Monday, June 13, 2016

snakes !

Nothing will get your blood flowing faster in the morning than discovering that you have a snake in your backyard - which is precisely what happened to us this morning.

Since our backyard is enclosed, we normally let the cats out into the yard in the morning to get a fresh breath of air before the temperature starts climbing towards triple digits.

This morning, both cats were staring at a "critter" that was under the patio furniture in the back yard. When the critter moved, both cats jumped back at least 2 feet. On closer examination, we discovered that there was some kind of snake curled up under the table. Since Sharon swore that she heard the thing rattle, she called the fire department. In less than 15 minutes, the fire department had come to the house, and successfully removed the snake.

As it turns out, the snake in question was a gopher snake, and it is totally harmless. In fact, it is beneficial to have them around since they keep down the rodent population.

In North America, there are 50 species of snakes, and almost all of them are harmless. The correct technical name of the gopher snake is Pituophis catenifer. However, there ARE some snakes that you definitely want to avoid.

The 4 types of poisonous snakes are the Copperhead, the coral snake, the cottonmouth, and the rattlesnake.

They look like this:


coral snake



Although the cottonwood snake is normally found in the eastern parts of the United States, the other three can be found throughout the country. If you encounter any of these critters, the best thing to do is to move away from it, or to let it cross the path of the trail you are hiking on before proceeding.

If you happen to see one in your back yard, the safest alternative is to simply call the fire department.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Lock ‘em up and throw away the key …

I watched a few of the early Republican debates, and a few of the early Democratic debates, but lost interest after that. If you had the stamina to watch every single debate, you would have discovered the main topics for each set of debates, some of which actually matched.

On the Republican side, the 7 main issues were as follows:

1 - Donald Trump’s debate appearance

2- the candidate’s Christian faith

3 - the Iran prisoner exchange

4 - terrorism and the Islamic State

5 - the economic recovery

6- immigration

7 - supporting the eventual nominee

On the Democratic side, the main topics were as follows:

1 - the Iran prisoner exchange

2 - Sander’s general election viability

3 - Benghazi and the “13 hours” movie

4 - national security

5 - terrorism and the Islamic State

6 - gun control

7- climate change and energy

8 - Clinton’s ties to Wall Street

We’re all going to have differences of opinion about which topics are more important. In my opinion, someone‘s Christian faith is absolutely unimportant, but I AM concerned about gun control and climate change. You may well have different priorities than I do.

If you dug a little deeper, you’d find that there IS one other topic that was discussed in the debates, and that is criminal justice reform. Since the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, it’s a topic that SHOULD be explored further.

As of January 25, the Democratic candidates had mentioned criminal justice reform 28 times during the course of the 4 debates that had been held up to that time. In the six Republican debates that had been held up to that time, it wasn’t mentioned at all.

Why is prison reform so important?

The January 3, 2016 edition of the New York Times contained a column that was titled, “How to Help Former Inmates Thrive”:

The article is worth reading in its entirely, but the most compelling statement (by a former prison) is this:

“I don’t understand why over the 18 year period of my incarceration, over $900,000 was paid to keep me in prison, but when I was paroled, I was given $200 and told “good luck”.

I’ve managed to avoid incarceration my entire life, but an innocent prank by my then 18-year old son caused him to spend a night in jail, and to be charged (briefly) with committing a felony. The truth is that it’s actually easier to become a felon than you might think.

In 4 states (Arizona is one of them) possession of ANY marijuana at all is automatically a felony.. 10 states, and the District of Columbia, have removed felony possession of marijuana from their books, and a few other states have removed felony convictions for possessing only minor amounts. Surprisingly, even in states that have legalized recreational marijuana (like Oregon and Colorado) you can still be convicted of a felony if you possess over a certain amount of the stuff.

Believe it or not, the discussion of felonies actually affects all of us, since it leads to two related topics:

1 - should felons be allowed to vote ?

2 - should felons be allowed to own guns?

With respect to voting rights, it may surprise you to know that most states allow convicted felons to vote. In most states, felons can’t vote while they are serving their sentence, but Maine and Vermont actually allow felons to continue voting even when they are in prison. Virginia is one of a nandful the states that required governor’s action or a court order to restore voting rights, but on April 22, Governor Terry McAuliffe, signed a bill that restored voting rights to convicted felons.

Wayne LaPierre, whose headquarters is in Fairfax, Virginia, is one of the conservatives who was less than enthusiastic about Governor McAuliffe’s recent action, and there’s a reason for that.

Although “people of color” make up 30% of America’s population, they account for 60% of those imprisoned. Since people of minority races are far more likely to vote for Democrats (who generally are in favor of strong gun control laws) allowing more convicted felons to vote translates into fewer voters who support the NRA.

LaPierre, naturally, thinks that more convicted felons should be allowed to own guns. Although the 1938 Federal Firearms Act prohibited felons from owning guns, there ARE some exceptions to the rule,.

Any attempts by the administration to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them (like domestic violence abusers) is looked up with horror by the NRA.

The Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban of 1996 bans access to firearms by people convicted of crimes of domestic violence. The key word here, though, is “convicted”. Only 16 states take away the guns of alleged domestic abusers after the imposition of a court imposed restraining order. Those temporary restraining orders, unfortunately, often become a death sentence for the women who sought protection.

There is no question that there are some very nasty people in our nation’s prisoners (two of whom are pictured below) , but it’s also true that there are an awful lot of our current prison population that should not be there at all. Currently, there are four states Oklahoma, Mississippi, Delaware, and Louisiana that have a higher incarceration rate than any nation on earth.

Naturally, it costs a LOT of money to keep all those people in prison, so it simply makes sense that reducing the prison population would save states a LOT of money, which could be used for far more productive uees. In 2014, voters in California passed Proposition 47, which re categorized some non violent offenses as misdemeanors rather than as felonies. As a result of the proposition, the state was able to reduce its prison population by 13,000 people, which saved the state $150 million in incarceration costs.

Unfortunately, not enough states are smart enough to follow California’s example. If you added up what all 50 states on incarceration each year, you’d come up with somewhere between $43 billion and $74 billion.

That’s just dumb.

The private prison industry, naturally, has a vested interest in keeping as many people locked up as possible. One of those companies, the Corrections Corporation of America, made a profit of $1.7 billion in 2010, Another private prison company, the Geo Group, made a profit of $1.2 billion the same year. In order to protect their cash cow, the private prison companies spent a LOT of money on lobbying expenses. In 2010, CCA spent $18 million buying the votes of friendly legislatures.

Most people are smart enough to realize that investing money in education is the best way to grow a state’s economy. Sadly, most Republicans aren’t that smart.

Last spring, the Arizona legislature cut $104 million from the budgets of the state’s universities.. In that same “austere budget”, the legislature somehow found enough money to INCREASE spending on corrections by $20,000,000.

Arizona is far from alone in its misplaced priorities, since there are 11 states that spend more money on prisons that on higher education. Arizona is one of those 11 states.

The existence of a prison system that is too lenient doesn’t adequately protect society as a whole, but it’s also true that the “tough on crime” approach advocated by some folks doesn’t work either.

The “toughest sheriff in America (Joe Arpaio) is famous for making prisoners wear pink underwear and sleep in tents during Arizona’s summers. However, from 2002 to 2009, violent crime in Arizona decreased in all police jurisdictions except one, Maricopa County, where violent crime INCREASED by 58%.

Over the years, Sheriff Joe has cost Arizona taxpayers over $150 million in defending him against lawsuits. Although he has stated publicly that he plans to run for a sixth term in November, the fact that he was recently found in contempt of Federal Court may dampen his plans.

If you STILL think that it’s smart to “lock ‘em up and throw away the key“, I have some advice for you.

Take a deep breath, count to 10, and read the article again. If that doesn’t work, try this.

Take a deep breath, count to 10, and read the article again.

Eventually, I think that you’ll catch on.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


The song, “Bookends” was written by Paul Simon in 1968, and became both the first and last song on the first side of the fourth Simon and Garfunkel album, also titled “Bookends”. It’s a very pleasant song to listen to, which you can do by clicking on the link below:

YouTube to the rescue

If you think that the duo look a bit young in the link shown above, you’re absolutely correct, since they were both 26 when the song was recorded.

Paul Simon was born on 10/13/1941, and Art Garfunkel was born on 11/5/1941, which means that both of them have ALREADY discovered how “terribly strange it is to be 70“. If you’d like to see what these two music icons look like at the age of 74, take a quick peak at the pictures below.

William Shakespeare, of course, figured out how terribly strange it was to be 70 a long time ago, since Act II - Scene VII - (The Forest) of “as You Like It” details the “7 ages of man”.

The lyrics to “Bookends” have become more significant as we’ve gotten older, since we already have friends (and relatives) who have reached, or surpassed, that age. Here’s the lyrics:

Old friends

Old friends

Sat on their park bench like bookends

A newspaper blowin' through the grass

Falls on the round toes

Of the high shoes

Of the old friends

Old friends

Winter companions, the old men

Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sunset

The sounds of the city sifting through trees

Settle like dust

On the shoulders of the old friends

Can you imagine us years from today

Sharing a park bench quietly?

How terribly strange to be seventy

Old friends

Memory brushes the same years

Silently sharing the same fear

A time it was, and what a time it was, it was

A time of innocence

A time of confidences

Long ago it must be

I have a photograph

Preserve your memories

They're all that's left you

I’m not a septuagenarian yet, but I’m an awful lot closer than I used to be.

There was a time, of course, when people who were 70 were considered to be absolutely ancient, but the Baby Boomer generation apparently operates on the belief that we’re all gong to live forever.

In addition to Simon and Garfunkel, most of the musicians we listened to during our college years are still performing in their “retirement years”.

In October, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, and Neil Young will be performing together in Indio, California. Tickets were priced at $395 each, and the concert was sold out in 5 hours.

When the concert starts, the age of the performers will be as follows:

Neil Young - 70

Keith Richards - 72

Mick Jagger - 73

Paul McCartney - 74

Bob Dylan - 75

Ronald Reagan has the distinction of being the oldest person in our country to be elected President. On Inauguration Day of his first term of office, he was 69 years old, but turned 70 less than a month later. On Inauguration Day, 2017, Donald Trump will be 70, Hillary Clinton will be 69, and Bernie Sanders will be 75. As Bob Dylan once sang, "the times they are a changin'".

The guy who played “Dirty Harry”, incidentally, became 86 years old on May 31, As recently as a year ago, he was still working. His latest project, the film “American Sniper”, grossed over $500 million internationally, which made it one of the most successful films that he’s ever been involved with.

Both Sharon and I keep in regular contact with a handful of people that we have known for over 50 years - which brings up a point.

Most of us would consider it desirable to have a nice house, a new car, and a fat bank account, but none of those things are as valuable as something that can only be acquired over a long period of time.

Old friends.