Real Characters

The ideas and inspirations that writers come up with have to originate from some place. I believe that all your popular legends have some true, historical basis. I suppose you all know that the von Trapp Family featured in The Sound of Music are real, but do you know that these story characters—Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Hannibal Lector, James Bond, Robinson Crusoe and The Lone Ranger, among others—were inspired or based on real people?

Also, The Exorcist, Moby Dick, Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were based on true events. There have been film documentaries that have convincingly confirmed the existence of King Arthur and the Amazon warrior women, for example. There has also been located a real, live “Indiana Jones.” He’s an archaeology professor who travels around the world stealing ancient, coveted artifacts. Sound familiar?

Late screenwriter/director Wes Craven got the idea of his A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) from a news article he had read concerning a group of Laotian refugees who had experienced a series of common nightmares, some so frightening that it even caused the death of some of them.

The extraterrestrial, gelatinous killer The Blob (1958) is not as far-fetched as it would seem. It was inspired by a 1950 Philadelphia news story, when four policemen discovered a six feet in diameter disk of quivering jelly on the ground. This substance, referred to as astromyxin, or “star jelly,” is a common occurrence all over and is a byproduct of meteor showers. Of course, these true-to-life blob masses don’t roll around absorbing everything in their path, but you now see that the monster in the movie is not entirely fictional. And it did come from outer space, as the actual ones do.

The original Dracula was a ruling prince of Walachia, which is part of Transylvania in Romania. His real name was Vlad Tepes [1431-1476], and he was cruel, sadistic and quite demented, earning him the epithet “Dracula” or “son of the Devil.” Vlad spent much of his time devising all kinds of tortures, both physical and mental, and his favorite way of imposing death was to mount his victims’ bodies on tall, wooden, ground stakes. This earned him his other nickname, “Vlad the Impaler.” He then would set up a table in front of his impaled victims and enjoyed eating his meals while watching them scream and writhe in pain and agony. Is that sick, or what?!

The legend of vampires also has its origin of reality. The most notorious was a 16th-century Hungarian countess by the name of Elizabeth Bathory [1560-1614], who got the idea in her head that human blood was conducive for maintaining youthful-looking skin. She started killing her servant girls and other young women whom she would lure to her castle, draining them of their blood to go into a large vat and then actually bathing in it! She got away with her literal blood baths for ten years but was eventually found out and sentenced to life imprisonment inside her own castle.

The countess was walled up in her bedchamber with no windows or doors and only a small hole through which to pass her food. She remained there until she died four years later. It is uncertain how many young women she had killed or she killed herself. Her nurse and accomplice testified that about 40 girls had been tortured and killed, but when the authorities came to the castle to investigate, they found several still in captivity and another 50 girls buried below the castle.

Too, there really was a “Dr. Frankenstein.” His real name was Johann Konrad Dippel [1673-1734], and he was a German scientist who was born in the actual Castle Frankenstein. There are unsubstantiated rumors that this guy experimented with corpses to find an elixir for immortality, and that Mary Shelley visited the castle in 1814. She undoubtedly heard stories from the locals about Dippel, the castle and the alleged goings-on there. So you see, she didn’t come up with that idea of her famous book just out of the blue.

Did you know that there was once a real, live Kong, a giant gorilla called Gigantopithecus? Its descendants have since evolved into the creatures we now know as Sasquatch or Bigfoot. I learned that playwright Edward Albee based his bickering George and Martha characters from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on a real married couple whose acquaintance he had made. And Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, knew a man named Willy Wonka.

Pamela (P.L.) Travers’ Mary Poppins series of children’s books is semi-autobiographical. She did have a nanny as a child, so she could be Jane Banks. And the film Saving Mr. Banks (2013) explains that not only did Mary Poppins come to the Banks household to tend to the two children, she was really there to help the troubled Mr. Banks, who was in actuality Ms. Travers’ father.

It appears that the inspiration for Peter Pan is also autobiographical. James M. Barrie had an older brother who died when he was still a young boy himself, and his mother did not handle her son’s death very well. It helped her to think that her dead son, David, being her favorite, would always be her little boy in her mind, never to grow up. Then so that young James might receive the same affection from his mother that his brother got from her, he tried to be like David, even to the point of deciding that he would not grow up either, so as always to remain his mother’s little boy. Amazingly, Barrie’s full-grown height did not exceed 5’3″. So, Barrie himself was “Peter Pan, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.”

He wrote the story, however, in honor of a young friend of his, as Alice Pleasance Liddell was the little girl for which Lewis Carroll wrote his Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. The main character in Alexandre Dumas’ La Dame aux Camelias (or “Camille”) was inspired by the French courtesan Marie Duplessis, who died of consumption (pneumonia) just as does the character in the book.

In the early ‘80s a young man named David Hampton conned his way into rich, white suburban homes, claiming to be the son of Sidney Poitier. The people that he conned apparently were more impressed by Poitier’s name and reputation rather than knowing anything about his personal life. None of them were aware of the fact that Sidney did not have any sons, therefore this guy must be an imposter. The actor/director had six daughters! John Guare based his play Six Degrees of Separation on this Hampton guy, which subsequently was made into a movie starring Will Smith as the charming con man.

Dr. Joseph Bell [1837-1911], a Scottish lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, was the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Dr. Bell had such a keen ability for observation and deductive reasoning and could diagnose patients before he even examined them. He became an important pioneer of forensic science as it‘s used in criminal investigations even today. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle met Bell in 1877 when he served as his clerk at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and went on to write a series of popular stories featuring Sherlock Holmes, whom Doyle admitted was loosely based on Bell and his observant ways. Even the Charles Dickens character of Ebenezer Scrooge was inspired by John Elwes, a member of Parliament, who was a miser millionaire and who would retire at dusk every night in order to save on the cost of burning candles after dark!

The crippled beggar, Porgy, from the novel then subsequent folk opera derived from it, Porgy and Bess, was based on a real person. His name was Sammy Smalls, and writer Dubose Hayward must have met him and decided to exploit him. Smalls became sort of a local celebrity when the book came out about him. My friend Lloyd, who grew up in Charleston, where the story takes place (Catfish Row is even a real locale), told me that he used to see Mr. Smalls, by then an old man, who was still living there at the time.

The original “Uncle Tom” is based on a former slave named Josiah Henson [1789-1885], whom Harriet Beecher Stowe happened to meet while she was doing research and interviewing slaves and former slaves to get background on the book she was writing. After having escaped from slavery, Josiah fled to Canada and became a preacher and lecturer. He must have impressed Ms. Stowe enough to become the inspiration for the title character in her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Many of the other characters in the book, as well, were people that she knew or experiences that she personally witnessed. It turns out that Josiah Henson may be related to me! I don’t have absolute proof yet, but I learned that he could be the uncle of my great-grandfather Syrus B. Henson.

So might we reason that if certain myths and legends have now proven to have some basis of truth, maybe many of the others, if not all, might be factually-based as well? Legends aren’t invented. They are just the retelling of prior incidents or even local gossip in some cases, and there is always a basis. It has even been suggested that the classic fairy/folk tales, like Cinderella and Snow White and the rest, as well as the old traditional nursery rhymes that we grew up with–at least my generation–are based on real people and events. It is the folklore of the time, and there is some history behind each one. For one example, it was 7-year-old Mary Sawyer who inspired a poem and song when her pet lamb followed her to school one day; hence, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Mother Goose herself is said to be the mother of Charlemagne, and “Mary, Mary, quite contrary…” is really Mary, Queen of Scots. Old King Cole was a real person, and the poem, “Sing a song of sixpence…” is about Henry VIII.

As with any story, details are bound to change and differ, depending on who’s telling it. We may embellish to make the story more interesting, more romantic or more fantastic, perhaps. In one version of Little Red Riding Hood, for example, the Wolf gobbles her up dead, but in another version, she is rescued by a woodsman. And they can’t agree on what material was Cinderella’s slippers–glass, fur, or what?

It even happens with a simple thing as the telling of a joke. If it is a long and drawn out one, we don’t always remember the whole thing verbatim, but if we remember the punchline, we can revise it to our own liking and still arrive at the same conclusion. Authors tend to write about what they know. Even if it’s a work of fiction or fantasy, there usually are some factual elements to it.

America: Land of the Free?

Hah! As if! In spite of the fact that I am an Afro-American male, for some reason or another I have had my share of runs-in with the law, and it has made me come to realize, now more than ever, that the frequent affirmation by many that the United States of America is a free country is idealistic hogwash! It’s not free in any sense of the word, and not just for non-whites either, but not for anybody. Hardly anything is free. We have to pay for just about everything in some way or another.

Throughout history it always has been the people in positions of power and influence who establish the laws for their particular jurisdiction, control or personal satisfaction. Many imposed laws are merely arbitrary or at the whim of the person making them. And every law made is not always a just one either. For instance, once upon a time, in this country, it was against the law for any black person to learn how to read and write. Then later it was against the law for blacks and whites to intermingle with each other, which included mere socializing, dating and especially marrying. In certain places we were not allowed to vote or serve on juries for the longest time. There were laws that forbade us from eating, taking a drink of water or sitting where we pleased. So just because something is a law on the books, doesn’t mean that it’s a fair or valid one.

I find myself challenging stupid laws all the time, especially for things that others may be guilty of, but they don‘t apply to me personally, although I am expected to abide by them just the same. Then there are certain things that I and many others consider wrong but are not against the law, like the right to bear arms, hunting for sport, gambling and the wasting of our natural resources, like food and water. In the southern states, lynching was not outlawed until the late sixties! Guns, alcohol and tobacco are still legal commodities, but riding in a car without fastening your seat belt is unlawful.

We also have to accept the fact that we don’t have many personal freedoms either. And I am not even talking about laws against inflicting harm on other people. We are not allowed to do things that are our own business alone. How is this nation free when there are laws and rules for practically everything? There are warning and forbidden signs all over the place, everywhere you turn. “No smoking.” “Walk, don’t run.” “Do not enter.” “Keep off the grass.” “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” “Suit and tie required.” “Please check all bags.” “Stand behind the white line.” “Turn off your cell phones.“ “No trespassing.” “No loitering.” “No panhandling.” “No sleeping.” “Do not remove this tag!” We certainly are not free always to do as we please. I don’t bother anybody, as a rule. I, and others of my kind, have been stopped, scrutinized and harassed for being in a public setting, even on streets, in major U.S. cities, where it was deemed that we should not be there. See my Stereotyping: Racial and Otherwise blog for the scoop.

Some consensual sex is against the law, and I know from personal experience, so is consensual touching. Even touching yourself “down there” is against the law in some places. A 42-year-old laborer from Como, Italy, was fined 200 euros and ordered to pay an additional 1,000 euros in court costs for “ostentatiously touching his genitals through his clothing.“ It seems that an Italian court has criminalized the centuries-old practice of superstitious males touching their genitals to ward off bad luck, when discussing a tragic event or when a hearse passes by. “Io mi tocco…“ (I touch myself), has long been an Italian equivalent to “knock on wood,” and is traditionally accompanied by a grope of the utterer’s own crotch. But now that tradition “has to be regarded as contrary to public decency, a concept including that nexus of socio-ethical rules requiring everyone to abstain from conduct potentially offensive to collectively held feelings of decorum,” according to the Rome court’s ruling. Can they stop?!

How do they even get away with such idiotic edicts? Many are wondering how such a ruling might affect American baseball players, rap artists and 3-year-olds, and more seriously, as to how police and the courts are to determine when an innocent adjustment becomes a criminal self-grope. You would think that white men would have better things to do with their time than sitting around thinking of more ways to control everybody. Okay, so I can’t touch you, but I’m sorry, I defy anybody to tell me that I can’t touch my own crotch or scratch my ass, whether I do it in public or not. We have to draw the line somewhere!

We are even forbidden by law to put certain substances into our own bodies. When he was in office, New York’s Mayor Bloomberg proposed a ban on sugar-sweetened beverages that are more than 16 ounces, because he is so concerned about our obesity problem. How is anybody’s weight issues or beverage choices any of his business? Why does he even care? Some movie theaters that I used to attend regularly already check patrons’ bags to see if they are bringing in food or drink from the outside. So what if we are? What’s it to them? You see, they want people to buy the overpriced fare at their refreshment stands, thus taking away our freedom of choice. Maybe I don’t want anything the theater is offering and prefer to prepare my own healthier snacks at home. No, you can’t do that. “I’m sorry, sir, but you can’t bring that bottle of water through airport security. You can buy one inside, however.” I suspect that is their plan all along. It’s all a corporate racket. You can’t travel anywhere you want to. To leave this country and visit another, you need a passport. And then you need a work permit or visa in order to remain there for an extended period of time.

Here is one personal incident of police harassment. I was riding down Broadway through Times Square one day on my bike going home, and a patrol officer pulled me over to give me a ticket for, get this…wearing earphones! I did not pay the ticket. I decided to plead ‘Not Guilty’ and contest it in court, as I had a few things to say about it. At my subsequent hearing were only the judge, the arresting officer and myself. I forewent a lawyer, because due to prior experience, I figured that I could do a better job in defending myself. I told the judge that I was unaware that I was doing anything wrong, as I have been listening to music while riding my bike ever since I’ve had one. When she informed me that there was a law, at least on the books, against using headphones while operating a bicycle, this is what I had to say in my defense.

First of all, I wasn’t wearing headphones but the kind that fit loosely in my outer ears, allowing me to hear outside sounds. Plus, I never play my music so loudly that it blots out all the sound around me. If I caused some kind of traffic mishap because I couldn’t hear anything, then that’s something else altogether. If I haven’t harmed anybody, then what’s the problem? Then, too, at the time he stopped me, that officer couldn’t prove that I was actually listening to music. The disc that I was playing earlier could have finished, for all he knew. And I refuse to accept the wearing (or not) of any type of headgear as a traffic violation. But that’s all beside the point. That I choose not to wear a helmet is my business also. I have been riding a bicycle for 65 years, and I have never needed one. But if ever I should fall and land on my head, then too bad for me. I’m not going to blame or sue anybody. So how is that your concern?

I then pointed out that motorists listen to their radios, tapes and CD players while they are driving. The same goes for pedestrians. Why is it disallowed for cyclists? It’s hypocritical to penalize one mode of transportation and not the others. I suggested that they do something about that so-called law, because not only is it unconstitutional, how are they able to enforce it and why should they? I’m certainly not going to stop doing it. I get around mostly by bike and I have as much right to play music while traveling as people who drive cars do. Their talking on the phone while driving is more of a potential hazard than my listening to music on my bike. That cop, by his own admission, was just trying to fulfill his monthly quota that day. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The judge must have considered my arguments and in all fairness, she fined me only $20 (you know they had to charge me something!) then dismissed the case. Had I just paid the ticket without a fight, it would have cost me $60 or more, so I’m glad that I held out.

While riding my bike through a section of Central Park one day, I was stopped by a patrolling park police officer and told to walk my bike. Bike-riding was allowed only on the main roads and not on any of the pedestrian paths or other park trails, or so she said. I had never heard of such a thing. I and everybody else have always ridden our bikes through there. It’s the fastest way to get around and the most efficient way to go. What’s the point of walking your bike in the park? I asked the cop, ‘Why? What’s the problem? How long has this been a policy?’ She told me that park robberies have been committed by cyclists as of late. ‘Hunh?’ I responded quizzically. ‘What does that mean exactly, and what does that have to do with me?’ I haven’t robbed anybody. So just because somebody does that, all we innocent, law-abiding bikers have to be penalized? Just pick on the guilty parties.

That sounds like a bullshit reason to me anyway, that a person will mug somebody in the park only if they have a getaway bike. How about those who mug people on foot? The cops have not outlawed pedestrian traffic in the park as a result. Of course, it could be a racial issue, you know, although I try not to “go there” if there is another plausible explanation. Maybe that cop singled me out simply because most of their previous perpetrators that they have caught might have been black (or maybe not), so I must be like all the rest of them, you see. Let’s see them try to enforce such a stupid rule. Central Park is a huge place. They can’t be everywhere all the time. Actually, that was the one and only time that has happened. I still ride my bike in the park all the time, and nobody has told me otherwise.

The plaza at Lincoln Center—the area around the fountain and in front of the Metropolitan Opera House—has the imposed policy of No Bike-riding on the premises. I suppose it’s to protect the pedestrians from being run into by reckless cyclists. But if I can maneuver the daily, challenging Manhattan traffic and streets without any casualties, I certainly can make it across a sparsely-populated (sometimes it’s completely empty), wide-open space such as that without hitting anything. Even so, I could easily run someone over walking my bike as well as riding it, so what difference does it make if I am on the bike or walking beside it? They don’t make those employees of Lincoln Center who ride around in those little go-carts or people in their motorized wheelchairs walk their vehicles across the plaza. They are able to run down folks just as well as I could on my bike. That’s discriminatory as well as hypocritical.

It’s like this ludicrous sign on the front door of my post office branch. “No dogs allowed, except those assisting blind or disabled persons.“ So, I can’t take my dog into the building with me, but my friend here, who is blind, can take his in. What?! If their rules don’t apply to everybody regardless, then just get rid of them. “No” declares an ultimatum. If you qualify it with an excepting condition, then it’s no longer a definite.

I discovered a few years ago that I am not even free to visit a public park in my own neighborhood. I live on a block in midtown Manhattan that has a school and a small playground/park with swings, monkey bars and a basketball court. One summer when my Parisian boyfriend, Gilles, was visiting me, we were out walking in the ‘hood one day and decided to sit in the playground to rest and just to chat. No sooner had we sat down when a uniformed cop approached us and asked us if our children were there with us. Since they weren’t, he then asked us to leave the park. This was my first time there, so I had no idea that there was such a policy about who is allowed to patronize the playground. So if I don’t have school-age children, there is no reason whatsoever that I would be in the park? Do they actually think that every adult male in the park must be a stalking child molester or else why would he be there? The officer didn’t actually say that, but what was his objection of our being there, if not something along those lines? We weren’t doing anything wrong or suspicious. All we were doing was sitting on a bench, enjoying the weather and talking. Then, too, just because a man (or woman) is there in the park with a child, should not automatically absolve them from being a potential predator. If you suspect one person, then you should suspect everyone.

I am a responsible adult, and I don’t like always being penalized for other people’s indiscretions. Why should I have to suffer certain imposed inconveniences just because other people are so careless and inconsiderate? “No food or drinks allowed beyond this point.” So just because some clumsy or inconsiderate dolts spill their drinks and leave their food wrappers lying around, we all have to be banned? I am a careful eater and I always clean up after myself, although I am not one to indulge in this particular activity, of eating on-the-run. I reserve my eating to my home or to an actual eating facility. But if spills and discarded trash are their main objection, then why not have the signs read instead, “Please clean up after yourselves, and deposit all trash into the receptacles”? You know, address the specific complaint, instead of to whom it may not apply.

I heard a news report that in a restaurant somewhere an unruly youngster was being disruptive and disturbing the other patrons. So instead of instructing parents to take control of your unruly brats, they put up a sign banning all children under the age of five from the establishment. So those with mannerly, well-behaved, disciplined kids who have been properly taught how to behave in public, aren’t allowed to enjoy a nice, family meal together? That’s not fair. Just address the specific issue instead of penalizing everybody, most who are not even guilty of the complaint.

That should apply to other situations as well. I don’t know why they would even have to tell people certain things. They should know enough to do that on their own. In Celebration, Florida a few years ago (it’s a Disney-incorporated residential community near Orlando), I came upon a fountain in the town square which allows residents and tourists to go into. There is a sign at the site which lists the rules for using the fountain. One of them warns, “Do not use the fountain if you are ill with diarrhea.” See there? You can’t even shit anywhere you want to! I suppose it must have really happened to prompt such an admonition. “I have a severe case of the runs today. I think I’ll go into town and take a dump in the fountain!”

Why did they have to tell us that?

I reckon that the laws against jaywalking are arbitrarily implemented to protect us citizens from ourselves. You see, we don’t know how to cross the street without avoiding getting hit, so traffic lights and crosswalks have been set up at corners and intersections to control the traffic and ensure that we traverse thoroughfares safely. Unfortunately for the law enforcers but fortunately for us, with all the pedestrians in Manhattan on a day-to-day basis, there is no practical way to monitor or control all the jaywalking that occurs, so people are left pretty much to their own devices. I say that if we can make it across the street unscathed, then more power to us! And the city cops seem to go along with that. They never intervene when New York pedestrians cross streets in the middle of the block and ignore the “Don’t Walk” signals and traffic lights at intersections, relying instead on the traffic itself to guide their maneuvers. That’s a more practical approach anyway, in my opinion. If there are no cars approaching, which is a common occurrence, especially on the side streets, and with most of us always in a hurry, why stand there waiting for the light to change? Nobody does that.

It’s just like what comic Moms Mabley used to say in one of her routines. She’s talking about certain stupid advice that parents give their children. “Go on to school now, Baby. Be careful. Watch the lights.” Then, “Damn the lights! Watch the cars! The lights ain’t never killed nobody! Many a kid looking at the lights while a cab done knocked his head off!” Moms is not too far wrong either. Cars have been known at times to ignore the traffic signals at intersections where people are crossing. Should we risk being run down by a car plowing through the intersection, with the defense that we were crossing on the green light, therefore in the right? Yeah, you’d be dead right, but what good does that do you?! I have heard of sighted people getting run down by buses. Now how does one get hit by a bus? I blame the bus driver only partly, because the pedestrian could have been out of their sight-line perhaps. But the person that got hit is mostly at fault for not being more observant. I mean, how did they miss seeing something as big as a bus coming right at them? What were they doing or looking at?

As a city cyclist, I find that I have more trouble with pedestrians than I do with vehicular traffic. People will dart out into the street from behind parked cars, and many of them don’t look both ways while crossing. Some are looking down or talking on their cell phones. Most of Manhattan thoroughfares have one-way traffic, so I am always amazed when a jaywalker crosses in front of me and is looking in the opposite direction to where the traffic is coming from! Even if they do look in the right direction, it’s advisable also to look the other way as well, as they don’t know what might be approaching from that side. In that case, when someone gets hit or run down, they can maintain that they were in the right. But that argument is rather moot if they are making it from their hospital bed or the morgue! I was taught growing up to look both ways before and while crossing. I also find myself having to avoid pedestrians walking in the middle of the street, instead of on the sidewalk. They are actually walking in the bike lane, which is designated specifically for us cyclists. I saw a much-pregnant woman jaywalking in heavy traffic one day. I called out to her, ‘Hey, watch it, lady! You know you can get knocked down, too!’

By the way, I object to the “Walk/Don’t Walk” signals as being biased and not all-inclusive. Everyone who crosses a street is not always on foot. They may be on a bicycle, like me, or a scooter, on rollerblades or skates, or on a skateboard, or even in a wheelchair. Imagine how a person in a wheelchair must feel every time they are confronted with that insensitive “Walk” sign. The city ordinances might consider changing to more appropriate, politically-correct signals, like “Wait” and “Proceed.” But that would cost us more money, wouldn’t it? Somebody should have thought of that in the first place.

So you see, I am all for the commercial awareness of the physically-challenged. I think that all public buildings should be wheelchair-accessible, as well as sidewalk curbs at street intersections (that’s also good for bicycles and other wheeled conveyances) and provisions made for special toilet stalls in restrooms. These are normal concessions made so that everyone can enjoy the same public conveniences, and I do agree with that. But I don’t agree with people with certain physical restrictions receiving special treatment or privileges because of their supposed disability.

The biggest indication of this are the specially-designated and restrictive “handicapped” parking spaces at shopping centers and other public parking areas. Most everyone, including able-bodied persons, wants to park as close as they can to where they are going, so why should only the physically-challenged be privy to the best parking spaces? In this instance I believe in first come, first served. If that guy in a wheelchair wants that good spot right next to the entrance at the mall, then he has to beat me to it, just like everybody else. Why should we have to leave the spot empty for some unknown person who may not even show up that whole day when somebody else could be using it? Since I don’t drive myself, I am speaking on behalf of those of you who do.

The height of absurdity and unfairness, though, is the parking lot at the nudist beach in Sandy Hook, New Jersey, that a friend and I visited a few times in the past. The parking area is a good quarter mile from the actual beach, accessible only by foot. The first time we went there and while searching for a place to park, I counted no less than twenty (!) designated handicapped parking spaces, all unoccupied. Now I ask you, what were they thinking? Do they actually think that at any one time ever in life, there will be that many (if even one) vehicles with handicapped drivers within, attending a nudist beach?! They might go out there with somebody, but it’s unlikely that they would make the trip alone. But my point about the irrationality of such a provision is the fact that everyone has to get to the beach area by the same means. So if a person on crutches or in a wheelchair can successfully maneuver the winding boardwalk and deep sand dunes that lead to the beach, I don’t think that parking their car a few feet closer is going to make a whole lot of difference, do you? If they can accomplish that, where they actually park is inconsequential.

I, for one, prefer to use the handicapped toilet stall when I encounter one. It’s very roomy and comfortable, and the toilet is built higher than the regular ones, which I like. If a wheel-chaired man comes in while I am in there, although it has never happened, then he has to wait until I’m done, just like everyone else there has to do. If the man in the stall is also like him, he would have to wait anyway, so it shouldn’t make any difference whether he is crippled or not.

In Denver, Colorado there is a law that insists that dogcatchers notify dogs of impounding by posting a notice on a tree in the park.

“Thanks for the heads up.”

People are always boasting that the United States is the greatest country in the world. Sure, we have certain freedoms and privileges that some other nations don’t enjoy. But in order to claim the title of greatest, we have to have it together in all aspects of society and living conditions. While there is still rampant racism, homophobia, sexism, crime, substandard education, no public health program, abject poverty, homelessness, a greatly-flawed judicial system, and certain civil rights that are still denied some of our citizens, we can’t rightly be called the greatest, now can we? I don’t think that any nation can make that claim at this time, including and especially America. If we are so great, why do we have the largest number of incarcerations than any nation of the world? A great country’s citizens should be able to get along and accept each other’s differences, points-of-view and faults. There would be no instances of terrorism, undue aggression, bullying, mistrust, intolerance or animosity toward their fellow humans. Our artistic creativity would not be subject to arbitrary censorship, someone deciding what is appropriate, or not, for our eyes and ears to witness. Our courts and even private citizens are still telling women that they have no say-so in whether they bear an unwanted child or not, which should be their own decision alone. We only recently got the right to marry whom we choose to, which also should be nobody’s business but the individuals involved.

I don’t think that it’s unpatriotic of me, either, to make such a statement. As always, I just call it as I see it! Just so I am not deemed a person who does not love his country, I assure you that I do. It’s just that I can recognize that it is not perfect but has its faults and flaws and foibles (oh, my!). I criticize the things I care about, hoping only to make them better. In some of my other articles I criticize movies and television, too, but I wouldn’t give them up for anything.

Are You Crazy (Too)?

I tend to be somewhat of a loner, for the most part, and I cherish my solitude. And since I do spend so much time alone, I naturally would need someone to talk to on occasion. That person, of course, is myself. I think that I would go crazy if I couldn’t talk to myself! I mean, who knows my mind better than I do? My alterego and I are great pals. We play games, we argue. “That’s Debussy.” ‘No, I’ll bet it’s Ravel.’ “Whaddya wanna bet?” ‘Ha, ha, I won!’ When I play solitaire computer Scrabble with four players, I play all the hands myself, so I don’t care who wins. Being that I had my brother and other childhood friends to play with while growing up, I never had need of an imaginary friend, like some lonely, only children tend to conjure up while they’re young. I am quite content to have only myself, who is very real and far from imaginary, to converse and play with.

I used to be critical of people who talk to themselves in public. I, and others too, would consider them cuckoo and off their rocker. Then I caught myself one day, while walking on the street, talking back! I realized then that the people around me must think that I am as loony as all those other nuts on the street who talk to themselves. So now I am not so quick to judge. I talk out loud to myself and I sing out loud to myself often. When I go out anywhere, on foot or on my bike, I almost always am listening to music on my portable player, and I will be singing along or practicing a song that I have to learn perhaps. So maybe some of those other people that do that aren’t any crazier than I am. They could be working or just amusing themselves just like me, or nowadays it turns out that they may be talking on the phone, using their hands-free blue-tooth capability. While watching TV at home, I often talk out loud to myself about what’s happening on the screen. I know I am not the only one who yells out the answers on “Jeopardy!”

But then, what is crazy anyway? Who is crazy? Who isn’t? I suppose it is determined by one’s behavior, but doesn’t everybody do something out of the ordinary or act abnormally at some moments in their life? If someone reports a strange occurrence without corroboration, for instance, they are often deemed to be drunk or crazy. But what if that person is telling the truth and did see what they said they did?

In The Prince and the Pauper (1937) two look-alike boys exchange places, and judged only by the way they are dressed, nobody believes them to be who they say they are. When Tom Canty swears that he is not the prince but a beggar boy, the courtiers deem him to be mad. Why is he mad if he is telling the truth? And of course, they don’t believe the real prince either. So just because you don’t accept their wild story, it doesn’t make them crazy. I say, first, disprove their claim before you decide that they are crazy. Therefore, crazy assessment is based on one’s perception of somebody, not necessarily how they really are.

Why should the person with heightened perception, acute mental powers or having the ability to tap into the spiritual or supernatural world be considered crazy? So like, I am able to see the ghost in the room, and you can’t, but I’m the crazy one! In the Doctor Dolittle remake (1998), when Eddie Murphy is discovered being able to communicate with animals, of course his family and friends think that he has lost his mind. “Nobody can do that.“ But just because you can’t, it doesn’t mean that someone else couldn’t possibly be able to. It seems that whenever someone displays a special ability beyond common normalcy, people tend not to believe it or accept it and will deem that person to be not-all-there. If they can do something that you can’t do, that doesn’t make them crazy. If someone has innovative ideas or radical beliefs, they’re crazy. Even if you believe in something that someone else finds too incredible to be accepted as real, then you are the crazy one for believing such a thing. Why not encourage someone’s special psychic gifts and innovations rather than making them feel that they’re mentally unbalanced or delusional?

How is one supposed to answer if asked directly, “Are you crazy?” That sounds more like an accusation than a question anyway. To deny it outright would not convince them, because you must have done or said something to prompt the question in the first place. I don’t know why somebody would even say that to a person without some provocation. Then who would admit that they are crazy when they don’t agree and may not even realize it if, in fact, they are? Most may not question their own sanity until someone else questions it. “I don’t know. Am I? Why do you ask?”

Similar is the judgmental, “Have you lost your mind?” or “I think I am losing my mind.” How can one lose what is inherent in all of us? If you have a change of opinion or think along different lines, then that’s all it is. It doesn’t mean that you’re crazy. And of course, craziness has nothing to do with one’s lack of intelligence. Some of the most brilliant minds have also been stark, raving lunatics, like your mad scientists, your political despots and some religious fanatics.

In all the movies where someone (let’s say a man) is wrongfully committed to a mental institution, he finds it so difficult, if not impossible, to prove his sanity. If he protests by kicking and screaming and proclaiming, “I’m not crazy! I don’t belong here! It’s a mistake!” the hospital personnel don’t believe him. Naturally he would say that. They don’t expect him to admit that he is crazy. Isn’t his very agitation an indication that he is seriously unbalanced? If he keeps quiet and does not put up any resistance, however, then he really must be crazy or he would say something to the contrary, wouldn’t he? It’s a catch-22. You can’t win either way.

There is a French-British film that I like called King of Hearts (1966) which satirically examines social sanity. Alan Bates is a Scottish soldier who is sent on a suicide mission to blow up an evacuated French town during World War I. The only inhabitants left behind are the inmates of the local “insane” asylum. Bates soon befriends the mental patients there and even falls in love with one of them (Genevieve Bujold). He sees how really nice and caring these so-called nuts are. They welcome him into their family—they even crown him King—and he sees how happy they all are and innocently oblivious of the outside world. Then he thinks about what is going on outside—the bombings of cities and the genocide—so he begins to question, which ones are the crazy, irrational people, these basically harmless folks in here or those gratuitous murderers out there?

Bates ultimately decides to stay in there with the alleged loonies! I don’t know who decided that these characters were insane or a danger to society anyway. They seem perfectly normal to me. Many of them are into innocent role-playing, but so is almost everybody else. It is basically true that “all the world’s a stage, and we are all merely actors.“ Many of us go through life play-acting and pretending to be somebody else. So by that criterion, we all must be crazy in some way. Those inmates in the film seem intelligent, articulate, talented and certainly non-threatening. It’s a sorry state of affairs when a person’s benign non-conformity is grounds for commitment to an asylum.

In 1950’s Harvey, too, James Stewart’s character, Elwood P. Dowd, has for a friend a pooka, which takes the form of a 6-foot-3½-inch, invisible rabbit. And although Elwood is completely harmless–in fact, he is the sweetest, kindest, most polite and friendliest person you’d ever want to know; everybody likes him–just because he talks to this rabbit that only he can see, everybody considers him a real nut, and his distraught sister and niece want to have him committed to a sanitarium, as if confinement would rid him of his delusion. So what if Elwood is an alcoholic? He doesn’t deserve to be locked up, as he is no dangerous threat to society. Shouldn’t a person be allowed to have their personal fantasies, whether they are real or imaginary, without the harsh judgment and the threat of commitment, especially if they are otherwise a good person and who is not hurting anybody? Truth be told, I believe that we all have some kind of mental flaw, including myself, but not enough to require institutional commitment. As it turns out, Harvey proves himself to be real after all when he appears to other characters in the story, including Elwood’s sister and the director of the sanitarium! So now, are they crazy, too, or less judgmental of Elwood?

(# …A flibbertigibbet, a will-o’-the-wisp, a clown… #)
For myself, I prefer to be around people who are a little eccentric, oddball, offbeat, quirky, strange, wacky. I find them to be much more interesting and entertaining than those who are always trying to act “normal” and fit in. In all dramatic situations and even in literature we want colorful characters that are larger than life. On TV sitcoms it is often the supporting players, like Sheldon Cooper (“The Big Bang Theory”), Barney Fife (“The Andy Griffith Show”) and Steve Urkel (“Family Matters”), for example, who become viewers’ favorites over the star of the show. Ordinary commonness is boring, in my opinion, and does not make for good theater.

Now, I don’t like simple or dizzy people in real life, those who are in a constant state of mental confusion, and chronic stupidity and excessive silliness get on my nerves. But I like your rebels who challenge the status quo and don’t always do things that are expected of them. Since I can admit that I have certain quirks myself, my close friends, too, tend to be a little off, or at least accepting of my own personality foibles. But they, in turn, have to be intelligent, open-minded, and have a good sense of humor. I don’t take myself too seriously, as you must have surmised by now from my writings, and they shouldn’t either.

In my novella, Return of the Zodiac Killer, which can be found on my blog site, the main character, John Smith, is a charming, very good-looking, very intelligent but remorseless serial killer. In his own words, he tells his arresting police officers, “Please forgive me for being a little psycho”, as he has other redeeming qualities, which he does. I currently have a “special friend” whom I cherish, although he does suffer from some personal mental issues. But they are never directed toward me in a negative or abusive way. He is a beautiful, kind soul and absolutely adores me, so I tolerate his occasional flights of fancy. Besides, I am not one to judge anyway. I agree with Joe E. Brown’s last line in Some Like It Hot (1959), when Jack Lemmon is trying, in vain, to discourage the older man’s amorous advances towards him. “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

Weaponry and Warfare

Let me say right off the bat that I have no use for firearms, okay? I have never needed a gun in my entire life, and there is no reason for me to have one now, or ever. My only experience with a real firearm was when I was required to learn how to use the M-16 rifle in Basic Training. And I didn’t like it even then. Since I had no intention of ever using this weapon, why was I even learning how to operate it? I needed to pass Rifle Training just so I wouldn’t have to take the whole training cycle over again. That was the only reason.

I didn’t like it when my older brother, as a boy, had a BB-gun with which he used to shoot at birds and squirrels. I thought that that was downright cruel. We both had one of those harmless, toy cap pistols as kids. I was too young to know any better. I mean, boys are supposed to like playing with guns, aren’t they? I am thankful that neither my dad nor granddad was into guns either, like those fathers who buy their young sons rifles and want to take them hunting all the time.

Since I am so pro-life now, the only situations that would necessitate the use of a firearm is for shooting at a non-human target or skeet shooting at clay pigeons, and nobody really has to do either of those activities. Otherwise, guns are for killing, pure and simple. I would never own one or even have one in my possession. I certainly would not keep one in my home. For what purpose? Some people say that they hate guns, that they only have them to protect themselves against other people with guns, but I don’t buy that excuse. It’s hypocritical anyway, because then they are no better than the other guy. “I’m going to shoot you first to keep you from shooting me.”

I wouldn’t want to kill someone even in self-defense, because I still would have to live with the fact that I killed somebody. Willfully to take a life is murder, regardless of the circumstances. To cause a death as a result of self-defense, is still murderous intent. They purposely killed the other person to defend themself. There are those who don’t accept that contention, however, because they want to excuse their actions and absolve their guilt. Many of these gun owners end up killing members of their own family, especially their children, the very ones whom they are supposed to be protecting!

Some try to justify their gun ownership by reminding you that our Constitution grants us the right to bear arms. But that doesn’t mean we all should, just because we have the right to do so. The Constitution is not intended as the standard for human morality. The country has changed greatly since the Constitution was drawn up. In the Old West, for example, practically everybody carried guns with them at all times. Law enforcement was not as strict as it became to be later on. Men shot and killed each other all the time without any repercussions. The sheriffs were not able to maintain peace nor prevent crime and violence in their towns. When a sheriff himself was killed, they just appointed a new one to take his place. Next! “Gunslinger” was a regular personal assessment of the day for some.

So then what happens is, every time somebody gets a bigger and better weapon, you have to get one, too, to match it, to protect yourself, right? And of course, nothing is ever good enough, is it? We went from bare fists to crude, makeshift weapons, like sticks, clubs, bats, knives and swords, then, so that we didn’t have to get too close to our opponent, we learned to hurl stones and other things at them via slingshots, catapults, arrows, spears and the like. With the invention of firearms: handguns, rifles, cannons, bazookas, Gatling guns and explosive devices, like grenades, land mines and torpedoes, we could now accomplish longer-range annihilation. But even these became too limited for our special purposes. With a machine gun, you could mow down only a few people at a time. We need something that can wipe out entire nations at one time, like an atomic bomb! Hey now, that’s the ticket! “Well, since they got one, now we have to have one, too! Just let them mess with us! We’ll show ’em!”

This Governmental “arms race” is so stupid. When and where does it end, when we ultimately destroy ourselves and everybody else in the process? I hope they don’t think that they have to use the Bomb on my behalf. There is nobody that I hate that much to merit it. And how dare they jeopardize our lives while they are playing their silly little war games!

The manufacture, sale and use of firearms only perpetuate the aggression and violence to which human beings subject each other. And the way things stand, I don’t take a lot of stock in the concept of “maximum security.” If somebody wants to get in (or out) of something badly enough, they will find a way, as long as there are dynamite and other explosive devices at their disposal. We are so technically-sophisticated nowadays, however, that we have resorted to chemical warfare to wipe out our “enemies.” No cumbersome weapons and gadgets to deal with and no space-taking and environmentally-threatening nuclear paraphernalia—just a simple, little ol’, unseen, odorless, tasteless microorganism, capable of decimating whole nations, if handled properly or im-. And it’s untraceable. Where did it come from? Who introduced it? Who is responsible? I explore this type of conspiratorial genocide in another article. (Check out my Conspiracy Theory, Part II–The AIDS Epidemic and Other Medical Speculations.)

(# …For he’s a jolly good fellow, which nobody can deny! #)
Oh, really? Just watch me! We, as a society, tend to exalt, glorify and make heroes of combat soldiers who indiscriminately kill in the name of so-called patriotism. I had a recurring gig singing in a male quartet for religious services for certain veteran groups, which were held in the chapel at West Point Academy. After the mid-morning service we were always invited to stay for lunch. So one year my colleagues and I were sitting with one of the WWII Army veterans whose former unit was the focus group that day. During the meal this old lifer started telling us about one of his fellow soldiers who had been declared a war hero for single-handedly killing a very large number of Germans or whomever they were fighting at the time. He seemed to be so proud of this guy and kept bragging about his military accomplishments, and he seemed to want us join in on the adoration. The outspoken person that I am, and because I am not a hypocrite, I proceeded to let this man know that I could not get excited in honoring a mass murderer. It doesn’t matter to me why he did it, I was just not at all impressed with his wartime credentials. This man, and even the other guys with me, couldn’t understand why I didn’t share their unbridled enthusiasm about celebrating a killer. They probably deemed me to be an anti-patriot or something. I’m sure the vet was not pleased with my frank disdain. Pardon me, but I won’t pretend to condone war and support gratuitous killing. I don’t care what anybody thinks about me.

I feel the same way about law enforcement personnel, FBI agents, U.S. marshals, executioners, hit persons, anyone else who, in the course of their daily duties, have the occasion to kill people, for whatever reason. I would not have a job like that, but those who do that sort of thing voluntarily seem not to mind–after all, that is what they have chosen to do with their lives. So what if they may be protecting us from the terrible criminals of the world, or not, I don’t feel the need to glorify them or their efforts nonetheless. I consider a hero to be someone who is a positive role model for people, especially the young. They should inspire good. Why would I or want my children to honor and glorify a man who effects undue aggression upon perfect strangers? “Daddy, that Audie Murphy is my all-time hero. I, too, want to kill a lot of people when I grow up.”

My admiration goes, instead, to somebody like Desmond Doss, the WWII veteran who single-handedly rescued as many as 75 of his own men during the bloody Battle of Okinawa, without killing anybody in the process. You see, Doss was a Seventh Day Adventist pacifist and conscientious objector who refused to handle any kind of deadly weapon. He was even court-martialed during Basic Training for insubordination. When he was acquitted, however, he was allowed to serve anyway as a medic. He ended up in the war zone on the front lines with no weapon but managed to survive and save a lot of men with him. Doss was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery. That’s who I would root for. His inspiring story is related in the 2016 film Hacksaw Ridgem directed by Mel Gibson.

Even now, with regards to Iraq, Afghanistan, the recent Gulf War and any of our other military involvements, these men did not incite the conflicts and then volunteer to go over there and stop them. They are only following someone else’s orders. Why should I congratulate and cheer on somebody for doing their job and what they are being ordered and paid to do, and when it’s something that I am totally against besides? I choose not to condone their activities, even if it is in the name of so-called patriotism. I have more respect and gratitude for the guys who refuse to fight in these arbitrary conflicts, thereby choosing not to perpetuate them. Instead of the war infantryman, I cheer and honor the conscientious objector. What if they gave a war and nobody participated? I believe that nations and individuals perpetuate war because they want to. Otherwise, they would just stop, wouldn’t they? Nobody has to fight. “I’m done with this. I’m going home. Y’all take care now.”

I think one’s sentiment lies with which side of the conflict you’re on. In Quentin Tarantino’s brilliant production, Inglorious Basterds (2009), the Nazis make a feature film honoring a Gestapo soldier who single-handedly slaughtered hundreds of Jews and was declared a national hero by Hitler and his cohorts. During the premiere of the film, entitled Nation’s Pride, shown in Nazi-occupied Paris and attended by all of the Third Reich top dogs, including Der Führer himself, there is much cheering and applauding from the audience (in the film) as they watch on the screen this soldier plow down Jew after innocent Jew. They are absolutely delighted. The real-life theater audience, however, did not share in the jubilation. If anything, we were all horrified and appalled at the behavior of that audience in the picture. My lunch companions at West Point didn’t seem so willing to glorify that “war hero” in that particular situation in the film. So it’s okay when we are the ones doing the killing, but we feel quite differently when it’s they killing us. When we put ourselves in the other person’s place, we get a different perspective. I applaud Tarantino’s satirical depiction of the situation.

I have heard people try to defend Chris Kyle, the main character of American Sniper (2014), saying that he had no choice in what he was doing over there in Iraq. It was his calling and duty to kill all those people. Well, the fact of the matter is, Kyle voluntarily joined the Navy SEALS and trained to be a sniper. Nobody made him do that. He did it because he wanted to and apparently was very good at his job. The movie ends with Kyle himself being killed by somebody he was trying to help. Some people felt sorry for him, that he had to die like that, since he was such a “hero” in their eyes. But he had killed a bunch of people himself, including women and children, for whatever reasons, so why is his own demise any more sorrowful? I’m sure that his killer had his reasons as well. It seems that some people have selective tit-for-tat, and only certain ones should be required to pay for their misdeeds. I have said before that what goes around, comes around. I firmly believe in “karmic justice.”

For myself, I don’t like it no matter who it is being killed. You see, I have no enemies. If somebody personally does not like me, that’s their doing. I don’t hate anybody, and one is an enemy only if we have mutual animosity for each other. The casualties on both sides are human beings with grieving families and loved ones, so I choose not to root for either side. How does having antiwar sentiments and being pro-life make me unpatriotic? But if it does, then so be it. I’m certainly not going to apologize for having convictions of morality.

It seems that wherever American soldiers are concerned, we are supposed to treat them with some special honor and respect. Well, we don’t seem to be so appreciative and charitable to them when they come home. We often hear, “Thank you for your service.” from well-meaning civilians. Talk is cheap. How about a job or at least a little financial aid? It’s downright appalling how our returning war veterans are treated and ignored after they have served their purpose. Many of them can’t find work and end up homeless, and those who are injured and develop resultant mental problems, it’s even worse for them.

It occurs to me that only certain people have the right to commit murder and under special circumstances. As a civilian, I am not allowed to take the life of some despicable dirtbag who has wronged me and others or made our lives miserable, and the world would be a lot better without them. But my Government gives me permission, even orders me to, and will give me a commendation medal, if I put on a uniform, go over to some foreign country, sneak up on perfect strangers, who have not done anything to me personally, and blow them away with my M-16 rifle and machine gun. Oh! And the more “gooks” I kill, the bigger a hero it’ll make me. The message I get from that is, our country’s lawmakers are telling us, “Look, you will commit murder only if we tell you when and whom to kill. Otherwise, you will be punished for your heinous misdeeds.” In my opinion, they are no different than sanctioned executioners or even contract killing done by professional hitpersons.

The Vietnam Conflict alone had 58,191 American casualties, and for what? It wasn’t even our war, not that it should even matter whose war it was. It’s still pointless. I remember a very moving moment in my life, when I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (or as a character on “The West Wing” once referred to it—“The Wall of Death”) in Washington, DC in 1986. When I saw those columns and rows of all those names of dead soldiers, many of them practically children, I became very upset and depressed. Viewing the AIDS Memorial Quilt always elicits a similar reaction. The obituary directory itself was as thick as the former Manhattan phone book. All those wasted lives lost for no good reason. Can you imagine how many other lives have been lost to senseless wars since the beginning of our civilization? And I use that term loosely. I consider the act of mortal combat to be anything but civilized. Let’s all make love, not war.

(# War! Hoo! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Say it again! #)
I just can’t find any point or sense to war. For perfect strangers to destroy each other on someone else’s behalf is mind-boggling to me. One head-of-state has a gripe or grudge against another nation’s leader, and instead of them trying to resolve their differences on a one-to-one basis, they will solicit their countries’ youth to fight their battles for them, who have nothing to do with their leaders’ disagreements. They’re out there killing each other and don’t even know why most of the time. Why don’t the two leaders themselves duke it out instead of sacrificing their innocent sons and daughters in their place? I think it’s morally wrong to coerce people to do one’s dirty work for them. In Apocalypse Now (1979) one Army officer was ordered to seek out and kill a highly-decorated fellow officer just because he became a renegade.

There was a case on “L.A. Law” once (the writers often based their storylines on real-life events, so I expect that this probably really happened), in which a young Army lieutenant was being court-martialed for disobeying a direct order in wartime. He refused to destroy a potential enemy community in Panama because of the innocent civilians he believed to be residing there. He was found guilty and convicted on the grounds that to disobey a superior’s order in a military situation, for whatever reason, is totally inexcusable and cannot be tolerated. The boy was therefore sentenced to ten years in prison! So this compassionate, moral-minded individual was deemed a despicable criminal because he would not willingly commit random mass murder. His compliance, on the other hand, would have declared him a national hero. Now how is that for ironic irrationality and twisted justice, to be sent to prison for not killing somebody? What’s up with that?!

So it’s more about military rules than the act itself. Why didn’t that commanding officer take the responsibility by bombing the village himself instead of forcing his reluctant underlings to do it for him? He didn’t seem to have any trouble giving the order, so he should have been willing to carry out the order himself. Let the guilt be on his own head. If I had been the defense attorney for that case, I would have read some people! A person should not be forced to do what they don’t want to do. Of course, our decisions result in consequences, at times undesirable, but still we should have the choice.

For the other side, however, I suppose I could argue that in a war zone, how do you know for sure who is really innocent? Civilian women and even children have been known to conceal firearms and explosives and act as snipers, so you really can’t trust anyone in that situation. Then too, we could consider the casualty of war to be a societal implementation for population control, just as are natural disasters, famine and pestilence. “The country is getting a bit over-crowded. Let’s have a war with somebody and get rid of a bunch of people.”

Another hypocritical, war-related situation comes to mind. On an episode of the TV cable series “The Glades,” a southern town is doing a Civil War re-enactment, and during the course of it, a soldier gets killed by another soldier impersonator. Now the law enforcement officials of the town are considering this guy’s death murder and wants to convict the killer of same. So it occurred to me that during the actual Civil War, or any war for that matter, people got/get killed as a matter of course, and the bystanders have this “Oh, well!” attitude about it. All’s fair in love and war. But because this is only a re-enactment and not a real war, the criterion should be different? It’s apparently all right for people to kill each other during a government-sanctioned war, but it’s not all right when you are only pretending to fight. Isn’t that, too, a bit twisted?

After seeing Bridge of Spies (2015), I was made aware of the gross hypocrisy that our country displays. It takes place during the Cold War with Russia in the ‘50s and ’60s. A man deemed to be a Russian spy is captured and made to stand trial. It is merely a formality, because it was already decided that he would be convicted and must face the death penalty. The lawyer assigned to defend him (played by Tom Hanks) is given a hard time as well and receives death threats, merely for doing his job. Now at the same time, our CIA was recruiting agents of our own to spy on the Russians. But I guess it’s all right when we do it then.

Likewise, with the Nuremberg Trials of 1948—which were presided over by a tribunal of some Americans—the convicted were found guilty of atrocious war crimes, namely the willful extermination of an estimated 10 million people, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Of course, the Germans’ actions were inexcusable, but how could the Americans sit in judgment of someone else when we had just dropped two (count ‘em, two!) atomic bombs on Japan, killing millions of innocent people? It’s all right for us to commit genocide at will, in the name of war, but we can’t let any damned foreigners get away with it!

Our current concern is the fear that Iran will acquire a nuclear device. So it’s okay for us to have one, but we don’t want anybody else in the world to have it. You see, we need ours to protect ourselves against potential hostile aggression, although, ironically, we are the only country so far who has actually used ours! So maybe all those other nations are trying to protect themselves from us! Do you blame them for being afraid? But then, how do we justify, in a non-war situation, the shameless massacre of all those innocent American Indians, slaughtered by our own army troops or the countless number of American blacks who have been lynched and murdered by our own countryfolk? Such hypocrisy!

Even the practice of spying and espionage seems senseless to me. A traitor is regarded to be someone who divulges government secrets to so-called enemy factions. The dictionary definition goes so far as to say that someone who even gives aid or comfort to an enemy is a traitor. So a civilian correspondent on assignment in Afghanistan, let’s say, comes upon a young, wounded Afghani soldier. Should he just let the kid die, or risk being deemed a traitor if he offers him some kind of help? So Christian charity can be considered treason, punishable by death, in some cases. But my question is, what secrets? What are you up to that you don’t want anybody else in the world to know about? It must be something nefarious or underhanded or else you wouldn’t be trying to hide it.

Why is certain information “confidential”? I would hope that the goal and purpose of every nation’s government is to serve the common good–but of course, that is not the case–so shouldn’t any important discoveries or innovations be shared with each other? Perhaps research scientists in Switzerland, let’s say, have discovered a cure for preventing all kinds of cancer, but deem it to be top secret and choose to keep it to themselves. I don’t understand that. Something that will benefit all of humankind, how can they sit on that information? You know that our country harbors a lot of secrets that they don’t share with anybody.

When we or any other nation makes a beneficial, technological or medical breakthrough, it should be shared with the rest of the world instead of withheld for their own benefit. Many humans live their lives in constant competition. They are always trying to better the other person. It occurs at home, in school and later spills over into the workplace. Corporate espionage in business exists just as it does in the military. If we all got along like we should, there wouldn’t be any secrets between us.

Moreover, the act of war is, in fact, a game (hence the term), a competition of winners and losers, so getting an advantage on your opponent by discovering their weaknesses and strengths is just part of the game. To learn of any secret information to help you win by whatever means should be commended and awarded whether than be deemed punishable by death. But then, who is the actual winner of a war or major battle? Is it the side who kills the most people? That makes them the winner? I would deem the winner to be the side who resolves the conflict with the fewest number of casualties, not the most.

(# Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war… #)
Although probably meant to be merely metaphorical, a “Christian soldier” to me sounds like a hypocritical contradiction. Real Christians are supposed to be self-proclaimed pacifists, not fighters. Jesus and his disciples were not warriors. There have been individuals over the centuries who have chosen warrior as their life’s career. They actually wage and fight wars for a living. The word itself suggests it to be an occupation. Alexander the Great was a warrior. Kunta Kinte claimed to be training to be a warrior when he was captured by the slavers. It’s too bad that he hadn’t learned enough to prevent himself from getting caught!

There is a scene in The Foxes of Harrow (1947) where one of the plantation slave women gives birth to a baby boy, and “Massa” Rex Harrison comments to her husband that the newborn is going to make a fine, strong slave. The mother overhears this, gets very agitated and keeps uttering, a little too proudly I think, “Him no slave, him warrior, him killer of lions!”, as if he has no other choice, and she considers warrior to be a noble profession, besides. What’s wrong with a doctor, a teacher or a scientist? Of course she wants more for her son than being a lowly slave, but wanting him to be a fighter and killer, to me doesn’t seem like a commendable alternative.

A while back, although I don’t know when the first incident of it was, the military came up with the oxymoronic phrase, “friendly fire.” That is when a soldier, or more than one, are killed, even if it‘s unintentional, not by the regarded enemy, mind you, but by someone from their own side, often from their immediate company. For the family and friends of the victim(s), since the result is the same, that is, death, they don’t see what is friendly about it. “Mrs. Smith, I’m sorry about your son, but it was from friendly fire, not the enemy‘s.” Is that supposed to make her feel better about it? “But it wasn’t the ‘enemy’ who killed my boy. You did! You call that friendly? What, were you smiling apologetically when you blew my son away?!”

Right here in New York City recently, a black, off-duty police officer was pursuing a fleeing perpetrator of a crime, when another officer, white, shot the other one dead, thinking that he was a criminal himself, so he said. Yeah, right. The news media reported the death as a “friendly fire” killing. It was another case of shoot first, find out who they are later. The cops also like to use the equally-oxymoronic phrase “good shoot” to justify their killing someone in the line of duty, whether it was self-defense or not, or whether he was even the right guy. Even if it only appears that the guy has a gun, the officer has the right to shoot him. And it’s only considered a “good shoot” if someone other than the cop dies. If it’s he, however, in the same situation, then the other guy is a “cop killer.”

I was trained as a military policeman during my stint in the Army, and we were taught always to use minimum force when apprehending a perpetrator. If someone pulls a gun on you (sometimes it’s not even a gun but some harmless object which they mistake for one), you don’t have to kill them. Just disarm them by shooting it out of their hand. If they are running away, shoot them in the knees. That’ll slow them down, I’ll bet you. They don’t have to aim for their back or their head. That way, if the officer makes a mistake in judgment, at least it won’t be fatal. If the guy turns out to be guilty after all, they will be dealt with at a later date. This “I had no choice” defense does not set well with me. You always have a choice. You either do one thing or you do something else. That’s your choice.

I have been fortunate enough to have gotten through life with a modicum of physical conflict. I remember only one or two altercations ever. I don’t look for trouble, so I manage to stay out of it, for the most part. I am a confirmed pacifist. I prefer to try to settle disputes with my mouth instead of my fists. I won’t strike you, but I will read your butt for filth! I especially enjoy writing letters by way of reading people. When someone has wronged me and I proceed to tell them off, most of the time I think of things later that I should have said at the time. In a letter I get the chance to organize my thoughts and I can speak my mind without rebuttal or being interrupted. And it gives the recipient a chance to heed my words and reflect on what I am telling them. They don’t have to guess at what I mean or try to remember what was said; it’s all right there in print. I have had to read friends and even lovers as well as foes. I have read the CEOs of corporations and businesses for receiving shoddy service and merchandise. “Reading” by letter is also quite therapeutic for me, as it allows me to clear the air and get stuff off my chest without destroying things out of frustration or attacking someone physically.

Although I never resort to pugilism myself, I realize that physical altercations, however petty, often do occur between individuals. Now, I can enjoy a choreographed, cinematic fistfight or free-for-all bar brawl for dramatic purposes, especially when women are participating—besides, it’s all fake, and nobody gets hurt—but I can’t get up the same enthusiasm for real-life, professional boxing. What’s the deal here? Two guys are paid millions of dollars (some of them) to get into a ring and duke it out together in front of thousands (sometimes millions, if it’s televised) of rooting, cheering spectators. The winner is the one who knocks the other one unconscious for at least 10 seconds, for everyone’s delighted amusement. “Look, man, I’m going to kill you tonight, or at least beat the shit out of you. Don’t take it personally. It’s all in the name of fun.”

It seems hypocritical that a “sport” whose main intent is to beat each other up tries to follow such strict safety rules. What does it mean to fight fairly? If I am fighting somebody, I want to hurt them as much as I can. If I cared anything about their feelings, I wouldn’t be fighting them in the first place. Boxers can punch each other in the face all they want, but “no hitting below the belt.” So I can’t kick him in the shins or knee him in his groin? Why not? I’m in this thing to win. What happened to “all’s fair in love and war”?

I think that Mike Tyson was treated unfairly, suspending him from boxing because of his “unsportsmanlike behavior” at the big fight with Evander Holyfield in June 1997. I mean, what is a fight without somebody getting hurt? So Tyson bit his opponent’s ear. Did that disappoint the fans somehow, who must all be vicarious sadomasochists anyway? Perhaps they felt cheated. Instead of merely biting him, maybe they would have preferred that he beat his face to a bloody pulp and knock him out cold. Now, that’s a fight! I think that the whole idea of physical violence for profit and exploitation is stupid, cruel and barbaric. Then they have the nerve to be hypocritical about it. I liken pro fighters to your high-priced prostitutes. They voluntarily sell their bodies for lots of money, and the people who patronize them and foot the bill get off on the experience, whereas some will condone the former and protest the latter.

If we’re so damned smart, why have we still not come to the realization and acceptance that all human beings belong to the same species and that no one individual or group is better than any other, in terms of their creation? I don’t think that there ever will be complete World Peace. Ever since there have been people there has been conflict. Humans just cannot seem to get along! When there were only four people on earth (Biblically speaking, that is), even your brothers Cain and Abel were at odds with each other. Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity. It sort of defeats the purpose. What is it going to take, extraterrestrial intervention for us to get our act together and start working together as a unit for the good of humankind, instead of always at each other with our petty squabbles and disagreements?

(# …All we are saying is give peace a chance. #)
Can I get a “amen” up in here?

Heaven and Hell

(# …For what it’s worth, you make your own Heaven and Hell right here on earth… #)

I want to discuss Heaven and Hell. I believe that they are merely manmade, idealistic concepts, created and perpetuated to keep us sinners in line. I believe Heaven and Hell to be states of mind, really. Like the Temptations sang, I, too, believe that we make our own Heaven and Hell right here on earth, and this is where they begin and end. When we experience something very pleasurable in life, we say that we’re in Heaven, and when we are tormented and subjected to unpleasantness, we imagine ourselves in Hell.

There are many heavenly and hellish expressions in our vernacular. “Heaven on Earth” is a common one. You have heard it said that “war is hell,” but how do they know that? Well, being in a situation where you are being shot at for no good reason, and your friends are dying all around you and being mutilated and blown up, could what is done to you in Hell be any worse? I think that would qualify as “Hell on Earth,” don’t you? So where do we get all these notions about Heaven and Hell, having never been there? Supposedly, we have to die first to see them, so anything that we think about them must be a preconception. For those who believe in an Afterlife, they would ordinarily prefer to spend Eternity in a utopian paradise.

Has there always been a Heaven and Hell? If so, how did we first find out about them? If not, where did all the dead people go before their invention? Interestingly, Heaven was created out of the Jewish culture. It’s mentioned in the Old Testament, as early as Genesis. The Tower of Babel was intended to reach to Heaven, for instance. But then the Christians came along and changed the rules so that only they and their ilk who are “saved in Christ” are eligible to enter. The Jews had Heaven first, but now they are not allowed to go there themselves? What’s up with that? For now my comments will refer to the theoretical destinations known as Heaven and Hell.

Like the Boogeyman, it’s merely a means for our religious leaders to hold something over us, control us and threaten us with when we disobey. “If you don’t abide by God’s (that is, my) Word, you are going to Hell! … Do you want to go to Heaven when you die? Then you had better straighten up and change your sinful ways. Give your life to Jesus,” and all that other Christian propaganda. It seems that Heaven is reserved for a specialized chosen few, and those who don’t deserve to go there have to go somewhere else instead. So Hell was invented to accommodate the unworthy lot. The Catholics have, in addition, a place they call Purgatory, which is a temporary way station while one’s as-of-yet-undetermined fate is being decided. I refuse to go through my entire life denying myself of certain pleasures and enjoyments so that I will be sure to pass over to some mystical place that may not even exist. But even if it does, what difference is it going to make after all? I’m dead. I can’t be worried about what happens to me after I die. It’s out of my hands. No person alive has the power or right to make that decision for anybody, including themselves.

I think, too, that we don’t have to wait until we are dead to have our fate decided. We all experience punitive retribution and suffer ensuing consequences throughout our lives for our actions and choices we make. But then, who makes those fateful decisions anyway? Since we all are sinners, what are our requirements and special qualifications to get us into Heaven? With karma constantly at work we experience heaven and hell all the time. I, myself, have been so blessed with good fortune most of my life, that I must be doing something right. But am I eligible to go to Heaven? Why not?

I always try to keep an open mind, so for the sake of argument, what if there really is a postmortem Heaven and Hell? I asked my sister, who is sure that that’s where she’s going, ‘What is the big attraction in Heaven? What is there to do for all Eternity?’ She says, “Praising God.” Hunh? Is that it? How does one “praise God” for all Eternity? I mean, what does that entail exactly, and for what purpose? It sounds to me like “Heaven” could be quite a tedious, monotonous bore. This is Heaven for whom? Of course, she couldn’t answer. She doesn’t know for sure. All she has to go on is her faith. I said, ‘Gee, Deb, you’ve been praising God all of your life. Isn’t that enough?’ I would think that after a while God would say, “Hey, enough with this blasted praising already! Okay, I get it. You all adore me. But I heard you the first time you said it. I don’t have to keep hearing it repeatedly, ad nauseum. Give me a break, will ya!?”

So then I asked Debbie about Hell. What’s so terrible about it? She says that Hell is constant torture and discomfort. But I’m dead! Only a conscious body feels pain, which is a result of sensitive nerve endings and brain impulses. You can’t torture a disembodied spirit or soul or whatever the heck we become after we die. But even if that is somehow possible, what difference does it make? You can get used to anything after a while. So whatever it is that is done to you in Hell, it will eventually lose its effect. Anyway, I would think that your heavy-duty masochists would be right at home in Hell. So then, is it really Hell for them? See, it all goes back to one’s state of mind. And besides, some people live their entire lives in constant torture and discomfort, so then they must already be in Hell, even before they actually die.

I have another question. Some believe that the Devil works his evil on us in order to claim our souls when we die. But we always have the choice whether to succumb to his seductive guile or live our lives righteously. I don’t know why he wants us so badly, but he must have his reasons. So if one decides voluntarily to go with the Devil, to sell our souls to him, as it were, why then would he punish us for our compliance? Since we have been told that Hell is a horrible, miserable place, why would we willingly go there? I would think that we would be rewarded with good treatment, which would inspire us to proselytize to get others to join our merry band. It’s not so silly a notion when it only points out the silliness of the whole thing anyway!

I try to use logic with these Heaven-bound Saviors in my life, who include Debbie, but also my friend Lloyd and my mother, when they were alive. They admitted that they would like me to be “saved” for their own selfish reasons. They love me and want me to go to Heaven with them, so that we can all be up There together, that is assuming, of course, that they made it there themselves. Well, that’s all well and good. I appreciate the sentiment. But suppose I don’t make it there, and if Heaven is supposed to be this utterly fabulous place where all is bliss, if their loved ones are not There to share It with them, then how is that “heaven” for them? They would be eternally unhappy because certain people, and their beloved pets as well, are not there with them.

Some TV writers have had the same idea as this. There is a “Twilight Zone” episode (“The Hunt”) about an old country bumpkin who dies while he is out coon hunting with his trusty dog one day. The guy doesn’t realize that he is dead until he comes across a manned gate. “St. Peter” tells the man about all the good aspects of where he is taking him, but when informed that no pets are allowed there, the old man says, “I’m sorry, but I’m not going anywhere without my dog. He then opts to see what is down the other road, where he runs into an angel, who tells the old man that the place he just escaped from was not Heaven at all but Hell. And the reason they wouldn’t let his dog in was because he would know where they were. “Animals can’t be fooled as easily as people can.”

Why do people assume that when they die they automatically will be reunited with those who have gone on before them? We don’t know for sure that dead people all hang out together. That’s just wishful thinking. What if every soul roams around in their own private limbo? The ghosts that people claim to have witnessed are usually alone when they manifest themselves. I have no knowledge that they commonly travel around in packs. Or if they are with others, they may not necessarily be people that they know. The Afterlife is most likely a vast place. We don’t know what special powers they have or how they get around or even how or if they communicate. Maybe they don’t look the same as they did in life but take other possibly unrecognizable forms. In all those countless number of souls, how do you find each other?

Moreover, how do these self-presumed “saints” know for sure that they will make it to Heaven themselves? The common belief is that only good people go to Heaven. The problem I have with that notion is that there is good and bad in everybody. No one is exclusively or entirely one or the other. So who are these so-called “thoroughly good” people? Maybe everyone is potentially eligible to go to Heaven, or contrarily, no one is qualified. At the “Pearly Gates,” are they going to use the argument that since they are saved, they have the right to enter? “Yeah, but… How about all those unborn babies of mine that you deliberately killed, Jenny? Or how about the time when you were destroying yourself abusing dangerous, addictive drugs and selling them to others as well, Lloyd? Or how about my gay children that you demeaned, denounced, disparaged and persecuted all of your life, Fred Phelps? So you think that just declaring yourself saved excuses you from all of your worldly misdeeds?” Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words.

Have you noticed that in the movies, whenever a character dies or is already dead, they are automatically relegated to Heaven. “Daddy, where is Mommy?” “Your Mommy is in Heaven, sweetie.” (Really? But she was such a bitch!) “He is now with the angels.” Even if the person was not very nice in life, the writers still let them go to Heaven, as if death automatically absolves them of all their past sins and aberrant personality.

And of course, young children and especially babies all go to Heaven, but only if their parents believe in it. Who knows what happens to the deceased children of non-believers? Then that raises the question of whether young’uns continue to grow and age once they get to Heaven. What purpose or function would a baby serve there? For that matter, what purpose does anybody serve? As conjectured earlier, what is there to do, besides to “praise God?”

But on that note, one does not need to go anywhere to praise God. Don’t we do that anyway, all the time? God is right here with us. We don’t have to go any place to find God. Jesus Christ told his followers that someday they would inherit “the Kingdom of Heaven.” But he didn’t say that it was a place they had to go to. I interpret that as meaning that at some point in our lives may we achieve a sense of inner peace and self-contentment. That is an individual goal, however, which differs for each person.

The ever-popular Christmas carol “Silent Night,” which can be considered a lullaby, contains the line, “Sleep in heavenly peace.” To me, that sounds like a metaphor for death. If one is sleeping in heavenly peace, they must be dead, or otherwise in a state of earthly bliss, which would make it a mental assessment then, wouldn‘t it?

The Christian religions (maybe others, too, I don’t know) consider suicide a mortal sin. If you kill yourself, you will certainly go to Hell, they believe. But pardon me. God kills people all the time. Death itself is God’s doing, isn’t it? (# They needed a songbird in Heaven, so God took Caruso away… #) So why is it all right for God to kill us at will, and we still make it into Heaven, but if we off ourselves, we deprive God of “His” job and must be sent to Hell as a punishment? That doesn’t seem fair.

Some gung-ho fundamentalists insist that there are no homosexuals in Heaven, only “hets.” Well, I’m sorry, but how can you have a utopia without gay people? That doesn’t sound like much fun. Who would all of your pious, dead, fag hags hang out with, for example? And if there is no sex in Heaven, as some also believe, then why would someone’s sexual orientation on earth be a determining factor after death anyway? Are they afraid that we would be there seducing the big, humpy angels and preying upon the pretty little cherubs? You needn’t worry yourself. Don’t you see that we all make Heaven and Hell what we want them to be? It’s all just more wishful thinking, which comes right back to its being our own state of mind.

I’ll go wherever I’m destined to go, probably where everybody goes when they leave this earth. Consider this. Death is inevitable. Every living thing dies eventually. So who or what has the time or inclination to monitor every death that occurs and decide the various places where each soul should go? I believe that we all go the same route, regardless of what others think about us or what we think about ourselves. So until then, I can’t be concerned.

Some people think that they will go to Heaven just because they want to. Actually, I believe that to be the very case. Who else could make such a decision for us if not our own self? How would you know that you are in Heaven unless you think that you are? Only you can make that assertion for yourself. If you have inner peace and self-contentment, then you would consider that Heaven for you, and if you are constantly miserable and self-loathing, then you must be in Hell. See, it’s state of mind, just like I said. Your Heaven wouldn’t be the same as mine because we don’t think exactly alike. It can’t be defined in any definite terms. Each of us will make it what we want it to be.

No one knows for sure what the criteria are. It seems that one has to believe in Heaven in order to go there, but we can go to Hell whether we believe in it or not? Come on! Humans invented Heaven to satisfy their own peace of mind. There are some miserable souls who will opt to end their life because they believe that Heaven will be a better situation than what they have here on earth. Many of the Negro slave songs implore that they be taken home to Heaven. (# …and go home to my Lord and be free. #) You know? (# There’s got to be something better than this. #)

To illustrate this assertion of state of mind, let’s further explore this philosophical approach to Postmortem Destiny and Relocation. There is another “Twilight Zone” episode, entitled “A Nice Place to Visit” in which small-time, petty crook, Larry Blyden, gets killed during a robbery and comes to in a nicely-furnished apartment and is greeted by his “spiritual guide,” Sebastian Cabot. After he is informed that he is, in fact, dead, and since his surroundings are so satisfactory, Larry assumes that he must be in Heaven. He is further convinced of that when all his earthly desires are provided for him. All the money he asks for (although why does he need money now? He’s dead!), booze and young white women to fawn and gush over him. At the casino he constantly wins every time, never loses.

After a while he complains to “Mr. Fats” that he is bored. There are no kicks to winning all the time. He’s even sick of the gorgeous “broads” hanging around him. He can’t seduce any of them, because they are all too willing to succumb. There are no challenges or mystery to anything anymore. Everything is so predictable. What is the fun of robbing banks and holding up people if they know about it ahead of time and don’t even try to stop him? Plus, he doesn’t know anybody here; he is basically alone, because this is his own private domain, you see. So he tells “Angel” Cabot, “I don’t think that I belong here in Heaven. I want to go to the other place.” He is then informed, “What ever made you think that you were in Heaven? This is the Other Place!” Aha!

Another take on the subject is on a “Night Gallery” episode, in which John Astin is killed in a car crash and is immediately relegated to a subterranean Waiting Room. He turns on the radio but the only thing that he can find on it is annoying Muzak. Soon enters an old man, but when Astin tries to make conversation with him, all he talks about is the weather, his health and other boring prattle. There is a married couple there who are showing thousands of slides from a trip they took and are insisting that everybody watch them. There is a sign on the wall that has a long list of no-nos and what not is allowed there. He is assuming now that he must be in Hell.

When Astin asks for an audience with the Devil Himself, he does appear and John asks to be transferred to Heaven instead. The Devil tells him that “Heaven” has a room exactly like this one, and the people there just love it! “One person‘s heaven is another person‘s hell, and vice versa. Think about that,” he tells him. See? It’s state of mind, just like I said. So it doesn’t matter where you go. It’s we who ultimately punish or reward ourselves, depending on how we regard things.

This idea is further explored in the more recent film, Heaven Is For Real (2014), supposedly based on a true story, whereas a 4-year-old boy, Colton Burpo, while undergoing an operation for appendicitis, claims to have experienced an out-of-body episode, during which he sees himself being operated on, sees his mother and father in different locales of the hospital, making phone calls and praying to God, he sees angels who sing to him, meets his long-dead grandfather and unborn sister, and even meets and speaks with Jesus Christ! Since his father is a Christian minister, little Colton already has been taught certain images of Heaven, so why wouldn’t the child conjure up those impressions in his dreamlike state? What would he know of Hell? He’s only four! Jesus appeared to the boy as he looked in many of the pictures that he had seen. If he were a Buddhist, it would have been Buddha and Mohammed for a Muslim.

If you want to believe this story, and I don’t discount it completely, it only reaffirms that rather than an actual place, Heaven (and Hell, too) is merely a plane of consciousness, which varies from one person to the next. Heaven, therefore, to reiterate, is whatever each of us chooses it to be. If someone feels that they should be punished for their worldly transgressions, they will banish themselves to Hell instead. And there is no reason why we wouldn’t be able to venture back and forth between the two, depending on our state of mind at any given time. So then, we don’t really “go” anywhere when we die, only our soul, or essence, “crosses over” to the Hereafter. Since death itself is the same for everybody, I would think that our afterdeath would be the same as well. I believe that any retribution afforded us is administered while we are still alive. That means that we decide our own fate.

(# …There are no restricted signs in Heaven, there is no selected clientele… #)
Oh, really? Tell that to the Mormons. They are even more restrictive than the Catholics, who are another story altogether. (Check out my A Critique of Catholicism in another post.) Mormons actually deny people’s worshipping choices. If you are not a full-fledged, initiated and dedicated Mormon, you cannot set foot into their Sacred Temple. My acappella group, The Flirtations, played Salt Lake City once, and they wouldn’t even let us see the inside, even though we were visiting celebrities. And on top of that, everyone who wants to, cannot become a Mormon. You have to qualify to be a member of their church. Oddly enough, blacks can be members of the Mormon Church (Gladys Knight is a converted Mormon) but they cannot become priests nor do they go to the “Mormon Heaven.” Yep, they’ve even got their own heaven, don’t you know!

A passage in the Book of Mormon tells that because of a curse upon them, some whites were turned into black people, and whites who mix with them will suffer the same dreadful fate. There are always ways to sanction discrimination, in the name of religion. And it’s not enough that they segregate here on earth, they intend to keep their heaven exclusive, too. According to Mormon tradition, Abel Burns, who was a faithful servant to Mormon leader Joseph Smith, is the only black man in the Mormon Heaven. Wasn’t that white of them to let him enter? They probably just needed a token “gofor”/slave. I reckon old Abel must be pretty lonely and out-of-place up there, though, all by himself with all them white folks. Heaven, huh?

In the Greek myths and legends, all their mortal characters go to Hades, or the Underworld, when they die. Their Heaven, or Mount Olympus, apparently is reserved only for the gods and goddesses. So there is no judgment between good and bad, as everybody goes to the same place, regardless, depending on whether they are a god or a mortal. When deserving thus, their punishment is usually bestowed upon them by the gods while they are still alive on earth. They may be turned into things or made to endure some sort of heinous torment. I guess you can say that those mythological characters do indeed experience Hell on earth, whereas Hades is the place they go for their peaceful, eternal rest.

I have a couple of other observations or theoretical queries, if you will, that I’d like to run by you. Why are all allusions to Heaven upward?—up there, on high, in excelsis, in the highest, “Cabin in the Sky,” we look up when we say our prayers or talk to God, “she raised her eyes up to Heaven … He ascended into Heaven.” Some Romance languages, like French, Italian and Spanish, even use the same word for both heaven and sky: ciel and cielo, respectively. And Hell is always downward somewhere—the Underworld, Down Below, “He descended into Hell.”

Again, it goes to how we humans think about things. When we feel good about ourselves, we feel uplifted, on a high, lightheaded. Conversely, when we are depressed, we feel low, down in the dumps, downcast, downtrodden. So naturally we like to think of Heaven as up, positive and happy, and Hell as down, negative and miserable. They don’t necessarily have to be up and/or down. Hell could be up there in the sky just as well as Heaven can, or vice versa, or neither place. They might be “over there” somewhere.

Another reason why I think Heaven and Hell must be theoretical rather than actual places, is because of their limitations of capacity. Here on earth we are all recycled and subject to the balance of nature. People (and animals, too) are born and then have to die eventually in order to make room for more. Otherwise, we would be over-crowded and there wouldn’t be enough room to sustain everybody. If those afterlife destinations where the dead are to remain for all eternity because they don’t have anywhere else to go, both places would have to fill up at some point. I’m talking about googols of creatures who have been dying since the beginning of time. Even if it’s only their spiritual essence rather than their corporal being, that’s still a lot of occupied space.

So, here is an idea. What if all our deceased souls are relegated to outer space? Since the Universe is limitless, that way we never would run out of space. Or else, as I have already concluded, Heaven and Hell both are merely in another dimension, if you will, or another plane of consciousness, which goes right back to the whole thing’s being a state of mind rather than something concrete.

[Related articles: A Critique of Catholicism; For the Bible Tells Me So; I Believe…; Jesus H. Christ; Nativity Negation Redux; Oh, God, You Devil!; Sin and Forgiveness; The Ten Commandments]

“Trust Me.”

Trust is a two-way street, and it is very hard for some people to trust each other. “If I am capable of no-good, then you must be, too.” But just as people are generally distrustful of everybody, they also tend to be too trustful at times. All of us are forced to put our trust in people who are responsible for our very lives and our common safety. We trust bus and cab drivers, chauffeurs, train engineers, airplane and ship pilots to get us where we want to go safely. We constantly eat out in restaurants and trust that the food we order is prepared under safe and sanitary conditions, which applies also to the processed food items that we buy in stores. We don’t know any of these people behind the scenes. Are they all really looking after our best interests? Why should they even care?

Gaining people’s trust is how crooks and con artists and other evildoers are able to operate. Those grifters don’t really steal people’s money. They charm and talk you into willingly giving it to them. So then they haven’t committed any crime. It’s not wrong to accept money from somebody, given freely. These people don’t do what they do out of financial necessity. They could get a real job, if they chose to. It’s all just a game with them, with losers and winners at stake. In Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), for example, there were three cons who were all trying to get over on each other. The one who ultimately won “the game” by conning the other two, admitted to them that it was the most fun she ever had. We often hear someone complain, “But I trusted him, and he betrayed me!” Always keep in mind that you can be betrayed only by someone that you trust.

Here is a situation that I find to be worthy of consideration. You are in a waiting room somewhere, at the airport or train station, perhaps, and you need to go somewhere for a moment. So you ask the person whom you’ve been sitting next to, and whom you don’t know from Adam, to watch your bags and stuff until you get back. Now when this happens to me or when I witness it with others, it always occurs to me, from whom are we being asked to guard this person’s belongings? Are they worried that some random thief will walk up from somewhere and just start going through a person’s things or otherwise run off with it when we are sitting there right next to it? They would probably think that the stuff belongs to the person there watching it or to someone they know. I would be more concerned about this stranger that I asked to watch my stuff, since they are the one who has direct access to it and who could pilfer something without anybody being suspicious. Just because you are sitting next to someone in a waiting room doesn’t automatically absolve them from being a thief. The person that you just gave permission to guard your bags may be the very one to be wary of! They may be in possession of stolen goods right then and there. I never ask anybody to watch my stuff for me. Either I take my chances and just hope that it will be safe, or I take it with me. I am not as trusting as other people tend to be.

Another case in point. While at a disco in Cape Town, South Africa, my friend and colleague, Michael, requested that a perfect stranger standing on the sidelines hold his fanny pack containing his new camera and some other important items, while he was out on the dance floor. When he later sought out the guy to reclaim his property, the man had fled the premises with Michael‘s stuff! Later he was telling people that somebody stole his camera. I would always correct him. “No, Michael. That man did not take your camera from you. You gave it to him!“ Take some responsibility. Did Michael actually think that since the guy was white, he could be trusted with his property? “Sure, I’ll hold that for you. In fact, I’ll keep it for you!” I think he learned his lesson that night.

Airport baggage handlers have been known to go through passengers’ luggage and take things out. It has happened to me more than a few times. If I know that a certain item was in my bag when I checked it, but it’s not there when I claim it later at my destination, what am I supposed to think happened to it? Did it just disappear in transit? Important mail that I have sent has been illegally opened and retained by unknown postal workers. The mail goes through many hands before it’s delivered. Who can you specifically blame unless they are actually caught in the act?

The use of video surveillance has become a necessity now. Individuals have been caught in the act committing bodacious acts of thievery and vandalism. Besides the rampant employee theft that goes on everywhere, it occurs in people’s homes from their housekeepers and other visiting servicepersons as well. We’ve seen young children being mistreated by their babysitters and caregivers. Parking attendants steal things from your car and even take your vehicle out for joyrides. There is virtually nothing some people won’t do when they think that nobody is watching them.

Realize, too, that the concept and implementation of contracts and other signed documents are based on people’s personal distrust of each other. We all know that a verbal agreement is not worth the paper on which it’s printed. We want everything in writing and notarized to protect ourselves from other people’s potential dishonesty or injustice. It’s not enough to assure someone that you will repay a bank or some other corporate loan. You are required to put up some kind of collateral of equal value, just in case you don’t or cannot pay it back.

A marital, prenuptial agreement is another obvious indication of mistrust. What about those story plots where the lovers are scheming to get rid of the spouse of one of them? “Darling, I’m going to kill my wife so that we can be together.” “That’s nice, dear. But how do I know that in a year or so you won’t get tired of my ass and want to kill me, too?” I can’t trust a person who I know has wronged someone, because they are liable to do the same to me. “Oh, I’m not worried about that. He loves me.” Yeah, he probably loved his wife, too, once upon a time, before he decided to murder her!

Some buildings here in the City and elsewhere require you to sign in upon entering. What is the purpose of that, please? Some have suggested that it is for “security reasons,” that if something happens, they have a record of whom was there at the time. But if there are a hundred signatures on the list, that doesn’t narrow down the culprit. And if someone is in the building to steal something or up to some other no-good, they’re not going to sign their real name(s) anyway, so that guard still is not going to know who to blame. So you can see that that sort of signing in is an unnecessary and pointless annoyance, in my opinion. Moreover, what good is a so-called security guard when they are not impervious to physical harm. They can be subdued or even killed by a perpetrator just like anyone else.

I’ve seen this common scenario. A man witnesses a murder and is badly injured and is admitted to the hospital. The police need him to testify, and as his life has been threatened, they want to protect him from being killed until the trial. So they post an officer (one, mind you!) outside his room in the hospital. But what good is that when the cop just let that nurse or some other hospital personnel, who may be an imposter, go into the witness’ room alone, who then proceeds to kill him?! How are you watching them out in the hall outside of the room? Why not put someone inside the room as well, in case they get in through a window or some other means? If you want to protect somebody from harm, you have to stay with them every second. But even that may not be enough. You have to go to the restroom or get a drink of water at some point. The coffee offered the guard could be drugged with something, even the pizza he has delivered might be poisoned. So the guard can be killed just as easily as the intended target.

I have been required to serve on jury duty in New York a few times, and they now have very tight security in all the court buildings. It’s just like the airports. They have metal detectors and make a thorough search of the belongings of everyone who enters the buildings. That is, everyone except the attorneys and other court officials, which, in my opinion, is discriminatory and prejudicial in itself. If they are going to check some people, they should check everyone, regardless of who they are, no exceptions. If they think that a regular citizen off the street might be packing heat, then those lawyers and judges could be as well. And who could get away with sneaking a firearm into the courtroom but someone who knows that they won’t be searched upon entrance? We regular folks know better than to do it because we know that it will be confiscated.

And somebody tell me, please, what is the purpose of allowing bailiffs to carry loaded pistols while in the courtroom? What do they need it for? Whom do they plan on shooting? The weapons are not even concealed either, just right there in the holster in plain sight of all present. What is preventing some deranged, desperate person there from getting the gun away from the officer and using it to shoot somebody themself? I’m sure that has happened more than once. People often get shot and killed with their own gun. Such hypocrisy! No guns in the court building should apply to everyone, regardless. No exceptions!

There was a time when they would not allow anyone to take cameras up to the courtrooms. Firearms are okay, apparently, but not cameras. That was before I had a cellphone. I used to carry my camera and with me at all times, at least when I have my shoulder bag. So they would confiscate the item at the door, make me fill out a form and say that they will return it to me when I leave. Now, the problem that I had with that is that even though I assured the security guard that I had no intention of using it, he did not trust me to let me take it in with me. But he expected me to trust him to hold it for me while I’m there. I mean, neither of us knows each other, but he is automatically presuming that I am a liar and a criminal while I am forced to trust him with my personal property, just because he is a hired security guard. That’s not fair, is it? What, none of them ever lie or steal? I don’t know that for sure. I did not hire them for that job or check into their background or credentials.

Now with the preponderance of smartphones, that strict rule has been rescinded.
Instead of confiscating them, they just instruct visitors not to use them while in the courtroom. While on jury duty, there is a lot of waiting around time. We are put in the holding area for hours sometime before being called to be interviewed for jury selection. Plus, there are intermittent breaks throughout the day and time out for lunch. All this extra time could be used to do work, read, surf the internet, make calls, play games, whatever it is you do on your phone. If they don’t want people to take pictures, then just tell them not to do that. Then if they disobey, confiscate their phone as a punishment. Everyone should not be penalized.

This policy has also been done away with, thankfully. Some managers of stores used to require us to check our bags at the door, apparently presuming that we all are there to steal from them. How do we know for sure that their checkers are not going through our bags while we are shopping? I am not watching them every second. I don’t know those people or if they are honest or not. Again, the mere fact that we don’t expect it is how they would be able to get away with it. It has been proven in many instances that most of the theft that goes on in stores, offices and other businesses are by the employees themselves, not the customers. Most corporate crime involves an inside job. As I mentioned in another article, how could I embezzle from a company unless I actually worked there and had access to the money?

Here is another scenario that I saw in a TV drama (“Diagnosis Murder“). They are on the set of a live music awards telecast with recording artists and dignitaries galore on hand. There is supposed to be all this tight security in the studio and premises, I suppose to protect the stars from aggressive fans and stalking paparazzi. But somebody managed to murder one of the honorees in his trailer during the broadcast. It turned out to be the daughter of the producer of the show! So I’m wondering what was all that so-called security for? They were watching out for unauthorized, although innocent, outsiders and chose to ignore the participants. That is from whom all the intrigue and backbiting was occurring. If you’re going to have security guards, they need to be aware of everybody and everything, not just certain designated individuals. The ones not being paid attention to are probably the very ones up to no-good.

In July 2004 there was a fatal shooting in our own City Hall in Manhattan. When the news story broke, everybody wanted to know how the gunslingers got in with their weapons, since the building has such advanced security, or so we all thought. One of the men, James Davis, was a City Councilman who the guards all knew, having seen him come to work there every day. On that particular day when he entered with another man, the guards didn’t bother to check either of them. Why should they? They knew Davis. Well, both men were carrying concealed firearms. Later that day Davis was shot and killed by the other guy, who was in turn killed by a police detective on the scene. So, what good is so-called top security if they don’t make it apply to everyone involved, not just to persons whom they don’t know or who they deem suspicious?

The shooting occurred on the same floor as the mayor’s office, too. One would think that they would have learned their lesson from the 1978 City Hall assassinations in San Francisco of Mayor George Moscone and city supervisor Harvey Milk by fellow supervisor Dan White—that public officials and other government employees can be sick criminals, too, not just your average Joes off the street. Why shouldn’t the mayor himself be checked every day? How do we know for sure that one day he won’t snap, enter with a gun and go on a wild shooting spree? He’s only human. Their neglect to check each and every person entering a high security building, regardless of who they are, rather defeats the purpose, don’t you think? The moral of the story is, don’t trust anyone!

Humans Versus Animals

“What a piece of work is Man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god, the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals.”–Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Yeah, yeah, we are all that, but are we? Humans seem to have this chauvinistic and arrogant notion that we are the superior beings of all living creatures. It was the Swedish taxonomist, Carolus Linnaeus, who dubbed us homo sapiens, “wise man” (sexist, egocentric arrogance in itself). Homo, at root akin to humus—from which we also get human—is the Biblical clay from which God allegedly kneaded Adam when allegedly giving him his sapience. Linnaeus would have done better to call us homo loquens, “speaking human” or “the clay that speaks.” For though our racial sapience may be in doubt, our loquacity is beyond question and is what sufficiently distinguishes us from the so-called lower forms of life. Human is the critter that uses spoken language.

So, other than having the power of verbal communication, what else can we do the best? We can’t fly on our own volition, like the birds and some insects do. We can’t breathe underwater unassisted, like the fish and the aquatic mammals. As a species, we have relatively very short lifespans, unlike some tortoises and trees that can live for hundreds and thousands of years. We’re not the biggest, by any means, but size does not determine superiority anyway. I read somewhere that in proportion to his body, a male flea has the largest penis of any living creature. We’re not the strongest. Even a lowly ant has it over us.

Animals have built-in defense mechanisms, like horns, armor, claws, poisonous stingers, bites and venom, that can harm us and even kill us, as well as other creatures. Other than our limbs and possibly our teeth, we humans usually have to resort to outside tools, weapons and other gear to inflict harm on others. We’re not the fastest, all things being relative. We’re not the most adaptable. A cockroach can live off the glue on a postage stamp for months. We are certainly not the most beautiful, by some aesthetic standards. Our basic senses are not the most developed. Many animals have much better eyesight, hearing and sense of smell than we do, for instance. And it’s highly debatable whether we are the most intelligent.

In fact, with all things considered, I think that your insects are really the most supreme of all living creatures. They can fly, they can defy gravity (can you walk up a smooth vertical surface unassisted?), they can swim, they have heightened senses and lethal defenses, they are creative, intelligent, resourceful, incredibly strong, fast, adaptable, and they have big dicks! They have also mastered resistance to exposure to the most deadly force known on earth—radiation. It’s been said that if (and when) there is a nuclear holocaust, the insects will probably survive it. I believe it.

And don’t let size fool you, because there is strength in numbers. I learned that there are several billion insects to every person on earth. If they ever decided to band together and turn on us, we wouldn’t have a chance. They could easily take over the world. Look at how those locusts travel in massive swarms every few years, eating up all the vegetation in local areas. Suppose that they summon the rest of their friends sometime and go on a feeding rampage? After they have consumed all the plant life on earth, they would then have to start in on us and all the other animals, wouldn‘t they? We already know about those fearless, carnivorous army ants, who are able to cause plenty of damage in great numbers. Even if they eventually have to start eating each other, they proliferate so much and so often that they probably would always maintain a supply of and for themselves.

Just because a creature cannot verbalize their thoughts, it does not in any way mean that they are less intelligent. Certain members of the ape family, for example, have been taught to communicate via American Sign Language. That would make them at least as smart as any deaf person. Dumb (mute) does not necessarily mean stupid. I absolutely abhor the common practice of referring to a deaf-mute person as a “dummy.” Just because they can’t speak or choose not to, does not make them mentally deficient. A person learns to speak by repeating from what they have heard others speaking. Since someone born deaf has never heard spoken language, how would they be able to imitate it? It is those who do speak who reveal their stupidity. If one doesn’t say anything, how do you know what they know? Deaf and blind Helen Keller was thought to be a hopeless case until her teacher, Annie Sullivan, got a hold of her. Helen turned out to be quite intelligent. How many of us with normal hearing can read lips and knows Braille and Sign Language? I learned that a tame gorilla is able to operate an iPad!

A guy I know once proclaimed at a party that “animals can’t think.” I said, ‘How in the hell do you know about their mental capabilities?’ Why wouldn’t animals be able to think? They have a brain just like we do. For example, my cat liked to sleep with me, but when she was just a kitten she was too small to climb the ladder to my loft bed. But I never carried her up there; I wanted to see if she could get there on her own. And she did! I could see her casing the situation, then she must have figured it out to maneuver each rung of the ladder until she reached the top. That must have required some thought and logic. Of course, as she grew, she was able to accomplish it more easily and subsequently was able to run up or down the ladder in one fail swoop.

A polar bear’s being white allows them to be able to blend in with their snow-covered surroundings. But their black nose is a sure giveaway when they are trying to sneak up on a seal, their primary food source. I learned that a polar bear will cover its nose with its paw to camouflage itself. Now how do they know that their nose is black, unless they figured it out from seeing the other bears and then knew enough to hide their own in order to stalk their prey? That must have taken some thought on their part. In a study of the mating habits of kangaroos, it was discovered that females tend to go after the males with the bigger arms!

Some dismiss animal behavior as mere instinct, but I think that even so-called instinct requires some kind of mental assessment. When they need to eat, they know enough to try to obtain food to satisfy their hunger. Otherwise when they got hungry, they would just starve to death, because they wouldn’t know what to do about it. With some creatures, all they do in life is eat and breed. Have they figured out that they need to breed in order to sustain the species, or is it that they just like having sex? How do they know about gestation and self-birthing and parenthood? They know their own children and will go to concerted length to protect them.

Animal mothers teaching and training their young how to hunt and how to survive in the wild must result in telepathic communication. How do baby animals learn about their particular skills and defenses, unless their parents somehow teach them what they need to know? Do birds realize that they can fly from seeing others of their kind do it? Then what about the ratites, birds that can’t or won’t fly–like your cassowaries, emus, kiwis, ostriches, penguins and rheas–did they a long time ago decide that they didn’t want or need to fly, so they never developed the proper wings or body type to do so? It couldn’t be about their size, because I’m sure that a giant condor is bigger and heavier than an ostrich, say, and it can lift off, despite its weight. So when someone tells me that penguins can’t fly, I suggest that maybe they just choose not to.

I have so many questions about animal behavior. Do animals that compete with each other–racehorses, greyhounds, fighting cocks, jumping frogs, whatever–know that they are being tested? Do they themselves have a competitive nature and actually want to win the race or fight or athletic event? Do they know when they win or lose and do they care? For that matter, do horses and other animals really like being ridden all the time? I realize that they put up with it, but even we humans often tolerate things that we don’t particularly enjoy. Some of these beasts of burden might think, “Well, he feeds me, grooms me and talks nicely to me. I guess I can let him ride me in return.”

I am pretty sure that animals on screen know that they are performing. Lassie, for one, was a great actor. He (the role was always played by a male collie) would display a range of emotions, depending on the situation. He could register excitement, despair, pain, affection, whatever was required of him. Mike, the chimpanzee who played Cheeta in many of the Tarzan films, was also a consummate and versatile actor. He had to have known what he was doing. James Stewart relates in a documentary how the horse, Pie, that he worked with for 20 years in 17 western films, always knew when he was being filmed, and they knew each other so well that Jimmy could talk to him and give him directions and the horse would obey and do his part.

There is a story about the making of Mike Nichols’ The Day of the Dolphin (1973). It is said that the two dolphins that played a big part in the film would show up on the set every day at the same time, or at least when they were shooting, and then would go away when they were finished for the day. And they somehow knew when the movie was finished as well. At the various Sea Worlds across the country, the dolphins and whales do perform for the attending spectators. They jump out of the water together and juggle balls, so they must know that they have an audience.

How do certain animals form groups and perform common actions? How do birds get into that choreographically-synchronized formation when they fly south for the winter, for instance? When the lead bird gets tired and drops out, another one will take its place. Does that one volunteer or are they chosen by the other birds? A pet “homing” pigeon, when left some place other than where it resides, can find its way home all by itself, even if it’s thousands of miles and through any kind of weather condition. If you woke up in unfamiliar surroundings many miles from where you live, would you be able to find your way home, without the use of any maps, signs, GPS, conveyances, protective covering, or asking anybody for your location and directions?

Who told all those cattle to stampede? Is there an ant and bee foreman who tells the others what their particular tasks are? There must be some mental communication, or do they just decide on their own what needs to be done? How do they know who their queen is? Is she elected or self-appointed? Since most insect species reproduce many offspring at one time and often, are the breeders able to keep up and recognize their spawn and regard them all equally? Is the mother cockroach aware that that was her baby that I just smashed in the sink?

I believe that communication is accomplished via their antennae, something that we humans don‘t have. Consider the architectural prowess and aesthetic sensibilities of some creatures. A bee’s honeycomb is made up of symmetrical, adjacent six-sided cells. How did they figure that out? How did they learn to make honey, for that matter? Is the pearl inside an oyster’s shell an unwanted, annoying, resultant growth like a gall stone, or is it intentional on the oyster’s part? Birds build nests for themselves and their young, and beavers build dams, using material that is available to them. When the lemmings are heading to the sea to commit suicide, does any of them ask, “Where are we going, what are we doing, and why?“?

“Nature” on PBS did a fascinating series on observing how certain animals behave in the wild. They showed Sumatran orangutans washing themselves with soap and water and sawing pieces of wood with an actual saw! I suppose they were provided with the saw to see what they would do with it. Some tropical macaws, after eating their usual meal of nuts and berries, which are apparently toxic to their systems, will then nibble on an available clay substance, which serves as an antidote to the poisonous food they have just eaten. How do they know that and what to do about it? Similarly, some peccaries have discovered that the mud that they regularly wallow in has a medicinal and nutritional effect on their diet.

Then, too, most animals make audible sounds that they most likely understand between like species, just like humans have created our own languages by which to communicate with each other. Just because we don’t understand their “zoosemiotics,” does not mean that their utterances don’t mean anything to them. We just don’t speak each other’s particular language. And whereas humans use many different sounds that mean all different things, a cat’s meow or a pig’s grunt sounds pretty much the same, at least to our ears. So they must have a more specialized way of conversing with each other. They more often seem to use non-verbal communication, which must mean that there is mental connection between them. A dog’s wagging their tail, for example, is a kind of sign language. They are trying to express something that’s on their mind when they do that.

I think that creatures that are able to communicate telepathically, therefore have it over us. Moreover, our pets and other animals can be taught to respond to our verbal commands–in all languages, too, depending on who is speaking–which suggests some sort of comprehension on their part. A Chinese dog, for example, responds to spoken Mandarin just as an American one knows English. You tell them to sit, and they will sit.

In Water for Elephants (2011) one of the characters attempts to train a female “bull” elephant that he acquires from another circus. When the animal doesn’t respond to his spoken commands, he proceeds to poke her in her side with a pointy prod. This doesn’t work, and of course, it enrages the elephant. They eventually figured out that the pachyderm understands Polish, which she learned from her previous owner! So it appears that animals learn whatever language is spoken to them and then respond accordingly, just as we humans do.

But we still haven’t learned what all their sounds mean. When a dog barks, we will say, “What’s the matter, boy? What do you want?” But if we knew Dog, we wouldn’t have to ask, would we? He understands you, but you don’t know what the hell he’s talking about. So, who’s the smarter?

Humans have the propensity of measuring and assessing all universal accomplishments against our own limited abilities. If Man [sic] can’t do it, it can’t be done. I was annoyed by a line in the movie sequel Aliens (1986). When the power went out in the complex and somebody blamed it on the creatures, one guy of the squadron said, “What do you mean they killed the power? They’re only animals!” I said (to the screen), ‘Well, what do you think you are?!’ With all that we had seen that organism already do, I don’t think that a little power switch would pose that much of a challenge.

Moreover, the astronauts in all four films of the series were on some foreign planet, dealing with an indigenous creature. But the titles and the movies themselves all implied that the monsters were the aliens, when in actuality, it’s the errant humans who are the real extraterrestrials and who came from someplace else. If we ever get to Mars, for example, we shouldn’t refer to the “people” already living there as aliens! That’s such an egocentric viewpoint. It’s like when we used to think that the Earth was the center of the Universe and everything else revolved around us.

I know it’s only a movie for our entertainment, but I also don’t like the fact that the humans’ prime mission is to wipe out all the creatures. Still referring to the “Alien” films, now Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) managed to survive the first film and make it back home to Earth. So then in the sequel, they get a whole new team together and go back to that same planet with the sole purpose of killing all of the creatures, who are there going about their own business. She got away, so why didn’t she keep her butt at home instead of going back there to antagonize them further? Naturally, the things are going to retaliate. The creature tried to impress upon them in the first film that the Earthlings were not welcome there, so why would they want to keep going back to where they are not wanted?

In Aliens, the second installment, just after a female creature has laid her eggs in the complex, Ripley goes in and destroys the nest and all the eggs. I don’t blame the mother for going after Ripley for that. Most anyone would do the same thing for their own kids. I don’t hate space creatures and monsters for being different from us, and just because the humans are actors that we know and love, doesn’t mean that their characters are always doing the right or honorable thing.

All living creatures are part of the Circle of Life, and if we would just leave everything and everyone alone, Nature would be able to operate as it’s supposed to. You know, it always bothers me how animals are treated, especially in their own habitats. Like in the jungle safari movies, for example, the explorers will be making their way through the brush when they encounter a big cat, maybe looking for food or just passing through on its way home. “Eek, a lion! Shoot it!” Look, if you’re afraid of dangerous jungle animals, then keep your butt out of there! Their rationale is that it is either them or the animal—you know, self defense. But who is in the wrong here? Doesn’t this animal have a right to be where it is? It’s at home. Those people don’t live out there in the jungle! They’re the intruders, not the lion. If someone breaks into your house and you both have a gun and you shoot and kill the intruder, you would be declared to be in the right, since it was self-defense and you were defending your turf. Well, these wild animals should have the same right. The humans are the interlopers, but they can just walk into these animals’ homes, kill them and destroy their homes, and nothing is done about it. The innocent animals have no rights or recourse.

Another time they will disturb a tree and a python will drop out of it, most likely startled and frightened. So what do these white men do? They kill the snake! Now, this poor little snake is in its own home minding its business, and just because these invaders don’t like snakes or are afraid of them, they decide to kill it. Once when a friend of mine was visiting his sister in South Carolina, his teenage nephew and niece found a snake in their yard and promptly killed it. I asked him why did they kill the snake, and he told me, “Because they thought it might be poisonous.“ I said, ‘What?! Just because this innocent creature may or may not have a built-in defense mechanism, it deserves to die?‘ With that thinking, why don’t they kill everything for their mere being, and then why not go farther than that and kill everybody they encounter in life, too, because they just might have a gun or knife or some dangerous weapon on them? Some people will use any excuse to justify killing something.

So the way things are, if you don’t like a certain creature, it does not deserve to live. I would bet that more snakes have been deliberately killed by humans than people have been attacked by snakes. Where does one encounter a snake? Where they live–in the wild, in the jungle, in bodies of water. They tend to stay to themselves. They don’t get their friends together and go into the village or big city on a killing spree. If you find a snake where it shouldn’t be, it’s because somebody probably put it there. Okay, maybe I do like snakes, but that doesn’t excuse these animal killers.

It’s been said that most animals can smell and sense fear. They have learned that when someone is afraid, they will strike out at the object of their fear. So the animal, in turn, will then attempt to defend itself against the other’s aggression. I don’t consider any animal to be vicious by nature, who attack people unprovoked. We are usually the catalyst. Just like when a bumblebee buzzes by, a common reaction is to swat at it, which the innocent bee takes to mean that the person is trying to harm or kill it. So naturally it will retaliate by stinging the aggressor, which is their defense mechanism. When a bee loses its stinger, the result is death for the bee. I don’t think that they just go around committing suicide at will. If you don’t bother them, they most likely will not bother you. I am pretty sure that bees, hornets and wasps don’t go on regular stinging sprees, attacking everything that they come in contact with. I have encountered many stinging insects during my lifetime, but I have never been stung by one. I just remain calm and let them go about their business, which they always do.

Wild animals behave much in the same way. Most tend to avoid and retreat from humans when they can. Unless you are their intended prey, they don’t just attack innocent humans for any other reason. In my opinion, it is Man himself who is the most vicious of creatures. Humans are the ones who kill other living things and each other indiscriminately at will. As I said, animals seem to sense fear. If you freak out in their presence, it causes them to freak out as well. They wonder, “What’s happening? Why is that guy acting so nervously? Is he about to hurt me? I’d better put up my guard.” I’ve never been bitten or attacked by any animal (discounting mosquitoes), because I must not be threatening to them, I guess. I don’t bother them, so they leave me alone as well.

There was a news report a while ago that a Siberian tiger had escaped from his cage at the San Diego Zoo and killed a man in the process of trying to get away. So, of course, the poor tiger was shot and killed, because we can’t have a wild animal running around killing innocent people, now can we? But I am on the side of the animal. How would you feel if you were abducted from your homeland and then imprisoned in a tiny cell, er, cage, as if you were a dangerous criminal but you hadn’t done a damned thing to anybody? Wouldn’t you try to find a way to escape and strike out at anyone who tried to stop you? Some people think that animals have no feelings at all and think that they can do anything they want to them. But apparently the tiger was unhappy being confined like that or else he wouldn’t have tried to escape. They didn’t have to kill him. They could have used a tranquilizer dart on him or something. The fact that tigers are now on the endangered list, makes his murder all the more unfortunate and maddening.

A more recent scandal has arisen with the slaughter of a celebrated Zimbabwean lion named Cecil by dentist Dr. Walter Palmer. The country is in an uproar, deeming Palmer as “the most hated man in America.” The excuse that he proffered was that he didn’t realize that the lion he killed was famous or beloved. But that’s hardly the point, is it? He shouldn’t be killing any wild animals, regardless of their purported notoriety. “Oh, I thought he was just some old, anonymous, insignificant, ghetto lion. I didn’t know that he was beloved by many and was actually known by name.” And Cecil isn’t even the first lion that Palmer has killed. It’s just that this last time he was found out and called on it. Another sick aspect of it all is that Palmer paid $55,000 (!) for the privilege of going on one of these big game hunting safaris. As of this writing, Dr. Palmer is in hiding somewhere, as there are a bunch of people after his hide. Somebody said, “I’d like to mount Palmer’s head on my wall!:

Another recent incident of public outrage concerns the Cincinnati Zoo gorilla who was shot and killed when a toddler managed to get into the animal’s enclosure. Many, including myself, want to know how the child got into the gorilla’s space in the first place. It appears that he crawled under a fence and then dropped down ten feet into the enclosure. What was the child’s parents doing at the time? They must not have been watching him. The kid was deemed to be in serious danger, but the news footage that I have seen of the encounter appeared to me that the gorilla was not intentionally trying to harm the child. They looked as if they were merely playing. The animal was holding the kid’s hands and romping with him on the ground, perhaps a little too roughly it was thought. But just as with the murdered tiger, this innocent gorilla, although also endangered, its life was not as important as a human child’s and had to be sacrificed. It’s a good thing that there weren’t any trigger-happy hunters around when those jungle apes encountered Baby Tarzan.

I think that some blame must be put on the parents and the zoo officials as well. The fact that any visiting spectator can get that close to the animals should be addressed. I suppose now they will do something about the lax security and safety features at that zoo. And instruct parents to keep an eye on their children while there! I remember a sign on the wild birds’ cage at the Bronx Zoo years ago that warned, “Keep your hands outside the bars. These birds will bite your fingers…OFF!” I thought it best not to call their bluff.

But speaking of dangerous, uncontrollable simians… Remember King Kong (1933, 1976, 2005 and 2017), that giant, vicious gorilla? Now Kong had lived on that island all those years, staying off to himself, minding his business, not bothering anybody. The natives there even revered him as a benign god. Sure, he abducts Miss White Child, who is given to him as a sacrifice, but he doesn’t harm her in any way. In fact, he keeps trying to protect her. When the marauding interlopers arrive to rescue “the girl,” the first thing they do upon encountering the ape is to start shooting at him! “Let’s kill that savage beast! How dare he run off with one of our women!” Well, how did he get her and why was she there?

But then the head guy gets the bright idea to take Kong back to New York to exploit him for his own gain. But as soon as Kong displays the slightest displeasure of being in this new environment, well then, he has to be destroyed! So those bastards go to all that trouble bringing him here, against his will, only to have him killed when they realize their mistake. They should have left him where he was. Then the jerk who is responsible for what went down has the nerve to blame Ms. Thing. “It was Beauty that killed the Beast,” he declares at the end. No, it wasn’t. It was you greedy, exploitative scumbags who killed him!

There is an old “The Twilight Zone” episode entitled “People Are Alike All Over,” in which Roddy McDowall is an astronaut who lands on Mars and is met with friendly Martian hospitality. They appear to be human (although everyone is Caucasian), they wear clothes and speak English. They escort him to his lodgings, a house equipped with all the normal comforts of an Earthly home. But when Roddy tries to leave the house and discovers that his door is locked and there are no windows to his humble abode, he starts to freak out. Then a wall panel opens up and he is confronted with iron bars and sees a throng of Martian people staring in at him. There is a sign just outside of the bars that reads, “Earth Creature in his natural habitat.” He then realizes that he is on display, like in a zoo, and will have to remain there for the rest of his life. He concludes that people are the same everywhere!

I am not against zoos in themselves. I like the fact that we can view all kinds of different creatures without having to travel to their various natural habitats. But I do object to confining them in cages. There are some zoological gardens that maintain large, unbarred areas where the animals can roam free. Visitors can drive through and look at the animals from their vehicles or get out if they want to take pictures. Why can’t all zoos take this same approach and do away with cages and confined spaces? We have the room.

In 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) a space crew returning from a trip to Venus bring back with them a creature from the planet who is not vicious at all but on the contrary, innocent, confused and frightened. It subsequently escapes its original confines and gets away. While hiding out in a barn, a farmer jabs the “Ymir” with a pitchfork, causing the creature to fight back. So whereas William Hopper and his guys want to protect and study the creature, now some others want to destroy him because he hurt a man. Well, the man attacked him first! He wasn’t bothering anybody. Just like with Kong, they bring this Venusian animal from his homeland, against his will, and then are hellbent on killing him as soon as he gets here. Why don’t they leave things alone?!

(# Who’s afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?… #)
The poor wolf is always depicted as a vicious marauder in folklore. They are always stalking and preying on innocent animals like pigs and even little girls. From what I know about them, wolves are not aggressive like that at all. They’re gentle and they stay to themselves most of the time. They’re just a breed of wild dog who have to eat just like everybody else. So what if that wolf or fox raided the hen house? Now, come on, admit it—I’m sure you’d raid it, too, if you got hungry enough! My sympathies always lie with the creatures rather than the humans. In all those giant monster movies, the animals got that way due to some sort of experimentation, radiation tests or ecological negligence on the white man’s part, but then the creatures are punished for being in the situation that the men themselves caused. It’s the same thing that they do with each other.

Let’s now consider the plight of our sea creatures. The great white sharks in the Jaws movies and the giant squids in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Beast are made out to be monsters and the villains of the story. Why is that? A shark’s only raison d’etre is swimming and eating. That’s all it does. And being a fish, it can’t leave the confines of the ocean, so that is where it must find its food. So if that group of sport divers were eaten by sharks or other sea creatures, how are the animals in the wrong? They were hungry, and the divers were available. We do the same thing. And don’t smaller fish go after what’s dangled in the water at them? So, people are bigger, but they are still considered bait just the same. “I’m going to destroy that shark for killing my son!” But, which shark did it, first of all, and what was your son doing lurking around the shark’s domain? It didn’t come up on the shore to get him, did it? Captain Ahab is obsessed with killing Moby Dick because the whale bit off his leg. How did that happen? He didn’t bite off my leg! Ahab has to take some responsibility for being in that situation.

As life imitates art and vice versa, some years ago a 13-year-old surfer girl named Bethany Hamilton, was relaxing on her surfboard off the coast of Kauai, when a large tiger shark swam up and bit off her entire left arm all the way to the shoulder. The girl survived—she didn’t even freak out about it—but her father and some of his friends subsequently went after the alleged shark to destroy it, which they did. How dare that shark look for food in order to live! I mean, what was it thinking? Couldn’t it distinguish a little white child from a sea turtle?!

Another woman was out marlin fishing one day, and I suppose the marlin that she was struggling with just got fed up with people trying to catch it all the time. So the marlin swam up to the boat where the woman was standing, jumped out of the water and speared the woman through her body while trying to pull her into the water with it. The fish was probably thinking, “Bitch, you are going down! I am tired of y’all fuckin’ with me!” Miraculously, the woman survived the attack.

I don’t expect ever to be eaten by sharks or whales, because I’m not intentionally going to be out there where they are! But if it should ever happen, then it’s too bad for me. I certainly won’t fault the animal. People need to take responsibility for their own actions. The animal shouldn’t be blamed for doing what it is supposed to do. Again, an arbitrary value is put on a creature’s life. Humans, especially white men, think that they are certainly more important than an insignificant shark, some stupid snake or tiger. But in Nature’s eyes, we are no better than any other creature. What humans need to realize is that just as we prey on other animals, we have to accept the fact that we ourselves are also prey for other creatures. We kill and eat things from the sea, hence the term seafood, and sea creatures themselves eat other things that they find in the water. So if some guy is swimming around in there with the sharks and other hungry sea creatures at mealtime, then they should expect to become the potential “seafood dinner.“ How dare we blame them for doing the exact same thing to us that we do to them? It’s survival of the fittest, or most clever. The difference is, however, that most animals kill only for self-preservation or to protect their young. Only humans kill other creatures for mere sport.

Being a major carnivore myself, it would be hypocritical of me to protest the killing of all animals for our food supply. But I do object to killing an animal just for the sake of killing it. The hunter who will shoot a deer or a duck out of the air and then walk off and leave it lying there seems senseless to me. Even fishing just for sport with no intention of eating the fish caught seems a bit pointless and wasteful. If you’re not going to eat it, then let the thing live out its natural life. It’s bewildering to me that there are people who actually take great pride in their ability to outwit a fish.

I don’t think that we all should become vegetarians, necessarily. If everybody in the world was a strict vegetarian, there would probably then be a shortage of fruit, vegetables and grains. And then, too, plants are living things that we kill and destroy when we pick them, cut them down and dig them up. But I believe that these things are put here for our own use. We have to eat something, don’t we, to nourish ourselves and to survive. But we carnivores are part of the balance of nature ourselves. At this time, however, there does not seem to be a noticeable shortage of beef cattle, porkers, poultry and seafood. But as soon as any of these creatures become endangered, only then will I worry about giving them up.

Slaughtering poor, defenseless animals just for their furs is cruel and barbarous, too. As I am all for conservation and recycling, I don’t object to the use of animal by-products, but why can’t they wait until the animal dies a natural death? There is nothing that we need so urgently that we should kill an elephant to obtain its tusks. If they want it that badly, find the secret elephant graveyard and get it from the dead animals. Oh, but that’s too much trouble. It’s much easier just to kill the ones right there in front of you. Or as an alternative, plastic piano and organ keys work just as well as ivory ones.

Supply and demand should be determined by natural availability. “I would like a silver fox coat, please.” “I’m sorry, ma’am, but there are no deceased silver foxes at the moment. You’ll just have to wait. Or better yet, why don’t you select one of our imitation furs instead?” The appearance and feel of fake furs are just as nice and they are just as warm. Why do they have to be real? Sure, I love leather, but I can do without it. Please don’t kill anything on my account.

I don’t personally indulge in the killing of any living creature, except for insects that get into my apartment. My justification is that they are unwanted intruders in my domicile. I don’t mind spiders, but I don’t like flies, ants, termites or cockroaches in my house. So with them, it’s either get out or die. Anywhere else, I don’t care what they do. I don’t like gnats and mosquitoes anywhere, indoors or out, but I don’t bother bees, butterflies or any other outdoor insects. I have seen mice in my place on occasion, but I don’t kill them when they get in here, however. I think that mice are cute, and basically harmless. When I had cats, they would get rid of them and take care of any other invading vermin. Mice don’t come in your house to make social calls. They’re looking for something to eat. If they don’t find anything lying around, they will go away on their own. I don’t have to kill them. They don’t say, “I am going to stay right here until you feed me!”

Ogden Nash has a verse that goes, “God in His wisdom made the fly, / And then forgot to tell us why.“ I feel the same about cockroaches and waterbugs. What earthly purpose do they serve anyway? All they do is proliferate, crawl around on anything and everything and eat anything that they are able to. I feel no guilt or remorse when I kill one. My roaches seem to be remiss in their communication skills, incidentally. They most likely have a nest in my kitchen area behind the sink, as that is where they usually emerge from, crawling around on my counter and in the sink itself looking for water perhaps. As they are not very fast in their retreat, I am able to smash them or scald them with hot water from the faucet. Sometimes I will leave them there as a warning to the others, so I would think that when one comes out into the sink and sees their dead homies, they would alert the others and tell them, “Hey, guys, stay in your hole and don’t come out! There is a mad serial killer on the loose! Nobody is safe!” But they never seem to learn and keep dying by the droves. And the fact that I don’t leave any food lying around, their quest for same is futile anyway. As it turns out, their venturing out into the open tends to be a potential suicide mission for them.

In Alfred Hitchcock’s take on his 1963 thriller The Birds, he explains how humankind constantly takes nature for granted. In the case of our feathered friends, they are always being shot at and killed, throttled, strangled, eaten and/or confined in cages. Is it any wonder that they would some day all band together and fight back? In the movie itself, it’s never explained why the birds attacked or if something or someone were compelling them to do so. Mr. Hitchcock has left it up to us viewers to draw our own conclusions about it. I suppose these films, as well other similar ones, could serve as cautionary tales to warn us that if we oppress living beings long enough, whether they be human or beast, they may eventually turn on us, and the resulting situation will be our own undoing.

I have another thing to say in defense of animals. We should stop attributing our negative human traits to innocent animals. “Men are such animals!” you’ll hear people say. In actuality, men are such…men! “My boyfriend treats me like a dog. He beats me and even tried to rape me last night. He was like an animal.” Really? What animals do you know that beat and rape their mates? My guess is that he is an abusive man who treats you worse than he would his dog. An unattractive woman is not a dog either. She’s an unattractive woman. Most dogs are considered cute. To a person who overeats, we might say, “You eat like a pig!” instead of “You eat like a voracious person!” Pigs don’t eat any more food than they require. “He drinks like a fish.” Uh, I don’t think that fish actually drink. Don’t you mean that he drinks like a lush? Let’s stop using animals as, if you’ll pardon the expression, scapegoats for our own human shortcomings, you male chauvinist…men, you. I shall work like a dog, er, I mean, a diligent individual, to obtain some common respect for our animal friends.

We do the same sort of thing to children. Adults refer to many of their own actions as “childish” behavior when they are, in fact, quite adult-like behavior. Childishness should not be synonymous with immaturity. One can act immaturely, but not necessarily childish. Many children are quite mature, regardless of their age, just like many adults can be quite immature, regardless of their age. So in my opinion, the term “childish,” when used in this context, as an insult, is inappropriate, unjustified, disrespectful and condescending. What’s in a word? The verb to kid means to fool, deceive, tease or joke, which suggests that children shouldn’t be taken seriously and everything they say is a joke. “Are you kidding me?…You’ve got to be kidding…I kid you not.”

Why I find that term to be inappropriate and disrespectful is because it is usually adults, not children, that indulge in misleading or derisive behavior. What I consider to be childish attitudes are innocence and unbridled honesty. Children usually speak their minds and call it as they see it. They have not yet learned the adult games of willful pretense, deceit and social decorum. It’s “out of the mouths of babes“ with them! Of course, youngsters can be deliberately cruel, too, especially to their peers, but I think that they pick up that tactic from their elders. In the case of your school bullies, for example, more often than not, you’ll find that they have a guardian or family member who is also a bully.

We should not presume that God makes mistakes of Nature. Whenever an animal or plant specimen is discovered to be different from the accepted norm, it is considered to be a new variety, breed or species. But when a human is born abnormally, it’s regarded as a freak or monster. Why should so-called normality be based on majority? They are just different from somebody else. Let’s consider the canine family, for instance. There are countless breeds of dogs of every shape and size who don’t look anything like each other. You put a Chihuahua, dachshund, pit bull, great Dane and St. Bernard together. Which one is the “freak“? We recognize and accept them all as dogs. They are just different. The same can be said of birds. Look at all the different kinds of birds there are in terms of appearance, but each species is accepted as being what it is and not criticized for not looking like another kind. Maybe these human anomalies are evolutionary mutants, members of a new species themselves or perhaps misplaced prototypes of creatures from somewhere else in the Universe.

Let me give you a couple of human for-instances. Have you noticed that children born with Down’s Syndrome all have similarities in appearance? They look as if they could be related genetically. The condition is caused by a certain chromosome that occurs in the parent’s genetic makeup. Maybe they belong to their own sub-species. They are not unique, as there are approximately 400,000 Down’s Syndrome people in the United States alone. The same can be said of Little People. I find that dwarfs, particularly, have a similar facial resemblance, as if they, too, are all genetically-related. I don’t believe that is coincidence. Just as it is with dogs, birds and all the other generic creatures, these people have a commonality among them but are still different from one to the next.

There was a television commercial for Bell Helmets that displayed the caption, “Humans are the only species with the ability to reason, and sometimes, they even use it.” I have come to the conclusion that this ability to reason is more often a discredit to our imagined superiority than it is an asset. Our trouble is that we tend to over-intellectualize everything. Thinking makes us too judgmental and moralistic. There is an old adage that says that ignorance is bliss, and it’s true in many cases. Certain knowledge is dangerous and/or nonconstructive. It seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same, and the more knowledge that humankind obtains, the more stupidly and irresponsibly we behave with that knowledge. In many ways I wish we were more like the animals—more simplistic or less-complex. By animals, I refer to non-human lifeforms.

If animals could talk to us…gee, could they teach us a thing or two! I love the section of Gulliver’s Travels where he visits the land of the Houyhnhnms, a superior race of rational, moral horses, and the life-changing lessons that Gulliver learns from them. They show him that complete honesty in communication is necessary for true knowledge and understanding, and purposely to utter untruths is senseless and counterproductive. He also comes to realize the needlessness of material things. Clothing, for example, is a manmade invention, as we were all born naked. With clothes we need pockets, then we need things to put into those pockets. And that’s where our lives become so complicated. Animals don’t need clothes or pockets (discounting the marsupials) or things with which to fill them.

Whereas animals don’t use any kind of currency or even need it and are not at all concerned with money, our very existence is motivated by it. Our society and civilization have been set up so that we cannot possibly live without it. In fact, we need it to come into the world, certainly to stay here, and even to go out of it. Money may not be at the root of all evil, but it certainly is the motive for much of the wrongdoing in the world. Some people lose all moral sense when it comes to money. They will do absolutely anything for it. They lie, cheat, steal and especially kill for it. It causes avariciousness and it makes people crazy and irrational.

What if there was no such thing as the concept of money, if everything was free? If money was not the end result or motivation behind all human action, people would do things out of mere necessity or their desire to do them. We all would still have to work to create and manufacture and maintain the things we need to live on and give us pleasure. Most money-related crimes are committed because we need something that we can’t afford or we are just greedy and want something that doesn’t belong to us. If no one needed money for anything, there would be no good reason to rob or steal. We could simply go to the store and get what we need or want.

Animals are not into social status and don’t try to impress each other with their appearance and how much they have. I imagine, too, that animals accept the way they are and how they look. Even if they don’t, what can they do about it? They don’t wear makeup and have cosmetic surgery done on themselves. They seem content to be the shape and size that they turn out. If a species specimen does find itself discontent with any aspect of its being, it will employ the process of evolution to effect the necessary changes in future generations. They don’t have the luxury of instant gratification like we do. If we want to change our nose or our whole face, we can get it done more readily.

Animals have no modesty or shame whatsoever. They don’t get embarrassed and have no humility. They are totally uninhibited when it comes to the sex act, for instance. They will sniff each other’s asses and indulge in unprotected sex right out in the open with people watching them. They don’t care. They’re just doing as nature dictates. Animal mothers breast-feed their young in public and no one seems to mind. But people aren’t as unfazed when their own human counterparts do the same thing. Breast-feeding mothers have been banned from the mall, and some have even been arrested for indecent exposure. Animals will relieve themselves in public wherever they please, and they run around without any clothes on and are not at all concerned with what anybody thinks about it.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we just take dumps wherever or whenever the mood strikes us, but then again, if we use some discretion and then clean up after ourselves like we do our pets, then I don’t see anything all that wrong with it. And I’m certainly not against public sex. I am an exhibitionist as well as a voyeur. If I like to watch other people exposing themselves and having sex, and who doesn’t, judging from the success of the porno industry, then in all fairness, I shouldn’t mind showing myself off to others. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. You don’t have to look if you don’t want to. And you had better not mind my looking either. If you don’t want me to see your “bidness,” then cover the shit up! (Check out my piece on Censorship.)

That’s another thing I’ve noticed about human beings, is that they like to hide and conceal their activities from each other, as if nobody else in the world is doing the same thing they are. If that weren’t enough, we can’t just be content committing the consensual sex acts that we enjoy among ourselves, we have to be concerned with what everybody else is doing with each other, and then passing judgment on those activities that we ourselves may or may not engage in. No matter what sexual activity you engage in, no matter how benign or perverse, there is going to be someone who disapproves. Who has the right to decide what should be taboo? Taboos are perpetuated by narrow-minded individuals and remain so because of people’s otherwise desire to keep their regardedly shameful activities secret, often not realizing that there are many people all over the world doing the very same things. We can break down some of these taboos when enough indulgent people decide to bring the matter out into the open for discussion toward acceptance. I believe in chacun à son goût—each to their own taste. Live and let live.

“For my flesh is meat indeed and my blood is drink indeed; He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in him.” Well, now! Those are actual lines from a motet that I get to sing on occasion at church. Human beings are a highly-judgmental lot, but we are often guilty of the very things for which we condemn others. People tend to be hypocritical about cannibalism, for one thing, but those practicing Christians sound like a bunch of cannibalistic vampires to me! Cannibalism is defined as “the eating of the flesh of an animal by another animal of the same kind.” Now, by our own standards, it’s all right for humans to be carnivores, that is, to eat the flesh of other creatures, but it’s sick and perverted to eat the flesh of other humans. Why? Other animals eat each other. What’s the difference? Meat is meat, isn’t it? There are animals that would eat a human or another of its kind if given the chance, and they would not be considered sick or perverted. It would just be a matter of hunger and availability.

Humans, as a species, have been known to consume virtually any and every kind of creature, whether it be mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish or insect, and not only the creatures themselves, but their by-products as well. Some current epicurean “delicacies” are ant eggs, frog fallopian tubes, crème brulee made with bone marrow, exotic cheese which contains live maggots, and coffee brewed from civet shit! Now someone is marketing human breast milk for commercial public consumption, and there are those who are repulsed by the idea. Don’t they realize that all milk and cheese products that they consume on a daily basis come from the teats of animals? And then, too, humans are the only other creatures (aside from cats) who drink the milk from other animals! Just because it’s your own or your mother’s, why should that give you pause to partake of it? How can people be so hypocritical about practically everything?

Most creatures of the world I would not eat voluntarily under normal circumstances, because they don’t appeal to me. But if my life depended upon it, I guess I could stomach a bear or a cat or a snake or a rat, or a human being. But human cannibalism is still a taboo activity, which incites shock and repulsiveness. It is a common plot element in good horror stories and holds more fascination in true-life incidents. Some people will willingly eat a cow but would rather die themselves than eat a cowboy—that is, if they are aware of it. People frequently eat things without knowing what they are. I know that I have come across “mystery meat” on my plate from time to time. I was enjoying some unidentified hors d’oeuvres at a party once, then later discovered the tasty morsels to be smoked eel! Had I known what it was initially, I probably never would have tried it. But considering it, why not? Although snakelike, an eel is just another kind of fish, so what’s unusual about that?

People are even gastronomically selective with certain animals, not just with human flesh. Your basic carnivores don’t have any qualms about eating their favorite fowl or other creature, as long as they don’t know who it is or where it came from. But they feel differently when the Thanksgiving goose or the Sunday dinner pork roast was originally the family’s beloved pet or an animal that they knew. I suppose the rule of thumb is that we don’t want to eat things that have a personal name. If we deign to eat it, we don’t want to know anything about it.

The premise of the sci-fi thriller Soylent Green (1973) is not so far-fetched and quite practical, in my opinion. For those of you not familiar with the film, it takes place in the year 2022 (Goodness! We’re already past that!) when the earth is grossly overpopulated and there is a definite food shortage, especially in overcrowded Manhattan. Spoiler alert! By the end of the picture we learn that the coveted, precious foodstuff known as “soylent green” is made of soybeans, lentils and people! Considering that the world is already experiencing widespread hunger, which will only get worse as time goes on, I don’t see anything terribly wrong with finding a way to process human remains into palatable food. That’s better than wasting dead bodies like we do now. I think that we should reuse and recycle whatever we can, even ourselves! I also think that Mrs. Lovett had the right idea, short of murder, that is. (# …What a downright shame, what an awful waste… #)

It seems that modern technology is making us lazier as time goes on. We have virtually all the conveniences of life at our disposal, and we (well, I don’t) take so many things for granted. Fathers used to tell their kids, “Boy, you don’t realize how good you’ve got it. When I was your age, I used to have to walk 5 miles to school and back every day through the cold and snow!” Now these same fathers can tell their grandkids, “Back in my day, we actually had to get up and cross the room to change the TV channels!” I was glad when they came out with Touch-Tone phones and I think that Speed-Dialing is a pretty nifty thing, too, but I have a manually-operated pencil sharpener and I still use a basic, hand-operated can opener. I don’t mind at all putting out that little bit of manual energy to sharpen a pencil or to open a can. It certainly does not save any extra time.

Now they’ve even improved upon speed-dialing by coming up with voice-activated dialing, where instead of having to push one or two buttons on your phone, all you have to do is speak the name of the person you are calling into the phone. We don’t even have to do our own typing if we don’t want to, as that feature is now available for our computers. I happen to love typing. It’s conducive to my digital dexterity. But I think that the height of indulgence is the new voice-activated remote control! This is for the guy who is too lazy even to press a button! I suppose, however, that this gadget and the others would be useful for a paraplegic or a person with missing limbs, who would be unable to push a button manually.

Don’t get up to turn off the lights. Just clap your hands once or twice. Why bother to be constantly changing records during your party or while you’re working on a project? We now have CD players which can play nonstop for several hours. Automated Teller Machines allow us to do our banking and get ready cash anytime we need it, at any hour of the day. My toaster oven bakes, toasts and broils, and my microwave oven can cook a large potato in about five minutes. What a great invention is the word processor! How did we get by so long without it? And with the growing internet and World-Wide Web, all human knowledge is now, literally, at our fingertips. We don’t even have to leave the house to find out anything anymore or even to buy anything, when virtually all consumer products and services are available for purchase via one’s home computer or smartphone. Practically everything has been computerized, including your daily news and weather report, postal services, all manner of games, books, music generators (sound and notation), TV cable boxes and other common household gadgets and appliances, even clocks and watches.

I enjoy most of these great conveniences just like everybody else, so why is it that the more neat stuff that becomes available to us, presumably to make our lives less hectic and less stressful, are we never satisfied? We always want more. One would think that these products would make people more amiable with each other and appreciative. But on the contrary, people, in general, seem to be more hostile and more ill-tempered than ever before. They are rude, inconsiderate, and sometimes would rather throttle you than utter a friendly “good morning.” There seems to be so much unhappiness in the world, and I don’t understand it. I have to live here, too, and I am subject to the same crap (more, in some cases) that everybody else has to endure on a day-to-day basis. But even in adverse situations, I manage to maintain my composure and good humor and common courtesy toward my neighbors. But then, of course, I guess I shouldn’t expect everybody to be like me, should I?

The human animal is also good for justifying everything that they do. That way, it relieves their guilt and responsibility for their actions. I discuss the barbaric, centuries-long practice of youth castration in my A Critique of Catholicism article. Man has always been imaginative in ways of mutilating himself and others. A less severe operation than castration that is still perpetuated even today, but nonetheless is pointless and unnecessary, in my opinion, is forced circumcision. They have all sorts of excuses and justifications for that, too, but I’m sorry, to cut off part of a boy’s penis without his consent should be a punishable crime. If that’s not child abuse, I don’t know what is. First of all, the procedure must be traumatic for the child, and then he doesn’t have any say-so in the matter. I give you the Judaic explanation for the ritual, absurd as it is, in my blog, For the Bible Tells Me So.

I once asked my mother why I was spared the ordeal of circumcision, as my older brother, Earl Jr., was not so lucky. She told me that it was my father who forbade it. Junior’s delivery physician, Dr. Mott, apparently took it upon himself to circumcise my brother without first getting my parents’ consent. Fortunately, my dad made sure that the same thing would not happen to me. He, like me, thought that it is an unnecessary and cruel procedure. I’m glad that he did.

I am aware that there are tribes all over the world that practice all sorts of tortures and mutilation rituals on girls as well as boys, but that doesn’t make it right or acceptable, does it? The centuries-long tradition of foot-binding of Japanese women, for example, was certainly a senseless and inhumane practice. But we, in this country, are supposed to be more civilized than that, aren’t we? Do you still think that male circumcision is a harmless, relatively insignificant practice? Then how would you like to have all of your penile skin removed? There was a procedure (at least I hope it is no longer performed) by some sadistic tribesmen somewhere in the world, in which the penis of a boy was stripped of the skin along its entire length in front of his father and his intended bride. If the boy cried out, his father would kill him for being a coward and unworthy of manhood. A great percentage of the boys died anyway from trauma, as a result of the operation. I wonder how they are supposed to accomplish intercourse with a skinless penis? In some primitive ceremonies the penis was slit along its length as deep as the urethra. Now I ask you, how can anyone justify such cruelty on their own children?! I just don’t get it.

I attribute many of humankind’s prevailing conservative and prudish attitudes about a lot of things to the Victorian era, the influence from which we have never fully recovered. Queen Victoria reigned for 64 years, so that’s several generations of influence. When she ascended the throne in 1837, she issued a “Proclamation for the Encouragement of Piety and Virtue and for the Preventing and Punishing of Vice, Profaneness and Immorality.” In other words, “Life is not to be enjoyed.” Among other things, the document outlawed the sale of alcoholic beverages and the playing of cards, dice, or any other game on Sunday, either in public or private, and it commanded that people attend church. One Victorian Era manual of decency and decorum, Lady Gough’s Book of Etiquette, cautioned against placing books by female authors next to books by male authors on any bookshelf. The only exception was if the authors in question had been married to each other in real life. How silly is that?

A pamphlet on marital sex practices warned that fellatio causes cancer of the tongue. If that were the case, mine would have rotted off decades ago! Another claimed that seamstresses were apt to become sexually aroused and that inadvertent orgasms often resulted from the up-and-down motion of their legs while using their sewing machines. But so? I think that people should be allowed to get it where and how they can! Of course, the very idea of contraceptives was completely out of the question. Birth control advocates Edward Foote and Margaret Sanger got into loads of trouble for distributing “obscene” and “heretic” literature which advocated the right of women to decide when, or even whether, to have children.

During the Victorian era, masturbation caused such hysterical anxiety among doctors and parents, that curing it became an obsession. It was believed that masturbation caused everything from acne to epilepsy to mental retardation to death. Some of the torturous and extreme “cures” that innocent children had to endure were: erection alarms, straitjacket pajamas, ice water enemas, spiked cock rings, infibulation (that’s fastening the foreskin shut with clamps, staples, or by sewing!), the German bandage (a genital suit of armor with lock and key, similar to a chastity belt), Kellogg’s breakfast cereals (?!), and ultimately, castration. Yeah, that last should remedy the problem!

(# Beat it, just beat it!… #)
It would seem that some corporate attitudes about this practice have not changed, when former Surgeon-General Jocelyn Elders can be fired for merely suggesting that masturbation should be taught and encouraged as a safe-sex alternative. At least, that was the excuse they gave for her dismissal. But ironically and hypocritically as well, during the same period, when women in the throes of hysteria were put in asylums, the staff there would induce these women to orgasm to relieve their stress. This certainly alleviated their suffering; it must be what they needed. But they didn’t refer to it as induced orgasm, as masturbation was not permitted, you see. They called it “hysterical paroxysm.” Don’t you love that? There is a 2011 British film called Hysteria (or rather “Hersteria”), which deals with that very thing. It also depicts the inspiration for the invention of the vibrator!

And of course, Americans would like to think that we are smarter than everybody else. NASA spent millions of dollars trying to come up with some kind of writing implement that would defy gravity to be able to write in outer space. Well, those wily Russians, for one, beat us to the punch. They used a pencil!

[Related article: Confessions of a “Petophile”]

Happiness Is_____–(You fill in the blank.)

“I just want you to be happy … I am going to make you happy.” You are? People often meddle in each other’s lives with the excuse that they are concerned about their state of positive being. I think that a person’s happiness is not anybody else’s business but their own. Happiness means different things to different people. It is a personal, idealist concept that cannot be defined in definite terms. So how can you guarantee someone else’s happiness when maybe you don’t know what being happy is for that person? Therefore, I think that everyone is responsible for their own happiness and needn‘t be anybody else‘s affair.

Happiness for me is self-contentment, which I can honestly say that I have. I am happy when I am providing pleasure for another person, either through my art or by way of personal interaction. I am happy when I am indulging in my various hobbies and personal activities, like reading, writing, stimulating my mind with puzzles, games and endless music projects. Whereas I feel happy to be single and living alone, some people hate to be alone and think that happiness is synonymous with marriage or mere cohabitation. Many women declare that their wedding day or the birth of their first child was the happiest day of their life, for instance. If that is what I have to look forward to, to achieve true happiness, then I guess I’m doomed, since I don’t expect ever to experience either of those events.

I can’t determine my life’s happiest day until my life is over, then I can reflect. I don’t think that my happiest day has occurred yet. I have had many good times throughout my life, but I can’t discern which has been the absolute happiest. I am always expecting one good experience in my life to be topped by another. If one has already experienced the happiest day of their life, then everything else must be downhill from there. That doesn’t leave much to look forward to, does it? I don’t think that one’s overall happiness can be determined by single, isolated events anyway. It is an ongoing state of being.

Someone on TV once posed the question, “What was your best decade so far?” I thought about that and decided that I have two that qualify. The ’70s for me were great years, all things considered. I served in the Army, which certainly was life-changing and fulfilling in many respects. Then I came to New York and started a new life for myself. I got to travel and see the country while performing, here as well as abroad, I got into the opera chorus scene, I obtained and maintained two apartments on my own, and I had the most and best sex that I’ve ever had.

The other candidate is the ’90s. I worked with The Flirtations for five of those years, which boosted my career considerably, it was the most financially profitable, enabling me to acquire a substantial savings and produce my first solo album, which I entirely paid for myself, and I also wrote a symphony, which was one of the greatest joys of my life. Alas, I lost a lot of friends during that period, but people close to us are always dying. That’s unavoidable.

(# Don’t worry; be happy. #)
In life shit happens all the time. It’s full of alternating highs and lows, and you are either a generally-happy person by nature or circumstance, or you live your life in a constant state of depression and misery. You can’t make someone happy, if they don’t want to be. Therefore, happiness is a choice, just like everything else in the world. We can either choose to dwell on all the adversities of the world and be miserable most of the time, or we can choose to rise above it all and not let it get us down.

I am always cheerful, fun-loving, witty, and have been blessed with a wonderful sense of humor. I am the type of person who has the same demeanor anytime you see me. You never have to speculate, as with some people, “Oh, Lord, I wonder what kind of mood Cliff is in today?” because you will always find me amiable and in good spirits. I am never deliriously happy one day and then totally miserable the next. I do get annoyed about some things upon occasion, but I never lose my temper. I am seldom depressed and I have never contemplated suicide. Life is too short as it is, and I’ll be dead soon enough without rushing things along.

Of course, there are certain things I don’t have that I would like to, but no one has everything they want. I am one who is grateful for the things I do have, rather than pine for and kvetch about the things I don’t have. Keep in mind that there is always somebody somewhere who is much worse off than you think you are. I try to find the positive aspect in all situations, however grim. Call me Pollyanna.

(# All’s for the best in this best of all possible worlds. #)
So sings Candide‘s Dr. Pangloss, whose agathistic philosophy I also follow, although as I get older, I find myself being somewhat cynical about little things in life. But my cynicism is based on personal experiences, observations and predictable reoccurrences. I keep my expectations low, therefore I am seldom disappointed. My cynicism notwithstanding, I try to maintain a positive, optimistic attitude about all aspects of life, because I have found that in the long run, everything seems to work out for the better.

I believe that everything happens for a reason. When one door closes, another one opens. I never worry about unimportant things, especially things I can’t do anything about. I am able to deal well with occasional stress. I have great patience and I am quite easy to please. I certainly don’t want to be any older than I am, but I really don’t want to be any younger either. I’m not interested in reliving the past. Been there, done that. So I have accepted growing older with the passage of time and choose just to be content with my present age. Age is something that none of us can do anything about. If we stay here long enough, we will get old. It’s unavoidable. Just accept it and deal with it.

All things considered, I am a quite contented, well-adjusted individual with positive self-esteem. I’ve known so many people who have these humdrum jobs which they hate, but they keep on doing them because “it pays well,” never mind that they dread their work and are miserable because of it. That’s what causes undue stress and ulcers. I don’t need any of that. My idea of success and having a happy course in life is being fortunate enough to make a living doing exactly what I love to do. That is my best advice to everyone—decide what it is that you love to do, and get somebody to pay you for it!

Important Tips for Writers

1. Subject and verb always has to agree.
2. You and me know to use the correct case of pronoun in writing and speaking. [That goes for others and I, too.]
3. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with. [This is not a hard-fast rule. Sometimes it just sounds better to.]
4. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction. [But I don’t agree with that either.]
5. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive. [It appears that most did not get the official memo to not do that.]
6. Being bad grammar, the writer will not use dangling participles.
7. No sentence fragments either.
8. Parallel construction with coordinate conjunctions is not only an aid to clarity but also is the mark of a good writer.
9. Do not use a foreign term when there is an adequate English quid pro quo.
10. If you must use a foreign term, it is de rigor to use it correctly.
11. It would behoove the writer to avoid archaic expressions. [I, however, do vouchsafe to employ them, due to their fewness of use.]
12. Avoid clichés like the plague. They’re so old hat.
13. Comparisons are just as bad as clichés.
14. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration. [I don’t agree with that either. I actually admire and adamantly advocate acceptable and appropriate alliteration.]
15. Mixed metaphors are a pain in the neck and ought to be thrown out the window.
16. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
17. In scholarly writing, don’t use contractions.
18. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary, as it is highly superfluous. For example, a truly good writer is always especially careful practically to eliminate the all too-frequent use of adverbs.
19. For sentence construction, only pay attention to misplaced modifiers.
20. One should never generalize. Everyone always does that.
21. Don’t use no double negatives.
22. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations etc., whenever possible.
23. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
24. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
25. The passive voice is to be ignored.
26. Using a comma before nonrestrictive clauses which are a common source of difficulty.
27. Placing a comma between subject and predicate, is not correct.
28. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.
29. Never use a big word when substituting a diminutive one would suffice.
30. Please avoid excessive exclamation points!!!
31. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
32. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth-shaking ideas.
33. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
34. Use the apostrophe in it’s proper place and omit it when its not needed.
35. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times—resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it effectively.
36. Puns are for children, not groan readers.
37. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
38. Who needs rhetorical questions?
39. Avoid “buzz-words”; such integrated transitional scenarios complicate simplistic matters.
40. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.
41. Consult the dictionary frequently to avoid mispelling.
42. I got the notion to accept “got” as a present tense verb.