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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

A hunting story

Harry Whittington on his release from the hospitalI almost shot a man while hunting.

I was 14, and it was my first time hunting with a loaded shotgun. I had been on several hunts with my father before, but was not allowed to carry a gun.

My dad bought a part-ownership in a duck hunting club near Stuttgart, Arkansas, the "duck hunting capital of the world." The way they hunt ducks down there is to flood a woods in the fall, and walk out to an opening in the woods in hip boots or waders. The water is usually one-to-two feet deep. Each hunter finds a tree to stand next to, and someone skilled enough to call ducks does the calling. Nearly everyone in the Stuttgart area can call ducks, and they have a contest every year to determine who is the best. My dad was almost as good as the Arkansas callers, so he called along with them.

I was trained very strictly about gun safety by my father. Treat every gun as loaded, only point at what you intend to shoot, keep the safety on until you are ready to shoot, keep your finger off the trigger except when shooting, and don't load the gun until you are where you are going to shoot.

What my father didn't teach me about is the adrenaline boost you get when it's finally time to shoot. The hunting group gathered in a rough semicircle around the "shootin' hole," and waited for the ducks to start flying. The callers start calling at sunrise, and the ducks are pretty wary, having been shot at, probably several times by the time they have migrated south to Arkansas.

A good caller can see ducks from pretty far away, and starts "working" them immediately, using the "long call," the "feed call," the "mating call," and the "chuckle." In other words, "Plenty of food and sex down here! Come on down!" One thing I really enjoyed was how the callers would slosh one foot in the water to simulate a duck swimming. They were artists, timing everything, with more silence than calling.

That first hour a flock of about 30 ducks showed up. The calling took a long time, with the ducks circling around for what seemed like an eternity. I stood still, afraid to move, mostly because I didn't want to ruin it for everyone else, but got increasingly excited about shooting my first duck. Finally the ducks started to "light." The wings go up and the legs go down as they settle gracefully onto the water. Someone yelled not to shoot, to let the rest of them come in, and we'll shoot these ones on the way up. In those days the limits were high, around 12 ducks per shooter, and we all stood a chance of getting four or five from this one flock.

When the last of the ducks started lighting, all hell broke loose, shooting from every direction, it seemed. I shot one duck that was about 20 feet away, and then followed another through the trees, bearing down for a good shot.

The duck swerved down, and I followed, and shot, just above the head of one of the Arkansas hunters. In the confusion, I think he had no idea of how close I came to shooting him. I told him about it afterward, and he was not pleased, but only gave me a serious look. A serious look in Arkansas is plenty good enough.

This was my first great lesson in hunting, and has stayed with me ever since. I gave hunting up for good three decades ago, but I could go out today if I wanted to, and call my own ducks and shoot them just like I never left the sport. I still have my dad's "Ditto" duck call, or as they say in Arkansas, "Dit-toe."

I quit because I got tired of killing. The thrill was gone, as B.B. King would say, and it felt like animal cruelty, for me, at least. I also became a vegetarian that fall, so I had no plans for eating any more ducks. I miss it sometimes, and especially miss my dad's duck feasts. He was a great cook, and really had a way with ducks. He cooked with wine, and any restaurant would have a hard time doing better. I even miss picking out the bits of shot while eating, a constant part of the meal.

One of the ethical principles of hunting is that you eat everything you kill. What didn't get cooked and eaten in the "clubhouse" was either given to the Arkansas hunters or packed in dry ice and brought home. If I remember right, the limit per vehicle exiting the state was 20, enough to tide us over until the next hunting season. In those days our Arkansas friends depended on duck hunting to get through the winter, and they appreciated the extra food.

The reason I am bringing all this up, of course, is the shooting in Texas by the Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney. By way of compare and contrast, I think I can shed a bit of light.

Dick Cheney is not 14. He is an "experienced" "hunter." Both "experienced" and "hunter" belong in quotes because it is questionable that his experience is meaningful, and it is also questionable whether he actually ever hunted.

Cheney goes on "canned" hunts, where the game is pen-raised, relatively tame, and planted or "stocked" in fields. He also is driven from stock position to stock position, where the "game" sits unknowing and confused. In normal hunting a group of hunters walks a line horizontal to the direction of the hunt, and typically uses trained bird dogs.

The great Helga. Smarter than most people, a terror in the woods. She was almost useless for bird hunting because she was so headstrong, insisting on killing the game herself. But the puppies she produced were the greatest, including one national champion. This one dog did more for human happiness than the entire Bush crime family put together. Indeed, it is a tad obscene to mention them in the same context as the great Helga and her brood.My dad raised champion German Shorthaired Pointers, and they would "work" the brush, covering the field ahead of the group in a back-and-forth progression. It adds greatly to the joy and quality of the hunt to skillfully command a good dog (Molly and Sport, that was for you. Their mother was Helga Glucklich Jaeger T, our dog; their father, the renowned Windy Hill Prince James [Helga beat him up, had to be sedated for mating.] Helga had 28 puppies in three litters, not a bad dog among them.).

When a "hunter" depends on canned hunts, is driven from stocking point to stocking point, and is not properly licensed, he has no respect for the sport, and is just out for the carnage. On one of Cheney's canned hunts, he shot 70 stocked pheasants.

Not having respect for the sport of hunting can be disastrous, and last week it was for Dick Cheney. Lack of respect tends to be comprehensive, so it is likely that Cheney violated all the laws of gun safety: He probably rode around with his gun loaded, kept the safety off, pointed it at other "hunters," and kept his finger on the trigger. The great white hunterAlso, in the pictures shown on TV of Cheney shooting, he was wearing gloves. Thick gloves. What an idiot. Gloves cause two problems for the shooter. One is that they make your trigger finger take up more space within the trigger guard, making an unintended shot more likely. The other is that it takes away the shooter's direct contact with the trigger, so that you don't have as good a feeling for what your finger is doing.

With this level of carelessness about gun safety, it would be entirely consistent that drinking was involved. Especially with rich people, who believe that all laws apply to the lower classes, but not to them.

Then there is Cheney's visible evidence of sociopathic behavior: pathological secrecy, pathological lying, war-mongering, lack of compassion, corrupt relationships with the oil industry, Halliburton, and Jack Abramoff. Then there is his subornation of treason in the Valerie Plame case.

And of course, his arrogance. Much has been made of his "safe" interview with Brit Hume on Fox News. The criticism has focused around the "softball" questions Hume asked him, and on Cheney's lame story about what happened. I think there may be another reason Cheney submitted to the interview. In the days following the accident, the "witnesses" floated the excuse that Harry Whittington was to blame for the shooting because he "sneaked up on the vice president." Mr. Whittington had to be aware that he was being made to take the fall for Cheney, and I doubt that he liked it very much. The arrogant Cheney, caring not what anyone thinks of him, does care that Harry Whittington keeps quiet about what really happened last Saturday. Deadeye Dick could be sued, held criminally responsible, and removed from office quicker than you can say Patrick Fitzgerald (or Ronnie Earle).

I happen to think Cheney is through anyway. There are a lot of real hunters in this country, and a great many of them have been duped into supporting the Bush crime family. In the one instance where Cheney's behavior has intersected with their own experiences, he has revealed himself to be a coward and a sadist, and dangerous as well. I can just hear the cognitive dissonance churning now. The countdown to Cheneygate has begun. And it couldn't happen to a nicer guy, to coin a phrase.

Incidentally, the hunter I almost shot is now one of the wealthiest rice farmers in America, and exports rice to Japan, where he is something of a hero, recognized on the street. We were both lucky, and America should be proud of such a person, a true hunter, a Navy veteran of World War II (Pacific theater), a real Christian, and someone who worked for everything he got. He also hunts quail in Texas, with his own dogs.


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