The Poachers

Daddy set the coal-oil lamp on a wooden box beside the bed and learned to stroke hair from the sleeping boy’s eyes.  They opened.  “Mornin’ pardner.”  The eyes blinked.  “Ready for huntin’?”  The lad bolted upright.

“Chuck and Uncle Wiff will be here by five.”  Daddy rumpled the coal-black mop.  “Get dressed.”  He disappeared down the stairwell.

The boy threw back the flannel sheet and Mama’s quilt and perched on the edge of the bed.  Bare feet found bare floorboards.  Impelled by the cool attic and impending adventure, the seven-year-old fumbled into long-johns, Levis, plaid wool shirt, sox, and size six cowboy boots.  Holding the metal bail of the lantern, the boy started down the stairs.  He smelled coffee and bacon.

From the warming oven of the Great Majestic kitchen range, Daddy delivered plates of bacon, eggs, and slices of Mama’s homemade bread to the table.  “Want jelly?”

The boy nodded.  “Yes please.”

Daddy smiled.  From a kitchen cabinet, he brought a ceramic jar of apricot preserves. 

Father and son ate quickly, in silence.  Daddy drank coffee from a blue enamel mug.  The boy gulped milk from a glass tumbler.

Assembled beside the door were, Daddy’s 30-30 rifle and cartridge belt, a cotton bag holding Mama’s roasted mutton and mustard sandwiches and chocolate cake in waxed paper, and a burlap-wrapped water jug.

At the front gate, Buck, Daddy’s buckskin gelding, and Snip, a sturdy bay mare with a white diamond in her forehead, were bridled and saddled.  The crunch of hooves on gravel signaled Chuck and Uncle Wiff’s approach.

Greetings were warm but subdued.  Moments later, four quarter horses carried four horsemen through the shadow of a gate, across a barely visible bridge to the County Road.  With a blush of sunrise on their right, riders nudge heels against equine ribs.  The animals broke into an easy trot up the gray, gravel ribbon. 

As they passed “Zumadakis the Greek’s” yard, a silhouette set milk pails on the ground and waved.  The horsemen returned the silent salute.  On Easter, Mama, Daddy and the boy came to Pete’s for spit-roasted lamb, round loaves with Easter eggs in lumpy crusts, and sweet purple wine that made the boy warm inside.

At a deserted CCC camp, the road became a four-foot-wide trail through waist-high sagebrush.  They reined up.  Daddy and Uncle Wiff pulled rifles from saddle scabbards and levered bullets into chambers.  Grasping above the trigger guards, they rested the rifles’ but plates on their thighs.

Stirrup-to-stirrup the men lead.  Uncle Wiff’s voice was subdued but clear. “Pete saw that four-point, a spike, and some does below the canal.” 

Daddy pointed his rifle to the left.  “At the Forest fence we’ll cut west, tie up in the cedars and walk.”  Uncle Wiff nodded.

Stirrup-to-stirrup the boys followed.  And their minds worshiped every phrase, and every word.


It really happened—more or less.

Cognitive Testing

Republican calls for President Biden to undergo a “cognitive test” got me thinking about thinking, how we assimilate information, decide, and act. How we think.

First, what is a “cognitive test”.  Folks much smarter than I conjure algorithms to quantify human thinking, verbal and physical skills, interests, “personality”—Whatever that is?—a host of behavioral and mental proclivities.  It is important to understand what a “score” on a specific evaluation really means, not be fooled by what we think it means.

To see how the results of some “cognitive” evaluation may mislead us commoners, consider “Intelligence Quotient” or “IQ” tests.  Alfred Binet and David Wechsler developed protocols for assessing human “Intelligence.”  German psychologist William Stern labeled standardize scores from these instruments “Intelligence Quotient” or “IQ.”  But, what really is “Intelligence”?  What really is “IQ”?  Simple and Circular as it sounds, IQ is a score on an Intelligence Test.

The assumptions supporting any mental or behavioral evaluation are crucial in interpreting its results.  Alfred Binet was an early twentieth-century French psychologist.  Dissatisfied with Binet’s revised “Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales” in assessing Belleview Psychiatric Hospital patients, a mid-to-later twentieth-century Romanian-American psychologist David Wechsler developed “Intelligence Scales” for adults and children.  To appreciate the biases in Binet’s and Wechsler’s scales, it is important to understand that each is rooted in beliefs about how thinking and behavior in a specific culture, at specific time, translate into success.

To illustrate how an IQ score may fool us, consider two young Americans Jerry and Luka.  Nineteen-year-old Jerry was born and raised in a middle-class Boston suburb, graduated high school with a 3.9 g.p.a.  Allow me to assign Jerry a Wechsler IQ score of 110, ten points above the mean.  Nineteen-year-old Luka was born and raised on a bayou off Terrebonne Bay, seventy miles southwest of New Orleans.  At age eleven Luka abandoned schoolin’ for a canoe, single-shot 22 rifle, fishing line, hooks, size “O” leghold trap, a scrap of canvas and two ancient blankets.  For eight years Luka patroled Louisiana backwaters, shooting ducks, coons, and possums, trapping muskrats, and catching channel cats.  Let’s assign Luka a Wechsler score of 90, ten points below the mean.

Scenario One: Hypothetically, lets transport these two young men to opposite street corners in downtown Chicago with clothes on their back, a second set in a backpack, and one hundred dollars cash.  Where might we find Jerry and Luka in, say, three weeks?  It’s fair to speculate Jerry will have acquaintances, if not friends, a room or apartment, is stocking shelves at Costco, enrolled in a Community College night class, and applying for student aid with an eye to a B.S. in Computer Science.  Luka?  Hard to say: alone, hungry, scrounging in trash cans, sleeping in alleys, in jail, worse?  Who’s the Intelligent one?

Scenario Two: Drop Jerry and Luka on opposite sides of a small island in a Pascagoula River backwater, with a canoe, single shot 22 rifle, fishing line, hooks, size “O” leghold trap, scrap of canvas, and a pair of threadbare blankets.  Where might we find Luka and Jerry in, say, three weeks?  In his native environment, Luka wouldn’t miss a coon, meal, or muskrat.  Jerry?  Again, hard to say: alone, afraid, hungry, mosquito-bit, snake-bit, worse?   Who’s Intelligent now?

I take this circuitous route to point out that a “score” on any human mental or behavioral evaluation, any “cognitive test”, may not tell us what we think it does.  What, if anything, does or could it reveal about Joe Biden’s or Donald Trump’s skills and qualifications for governing America?

Critics point to Joe’s infrequent, verbal hesitations or seeming mental lapses.  We don’t have to be over the allotted three score and ten to experience a “senior moment.”  I’ve done it; you have.  Regardless of age, we all have!  We forget, get confused, get the facts wrong, “mis-state,” mis-remember dates, names, events.  Research shows that “eyewitness” reports often differ in significant details. 

I’m astonished that folks who cry out for Joe’s cognitive assessment, blindly Champion a man three dozen psychiatrists and other experts agree exhibits classic symptoms of a “Malignant Narcissist Personality Disorder,” a diagnosed Mental Illness!  (The Dangerous Case Of Donald Trump and Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM)).  We don’t need Sigmund Freud or another Shrink to make this diagnosis.  Look at the symptoms.  Listen to the man who,

  • called Hillary’s crimes “worse than Watergate.”
  • claimed attendance at his inauguration as one of the largest ever.  Videos show it wasn’t close to Obama’s.
  • assured followers Mexico would pay for his wall.
  • is a “stable genius.”
  • said dad, Fred, was born in a “very wonderful place in Germany.” 
    Trump senior took his first breath in the Bronx.
  • wanted America to buy Greenland.
  • alleged that Obama’s administration “begged for a meeting” with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.  They didn’t.
  • announced I am “King of Israel  .  .  .  the chosen one.”
  • considered giving himself a Medal of Honor.
  • despite incontrovertible proof of global warming, planet Earth “will cool off.”
  • denied COVID-19 was a deadly threat.  A failure to lead that greatly exacerbated American’s suffering and deaths from the virus.
  • touted unproven oxychloroquine and suggested intravenous disinfectants injections to cure COVID-19.
  • rants that America’s wind turbines kill around 681,000 birds a year, while cars and trucks kill as many as 340 million,” (Traci Watson in “USA Today’s,” May 29, 2014) and Oklahoma State University’s Dr. Scott Loss estimates, “Communications towers kill 6.6 million  .  .  .  building windows kill 600 million.”  (David Schechter in “Verify,” Feb. 23, 2020)  What’s behind the former President’s newfound affinity for our feathered friends?  As always, follow the money.  Wind turbines replace natural gas and coal fired generators.
  • has absolutely no sense of ethics, morals, compassion, or humanity.
  • his Grand Finale was orchestrating and ordering an armed assault on our Capitol, Congress, and Constitution.

Cognitive deficits, Republicans?  Look in your front yard!


Please Hear What I’m Not Saying–Poem by Charles C. Finn

Don’t be fooled by me.
Don’t be fooled by the face I wear
For I wear a mask, a thousand masks,
Masks that I’m afraid to take off
And none of them is me.

Pretending is an art that is second nature to me,
but don’t be fooled,
for God’s sake don’t be fooled.
I give you the impression that I’m secure,
that all is sunny and unruffled with me,
within as well as without,
that confidence is my game and coolness my game,
that the water’s calm and I’m in command
and that I need no one,
but don’t believe me.

My surfaced may be smooth but
my surface is my mask,
ever varying and ever concealing.
Beneath lies no complacence.
Beneath lies confusion, and fear, and aloneness.
But I hide this. I don’t want anyone to know it.
I panic at the thought of my weakness exposed.
That’s why I crate a mask to hide behind,
a nonchalant sophisticated façade,
to help me pretend,
to shield me from the glance that knows.

But such a glance is precisely my salvation,
my only hope, and I know it.
That is, if it is followed by acceptance,
if it is followed by love.
It’s the only thing that can liberate me from myself
from my own self-built prison walls
from the barriers that I so painstakingly erect.
It’s the only thing that will assure me of what I can’t assure myself,
that I’m really worth something.
But I don’t tell you this. I don’t dare to. I’m afraid to.
I’m afraid you’ll think less of me,
that you’ll laugh, and your laugh would kill me.
I’m afraid that down deep I’m nothing
and that you will see this and reject me.

So I play my game, my desperate, pretending game
With a façade of assurance without
And a trembling child within.
So begins the glittering but empty parade of Masks,
And my life becomes a front.
I tell you everything that’s really nothing
and nothing of what’s everything,
of what’s crying within me.
So when I’m going through my routine
don’t be fooled by what I’m saying.
Please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m not saying,
what I’d like to be able to say,
what for survival I need to say,
but what I can’t say.

I don’t like hiding.
I don’t like playing superficial phony games.
I want to stop playing them.
I want to be genuine and spontaneous and me
but you’ve got to help me.
You’ve got to hold out your hand
even when that’s the last thing I seem to want.
Only you can wipe from my eyes
the blank stare of the living dead.
Only you can call me into aliveness.
Each time you’re kind, and gentle, and encouraging,
each time you try to understand because you rally care,
my heart begins to grow wings–
very small wings,
but wings.

With your power to touch me into feeling
you can breath life into me.
I want you to know that.
I want you to know how important you are to me,
How you can become a creator–an honest-to-God creator–
of the person who is me
if you choose to.
You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble,
you alone can remove my mask,
you alone can release me from the shadow-world of panic,
from my lonely prison,
If you choose to.
Please choose to.

Do not pass me by.
It will not be easy for you.
A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls.
It’s irrational, but despite what the books say about man,
often I’m irrational.
I fight against the very thing I cry out for.
But I’m told that love is stronger than strong walls
and in this lies my hope.
Please try to break down those walls
with firm hands but with gentle hands
for a child is very sensitive.

Who am I, you may wonder?
I am someone you know very well.
For I am every man you meet
and I am every woman you meet.

© 2012 Charles C. Finn
Used with permission and appreciation.

Civil Discourse

Most of us could lead America into peace and prosperity if others would just cooperate.  Be reasonable.  Do it my way.

Since folks often fail to appreciate our wisdom, most of us adopt comic Jerry Stiller’s strategy for a harmonious marriage.  Anne Meara, Jerry’s wife, “is not hard to live with.  You just put up with her.”  Unreasonable and contrary as people sometimes seem, most times we “just put up with” them.

One alternative is Civil Discourse.  Cameral bodies maintain Civil Discourse under Parliamentary rules.  Courts of law ensure plaintiffs’, prosecutors’, and defendants’ arguments are heard without interruption.

American University’s School of Public Affairs says of Civil Discourse, “One of the most important educational, political, and social issues is how best to have a civil conversation in a democratic society.  Our past, present and future depend on this essential process: citizens gather, listen to each other, debate, make up their minds and determine a course of action.

“Polarization of opinions, coupled with the speed and access of the digital age have made it difficult to keep our conversations civil in America today.  From shouting matches, to opinionated blog posts, to rhetoric-filled debates, we are confronted everyday with uncivil conversation.”

For the Center to Radical Right, Civil Discourse is anathema.  Faced with a counter argument, they “win” by shouting-down, demeaning, and insulting others. If all else fails, they shut you off.  When I opined that Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the National Anthem may be seen not as disrespect, but respectful exercise of his right to free speech, Friend Ron un-Friended me.  Learning I don’t like Donald Trump and like Joe Biden, a cousin assured me that deceased relatives “were rolling in their graves.”  Haven’t heard much more from him.  When an adult daughter spoke up to express a Liberal opinion, her gun-totin’ dad held out his hand, “Don’t say anything!  You’ll get me upset!”

Today, as indicated above, a stringent cohort of Caucasian, nominally “Christian,” American men —Appearance to the contrary, sorry ladies—is determined to impose their beliefs and prejudices on the rest of us.  Prominent in their agenda are unrestricted ownership and use of firearms and hatred of non-traditional, sexual identity and orientation.  As I write, Republican state legislators work to disenfranchise the poor and folks of color, who tend to vote for Democrats.

The View From In Here

When I’m not here are you?

When I’m not present, does the world continue?  Or, do things take form and function only at my pleasure?  If I’m not there, does the Amazon plunge over cliffs and glide past cut-banks, does a Raven rasp in a Sitka spruce, does a tornado rip across Oklahoma City, do waves kiss Waikiki, does Sun bake the Gobi Desert?  Do people haggle, laugh, make love, and kill in my absence?  When I sleep, does the Universe exist?

The classic conundrum: If a Douglas Fir falls in the Mt Hood National Forest and I’m not there to hear, does it make a sound?  The pragmatic answer: A falling tree vibrates air molecules, impacting tympanic membranes in my ear, sending electrical nerve impulses to the auditory part of my brain, I “hear”!  The larger question: Do the tree, the Mt Hood National Forest, the Cascade Mountains, North America, Earth, Sun, Moon, the Universe exist when I don’t see and hear?  Or is it all a potential, waiting to collapse as sound and shape at my pleasure?

In physicist Dr. Fred Allen Wolfe’s Taking The Quantum Leap, I learned my grandiose notion has philosophic and scientific support.  It even has a name, “Solipsism.”  The hypothesis that I can only know my experience.  Nothing “outside” may be assumed as “real.”     

Of course, folks far smarter than I have long since recognized the central and crucial role of an “observer” in what is observed.  Robert C. Crease and Charles C. Mann’s The Second Creation; Albert Einstein’s Relativity, “The Special and General Theory.  A clear explanation that anyone can understand”; Paul Cavies and John Gribbin’s The Matter Myth; and Stephen W. Hawking’s A Brief History of Time From the Big Bang to Black Holes seem to point in a Solipsist direction.  Quarks, bugs, trees, cities, continents, Earth, Sun, and Supernova, even you my friend, materialize at my discretion!  I create Reality!