Tag Archives: Life

Of Wolves and Hominids

Warning: I use a few sentence enhancers in this piece that might offend some. Not too many, but if you are easily offended you might want to turn back now. Apologies.

***

There’s a pretty crude joke out there about men that goes: “If they can’t eat or fuck it, they’ll kill it.” Now, that’s clearly a gross over-generalization and there are many good men out there that do not operate from this vestige instinct of the lizard brain. But there does seem to be an awful lot of killing going on, and men probably make up the biggest share of those pulling the trigger, or wielding the knife, or the tire tool, or the shovel, or whatever just happened to be lying around. Men have tempers, but worse, men often have big egos. Mix in some hormones and look out!

I remember reading a story a while back about a huge alligator in Florida. Of course, the first thing humans (and in this case men) do when they encounter such a magnificent animal is kill it. Now it doesn’t really matter what reason was contrived. It may have been rationalized as being for “public safety” or something else even more nebulous, but there are numerous examples of where people simply kill for the joy of killing, and more times than not, it’s the “man” doing the “killin.” And if wasn’t for “joy” then why string up the gator and take a picture standing next to it while smiling and broadcast it to the world?

It’s a “manly thing” to kill. I suppose it can make a man feel in control or superior in some fashion.

In my criminal law class there was a joke told about how in the South there is a justifiable homicide defense called “needed killin,” meaning if there was a just plain rotten person that terrorized the town (usually a man), then it was excusable to lay that person to rest. This, of course, is not in any criminal code, but apparently plays out in front a jury of the murder’s peers. And while I don’t agree with this defense, there are, after all, more lawful and moral solutions, that argument actually makes a little bit more sense to me than the trophy hunter trying to defend his need to prove how large his penis is.

Sorry, I don’t want to sound sexist, I realize there are women trophy hunters out there too, but I think the majority are packing testosterone and that fits better with my story today. I mean if we’re talking about men I can say stuff like, “Ok, how about this Mr. Big-game Slaughterer, why don’t you just stuff and mount your penis on the wall. I’m sure that would be impressive. And maybe you would calm down a little after that.” But hey, I won’t say that, because that’s crude 😊

The concept of being the top-predator is sort of traditional ideology and mythology that is perpetuated over and over again through socialization and acculturalization. This evolved over time where hunting was once required for sheer survival. Later, hunting was a skill for acquiring supplemental food, not the mainstay of the diet. For most, hunting eventually turned into a “sport” and spawned a sub-species of that sport; trophy-hunting. Killing for no reason whatsoever other than to mount a head on the wall and have bragging rights. And ofttimes, these senseless, violent practices are highly rewarded. All hail the great and powerful conqueror.

Hemingway captures this reward-rejection phenomenon in his short story, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” where Macomber’s wife, Margaret, is enthralled by, and later shares a bed with, Macomber’s guide and big-game hunter, Robert Wilson. Macomber had shown fear and had run from a wounded lion, whereas Wilson showed no hesitation when he killed it, thus earning Margaret’s lust. Of course, Hemingway added the ironic twist of when Macomber later rises to the challenge and overcomes his fear, Margaret shoots him in the back of the head because she realizes he is now brave enough to leave her. He quite literally didn’t see that “reward” coming.

Now if some so-called trophy “hunter” (and I use that term loosely as they are usually led right up to the animal by a guide) could actually kill the lion or other large “game” (an ironic term itself, this is not a game) up close and personal and with more equal armament, I’d give them some credit. That would at least involve, strength and courage, and be more sporting than putting a bullet in the animal’s shoulder, lungs or heart from a quarter mile away, especially if camouflaged and hiding behind a blind. Can’t shoot the head for the most immediate and less painful kill, you know. That’s going on the wall.

And while I’ve been rambling a bit to get here, what brings me to be writing about the testosterone-fueled murder of innocent species was the killing of Wolf ’06. Wolf ’06 was a famous alpha female wolf roaming freely in Yellowstone National Park after the wolves were reintroduced to the region. The problem is, the wolves only have protection when they are within the boundaries of the park.

The U.S. has had a tortuous history with the wolf. Estimates put the country’s wolf population at anywhere from the hundreds of thousands to millions prior to European colonization. The International Wolf Center, proving the most detailed timeline for the gray wolf population in the U.S., states it is estimated that 100,000 wolves were killed every year between 1870 and 1877 alone. According to the IWC, in 1970, there were only 750 wolves in Minnesota, some scattered individuals in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and 18 wolves on Isle Royale.

It seems wolves were truly seen as being evil beasts of no value, and they threatened the profits of ranchers as livestock operations spread across the continent. Humans like to think that they are the superior predator and that their short-term gratification supersedes any other concern. Of course, this is ignorant. And that’s been proven time and again, and in a most dramatic way by reintroducing the wolf in Yellowstone Park.

The term used to describe the effects a major predator species has on the environment is “trophic cascade.” Nate Blakeslee was interviewed by National Geographic about his book “American Wolf,” and here is how he described the effects of reintroducing the wolves to Yellowstone:

“When they brought wolves back, it quickly changed and improved the landscape in ways that even the biologists didn’t anticipate. First and foremost, Yellowstone had way more elk than it could reasonably accommodate. Wolves brought that number back down to what it historically had been prior to Europeans arriving in Yellowstone.

They also began to see other species flourishing. The elk were no longer able to gather in the valleys in huge numbers and browse at their leisure; they had to be much warier and spend more time at higher elevations.

One of the effects was that streamside vegetation began to rebound. Aspen and willow returned, which in turn encouraged beavers to return to the park, as willow is their main food source. Beavers change the profile of a river, making it deeper by creating dams and pools, which in turn is healthier for fish.

Wolves also reduced Yellowstone’s coyote population, which was the densest in North America. Because of this, the rodent population had been kept artificially low. Once the wolves started to kill off some of the coyote population—not to eat them but to defend their own territories—there was a huge rebound in the rodent population.

As a result of that, other animals that eat rodents also rebounded, like large birds of prey, raptors, foxes, and badgers. The renaissance of all these species was a direct result of restoring the top predator.”

It’s also known, that natural predators cull the weak and the sick from the herds of their pray, actually strengthening their populations. Every species plays it role in this complex web of life. And each time a species goes extinct, humans are another step closer to their own extinction. I would think that modern humans would at least understand this principle, even if they never grasp that these animals, no different than the human animal, possess spirit.

But it just seems sometimes that humans just aren’t that far out of the cave.

Blakeslee tracked down the hunter that killed ’06. Basically, this guy was just happy to kill a wolf. “He considered it to be the pinnacle of his career as a trophy hunter to be able to shoot an animal that nobody had been able to legally shoot for a very long time.” He resented the wolves for decreasing the elk population and he was unable to kill an elk the season before. He also claimed he didn’t see the radio collar ’06 was wearing when she wandered out of Yellowstone’s protective boundaries.

So, because he blamed the wolf for preventing him from killing another animal, he was happy to kill a wolf. I don’t think there is any logic or wisdom there. Other species of predators don’t kill for joy or out of resentment. They don’t take pride in it. They actually do “hunt” and it’s for survival. There is no waste when other species hunt.

Just this past week, I read where the last male Northern White Rhinoceros has died. The Eastern Puma was also recently declared extinct. And how many other animals, plants, and other species are threatened or endangered? If we lose the bees perhaps humans will wake up because then we lose pollination and many of our food sources directly.

I’m not sure when humans will finally accept they are not top-dog. They produce no beneficial “trophic cascade.” Humans can’t exist without the other species on this fragile planet, yet they can exist without humans. It’s time to put ego aside. There is no place for a mythical, god-like, hunter figure that randomly takes life irrespective of the sanctity of that life and its interconnected purpose – survival of all species. Even cavemen were more advanced than this, they took what they needed for survival.

Since it is our species that has thrown the world out of its perfect balance, it is now our responsibility to restore it. One thing is certain, the one “species” that wouldn’t be missed at all, whose loss would not have a negative impact on the environment should it meet with its extinction, is the trophy hunter.

***

Wolf

Post Script: Wolf ’06 was killed in 2012. I only recently came across the January 2018 National Geographic article that got me thinking about this – thus, the time gap. Things are hopefully starting to change. The murder of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe by dentist James Palmer in 2015 brought world-wide attention to, and protests against, trophy hunting. I suppose you could say this “hunt” was more sporting because Palmer used a bow. But it was later discovered that he had not obtained the required permit, his guide team baited the lion to leave its protected wildlife preserve, and that Cecil suffered for 10 hours after he was first hit with an arrow before Palmer had the balls to approach him to finally kill him. I don’t think Palmer returned to the US as the conquering hero.

Photos: These are not my photos. I found them on the Internet in the Public Domain and have found no other attribution for them. Neither pic is of ’06. But I used the second one as the image for one of my tattoos.

**This is one of my longer pieces, but if you want more, I’ve included some quotes and links below just for fun 😊 All links are subject to “link rot” so I cannot guarantee how long any of those articles will be present on the web.
Quotes:

“The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.”
P.G. Wodehouse, The Adventures of Sally

“Sure, some find gunning down unsuspecting, innocent animals to be a real hoot. I mean, for Christ sake, they mantle the decapitated, formaldehyde-stuffed heads on the wall. Then, of course, there are the people who enjoy putting sunglasses or hats on it, even putting a blowout in its mouth as if it were an avid party animal. If it had any hands, there would surely be a plastic cup full of cheap beer in it, as well. We can’t forget that it would be named some horrendous name, such as Bill or Frank, something so plain, ordinary, and down-right ridiculous that makes me want to bitch-slap the perpetrators. ”
Chase Brooks

“Hunting and fishing involve killing animals with devices (such as guns) for which the animals have not evolved natural defenses. No animal on earth has adequate defense against a human armed with a gun, a bow and arrow, a trap that can maim, a snare that can strangle, or a fishing lure designed for the sole purpose of fooling fish into thinking they have found something to eat”
Marc Bekoff, Animals Matter: A Biologist Explains Why We Should Treat Animals with Compassion and Respect

“One saw a bird dying, shot by a man. It was flying with rhythmic beat and beautifully, with such freedom and lack of fear. And the gun shattered it; it fell to the earth and all the life had gone out of it. A dog fetched it, and the man collected other dead birds. He was chattering with his friend and seemed so utterly indifferent. All that he was concerned with was bringing down so many birds, and it was over as far as he was concerned. They are killing all over the world. Those marvellous, great animals of the sea, the whales, are killed by the million, and the tiger and so many other animals are now becoming endangered species. Man is the only animal that is to be dreaded.”
Jiddu Krishnamurti, Krishnamurti to Himself: His Last Journal

“I do not like the killers, and the killing bravely and well crap. I do not like the bully boys, the Teddy Roosevelt’s, the Hemingways, the Ruarks. They are merely slightly more sophisticated versions of the New Jersey file clerks who swarm into the Adirondacks in the fall, in red cap, beard stubble and taut hero’s grin, talking out of the side of their mouths, exuding fumes of bourbon, come to slay the ferocious white-tailed deer. It is the search for balls. A man should have one chance to bring something down. He should have his shot at something, a shining running something, and see it come a-tumbling down, all mucus and steaming blood stench and gouted excrement, the eyes going dull during the final muscle spasms. And if he is, in all parts and purposes, a man, he will file that away as a part of his process of growth and life and eventual death. And if he is perpetually, hopelessly a boy, he will lust to go do it again, with a bigger beast.”
John D. MacDonald, A Deadly Shade of Gold

“Wildlife, we are constantly told, would run loose across our towns and cities were it not for the sport hunters to control their population, as birds would blanket the skies without the culling services of Ducks Unlimited and other groups. Yet here they are breeding wild animals, year after year replenishing the stock, all for the sole purpose of selling and killing them, deer and bears and elephants so many products being readied for the market. Animals such as deer, we are told, have no predators in many areas, and therefore need systematic culling. Yet when attempts are made to reintroduce natural predators such as wolves and coyotes into these very areas, sport hunters themselves are the first to resist it. Weaker animals in the wild, we hear, will only die miserable deaths by starvation and exposure without sport hunters to control their population. Yet it’s the bigger, stronger animals they’re killing and wounding–the very opposite of natural selection–often with bows and pistols that only compound and prolong the victim’s suffering.”
Matthew Scully, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy

“For us hunting wasn’t a sport. It was a way to be intimate with nature, that intimacy providing us with wild unprocessed food free from pesticides and hormones and with the bonus of having been produced without the addition of great quantities of fossil fuel. In addition, hunting provided us with an ever scarcer relationship in a world of cities, factory farms, and agribusiness, direct responsibility for taking the lives that sustained us. Lives that even vegans indirectly take as the growing and harvesting of organic produce kills deer, birds, snakes, rodents, and insects. We lived close to the animals we ate. We knew their habits and that knowledge deepened our thanks to them and the land that made them.”
Ted Kerasote, Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog

“The more a woman appreciates the hunting prowess of her man, the more he will kill for her.”
Michael DiMarco, Cupidity: 50 Stupid Things People Do For Love And How To Avoid Them

“These enthusiasts often like to hang signs that say “Gone Fishin'” or “Gone Huntin'”. But what these slogans really mean is “Gone Killing.”
Marc Bekoff, Animals Matter: A Biologist Explains Why We Should Treat Animals with Compassion and Respect

“Modern life conceals our need for diverse, wild, natural communities, but it does not alter that need.. if you want to feel what it is like to be human again, you should hunt, even if just once. Because that understanding, I believe, will propel a shift in how we view and interact with this world that we eat in. And the kind of food we demand, as omnivores, will never be the same.”
Georgia Pellegrini, Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time

“The hunter, as Theodore Roosevelt defined him, a man who fights for the integrity of both his prey and the land that sustained it, is being too often overwhelmed by men concerned mostly with playing dress up and shooting guns.”
Gary Ferguson, Hawks Rest: A Season in the Remote Heart of Yellowstone

“This for many people is what is most offensive about hunting—to some, disgusting: that it encourages, or allows, us not only to kill but to take a certain pleasure in killing. It’s not as though the rest of us don’t countenance the killing of tens of millions of animals every year. Yet for some reason we feel more comfortable with the mechanical killing practiced, out of view and without emotion by industrial agriculture.”
Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

“We have never understood why men mount the heads of animals and hang them up to look down on their conquerors. Possibly it feels good to these men to be superior to animals, but it does seem that if they were sure of it they would not have to prove it. Often a man who is afraid must constantly demonstrate his courage and, in the case of the hunter, must keep a tangible record of his courage. For ourselves, we have had mounted in a small hardwood plaque one perfect borrego [bighorn sheep] dropping. And where another man can say, “There was an animal, but because I am greater than he, he is dead and I am alive, and there is his head to prove it,” we can say, “There was an animal, and for all we know there still is and here is proof of it. He was very healthy when we last heard of him.”
John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez

“But it isn’t hunger that drives millions of armed American Males to forests and hills every autumn, as the high incidence of heart failure among the hunters will prove. Somehow the hunting process has to do with masculinity, but I don’t quite know how.”
John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
Links

The Most Famous Wolf in the World Lived Hard and Died Tragically

Wolf Restoration – The National Park Service

Gray Wolf Biolouge – US Fish and Wildlife Service

The International Wolf Center

Wolf Wars: America’s Campaign to Eradicate the Wolf

The Fight for Northern Rocky Gray Wolves

Gray Wolf Conservation

The Psychology and Thrill of Trophy Hunting: Is it Criminal? Trophy hunting is gratuitous violence that can justifiably be called murder.

Ettore DeGrazia

Not too long ago, I visited the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun, and it was well worth it.  This amazing and highly acclaimed artist not only did water color, oil painting, ink drawings, hot wax painting, ceramics, and sculpturing, he also built his home and gallery using traditional adobe bricks crafted on-site.  His work spanned the early 1900s through May of 1976.

On May 12, 1976, he took 100 of his paintings (valued at $250K) up into the Superstition Mountains and burned them in protest of the inheritance taxes on art work.  At the time, an artist could only deduct the supplies used in producing their art while alive, but if the finished product was inherited after the artist’s death, the heirs would have to pay tax on the full market value of the artwork.

After the protest burning, he would not produce anything more.  While he was highly criticized for his act of protest, he brought national and international attention to his cause.

I could write more about DeGrazia, but I’m no expert in fine art, and it would sound rather “brochurish.” (Yeah, I made that word up.)  I’m probably not an expert in anything for that matter.  But I was impressed by his work, and I pose the question, could you destroy such beautiful work, that labor of love guided from your heart through your hands, to take a stance on some form of societal injustice?

Could you be that strong?

***

To learn more about DeGrazia, you can visit the webpage for his gallery.

Here are some samples of his work. The photos were taken in the Gallery in the Sun.  The challenge in galleries and museums is avoiding reflections from the lighting, weird angles, other people – well you get the idea.  Some pics were cropped, not all will be perfectly straight . . .

The feature photo of DeGrazia, is a photo of a photo from a framed newspaper article that was in the gallery. The publication was “The Plain Dealer,” and the article was dated December 17, 1978.  The photo credit is to John Hemmer.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Paint Me a Masterpiece by Gordon MacKenzie

This is an excerpt (the last chapter) from the book called: “Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace” that was written by Gordon MacKenzie.  While MacKenzie uses the word “God,” 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.

Paint Me a Masterpiece

In your mind, conjure an image of the Mona Lisa.  Visualize that masterpiece’s subtleties of hue and tone as clearly as you can.

Next, shift to the image of a paint-by-numbers Mona Lisa.  Envision the flat, raw, colors meeting hard-edged, one against the other.

Now let me relate a fantasy about masterpieces, paint-by-numbers and you. It goes like this:

Before you were born, God came to you and said:

“Hi there!  I just dropped by to wish you luck. And to assure you that you and I will be meeting again.  Soon.  Before you know it.

You’re heading out on an adventure that will be filled with fascinating experiences.  You’ll start out as a tiny speck floating in an infinite dark ocean, quite saturated with nutrients.  So you won’t have to go looking for food or a job or anything like that. All you’ll have to do is float in the darkness.  And grow incredibly.

And change miraculously.

You’ll sprout arms and legs.  And hands and feet.  And fingers and toes.

As if from nothing, your head will take form.  Your nose.  Your mouth.  Your eyes and ears will emerge.

As you continue to grow bigger and bigger, You will become aware that this dark, oceanic environment of yours – which, when you were tiny, seemed so vast is now actually cramped and confining.  That will lead you to the unavoidable conclusion that you’re going to have to move to a bigger place.

After much groping about in the dark, you will find an exit.  The mouth of a tunnel.

“Too small,” you’ll decide.  “Couldn’t possibly squeeze through there.”

But there will be no other apparent way out.  So, with primal spunk, you will take on your first “impossible” challenge and enter the tunnel.

In doing so, you will be embarking on a brutal no-turning-back, physically exhausting, claustrophobic passage that will introduce you to pain and fear and hard physical labor.  It will seem to take forever.  But mysterious undulations of the tunnel itself will help squirm you through. A nd finally, after what will seem like interminable striving, you will break through to a blinding light.

Giant hands will pull you gently, but firmly, into an enormous room.  There will be several huge people, called adults, huddling around you, as if to greet you. If it is an old-fashioned place, one of these humongous people may hold you upside down by the legs and give you a swat on the backside to get you going.

All this will be what the big people on the other side call being born.  For you, it will be only the first of your new life’s many exploits.”

God continues:

“I was wondering.  While you’re over there on the other side, would you do me a favor?”

“Sure!” you chirp.

“Would you take this artist’s canvas with you and paint a masterpiece for me? I’d really appreciate that.”

Beaming, God hands you a pristine canvas.  You roll it up, tuck it under your arm and head off on your journey.

Your birth is just as God had predicted, and when you come out of the tunnel into the bright room, some doctor or nurse looks down at you in amazement and gasps:

“Look!  The little kid’s carrying a rolled-up artist’s canvas!”

Knowing that you do not yet have the skills to do anything meaningful with your canvas, the big people take it away from you and give it to society for safekeeping until you have acquired the prescribed skills requisite to the canvas’s return.  While society is holding this property of yours, it cannot resist the temptation to unroll the canvas and draw pale blue lines and little blue numbers all over its virgin surface.  Eventually, the canvas is returned to you, its rightful owner.  However, it now carries the implied message that if you will paint inside the blue lines and follow the instructions of the little blue numbers your life will be a masterpiece.

And that is a lie.

For more than fifty years I worked on my paint-by-numbers creation.  With uneven but persistent diligence, I dipped an emaciated paint-by-numbers brush into color No. 1 and painstakingly painted inside each little blue-bordered area marked 1.  Then on to 2 and 3 and 4 and so on.  Sometimes, during restive periods of my life, I would paint, say, the 12 spaces before the 10 spaces (a token rebellion against overdoses of linearity).  More than once, I painted beyond a line and, feeling embarrassed, would either try to wipe off the errant color or cover it over with another before anyone might notice my lack of perfection.  From time to time, although not often, someone would compliment me, unconvincingly, on the progress of my “masterpiece.”  I would gaze at the richness of others’ canvases.  Doubt about my own talent for painting gnawed at me.  Still, I continued to fill in the little numbered spaces, unaware of, or afraid to look at, any real alternative.

Then there came a time, after half a century of daubing more or less inside the lines, that my days were visited by traumatic events.  The dividends of my noxious past came home to roost, and the myth of my life began horrifically to come unglued.  I pulled back from my masterpiece-in-the-works and saw it with an emerging clarity.

It looked awful.

The stifled strokes of paint had nothing to do with me.  They did not illustrate who I am or speak of whom I could become. I felt duped, cheated, ashamed – anguished that I had wasted so much canvas, so much paint.  I was angry that I had been conned into doing so.

But that is the past.  Passed.

Today I wield a wider brush – pure ox-bristle.  And I’m swooping it through the sensuous goo of Cadmium Yellow, Alizarin Crimson or Ultramarine Blue (not Nos. 4, 13 or 8) to create the biggest, brightest, funniest, fiercest damn dragon that I can.  Because that has more to do with what’s inside of me than some prescribed plagirism of somebody else’s tour de force.

You have a masterpiece inside you, too, you know.  One unlike any that has ever been created, or ever will be.

And remember:

If you go to your grave without painting your masterpiece,

it will not get painted.

No one else can paint it.

Only you.

***

Photo: This masterpiece was painted by Claude Monet and is called “The Japanese Footbridge.”  Oil on canvass – 1899.  I took this pic when the portrait was on display in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Try it Again

Me: “It was a wildflower I had not seen before.  Sort of a purplish-pink color.”

Higher-Self Me: “Ok, stop.  Now what did you really see?  Try it again.”

Me: “It was incredibly unique.  I had never seen anything like it.  I walked up on it and it exploded with color.”

Higher-Self Me: “Wait a minute.  What else was around you?  And what did you actually experience?  Try it again.”

Me: “It’s silky-smooth petals were fully open.  The sun was just striking it.  Shadowing its yellow center.”

Higher-Self Me: “Look, I want to feel this.  I want to see, hear, touch, smell, and taste it.  Got it? Try it again.”

Me: Sigh . . . Deep breath . . . “Here goes . . .”

“I was almost to the top of a butte, east of the Cascades.  The cold breeze, a stark contrast to the sunlight I felt on my checks.  Fire and ice, simultaneously biting and burning.  I had set out at dawn and no one else was on the trail, just myself and anything nature wished to reveal.  I paced myself on the upward climb.  No hurry.  People miss so much when they hurry.  The messages from Mother Earth.  Her beckoning with the beauty she cradles.

A small rock outcropping narrowed the path.  Opposite, a regal pine towering some 40 feet above me.  The base of its trunk 20 feet below my perch.  A parallel branch provides a handrail.  If you lose your footing here you’ll be airborne to the switchback below.

And there it was, staring back at me.  Its stalk pale green.  The tips of its leaves brown from the dry, high-desert wind.  A solitary bloom.  Unlike anything I have ever seen.  As glorious as the sunrise itself.  A burst of vibrant color from the brown earth beneath it.

An untamed river in the valley below snakes its way through the small, sleeping township.  Yet it’s bone dry where I stand.  You would expect sand.  Maybe cacti.  Not a delicate flower.  Certainly not a wild lily.

How did its seed come to rest here?  Enough moisture for it to sprout?  It will be gone tomorrow.  One brilliant strike of lightening, here and gone.  If I had blinked, I would have missed it.  Stepped callously by this treasure, this gift of the gods.  But she made sure I would see her.

The sunlight illuminated her, like a fire within.  Glowing lavender petals, fiery pink at their bases – reflections of the warm flames dancing in my campfire the night before. Fine yellow hairs, not one out of place, ring the center of her womb.  A middle spire, triangular peak.  Points aligning like the stars Altair, Denab and Vega; the Summer Triangle.  A half a dozen filaments sway.  Sprinkling magic dust, pollen.  New seeds will spring forth when she withers.

I lean into her.  Touch her.  She yields.  Her petals softer than silk, sheer, cool and moist. Exquisite.  I breath in her bouquet.  Fruity-sweet, ginger, maybe oakmoss, a hint of camphor.  A narcotic blend to deliver you to Morpheus, god of dreams.  Intoxicating.

My mind wanders . . .”

 

Higher-Self Me: “Humm, maybe we’ll try it again tomorrow.”

***

Photo:  Introducing calochortus macrocarpus, the Sagebrush Mariposa Lily.

I dedicate this to Heather, a dear heart who has challenged me to use all of my senses.

Neural Roadmaps Revisited

Revisiting the past seems to cycle in our lives.  If not physically, mentally.  But it seems there are times when the physical odyssey is unavoidable.  It may even be unconscious at first.  We embark on a journey just to realize midway we are circling back in time. Perceptions have shifted, aged, but we are retracing routes gone by.  “Treading trodden trails,” as the saying goes.  Neural roadmaps.  Highways of memories.  Echoes of day dreams.

The roads might be slightly different.  And the faces we see this time around may be new to us, drawn together, in passing, by a transitional event.  In this case, it was my mother’s final breaths.

I saw the parallels as I was driving by the home where myself and my brothers grew up.  A small town now a burgeoning suburb of a major city.  When the family moved there, the population was around 250, plus a lot of corn fields.  When I left, there were little more than 2500 people.  It’s no longer a rural community and the population has passed 30,000.  The corn fields replaced with structures.  More boxes for storage, of categorized life.

My old home is now a dental office with the yard paved over.  A parking lot for tooth repair.  The vacant lot across the street, a playland of the imagination where mythic battles raged in the jungles of weeds, now a motor bank.  The majestic apricot tree on the corner by the park, gone.  Not even a seed to carry its memory of the sweet fruit it offered free for the taking.  The lake we fished in, fenced off, imprisoned.

The historic downtown, an outward reflection, a mimic of time, but the core has transformed.  The library is office space.  The hardware store, an art gallery.   The feed mill, a microbrewery.  The old school is torn down.  Time and places evaporated.

But all of my memories are intact.  The pleasure and the pain of growth.

Every summer this home was a launch point for the family reunions.  First with my dad’s family in Indiana, and then my mom’s in Michigan.  Those were times of active voices.  Of laughter and play.  The excitement of seeing cousins, of family card games, and mysterious old homes to explore.  Spiral staircases to dusty attics, and coal furnaces in the basements.  We mined for treasures.  And we found them in shiny objects unearthed, planted by the generation before.

And there were haylofts in old barns, where we leaped into the sky, hay piles lying beneath to break our fall.  Flying for instants that lasted forever.  A shirt was a cape, or a parachute.

An old hand pump still brought water from the earth.  A hidden aquifer of life.

An electric fence for horses, and a dare to feel its pulses.  Grab hold the wire and zap a brother with the other hand, before mom or dad would shoo us away.

Pulses, pulses, I feel my heart beating as I drive, wandering back in time, shuffling though images not matching the roadway.  Highway hypnosis.

I’m retracing that reunion route again, but this time, the nuclei of both families are gone, having passed on to the Blue Road of the Spirit.

My father passed in ’09, and after revisiting the ground where I was raised, I stop to pay my respects to him and my paternal ancestors.  He was buried in the family plot in the town where he grew up.  A few miles down the road is “Stearleyville,” or its shadow, founded by my great, great grandfather.  The reverse of my hometown.  The small village is gone, fully reverted to farmland.

The cemetery is filled with generations, back to the original immigrant couple.  Two stones eerily bear my own name.  One my grandfather, and one his second son that died as an infant – born on my same birthday, passed 30 years before my birth.

I remember my dad’s funeral.  Full military honors.  Steeped in tradition.

He taught me the meanings of honor, integrity, loyalty, strength of character, and hard work.

We talk in silence.  For a while.

Then it’s on to Michigan.  A small town on the border of Ohio. My mother also to be buried in a family plot.  Similar small town and farm family roots.  The memories of both homes blurred.

She’s outlived the rest of her family so we have a small ceremony.  A few cousins, whom I’m meeting for the first time.  It’s a nice service for a well-lived life of a good heart.

She taught me compassion, empathy, and self-sacrifice.

My parents’ bodies lay some 300 miles apart.  Their spirits united?  Their soul contracts complete?  And the particles of consciousness they helped bring into the world are scattered about the Midwest. Such is the stardust of which we’re composed.

Family plots.  Family traditions.  Traditions I will not follow.  My ashes are to be released into the wind.  No name carved in stone.

I wonder, when I leave, what neural roadmaps my daughter’s memories will travel.  I hope that she too has flown wearing a magic cape.

***

 

Photo: I didn’t actually take this image, but it is an image of my brain from an MRI . . .

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

34 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 🙂

Hello Politics . . .

Well, eventually this topic was going to come up.  It’s hard to avoid, especially with today’s newsfeed continually ticking off the latest Congressional blunders.

The diverse topics that fit into this category can be so emotionally charged that I waited a little while before adding any commentary.  But I think some of the current political issues are worthy of discussion.  I’d just like to keep it civil.  Right now, I don’t see much civility on any side of these issues.

So, let’s start off with a note about the U.S. Constitution.  This amazing, and actually short, document ensures a lot of protections for the citizens.  What some don’t understand is that these protections only apply to the federal or state governments, not to the private sector.  The Constitution is like a contact between the government, and its actors, and the people.   The government cannot unreasonably infringe upon the rights guaranteed in the document.

This is why so many other federal laws exist.  Laws such as the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act, the Immigration Reform and Control Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Fair Housing Act, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.  These anti-discrimination laws extend to both the public and private sectors.

None of these laws would have been enacted, but for, the private sector having exploited people.  And now some of these laws are turned on their heads and have led to other forms of exploitation.  We can have a little fun talking about that later.

So just this week, the House voted to essentially gut the main provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  I don’t recall that being on any politician’s campaign platform during the election year.  I don’t recall the public demanding such action.  So why are politicians stripping away protections for the citizens to benefit big business?  And why aren’t people paying attention?  Read on to my first post in the politics section of my blog: “The Politics of Division.”

***

The Politics of Division

I don’t think anyone would deny that the country is very divided on a number of political issues.  The odd thing is this, I can talk to my liberal friends and my conservative friends, and this “gap” in general viewpoints is really pretty small on most matters.  So, what’s the deal?

For the past several election cycles, both major parties have hit hard on dividing people, usually on ideological social policy issues.   Using the vast power of all forms of media, they have convinced the public that these are huge issues, that the people should be divided over them, and that the point of view held on the issues defines what party you should vote for.  They have even convinced most voters that this handful of issues are more important than going to war or ballooning the deficit to give select portions of the populous, the 1%ers, a huge tax break.

Why?  By polarizing the country on such issues, and by screaming about them, they beat the drums to get their voters, their “believers,” out to the poles to vote for them.  They drive the heard.  And then once elected, if you have noticed, neither party tries to eliminate these issues or solve them politically.  Why?  Because they need them for the next election cycle.

Abortion, gay or transgender rights, and immigration are three primary examples.  Of course, guns are in the mix too.  Looking at abortion for an illustration, under the second Bush administration, there was a four to five-year block (2003-2007) where the Republicans had control of all three branches of government.  Both houses of Congress, the White House, and the U.S. Supreme Court.  Yet, they didn’t outlaw abortion, or even try to, although they claim that as one of their party’s major platforms.  They had the power to do that, but they would not have been able to use this issue in the next election cycle if they made it go away.  The Democrats, equally, play the same game.  Amazing how there is no “solution” for immigration, or was there ever really a problem to begin with?

They manipulate these issues, and the people, to get votes on issues they do not intend to fix.  Once in power, they follow their own agenda, which is usually doing things to help out their biggest campaign contributors and, of course, themselves.

The problem for the politicians that I don’t believe they saw coming, is they were too successful.  They have truly divided the country in ways that now threaten the existence of democracy.

Fear-mongering with false information is a primary tactic used to divide.  Beating the drum of White, European, Christian Nationalism is perhaps the scariest tactic I’ve seen of late.  Things are getting really ugly.  The flaming I see on the Internet is shocking.  We’ve had violence in the streets.  We have threats on the free press.

The government is militarizing the police, not just because criminals are using more advanced weapons, but because they are preparing for civil unrest.  If this purposely generated division spills into too much street violence, beware of Martial Law.

In the background of this purposely orchestrated hatred, the wealthy just received a huge tax cut at the cost of ballooning the deficit by 1.4 trillion dollars – even though 78% of the public opposed it.  Congress also just gutted the Americans With Disabilities Act.  Again, to benefit business interests over people.  It’s rolling back environmental regulations, allowing short-term corporate profits to take precedence over poisoning the planet and the people.  Wow!  You see, the dial hasn’t moved either way on abortion, immigration or guns – the issues people think they are voting on.  Once in office, the politicians ignore the public’s wishes completely and give themselves and corporate America huge payouts.

I could list out more issues in detail and offer data now, but I’ll save that for some individualized posts.  I realize people can have strong views on many issues, but I’d ask people to really stop and analyze situations and contexts, not just issues in isolation.  Examine how those in power might be manipulating.  I never expect complete agreement on such controversies, but I do appreciate civility and intelligent thought and discussion.  I like to have my thinking challenged.  It is even good for all of us to be proven wrong on occasion – just to get our minds to open.

Enlightenment comes in many forms.  Hating or vilifying others because they believe differently is not one of them.  We must learn to think, analyze, converse and compromise.  We can’t let sound bites, buzzwords and incendiary catch phrases divide and conquer.  The nation is stronger united.

***

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.”

***

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.

“Angel Dusting”

I remember when all employment practices, like hiring, firing, policy formation, etc., were handled in the “Personnel” office.  And then the wave of new management-speak began and the name was changed to “Human Resources.”  My colleagues and I were quite offended.  To us, we had gone from being “persons” to “resources.”  Just another log to throw on the corporate fire to be burned out, burned up, and our ashes discarded.

Then all of us employees became “Human Capital.”  Now management was using banking terms to describe people.  This was, perhaps, a little better in that the connotation was that employees were an “investment.”  This term evolved when employers realized half of their workforce was getting ready to retire, and they needed to invest in new logs to burn.  Some employers may have actually valued the loss of institutional knowledge that was going to be exiting when all those bodies walked out the door, never to return.  I can’t say for sure.  The places I’ve worked always seemed to value replacing long-term employees with unskilled cheaper ones.

I always love it when new terms like this are coined.  Sometimes they’re good and sometimes they are bad, but they are almost always entertaining because those creating the new terminology don’t always understand the messages they are conveying.  But I also love it because I can see other applications of the new phrase.  That’s where some of the real fun begins.

The one I heard yesterday was “Angel Dusting.”  And I absolutely love this one, seriously.  The context in which it was applied was in the way manufacturers of body-care products mask the toxins they are conning us into spraying on ourselves.  Or maybe “masking” is not the proper term, maybe “hyping” is better.  You see, these manufacturers put all forms of toxic compounds in things like lipstick, body wash, fragrances, sun screen, shaving cream; you name it.  Beauty products manufacturers don’t even have to disclose what all is in their concoctions and potions. They get to hide the bulk of their ingredients in the name of preserving “trade secrets.”  Tune in to the Heavy Metals Summit if you’d like to learn more about these toxins.

The “Dusting” occurs when the companies add a dash of vitamin A or E, or oatmeal, or vanilla, maybe an essential oil, and even yogurt.  But that’s all they add – a dusting.  These additives are in such small quantities that they have no beneficial value at all.  It’s a great marketing ploy, and it steers you away from all the bad stuff in there like parabens, synthetic colors, undefined fragrance, phthalates, triclosan, sodium lauryl sulfate, formaldehyde, and toluene.  Check out this article: “10 Toxic Beauty Ingredients to Avoid.”

The connotation of “Angel Dusting” is that they give just a minute amount of the good, to get you see past or accept the huge quantity of bad.  And, I can see this term being applied in all sorts of situations.

How many of us have put up with an extremely bad job, or bad boss because of the small perks that come around every once in a Blue Moon.  Or personal relationships.  They could even be abusive relationships, but we get a “dusting” of good, just enough to keep us holding on.  Believing that things are all right or that they will get better.  Flowers after a verbal or physical assault.  Promises of treating us better, of respecting our needs or desires.  The narcissist that dominates and controls while gaslighting you (another fun term) into believing they are the nice, sane partner in the relationship.  All the while, we are being poisoned.  Having the energy drained from our bodies, our spirits crushed.

Perhaps it’s a phony spiritual leader, dusting us with promises of acquiring wealth, happiness and spiritual union, all for a donation of $99.99.  The language sounds so sweet, so believable.  There are testimonials from saved souls – more dusting phonies on the payroll.

How about legislation that is named in the opposite of what it actually does.  My favorite is the Patriot Act.  It allows highly questionable government intrusion into personal privacy, basically violating constitutional rights in exchange for a mere dusting of the idea of increased security.  Maybe it has worked in small measure, but at what cost to liberty – but angelically, you are a “patriot.”

Unfortunately, it takes time for the toxicity to increase to the point where we finally realize we are poisoned.  Detoxing is extremely difficult and the long-lasting effects of the toxins can be catastrophic.

In terms of environmental pollutants this can lead to the devastation of entire landscapes, displacement of families, and the need for Superfund cleanups.

In terms of personal exposure to toxic chemicals, it can manifest as autoimmune diseases, severely impairing the quality of life and leading to early mortality.

In terms of spirituality, well just remember Jim Jones, Jonestown in Guyana, and the poison Kool-Aid.

In terms of lawmaking or executive action, it can be when we realize the action taken was all to benefit a special interest at the expense of everyone else – the public treasury already raided, billions of tax-payer monies gone, like the banking bailout.  Too big to fail, right?

In terms of relationships, it can destroy trust and self-esteem and set us up for a life of loneliness and alienation – and that’s if the poisoning was mental.  Physical abuse, perpetuated and repeated with doses of retaining Angle Dust, can be fatal.  The victim wasn’t able to escape in time.

“Angel Dusting.”  What a concept.  A way to profit off of poisoning the healthy by adding a minuscule speck of honey to entrap us . . .  I bet you can think of some more applications of this term.

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Photo:  A beautiful lake in northern Montana.  It was one of the most amazing places I’ve visited.