Here’s the Thing, Episode 1: “Vegetarian Fed” Poultry

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I’ll admit I’m on the organic train.  GMO feed scares me.  Insecticides, born of the chemical weapons industry, scare me.  People dying of things like bladder infections that have developed resistance to antibiotics because of the antibiotics in meat, scares me.  Organic makes sense.  I’m less thrilled about, but “okay” with, free-range, antibiotic and hormone free, and grass-fed meats.  They are all steps in the right direction.

But vegetarian fed poultry is not only grammatically uncomfortable (those poor vegetarians being fed to chickens!), it’s dumb.  Birds aren’t vegetarians.  They love bugs and bugs are not vegetables.  Bugs are a healthy and important part of their diet and, in fact, a bird’s entire role in the life cycle is to regulate the bug and vermin population, pollinate, distribute seeds, and for some species, sing pretty songs.

Do you know what the diet of a vegetarian fed bird looks like? It’s corn.  Yep.  The same GMO, insecticide filled corn that started this whole “special” meat movement to begin with.  Vegetarian fed poultry is just a cleverly branded version of what organic eaters refer to as a “conventional” poultry, but now people are paying more for it than they used to because they are too far removed from the food cycle to understand why it’s dumb.

And here’s the thing: If you think it’s gross to eat something that eats bugs, we need to have a talk about shrimp, lobster, kissing your dog, and the Easter Bunny.

A Word on Jury Duty (or How to Get Out of Jury Duty Even When You Don’t Want To)

2226745248_0b873b3b3fI overheard someone saying today that they look forward to jury duty because it gives them “a chance to see justice served” and had they stopped right there, I wouldn’t have anything to say right now.  The entire sentence, however, was “It gives me a chance to see justice served and help the police put a bad person behind bars.”

And THAT is the subject of today’s post: The role of the criminal juror.  Read all the way to the end of the post and you will get a free gift guaranteed to be worth more than whatever they’re going to pay you for jury duty.  The only catch is that you’ll probably have to go to work instead.

Here’s what I wish everyone who reported to jury duty for criminal court was required to swear to when they walked in:

I understand that I am not here to help the police.  I understand that I am not here to help the court system.  I understand that I am not here to help the judge.  I understand that I am not here to put a bad person behind bars.  I believe I am, in fact, here to do exactly the opposite.  I am here to be an obstacle to a conviction – and I understand that unless I am, an innocent person will go to jail.  At the outset of the trial, I will favor the accused, no matter what the charges and force the Prosecutor to present evidence to sway my opinion.  I will view all of that evidence with a skeptical eye and listen to the rebuttal of the evidence by the Defense with an open mind.  If I can find any reasonable doubt, I will not convict.

Here’s why every juror should adopt that creed:  It’s how our system is designed to work.  Almost everything about a criminal trial, in theory, is designed to put the Prosecutor at a disadvantage.  The burden of proof?  “Beyond a reasonable doubt.”  Think about that.  It’s huge.  If there is ANY reasonable doubt, the jury should acquit.  The composition of the jury? Peers of the accused (at least in theory, but that’s another rant entirely).  Have you ever thought about why we’re supposed to have a jury of our peers?  There are a lot of theories about what that concept means, but here’s my opinion: the jury is supposed to be able to see the circumstances of the case from the same perspective the accused would have.  They should be able to understand the state of mind and surroundings involved.  That level of understanding is almost never going to favor the Prosecutor.

There’s a part of us that assumes that someone would not be charged unless they were guilty.  That’s crap.  People get arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time every single day.  When someone is charged with a particularly heinous crime like child molest, rape, or murder – it’s tough to even start on their side.  Guess what – no one ever said jury duty was supposed to be easy and it shouldn’t be.  Someone’s life is at stake.  Leave the moral outrage and the emotional pain to the parties, the victims and their families where it belongs.  Jury duty should be tedious, boring, morally difficult work.  If it’s not, you’re doing it wrong.  In the horrible cases, more than in any others, jurors should be hyper-vigilant in their role to protect the accused until convinced by the evidence to do otherwise – with a case like child molest, even a person accused and proven innocent is going to have a tough time going back to work, to church, to home, to their neighborhood, and to a normal life.

The Prosecutor is trying to take away someone’s freedom, reputation, and money.  Not to mention, potentially, their spouse, children, job, house, car and everything else they may have.  If they’re guilty, fine, there are circumstances to crime.  But it’s not supposed to be easy for the Prosecutor; it should be incredibly hard.  There are a lot of people in jail or prison right now because they feared how easy it has become to convict and they took a deal.  Guess what? At least some of those people are innocent.  I’ve met people who served more than a decade in prison for a crime they didn’t commit and were only released because of dumb luck and DNA that proved their innocence.

I’m not saying a jury should never rule against the accused.  Of course I’m not saying that.  Many of the people charged with a crime, maybe even most, are guilty of that crime.  I’m saying that at the outset of the trial jurors should be very skeptical of the charges and completely on the side of the accused – if not in their heart, at least in their state of mind.  Jurors should force the Prosecutor and Police to do the work to convict.  If they don’t do the job, they should acquit.

By the way, I’m not trying to belittle Prosecutors or imply that they’re evil.  They’re doing what they’re supposed to do at a criminal trial – they are seeking convictions.  That’s their job and most of them work diligently to accomplish their goal.  The problem isn’t with the Prosecution, the Defense, the Police, the Judge or even the system.  Our system is an adversarial one and if it seems to outsiders at times as if everyone is working against everyone else, then that’s proof that our system is working is designed.  The problem is with the jurors and the laws.  You’ve always had the power to affect the laws with your vote.  Now you know how to affect the jurors as well.

So if you made it through this whole post, I’ll give you a little bonus prize: The next time you get called to jury duty, come back to this blog and print out the part in bold above.  Take that statement with you to jury selection.  The first time either side asks you a question, calmly take out your paper and read it verbatim.  I guarantee you will be excused.  In fact, if the Prosecutor can manage it, most likely everyone else in the room who heard what you read will be excused as well.  Why is that so? After all, it’s true, fair and encapsulates the way our system is designed to work and every lawyer in that room will know as much.

You will be excused because by reading that statement you’ll have demonstrated that you not only know your role, but that you’re capable of “infecting” others with that knowledge and the very last thing any Prosecutor wants is a juror who knows what he or she is supposed to do … and that is probably the best argument I can make in favor of my position.

Weeding the Garden in My Mind

This image is from, and linked to, Olofson Design (http://olofsondesign.wordpress.com/ and http://www.olofsondesign.com), a clearly very talented maker of wedding cakes based in London, UK. To the artisan – You do amazing work and this image was perfect for my post – if you have any concerns with my using your image, please let me know and I’ll be happy to take it down.

This year for my birthday, I’m weeding the garden in my mind:

  • I’m forgiving myself for the things I’ve attempted that didn’t quite work out the way I’d hoped.  I’m choosing to view those events not as failures but as (sometimes rocky) detours that led me to where I am, and I’m recognizing that without these detours I may not have any of the good people or things I have in my life now.
  • I’m giving myself the lessons I’ve learned from mistakes I’ve made and letting every other aspect of those mistakes go away.  I cannot live in a state of fear or paranoia.
  • I’m evicting the two tenants in my mind.  One constantly reminds me of the flaws in others.  One constantly reminds me of the flaws in myself.  Neither has ever paid a dime in rent.
  • I’m giving myself the ability to grow by letting go of anger and resentment; toward others, yes – but mostly toward myself.  Nothing good ever grows in piss and vinegar and what does grow is contagious.
  • I’m allowing myself to not give up on my dreams; No matter how unrealistic or distant.
  • I’m giving myself to right to appreciate the things I have. I will not feel guilty for having what others do not and I will not obsess over the things I still want. Things are things.
  • I’m giving myself the right to be proud of my five beautiful children.  Who are brilliant little sparks that need my care and my help to grow to their full potential.  I will not be apologetic for letting them be who they are, I will appreciate who they are becoming and I will focus more on encouragement and less on correction.
  • I’m giving myself the chance to appreciate my wife.  She is the most wonderful partner in life that anyone could ever hope to have and realizing that without her companionship, support and love, I would have burned myself away long ago.
  • I’m giving myself pride in what I have accomplished in my life.
    • I’m an Army veteran who served proudly in a unit distinguished throughout its history for its courage, flexibility, daring and skill.
    • I earned two degrees in fields I’m passionate about.
    • I have a house, a beautiful family, and make a good living working with some of the brightest minds in the country for a company I still believe in and I’m one of the ten best in the country at doing the job.
    • I’ve taken control of my physical health to the extent that I can and over the last few years I’ve gotten myself into great shape with a lot of hard work.
    • I’ve bounced from hobby to hobby and interest to interest since I was a young kid and I’ve been learning and storing knowledge all the way.  The unintended result is a good foundation of knowledge and experience with which I can usually tackle any situation.
  • I’m letting myself embrace the things that make me a nerd.  I love fantasy and science fiction at least as much as I love classic literature and poetry.  I’m a huge Woody Allen fan.  I have an active presence on almost every social network and I’d rather read than watch football.  I’m a hypocritical grammar nazi (which means that I love to point out others’ mistakes even while I make my own).  I still dig hair bands.  I can read a book and listen to an audiobook at the same time and enjoy both immensely.  I really enjoy legal research.  I have a goal of growing, gathering, hunting and raising all of the food for our family.  I love to tend my garden.  I watch politics like most men watch sports, and, nerdiest of all, for about 3 months a year starting in June, I drop almost everything and obsess about the reality show Big Brother.  I even watch the live feeds.
  • I’m giving myself a minimum of 30 minutes a day to write.   There are at least four novels and several short stories I’ve been kicking around in my head for the past decade – it’s time to put them on paper.

Oh, and I’m giving myself an opportunity to take my sons to see Star Trek at the theater.  Tonight.

What is it about snakes?

This morning, my wife took a picture of a snake she saw when walking the dog – it was sitting next to the raised bed where we have strawberries.  She posted it on facebook and I re-shared it, adding the caption “This is my friend Sam. He keeps the field mice out of my garden. Sam loves us because we don’t stir our compost very often and attract a lot of food for him.”

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Being a parent, and largely ignorant about snakes, the first thing I did was try to look him up and make sure he wasn’t venomous.  Indiana only has a few venomous snakes – cottonmouths, copperheads, and a couple of different rattlesnakes.  Sam didn’t fit any of those, but then my curiosity got the better of me and I started hunting around the internet.  I looked at probably two dozen species of snakes that I found on various websites purporting to identify the common snakes of Indiana.  I spent maybe 30 minutes and came up empty handed but with a few things that were “kinda” close.  I sent the picture to a local herpetologist, Jim Horton of the Hoosier Herpetological Society and, I learned, of Indiana Jim’s Reptile Experience, and he got back to me in less than an hour, saying “The snake in question is an eastern garter snake.  They are very common in Indiana (not to mention harmless).”

Finished with that, I jumped back on my facebook page and had all sorts of comments and messages from friends and family.  Some were excited and others were concerned that the snake might be venomous.  Truthfully, I was surprised at how may people were interested in one way or another, and also a little touched that so many people were concerned.  But it made me wonder – what is it about snakes that inspires this fascination?  People who know snakes know that there are a lot more around than most people would ever believe.  I remember preparing for a camping trip in the Red River Gorge and reading somewhere that at any point along the trail there are statistically at least 10 snakes within a 10 meter radius of you.

I’m not afraid of snakes personally.  I actually want the right kinds of snakes in my garden, as my caption above suggests.  I don’t love them either.  I guess I’m somewhere in the middle.  I don’t want one as a pet and I tend to steer clear of them, but as a runner, I’m far more afraid of stray dogs in my neighborhood.  Still, almost everyone I know gets extremely anxious about snakes, far more than I’d expect simple unfamiliarity to cause.

So I thought I’d explore the psychology behind the way people react to snakes – here are a few of the interesting things I found:

  • Wikipedia says that the abnormal fear of snakes is called ophidiophobia.  Most people, even the ones who really don’t like snakes, don’t suffer from this.  Phobias are far more intense than a simple aversion.
  • As reported here, a recent study suggests that humans may be genetically hard-wired to fear snakes and earlier studies suggest that our brains actually react to the sight of a snake before we even have time to consciously identify it as a snake.  The link contains some speculation about why – but it’s just speculation.
  • Predictably, other experiments suggest it’s a learned behavior and interestingly, even at 11 months old, boys and girls react differently to seeing snakes.
  • Another interesting thing – learned by comparing both of the above links is that humans seem to be fairly perfectly evolved to pick out a snake in hiding.  Even very young children, shown pictures of snakes in various settings pick out the snake before anything else in the picture.
  • And here is a lot more info about the Eastern Garter Snake.  Admittedly, the pics look a bit different than the one we took – but the professional herpetologist was quite certain, so I’m going to defer to his judgment.  Also, if you look here the picture in the lower right shows a juvenile Eastern Garter snake and that one looks a lot more like Sam.

I found them interesting anyway – hopefully some of you out there in internet land will as well.  I guess if you really look at it, it boils down to no one knows why we are afraid of snakes but to greater and lesser degrees, we are.

Dear “My Kids” – This is why you’re homeschooled.

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I know in my heart that at some point each one of you will question our wisdom in deciding to homeschool, so I thought I’d offer you this explanation.

You should know by now that while your Mom and I complain about money a lot, it doesn’t really matter to us as long as we have the basic necessities.  What we’re far more concerned with is whether you are (and feel) safe and cared for and whether we are teaching (and/or allowing you to learn) the things you need.

First and foremost, we want to make sure that you’re being taught to think; not how to think or what to think – just to think.  We want you to weigh any situation using facts, logic, reason and even emotion and come to a decision or an opinion based on the principles you hold and the things you believe to be true; and to accept with a respectful but critical eye any information given to you that you didn’t earn on your own.  You’ll find later on in life that most of your peers lack this skill, while you’ve been taught from the beginning to crave knowledge – fact and opinion, theory and law, fantasy and reality and will have learned to distinguish among them.

You’re being taught to be independent and provide for yourself.  There is a reason you are asked to help with all steps in the garden.  There is a reason you are in charge of the compost.  There is a reason that we teach you how to use tools, make plans, and build things.  There is a reason you’ve all been taught to knit and are learning to sew. There is a reason we try to avoid toys that do the thinking for you and encourage you to create, draw, paint, read and explore your imaginations.  There is a reason you help in the kitchen and the garage and the laundry room and the yard.

It is our hope that you should never want for food, entertainment, knowledge, or other daily wants and needs.  You will join the world understanding why lights go on when you flip a switch and water comes out when you turn the tap; but also how to fix those things when they don’t work and how to function without them if necessary.  You’ll not only understand where the food at the store comes from but also how to provide it for yourself and prepare it for your family.  You’ll be better equipped to assess the quality of clothing you buy and make the repairs necessary to keep using those clothes past the point when others would have thrown them away.  You will have grown up using technology for learning, tools, and entertainment.  But you’ll also have a basic understanding of maintenance, programming and repair.  Moreover, as much as possible we’ll make sure you have the skills you need to work around the technology when it fails.

You will undoubtedly excel at a few of these areas and struggle with a few, but for most of them you will land somewhere in the middle and you will have all of your life to build on your knowledge, continue the struggle and develop your talents.  All kids have this same struggle and success in school – what will be different for you is the breadth of your education and the way you will earn it.  Where most kids will only have had a few subjects worth of exposure, you will have dozens – most backed by firsthand, self-earned knowledge gained under the guidance and supervision of a parent.  Public school just can’t provide that.  We hope too that you will never tire of building your knowledge and never settle for what you know.  Public school, when the students are lucky enough to encounter a great teacher, can provide this but more and more this seems to be the exception to the rule.

Even a half century ago most children in this country often received a broader education more like the one we hope to provide.  They didn’t necessarily get it all from school, but they did get it.  Now, at least in the suburbs and cities, an education this broad is a rarity.  It’s already unusual enough that there are some who will read this letter to you and label your Mother and me “crazy.”  Imagine that? Crazy for wanting you to be well-rounded, thoughtful, self-sufficient and independent adults and not trusting a public system to make you that way despite the fact that it has consistently failed to do so for decades and by all measures is getting worse.

The gift we are trying to impart to you is a large one and it’s one that we will never think we’ve done well enough.  There will be times that your abilities and needs will exceed our own knowledge and in those cases we’ll either learn more or make sure you get to work with someone who knows more than we do.

Of the options available to us, only homeschooling offered us the freedom and ability to offer you the type of education we think you should have and we were lucky enough (and worked hard enough) to be able to create an environment where we can homeschool successfully.  This is your education and we hope that it will be your ticket to success, however you define that term in your future.