Tag Archives: Truth

Confirmation Bias – A New Personality Disorder?

Intro:  Yesterday, I read an excellent post by Robert on his blog Seven Spheres, which was on the topic of confirmation bias.  You should check out his blog because there are some really great posts on a whole range of topics about what makes this world tick.  His post reminded me of an article I posted on LinkedIn last year, and I thought I would include it on my blog.  Confirmation bias is something we should all think about, because it affects our judgments and decisions daily and we probably don’t even realize it.  Please read on . . .

***

I recently read an article titled: “Legal Ethics and Confirmation Bias.” The article begins its trek with a brief overview of how the practice of law is governed by its professional rules of conduct, provides a very good definition of “confirmation bias,” and then diverts down the road less traveled attempting to correlate racial discrimination and advancement within the legal profession. I’m not saying that the author didn’t have a legitimate point, she did. I would just like to address the elephant in the room she skillfully avoided and diverge down a different trail.

The definition of “confirmation bias,” as provided by the author, is “a phenomenon wherein decision makers have been shown to actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms their hypothesis, and ignore or under-weigh evidence that could disconfirm their hypothesis.” But applying this to a lawyer’s representation of a client, as the author first does (representation that is supposed to be zealous and one-sided in nature), and applying it to the determination of who gets a promotion in a law firm, as the author does next, seems to me to severely limit the application of the two most important words in the definition – “decision makers.” I will be happy to expand that application.

In the context of a discussion of legal ethics, you would think the author would discuss the elephant, or zebra or gorilla if you prefer, namely judges. I can’t think of any more important context than the individuals who “decide” the outcomes of legal disputes. If judges actively seek out information to confirm their biases, even if that behavior is so inherently ingrained they don’t realize what they are doing, as opposed to evaluating evidence openly and objectively, then certainly there will be no “justice” when a decision is rendered. This has, in fact, been one of the chief criticisms of the U.S. Supreme Court. Since that court exercises complete discretion over the cases it hears, it has been said that they only take cases that they have already decided. If true, I find that frightening in two respects.

First, the high court is not required to clear up discrepancies with the interpretation and application of federal law among the circuits of the federal courts of appeal. Thus, the federal law can be differently applied in different parts of the country – no uniform federal law for the land – and who cares, right, if that is politically expedient. Second, if the highest court only hears cases it desires and has prejudged them, and if confirmation bias permeates all of the judicial system, then there is ample ammunition for the criticism that the courts are purely political entities, with judges being mere puppets doing the bidding of their appointers or electors and not objectively applying the law as it is written. Deciding court cases is not playing pinball; these decisions have dramatic impacts on people’s lives.

Ok, I addressed the elephant, and now for my own divergence.

We first must recognize the obvious – that every individual is a “decision maker.” We all make countless decisions each day, as mundane as how often we brush our teeth or as magnanimous as whether to have children.  Next, there appears to be an overwhelming desire for people to categorize things as being black or white – not in the racial context – but an oversimplification of issues or subject matter. Where in reality there may be thirteen different alternatives, or various shades of gray in between them all, people like to think there is always either an A or B or right or wrong answer. There usually isn’t. Things aren’t that simple and sometimes the answer is all of the above.

In the age of social media this faulty logic has become epidemic, or to use the parlance – “gone viral.” It is, in reality, thinking backwards. People begin with a conclusion and seek out supporting “evidence” to validate themselves. The evidence is often questionable, and the positions fermented are polarizing; based more in inebriated blind faith than in reality.  This leads more to one-sided screaming and incivility than to any type of productive discourse. People have decided they are right, they have their evidence, and they will no longer consider any other contrary evidence. They have integrated their position, on whatever the subject matter may be, so strongly as part of very their own identity that being “right” is necessary to protect that identity – the position has become secondary. Being “wrong” would simply shake them at their core, spin their minds into a state of oblivion. They may even label the countervailing information, even if it is overwhelming, as “fake news” or “lies” or even claim it is “biased,” all the while discounting their own biases or the biases of the sources they consulted – if they had any to begin with. They are so intoxicated with the notion that their ideas are gospel and irrefutable they see no need to even hear any words but their own.

Overconfidence and an inflated view of one’s own self-importance is magnified in cyberspace where people can create their own forums and post with relative anonymity. There are no social repercussions for being rude and inconsiderate or, more to the point, being an asshole online. There is no peer group in the room to subtlety apply pressure to be civil or call out bad behavior – at least, not in a meaningful way. When “conversations” deteriorate to episodes of cyber-rage and the leveling of death threats, which I have experienced all too frequently online, I think we can safely say this is aberrant behavior – worthy of a diagnostic code in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

My advice is simple – wake up from your own delusions, think critically, speak civilly or hold your tongue and listen for a change, and be prepared to admit when you’re wrong – be thrilled to expand your point of view!

 ***

Photo:  I found this picture on the Internet in the public domain.  I could find no other attribution for it.

LinkedIn:  If anyone wants to connect on LinkedIn, you can find me at https://www.linkedin.com/in/haroldstearley/

Update: April 25, 2018 – The ABA Journal just published an article about research demonstrating judicial bias with traditional gender roles, and I discovered an older article about implicit bias.

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/judges_expertise_may_correlate_with_more_gender_bias_in_some_cases_study_sa/?utm_source=maestro&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=daily_email

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/implicit_bias_is_a_challenge_even_for_judges

 

I Got A Call From The Outside World

Yesterday I got a call from the outside
world but I said no in thunder.
I was a dog on a short chain
and now there is no chain.

Powerful words from Jim Harrison, Montana poet.  Mr. Harrison is probably best known for his book “Legends of the Fall.”

***

Photo: The moon setting behind the mountains in the Southwest USA, March 31, 2018 about 5:45 am.  I took about 30 exposures to catch this one 🙂

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?

 

 

Changing the Mission

Disclaimer: I am trying not to be too political on my blog, but there are a few issues I do find important, and since I love to write, and recognize the amazing power of words, the use, or misuse, of words is one of those issues.  Bearing that in mind, please continue . . .

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”  Buddha.

Semantics or Brainwashing?

I recently read that the Housing and Urban Development Department, under the current administration, is contemplating changing its mission statement. Apparently, those is charge wish to remove the words “free from discrimination,” among others, from that proclamation and, apparently, this is decision being made without consultation with the career staff at the agency.  I mean, let’s not consider the views of those working hard to fulfill the department’s goals when making such a fundamental change.

Do words, or the eraser of words, matter?

Consider first that a “mission statement” is the summary of the aims and values of an organization.  Next consider that this agency was established in 1965 as a cabinet level department for the express purpose of combating discrimination in the availability of livable and affordable housing.

So why change the words, which does change the mission?  And this is where the analysis should really begin – ask why?

This may seem like an insignificant change, but words are extremely powerful and what this change boils down to is an attempt at revisionist history.  Future readers of the mission statement may view the agency as existing to help ensure the availability of housing.  But the historical root, that the agency was established to help fight racial and economic discrimination by landlords, has been eliminated.

So why?  One can only speculate as to motivations, but looking at the totality of current policy objectives, it would appear that the ruling class wants to brainwash current and future generations into believing this is a society where segregation and poverty and exploitation in the housing market didn’t or doesn’t exist.  So, there was no need to create an agency to address a non-existent problem.  And why white-wash the agency’s purpose? Pun intended.

A more poignant example is with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, with a history extending back to the 1890s.  Yes, the administration changed the mission statement for this agency as well.  It erased the bedrock phrase “America’s promise as a nation of immigrants” from its mission.  How ironic.  Like it or not, this country was born out of a history of slavery and genocide, and the first European settlers here were “occupiers” – “invaders.”   That’s just historical fact and you can’t change that.

The only true “Americans” are the aboriginals.  And there is nothing wrong with having a heritage of immigration.  I’ve descended primarily from German and Irish ancestors, although there is a tad bit of genetics coming from the Caucasus region.  I’m not a Native American and never will be. That’s ok.

The erasure of this phrase appears to indicate a desire to foster the image of “pure-bred Americans” versus anyone else trying to come to this country from anywhere else in the world.  Us versus them.  We are no longer a nation of immigrants ensuring the country is open to immigration because the current administration is fighting to severely restrict immigration.  Promoting division.  And why is that?  Please read my post in the politics section – It’s Really About Outnumbering.  I wrote this one a while back, but I think it is still applicable.

***

Actually, the change in mission statements for both agencies is a much more severe re-writing:

The Housing and Urban Development Department:

Historical: “HUD’s mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD is working to strengthen the housing market to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination, and transform the way HUD does business.”

Revised: “HUD’s mission is to ensure Americans have access to fair, affordable housing and opportunities to achieve self-sufficiency, thereby strengthening our communities and nation.”

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services:

Historical: “USCIS secures America’s promise as a nation of immigrants by providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system.”

Revised: “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administers the nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and promise by efficiently and fairly adjudicating requests for immigration benefits while protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values.”

***

Photo:  This beautiful shot was take in a sculpture garden in Michigan.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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

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 🙂

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.”

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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.

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