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Category: Personal

Justice and Other Oxymorons

Justice and Other Oxymorons

On Monday, the editors at Merriam-Webster, the acknowledged delineator of American English, named “justice” as its Word of the Year for 2018. The company cited a 74% increase in look-ups of the word over 2017, and said it was one of the most consulted words throughout 2018.

“The concept of justice was at the center of many of our national debates in the past year: racial justice, social justice, criminal justice, economic justice,” Merriam-Webster said in explaining its choice, going on to add, “In any conversation about these topics, the question of just what exactly we mean when we use the term justice is relevant, and part of the discussion.”

 Indeed, it is. As well as our interpretation, the connotation, not just the denotation, we put on the word. And how it relates to our belief systems, both in the instant and in the bigger scheme of things. And how it works, or doesn’t, in actual practice.

Ironically, I got the news of this selection on the car radio on my way back from St. Pete, where I had my latest encounter for what passes for “justice” in contemporary America. I had filed a motion to hold the miscreant who had destroyed one of my boats, in clear violation of an agreement he had entered into with me and over which the court retains jurisdiction, in contempt. What I told the judge – this was before learning it was Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year – that I was seeking one thing, summed up in a single word, and that word was “justice.” I was boiling things down to their most basic objective, and that word expresses it.

Well, I got some reasoned explanations from the judge, and some references to precedence in prior court decisions on the kind if issue I was raising, and agreement that I had suffered significant losses at this guy’s hands. And what I came away with was . . . wait for it, wait for it    . . . not justice. Anything but. Even, in an oblique way, the judge agreed I wasn’t going to get justice, regardless what I did or the other party did. Sure, I could continue to pursue the matter, at whatever cost and effort it takes, but it wasn’t going to make any difference in the end, as far as the judge was concerned. I was, in the slang acronym that applies in this case, SOL.

So you can understand why the radio report on M-W’s Word of the Year got my attention. It wasn’t the only thing on my mind driving across Tampa Bay on the Howard Frankland Bridge on the way back when I heard it, given the ongoing and persistent reminders these days of the injustice inherent in our system and those entrusted with implementing it. But it certainly brought the reality of that injustice home once more. In truth, I didn’t have much expectation going into the hearing that I was going to get the justice I sought. This wasn’t my first encounter with the American system of “justice,” including several tours through so-called “family court,” which is an oxymoron if there ever was one, so I was conditioned by experience to know how these things usually go. And in that sense, I wasn’t disappointed.

This is not meant cynically – you can draw your own conclusion whether cynicism is justified or not –but what I’ve come to expect is that wrong-doers are more likely than not to be rewarded for their misdeeds, or at best not penalized for them. And the wronged party is, if not outrightly punished – which experience and observation has shown me happens in a significant percentage of cases – left as I was in this case, SOL.

If this was just a personal issue it would be bad enough. But today we were witnessing an American hero, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, facing sentencing (later deferred) for lying to the FBI. Normally one might assume that, as the judge in that case said this morning, this is a serious offense. But put in the context of how the FBI conducted itself in this and related matters, how the FBI, in dealing with Flynn, thoroughly abrogated the standards it imposes on other law-enforcement agencies and, most telling of all, the total inconsistency evident in how individuals who committed much more serious violations of law and national security, Hillary Clinton and many others associated with her, were allowed to skate by, one has to wonder, where is the justice? Looking at the big picture, if you conclude that the American people is SOL if it expects justice, you’d certainly be justified.

I’ve said before that we have a dual system of justice and nothing I’ve seen since then dissuades me from that view. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has spent millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars chasing after process crimes, like that which Flynn has admitted committing, offenses unrelated to his primary mission, which is finding collusion between the Russians and the President – which, to date, not a single piece of evidence has been shown to exist – futile indictments of Russian oligarchs, and other chimeras. Meanwhile, the most obvious offenses committed by Clinton, which include destroying evidence of her crimes and lying to the FBI, go untouched and unprosecuted.

Then there are the 25 FBI agents in the past year who have been fired, demoted, or resigned for their expressions of bias against President Trump and their unprofessional behavior. Have there been any prosecutions of any of them? Not a one. This includes former agent Peter Strzok, who took part in the questioning of Flynn that later led to the charge of lying to the FBI, even after other agents involved in the interview said they thought Flynn had not lied. It was Strzok, you might remember, who changed the wording of former FBI Director James Comey’s statement to exonerate Hillary Clinton, and then later told Congress, under oath, he didn’t remember doing it. Now Strzok was no low-level flunky. He was head of the FBI’s Counterespionage Section and second in command of the agency’s Counterintelligence Division, and he was involved in every investigation that could help Clinton or hurt Trump. And he’s the same agent who wrote to his paramour at the agency, FBI Attorney Lisa Page, answering her alarmed question whether Trump could become president by saying, “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.” Several other Strzok emails to Page, reported in the Department of Justice’s inspector general report on him, reinforce the same anti-Trump bias. Can there be any question that the dichotomous treatment of Clinton and of Flynn, not to mention the President himself, does not have political motivation behind it? Political motivation within the country’s top law-enforcement agency? And you wonder whether there is not a dual system of justice?

Not to let Comey off the hook, the former FBI head, who increasingly looks like an arrogant buffoon, and a dishonest one at that, admitted the FBI would never have gotten away with what it did with a more “competent” administration. Comey had some other profound things to say after meeting with Congressional investigators behind closed doors on Friday. He said he didn’t learn anything new about the investigation into Trump from the session. Well, Mr. Comey, the point of questioning a witness is not for the witness to learn something new, but for the questioners to do so. Apparently the Congressional investigators didn’t learn much from Comey, either, after he told them an astounding 245 times during the session that he didn’t remember, didn’t know, or didn’t recall, in response to questions put to him. Incompetent or a liar? Take your pick. Great choice. But no prosecution of Comey for the outrageous illegal acts he’s admitted to in earlier sworn testimony to Congress and has even written and bragged openly about since. Equal justice? Where?

I told you in an earlier posting I wasn’t going to forget about these things, so consider this an installment on keeping that promise.

Getting back to my own case, which pales in comparison to these much larger miscarriages – abortions is more like it – of justice, the extent to which justice eluded me in court also applies to law enforcement as well. Before filing the contempt motion that was the subject of Monday’s hearing, I tried repeatedly to get the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department to take action against the “Defendant,” and noted how he had violated at least four criminal statutes, which I cited by number and text. Well, speak about wasted effort. One level of the chain of command after another, starting with the deputy who witnessed the damage done and spontaneously termed it “disgusting,” and escalating, insisted it was a civil, not criminal, matter. They even insisted that the State’s Attorney’s office said it was a civil, not criminal matter. This the same State’s Attorney who refused to prosecute a man who allowed his young son, 23-month-old Lawson Whitaker, to die in a hot car, despite clear signs, and even admission by the father, that he was on drugs at the time. And this is the same Sheriff’s Department that failed to test the father for drugs, despite those same clear signs and admission. Pinellas County Prosecutor Bernie McCabe shamelessly went on TV and said he decided not to prosecute the father since he had “suffered enough” by losing his son. He suffered enough? Really? What about little Lawson? How much did he suffer, locked in his car seat in a sweltering car, while he slowly died? At 5 p.m. on the early September Florida day he perished, his body temperature was reported to be 108F. This is the state of “justice” in this country.

I am reminded of something my friend Ed Sanders said back in the 1970s. I knew Sanders when I lived in Woodstock, N.Y., and we worked on some investigations together. If you don’t know who Ed Sanders is, he describes himself as a poet-investigator, and among other claims to fame he is a founding member of the rock band The Fugs. He also wrote the book The Family, which laid out the events that led up to the Tate-LaBianca murders by the Manson Family, and Sanders told me he once shared a sleeping bag with Charlie Manson out in the California desert while researching the book. This is what Sanders said to me then about the police, and I think seldom in my life have I heard truer words, which to this day I frequently quote:

“Big crime, big problem. Little crime, little problem. No crime, no problem.”

That’s how it was then, and that’s how it is now. Mostly you’ve got to try to get the police to do anything to you – much less, for you – unless somehow you just haplessly fall into their clutches, often for some insignificant offense that hurts no one. I’m not specifically anti-police, but they’re just one more element of this unjust justice system we have.

Yesterday I was reminded of something else out of the past. I presented the judge with the stack of photos of the damage the “Defendant” had done to my boat and what he stole, since the exhibits as filed online may not have been very clear. He kind of flipped through a few of them as he was telling me I was SOL. Later, I could only think of one thing, the lines from Arlo Guthrie’s 1967 masterpiece, Alice’s Restaurant Massacree, which go:

We walked in, sat down, Obie came in with the twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, sat down. Man came in said, “All rise.” We all stood up, and Obie stood up with the twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures, and the judge walked in sat down with a seeing eye dog, and he sat down, we sat down. Obie looked at the seeing eye dog, and then at the twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, and looked at the seeing eye dog and then at twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one and began to cry, ‘ cause Obie came to the realization that it was a typical case of American Blind Justice, and there wasn’t nothing he could do about it, and the judge wasn’t going to look at the twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us. And we was fined $50 and had to pick up the garbage in the snow, but thats not what I came to tell you about.

Well, coincidentally – I swear it’s true – I had submitted exactly 27 photos of the damage and also the actual stolen air conditioner, and I absolutely wasn’t thinking of Alice’s Restaurant when I did. The judge didn’t have a seeing-eye dog, but he wasn’t going to look at the 27 photos, with or without circles and arrows or a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was. And in the end, I was SOL.

I think Oxford Dictionaries’ choice for Word of the Year is perhaps telling: “Toxic.” And Dictionary.com’s selection says what we get: “Misinformation.” As for “justice,” reverting to Meriam-Webster, an oxymoron – which could be Word of the Year any year — is, “broadlysomething (such as a concept) that is made up of contradictory or incongruous elements.”

Yup, “justice,” an oxymoron, for sure, as it exists in America today.

Illiberal Liberals

Illiberal Liberals

I’m increasingly reminded how very illiberal many liberals are. This used to be a relatively rare occurrence, but in the age of Trump, and with the liberal affliction of Trump Derangement Syndrome, or TDS, reaching epidemic proportions, it’s happening pretty much all the time now.

There are unmistakable signs of this illiberal bent in all sorts of places, but every so often it takes on a personal dimension. Yesterday was one of those occasions. As many of you know, I regularly post my pieces on Medium, a site that supposedly promotes propagation and discussion of all different viewpoints. I say “supposedly,” because like most of social media, like Facebook and Twitter, if your views are liberal they get pushed, and if they’re not, they get buried, banned, shadow banned, or just ignored. I’ve read utter drivel on a variety of subjects, but with a liberal perspective, on Medium that get lauded (approvals are registered by “claps” by readers) with thousands and thousands of claps. Other posters and pieces – and I know this sounds like sour milk, but I do my best to base my postings on actual facts and not just figments of my paranoia or imagination – such as myself and my postings, not of a liberal tilt, are lucky to even get any readers. In general, if Medium promotes a piece, it gets exposure. If it doesn’t get promoted, one might as well throw a piece down a well, and it doesn’t matter how much sense it makes or how well informed it is.

Which takes me back to my story about the personal dimension of liberal illiberality I encountered yesterday. One of Medium’s promo emails, which list several postings site editors view as especially worthy of promotion, included a link that tied back to some piece of (I use the term loosely) poetry that, in less than subtle terms, accused the President of treason for some connection with Putin, which it seems the poster took as fact. It was, I don’t know, about five lines long, and wasn’t even good poetry. Never mind that it contained no evidence or even theory for what would normally qualify as a slanderous allegation, it was enough that this “poet” believed it. And, of course, in true Medium form, he had all sorts of sycophantic clappers. Yea! Great work! Right. Well, not being terribly judicious, I had to say something, so I posted a very simple response, which I think was in keeping with the style and depth of the original posting. What I said was, “Seriously? I mean, seriously???”

Well, next thing I know the poster did what liberals often do when confronted with something they don’t like. He blocked me. He didn’t argue against me. He didn’t ask my reason for posting what I did. He didn’t call me a nasty name, which at least would have been an honest thing to do. He just did the cowardly thing and blocked me, like I was some sort of stalker (believe me, I’m not) or threat to his life or safety (as many so called “liberals” actually are with those with whom they disagree). I’ve been online since the early days of the Internet, and even being the direct and sometimes controversial person I tend to be, I make a point of being reasoned and not engage in ad hominum attacks, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been blocked. And even most of those few times have been by disgruntled former girlfriends. But there you have it – this über-liberal and would-be poet couldn’t handle just four words of dissent with his ill-founded views.

I mean, me, I welcome disagreement. Of course, I love it when someone agrees with me, but I’d rather have someone disagree and say why then just ignore what I say, or do something gutless like blocking me. I’m not afraid of argument or dissent, and I have the facts to back up my positions. I’m even willing to admit when I’m wrong, which happens on rare occasions. Which I guess is part of liberals’ cowardice, because they often don’t base their positions on fact and simply can’t admit when they are wrong.

What happened yesterday isn’t an aberration, either. I have found almost universally it is so-called liberals who are quick to cut off contact when one utters something that diverges from their orthodoxy. This all began for me a few years ago when my oldest friend in the world, a besty since high school in the 1960s, decided I wasn’t liberal enough for him and he cut off contact after more than a half-century of friendship, 50-plus years of putting up with each other’s idiosyncrasies. In doing so, he accused me of having “changed“ in my views over the years. Funny that, which doesn’t seem like a crime to me, but funnier because it was said to someone who doesn’t really believe most people can or do change, not much. But not being afraid of dialogue, I wrote back and recounted all the key beliefs I held in high school – how I valued the individual and individual freedom, being paramount among them – and how I still was true to them. I also pointed out to him, inter alia, how he supported bombing the North Vietnamese back to the Stone Age, a not terribly liberal view, in those days. That aside, the point I was trying to make was, while we might disagree in our views, our values, I thought, were pretty similar.

Notice the distinction that I made between “views” and “values.” Views come and go. Values endure. That’s how I see it, anyway. Well, there were two values I guess we didn’t share – engaging in reasoned argument, and the value of friendship – because he never responded. Not then. Not since. After all, he’s a liberal, right, and I’m some sort of lesser person because I’m not. Speak of a holier-than-thou attitude, the hallmark of a hypocrite.

If truth be told, even during the many years when I was sympathetic to supposedly liberal causes and beliefs, I’ve always detested the word liberal. The reason was that it seemed to be a cop out, and people who claimed to be liberals were usually half-assed and didn’t really live by liberal values. I’d rather an honest radical – in some respects, I’m closer to that, radical, than liberal – than a wishy-washy liberal.

So now we’re seeing these self-styled liberals showing their true colors. If the facts don’t comport with their world view, they just change them, or make them up. If they don’t like someone, it’s easier to call them a name than look at their own hatreds and prejudices. The inconsistencies and downright fraud perpetrated on them by their appointed heroes doesn’t seem to phase them, but if someone they don’t like, or are told not to like, is the least bit inconsistent or less than honest, they’re all over him or her like a rash.

This tendency, of course, is most evident when it comes to the President and TDS. These so-called liberals, led by the liberal stoolies in the mass media, are like a pack of rabid jackals. It’s gotten to the point where school kids are bullied for just having the name Trump, so much that they’re driven to want to change their name. And what do they get back? A bunch of ineffectual (though undoubtedly liberal) coping techniques from someone who, if thinly disguised, clearly shares the same view of the President that has led to this hapless kid being bullied (I’m somewhat qualified to comment on what does or doesn’t work with bullies, by the way, having been bullied relentlessly in grade school and even after).

I actually heard someone in the media today say that not only is Trump bad, but anyone who voted for him is equally bad. This is the kind of intolerance, not to mention ignorance, that is gaining traction in so-called liberal quarters.

I’m not so doctrinaire or limited in my view to accuse all liberals of this illiberal behavior, and I do recognize there still are some reasonable liberals with whom one can have a civil disagreement or discussion. That said, in my experience and observation, they are increasingly in the minority. They certainly are not the ones who are in a position to control either social or mass media. And they are not at all on the ascendancy.

If this were an earlier century, I have no doubt that many of these illiberal liberals would be happy to put anyone who disagreed with them into the village stocks and have the general populous hurl rotten vegetables at them. Or worse. Much worse. Now, we get ridiculed or bullied or blocked, as I was by that would-be poet on Medium, or by my erstwhile friend. But as is said, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I do wonder what these illiberal liberals would do if they were to get absolute power. Given all the signs, it’s not encouraging.

Repeat Posting: Thoughts on “the Longest Day in the World”

Repeat Posting: Thoughts on “the Longest Day in the World”

This piece initially appeared a year ago, on June 21, 2017, the Summer Solstice. Today it is once more the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, and the actual solstice officially took place at 6:07 a.m. EDT/10:07 UTC this morning. The time and other references and weather comments in the piece are as they were last year, when the post first appeared. I hope you enjoy it.

It’s June 21, the day of the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s a day that holds various meanings for different peoples, and its significance goes back millennia. The solstice, whether summer or winter, officially took place at 12:24 a.m. U.S. Eastern Daylight Time this morning, or 04:24 UTC.

Just to set the record straight and dispel any questions about my scientific knowledge, I know it’s not the longest day in the world. It’s the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest day in the Southern Hemisphere. But we’ll get to this a bit later.

It’s been a mixed bag today here on the West Coast of Florida. We’ve been having a lot of rain, something we didn’t have much of over the winter, and the rainy times are interspersed with sunny breaks. Right now, as I look out the window of my boat, the sun is mostly out but I’m looking at the light through rain-drop spattered glass. At least we’re not getting the effects of Tropical Storm Cindy, which is much further west and at this moment dumping lots of water on the upper Gulf Coast.

In this country, the summer solstice marks the official beginning of summer, though in other places and other cultures it marks the middle of summer, as indicated by the name Midsummer Night, which can occur anywhere from the 20th to the 24th of June. And really it is midsummer, since the days, which have been lengthening since the equinox three months ago, now will start to grow shorter, the nights longer.

The sun has reached its apogee in this hemisphere, as it stands today directly over the Tropic of Cancer. I feel summer ending, we already are on the downhill side, the side that will take us through the hot coming months but already on the slide back into winter, the cold time of year. Just as in the Southern Hemisphere the days will begin to grow longer as the seasons move back to summer.

A year ago on this day I was in Alaska, where there never really was a night. Where I was, well below the Arctic Circle, the sun went down sometime around midnight, but there was a kind of twilight that lasted until the sun rose again a few hours later. Above the Arctic Circle on this day, the sun never sets, and it truly is the Land of the Midnight Sun.

My thoughts turn to other things on this day. Someone asked me the other day, which was Father’s Day in the U.S., what thoughts I had of my father on that Sunday. But really, I think of Father’s Day as a commercial holiday. I also remember the last Father’s Day I had with my father, and how my mother did her unwitting best to create conflict between me and my father. While I may wish a happy day to the fathers I know on Father’s Day, it is today, the day of the solstice, that I think of my father. June 21 was his birthday, which in most years coincides with the solstice. I was told as a child that it was the longest day of the year, which I translated in my own way into it being the longest day in the world, and I would go around telling everyone who would listen that it was.

“It’s the longest day in the world!” I’d exclaim each year on his birthday, from morning until night.

I think today of my father on this day, the 21st of June. Gone now, for nearly 48 years. And I think back to the day of his birth, June 21, 1913. One hundred and four years ago. Even had he not died young as he did, just 56 years old, it is hard to imagine that he would still be alive today had he not died when he did. A prolongation of the inevitable.

A factoid I learned earlier is that today is not the longest day in the history of the world, as one might imagine it to be given that the earth’s rotation on its axis generally was slowing. Rather, the longest day in the history of the world is believed to be June 21, 1912, and things like the earth’s tides and recession of the glaciers have caused a slight increase in the rate of the planet’s rotation since then. My father was born a year later, which arguably could have been the second or third longest day in the history of the world, if not the actual longest day in the world.

I wonder what it was like on that June day, the day of the solstice, the longest day of the year, the day my father was born, in Jersey City, New Jersey. Did his father and mother, his Italian parents, my grandparents that I never knew, know it was the solstice? Did they even know of the solstice? Regardless, I’m inclined to think they did not think of it, if for no other reason than that they had something else on their mind that day. And then I think of the things people from then knew and were taught and how many of those things have been lost today, in these encroaching new Dark Ages in which we find ourselves, and I have to wonder. Perhaps they knew, better than most people today know. Or care to know. And they did note the auspicious day on which their son was born.

I’ll think of my father again on July 27, the anniversary of his death, and by then even our summer, the summer as we define it, will be half over.

The solstices, like the equinoxes, serve as a kind of punctuation for me. I watch the ebb and the flow of the days, the seasons, the years, and they mark the passage of time, time that increasingly slips by way too quickly. All of life is punctuation, I think. Slowing. Stopping. Breaking things, even waves on the water, into different parts, different pieces, different rhythms and fugues and movements and phrases and sentences. It is through such punctuation that we mark our lives, mark our transit through summer and back into winter, from day into night, from life into death. Watching, as a reader of a story does, while the time of our lives flows past. When we lose that punctuation, everything blends into one big mass, and we feel lost in the current, flailing and drowning as we’re pulled inexorably along. At least I do.

Enjoy this song, which I found today amid my files, and with which I end this post, and enjoy the time that nature and life give us.

This piece also appears on Medium. Follow me there, and here.

Learning From the Mice, Dammit

Learning From the Mice, Dammit

For anyone that doesn’t know, I live on a boat. As life aboard often holds, there are events and occurrences – usually unexpected and mostly unwanted – that crop up from time to time, ranging from electrical emergencies to a non-functioning pump, from rain leaks to other kinds of leaks. Fortunately, though, I’ve been spared the bane of rodents taking up residence on the vessel, something that is not unknown to boaters. Until recently, anyway.

I first became aware that I might not be alone a couple weeks ago when, in the darkness and quiet of the middle of the night, I was awakened by what sounded very much like chewing. The chewing of little teeth on who knew what, in another and distant part of the boat.

My hope that what I heard was imaginary or was one of those transient boat noises that usually can be explained began to evaporate when I started finding subtle signs that something unwanted was aboard. And finally that hope disappeared altogether when one morning I found the plastic top of an oatmeal container quite thoroughly chewed up. I definitely was not alone.

Day-by-day more evidence of a stowaway began to pile up. It was no longer possible to just ignore this interloper, and there was no hope it would just go away. I was unsure whether I was dealing with a rat or a mouse, though when I began to find stowaway poop I became more convinced that this was a mouse. Or, more likely, mice. Now, given a choice, I wouldn’t want either rats or mice aboard, but between the two, I’d pick the latter.

My foray into the world of rodent traps and poisons and all the rest began at a Super Walmart on the way back from a tiny house show at the Florida State Fair Grounds. While they didn’t have anything equivalent to a live-catch trap, there were some high-tech “quick-kill” traps, along with a range of more conventional mouse and rat traps, poisons, glue strips, and high-pitched sonic devices that claimed to make the pests nuts and drive them away. Thinking that technology would get the better of these small-brained critters, I opted for the high-tech traps, as well as one traditional and huge rat trap, in case I had misjudged what I was dealing with.

Well, you know how they say pride cometh before a fall? Well, that might be the moral of my story, that night and many nights to come. I loaded up my high-tech traps with oatmeal (which the critters had already shown a preference for) and (falling for the old, though not necessarily accurate, cliché) some cheese. I set them out in places the creatures seemed to frequent, turned out the light that night, and headed to bed, visions of trapped mice lurking in my head.

Well, that’s the only place there were trapped mice, since the next morning the mice had completely ignored the high-tech traps, preferring to tear up the paper wrapping on yet another oatmeal container, chewing through the plastic top of that one, too. At that point, I castigated myself for falling for some British high-tech trap that might or might not work on Euro mice but had no apparent attraction for American ones. Now it would be war, and we were going to go low-tech and count on good old American spring traps to get the little bastards. Or so I thought.

I went online and found a site that described seven mistakes commonly made in trying to trap rodents. I followed that guidance (well, six points of it, anyway – I decided I didn’t have time to put out unset traps for a few nights for the mice to get used to them) and did the things the site recommended. I set four low-tech traps and four middle-tech traps to join the three high-tech ones. I was now up to 11 traps of four different types. The mice wouldn’t stand a chance.

Just as I was climbing into my berth in the aft stateroom that night, I heard a huge crash that originated forward in the dinette area. When I went to look, I saw the rodents had knocked over several of my champagne flutes, breaking one. Now the creatures, still not visible, had joined the fray, and I went back to the berth and to sleep with the rodents very much on my mind. So much so that I dreamt that I heard traps going off in the night, and in the morning I found squashed mice in the traps. I pictured taking their semi-liquefied remains to the railing and dropping them overboard. Ah, victory, sweet victory.

In my dreams. The reality that confronted me when I awoke the next morning was something different. Entirely different. Not a single trap had been sprung, but the mice had had a fine old time making a mess of things. My victory was all a mirage that took place in my sleeping mind. I could almost hear the mice, or whatever the hell they were, laughing at me. If you’ve ever seen Roadrunner cartoons, you know how Wile E. Coyote plots endlessly to catch the Roadrunner, but the Roadrunner beats him at his own game every time. I was now thinking of myself as Wile E. Coyote, and the Roadrunner was winning.

Now it was time to pull out all the stops. Another foray to find more, and more kinds, of traps, which I did at Lowe’s this time. I escalated to 17 traps of six different varieties, all over the galley area. It was a veritable minefield out there. The little bastards couldn’t walk across it without setting off a trap. I even put out the giant rat trap, in case I was dealing with something bigger than a mouse, and almost lost a few fingers when trying to set it, sending peanut butter flying all over the place. Why don’t they put warnings on these things?

Well, the Roadrunner won the next round, too. Somehow the mice or whatever they were found their way through the minefield. They even set off one of the low-tech traps, flipping it upside down, but there was nothing in it when I looked. That morning I consulted with someone who is something of an expert on capturing rodents, and he suggested coffee cans with torn-up toilet paper in the bottom. The idea being that the mice would climb or fall into the cans and then not be able to get out. Sounded like a neat solution, one he said worked for him. Meanwhile I was receiving such suggestions as getting a cat (but then, I retorted, I’d be left with a cat, and I didn’t know which was worse), poison (which doesn’t always work and, if it did, might leave me with dead mice squirreled away in some obscure place smelling up the boat for weeks), and using such things of dubious efficacy as the sound devices and glue strips. I thought of getting a gun and blowing the critters away, but the fear of blasting a hole in the hull with more severe consequences than those caused by some rodents deterred me from that.

Besides, between the traps and the coffee cans, something had to work. Clearly, I had overwhelming deadly force on my side, so I would win and the rodents would lose, right? Hmmm, as it turned out, not so much. Meanwhile, I had taken to telling myself not to dream of mice before going to sleep, not wishing to raise more false images of success.

Wile E, Coyote’s first victory came yesterday morning. When I got up, I found all three of the high-tech traps sprung, but nothing in any of them. What the hell? And that’s when – picture my surprise – I saw it, the small gray critter crouching on the shelf down below the oatmeal containers. It appeared to be injured, probably from one of the traps, but it was loose and not entrapped. I’m not much of a rodent expert (in case you haven’t figured that out yet), and my estimate was that either it was a big mouse or a very small rat. Probably a big mouse. I managed to sequester this cowering little beast, whatever it was, in one of those coffee cans, and put the top on it. By the time I was done, the whole dinette area looked like a war zone, littered with chewed cereal boxes, traps, torn paper, and the results of general rodent war entropy.

I later took the sequestered thing off to an abandoned shed nearby that was the territory of a bunch of feral cats. They would know what do to with it. But when I checked later in the day, not a cat was to be seen, the furry critter was curled up sleeping where I had left it, and I didn’t know what to do. Okay, maybe the cats would be back after dark. It was now Wile E. Coyote 1, Roadrunner 8. At least it wouldn’t be a shut-out.

Last night I heard a trap snap. It was one of the original high-tech traps, and when I went to move it, there was a small mouse – now I was positive it was a mouse, not a rat – caught in it, seemingly caught by the face fur. It appears the mice are faster than the traps which, I assure you, are very fast, just not fast enough. I took the trap to the aft rail, lifted the snap bar, and let the mouse fall overboard. I didn’t know what to expect, but when it hit the water the thing started swimming like crazy. Back toward the boat. In the darkness it wasn’t clear what happened to it, but I hope when it finally got to shore it had enough mouse sense not to try to re-board the boat. Okay, now it was Wile E. Coyote 2, Roadrunner 8.

A little later I heard more traps snap. I went to look, and all three of the high-tech traps had been tripped, but nary a mouse was in any of them. That’s when I saw another of the furry beasts, sitting there pretending like it had been injured. But when I went to sequester it like its brethren earlier in the day, it showed itself to be anything but injured, and it took off running, crossed the dinette table at record speed, and then disappeared as if into space. In case you don’t know, there are about a million hiding places on a boat, and as many finger holes and other ways into these hiding places, and this guy knew exactly how to take advantage of one of those finger holes. So I set some traps loaded with peanut butter and chocolate chips right next to the more likely holes through which the escapee would have to come up. Bring it on, baby, bring it on.

Later, another snap. One of the traps I set near the holes had been tripped, turned upside down and spewing more peanut butter around. It didn’t look like a mouse had been trapped, but at that hour I really didn’t care to look. More prepared this morning, I finally lifted the trap and, not to great surprise, all that was in it was some residual peanut butter. But no mouse.

Somehow the little bastards managed to trip more of the high-tech traps without getting caught and didn’t go near any of the others besides the one tripped near the finger hole on the floor. They also seemed to be extending their territory, and today I am finding mouse poop in places it had never been before, beyond the dinette and galley. Later, I went to that shed to check on the mouse I had relocated yesterday, and thankfully it was gone. Probably some predator, a cat, a raccoon, a bird, maybe even a rat, did what predators do. That’s the way of nature. But meanwhile I had lost further ground, and now the score stands at Wile E. Coyote 2, Roadrunner 10. A betting person would have his money on the Roadrunner, though I’m not about to throw in the towel, even if we have to go into overtime.

So what, perhaps you ask, have I learned from my battle with these little beasts? One thing, I can say, is how clever they are. Now I’m not about to give them credit for having some sort of superior intelligence, but they are certainly clever and seem capable of learning about dangers (in the form of traps) and how to outsmart them (with their seemingly amazingly speedy reflexes) and to drive their involuntary human hosts nuts (as I’ve described). I might say they’re arguably more clever than some people I’ve known. I’ve also learned they are resilient, and are not deterred either by the adversity posed by a human or the risk of death or capture. And I’ve learned that they are pretty good swimmers, even after being released into chilly brackish water from the jaws of a trap, and they know which way to swim to get to shore.

Like many other life forms deemed lesser to us, whether rodents, bacteria, viruses, cockroaches, moths, mosquitoes, or terrorists, they just keep going and going and going. I’ve watched videos where mice climb over dead compatriots to get to the peanut butter, and the unquenchable pursuit of their own perceived self-interest seems to be hard-wired into them. There is no time for hand (or paw) wringing, no time for tears, no time for fear. Just keep going, survive, look out for yourself above all others, and in that way the species survives.

I don’t know how much applicability all this has for our own survival, but I’m confident there is some. The drive to keep moving, to not let emotion get in the way of doing the necessary, the ability to use clever, if simple, means to outfox our opponents, are all useful human survival techniques. And the overwhelming determination to survive above all else is one of those qualities that we see among human survivors, just as I’ve seen it in the mice.

I can’t say that I have any affection for these little beasts, but I have developed a certain respect for them, as one can learn to respect a worthy opponent. I’m determined to overcome them and rid the boat, my domain, of them, but it is going to take more effort and more cleverness, by far, than initially I had bargained for.

One other thing I think I have learned is that the way to beat a mouse is through its appetite, which appears to be the one weak link in the species’ survival instinct. The willingness of the mice to play Russian roulette with the traps just to get at a drop of peanut butter or a carrot slice will ultimately prove to be their undoing. It may take just the right trap, just the right bait, and just the right set of circumstances to slow a mouse’s reaction time or the ability to extricate itself from the path of the trap bar, and it loses.

Now I’m feeling hungry as I contemplate this last point on the Mouse War learning curve, and I think about how much trouble appetite and hunger can get us into. While I won’t have to dodge a kill bar to sate my appetite, not this time, anyway, it’s another lesson, for sure, of the mice to be learned, and absorbed.

Going Off the Rails With No Way Back

Going Off the Rails With No Way Back

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon once again, there are some things that need to be said. If I’m a curmudgeon — I don’t think I am — so be it.

What brought this sudden bout of curmudeonness on, you ask? It began Saturday morning with telephone conversations with two different bankers in Maryland. I’d written two checks to a friend of mine visiting from Albania, repayment of an old debt. She took the checks to a local branch of Wells Fargo Bank (I’m naming names this time), the bank on which the checks were drawn, and someone from the branch called me to verify the checks’ legitimacy. Okay, I can see the point of that, though I wonder if they would have done the same if my friend was American or had, say, a British or Canadian passport and not an Albanian one. I also have questions about the need for a call given that Wells Fargo seems to have policies in place that deliberately make it as difficult as possible for customers to access their own funds. But that is a whole other story.

In any case, one of the checks was for $2,000.00, and the other one was for $9,000.06. I put the numerical amount as I always do, $2,000.00/100 for the first check, and $9,000.06/100 for the second one. And then I wrote out the amount in the proper format, the one I’ve been using for some 50 years virtually without incident: Two Thousand and No Hundreths Dollars, and Nine Thousand and Six Hundreths Dollars. Okay, granted, the proper spelling is hundredths, but close enough for government work since the words spell out what the numerals already show, and in my haste I dropped the “d.” But that wasn’t the issue.

Now, I don’t know, but I think anyone from about the age of 5 should know that a hundredth of a dollar is a cent. A penny. One hundredth of a dollar is one cent, six hundredths of a dollar is six cents. Even misspelled, I’d bet most 5 year olds can figure that out. But apparently this fine point is lost on Wells Fargo bankers, and I had to explain to two different genius bankers that Nine Thousand and Six Hundreths (sic) Dollars was not $9,600, but $9,000.06. The first banker said their branch policy was not to accept checks with the cents expressed that way. That made no sense to me, but finally he conceded and said they’d cash the checks. All good, right?

Not quite. A few minutes later another banker, the first one’s manager, called me, and after a few unnecessary and unwanted pleasantries, she repeated that the branch didn’t normally accept checks where the cents were expressed as they were on my check. She had me read off the amount of the check, and confirm the intended amount. I was rapidly losing my patience with this whole thing, and I told her I’d been writing checks like this for 50 years, it was the proper way to write a check, and what exactly didn’t she understand? She then feigned a brief reconsideration of the matter, and finally confirmed that they would accept the check. Hurrah. I got to tell a banker what should have been obvious to her by reading the check as it had been written. Duh.

Now I have better ways of spending my Saturday mornings than explaining the obvious to bankers, but this whole affair served to remind me the extent to which this country is going to hell in a hand basket. The signs are increasingly everywhere, how far off the rails we’re going, this just being the most recent one. It seems people, and the country as a whole, just get stupider and stupider by the day.

I’ve railed against the madness in the direction we’re headed before, but it’s time to do it again, drilling down a bit this time.

In the course of a typical day, I get messages – obviously written on a phone with a run-away spell corrector – that are virtually incomprehensible. I’m asked questions that I already answered, sometimes multiple times. And I get abbreviated messages that fail to respond to issues I raised. In short, I can almost always tell when someone is writing me from a phone, and the communication is seriously impaired as a result. This is a significant matter, since communication should be primary, not to mention I don’t understand how people don’t go crazy typing and reading on a small screen. Well, maybe they do, and we just don’t have a name yet for this mental illness.

If you’re a parent in this country, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you that your little darlings are no longer expected to learn cursive writing. At one point, some 45 states and the District of Columbia had dropped the requirement to teach cursive writing, and the dreaded Common Core was at least in large part responsible for that since Common Core doesn’t require cursive as part of the curriculum. Now blaming Common Cause for stupidity is a bit like blaming phones for errors. It’s the people behind Common Core who are exhibiting their ignorance, and the curriculum is just the symptomatic outcome of that.

There has been some retrenchment in a handful of states that realized the folly of dropping cursive writing from the curriculum, but overall this country is on the verge of entering a new Dark Ages where kids can’t even sign their own names. The idea is that they can do everything on a keyboard, but somehow that seems equivalent to saying they don’t need to learn to walk since they can get driven around everywhere by their parents.

Additionally, as studies confirm, the ability to write, and not just type, promotes some cognitive and motor skills that typing does not. Writing is not the same as typing, and while both skills might be worthwhile, school districts and states don’t want to spend the money teaching both. So out goes cursive writing, and with it one of the traits of an educated person. And people wonder why I’d never put any child of mine in a public, and probably most private, schools.

While this has been going on in more recent years, another long term trend – grade inflation in the nation’s colleges and universities – has been underway for more than half a century. It’s true that a degree of grade inflation began during the Vietnam War years, Recent GPA Trendswhen I was in college. Some attribute this to the desire on the part of many professors to keep students out of the draft, which worked for awhile, but based on my own experience it also probably had to do with the proliferation of pass-fail grading during the turmoil of years of sit-ins, walk-outs, and student strikes that closed some institutions, including the one I attended, for nearly entire semesters. But the grade inflation of that period pales to what has been going on since the 1980s, when grade-point averages have been rising an average of 0.1 points a decade, and the percentage of A grades given has gone up 5 to 6 percentage points a decade.

Since the 1990s, the A grade is the most common grade given in four-year colleges, and As are now three times more common than they were in 1960. At that time Cs were most common, and in my own era, Bs were most common. Now if they don’t get an A, students are at the professor’s throat as if the failing rests with the prof and not with their own performance. If you believe that is because college students have gotten that much smarter since 1960, I have a nice athletic building on a fine campus I’d like to sell you. Very good price. Just sign right here. Oh, wait, you can’t sign, because you never learned cursive. Okay, put your “X” on the line there.

Having been a college professor, I can tell you there is a strong tendency toward treating what are supposed to be young (and sometimes not so young) adults as 50 Years Rise of A Gradechildren. There is a stress on not offending the students, sandwiching any critical remarks in between praise, not being unduly harsh in comments even in the face of abject and repeated refusal on the part of the student to follow guidance. This is called the Student as Consumer Era, and it is indicative of schools that need to cultivate their students to stay enrolled and to pay the exorbitant tuitions and fees charged them and their parents. And instead of challenging their minds and belief systems, these educational institutions allow students to retreat to so-called “safe spaces” and to drive speakers with views divergent from their own off campus, allowing a new form of Fascism and sheltered closed-mindedness to run rampant on college campuses.

Moving from the swamp of so-called education, we have cars that stop themselves or keep themselves in their own lanes, ostensibly so their owners (“drivers” is too strong a word for them) can text and talk on the phone. Things seem increasingly geared toward the lazy and the ignorant. My own car turns its own lights on and off, doesn’t have a key, and tells me how many miles I can go before I run out of fuel. Thank goodness it doesn’t stop itself or do that lane thing, which would be way beyond what I would tolerate of my car. It does open its own trunk, though, for unknown reasons and at very inconvenient times, sometimes multiple times in a row. I guess taunting its owner is part of the deal. I can almost hear it laugh when it does this.

In the course of all these trends, we continue to lose human contact at an almost alarming rate. My most recent two forays into paying entry fees – one at a movie theater, the other at a major conference I attended – were done at terminals. Gone were the friendly ticket girl and the helpful conference gatekeeper, replaced by screens and credit card readers and keyboards. That may all be more efficient, but it’s a bit disconcerting, too. My local Walmart has installed all sorts of self-check-out equipment, but I have never found self-check-out to be faster or more efficient than dealing with a human cashier, and it’s also a tad insulting, I think. If the store wants my money, it should at least have a sufficient number of humans on hand to take it. So, unless I have just one or two items and am in a major hurry, I won’t use the self-check-out.

Meanwhile, the medical profession – one area that might benefit from more, rather than less, technology in enabling improved communication between physicians and patients – remains mired back a century or two. If anyone is able to email their doctor, or even their doctor’s office, I’d love to hear about it. And our prescription drug system seems designed to breed frustration and inefficiency, and we wonder why healthcare costs continue to escalate. I’ve written on these things before, and on the inherent inequities and inefficiencies of the medical system, and the most I’ve gotten in response from doctors is a smile and a laugh, as if I were proposing absurdities.

Call me a curmudgeon if you like, but somehow this all feels like we’re headed off the rails with no way back. Maybe, as the illustration says, you’ll get it eventually, but by then it might be — probably will be — too late. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am. Am I only the only one who feels this way? I’d love to hear your thoughts on all this, regardless which side of things you come down on.

Charts from http://www.gradeinflation.com