Rapt attention and the law of unintended consequences

As I have already mentioned, I am transplanted from the East Coast.

As such, I was used to a lot of greenery and wildlife around me.  Growing up in New York and New Jersey, we had miles and miles of solid trees of every kind and all the yard animals that go along with it, birds native to the Northeast, squirrels of course, the occasional skunk, possum, raccoon, etc.  Insects like butterflies, mosquitoes, you get the idea.

Moving to Valencia, I had to learn to get used to the chaparral, Sunset’s zone 18.  It is a fairly inhospitable climate – extremely hot and dry, high elevation, beset by desert-like Santa Ana winds on a regular basis.  Wildfire country, I came to learn.  In fact I spent one of my most nerve-racking days a few years back watching a fire spread on a distant hill, thinking it might somehow make its way to us and I would see a lifetime’s worth of stuff disappear in a puff of hot smoke (I was later assured, we were in a non-fire zone, but I am the nervous type to begin with).

Anyway, I decided I was going to recreate the verdant zone I grew up in, around me in this house, which I had picked because it was on the arroyo side of the neighborhood and already had quite a number of giant, mature trees.  All I had to do was fill in the rest. Dozens and dozens of plants later (which all had to be irrigated – a story in itself for another time), I was comfortably ensconced in my oasis.  Among all these flowering and fruiting trees and bushes, I made sure I included those that would attract song birds, butterflies, frogs (I had hoped), bees, and lady bugs.


What I didn’t think about was that it also attracted snakes, squirrels (they are pests when you have fruits and vegetables!), field mice and predatory birds like owls, falcons, hawks, and crows.

Yup, I have all of those now because in my attempt to make a wildlife haven by design, I forgot that I was providing food for a whole different category of animal.

So, every morning and every afternoon, we have to throw the windows open (goodbye AC) and be on the alert, especially for raptors.  Not only does all the greenery come with high maintenance that we do ourselves as the blow-and-go guys that are the neighborhood ‘gardeners’ wouldn’t have a clue as to how to maintain our yard, but I am on constant yard watch against a wide variety of varmints.  To date, we have personally escorted almost 70 squirrels, in a large cage, to the arroyo, along with dozens of mice, in a smaller cage that have to be kept clean and baited at all times.  Did I mention I am also a composter and have a bin of Australian red worms for castings and worm tea fertilizer?  That is a tale in itself.  I am not high maintenance enough all on my own by dint of personality, I created another whole layer of upkeep by virtue of this obsession to carry my old environment around with me like a snail.

This type of self-inflicted garden slavery was never in my calculus and I sure don’t remember it being an issue back East, growing up.  I cannot decide whether it was that I was just oblivious then (probably) or somehow nasty animals never ventured into our yard there because they had too many other safer, more convenient dining spots to choose from.

What I am trying to do here is discourage these intruders to the point that they simply move on to the large and well stock arroyo a stone’s throw from our house, where they would have provisions in abundance.  I have successfully trained the crows and condors to skirt our address, but the falcons are another matter.  Yesterday, there was an audible skirmish in the back and when I ran out, my pan and stick ready for driving whatever it was away, I finally spied a huge brown raptor, sitting ever so still like a big brown knot, in our rear pepper tree.  I had to climb from our table to the top of the stone wall, up into that tree and bang on the branch he chose, until, with one huge silent swoop, he flew up and away.

I was exhausted and had to laugh to myself, as the words of the elderly retired engineer across the street came back to mind.  When he saw us hauling in all the trees and bushes, like the tyros we are, he just shook his head and muttered, ‘You’ll be sorry’.


Junkyard kitties

When we moved to our current house, the previous owners had left one of their cats behind.  Horrified, I contacted their realtor and told her what had happened.  She came back to me later and claimed that they had in fact taken the cat with them, but it obviously ‘missed our house and found its way back’.  I Googled their new address and drove to it (not with the cat – I wouldn’t give a rat I liked back to those people) to satisfy myself that there was no way this animal could have made the trek – quite a number of miles and across two freeways.

So, I tried to care for that old cat, whose name was Max according to a neighbor, as best I could.  Then one day it disappeared, no longer taking the food I had put outside for it (I could not have it inside because I have a bird and this was an unknown feline).  I have to admit, I was not sorry to see it go at the time as it was not exactly a friendly, cuddly thing — which was hardly a surprise given the neglect it likely experienced with that family — but I did feel deeply sorry for it.

It must have become feral, because I kept finding dead birds in the yard.  The first dead bird was deposited at one of our doors, so I took it to be a gift of gratitude from the cat. Then the dead birds were arriving more frequently.  Now I am not sure it was the cat or raptors who frequent the arroyos nearby and, I now realize, have spent time in my yard (for which confusion I have guilted myself ever since).

I am a dog and bird person.  But really, a true animal lover has a soft heart for all species and I am one of those.  It is a problem, believe me.  As a vegan, I am clearly one of those individuals who takes animal welfare very seriously – to the point of profound despair.

Naturally, to do my part, swimming upstream in this brutal animal-abusive world, I have made small contributions to animal rescue charities, both wild and domestic, national and global (I have also rescued dogs and birds, some wild, some injured, finding a place to return them when I couldn’t care for them myself).  It presents a unique dilemma.  Once you start giving money to one charity, you are bombarded with requests from others. (Nonetheless, I do try to make even a token offering to as many as possible – I encourage everyone to try and help as well.  There is a huge need.)

Now, that would not be so alarming, if it were not for the fact that along with the solicitations and free labels, note-cards and maps, come the most mind-wrenching pictures and stories. If you don’t receive these, you would be shocked to know the kinds of practices that are common, beyond the infamous treatment of greyhounds and old horses, to say nothing of dogs, Easter rabbits and chicks – ugh.  The list goes on and on.  The latest one that arrived this afternoon was a thick envelope with the title “Junkyard kitties running out of time…”. OMG, I never even thought about there being junkyard kitties.

What to do? I hate to admit it.  I just contribute online now.  I don’t even read the e-mails when they arrive, I just pass it on to someone to make the payment from my account, so I don’t have to read any horrifying words or view a haunting picture.  They always seem to stay with me for years.  What good am I as an animal rights champion if I am so sensitive on the subject?

I used to post a lot about it on FB but people become so enraged when you do that and I have to admit, that fellow vegans sent me things that made me cringe and avert my eyes. Along with wing-nut trolls, those horror stories (clearly true, unfortunately) drove me from social media.

So I am not going to discuss it much, if at all here, and you can be sure I will not be posting any of those tragic pictures.  I just want to establish where I stand on all this.  I cannot even bring myself to kill a fly (yup, I know how to get them in a jar and escort them outside), much less consume or turn my back on factory farm animals.

And now I have to go arrange a contribution for those poor, dear little kitties.


“If only my uterus could shoot bullets …

then it wouldn’t need regulation”.

Stand with texas women

SWTW rally

I saw this slogan on an umbrella in the crowd at the Stand With Texas Women event last week. It succinctly conveyed my thoughts on two important topics.  Then I heard that one of our greatest champions, Lindy Boggs, passed away and thought about the legislation being enacted in a number of states to roll back women’s reproductive rights.

The real imperialism, the real oppression, the real political slavery, is the intrusion of power from without into a local condition — Benjamin Ide Wheeler, 1908

I cannot imagine a more local condition than our personal human (or any, for that matter, a discussion for another time) organism.  It is hard to believe we are still discussing it, much less debating who will control the female body: government (unless it is offering lawful protective safety and security) or women themselves.

Since this intricate topic has been covered so thoroughly by legal, ethical, political, and biological experts, I am concerned by just one small but critical issue: the apparent offense of being strong while female.

Discussions on abortion are so emotional that it seems futile to attempt any exchange of ideas on the topic these days since my own views do not fall into any neat category.  But, I am still nagged by the question of why anyone would try to interfere with someone else’s uterus (let’s say, for example, Governor Ultrasound)? I can only surmise (excluding religious conviction as well as fiscal motives) that they are threatened by the idea of the continually expanding independent female cohort and all the gains made by women who now surpass men in key benchmarks such as college graduation rates and head-of-household income, to name just two. I know I am not original in viewing reproductive rights this way, but I think it is pivotal to this entire baffling saga.

More troubling than errant males who fear capable women taking over the decision making (I guess), are women who also labor under the misbegotten assumption that they have to give up spine in order to be appealing.

Need I point to the endless number of inspirational, courageous, accomplished women who have managed to be every bit as much Athena as Aphrodite? We can look around the world to women in positions of power and influence (not to set aside accomplished, beautiful women in other worthy endeavors in academia, business, the arts, sciences, law, medicine, etc.)  in Burma, India, Pakistan, Africa, Brazil, Argentina. These individuals overcame societal norms far more repressive than ours to lead their countries in a new direction by rising above their male counterparts to win top leadership positions and execute them successfully.  And most did so while raising a family and epitomizing female accomplishment in all the traditional senses of that term.

Certainly Lindy Boggs was one and she achieved it in a more chauvinist and inhibiting era than this one, firing Southern charm all the while.

Her example alone should give women in this country, particularly those in the beleaguered states now facing draconian restrictions, ample ammunition to fiercely defend their rights to govern their own bodies.

Jury: a four letter word?

We finally heard from the sixth juror in the Zimmerman trial, the Puerto Rican mother of eight who thinks George Zimmerman was guilty of an intentional act, not committed in self-defense.  After listening to what she had to say to Robin Roberts on Thursday, I am more convinced than ever that our jury system is congenitally flawed.

This is not because the outcome was not what I personally thought it should be.  It is because our system is supposed to work in such a way that if even one person diverges from the group, the case cannot be settled.  What happened here appears to have been a process of wearing down the dissenting opinion until its holder was intimidated into agreeing with the others.  I also believe the case was mishandled, based on the evidence.  I do not agree that the evidence did not point clearly to Zimmerman’s guilt, I think it was poorly presented for whatever reason.

And, excuse me, sixteen hours is not a long time to deliberate unless it is in one exhausting session.  The jury’s wish to get it over with and get home played a large part in the outcome of this case, in my opinion, similar to the Casey Anthony trial. (How could any juror who diligently reviewed the evidence in that case, which was skillfully presented and analyzed by the prosecutors, unlike the incompetence shown in the Zimmerman prosecution, acquit that woman? They just didn’t want to take the time necessary and they were ‘star-struck’, sitting across from Ms. Anthony whose celebrity grew to epic proportions over the course of the trial).

The other Zimmerman jurors claimed they were unclear about manslaughter, second degree murder, the burden of proof.  Why did they not take the time necessary to get the clarification that would have dispelled their confusion?  And why did the judge allow them to work so late, thereby impairing their ability to reason? If the prosecutors failed to make a strong case, demonstrating how the facts could be connected, step by step, so those jurors could understand each side’s version of what happened, why didn’t someone demand that it be done? They had plenty of time left to deliberate. If all they wanted was to go home and get back to normal, what business did they have accepting this fearsome task in the first place?


Justice should be blind but not blinded!

In Sociology 101 we learn what happens when groups of people are put in one space and asked to come to a decision on a set of events.  The most powerful in the group will have an undue influence over those with less fortitude and conviction and everyone will begin to converge on one set of facts, accurately or not.

I am no legal expert, but when that jury was selected I suspected that the outcome was a foregone conclusion.  What is the wisdom of having jurors drawn from a town so clearly skewed in one direction? And why six and not twelve jurors to ensure a greater diversity of intellect and input, at the very least?  Sure, this was a jury of Zimmerman peers in the sense that they held the same prejudices and prejudgments that he did.

But more disturbing than this, is the continuing evidence that jurors often just don’t know what they are supposed to do and then have the commitment and sense of duty to take whatever time they must, sacrifice comfort and ease, to make sure they meet the burden with which they are entrusted.  These particular jurors keep invoking the idea that they did what the law made them do, but that is not what they were supposed to use as the basis on which to make their decision.  They were supposed to look at the facts in the case, the evidence and use that to inform their judgment.  In the absence of a clear indication by the prosecution as to who threw the first punch, the jury apparently accepted Zimmerman’s version of the sequence of events that night.

They may not have understood what they were assessing! They were told that ‘stand your ground’ was not to enter into the case, but the Judge’s instructions to the jury were taken, verbatim, from Florida’s  stand your ground law. Juror B29 did not understand the law.  It was not about ‘intent’, it was about self defense. Who bears responsibility for this misunderstanding?  The prosecution? The judge, who seemed to be disengaged and impatient from the outset? The rest of the jury in failing to request and review clarifications? The juror herself? Our system that uses lay people with no legal background to sort out something so complex?

There are countries where trials are adjudicated by experienced judges reading from a book of laws. The alleged crime is categorized, the judge hears the evidence, makes up his or her mind and then consults a resource that dictates the sentence.  Justice or injustice is swift and simple.  While I am not in favor of that system for many reasons, I do think it offers some advantages that our jury system lacks, such as decision-makers who understand the law and the gravity of their responsibility.

The notion that there is something exalted or inviolate about being tried by a panel of so-called peers has to be called into question, given some of the notorious failures we have seen in recent years (O.J. Simpson, Casey Anthony, and in my view, George Zimmerman are just three with which virtually every American is intimately familiar). I would prefer that jury to either have undergone a training course that would arm them with enough of the relevant law to make this important process less arbitrary.  Or, if that is not feasible, then a jury made up of retired attorneys and judges – much as is the case in arbitration.

Just think for a minute, if this were instead in the medical arena, let’s say, the operating theater.  Instead of certified, trained surgeons, we would have a group of peers, maybe some of them patients, making the decisions as to how to proceed with treatment, perhaps with a surgeon or two making the case for different methods or courses.  Would we be comfortable with that?  Frankly, that is what insurance companies are – only they are doing so in the name of profits.  I don’t want insurers making my health decisions, nor other patients (unless they are trained physicians in the specialty required) and certainly not my peers.  Why is a murder case any less deserving of expertise?

There were remedies available to that jury that would have made the outcome of the case more palatable and lessened the sense of outrage that swept through at least half the population when the verdict was announced.  There was mistrial and hung jury, for example.

Twelve angry men

The gravity of meting out justice…

At the very least, I think every juror in this country should be mandated to watch Twelve Angry Men before they retire for deliberations.  Our system would at least have a chance of working the way it was intended instead of devolving to a mere vehicle for garnering notoriety, writing books and giving tabloid interviews for a few cheap dollars, little more than blood money imho.  Surely we owe our defendants and victims nothing less.

The importance of what happened here is not that Zimmerman was acquitted – as is often said, better to let a guilty man go free, than an innocent man be convicted, etc..  The crucial ramification of this case is the fact that trigger-happy people may be emboldened to use deadly force when retreat is possible and preferable, and that the entire nation has to fear for their lives for a benighted concept promoted by arms manufacturers and perfected through  panels of poorly prepared people talking one another into slavishly accepting it.

Weekend reflection

During the week, my posts tend to be on the weighty subjects that stream in through the many media to which I subscribe.  As I observe the world at my fingertips, literally, I jot down all the topics about which I have my usual vivid reactions and opinions.  In a way, all my websites, posts, social media comments over the years are a way for me to crystallize my ideas, more than presuming that anyone needs to hear what I think on any subject.

But, weekends are for all the other things that go on in life, daily chores, shopping, getting more and more organized (one of the pillars of my existence, lol).  On Sundays, we try to head out to take pictures with our respective cameras, so we are not lazily hanging around the house all afternoon, watching novellas and eating bon-bons ;-).

For July 27 blog on downtown

Tomorrow, we will make the thirty-minute trip downtown, this time by car (last time we splurged and took the Metrolink – a subject in itself!).  It is such a sprawling complex with at least seven distinct districts, that I could not cover it in my last trip.  This time, amid the splendor and wealth, I hope to capture a bit of the ‘other story’ of LA.  There is a forty-square block area known as skid row (in NY, that is just a couple of streets around the Bowery and largely gone now).  Monday through Friday, there are thousands of people living in cardboard shelters in that area between the flower/produce market and garment district.   And, mindful I am sure that their existence in the city is precarious, they range out on the weekends, staying on the sidelines, in the shadows, not wanting to jeopardize the small comfort they enjoy.

For July 27 blog on downtown 2

From all over Southern California, those in need are brought or make their way somehow to this district because they get medical care and food, and are largely left alone.  The latter is somewhat troubling.  My in-laws, from an old California family swear this does not exist and the reason is, they have never seen it.  I suspect a lot of Californians are equally unaware of what goes on here.  It is one reason that many wish to do away with public services.

For July 27 blog on downtown 3

If I were a braver person, I would spend more time among these people getting to know their stories.  In the meantime, if I can take a couple of pictures that do not intrude on or exploit their equilibrium, I will see what story emerges for me.  What lesson beyond the obvious of how this can be in a city, county and state as rich as this one.

For July 27 blog on downtown 4