An ugly American truth

The truth is not always pretty.  In fact, I believe that the truth is often grisly and uncomfortable.  Why write this?  Steering away from the hideous isn’t my style, especially when it involves something I have strong feelings for.

This isn’t going to be a cute post.  I want to open a festering wound that holds an ugly American truth.  You have to open a wound and scrub it before you can get true healing. The situation with the North Dakota Oil Pipeline and the struggle the Native Americans are experiencing is a symptom of a much larger and deeper issue.

What’s the big deal?  This pipeline would carry 470,000 barrels of oil a day from the oil fields of western North Dakota to Illinois, that’s good business.  Why are members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and members of many other nations fighting this?  This is land nobody cares about right?  So what if it goes through ancestral hunting and burial land?

Let’s put this in perspective.  What if the same groups wanted to run these pipelines through the Arlington National Cemetery?  You better believe the shit would hit the fan.  Nobody would stand for it.  The nation would be enraged and the media would be on it like flies on roadkill.

“But that isn’t the same, it’s a completely different scenario.”

How is it different?  Special land, some might say sacred, that we use to honor and pay tribute to those that have gone before us.  That sounds pretty similar to me.  But there is one big difference between the two; we care about Arlington.

Is that ugly enough for you?  We, the people, don’t care.  It’s just a bunch of angry Native Americans that are looking for an excuse to act out.

What if I told you that we’ve been conditioned to ignore the plights of indigenous people?

History is written by the victor, we all know this.  What if the Axis Powers won World War II?  The Holocaust would have been swept under the historical rug much like the American Indian Genocide.

Is that an unfair correlation?  Am I comparing apples and oranges?  The Holocaust ended with the death of over 6 million Jewish people.  It’s horrific, and I’m certainly not trying to downplay that atrocity.  But there are some pretty daunting numbers with the American Indian genocide.  Between 1492, and the late 1800’s when open warfare against the Native Americans ceased, conservative numbers estimate that more than 10 times the number of indigenous people who called this land home were killed.

“But that’s not what I learned in school!”

Don’t plan on looking at old text books to see what you learned in school, because that’s all bullshit.

After the Holocaust, many of the surviving Jewish people were given the option to go back to their homes.  Native Americans were never given that option.  Many of them now live on tiny portions of what had once been vast amounts of land, and many were forced to move to areas none of the white illegal immigrants wanted to have.

Oops…  Did I use some sensitive language there?  Yeah, I said it; white, illegal immigrants. My ancestors were also illegal immigrants.  It is what is is.  If this offends you, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.  The truth is ugly.

“It wasn’t that bad…”

It wasn’t huh?  We killed them. Slaughtered them.  Take a look at the “Battle of Sand Creek”.  A US volunteer cavalry with 675 brave men attacked a Cheyenne and Arapaho village, killing and mutilating an estimated 70-163 Native Americans, two-thirds of which were women and children.  I hope you didn’t skip over the word mutilated.

The cavalry was led by U.S. Army Col. John Chivington, a Methodist preacher.  He was officially quoted as saying; “Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! … I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians. … Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.”

Then there was the Cultural Genocide.  We often get our shorts twisted in knots when we see injustices outside of our borders, people not being able to hold on to their systems of beliefs and cultures, but we conveniently forget that this is exactly what we did to the Native Americans under the guise of helping these poor people grow and develop and join the modern world.

Many of the masterminds behind the Holocaust were tried for war crimes.  Did the Native Americans ever receive anything similar?  No.  As the conquerors and authors of the history books, we sugar-coated everything, swept what we could under the rug, and continue to give the Native Americans insultingly minimalist reparations for what we’ve done.

Don’t believe me?  The Supreme Court developed a distinction between aboriginal title and recognized title; interest could not be earned on awards based on aboriginal title.  What does that mean?  The federal government paid $5 million in 1975 for lands worth $5 million in 1865.

I’ll wrap things up because I could keep going and going.  The problem is that we, as a nation, continue to not care about the plight of the children of this land we call home.  Native Americans continue to receive minimal consideration.  The American population as a whole is conditioned to ignore the acts perpetrated against them.

As has happened countless times in our history, the Native Americans are being taken advantage of and mistreated, their lands violated, but we the American people are more concerned about our reality TV shows and the admittedly ridiculous antics of the circus that is the Republican party presidential candidate.

The ugly wound that is apathy to the Native American people needs to be fixed.  It won’t be easy because most Americans are adverse to discomfort.  Well, this shit has to stop.  It’s about time that we stop looking around the globe for causes we can easily support from our couches and our mobile phones, and start looking at the cause right in our back yard that deserves our time and attention.  Most of us are immigrants to this land, we should respect and defend those that were here first.


Zack Kullis



As a side note, I am proud to say I have Native American blood running through my veins.  It isn’t much.  Very little in fact.  But it is there and I’m proud of it.



You don’t know shit…

“You don’t know shit…”

That’s what I wanted to say to the pretty woman, but I didn’t.  Let me back it up and explain myself.


train platform


At 4:45 this morning I was at the platform waiting for my train.  I was talking with an older gentleman as the pretty woman walked around us.  I’ve talked with this guy before and we frequently have lengthy discussions during our wait.  At 5:00 a.m. I walked down to the spot where I normally stand and continued to wait for the train.  I found myself standing next to the pretty, well-dressed woman.  It’s not what you think, I’ve also known her for a while and we have become friends as well.


I made a sorrowfull comment to the woman about the man I had been talking with, indicating that things were tough for the guy.  She turned to me with a look of distaste and repulsion and said, “The Mexican?”


This was the point where I wanted to tell her that she didn’t know shit.  There were a few things that bothered me.  The first was the look of distaste and repulsion that was stamped across her face.  It’s true that he wouldn’t have won any awards for being dressed like a Dapper Dan, plus he only had a few teeth in his upper jaw, and he looked rough and angry.  But did any of that really matter?  It shouldn’t have.  In a minute I’ll share some things about this man that just might shed some light on his appearance.  But, I want to address the second thing that really bothered me.  Her assumption that he was Mexican, and the apparent stigma that she placed with this.


First of all, he is a third generation American with ancestors that came up from Mexico.  He isn’t Mexican.  And even if he HAD been Mexican, so fucking what?!  This guy had commented to me before about judgments that are sometimes made of him because he is “brown”.  What a shitty world we live in.


This brings me back to where we were originally.  I wanted to tell her that she didn’t know shit.  But I kept a lid on my emotions and opted to explain a few things to her.


Rudy (no, his name wasn’t Juan or Pablo) works construction.  There is a very good reason for him wearing the clothes he was wearing.  Were the clothes a little dirty?  Yes, but there’s also a reason for that – Rudy has a small farm and wakes up every morning at 2:00 a.m. to feed and take care of the animals before he goes in to work.  Then there is the issue with Rudy’s teeth.  What well-mannered person would stand for that kind of oral degradation?  Let me tell you.  Rudy is well into his 60’s, yet is the provider and caretaker of 6 small children because he didn’t want his cousin’s grandkids to go into foster care.  He spends a ton of money on the 6 children rather than on dental visits for himself.


Hold on, I’m not done.  Rudy looked rough and a little angry.  On top of the already full plate that he is dealing with, his son committed suicide over the weekend in New Zealand.  Rudy had spent much of the weekend trying to get the body sent back home, but his son had become a citizen of New Zealand and according to his will, he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes scattered in New Zealand.  He would never see his son again, and he couldn’t even have the chance to see the body, much less burry it.


At this point the woman’s face was a mask of shock, but I wasn’t done.  His daughter had just recently given birth to a baby girl that was 2 1/2 months early.  He showed me pictures of the baby.  She was tiny, fit comfortably in the palm of his weathered hand, and was hooked up to a mountain of equipment in the NICU.  He had taken one of the napkin-sized diapers out of the hospital and was going to show it to the guys at the construction site.  Was he cranky, tired, looking a little beat up and angry?  Yeah.  But how many of us would look or feel like a million bucks if we were in his shoes?


But that’s the problem, isn’t it.  We don’t bother to try and put ourselves in another person’s shoes.  I’m certainly not a better person than the woman I was talking to.  But there is one major difference here; I had taken the time to get to know this guy without letting any preconceived notions of who or what he was taint my view of his humanity, she had not.


I finished telling her about this guy, without having to inform her that she didn’t know shit.  I got the distinct impression that she suddenly felt as guilty as hell for passing judgment like she did.  I hope she felt guilty.  She is still my friend, but I sure hope she felt some shame.


Where does that leave us?  We are all human.  Part of being human is being wired to categorize everything around us, in particular people that are around us.  But we need to be careful to not confuse these automatic categorizations our brains formulate and the reality of the human being we are looking at.


Until we KNOW, we don’t know shit.



Damned Words 10

Damned Words 10, the most recent flash fiction piece by some very talented Damned people!

Pen of the Damned - where angst and horror flow freely...


Thomas Brown

Misery rolled with the dogs in the shadows of Tompkin’s shed.

On August 25th, 1968, Mike Callahan hung himself from a cross-beam in the ceiling. The wood was old and riddled with rot but it held his weight well enough.

On July 13th, 1985, Sarah Paulson was stabbed in the neck while tending to the potted bulbs on the windowsill. She died instantly. The bulbs never sprouted.

1989, fire. 1997, rape.

In 2001, the Tompkins moved in. The shed became a doghouse. Two-year old Muttley howled perpetually. Three coats of paint couldn’t hide the stains seeping through the skirting board.

Inner Sanctum
Jon Olson

Don’t open it! Leave it shut! You must not let them in. I know you’re tired. You spent years building this place; this hideout; this inner sanctum. Yes, although you can’t see them, your victims are in here too…

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The Price of Injustice

“We first crush people to the earth, and then claim the right of trampling on them forever, because they are prostrate.”       – Lydia Maria Francis Child



What do you think of the quote?  Is this a pessimistic view, or is this a glimpse into a dark side of humanity that we try to ignore?  I believe strongly in justice, but I also believe that justice without equality isn’t really justice.  It’s something entirely different, something ugly.



Two separate incidents come to mind that paint a picture of the disparity that sometimes exists in justice.  Here are the brief stories of two young people – Ethan Couch and Cyntoia Brown.


Ethan Couch was only 16 when he crashed into a group of pedestrians, killing four and seriously injuring two.  The boy had stolen two cases of beer and was speeding at 70 MPH (with passengers) when he hit the pedestrians.  Ethan also tested positive for Valium and had a blood-alcohol level of three times the legal limit for adults.  In aggravation, this was not Ethan’s first alcohol-related offense.


Did I forget to mention that Ethan’s family has money?  They are wealthy and affluent.  The ability to pay for stellar representation made all of the difference.  What happened to Ethan, the boy who never expressed any remorse?  He was said to be “a product of affluenza” and was unable to link his bad behavior with consequences.   So what did the “justice-wielding” judge do here?  Ethan was “sentenced” to rehabilitation at a $450,000 per year facility complete with horse riding, mixed martial arts, massage and cookery, a swimming pool and basketball, all so the poor teen could be rehabilitated and learn that wealth doesn’t buy privilege.






Now we have Cyntoia Brown.  She grew up in a home with a drunk and abusive stepfather along with a drug-addicted prostitute mother.  She ran away from home at 13 and tried to make a living on the street.  Cyntoia had an older boyfriend who would pimp her out for money.  When she was 16, her boyfriend beat her.  She tried to find refuge when a 43-year-old man approached and asked if she was alright.  Cyntoia told her story to the stranger, who then solicited her for sex.  Hours after the older man picked her up for sex, something happened and Cyntoia killed the man to protect herself.


What did she get?  Life in prison.  She will be eligible for parole when she is 67.


Justice.  Yeah, right.  Justice my ass.  Cases like this are disgusting, revolting, and sometimes make me want to throw down my badge.


A man by the name of Honoré de Balzac once said “Laws are spider webs through which big flies pass and the little flies get caught.”



So, what is the price of this kind of injustice?


It destroys the idea of a system meant to protect and serve the people.  It bastardizes the notion of justice and equality.  It pushes the average individual further into a dark gulf where they doubt and recoil from a system that no longer serves them.



Is this always the case?  Fortunately it isn’t, but it is the case much more often than it should be.


When we lose Lady Justice, we are left with a sword-wielding whore.

Broken for the Better

Is anything better after it’s been broken?  Stupid question, right?  Maybe not.


A concept as simple as the value attached to a broken object can speak volumes.


I recently broke a plate.  It broke right in half.  How did I react?  I was angry, and in the heat of the moment I felt like taking that damned plate and smashing it to pieces.  After gaining some control, I mixed the words “shit”, “damn it”, and other less-than-savory expletives in a string of senseless growls while I cleaned it up.  What value did I place on that plate?  It was worthless.  In fact, it was worse than worthless.  It was suddenly an object to be disposed of and forgotten – a sign of my clumsiness or lack of attention.


Am I alone in this kind of response?  I’m pretty sure I’m not.  A broken plate simply has no worth or value……  Or does it?


Maybe the worth of an object isn’t in its intrinsic value, but in its potential.  But it’s still just a damned plate!


Let’s jump over to the other side of the globe.  I have a healthy respect and admiration for many Far Eastern cultures, and this example is one of the many reasons why.


Kintsukuroi:  The Japanese term that means “to repair with gold”.  It is the art of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer with the understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.




The mindset behind Kintsukuroi is profound.  Broken does not mean worthless.  Broken means a chance at improvement, a chance at becoming more than it was before.


I think the idea is foreign to most Western cultures.  Are you telling me that if I break a cup, I should spend time and money on fixing it?  Hell no!  I’m going to run down to Wal*Mart and buy a 12-pack of cups, and maybe pick up a case of beer and some microwaveable nachos while I’m at it…..


But this isn’t just about broken plates or cups.  That would be a pretty lame thing to spend my time writing about.


I believe the brilliant idea that is Kintsukuroi can and should be applied to how we view other broken things.  Relationships.  Families.  Friendships.  People in general.  These things can all break, but the real question is what we do with them when they are broken.  For the sake of cutting the size of this post down, let’s just talk about Kintsukuroi as it relates to self and others.


I remember a very bitter period of my life when I felt broken.  My self-esteem was at dangerously low levels.  Had it been up to me and my own devices, I might have thrown in the towel and given up, a destructive path that I’m sure would have led to a tragic end.  But with the help of friends, family, and a fantastic therapist, I decided I had some value.  It took years of work and struggle, but we all bound my broken self like a human Kintsukuroi.  I am forever better off because of this.


Most of us experience this at some point.  It’s too easy to view our broken selves as useless, worthless, and not worth the effort.  But that’s not a fair assessment of our value and worth.  If something as simple as a cup can be fixed and made into something more beautiful and valuable than it had been before, then something as uniquely precious and worthwhile as a human being can be changed from a broken person to an individual with limitless possibilities.


Now.  How about others?



Do you know anybody that feels or acts like they are broken or lost?  They could be as close as partners, children, parents and friends, or they could be the person on the street that we pretend we don’t see.  People can feel broken, or have society look at them as broken, for various reasons, ranging from self-image to mental disorders.  If we validate a person’s self-imposed thought of being broken, or if we perpetuate society’s stigma of an individual or group of individuals as being broken, we are condemning them to this false idea that they are not worthwhile.  We are taking the already broken plate and smashing it to pieces.


I shouldn’t look at an individual that appears to be broken, or less-than-whole, and pronounce judgment on their value and potential.  But how often do I do that?  How often do we as a society do that?  We need more human Kintsukuroi.  There’s no need for gold or silver lacquer.  It’s simply a matter of compassion, time, resolve, and the desire to help.



I’d like to finish this off by sharing a story that I’m ashamed of.  A few years ago I was on my way to work.  I had pulled some gear out of my vehicle and walked across the street to take it inside our building.  As I crossed the street, I noticed a slightly disheveled man change his direction and start walk towards me.  The man walked with a slight stumble as he visibly hurried to meet me at the side of the street.  My immediate reaction was that this guy was drunk.  A bum.  I prepared myself to tell him that I didn’t have any cash so I could hurry into the building and not deal with the situation.

He approached.  My hastily prepared response was on my tongue, ready to be delivered quickly so I could go about my “important” day.  He spoke in a clear voice that was etched with humility.

“Excuse me sir, could you please help me?  I can’t tie my shoes.”

The man wasn’t drunk.  He wasn’t begging for change.  He was disabled and physically unable to tie his shoes which had become undone on his way to work.  I nearly choked on a lump in my throat.  What an ass I was.  How difficult must it have been for him to ask a complete stranger to do something like that?  I said of course, put my gear on the sidewalk, and knelt down to tie his shoes.  The laces were wet as I tied them.  I noticed his shoes were wet and dirty – the difficulty he had with walking kept him from being able to lift his feet out of the puddles as he walked.  I tied his shoes, stood up, and looked into his eyes.  I will never forget the look in his eyes.  Gratitude.  His eyes were almost as wet as his shoe laces had been as he said thank you, and struggled with his stumble-walk as he continued down the sidewalk to his job.


This man didn’t need the Kintsukuroi.  He wasn’t broken.  I was the one that had been broken with my preconceptions and judging.  I needed the Kintsukuroi, and this humble guy gave it to me.


God, pomegranate and religion

I know, I know.  It sounds like the first line of a joke.  But this is something much more interesting – I’m going to talk about two social taboos that make us all cringe when we hear them.   God and religion.


But what about the pomegranate?  Hold on and you will see.


Let me start off by saying that I’m not going to address my own personal beliefs on God and religion.  They are mine.  I think those subjects should be more like underwear than bling.  Keep them private and meaningful rather than show them off as if they might make a difference to anybody else’s life.


Okay, moving on.      Why would I want to talk about this?  Haven’t these two subjects been the catalyst for some of the biggest atrocities humanity has decided to wage against itself?  Yes.  That’s why I’m doing it.  It’s sensitive, it’s polarizing, and I think it’s some pretty silly shit.  People’s beliefs should be like the spleen – something internal that shouldn’t have an impact on others or change the others view that individual.           “I heard that Mark’s spleen isn’t shaped like mine, I don’t think I’m going to hang out with him anymore.”  Stupid right?


From this point on, when I talk about God, I am referring to the belief in a God, in few Gods, in the Goddess, in harder to describe beliefs about an omnicient being, or simply the belief in something greater than us.


This is where pomegranate comes in.


Let’s assume that the human population is like a room full of people.  The belief in God is a pomegranate.  Most of the people in the room have tasted a pomegranate.  Some of the people have not tasted a pomegranate, nor do they have the desire to taste a pomegranate.  Nothing weird yet, right?  Now let’s have the people who have tasted the pomegranate describe how a pomegranate tastes.  What kinds of responses are we going to get?  This exact question was given to a number of people, and here are only a few of the answers;


-Sweet and tart




-like a cherry and raspberry




We still don’t have a problem do we?  I don’t think so.  This is just about fruit.  But what if it wasn’t?  What if these people believed that the pomegranate was the key to health?  Do you think we would have the “sweet and tart” person telling the “bitter” person that they in fact have NEVER tasted a pomegranate because their understanding or perception of the fruit isn’t identical?  Probably not.  Would we have the “like a cherry and raspberry” person persecuting the “bright” person because their view of a pomegranate wasn’t as precise and exact as theirs?


Then why in the hell do we have this problem with the belief in God?  Just how different is this concept of perception?  Fundamentally I think there is NO difference in the way we as humans see and interpret things and concepts, whether it’s the belief in God or the flavor of a pomegranate.  We all have different backgrounds, life experiences, and ways of perceiving things around us just like people have different “gustatory perceptions”.  Taste is when a substance in the mouth reacts chemically with receptors.  If we can’t expect to have all of humanity taste things and interpret flavors the exact same way, why do we expect other people to have the same interpretation of something as complicated as a belief in God?


If that’s not enough for you, let’s throw religion into the mix.  What is religion?  It’s a system of beliefs.  Using the same analogy, I would say that religion is a recipe for making pomegranate dessert.  We are protective of the things we like and enjoy.  We are often fiercely protective of our choices – favorite football teams, favorite brand of vehicle, favorite beer, and belief systems.  I’m going to refer to a belief system as a recipe.


Now that we have a recipe for something as complicated as a pomegranate dessert, what do we do with it?  Some people keep their recipes as a family secret.  That’s great.  Some people like to share their deserts.  That’s great.  Share it.  But MAYBE we should keep a few things in mind:

1>  People that don’t eat pomegranates aren’t going to be interested in your recipe.  Simple as that.  Trying to force them to accept a recipe is stupid.  If you really care about your recipe, or want to share pomegranates with them, wait for those people to ask to try it.  The fact that this person doesn’t eat pomegranates has NO impact on you and your relationship with your pomegranate.

2>  People that do eat pomegranates usually have a preferred recipe.  Trying to convince them that their recipe isn’t any good is foolish.  Let’s go as far as assuming you have the world’s best recipe for pomegranate.  It has been scientifically proven.  Is forcing it down their throats going to get them to accept your recipe?  No!  Maybe you should keep your recipe, let them see how much you enjoy your recipe, and IF they show interest in your recipe then by all means, break it out for them.  kudos.



I’ve grown tired of hearing undue significance placed on a person’s beliefs.  Beliefs have never harmed others.  Actions based on beliefs have, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.


My own personal beliefs are my own.  If my belief in a God is like my underwear, I don’t expect you to care about it.  If I’m an atheist then I’m probably wearing a kilt as a true Scotsman would.  My point is simple.  It’s my pomegranate.  I will describe its flavor the way I want and I will give you the same courtesy.  For those people who continue to pass judgment and make assumptions on perceptions or views that are different from their own, I say that is some pretty silly shit.  Drag yourself into the 21st century and leave my pomegranate alone.


Comments are always welcome.