I like brown grass. It matches the unfallen brown leaves I don’t have to rake and the brown stagnant water in the pond that hides my fish from the ravenous blue heron. Also, brown grass does not engender chiggers. Ah, chiggers, Mother Nature’s reminder that we humans are, in fact, at the top of the insect world’s food pyramid. Here’s how the internet waxes eloquent about chiggers:
“They bite their human host (who invited them?) and by embedding their mouthparts into the skin
cause intense irritation with intense itching.” Ugh!
The omniscient internet says chiggers prosper in grasslands, like the Osage County, Oklahoma prairie, and are most numerous in early summer when grass is heaviest; you know, like now! I have been doing my own field work on chiggers since the mowing season has returned. I can attest that for once the internet is correct; chiggers proliferate in tall green grasses.
My ankles still display chigger bites from those halcyon childhood summer days when I would gayly traipse through the green prairie grasses in short pants and bare feet while the chiggers were rejoicing at the opportunity to embed their heads permanently into my skin and scar me physically and mentally for eternity. Surely someone should have kept me out of tall green grass for the first ten years of my life and surely I should not be communicating with chiggers now as beautiful dry brown grass turns into tall green chigger heaven.
Unfortunately, I cannot convince Peg our yard looks just fine with waving green stems interspersed with golden dandelions. She insists that I do battle with the vegetation that is being protected by battalions of chiggers as ferocious as Ukrainian freedom fighters. I don’t get it. Peg plants countless flowers and even decorative grasses while she insists I attack our yard with a smoking, noisy grass decapitating Kubota dragon. No wonder the chiggers launch counter attacks. I say let bygones be bygones. I’ll forgive those childhood chiggers if today’s marauders will leave me alone. But how can they if Peg demands I destroy their homes?
I say the blames for my chigger discomfort falls squarely upon Peg’s pathological need to impress the neighbors. Neighbors? We live in the country! Our cabin is a quarter of a mile from the main county road. Nobody ever sees our yard unless you count FedEx and UPS drivers who deliver Peg’s ever regenerating plants for her to plant and the chiggers to nest in. If I did not mow the yard all summer no one would see or care; well, except Peg of course.
But the real problem is not Peg. The real problem is the United States government that can send out trillions of borrowed dollars to encourage people not to work and trillions of borrowed dollars to help Ukrainians blow up Russian tanks, planes and ships but cannot spend a Depression Era dime to eliminate chiggers. It is time we returned to those thrilling days of yesteryear when instead of spreading armaments we spread insect killer, not DDT, of course.
Let’s hear it for dead chiggers and live, itch-free people. That’s a better campaign slogan than “Ban the U.S. Supreme Court” or “Raise a statue to Sammy Alito.” Well, excuse me a moment. I’ve got to go get Peg to type up this column for the paper and I can see out the window she is gleefully planting even more insect habitat.
Liberals are upset that the leak from the U.S. Supreme Court may signal that the case of Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), may be overturned or, as is more likely, modified. Conservatives are upset there was a leak from the Supreme Court that may allow public pressure from Liberals to influence the Court to not modify Roe’s holdings.
Neither Roe v. Wade nor the case that followed it, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), is before the Supreme Court for decision. They could be referred to and overturned or reaffirmed by the Court within its decision of the pending case of Dobbs v. Jackson, No. 19-1392 that will be decided in 2022. As there has not yet been an official decision in Dobbs, it does not have an official public citation.
Liberals celebrate the leak and abhor the substance of the draft opinion authored by conservative justice Samuel Alito. Conservatives celebrate the preliminary opinion and abhor the leak. Both Liberals and Conservatives find reasons to attack the institution of the Third Branch of our democracy as they clamor for it to be fundamentally changed. Liberals want to “pack” the Court so as to dilute its current conservative majority. Conservatives want a vigorous investigation into the leak with the hope the public will be outraged if some left-leaning leaker is identified as the culprit.
I agree with Shakespeare’s character, Mercutio, in Act III, scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet when his imminent death results due to an irrational feud between the families of the lovers:
“A plague on both your houses!”
However, if we are to be constantly accosted by railings of both Liberals and Conservatives about the need for modifications in the United States Supreme Court, let us consider making some constructive changes. After all, no rational American wants to do away with the Court. We all know one of the main reasons our country has outlived every other constitutional democracy on earth is our equally competing three branches of government. We must support the maintenance of all three, including the Judicial Branch.
When it comes to the Judicial Branch, political commentators often assert it is non-political and must remain so. They are correct if they mean the actual decisions of the Court. No judge should allow political influence to affect his or her decision. But when it comes to maintaining the public’s confidence in the non-political basis of a judge’s decision, it is the processes of judicial selection and retention that are most important.
One reason the public believes the members of the Supreme Court are politically motivated is because the public has no influence on how the justices get their life-time jobs nor any realistic way to remove them. Presidents are elected every four years with the possibility of only one more four-year term. Representatives are elected every two years and Senators are elected every six years. The public has a right to remove them. Supreme Court justices are nominated by one person, the President, as the President sees fit. The public’s influence is greatly attenuated, in fact, virtually non-existent.
At a minimum, the public should have the assurance that many of the most vital issues of their lives will not be at the mercy of the same five-member majority of the Supreme Court for an unknown period. Perhaps our current national furor could be a catalyst to, at least, set term limits for the Supreme Court justices. A ten-year term is what I suggest but the public, through its federal Legislature, should decide such issues. It is fair and in our own best interest in getting well-qualified justices who are willing to serve, to grant the retired justices generous life-time pensions once their term is up. But in return, the retired justices would agree to neither seek nor accept another judicial position ever again.
The possibility of term limits for the Supreme Court might help assuage the current calls by Liberals and Conservatives to radically control what must remain one of our three independent branches of government. Term limits is a better solution than a continuing loss of public confidence in and, perhaps, a loss of independence for, our Supreme Court. In other words, we do not want to make the same types of mistakes as did Romeo and Juliet in their final Act. We do not need to continue on our road toward possible suicide for our democracy.
p.s. Gentle Reader, Peg and I have two upcoming book signings for our new historical novel, Unanimous for Murder, that is a sequel to JUDGE LYNCH!. The first is May 17, 2022 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Osage County Historical Society Museum at 700 Lynn Avenue in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. The second is May 20, 2022 at Capers Emporium, 602 Main Street, New Harmony, Indiana from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Please drop by and say hello!
As did Athena, the goddess of wisdom who sprung full grown from the head of Zeus, occasionally a Mozart-type creative genius is born into the world already with great mental acuity. But most people only develop wisdom over a substantial amount of time. That is why virtually every culture honors its older citizens, not because they have lived a long time but because they may have accumulated knowledge and may possess sound judgment as a result. Of course, good judgment often is earned the hard way, that is, in response to earlier bad decisions. If one survives enough poor choices, better choices and better advice become more likely.
When it comes to good choices, I have been impressed by the simplicity of the dietary decisions of two elderly women. France’s Jeanne Louise Calment lived to be over 122. She quit smoking at age 120 and she claimed her long life was due to her penchant for chocolate and port wine.
Her fellow Frenchwoman, Sister Andre, is now the oldest person on earth at 118 years of age. Sister Andre survived the Spanish Flu in 1918 and recovered from COVID-19 in 2020. The Catholic nun stated that chocolate is her favorite food and she drinks a glass of wine every day. That certainly sounds better to me than kale and exercise. I am changing my approach.
One recent phenomenon of reaching an old age that as a male concerns me is that since the beginning of the 21stcentury of the 24 oldest people on earth only two have been men. Now I do not know the ages of many Biblical women but according to the Old Testament at Genesis 5:27, Methuselah lived to be 969 years old and Genesis at 9:29 tells us Methuselah’s grandson, Noah, lived until he was 950. What happened to men? I say we are now short about 900 years and women are now greatly outliving us. Please do not mistake my intent. It is not that I want women to live shorter lives than men, I just want all of us to, at least, make it to well over 100 or even receive a Biblical allotment of a long tenure.
In that regard, I must replace my granola bars with an assortment of chocolate. As to the wine increment, Peg and I bought a wine cooler at the Pawhuska, Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce auction last Saturday and Pawhuska’s Blue Sky Bank, that contributed the cooler, filled it with fun brands of wine, including some from the Prairie Rattler Winery in Shidler, Oklahoma. I feel heathier already. In fact, Peg and I now qualify to be full members of my sister Jane’s so-called women’s book club, Inspiritice, that ostensibly meets to discuss good books, but in reality, just gets together to drink good wine. I think they may all live forever; at least I hope so.
Louis and Mary Leakey discovered some early human ancestors in Tanzania, Africa’s Olduvai Gorge in 1959. Donald Johanson discovered who may be our original grandmother in Ethiopia’s Great Rift Valley in 1974. He named her Lucy because he was a Beatles fan and listened to the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” right after his discovery. It may be uncharitable to Johanson and paleontology to point out many believe the song was a paean to LSD. On the other hand, those who question Lucy’s bona fides may find solace in this theory.
At the opposite end of those Doubting Thomas’ is the atheistic biologist Richard Dawkins from the University of Oxford who pushed human origins back to as much as five million years ago and posited his meme theory. Dawkins suggests that it is our replicating genes that determine who and what we are and why we behave as we do. One of his famous analogies to explain the evolution of human biology and behavior is to suggest we envision a long line of mothers holding hands all the way back to Lucy. And, as for me, my experiences with my mother and my wife, Peg, convince me there is some credence to the science of the Leakeys, Johanson and Dawkins.
Let’s envision Lucy, our grandmother, in her African cave while our mythical grandfather, call him Adam, goes out to hunt a mastodon for dinner. Adam is struggling with how to trick the massive beast to stampede over a cliff, but Lucy is back home planning for Adam’s return. After Lucy rearranges the lodge pole front door for the tenth time, she surveys the cave’s interior. She is dissatisfied with the position of the bearskin rug she had Adam move just yesterday. She makes a mental note to have Adam shake out the bearskin and figure out a way to attach it to the granite wall of the cave.
Next, Lucy inventories the two stone cooking utensils that Adam carved out for her last week and decides she must have another small one for their new baby’s meals. Lucy switches the positions of the two vessels for the third time. They look better to her now. Lucy gives the baby a bath in the stream running in front of their cave and realizes with only a few days of work with his stone hoe Adam could divert water right to their cave. Lucy resolves to mention her idea to Adam over a handful of fermenting blackberries when he returns.
Meanwhile Adam is full of a sense of accomplishment because he has skinned the mastodon and is hauling the hide, one ivory tusk and a huge chunk of meat back for Lucy to admire. Adam assumes his work is done for a week or two because Lucy will need to tan the hide, process the meat and make sewing needles from the tusk as she cooks dinner and nurses the baby.
Gentle Reader, you may wonder, or you may not care, why we are discussing the lives of Lucy, Adam and baby from thousands of years ago. Well, I will tell you. About three years ago Peg and I moved into our cabin on the prairie. By unspoken agreement Peg took over all space but my barn. This worked out fine until over the two years of COVID Peg had time to organize every inch of her Girl Cave, the Bunkhouse, the Cabin and even the neutral territory of our garage. Last week spring truly arrived and Peg turned her gaze on my barn. It has not been pretty.
As long as she did not have to look at my laissez-faire system of “if it ain’t in my way, why worry about it”, well, she didn’t worry herself with it. But once she opened the overhead doors and found the mother lode of “my stuff”, she focused her female/Lucy type DNA upon my space. It reminded me of when my sainted mother would venture into my room on a Saturday morning and turn it upside down. Peg and Mom and Lucy and all wives and mothers in between have spent about two million years of two X chromosomal fixation with organization of sons’ and husbands’ behavior. I guess my three-year barn reprieve is over.
For the past two weeks as a member of the National Judicial College’s faculty I have helped to present an online continuing education course to judges from several states. A significant portion of the course involved an examination of America’s penal system.
In general, the continuum of criminal justice runs from Deuteronomy, 10:21, to Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Act 4, scene 1. Deuteronomy provides:
“Thine eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”
But Shakespeare’s Portia pleads with Shylock to show mercy:
“The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
It is an attribute to God Himself; And earthly power doth then show likest God’s when mercy seasons justice.”
Gentle Reader, you have already discerned the Devil is in the vast distance of details between these two extremes. How should we as judges of our fellow humans devise and apply a sentence that is just for the individual in court and society in general?
The State of Indiana’s Constitution provides a foundational mandate for judges when it comes to designing and imposing sentences that both follow the law and are just; just to the defendant, to any victims and to the general public. Article I, section 18 demands that as to Indiana’s legal system:
“The penal code shall be founded on the principles of reformation, and not on vindictive justice.”
For judges to be “Strict Constructionists” and conservative followers of the Indiana charter, vengeance may play no role while reformation must be the goal. One of my fellow National Judicial College faculty mates was Judge Timothy Brauer from Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Constitution provides:
“The courts of justice of the State shall be open to every person, and speedy and certain remedy afforded for every wrong and for every injury to person, property or reputation, and right and justice shall be administered without sale, denial, delay or prejudice.”
Article II, Bill of Rights,
As a member in good standing of both the Indiana and Oklahoma Bars, I am bound by the Constitutions of both states. Oklahoma’s reference to justice not being for sale reminds of Socrates’ admonition to his judges in the Athenian Senate:
“A judge’s duty is not to make a present of justice, but to give judgment; and judges are sworn to judge according to the laws, and not according to their own good or pleasure.”
Plato’s Apology of Socrates.
The wisdom of basing a system of justice on mercy instead of vengeance has been recognized for thousands of years. Jesus knew society prospered when the Golden Rule and not rule by gold was the standard. And WWII war correspondent Ernie Pyle reminded all of us, especially judges:
“When you have lived with the unnatural mass cruelty that mankind is capable of inflicting on itself, you find yourself dispossessed of the faculty for blaming one poor man for the triviality of his faults.”
As judges should learn, all they have to do to do their duty in imposing sentences is to strictly follow the applicable law which includes the divine judicial quality of not straining at mercy.
Happy Birthday, Peg! Photo by Jim Redwine
We are almost one full month into spring, the season of renewal for some wives and ennui for their husbands. There is something about damp earth that calls out to such wives as Peg much as the Sirens called out to the crew of Ulysses. Though it would not be politically correct, the Devil is pushing me to try to lash Peg to the steering wheel of her Mini Cooper so she cannot frequent every garden center within twenty-five miles of our cabin.
Peg must have beaucoup amounts of potting soil, countless plants and varieties of seeds, containers of metal, clay and plastic and every conceivable fertilizer and pesticide that is touted by Peg’s countless Facebook friends as the newest miracle agents to produce award winning vegetables and flowers. Of course, beds must be prepared and organized by color, variety, time of planting and varmint prevention. Do you need to ask, Gentle Reader, whom Peg has in mind for these tasks?
I am not a Nancy Reagan type of astrology buff but I do wonder if Peg’s birthday that falls during the first half of April may have influenced her pathological need to commune with the earth. I offer the following horoscope (taken from the internet) as evidence to support my position: under the sign of Aries the first half of April, “Is an amazing time to chase your most precious goals.” I should also include the astrological caution that April will be, “a month of ups and downs”; that will certainly be true for me as I follow Peg’s orders.
I am aware that one must not fall into the Cassandra dilemma of ignoring the claimed wisdom of the stars. You may recall that Cassandra had been both blessed and cursed by the gods. She had the gift of prophecy but no one would believe her so disaster still occurred, including the fall of Troy in Homer’s The Illiad. Therefore, I will keep in mind the prediction in Peg’s horoscope that April will be a great time for her to reach her spring goals of recreating the Gardens of Babylon on the rocky, arid soil of JPeg Osage Ranch. However, I see nothing in any bird entrails or other devices of divination that calls for me to be involved.
The problem is, just as Cassandra, I may be correct but Peg refuses to recognize it. Her position is that my lot is cast as her garden Sherpa and I had better get off the couch. The only saving grace that I see is that both football and basketball seasons are over, the World Series is months from now and the Cardinals probably won’t be involved anyway. And, by the time you read this article, the 2022 Masters Golf Tournament will be history. Perhaps the better part of valor is for me to just accept my fate and conceal my amusement when the deer eat the tops off of everything Peg has planted but the marigolds.
Happy Birthday, Peg!