Whale-Sized Karma

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about karma of late. To oversimplify, it means that whatever happens to you happens because of your actions. It’s a comforting theory. Be good, and good things will happen to you. Be bad, and you’ll get yours, eventually.

There are days when my belief in karma is the only thing that keeps me from imploding under the sheer weight of my righteous indignation. I may have been screwed over by despicable people (most notably, Andy Johnson), and I may be able to do very little about it other than shine a light on them through this blog, but I have to believe that, by dint of the rot in their very souls, they’re going to get tripped up sooner or later.

But mine is a scientific mind, and so I know on some level that this is all magical thinking. It would be wonderful if justice were that straightforward, but quite often it is not. The world is a random, chaotic place, and we aren’t in control at all. Not even a little bit.

Because of this, I know that a lot of the politicians who have perpetrated so much hate, discord and crime in recent years will get off scot-free. The insurrectionist traitors who stormed our capitol may be pursued and tried, but no sentences will be enough to pay for what they’ve done to this country. My only hope is that they keep making idiotic choices that come back to bite them in the butt, hopefully without taking any more lives with them in the process. (Five was already too many.)

Karma. A nice dream. I’ll leave you with a true story that is either the most beautiful example of karma or the most beautiful example of the random and chaotic essence of our world. You’ll have to decide for yourself.

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This is the story of the Essex. It was an American whaleship that, on August 12, 1819, sailed out of Nantucket, MA and straight into infamy. In my opinion, the only vessel worse (and in fact it’s much, much worse) than a whaler is a slave ship. The horrors we humans can visit upon this world never cease to amaze me.

But this last journey of the Essex would turn out to be either karma or chaos for its crew. The 21 men anticipated a 2 ½ year trip to catch whales in the South Pacific. But within 2 days their bad luck began when they ran into a storm that nearly sank the ship and damaged the sail as well as destroying two of the six whaleboats, and damaging a third. Captain Pollard chose to press on without getting replacements.

They hunted for whales that following spring and summer, and eventually made it to what is now Ecuador. Running out of whales to slaughter, they decided to go further south and west, where there was very little land, and that land was rumored to be inhabited by cannibals. But hey, there should be more whales there, so why not?

They stopped in at the Galapagos Islands, where they managed to take 360 giant tortoises aboard alive, thinking these creatures could go a year without food and water, and they could simply eat them as needed. These tortoises immediately began to starve. But, hey, the crew got to eat really well for a while there.

While island hopping for tortoises, a helmsman thought it would be funny to set fire to an island. That fire raged out of control and burned every living plant and animal to death, leaving a desolated, ash-covered wasteland and driving two species to near extinction. (The Floreana Island tortoise and the Floreana mockingbird, because I know you’ll ask.)

When they reached their whaling grounds, the first whale they saw came up under one of the whaleboats and completely shattered it. That left them with three.

During the next hunt one of the boats was damaged, again by a whale, and had to go back to the ship for repairs. Both of the others harpooned whales and were dragged by them over the horizon.

Those who were on the ship noticed a whale as long as their vessel acting really weird. It was just lying there on the surface, staring at them. And then it charged them and rammed the ship. The current theory is that the whale heard the hammering that was going on to repair the whaleboat, and it sounded like a rival bull sperm whale’s echolocation to him. We’ll never know.

Needless to say, ramming the ship stunned the whale. The crew thought of harpooning it, but was afraid that this would cause the whale to thrash and might damage the ship further. The whale finally perked up and swam away.

And then it turned. It was now facing the ship’s bow. It charged again, at twice its normal speed, and hit the Essex head on, shattering the bow. The crew scrambled to put provisions into the half repaired whaleboat when the captain’s whaleboat showed up. That must have come as one heck of a shock to the Captain.

Needless to say, the ship was toast. There were 20 crew members (one had deserted) to divide between, basically, 2 ½ boats. And they were in the middle of nowhere. The closest land was the Marquesas Islands, and that’s where Captain Pollard wanted to go, but his crew remembered those cannibal rumors, and wanted to go back to South America instead, which was twice as far away. And that’s what they tried to do, bailing all the while.

There was very little food and water to begin with, but the situation was made worse when most of the food got soaked by seawater, which of course rendered it very salty, which meant that every time they ate, they became more dehydrated and thirsty. (I’m getting thirsty just writing about it.) They soon resorted to drinking their own urine.

By a huge stroke of luck, a month later they landed on a deserted atoll called Henderson Island. Ironically, it’s situated just 120 miles from Pitcairn Island, where the descendants of the 1789 Bounty mutineers still live to this day.

On Henderson, the crew was able to find fresh water, and ate birds, crabs, eggs, and peppergrass. But they pretty much had wiped out the island within a week, and decided to move on. Three men remained behind, and actually managed to survive for a year before being rescued.

The other 17 men, in their 2 ½ boats, attempted to head to Easter Island. Within a week they once again ran out of food, and were only left with saltwater soaked bread yet again. They totally missed Easter Island, and began to die one by one.

The first two that died were buried at sea. One boat, carrying three men, got separated from the other two, and it is assumed it was the whaleboat later found washed up on Ducie Island with three skeletons inside.

As the last 12 started dying, some were eaten by their crewmates. So the people scared of encountering cannibals became cannibals themselves. Imagine.

By February, they were out of bodies to eat and were forced to draw lots as to who would be sacrificed. The ironically named Owen Coffin, the 17-year-old first cousin of Captain Pollard, drew the short straw. To Pollard’s credit, he offered to take his place, but Coffin felt that his lot wasn’t any worse than theirs. His best friend on the ship shot him.

The two remaining boats became separated, and one was rescued 89 days after the Essex had sunk. On it were three survivors.

Four days later, when Pollard’s boat was finally rescued, nearly in sight of South America, he and another crewman were so delirious, and so desperately sucking on the bones of dead men, they didn’t even notice the ship draw near, and were extremely terrified when they finally did.

So 8 men survived, and 7 bodies were eaten. But here’s what I find even more astounding. After all that trauma, all 8 men were back at sea within a few months. Captain Pollard kept having such bad luck at sea that eventually no one would sail with him, and he had to retire to Nantucket.

Nantucket is a small place, and he had to share it with the mother of the cousin whom he had eaten. Needless to say, relationships were rather strained. He became a night watchman. He would lock himself up in his room and fast every year on the anniversary of the sinking of the Essex. He never married or had children. He lived to be 78.

The first mate, Owen Chase, also survived, and went on to write a book about the experience, which inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick. Chase had a very successful sailing career as a sea captain, and eventually built his own whaler. He also had many wives and many children. But the ordeal haunted him, and he was eventually institutionalized after he was found to be hiding food in the attic of his Nantucket house. He lived to be 73.

All the other survivors, save one, lived long lives and died in a variety of sailor ways. And so it goes. Karma? Chaos? Or just the circle of life?

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Justice Despite Roadblocks

In the 1880’s the US government gave the Jesuits 525 acres, scattered here and there in South Dakota, according to this article. The purpose was to make churches and cemeteries on the land. But that land has become more and more sparsely populated over time, and the Jesuits found no use for it after a certain point. The mission stations they built were serving no one, and nothing further was being constructed.

As per usual out west, the government really had no right to give away this land in the first place. Every single plot of land is located within the Rosebud reservation. The Rosebud Sioux are part of the Lakota people, and currently about 15,000 of them live on the reservation.

So the Jesuits decided it was time to return this land to its rightful owners. (One wonders if they would have done so if the had been able to find a use for it, and also how much money, if any, they’re saving in property taxes by getting rid of it, but that’s just my cynicism coming out to play.)

Apparently the property transfer will conclude in May, but the Jesuits have been trying to do this for at least 5 years. The efforts kept hitting brick walls in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It beggars the imagination if there is a more obstructionist governmental bureaucracy on earth, in my opinion.

But, regardless of the motivations, it is nice that, when all is said and done, the right thing is finally going to happen. Finally, a returning is taking place. As the great Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

And now, a tiny bit more land.

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A Most Solemn Occasion

Today Ruth Bader Ginsberg will be the first woman to ever lie in state at the US Capitol. And she has really earned that right. She fought for justice her entire adult life, and has done much to significantly increase women’s rights. She’s a personal hero of mine.

Because of RBG, women can have credit cards in their own names. Women can establish their own credit history and buy property in their own names. We can play sports in school. We can consent to our own medical treatment. Because of her, women in the military who get pregnant can both keep the child and keep the job. Military women also get the same family benefits as their male counterparts because of her.

Younger women have the luxury of taking all of the above for granted because of RBG. We older women know better. Women’s rights are tenuous at best, and there are people actively working to roll them back even as you read this. Many of those people are women themselves, and that’s a contradiction that I’ll never be able to wrap my head around as long as I live.

Think of this. Distinguished people have had the opportunity to have their coffins displayed in the Capitol since 1852. That’s 168 years. And in that entire time, only 2 females have been accorded such a privilege. The first was Rosa Parks in 2005. Again, she definitely earned that honor. But since she did not work for the government, she was said to be “lying in honor”, not “lying in state”. She was guarded by Capitol Police. Whereas Justice Ginsberg will be guarded the military. Sadly, because of the pandemic, the general public will not be able to be present at the ceremony.

But lying in that powerful building is a distinction that more women should be accorded. I cannot believe that only two women in 168 years have broken this glass funerial ceiling. This is the 21st century, after all. I can’t help but wonder what Justice Ginsberg would think.

I know, like all of us, she would be horrified to see her legacy besmirched by having the next justice rammed through in a few short weeks when it took an average of two months to confirm all the current sitting justices. I’m sure she’s spinning in her grave thinking that they’re going to confirm someone in an election year when the Republicans forced a slot to remain vacant for 8 months during the last election year. The hypocrisy is too much to bear.

If that really happens, then there truly is no justice. And RBG would be heartbroken to hear me say that. It’s the last thing she would want. In fact, those were her dying words: “My most fervent wish is that I not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

I wish I had the opportunity to meet Justice Ginsberg in person. I wish I could be at the Capitol right now, to pay my respects. All I can do is hope that she rests in peace and in power, and that future generations will see all these political dirty tricks for what they are.

Rosa Parks, Lying in Honor, 2005

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Mid-Month Marvel: The Innocence Network

A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least once a month. I’ll be calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!

Given our current atmosphere, I can think of no better organization to highlight this month than The Innocence Network. This is a network of 55 U.S organizations and 12 international organizations that are working to redress the causes of wrongful convictions. They do this by providing pro bono legal and investigative services to people seeking to prove their innocence.

Since the advent of DNA testing, there has been a shocking number of convictions that have had to be overturned. Part of police reform needs to be in the area of interrogations that obtain false confessions. It has also been shown that witnesses can be very unreliable or biased.

Hand in hand with wrongful convictions is the horrifying amount of police brutality. According to this network’s home page, between 2013 and 2019, police violence in the US lead to the deaths of 7,666 people, most of whom were black. This network also directed me to a very sobering website called MappingPoliceViolence.org, which states that 1,098 people were killed by police in 2019, and that there were only 27 days that entire year where police did not kill someone.

Also, in 99 percent of the police killings from 2013 to 2019, police were not convicted of a crime. In 96 percent of them, they weren’t even charged with one. Yes, I imagine there are instances where they shouldn’t be charged, but come on. These are some very scary statistics.

The Innocence network has a page dedicated to ways you can get involved. Whether it be educating yourself and others, advocating for legislative reform, or fundraising for one of the local Innocence organizations, there are a variety of ways that you can make an impact.

At a time when many of us are feeling frustrated and ineffectual, fighting for justice for those who are still alive, and making a difference via the Innocence Network sounds like a fine idea to me. I hope you agree.

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Do the Right Thing, Costa Rica

I’ve never been to Costa Rica. I hope to go there someday. In my mind, I’ve always thought of that country as a neutral, benevolent, safe place. Sort of a “foreign travel light” kind of location. A place to go if you want to experience a different climate and culture without really venturing too far out of your comfort zone.

But now I’m wondering if that image isn’t terribly skewed. Based on what I’m reading in a Reuters article entitled, “Indigenous leader killed in Costa Rica, second in a year”, there are tensions. There is violence. And there seems to be a great deal of injustice.

According to this brief article, Costa Rica passed a law back in 1977 that states that its 24 legally recognized indigenous groups are entitled to reclaim lands taken from their ancestors, but the law has never been implemented. This is an outrage. And now that the indigenous groups are fighting back, two men, so far, have been killed.

Just as the primary cause of divorce tends to be finances, the primary cause of regional discord tends to be land. And land, when all is said and done, boils down to finances. It’s how and where people live, how they eat, and how their families survive. It’s an emotionally charged situation.

But in this case, it seems pretty clear cut. Costa Rica passed this law. Costa Rica needs to enforce it. The land should be restored to its proper owners. And murder should be treated as murder. You have no right to kill someone just because you don’t like it when they’re demanding their rights.

Costa Rica, you can’t expect to see any of my tourism dollars until you do the right thing by these people. I’m sure I’m not alone in that sentiment. The eyes of your people, and the eyes of the world, are watching you.

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Loyalty

When I wrote this post I was in a very dark place. I debated even publishing it at all. But sometimes I get the impression that I voice things that others cannot or will not, and hearing it brings them comfort. So here it is. But please rest assured that I’m feeling much better about things now.

I’m a fiercely loyal person. Disparage someone I care about and I will verbally eviscerate you. Treat others unfairly and you will unleash the kraken.

I don’t know why I bother.

I can count the number of times someone else has flown to my defense on one hand. Granted, it’s a rare occasion when I need such assistance. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself. But sometimes it would be nice to be thrown an emotional life ring, you know?

As a matter of fact, what I usually get thrown is under the bus. Heck, I practically live under that bus. It’s a source of profound disappointment to me. And road rash.

You’d think I’d have learned by now. There are very few people in this world who are going to stick their necks out for you. Most pull their selfish little heads into their feeble little shells to avoid what they assume will be total annihilation. It’s sad, really.

I don’t want to become one of those people. But if no one else is going to protect me, I need to protect myself. Circle the wagons. Keep my mouth shut. Let the chips fall where they may, and hope that they rain down on someone else’s head for a change.

And my steadfast resolve to be more self-protective will last, oh, a day or two. Because I can’t let go of the belief that if I ever want to see justice in this world, I have to play fair, in the hopes that one day someone might reciprocate, and I’ll finally feel vindicated.

Next time you see me, do me a favor and, as they say in the South, slap me upside the head.

Loyalty

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Let’s Just Say He’s Innocent

I had a nightmare last night that I was held down and sexually assaulted, and when I tried to speak out, I was mocked, threatened, lied about, and publicly humiliated. And a huge group of white men smiled approvingly while it happened.

“Can’t you just investigate?” I asked. “I’ll let the facts speak for themselves, if only you’ll take the time to look. I have nothing to hide. Do you?”

So they pretended to look, but they were in a hurry. They had other priorities. My pain, my trauma didn’t matter. They didn’t care.

I felt like I was brutalized all over again.

If only I had been taken seriously, if only a full investigation had been done. Even if my attacker was deemed innocent, I would have felt heard. But that’s not what happened. These men didn’t care about me in the face of their agenda.

Let’s just say Kavanaugh is pure as the driven snow. (We’ll never know, now.) Why not take the time for a full investigation, then? What harm would it do? In fact, it would do a great deal of good.

Because, today, I’m every woman who has ever been assaulted. I just want to be listened to, with respect. I want the world to acknowledge that what happened to me matters. Couldn’t Kavanaugh’s inevitable confirmation have waited a bit longer for a thorough investigation so that sexual assault victims the world over could feel acknowledged? What harm would that have done?

Before any justice is appointed, we all should be justly taken into consideration. That’s it. That’s all.

And that’s what didn’t happen. Instead, every aye vote felt like a stab to the vagina. Rest assured that we will all bleed our way to the voting booth.

Shame on all of you who were so busy praying that you’d get a judge that would vote your way that you were willing to step on millions of women to do so. Shame. You have shined a light on the darkness of your soul, and none of us will ever be the same.

https _upload.wikimedia.org_wikipedia_commons_thumb_d_db_Wikipedia_scale_of_justice_2.svg_631px-Wikipedia_scale_of_justice_2.svg

#WhyIDidntReport

These are very triggering times, boys and girls. And they should be. They should be. Because Trump’s piss-poor attitude about Christine Blasey Ford is just a reflection of our general cultural ignorance regarding the subject of sexual assault and abuse.

One of the most outrageous things to come out of Trump’s pie-hole (and let’s admit that that bar is already set pretty freakin’ low) is, “Why didn’t somebody call the FBI 36 years ago?”

Um… because the FBI doesn’t deal with the abuse of traumatized teenagers? Because 36 years ago, nobody gave a shit about girls being sexually assaulted? Because to this day, it’s an uphill battle to get justice in these situations?

Gee, I dunno. Why on earth didn’t she report Kavanaugh 36 years ago?

Let me jump on the bandwagon with the thousands of others out there who are attempting to patiently explain #WhyIDidntReport.

Forty-Three years ago, when I was 11 years old, my stepfather began sexually abusing me. This went on for two years, until, at age 13, I broke a board across his knee and told him that if he ever touched me again, I’d kill him. And he knew I meant it. I knew I meant it. I’ve never been so certain of anything in my entire life. He never touched me again.

That was the closest I ever came to justice. Other than that, he got off scot-free. And he didn’t do me the courtesy of dying until I was 27, so I could have reported. But I didn’t. Here are some of the millions of reasons why:

  • I was a good girl, taught to respect my elders. He was the adult in the situation, so even though what he was doing felt awful, to my young mind, it must be right. Right?

  • I was 21 years old before it occurred to me that what he did wasn’t my fault. No one ever told me that. (It’s not your fault, either, by the way.)

  • I was afraid that if I spoke up, I’d be taken away from my mother and thrown into foster care, where the abuse would continue, this time by strangers.

  • I didn’t want to bother anyone. It’s not polite to rock the boat.

  • I was afraid that if my stepfather went to jail, we would become even poorer than we already were, and we were living in a tent at the time.

  • I didn’t want my mother to get into trouble.

  • Because I was just a kid, ill equipped to take on the whole world.

  • I didn’t want the world to know my humiliation.

  • I didn’t understand how the law worked.

  • I saw on TV how women who went to court about these things where treated like whores and emotionally abused by the defense lawyers.

  • I was shy.

  • I had such low self-esteem I didn’t think I deserved justice.

  • I didn’t want to think about it.

  • I wanted it all to go away.

  • When I told my mother, she said I was “making too much of it.”

  • When I told his adult son, he didn’t do anything.

  • When I told a counselor at school, he didn’t do anything.

  • I was all alone in this.

  • Most of my female friends had been abused at some point, too. They didn’t report, either.

  • Because as time wore on, I knew I was less and less credible.

  • Because it would be my word against his, and he was a white male.

  • Because attitudes like Trumps are the rule, not the exception, and because of that, we get Supreme Court Judges like Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh.

I could go on and on. But if you are the kind of ignorant asshole who doesn’t feel that all of the above is enough, then there’s no convincing you. So I’m done.

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Given the subject matter, I felt that only a self-portrait would do. But this was an extremely emotional photo to take.

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Score One for Nature!

I’m not a violent person. I don’t even believe in the death penalty. But when I stumbled across this article about three rhino poachers getting killed by a pride of lions, I have to say that I was kind of pleased by the justice that Mother Nature meted out.

Even if it were true (and it’s most definitely not) that rhino horns held medicinal properties, that doesn’t give you the right to kill them. And if you are stupid enough to break into a game PRESERVE full of wild animals to commit this crime, you certainly can’t blame the lions for viewing you as a delicious midnight snack. You were about to do what you do, so they did what they do. Fair’s fair.

You were committing a crime. You were in a place where you had no right to be. Nature stepped up, leaving nothing but your shoes and your gloves and one skull behind, along with the nefarious weapons you planned to use to commit your atrocity.

Sometimes justice balances the scale in unexpected ways. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If I didn’t believe so firmly in karma, I’d probably implode under the sheer weight of my righteous indignation. Fortunately, a little of that weight was lifted this time around.

Lions

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