On Saturday, May 28th, the Cincinnati Zoo’s Dangerous Animal Response Team shot and killed Harambe, a 17-year-old Western lowland silverback Gorilla, one of the world’s critically endangered animals.  Harambe was transferred to The Cincinnati Zoo from the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, TX in September, 2014 and is a captive born gorilla.

Although the complete story is still sketchy, all news outlets – local, national, and international – are reporting that a 4-year-old boy breached the barrier to the gorilla enclosure, fell down approximately 10-12 feet into the moat that separates the public from the area the animals populate, and was approached by Harambe. After a short time, he dragged the boy to the far end of the moat and, when the security team arrived, they made the decision to shoot and kill the gorilla instead of tranquilizing him, for the safety of the child. The child was then retrieved and taken to Children’s Hospital Medical Center. He was conscious and talking to paramedics, with reported scratches and a bump on the head.

A couple of videos and news stories are worth watching/reading:



As one might imagine, public reaction to this story was immediate and visceral. Reactions range from concern for the well-being of the child to sadness for the loss of Harambe to outright rage toward both the adults responsible for this child and the zoo, for having a penetrable barrier and a solution that was simply not good enough in so many peoples’ eyes.

I had several reactions, all at once, and am still processing the jumble of thoughts and emotions this triggered in me. I think it’s important when something like this happens and we are not there, we are not witness to it, that we are cautious about not only our own reaction to our feelings and how we care for ourselves during these times, but also how we think about and react to others.

A number of news stories on this incident report that, before crossing the barrier and falling into the moat, witnesses heard the child express an interest in going into the water and that the mother had both heard and responded to him by telling him “no.” One story also mentions that the mother accompanying this child had a total of six children with her. There was no mention of another adult chaperone, and no other news agency has reported on the parent or guardians. Many folks have commented both that the mother is to blame for not supervising her son and that one cannot and should not blame the mother, as it is very easy to become separated from a child in public. While I am going to withhold specific blame in this case for the parents until I get more specific details, I do think it sounds like there was a serious lack of supervision that led to the injury of this little boy and the death of this beautiful animal.

The Cincinnati Zoo’s response to the introduction of a human boy into Harambe’s environ is deeply regrettable, but I’m not certain they had another option. Maynard admitted that the young boy was not being harmed while with Harambe, but he believed he was in potential danger.

“You’re talking about an animal that’s over 400 pounds and

extremely strong. So no, the child wasn’t under attack but all

sorts of things could happen in a situation like that. He certainly

was at risk,” Maynard tells WLWT.

Many people did not understand why the Response Team chose a lethal kill over the use of tranquilizers. It took 10 minutes for Security to arrive and it is reported that the child was in the enclosure for 10-15 minutes. We can speculate, in hindsight, what they should have done but, in fact, they had moments to make a decision. Harambe, a 400lb wild animal, fairly new to the zoo and (as can be seen in the video) somewhat agitated by all that was going on, was hands-on with the 4-year-old that had entered his territory. Not under attack, but potentially at risk. Shooting him with a tranquilizer gun would have startled him, probably increasing his agitation, and the effects of the tranquilizing agent would have taken a couple minutes to take effect.

It’s a tragedy, any way you look at it.

There was one foolproof way to have prevented it, though.  If Harambe had never been a captive gorilla, on display for thousands of people to walk by and point and shout at, he would never have come in contact with this 4-year-old boy and no one would have had to make the tragic decision to shoot and kill him. That is fact.

And to even suggest, as some have, that Harambe didn’t suffer, yesterday or during his entire life in captivity is a shameful statement.

Zoos are being touted as institutions of conservation and education.  And The Cincinnati Zoo has been better than most in both of these efforts. But as a lifelong supporter of this zoo, as someone who was active in youth programs there, volunteered there, attended many behind-the-scenes events there I have, over the last several years, begun to grow into a new understanding of what zoos are to the animals they hold captive. And I’ve come to see the zoo from the perspective of the animal and, equally as important, I think, I’ve begun to rethink our methods of conservation.

Now, when I go to the zoo, I can’t see past the swaying elephants and the pacing cats.  The animals that are chewing the bars of their cages and the solitary birds that are kept in darkened, cramped quarters with no room to fly and plastic foliage, pretty and on display for our pleasure. Now, when I go to the zoo, tears fill my eyes when I see tiny terrarium after terrarium filled with snakes and frogs and lizards, destined to live life in a 12×6 in glass cell. Now, when I go to the zoo, I hear people talk about conservation, but I see common birds and reptiles, captive, not to conserve, but to exhibit as museum pieces for profit.

Harambe, like many others, was born a captive to remain a captive until death. Is this conservation?

Metta to all who remain captive.



I had planned to begin this afternoon’s posts with the absolutely preposterous notion of Donald Trump as a serious contender for the Office of President of the United States (yes, we are truly there, folks), but then I read some of the crazy things Ted Cruz has been saying lately and I simply had to begin with the second best.  *cough*

This is a long, but very good Rolling Stone article on what’s wrong with Ted Cruz.


You may think I’m just a Democrat dumping on one of the Republican candidates because, well…I can, but I actually have had some education in this area (focused primarily in foreign policy) and I truly do have an interest in the growth, development, health, perception, and sustainability of our country.  I think that many people are concerned with those things; I just don’t believe that everybody considers the consequences of the actions of those in leadership roles.

On to Mr. Cruz.  If you didn’t read the article at the link, I’ll give you a taste.  From the first paragraph:

“In no particular order, Texas senator and Republican presidential aspirant Ted Cruz has: said acts of Christian terrorism stopped centuries ago, forgetting the Ku Klux Klan and the shooting in Colorado last week; claimed he has never met an anti-abortion activist who advocates violence, despite being endorsed by one just days before; dismissed the need for Planned Parenthood because there isn’t a shortage of “rubbers” in America; and made an offhand comment that Colorado mass shooter Robert Dear could be a “transgendered leftist activist.” All this in just the last week.”

I could write an entire book on the points in that paragraph, but I’m not going to waste my writing life on that.  I would like to focus here, instead, on something I read in ThinkProgress today about a statement Cruz made on torture. Torture is a subject I know a little about and hold very strong opinions on.

The link:


The quote from the article:

“America has never engaged in torture and we’re not about to,” Cruz responded after being asked whether he would engage in torture, enhanced interrogation, and waterboarding by the show’s three hosts.

There is a lot more in the article worth reading and I encourage you to do so.  This single statement, though, if you know nothing else about Ted Cruz, tells you all you need to know about his character and how he will serve as President of the United States.  And if you are a compassionate, honest, ethical individual, you will run as far from this candidate as you can.

The definition of torture (from Article 1, Part 1 of the Geneva Convention):

  1. For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

Ted Cruz does not even know what the correct definition of torture is, so he cannot say that we don’t engage in it.  Amnesty International has investigated and documented repeated violations of the UN Convention Against Torture by the US since 9/11:


So, either Ted Cruz is a liar or he’s just stupid.  Since he’s well-educated and a US Senator with a lot of experience, I suspect it’s the former.

But even before 9/11, the United States has been deeply involved in the use and training of torture methods for years.  Take, for example, the work of the School of the Americas (now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation).  Located at Fort Benning, GA, it is a combat training school for soldiers (rebels) in Latin America. There is a long history of country destabilization, torture, rape, assassination, and other atrocities committed by the graduates of the SOA, which are all trained by the US Army and followed instructions for years compiled in what are now known as the CIA Torture Manuals.  More can be read here:


and here:


And if that is not enough, I’m wondering if Mr. Cruz has read even the summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Report on the CIA’s Use of Torture? It determined that, not only did the US engage in torture, but that the use of torture was not, in fact, useful in obtaining factual and helpful information.

Oh, and yes.  It also determined that waterboarding meets the definition of torture.  As if we actually needed a whole committee to tell us that.

Given Ted Cruz’s position on all of the non-torturing that we’re doing, I wonder how he thinks about and will handle – as President – all of our non-poverty and our non-mental illness and our non-mass shootings and all of the other bad and awful stuff that’s not happening.

I hope that there are enough people eligible to vote who are able to see through this politician’s rhetoric and make a choice for someone who will bring hope and a peace back into this country and its citizenry.

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/46473296@N02/16074377617″>Roses 2</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;



I finally sat down and watched the Republican debate the other night thinking that, by now, there may be some intelligent discussion about issues and fewer insults among the candidates.  It did seem to be a little more civilized, and I actually heard some real debate (although to call it intelligent would be stretching it a bit) about a few of the primary hot topics on the ticket this year.  It was a definite improvement over the playground antics of the last few Republican debacles I saw.

Still, from the very beginning, this pre-election posturing has created serious doubt in my mind about the health and future development of this nation domestically and as a vital partner in the global family.

Over and over again Donald Trump and the other candidates have demonstrated, not only a lack of basic knowledge in the areas of international law, foreign policy, and diplomacy, but they have shown that they have no respect, care, and even less understanding for the general populace of this country. They are unable for even two hours to have a reasoned debate on serious issues that mean life and death to many people without resorting to insults and name-calling.  And above all else, they display not only disrespect but contempt for President Obama, and in an almost proud way.  Not one of these men deserves to be the president’s butler.  

Assuming, though, that one of them will be the presidential candidate, I have been trying to figure them out by how they stand on the issues.  Not an easy task when much of their chatter is about bashing one another and deflecting the important questions.

Both Trump and Cruz have clearly stated they will make torture standard operating procedure in times of war and when dealing with terrorists. During the debate on February 6 in New Hampshire, Trump declared that he’d bring back waterboarding and “worse.” Cruz spent a lot of time explaining (incorrectly) that waterboarding is not, by legal definition, torture.

I’m focusing on this particular issue because it not only speaks to the characters of the people involved, but the decisions that are made regarding the use of torture will have ramifications for everyone involved, not just the terrorists we capture. But I’ll get to that in a minute. Also, the public isn’t always aware of the specifics of the legalities surrounding torture and politicians often take advantage of that to influence their vote.

Torture is illegal at all times under international law.  Period.  The fact that we happen to live in the United States does not give us any special privilege or right to commit torture. Period.  Just because we have been attacked by someone does not give us the right to torture someone we think may have information about the attack. In fact, it’s been researched and proven that torturing someone for information does not elicit useful, usable data.

Trump either doesn’t know this, or doesn’t care and was simply trolling for voters on Saturday, “‘You can say what you want,’ he said [again] on Sunday. ‘I have no doubt that it does work in term[s] of information and other things.'”


Cruz has limited knowledge as to what constitutes torture, defining it as: “…excruciating pain that is equivalent to losing organs and systems…” (Saturday debate) and claims that waterboarding does not fall under the definition.

The full definition follows:


“torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;

(2)“severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from—


the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;


the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;


the threat of imminent death; or


the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality…”
Waterboarding does fall under the definition of torture.  I wonder if any of our esteemed politicians  has ever read the Convention Against Torture or the US Laws prohibiting torture.  I am actually reading The Official Senate Report on CIA Torture – I am beginning to wonder if anyone in the senate even read it.  It seems that, if one is planning to make policy change about it, one should know what laws he plans to violate.
In just this one instance, candidates who show their “patriotism” and anger toward the enemy by demonstrating a desire for brutal and painful payback will only be escalating the violence and hate that is perpetuated toward us. Because if we capture and systematically torture and otherwise inhumanely treat suspected prisoners and terrorists, there is no reason other countries cannot and will not do the same. We have forces stationed in far more countries than anyone else does in the world.  The argument we make is that we are simply doing it for our security.  Who is to say they are not doing it for their own, as well?
We need someone with intelligence, experience in foreign and diplomatic affairs, knowledge of international law, the understanding that there will be times others may need to be consulted and the humility to say “I don’t know,” and someone who is not going to indiscriminately bomb a country based on information gathered that could be suspect.  And we need someone who knows how to talk to people as equals, without judging.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not feeling very hopeful.

The Real Enemy

Posted: February 7, 2016 in Uncategorized

We here in the West are a “determine the enemy, react quickly, defend our territory and ideology, and eliminate the threat, fast and furious” culture.  The enemy is typically whoever stands in our way of promoting our agenda or ideology and can be either foreign or domestic.  Increasingly, in some countries like the US, political pundits set up an “us” and “them” in the domestic arena to win political power, gain control over the populace, and strengthen the resolve against that enemy.  They do so, in part, by preying on the fact that most of us have become “surface dwellers” these days; we get our news from FOX or CNN or the local stations, hearing only what the biased owners and producers of those conglomerates want us to hear.  We seldom dig beneath all the rhetoric, all the “shock and awe” of round-the-clock, live, as-it-happens news. If we hear it on the morning broadcast or read it in our daily feed, it must be true.

Looking back briefly over US history, it seems there has always been an enemy, an “other.” The Germans, the Japanese, the USSR, Korea, the Vietnamese, the Ayatollah Khomeni, Iran, Sadam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Iraq, Al-Quaeda, and now, ISIS.  We don’t seem to be satisfied, though, in dealing only with enemies outside of our nation. We find enemies within our borders at every turn: the natives that were here when the new immigrants arrived, Northerners, Southerners, Republicans, Democrats, the Right, the Left, Blacks, Whites, the police, the administration, Christians, Satanists, large corporations, Big Pharma, and the list could go on.

Even in our smaller, day-to-day worlds, we fight a never-ending battle with unconquerable and often invisible enemies. We wrestle with physical pain that keeps us from doing the things we enjoy.  We suffer unimaginable emotional distress and turmoil that often leaves us unable to engage anymore in the fight and ready and willing to surrender.  We deal with the every day moral and ethical dilemmas of life and living, companionable foes in their own right that help us grow and move us forward.  But always, always, we face an enemy, an entity seen as an “other.”

ISIS is not what’s destroying us as a nation.  What ISIS does, wherever they do it, is horrible and unconscionable. But the fact is, what we do to ourselves and how we fall prey to the perpetuation of the illusion of others’ affects on us is what is destroying us.

“Our worst enemies are those we least suspect – ourselves.”

                                           –  Ivan Panin, Thoughts

We are, indeed, a powerful nation.  Many of us are also extraordinarily ethnocentric and paranoid, as well, believing that everyone else is out to get us even though the facts – the actual numbers – say otherwise.

  • 394,912 – number of people in the US killed by firearms due to homicide, suicide, and legal police shootings between 2001 and 2014, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention database.
  • 3046 – number of people in the US killed by terrorism or possible terrorism, as maintained in the Global Terrorism Database.  The vast majority of these were, of course, from the attacks on 9/11.
  • approx. 7000 (gleaned from several sites and to 2015) – number of US soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan wars
  • nearly 1,500,000 Iraqi civilians (innocent men, women, and children) killed during the war there.

There are statistics for Americans killed annually in automobile accidents (33,561 in 2012 – NHTSA), incidents of domestic violence (every 9 seconds in the US a woman is assaulted http://www.ncadv.org/learn/statistics), suicide (42,773 deaths every year in the US – afsp.org), and many, many more.

Maybe, instead of looking outside of our borders to find, confront, and destroy the enemy, we should start within.  We cannot be powerful and effective leaders if our own world is disordered and chaotic.





100_1414Recently, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced their decision to discontinue the use of elephants in their acts beginning in May.  This news came to the near-delight of many animal activists and advocates who were frustrated with Ringlings’ initial release that they would be phasing out their elephant acts gradually, by 2018.  Many of the comments on social media and to journal and newspaper articles that address the decision, though, are by disappointed and angry parents and grandparents whose children will miss out on seeing an elephant balance on an oversized ball or a fancily dressed acrobat ride on her back.

In these comments also is hate and contempt for those activists who “lie” about The Greatest Show on Earth and its treatment of the animals in its care. As if they have have some ulterior motive, a true attempt just to spoil everyone’s fun.

The abuse and mistreatment at Ringling Brothers, as well as a host of other facilities that keep captive wild animals and, in particular, elephants, is well-documented. This is just one example:


While the Ringling Brothers’ elephants “retirement” came as good news to those of us who have advocated for it over many months and years, it still leaves many (if not most) of us with concerns.  The elephants that are currently performing in circus acts will be moved to Ringlings’ own Center for Elephant Conservation (CEC) in Florida.  Unlike the sanctuaries that have been set up for retired elephants like the The Elephant Sanctuary, in Hohenwald, Tennessee, which provide open grassland and freedom to roam, sleep, bathe in the lakes, and live as they wish:


the CEC is a breeding and research facility, which breeds its elephants (often by artifical insemination) to preserve the species and conducts studies using the animals to assist in human cancer research.  As the following article describes, the elephants are housed in large barn-like rooms with cement floors and barred enclosures.  Staff continues use of the bull hook, the elephants are chained at night, and they are given daily baths by their keepers.


This documentation was provided by a worker at CEC who witnessed first-hand and participated in many of the abuses there.


The behavior condoned by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey is common among other (although not all) facilities that keep captive wild animals, including other circuses, zoos, aquariums, and animal parks.  We don’t hear about it often or we are told that those who protest it are “lunatics” or “on the fringe.” These facilities are, above all else, businesses, and to lose the support of the general public or corporate sponsors cuts into their bottom line.

That makes it even more critical for those of us who have the compassion – not just for these animals, but for all animals – to stand up and speak up.  You can do NO harm by sharing and spreading your compassion with and to others.

I leave you with a question to think about:  Would you rather live a life in a cage, beaten, under someone’s constant control, chained, forcibly bred, your children taken away at 2 years of age, no companions with which to express your emotions?  Or would you rather live a life roaming freely with your family and friends, able to bathe when you wish, lie down and sleep under the stars, and cuddle your children?

Yeah, I thought so.


I usually try, a few times every year, to make a list of at least 25 things I’m grateful for.  It’s a good exercise to help us remember the really important things in life.  The things and people that sustain us, even when we may not be as mindful of them as we should. The past few years have been really tough, though; my attention has been pulled inward, trying to sort through the grief of many losses, deep depression brought about by repeated betrayals and confusing memories, and the general worries for an uncertain future.

But I decided to take some time on this day of thanksgiving to think about the one thing I am most grateful for in my life right this moment.  I’ve made a concerted effort in just the last couple of days to get back to living mindfully because I notice that it is then and only then when I find true peace and happiness.  And while I am so very thankful for my mom and the rest of my family, and for my cats ‘rissa and Silk, and wonderful friends, and so much more, I think I am most grateful today for all of the suffering I have endured.

Most people think of suffering in terms of major crises or traumatic events, but we all endure small amounts of suffering each day. Even if we lead a generally happy and content life, we may encounter disappointment when our expectations are not met, sadness when someone dies, or anger when things don’t go our way.  And of course, there are larger, more long-term issues that sometimes create more intense and chronic episodes of suffering: physical or emotional pain from chronic illness, living in abject poverty, or dealing with the aftermath of a catastrophic event are a few examples.

What I am discovering is that, for me, the suffering – as intense and unending as it has seemed at times – has been a necessary part of this journey and that there are a few things I can do along the way to ease its grip.  But that always I should be thankful for the gifts it has given me, for it has made me a person who is wiser, kinder, more understanding, more patient, and with greater empathy and compassion than before.

On 60 Minutes last Sunday night, Bill Whitaker reported on the story of a man, Glenn Ford, who was in prison and on death row for 30 years for a crime he didn’t commit and the prosecutor who, eventually, admitted his mistakes in putting him there and apologized for them.  It was a powerful story on all sides. If you didn’t get a chance to see the segment and would like to, here it is:


Many things about this story are troubling and fodder for discussion, but I want to focus on just one right now.

The acting district attorney of Caddo Parrish, Louisiana, where Mr. Ford was tried, convicted, and incarcerated  was interviewed for this piece, with questions directed toward understanding why Ford was denied the $330,000 due him as compensation for false imprisonment. Dale Cox was stone-faced and cold during the interview. Ford got justice in this case, according to Cox, albeit a “delayed justice” because, after all, was released from prison and from death row.  So ill, incidentally, that he only has a few months to live.

“In the original trial, prosecutors said Ford knew a robbery of Rozeman’s jewelry shop was going to take place. But he didn’t report it. Ford was never charged with that crime, but the state says that’s reason enough to deny him.” (from the above article)

The only thing the state of Louisiana provided Ford upon release was a $20 gift card, which he used to purchase a meal. When DA Cox indicated he believed that was the end of the state’s obligation to Ford, Whitaker asked him if he had any compassion for Ford and what he had been through in the last 30 years. Cox’s reply was immediate and chilling, if not predictable.  “I’m not in the compassion business, none of us as prosecutors or defense lawyers are in the compassion business.”

For several years now, our country has witnessed a rise in – or, at least a rise in the reportage of – violence, both domestically and internationally.  School shootings, police officers shooting and killing unarmed and often innocent black and mentally ill citizens, civilians retaliating and killing police officers nationwide, terrorists threats and bombings, religious and racial hatred resulting in the deaths of innocents, the widespread targeted killing and slaughter of animals worldwide. There have been small pockets of people here and there who have responded in positive, peaceful ways to try to facilitate healing and create dialogue, but on the whole, we continue to allow our emotions to take hold and we react in truly ugly and uncaring ways to the pain and suffering of our fellow man and other sentient beings.

Every single one of us needs to be in The Compassion Business.  Not just for the innocent men like Glenn Ford, but for the guilty ones, too. We need to take a look at ourselves first and try to understand what drives our hate and prejudice, what makes us think that what we believe is the only right way and must be forced onto others.  We need to figure out why our first response is always to harm and why our definition of justice is revenge.  We need to understand from where our anger arises.

I have never before seen such angry, hateful people as I have seen in this country in the last couple of years.

I imagine a world in which people who are depressed and anxious are listened to and understood and are able to get the therapy they need and the medication to correct their chemical imbalances without putting them in debt for the rest of their lives.

I imagine a world where people who have more serious mental illnesses are identified and given an opportunity for intensive treatment so that they are heard and understood and their thoughts do not escalate to harmfulff actions toward others.

I imagine a world where our first response, as humans, to an injustice, is not anger but compassion. Where we are able to acknowledge the suffering others experience and the humanity in everyone.

I imagine a world – and, indeed, a United States – where the brutality of torture is recognized, publicly condemned, and its use legally punished.  Where the death penalty is abolished and even those serving long-term prison sentences are treated humanely and with compassion.

I imagine a world – again, a United States – where law enforcement is better trained and more sensitive to people of color and people who are neurodivergent. Where objective observation and skilled negotiation take the place of profiling and emotional reaction.  Where citizens can, once again, approach an officer without fear for help and officers, once again, are hired to maintain the peace.

I imagine a world – a United States – where the governement is completely secular and religion plays no part in how it functions, the laws it creates, or the people it elects.

I imagine a world where there are no reasons for “terrorists” to target others, or for “terrorists” to exist.

I imagine a world – a United States – where everyone didn’t fire first and ask questions later.

I imagine a world where wild animals are permitted to remain in the wild and are neither hunted for sport or food.  Where humans do not raise and breed domestic animals for food, nor do they raise or breed any animals for research.

For now, I’m just going to work on myself.  Deepen my own sense of compassion, remind myself to be kind to others, stay mindful in all that I do, be honest and truthful.  Check my anger at the door, and remember that every sentient being suffers.  If we all did that, well…we wouldn’t have to worry about any of the above, would we?