brandberg, Namibia, Spring 2010.
The inaccurately named “White Lady” (thought to actually depict a male shaman) pictograph is believed to be around 2000 years old. Unfortunately it has faded considerably due to tourists pouring water on it in order to make the colors temporarily more brilliant for pictures. Brandberg, Namibia, Spring 2010.

It’s easy to condemn the behavior of scummy sex tourists and privileged poachers, and they certainly deserve it, but all travelers would do well to think on the sins we may have committed while abroad. Many of us from North America and Western Europe behave differently when in countries with different laws, laxer enforcement, or just where we think any bad reputation we acquire with the locals will not be able to follow us home. This can be seen in the behavior of surfers who will drive drunk in Ensenada, but never in Encinitas, backpackers who buy pieces of endangered species or ancient artifacts as curios, adventurers who trespass into sacred or ecologically sensitive sites, because apparently their desire to “really see” them outweighs the importance of any efforts to minimize impacts, and partiers who start yelling in the international language of drunks at 3am, because they’ve forgotten that not everybody in San Juan del Sur is on vacation.

While committing these misdeeds is less likely to land anyone in the middle of an international media feeding frenzy, that certainly doesn’t excuse them. It can be enjoyable cut a little loose when on vacation, but just because our actions abroad may be freed from legal consequences doesn’t mean that they’re also freed from ethical ones. I won’t even try to write a list of acceptable behavior for every travel situation, because I’m sure that there are many situations I can’t envision but I will suggest a change of attitude. Instead of seeing ourselves as consumers of experiences who use countries and move on, let’s see ourselves as guests in others’ homelands and behave as if we would like to be invited (not extradited) back.


Wadhams. 1-August-2007. “Zimbabwe’s Wildlife Decimated by Economic Crisis”. National Geographic News. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/08/070801-zimbabwe-animals.html

[1] It honestly wouldn’t surprise me if vampires were offended by this comparison.

How to Type Spanish Characters on a PC with an English Keyboard

A male Northern elephant seal rests in the sand at Año Nuevo State Beach (January 2011).
A male Northern elephant seal rests in the sand at Año Nuevo State Beach (January 2011).

If you are a PC user who speaks English as a first language, but frequently needs to type Spanish because it’s your second language, you’re taking a class, or because you live near somewhere like Año Nuevo (the ñ versus n is especially important here) or La Cañada you’ve experienced the frustration of trying to type Spanish characters on an English keyboard. If you’re a Mac user you get to feel superior knowing this is actually quite easy to do on your preferred brand.

The first solution often suggested to PC users is to use Microsoft’s notorious Alt codes, but these don’t always work (especially not on laptops) and are extremely non-intuitive to memorize. Holier-than-thou internationalists will then say that you should change the settings on your computer to switch the keyboard to either “International” (whatever that means) or Spanish. The problem with this strategy that all of a sudden keys will produce different characters than the ones they are marked with on the keyboard and this can be confusing and frustrating, something that any gringo who has struggled in vain to type an @ on a Spanish keyboard already knows.

The solution I have found that works best for me is to use the program autohotkey, which lets you create a script that instructs your computer to automatically insert specific words or characters when specific combinations of keys are pressed. I’m not particularly good at programming, but even I was able to figure out how to create a script that I will now be able to use to type Spanish characters whenever I need to inform people that “Yo no sé mañana” is one of my favorite salsa songs. I know, however, that some of my readers probably have no programming experience so for you I am providing cookbook instructions. I must first clarify though that  the instructions have no warranty.

Cookbook for Spanish Typing on PCs

1) Download and install autohotkey

2) Right click on your Desktop and a Menu will appear. Scroll to new and then click AutoHotkey Script.

3) Paste the following text into your script
RAlt & n::
Send, ñ

RAlt & a::
Send, á

RAlt & e::
Send, é

RAlt & i::
Send, í

RAlt & o::
Send, ó

RAlt & u::
Send, ú

Send, Á

Send, É

Send, Í

Send, Ñ

Send, Ó

Send, Ú

Send, ¿

Send, ¡

4) Save the script to your desktop

5) When you want to type Spanish characters right click on the script and click run (you only need to do this one time per computer session).

6) The codes for the script are as follows

Right Alt Key (hereafter called RAlt) and a = á

RAlt and e = é

RAlt and i = í

RAlt and n = ñ

RAlt and o = ó

RAlt and u = ú

Control and Shift and / = ¿

Control and Shift and 1 = ¡

Control and Shift and A = Á

Control and Shift and E = É

Control and Shift and I = Í

Control and Shift and N = Ñ

Control and Shift and O = Ó

Control and Shift and U = Ú

¡Qué les vaya bien!

Farmed Bluefin Tuna: A Luxury We Can’t Afford

When I tell Westerners that one of the ocean’s most majestic predators is at risk of extinction due to its status as a luxury food item in Asia, most of them roll their eyes and tell me that they’ve already heard about the ecological havoc wrought by shark fin soup. Sharks, however, are not the only top predator being overfished for high-end cuisine. Human appetites currently threaten all three species of bluefin tuna, and the overfishing may be even harder to stop, because sushi, sashimi, and sesame encrusted fusion filets[1] have achieved levels of worldwide popularity that shark fin soup has never approached.

Image from World Wildlife Fund's campaign against eating bluefin to extinction.
Image from World Wildlife Fund’s campaign against eating bluefin to extinction.

High global demand for bluefin tuna has led to an industry of tuna farming, but perhaps the better term for these operations would be “loophole piracy”. Tuna farmers behave like the witch in “Hansel and Gretel” by catching large numbers of small fish, confining them to net pens, and feeding them until they grow large enough to be killed and eaten. The reason for this ghoulish behavior is that catch limits on bluefin tuna are set by tonnes of fish, not by numbers of individuals, and by catching large numbers of smaller, lighter fish to fatten in pens, tuna farmers can sell more total tonnes of tuna than the quotas would otherwise allow. This process results in a lot of money, but in no baby tuna, because bluefin destined for farms are caught before they are old enough to breed and although they eventually grow larger, it seems that they would rather die virgins than attempt to mate in net pens. While defenders of fish farming claim that it reduces the need to fish wild species, tuna farming depends on a continued supply of new young wild fish and magnifies the effects of overfishing.

Those who would defend tuna farming point out that laboratories have succeeded in spawning bluefin tuna under artificial conditions, but the process is too expensive to be attractive to commercial tuna farmers (Kawasaki 1-Sep-2014), who continue to use the “Hansel and Gretel” method. Even if closed-loop tuna breeding does become widespread, it will do nothing to solve the problem of tuna-farming being an inherent drain on human food supplies and marine ecosystems. Tuna are one of the few fish that warm their blood metabolically and also, like sharks, must swim constantly in order to breathe. This leads to extremely high energy demands and producing 1kg of bluefin tuna requires 10-20kg of feed (Ottolenghi 2008). Furthermore, as tuna are exclusively carnivorous, all of this feed is generally fish and squid that could have otherwise been used to feed humans or to help sustain seabird and marine mammal populations.

The final defense of tuna farming is that it increases the supply of a highly preferred food item available to rich and middle class consumers around the world. While this is probably true, squandering fish protein to create luxury products in a world where 6 million children die of protein malnutrition each year (Otten et al. 2006)[2] is morally indefensible. Tuna farming is a shameful example of our current economic system prioritizing “profits over people”.

While I won’t deny that raw bloody tuna is delicious, I understand that my taste preferences don’t justify overfishing and food injustice. While farmed tuna is a luxury that some of us can afford financially, the moral cost is much too high.


Kawasaki. 1-Sep-2014. “Nissui closes life-cycle bluefin tuna farming”. undercurrentnews. http://www.undercurrentnews.com/2014/09/01/nissui-closes-life-cycle-bluefin-tuna-farming/

Otten JJ, Hellwig JP, Meyers LD eds. 2006. Dietary Reference Intakes: The Essential Guide to Nutrient Requirements. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. National Academies Press. Washington, DC. USA.DRIEssentialGuideNutReq

Ottolenghi, F. 2008. Capture-based aquaculture of bluefin tuna. In A. Lovatelli and P.F. Holthus (eds). Capture-based aquaculture. Global overview. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper. No. 508. Rome, FAO. pp. 169–182 tunafeed

[1] Bluefin has become popular with Americans in spite of a historic cultural aversion to both raw fish and food that bleeds. We still retain an aggravating tendency to overcook steak though.

[2] Unfortunately I was unable to find a more current figure for protein malnutrition, because it doesn’t seem to be quantified all that often.

The Sex Appeal of Female Non-Submission

One of the more offensive, although thankfully increasingly disbelieved, pieces of patriarchal nonsense[1] is that women belong only in the domestic sphere and can excel only as obedient submissive housewives. I present as a counter-argument Katherine the Great of Russia, Isabella the First of Castille, Elizabeth the First of England, Joan of Arc, the Trung sisters of Vietnam, and Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba[2]. Most sensible people see this list as proof that women can excel in the public as well as the domestic sphere. Unfortunately, however, a few misogynistic numbskulls will use the facts that some of these women never married and that Elizabeth referred to herself as “The Virgin Queen” as an argument for the erroneous idea that heterosexual women must choose between public success and romantic fulfillment, because heterosexual men do not find non-submissive women appealing. Not only does this ignore Isabella’s success at marrying the man of her choice (an exceedingly rare event for European royalty) and Katherine’s numerous ‘conquests’, but it also ignores the numerous examples of non-submissive women being seen as highly desirable in both the ancient and modern world.

Super villains would hate to be tied down by Wonder Woman, but many men would love to be.
Super villains would hate to be tied down by Wonder Woman, but many men would love to be.

Characters like Wonder Woman, Lara Croft (Tomb Raider), and Buffy (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) have no shortage of male admirers even though their forte is kicking ass, not keeping house. Anyone who thinks their popularity is due to modern political correctness should remember that the ancient Greeks worshipped beautiful and badass goddesses like Hera, Athena, and Artemis and also seemed to be quite captivated by the legends of the Amazons and Atalanta the huntress. An attraction to untamed women and goddesses also seems to have extended to Viking warriors who hoped to be whisked off to Valhalla by equally wild valkyries should they die in battle, to the Spanish conquistadors who were so enamored with the fictional gryphon-riding warrior Queen Calafia that they named California after her homeland, and to the ancient Hebrews who describe the biblical Judith as both a great beauty and a cunning assassin who helped to defend her homeland against an Assyrian invasion.

Oyá and Changó ready for battle.
Oyá and Changó ready for battle.

Anyone who thinks that only men who today would be considered white can appreciate the appeal of female ferocity should consider these examples from the African diaspora, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Santeros revere the Orisha, Oyá, who is both alluring enough to have attracted her husband, Changó[3], and sufficiently skilled with a machete to fight alongside him in every battle. Hawaiians revere the fiery volcano goddess Pele who has attracted many lovers over the course of her immortal existence, but is still believed to harshly punish those who don’t show the Hawaiian Islands proper respect. Hindus, meanwhile, worship the goddess Durga, whose name means “the invincible one”, and while known for her beauty was created to fight a demon that none of the male gods could defeat.

So to all the warrior princesses who may be afraid of missing out on romantic love, don’t be. There’s a good chance that your “prince charming” will eventually find you or that, given your can-do attitude, you will find him. In the mean time live, love, laugh and fight on!

[1] Nonsense has been substituted for a slightly different word.

[2] To counter the pedants: Yes, Isabella was married to King Ferdinand, but they ruled as equals. Yes, some of these women were not ultimately victorious, but if men like Robert E. Lee and Hannibal deserve credit then so do Nzinga, Joan, and the Trung sisters. No, all ‘equestrian rumors’ about Katherine the Great are completely false.

[3] Seen as the personification of male virility and clearly does not need to compensate by trying to ’tame’ his wife.

The Art of Losing Isn’t Hard to Master

Baboons enjoying the mist at Victoria Falls. I would have gotten more pictures if my camera hadn't flooded. It started working again, but was stolen in Ecuador later.
Baboons enjoying the mist at Victoria Falls. I would have gotten more pictures if my camera hadn’t flooded. It started working again, but was stolen in Ecuador later.

Travel comes with many perks. Seeing new sites, meeting new people, trying new foods, and having experiences impossible to replicate at ‘home’ like snorkeling on coral reefs, gazing at Victoria Falls, or encountering weird and wonderful high-altitude wildflowers. Unfortunately traveling also comes with certain annoyances including exotic illness, unexpected inconveniences[1], culture shock, and the disappearance and wreckage of possessions.

While I don’t enjoy shopping and try not to define myself by possessions[2] their destruction and disappearance while traveling has always produced a disproportionate amount of annoyance for me. I should be thankful for some of this, because it means I’ve never had an exotic illness that represented a serious health threat and that I’ve rarely gotten into serious conflict with other cultures[3]. Still, I feel like my exasperation at acacia punctured drybags and backpacks that ‘grow feet’ exceeds any justifiable irritation at either the cost of replacing those items or the difficulty of purchasing a headlamp in certain countries.

I have an unfortunate tendency to view my inability to retain and maintain certain possessions as a judgment on my character. For as long as I can remember I have felt that responsibility is one of the more important virtues and that la ropa sucia se lava en casa.[4] As such, every headlamp forgotten on a hostel night-stand, backpack stolen because it wasn’t hidden better, or jacket melted by standing too close to a bonfire serves as physical public proof of a gap between who I am and who I’d like to be.

Thankfully, while my anxiety over the fate of things that clearly do not feel pain causes me no small amount of annoyance it hasn’t stopped me from traveling. I know that I could certainly stand to be more careful about hiding valuables and gear maintenance, but I must also accept that every camera eventually floods, red wine will find its way onto the most carefully protected shirt, and that there will always be thieves who want some of my possessions more than I do. In the end I should just be grateful that experiences and relationships can’t be lost or stolen.

[1] I was once obliged to stay an extra day in Timbuktu, because the runway was covered by a sandstorm.

[2] I do name my surfboards though.

[3] Knock on wood

[4] The dirty laundry is washed indoors.

No Surf Industry, This Surfer Girl Does Not Love You

Proof that neoprene crop tops exist. I maintain they're only slightly less out of place in the lineup than this model's full face of non-waterproof makeup.
What Billabong apparently thinks women should be surfing in this summer.

First of all I would like to clarify this is not a criticism of the sport of surfing itself, which I love and keeps me sane. This is also not a criticism of male surfers who, for the most part, understand that women are people and should be treated as such. This is directed exclusively at the makers of surfing equipment who insist on treating female surfers as eye-candy for a particularly kooky manifestation of the male gaze, rather than as the athletes we are.

Every time I find myself shopping for a spingsuit or a swimsuit I face the same frustrating situation. Surf industry designers seem to think that they should be dressing women to pose on the cover of Maxim rather than to ride actual waves. Swimsuit tops tend to be wardrobe malfunctions waiting to happen and tend not to accommodate the ‘surfer-physique’ well at all[1]. Bonus points if those tops are equipped with fringe that makes them impossible to wear under a wetsuit. Swimsuit bottoms are even worse and often provide unwanted opportunities for both a tandoori tuchus and a bikini wax by Mr. Zog, neither of which is comfortable.

I can almost forgive the impracticality of the women’s swimsuits sold at most surf shops, because they are likely intended as fashion accessories better suited for the pool party than the paddle-out. I have yet to see wetsuits, however, catch on for any purpose other than keeping someone warm in cold or cool water. Unfortunately, the makers of women’s wetsuits, other than long sleeve fullsuits, seem to have prioritized showcasing the female form over the garment’s actual intended function. Currently O’Neill, Quicksilver, Rip Curl, Body Glove, and Billabong all offer short sleeve fullsuits for men, but only Roxy, Quicksilver’s counterpart ladies line, has the same product available for women. All of the companies, however, do seem to be happy to supply springsuits with bottoms cut like bikinis or thongs, neoprene crop tops, or front-zippers designed for exposing one’s décolletage to every eyeball and UV ray in the general vicinity. I’m sure my readers can understand why paddling with a zipper pressed between one’s stomach and a surfboard would be unpleasant and that neoprene crop tops, which are likely to result in both wax rash and weird tan lines for the wearer, are only slightly more useful than a fur bikini.

Compare the suits that Billabong markets to men for spring/summer.
Compare the suits that Billabong markets to men for spring/summer. They also didn’t find it necessary to show the model’s face.

I acknowledge that most women have more melanin than I do and therefore might not be quite as afraid of exposing skin to the sun unnecessarily as I am. I also understand that many female surfers may draw more inspiration from Alana Blanchard than Pauline Menczer and would rather look like a beauty than surf like a beast. I have no objection to surf companies making products to suit these customers, but they should not forget about us women who surf for stoke rather than sex appeal. Surf company executives probably don’t want any love from me or any other “bushpigs” who would rather use our time in the water for the pleasure of improving our own performances and the achieving the state of flow that can only be reached on a wave face than use it as yet another way to attract male attention, but they do still want our money. They need to understand that by designing only for the beauties they’re missing out on the market share of the beasts who might otherwise buy their products. After all, imagine all the money the running industry would miss out on if all the women’s shoe design was left exclusively to foot fetishists. So please wetsuit makers, design some products for the women who use them; instead of focusing on surf-inspired fashion accessories that look good in magazine shoots but are not very practical in the waves.

[1] Contrary to the ‘little surfer girl’ stereotype female surfers often have rather large shoulders as a result of years spent paddling after waves.