Tag Archives: Balance

Elsewhere

I dislike beginning another blog with a chant about being absent for a while, but there it is.  I’ve not been here.  I’ve been elsewhere.

But where is “elsewhere?”

I kind of like that word.  In fact, if I ever incorporated a township, that’s what I’d name it – Elsewhere.  And everyone would be invited to go there and take a mental vacation.  And better yet, while you were there you could conjure up any type of reality you desired.  The only limits would be the boundaries of your imagination.

Actually, I think we are all in Elsewhere every day.

Continue reading Elsewhere

Contrasts – Kapitel 1

It was time to come down out the high-desert mountains and head back to “civilization.”  So, what should one do along the way?  Why be a tourist of course.

For months I had lived in an amazing little oasis, hiked in beautiful spaces, and found peace being on my own and in the company of a few very special people and very special wild animals.  Simply put, Nature.  But it was time to move on and prepare a winter base.

I picked a few target sites and turned this into a bit of a winding path.  West, Northwest, Plains, Midwest.  I knew I would be encountering volumes of people, but there are many good ones out there.  What I saw, quite by accident, was some very interesting behavior.  The blacks and whites and the grays of social discourse.  And the rainbows of course.

One place I always wanted to visit was the San Diego Zoo.  I headed west through Yuma, Arizona – a hot, stifling, industrial and farming zone.  The contrasts there are incredible.

Bleached, beige sand with ribbons of blue water.

It was 108 degrees, surrounded by barren desert that normally receives a little over three inches of rain annually, and yet there was lush farming.  All because of a 53-mile system of irrigation canals that divert water from the Colorado river.

Not a place I would want to stay.

I was a little apprehensive as I headed into California.   A small-town boy, I had images of massive, intertwining freeway systems choked with a bazillion cars bellowing out vast amounts of toxic fumes.  Road rage nightmares.  Dirty inner-city avenues.  Muggings in poorly-lit alleyways . . .

I was packing my 9 mm.*

But I also had the contrasting images of deep blue ocean waters, sailboats at sunset, deep green valleys in the shadows of rolling mountains.  Heavy forests.  And palm trees, contrasting the desert scrub I’d become accustomed to.

And all of those visions did indeed come into view as I entered parts of the Cleveland National Forest.  The Pine Creek Wilderness.  Then the busy highways of San Diego.  And then, the Bay.

A couple of differences.  The forested areas seemed to me to be very dry, ripe for those California wildfires.  A layer of brown smog filled the air.  But the traffic was comparable to that of St. Louis – a mess, but not as much of a mess as I had anticipated.  I reached my destination in the center of the city without incident.

It was a cute rehab of an old stately home divided into condos.  The neighborhood was picture perfect.  Palm trees swayed among gingerbread homes on terraced streets.  Local businesses within walking distance perfumed the air with taste-bud delicacies.  Jazz resonated from three blocks down while neighbors across the boulevard gathered for a barbecue.

I divided my short days to visiting the Zoo, hiking around Cabrillo National Monument, strolling through the Museums of Art and Natural History at Balboa Park, and relaxing on a sunset sailboat ride in the bay.

The Zoo was nothing short of amazing.  I spent 10 hours there, Urban Hiking some 7 miles of Caged and packaged wilderness.

And it turns out, I was a bit of an attraction myself.  I looked out of place.  Wearing long pants and hiking boots.  My Aussie-style, wide-brimmed, bush hat.  Still shaking off a bit of desert sand and dust with each marching stride.

I was surrounded by short pants, pastel Becker-style T-shirts, retro bowling shirts, sun dresses, bikini tops, and sandals.  Designer everything.  Several people looked me up and down, and when their eyes reached my boots they visibly laughed out loud.

I was an outsider in a city where multicultural diversity thrived.  Many tourists blended in, but me, not so much.

But I was fine with that.

***

Next Chapter of “Contrasts” – The Zoo.

Photo: San Diego Cityscape at night.

*Don’t worry, I had trained and had my permit for it.  Besides, one can’t travel alone these days without considering some form of self-protection.  Highway robbery has never died out.

Sunset Sail - 5

Hiking Through the Rhyolite

Many millions of years ago a volcano erupted with hundreds of times the force of Mount St. Helens.  Later the earth would push the remains upward leaving the volcanic rock exposed to all of the forces of erosion.  But the erosion was differential.  Softer materials washing away first. Leaving columns of stone.  Statues in precision alignment.  Sort of like the Moai on Easter Island.  Only here, they face inward to the center of the collapsed caldera.  Covered in desert scrub, it is difficult to imagine the explosive forces that once coalesced here.

The monoliths can also have disproportional heads where the boulders appear to balance mysteriously on much tinier pedestals.  All standing shoulder to shoulder like soldiers lining up on the parade grounds.

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Before I enter these mountains, I sign in with the park ranger.  They need to keep track if people go missing.  Know whose body they may find days later if you don’t return.

They warn me that there is a high chance of rain, and the trails across the ridgetop I’ve chosen to hike will have me exposed to lightening.  But I don’t believe the Thunder-beings have any interest in hurting me.  They can be great messengers of the Earth and the source of replenishing energy.

I’m prepared for the 8-mile trek.  As much as I can be.  And as I wind my way through the monoliths I follow an undulating path.  Up and down, back and forth, snaking my way along switchbacks.  That image of the snake’s path accented by the mineral serpentine, mixed with green, blue and gold lichens, reddish rhyolites, and specks of glistening mica.  A colorful cacophony.  Discordant reflections of muted color that shift continually as the sun makes its daily journey across the sky.

Chiricahua - 8-9-18 - 13After a couple of hours, I reach the ridgetop.  Black char on skeletal trees, evidence of a fire from a decade ago, mixes with the light and dark greens of new pines and oaks.

 

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All of the washes and creeks are alive with a torrent of water.  Small waterfalls offer the perfect intonations for meditation.  Worn trails fragment as you hit flat rock.  And segments of it vanish completely.

There was a flash flood the night before and if there had been foot prints or trail markers they’ve all been washed away.  Erased as if no person had set foot here for eons.  And no one is here today other than myself.

Chiricahua - 8-9-18 - 10

Often, I find myself in the wilderness where there are no other people.  But I’m never alone.  A troupe of Painted Redstarts moves through.  Lizards scurry away.  Butterflies seek out precious nectar from the red and yellow columbine that burst forth sporadically.

I come upon a pine totally splintered from a bolt of lightning, probably from the day before because its needles are still deep green.  No sign of this timber having dried.  Totally debarked with pieces strewn in a thousand directions.  I pick up a small piece of this now energy laden bark and place in my shirt pocket above my heart.  You can feel the energy throbbing.

I hit another point on the ridge where the trail has cloaked itself.  There are at least ten directions I could go.  Four seem more likely.  I climb up on a boulder to get a better vantage point and to my surprise a solitary white-tailed deer is right below me.  The doe doesn’t seem to know I’m there.  The wind coming towards me carries my scent the opposite direction.

I watch her quietly graze on low-lying tree branches.  Then she raises her head and sees me.  Stares right into my eyes.  But I’m surprised by her actions.  I expect her to panic.  To run away as most deer would.  She’s unconcerned.  Apparently feeling no threat.  And instead offers to help.
Chiricahua - 8-9-18 - 11She alters her path and circles back toward me and loops to my left.  We lock gazes, and I follow her.  Her gentleness lures me to the right path.  And then she’s gone.  In an instant.  A blink.  As if she wasn’t there at all.  Her spirit saves me the time I would have spent trying to find the right route.  Time is life out here.

Descending from the ridgetop, I make it to the center of the monoliths.  How long have these statues stood?  Holding this ground.  Carved by forces that no human sculptor could match.  They’ll be here long after my physical body has departed.  Silently keeping watch.
Chiricahua - 8-9-18 - 15I hear an Owl in the distance.  Its affirmation tells me I am safe.  I can take a break here. Take the load off my back.  Hydrate and take in some calories to replace those consumed.  Breathe in the surroundings.

Native Americans used to inhabit this place.  It’s sacred Earth.  I offer thanks for being allowed safe passage.  I’m not the top predator here, after all.  Black beer and mountain lions call this their home.

An injury here can mean death.  Can’t let your guard down even as you grow weary.  Pay attention.

I hear a noise, and a Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard perches himself on a rock next to the path.  He does pushups and flares his neck in a display of dominance.  I stop to observe.  When I start to take my next step, I notice a large stone in the center of the path.  I had not seen it before and if I continued unaware I would have tripped over this stone and have possibly been injured.

Falling to right would have landed me on the switchback 20 feet below.  Falling to the left, into the rock wall there, could have meant a fractured skull.  Falling forward, a twisted or broken ankle.  I thank the lizard for his warning.
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Such is nature.  Be attentive.  If your soul is open, nature’s spirits will speak to you.  Warn you.  Protect you.  Give you energy.  Keep you on the right path.

The hike complete, it is time to center and reflect.  There are always forces around us at work.  This day was my mother’s birthday.  She passed away last year.  And I can’t help but think that maybe she is watching over me too on this day.  Protecting me from all the dangers that surrounded this solitary hike into the wilderness.

As I drive home, Hawks, Ravens, and Turkey Vultures line the telephone lines.  All facing inward.  Like the monoliths, soldiers.  These are the protectors, the shape-shifters, the visionaries.  And they guard my route.  Almost like a salute to a journey well completed.  So many of them.  Their numbers far exceeding and mingling with their prescribed territories.  An oddity?

Thank you, mom.  Love you and miss you.

***

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Photos: I took them all with a cell phone camera as I hiked 🙂

Published ! Thrilled and honored that my story was published by The Urban Howl on August 29, 2018, under the title “If Your Soul Is Open, Nature’s Spirits Will Speak To You.”

The Dream by Don Miguel Ruiz

I have read two books by Don Miguel Ruiz.  The first was “Beyond Fear: A Toltec Guide to Freedom and Joy” and the second was “The Four Agreements: A Toltec Wisdom Book.”  In both books he included the passage below.

In Beyond Fear, he presented it as an exercise for us to dream.  In The Four Agreements, he included it as a passage titled: “Prayer for Love.”  The version in Beyond Fear was slightly different, I think better written, so I’m posting that one.

The author uses the word “Christ” near the end of the passage.  But as I have said before, I believe you could substitute whatever entity or title you wished, your own belief in what constitutes the “Source,” and the message still rings true.  Enjoy.

***

In this dream I find myself in the most beautiful forest at mid-day.  I am completely comfortable surrounded by beauty.  I see the sunbeams lighting the trees and the flowers.  I see butterflies, and I hear the sound of a river.  I walk to that river where an old man sits beneath a big tree. With his white beard and his strong, kind eyes, the man emits a radiant aura of beautiful colors.  I sit in front of him and wait until he feels my presence and looks at me.

I ask, “How can you send out these beautiful colors and can you teach me how to do it?”

He smiles at me.  “Your request brings back memories for me because one day I saw my own teacher doing the same thing and I asked him the same question.  As an answer, he opened his chest and he reached in and pulled out his own heart.  From within it he took a radiant flame.  He opened my chest and put that flame inside my heart.  From that moment on, everything changed inside me because that flame was unconditional love.  I felt the flame of that love and it became a consuming fire.”

“I shared that love with, and gave unconditional love to, every cell in my body.  That day I became one with my own body.”

“I decided to love my mind.  I loved every emotion, every thought, every feeling and every dream.  That fire transformed my mind completely and my mind loved me back so much that the fire grew even more and I had the need to share my love even more.”

“I decided to put my love in every tree, in every flower, in every blade of grass and all the plants in the whole forest.  They reacted to my love and they loved me also and we became one.”

“But still my love grew more and more so I had an even greater need to share my love.  I decided to put a little piece of love in every rock, in the dirt, in every metal on the earth, and they loved me back.  We became one.”

“My love still grew.  I decided to put a little love in every animal that exists, in the birds, the cats and the dogs.  They loved me back and they protected me.  We became one.”

“My love still grew and I decided to love the water.  I loved the rain, the snow, the rivers, the lakes, the oceans, and I became one with the water.”

“When my love continued to grow, I decide to love the atmosphere, the breeze, the hurricane, the tornado, and we became one and they loved me back.”

“My love did not end there.  It grew even more and I turned my face to the sky where I saw the sun, the moon and the stars.  I decided to put a piece of my love in them and they loved me back and we became one.”

“Again, my love expanded and I decided to share it with every human, with the elders, with every man, woman and child, and we became one.”

“Now wherever I go, I am there waiting for myself.”

Then the old man opened his chest with his hands and took his heart out before my eyes.  He took a flame from his heart and he opened my chest and my heart, and he put that flame in my heart.  When I awoke and opened my eyes, I felt that flame become a fire.  Now I share my love with you.

At this moment, I open my chest and in front of your eyes I open my heart.  I take a small flame and I open your chest and your heart.  I put that flame in your heart.  That flame of my love is the flame of Christ.

And that is the dream.

***

Photo: This is a great shot of my woodstove with a particularly expressive fire.  I can see a swan in the flames to the left.  Others have seen the devil in the middle and a woman in the flames to the right.  What do you see?  The flame of unconditional love?

 

 

Gray Days

In November, long before the Winter Solstice, we will experience the first of many “gray days.”  The trees now bare, having shed their leaves, draw charcoal lines across an infinite sky of nothingness.

Gray is considered to lie exactly between white and black and is actually called “achromatic,” which is a contradiction in terms – to have a colorless color?  It has also been described as refracting light without spectral color separation, or as having zero saturation and no hue.  And while we might struggle to find words to convey the absence of something, there are certainly plenty to describe the feelings that are aroused by these gray days.

As if they may be called “days,” residing, instead, somewhere between the light of day and darkness of night, a sort of twilight time.  An extended boundary between the birth and death of a day.

Simply stated, these gray days are depressing.  But that word is far too vague to instill a true sensory perception.  Drab, ashen, somber, leaden, stone cold, cineritious, favillous, worn, anemic, pasty, melancholic, sallow, blah, sullied, faded, dreary, muted, gloomy, caliginous, tenebrous, bleak, washed out, dismal, and uninspired.

These are the days that suck the spirit right out of you.  Drab, as in lacking brightness; somber, as in humorless; leaden, as in a weight too heavy to bear; ashen, as in the color of death.  And they come, one after the other, after the other . . . trampling the psyche.

Uninspired. Cold. Despairing.  Why would one bother exiting a warm, soft bed on such a day?  The coffee will taste burnt.  Cream putrid. The muffin, singed.  Butter rancid.  Life pales when Grandfather Sun fades, when he retreats to the southern hemisphere.

The winter months are described symbolically as representing death before the season of rebirth – spring.  But there is surely beauty lying within the bleak, even if buried or hibernating in the heart.

It can be unveiled in the snow. Crystalline water sparkling like diamonds.

It’s exhibited in the cedars.  Their healing ever-green luminescence.  Their balsamic, terpenic perfume.

It’s manifest with the birds.  Cardinals, Indigo Buntings, Chickadees, and Finches, even in their winter cloaks, radiate brilliant color and warmth.  They hang in the branches like dazzling ornaments on a Christmas Tree.

It’s uncovered when a doe emerges from her winter bed with her fawns.  Shy and diminutive, alluring brown eyes, graceful as they glide over the snow-covered terrain.

Even the cold, biting wind on these days has balmy stories to tell.  If we listen.  It whispers the legends of wolves on the hunt, devouring their prey to feed the fire burning in their bones.   It speaks of the silent flight of the Owl through the forest.  Their yellow eyes of the night, penetrating the hidden aspects of the soul.  Their tufted ears, hearing with clairvoyance.  They see and hear all.  You cannot hide.

The gray is really a dreamscape.  A blank canvass upon which our minds may paint surrealistic animations.  Silhouettes of structures.  Wild beasts and sensuous lovers.  Warm glows emanating from woodstoves and candle light.  Reflections as old as time.

This artistry, this imagery, burns brightly in our consciousness.  A fire in our hearts that can never be extinguished.  We are the keepers of this eternal flame.

As Thoreau observed:

“There is a slumbering subterranean fire in nature which never goes out, and which no cold can chill…. This subterranean fire has its altar in each [person’s] breast, for in the coldest day, and on the bleakest hill, the traveler cherishes a warmer fire within the folds of [their] cloak than is kindled on any hearth. A healthy [person], indeed, is the complement of the seasons, and in winter, summer is in [their] heart.”

Yes, why would someone roust themselves from their slumbers on such a bleak, gray day?  To write about it, of course . . .

***

Photo:  I caught this scene early one December morning.  The humidity and cold created “ice fog.”  This fog lifts, having painted the trees with a coating of ice.  The ice lasted about fifteen minutes before the air had become warm enough to melt it.  The world of images, ever transient.

** If you are wondering about the bracketed words in the quote, I replaced all of the male oriented pronouns with gender neutral ones.  The writers of old, while quite eloquent, often wrote as though women didn’t exist.  I don’t particularly care for that.

 

 

 

 

By the Numbers 2-2-5-11-3-2-2-2-2-1-3-5-4-4-4-8-27>12-2-6-13-1

Can you boil it all down to numbers?  A simple list to tell your fable.  Like a number on a military dog-tag that could identify your entire life.  In a way, maybe, but each item on the list involves multiple stories. And they will have to be told someday, if the fable is to survive . . .

2 Loving Parents

2 Siblings

5 College Scholarships

11 Years of College

3 College Degrees

2 Marriages

2 Ex-Wives

2 Successful Professional Careers

2 Stays in Jail

1 Beautiful Daughter

3 Colleges Taught In

5 Hospitals Worked In

4 State Government Positions

4 Wonderful Dogs

4 Tattoos

8 Foreign Countries

27 States

> 12 Jobs

2 Jobs Terminated

6 Near-Death Experiences

13 Soul Contracts

1 Twin Flame

 

And, I’ve probably left some things out . . .

 

***

 

The Photo: Love the way this pic came out. Firework with a one-minute exposure time. The exposure was set at a minute and the camera was aimed – the capture, I’m sure, was just a few seconds. But even a few seconds is long for a camera – just enough time to get the first part of the explosion 🙂

Broken

** My prose was just published in The Urban Howl under the title: “I am Broken – Only to be Reintegrated Anew.”  It is wonderful to be a part of this inspiring publication !

 

I am broken.

Not in a bad way.

Not in a way that needs to be “fixed.”

Mangled, crushed, fragmented, contorted, pulverized, disintegrated,

But only to be reintegrated anew.

 

It has happened before.

So many times no memory can capture.

 

I do not wish to lose what is unique and pure,

The spark.

There are parts of light and wisdom I wish to regain,

Once held,

Having slipped away,

Under the continual weight of the illusion surrounding us.

Stripped away by those that try to consume us,

To break our hearts,

To kill our spirits.

 

No one is coming to rescue us.

No clichés with meaning can solve any problems.

No platitudes of value provide any answers.

No therapist can fix such fractures.

 

But there is within us a type of magick that can be reached,

If we can find it.

To break out, cut free, re-form, start again,

With clarity of vision,

Led by heart and soul.

 

And not waste a second but,

Instead,

Living every moment here and now. . .

***

 

Photo:  Some cottonwood trees stretch to the sky and the photo editor turns it surreal 🙂

The Objective Reasonable Person

Justice Antonin Scalia, noted for his scathing dissents, once opined, “If, even as the price to be paid for a fifth vote, I ever joined an opinion for the Court that began: ‘The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity,’ I would hide my head in a bag. The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”

While I did not often agree with Scalia, and didn’t in that particular opinion, the “fortune cookie” analogy is not always far off the mark considering the wishy-washy standards applied by judicial decision makers. Yes, “The fortune you seek is in another cookie.”

In the law, one will invariably encounter standards that judges or juries are required to apply in order to reach “just” decisions. There are basic standards for applying the law to the facts of the case in the trial courts and then standards of review applied in the appellate courts when examining what happened in those trial courts. But there are so, so, many gray areas in the law that don’t conform themselves to a nice A + B = C result that require a judgment call. An educated guess, perhaps. Or sometimes little more than a blind stab in the dark in hopes of hitting some target, but a fair and proper target, right? (That’s a rhetorical “right?’)

Then again, there is also that phenomenon known as outcome bias, where decisionmakers decide and then conform the evidence to fit their decision – sounds a tad bit unfair or “unreasonable.” And yet, the concept of “reasonableness” is said to be the mainstay of our law and many of these legal standards incorporate that very word yielding such terms as the “reasonable person,” “reasonable-speaker,” reasonable-listener,” “reasonable aid,” “reasonable effort,” “reasonable anticipation,” “reasonable care,” and “reasonable doubt.” And conduct is deemed “reasonable” if it is “consistent with that of the prudent person in like circumstances.” But with that standard, we not only have to debate what is “reasonable,” we now have to debate what is “prudent,” or what would be “reasonably prudent?”

Such standards are supposed to accommodate all circumstances and uniformly fix any legal ailment, whether it is determining if someone reasonably thought their life was threatened to have exercised self-defense, or what constitutes extraordinary and unusual stress to a “reasonable highway worker” to be compensable under workers’ compensation. All similar puzzles should be solved the same way. What is equitable for one is equitable for all similarly situated. The law should be the same for everyone.

Standards supposedly allow stability and predictability for potential litigants so they can evaluate whether any potential legal controversy is a worthwhile endeavor. Will it result in the desired outcome or be a frivolous, and expensive, chase through the scared halls of justice? Or in criminal law, uniform application of the standards resulting in uniform penalties not only serve to treat everyone that is prosecuted equally, but the predictability of the outcome supposedly serves as a deterrent to criminal behavior. Nice to have a good idea of the result of your conduct ahead of time. You would hope that your attorney could accurately advise you of such, instead of finding yourself engaged in a giant crapshoot. And since we’re into definitions, “crapshoot” = “a risky and uncertain venture.”

Yet ask anyone, yes absolutely anyone, except perhaps a judge, and I think they will tell you that the law is not equal for everyone. It favors the rich over the poor, the majority over the minority, non-sentient corporations over living, breathing individuals, and people over all other life forms. And criminal legal procedure favors the prosecution over the defendant. You have to be a pretty lousy prosecutor to lose a case, especially since you get to pick which cases you’ll prosecute to begin with.

And these multitudinous standards are magically said to be “objective.” But how is that really possible, and just what do these terms really mean? Could the so-called reasonableness standards be just archaic, mythical devices entrenched by thousands of legal precedents? “Legal fictions,” if you will, to achieve and support virtually any decision a jury, a judge or panel of judges makes, “reasonable” or not? Reasonable in whose eyes? Your eyes? Mine? Reasonable is such a weasel-word.

A “legal fiction,” by-the-way, is defined as: “Believing or assuming something not true is true. Used in judicial reasoning for avoiding issues where a new situation comes up against the law, changing how the law is applied, but not changing the text of the law.” The “reasonable person” has been said to be a “hypothetical,” as opposed to a “fiction,” but then who gets to define the hypothetical reasonable person? It seems more to me to be a phantom assumed to actually exist.

Quoting court decisions and Black’s Law Dictionary, reasonable is said to be: “Just; proper. Ordinary or usual. Fit and appropriate to the end in view. Having the faculty of reason; rational; governed by reason; under the influence of reason; agreeable to reason. Thinking, speaking, or acting according to the dictates of reason; not immoderate or excessive, being synonymous with rational; honest; equitable; fair; suitable; moderate; tolerable.”

Wow, seems to be a wide berth between “equitable” and “tolerable,” and “appropriate to the end in view” sounds like a forced contrivance, whose view? But hey, that’s just me talking. And it is duly noted that the architects of these standards ordain that a “reasonable person” “is one who gives due regard to the presumption that judges act with honesty and integrity and will not undertake to preside in a trial in which they cannot be impartial.” Humm, so those writing the rules get to declare they are objective and impartial and demand we agree, otherwise we are unreasonable.

In addition to rambling through the gray pastures of the dictionary, stringing chains of circular non-speak together, i.e., “reasonable means governed by reason,” which means nothing at all, courts tack on that great adjective, “objective.” Reasonableness standards are supposedly objective. And my favorite definition of “objective,” and the one I believe to be the most accurate is “having reality independent of the mind.” This, of course, means not subject to personal biases or as Merriam-Webster states: “expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations.” But MW added that subjective word “perceived” spinning us down another corridor of deception, because even our minds can lie to us about what we are perceiving, or form it into the shape we desire.

Black’s Law Dictionary would say that an objective standard is a “legal standard that is based on conduct and perceptions external to a particular person,” as opposed to a subjective standard “that is peculiar to a particular person and based on the person’s individual views and experiences.” Really? Our programming starts the day of our birth, and we are constantly told how the world is, what it is we are perceiving, what to like and what to hate, what is legitimate and what is unauthentic, how one should feel or not feel, when to have empathy and when to ignore the needs or suffering of others. Our minds are filled with innumerable prejudices that become so inherently ingrained that we no longer see them as being biases.

Yet, the legal system would have us believe that all of this social programming has absolutely no effect on how a case will be judged, how a verdict or judgment might be reached, or what the assessment of remedies or penalties will be, by people magically commanded to be objective and set aside all of their life experiences when deciding the outcome of your legal entanglement. Yes, the legal system, created by humans and all of their prejudices, supposedly being the bastion of objectivity with those sitting in judgment possessing that detached, dispassionate, external “God’s eye view” or “view from nowhere,” transcending any subjective interference as Plato might pontificate, will dole out justice equally on the basis of reasonability. And basically, that’s Bullshit, with a capital B. If it wasn’t Bullshit, there would no market for attorneys that are taught how to strategize and manipulate, how to argue, how to spin, and how to select venues, judges, and jurors based upon their very subjective prejudices. Wordsmithing is a skill taught to attorneys so they may shape outcomes, not based upon what’s “reasonable,” but based upon what favors their client’s preferred outcome, the client’s subjective view of justice.

The existentialists would certainly have a great laugh over this concept of objectivity. For there really is no way for a human to exist other than through their subjective and continuing contact and experience with the world. Thoughts do not exist independently of circumstances and context. But you don’t have to be an existentialist to see how the legal system essentially pits the subjective, particular views of those sitting in judgment against the subjective, particular views of those being adjudicated – hypothetical reasonableness notwithstanding.

I would be remiss if I did not mention another favorite legal standard, the abuse of discretion standard. This standard is employed by an appellate court examining if the trial court abused its considerable discretion with a ruling on a particular controversy like the admission or exclusion of evidence. An abuse of discretion by the trial court “occurs when a trial court’s ruling is clearly against the logic of the circumstances and is sufficiently arbitrary and unreasonable as to shock the sense of justice and indicate a lack of careful consideration.” That’s a mouthful. And, “If reasonable minds can differ about the propriety of the trial court’s ruling, there was no abuse of discretion.” “Reasonable minds?”

So how does this play out if several judges in an appellate court panel decide there was an abuse of discretion, and the remainder decide there was not. Well, if the judges all agree, the standard works. If the majority of the panel, the most judges, decide there was no abuse of discretion, then the standard works. But if the majority of the judges decide there was an abuse of discretion, and a minority decide there was not, the standard fails because “reasonable minds,” and surely the judges have “reasonable minds,” have, in fact, differed and there can be no abuse of discretion. Yet the appellate court decision that there was an abuse of discretion stands, so “reasonable minds differing” creates an absurd result that ignores the court’s own standard. That might seem unreasonable.

Irregardless of my pontifications, for all of these reasonableness standards, how many court decisions, in your own view, just seem to defy “reason” and exhibit great bias? Good luck if you find yourself in that objective reasonable crapshoot called a court of law, for “Person who eats fortune cookie gets lousy dessert.”

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Photo: I found the scales on the Internet n the public domain and could find no other attribution.  I added the text – a favorite quote I came across in a case while studying property law in law school.

Balance

I’ve noticed on social media that the hosts are doing things to try to keep their participants engaged.  It makes sense, there is so much going on and we all can’t be tweeting, linkingin, facebooking, instagraming, blogging, emailing, texting, etc., all at the same time. There simply isn’t enough time in the day; at east not if you expect to take a deep breath once and a while, or keep your life in balance.

When I lapsed in making posts on Twitter they began sending me summaries of my followers’ tweets.  I guess to try to pull me back into interacting on their forum.  “Come back, come back,” they cried.  They probably have advertising dollars at interest – more viewers, more money for them.  Sorry, that’s the cynic in me.

On LinkedIn, I suddenly began receiving notifications called “Daily Rundown.”  Now these I actually like, because they give brief synopses of trending news stories in the business world.  You can skim them fast and be on your way.  And, two of these posts caught my attention in the past couple of days.

First, I learned that: “The world got a new billionaire every two days last year — a new record, according to a report from Oxfam International. Wealth is “increasingly concentrated” at the top, the charity says, with 82% of money generated last year going to the richest 1%. The world’s 2,043 billionaires saw wealth surge $762 billion in 2017, and billionaire wealth has grown an average 13% per year between 2006 and 2015.”

Second, in America: “We don’t have a shortage of jobs, but we might have a shortage of employers — and that could explain why wages aren’t rising. Hourly pay, adjusted for inflation, has grown by a meager 0.2% a year since the early 1970s. A group of economists argue in a working paper that limited competition between employers — due to mergers and other forms of industry consolidation — may be a prime culprit, reports Slate. The economists found that, between 2010 and 2013, local job markets were dominated by a disconcertingly small number of employers. It’s called a monopsony: A situation where a company is pretty much the only game in town, giving them major sway over suppliers, business partners, and employees.”

So it seems that 1% of the people world-wide control 82% of the world’s entire wealth, and their wealth grows at the current rate of 13% every year.  And I’m not sure what wages look like in other countries, but in America, wages have only been growing at the rate of 0.2% a year for the past almost 50 years – that’s 10% growth over 50 years.  Wow!  What a disparity.  Things certainly seem out of balance, especially from a socioeconomic humanitarian point of view.

It seems, at least in some circles, there is more concern for consolidating individual wealth and power than there is for helping our fellow humans or contributing to the growth of community.

I remember back to my senior year of nursing school.  I was in a professional development course and the topic was centered on socioeconomics and health.  I don’t remember how the conversation started but I remember adding that I would be willing to lower my standard of living to help improve the standard of living of others.  The instructor asked the class if anyone else agreed with me.  Not a single student raised their hand.  And perhaps there is an illustration of the problem.  I don’t blame the individuals, it is the way people are socialized and the values they are taught.

We can all do things, even small things, to help achieve balance.  Balance in ourselves, balance between work and home, balance between taking and giving.  While certainly not in all sectors, the scales seem to have tipped away from humanitarianism.

Thoughts?

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Photo:  From a Japanese Garden in Idaho.

Update: Some new numbers to mull over, but I wouldn’t let the numbers get you down.  I put a premium on happiness and peace of mind.  They aren’t measuring these when they take these surveys.

From LinkedIn this morning (Jan. 27th, 2018) – a success survey to show what Americans think defines “Making It.” “For the average American, the picture of success is about $150,000 in annual income, marriage, a couple kids, a 10-minute commute, and a generous amount of vacation time, reports MarketWatch, citing survey data from ThermaSoft.”

Last time I checked the average income for a family of four was around $50K, but that number included benefits. And over half of Americans had only $1000 or less in savings. It looks like the materialistic brainwashing is way out of step with reality, or basically, very few people are “Making It.”

From the article: “This is what success looks like to the average American” in MarketWatch.

Making It Graph

Another Update – March 11, 2018: We now have a dollar amount of what equates to “happiness.” It apparently takes earnings of $60 to $75k a year to be “happy.” But you have to earn $95K to achieve “fulfillment.”  See the full article: “How Much Money Do You Need To Be Happy? More Than Most People Are Making.” Again, I don’t believe happiness is measured in terms of material wealth, but we do live in a society that does.

Another Update – March 15, 2018: I try to keep updating this post with relevant material and another piece of the puzzle came along today.  This one is about health care and what happens to our income if we need to be hospitalized.  I’m quoting from the article “Getting Sick Can Really be Expensive, Even for the Insured.”  “On average, people in their 50s who are admitted to the hospital will experience a 20 percent drop in income that persists for years. Over all, income losses dwarfed the direct costs of medical care.”  Also:  “A 2015 survey conducted by The Upshot and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that, among people struggling to pay medical bills, 29 percent said their illness or injury had led to a drop in household income.” It seems, the US is behind other advanced countries that offer some form wage insurance.  Since the leading causes of bankruptcy in this country are divorce and a single serious illness, medical treatment represents a huge factor in individual wealth and security.  A healthy lifestyle and insurance goes along way to help maintain economic “balance.”  These are strong arguments for a universal health care program.

Update – March 26, 2018: The average Wall Street bonus in 2017 was $184,220, according to the Washington Post.  This represents a 17% increase from the previous year.  It is also the closest the industry has come to its pre-2008-crisis high of $191,360 in 2006, according to data from the New York State comptroller. The financial industry’s revenue increased 4.5% last year to $153 billion. Wall Street accounts for less than 5 percent of local jobs but 20 percent of private sector wages in the city.

Update – May 17, 2018: I think this study sums up something I’ve been saying for a very long time.  The stock market is not an actual measure of the wealth of the average American.  Historic stock market highs only mean a few selective people are getting wealthy.  The study found that 34.7 million working U.S. households live above the official poverty line, but below the cost of paying ordinary expenses.  That is double the 16.1 million that are in actual poverty.  “These are households with adults who are working but earning too little — 66% of Americans earn less than $20 an hour, or about $40,000 a year if they are working full time.”

You can find the summary of the results of the study here: 40% in U.S. can’t afford middle-class basics, and the full report here: Do You Know Alice?  As with all web links, they are subject to “link rot” and the article may not be there forever.  “Alice,” by the way, stands for “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.”

Update – May 23, 2018: Well the economic data just keeps coming.  This time it is from the Federal Reserve’s Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2017.  I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves, but it looks as though few Americans are going to be able to afford retirement.

Economic Well-Being

A large majority of individuals report that financially they are doing okay or living comfortably, and overall economic well-being has improved over the past five years. Even so, notable differences remain across various subpopulations, including those of race, ethnicity, and educational attainment.

• When asked about their finances, 74 percent of adults said they were either doing okay or living comfortably in 2017—over 10 percentage points more than in the first survey in 2013.

• Individuals of all education levels have shared in the improvement over the past five years, though the more educated still report greater well-being than those less educated.

• Over three-fourths of whites were at least doing okay financially in 2017 versus less than two-thirds of blacks and Hispanics.

• Three in five urban residents describe the economy in their local community as good or excellent versus two in five rural residents who offer this positive of an assessment of local conditions.

The latest SHED interviewed a sample of over 12,000 individuals—roughly twice the number in prior years—with an online survey in November and December 2017. The anonymized data, as well as a supplement containing the complete SHED questionnaire and responses to responses to all questions in the order asked, are also available at http://www.federalreserve.gov/ consumerscommunities/shed.htm.

In an effort to understand how the opioid crisis may relate to economic well-being, the survey asked questions related to opioids for the first time. About one-fifth of adults (and one-quarter of white adults) personally know someone who has been addicted to opioids. Exposure to opioid addiction was much more common among whites—at all education levels—than minorities. Those who have been exposed to addiction have somewhat less favorable assessments of economic conditions than those who have not been exposed.

Income

Changes in family income from month to month remain a source of financial strain for some individuals. Financial support from family or friends is also common, particularly among young adults.

• Three in 10 adults have family income that varies from month to month, and 1 in 10 adults experienced hardship because of monthly changes in income.

• Nearly 25 percent of young adults under age 30, and 10 percent of all adults, receive some form of financial support from someone living outside their home.

Employment

Most workers are satisfied with the wages and benefits from their current job and are optimistic about their future job opportunities. Even so, challenges, such as irregular job scheduling, remain for some. Three in 10 adults work in the “gig economy,” though generally as a supplemental source of income.

• Less than one-fifth of non-retired adults are pessimistic about their future employment opportunities, although pessimism is greater among those looking for work or working part time for economic reasons.

• One-sixth of workers have irregular work schedules imposed by their employer, and one-tenth of workers receive their work schedule less than a week in advance.

• For many, stability of income is valued highly. Three-fifths of workers would prefer a hypothetical job with stable pay over one with varying but somewhat higher pay. Those who work an irregular schedule in their actual job are somewhat more likely to prefer varying pay in the hypothetical choice than those who work a set schedule.

• Three in 10 adults participated in the gig economy in 2017. This is up slightly from 2016 due to an increase in gig activities that are not computer or internet-based, such as child care or house cleaning.

Dealing with Unexpected Expenses

While self-reported financial preparedness has improved substantially over the past five years, a sizeable share of adults nonetheless say that they would struggle with a modest unexpected expense.

• Four in 10 adults, if faced with an unexpected expense of $400, would either not be able to cover it or would cover it by selling something or borrowing money. This is an improvement from half of adults in 2013 being ill-prepared for such an expense.

• Over one-fifth of adults are not able to pay all of their current month’s bills in full.

• Over one-fourth of adults skipped necessary medical care in 2017 due to being unable to afford the cost.

Banking and Credit

Access to bank accounts expanded further in 2017. However, substantial gaps in banking and credit services exist among minorities and those with low incomes.

• Nearly 95 percent of all adults have a bank or credit union account. However, this varies by race and ethnicity. One in 10 blacks and Hispanics lack a bank account, and an additional 3 in 10 have an account but also utilize alternative financial services, such as money orders and check cashing services.

• One-fourth of blacks are not confident that a new credit card application for them would be approved—twice the rate among whites.

Housing and Neighborhoods

Satisfaction with one’s housing and neighborhood is generally high, although notably less so in lower income communities. Renters face varying degrees of housing strain, including some who report difficulty getting repairs done or being forced to move due to a threat of eviction.

• While 8 in 10 adults living in middle- and upper income neighborhoods are satisfied with the overall quality of their community, only 6 in 10 living in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods are satisfied.

• Nearly half of adults age 22 and older currently live within 10 miles of where they lived in high school, but those who have moved farther from home are more likely to be satisfied with the overall quality of their neighborhood.

• Three percent of renters were evicted or moved because of the threat of eviction in the past two years.

Higher Education

Economic well-being rises with education, and most of those holding a postsecondary degree think that attending college paid off. The net benefits of education are less evident among those who started college but did not complete their degree; the same is true among those who attended for-profit institutions.

• Two-thirds of graduates from bachelor’s degree programs feel that their educational investment paid off, but less than one-third of those who started but did not complete a degree share this view.

• Just over half of those who attended a for-profit institution say that they would attend a different school if they had a chance to go back and make their college choices again. By comparison, less than one-quarter of those who attended not-for-profit institutions would want to attend a different school.

Student Loans

Over half of college attendees under age 30 took on some debt to pay for their education. Most borrowers are current on their payments or have successfully paid off their loans, although those who failed to complete a degree and those who attended for-profit institutions are more likely to have fallen behind on their payments.

• Among those making payments on their student loans, the typical monthly payment is between $200 and $300 per month.

• Nearly one-fourth of borrowers who went to for-profit schools are behind on their loan payments, versus less than one-tenth of borrowers who went to public or private not-for-profit institutions.

Retirement

Many adults feel behind in their savings for retirement. Even among those who have some savings, people commonly lack financial knowledge and are uncomfortable making investment decisions.

• Less than two-fifths of non-retired adults think that their retirement savings are on track, and one-fourth have no retirement savings or pension whatsoever.

• Three-fifths of non-retirees with self-directed retirement savings accounts, such as a 401(k) or IRA, have little or no comfort in managing their investments.

• On average, people answer fewer than three out of five basic financial literacy questions correctly, with lower scores among those who are less comfortable managing their retirement savings.

Update – May 28, 2018: A new survey by the Pew research center that examined issues facing rural and urban households found many similarities.  A couple of the interesting responses are that some 60% of the respondents say they cannot afford the life they want, and that workers across all areas in the US have seen their wages drop by 1 to 3%.  You could compare that with the wage stagnation cited above when I made the original post.  The Pew report is here:

Five charts prove urban and rural Americans have the same problems

Update – June 24, 2018:  Home prices and mortgage rates have outpaced wages so fast that now 75% of US wage earners cannot afford the median price of a home, which has risen to a record $264,800.

U.S. Homes Prices Least Affordable in Almost a Decade

Update – August 12, 2018: The 2018 World Inequity Report

So here are some of the take-aways from this report with respect to the U.S.

2.4 Income inequality in the United States

Information in this chapter is based on the article “Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates for the United States,” by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman, forthcoming in the Quarterly Journal of Economics (2018).

Income inequality in the United States is among the highest of all rich countries. The share of national income earned by the top 1% of adults in 2014 (20.2%) is much larger than the share earned by the bottom 50% of the adult population (12.5%).

Average pre-tax real national income per adult has increased 60% since 1980, but it has stagnated for the bottom 50% at around $16 500. While post-tax cash incomes of the bottom 50% have also stagnated, a large part of the modest post-tax income growth of this group has been eaten up by increased health spending.

Income has boomed at the top. While the upsurge of top incomes was first a labor-income phenomenon in 1980s and 1990s, it has mostly been a capital-income phenomenon since 2000.

The combination of an increasingly less progressive tax regime and a transfer system that favors the middle class implies that, even after taxes and all transfers, bottom 50% income growth has lagged behind average income growth since 1980.

Increased female participation in the labor market has been a counterforce to rising inequality, but the glass ceiling remains firmly in place. Men make up 85% of the top 1% of the labor income distribution.

Income inequality in the United States is among the highest of rich countries
In 2014, the distribution of US national income exhibited extremely high inequalities. The average income of an adult in the United States before accounting for taxes and transfers was $66 100, but this figure masks huge differences in the distribution of incomes. The approximately 117 million adults that make up the bottom 50% in the United States earned $16 600 on average per year, representing just one-fourth of the average US income. As illustrated by table 2.4.1, their collective incomes amounted to a 13% share of pre-tax national income. The average pre-tax income of the middle 40%—the group of adults with incomes above the median and below the richest 10%, which can be loosely described as the “middle class”—was roughly similar to the national average, at $66 900, so that their income share (41%) broadly reflected their relative size in the population. The remaining income share for the top 10% was therefore 47%, with average pre-tax earnings of $311 000. This average annual income of the top 10% is almost five times the national average, and nineteen times larger than the average for the bottom 50%. Furthermore, the 1:19 ratio between the incomes of the bottom 50% and the top 10% indicates that pre-tax income inequality between the “lower class” and the “upper class” is more than twice the (1:8 ratio) difference between the average national incomes in the United States and China, using market exchange rates.

Income is very concentrated, even among the top 10%. For example, the share of national income going to the top 1%, a group of approximately 2.3 million adults who earn $1.3 million on average per annum, is over 20%—that is, 1.6 times larger than the share of the entire bottom 50%, a group fifty times more populous. The incomes of those in the top 0.1%, top 0.01%, and top 0.001% average $6 million, $29 million, and $125 million per year, respectively, before personal taxes and transfers.

As shown by Table 2.4.1, the distribution of national income in the United States in 2014 was generally made slightly more equitable by the country’s taxes and transfer system. Taxes and transfers reduce the share of national income for the top 10% from 47% to 39%, which is split between a one percentage point rise in the post-tax income share of the middle 40% (from 40.5% to 41.6%) and a seven percentage point increase in the post-tax income share of the bottom 50% (from 12.5% to 19.4%). The trend is also of relatively large proportionate losses in income shares as one looks further up the income distribution, indicating that government taxes are slightly progressive for the United States’ richest adults.

Update – August 19, 2018: This one is on CEO compensation, and it comes to us from Pacific Standard and their article titled: “CEOs Got a Big Raise in 2017.”  We can sum this one up with a few quotes from the article.

“In 2017, the ‘average CEO of the 350 largest firms in the United States received $18.9 million in compensation, a 17.6 percent increase over 2016,’ the report states. (By another measure, which includes stock options granted, average CEO compensation rose from $13.0 million in 2016, to $13.3 million in 2017.)”

“Between 1978 and 2017, CEO compensation (including stock options realized) increased by 1,070 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute report. During this same time period, compensation for the typical American worker increased by 11.2 percent.”

“Today, as a result of this surge, the average CEO’s compensation (including stock options realized) is 312 times that of the typical worker, a ratio that’s dramatically higher than the 1980s (although still not quite as high as in 2000).”

“The Trump administration maintains that wage growth for average Americans will come, although even fans of the tax reform legislation suggest it may not be ‘immediate.’ In a report released yesterday, the Tax Foundation, a center-right think tank whose modeling of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’s effects has typically been more optimistic than most other models, projected that long-term wages will increase by 1.5 percent. Nicole Kaeding, the Tax Foundation’s director of federal projects, told the Washington Post that they ‘definitely think it’s going to take a few years for this to obviously manifest.'”

So there you have it.  The CEOs win the lottery every year while the average wage earner’s income can’t even match inflation.

Update – December 18, 2018: Even rent is becoming unaffordable and contributing to the growing housing crisis. “Since 2001, gross rent has increased 3 percent a year, on average, while income has declined by an average of 0.1 percent annually, falling from $56,531 in 2001 to $56,516 in 2015.  This widening gap between rent and income means that after paying rent, many Americans have less money available for other needs than they did 20 years ago.” See the PEW research article American Families Face a Growing Rent Burden for more.

Update – January 27, 2019: I came across two articles of interest today.  One discusses how the super-rich are becoming younger, not by working and earning wealth but through inheritance.  The big take-away from this study is not about the wealthy, the big news is that typical Americans saw their net worth plunge 41% between 2007 and 2016.  From the article:

Even as more young people entered the top 0.1 percent, most of their Millennial and Generation X compatriots were struggling. Americans 75 and older are the only age group whose median net worth rose from 2007 to 2016, according to the Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer of Finances released in July 2018. Typical Americans age 35 to 54 saw their wealth—heavily concentrated in housing—plunge by more than 41 percent in that time frame.

Source is Bloomberg News:  Super Rich Americans Are Getting Younger and Multiplying

The next article addresses the issue of how older Americans can no longer afford to retire.  The factors contributing were: (1) the financial crisis in 2008 that wiped out many nest eggs; (2) the inability to save for retirement, i.e., low wages and wage stagnation; (3) children no longer earn enough to help support their parents; (4) the shrinking birth rate resulting in less paying into Social Security and Medicare; and (5) the decrease in immigration due to current White House policy.  The lack of low-wage earning immigrants means child care costs are higher, which discourages population growth.  And less immigration also means there are less immigrants that pay into our safety net systems because they pay more in to it than they receive in benefits.

Source is Bloomberg News: Too Many Americans Will Never Be Able to Retire

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Note: All web links are subject to link rot and I cannot guarantee the links will take you to those sites forever.