January 2013 - The Parable of the Wolves and Fishes

by Justice William W. Bedsworth

Raising my consciousness is a herculean task. Most of my friends will tell you it can’t be done without a diesel winch and some seriously heavy steel cable. My consciousness pretty much hovers around waist high.
I lived in Berkeley from 1968 to 1971 and saw no evidence that getting your mind higher was a worthwhile endeavor. And the smoke made my eyes water. So I’ve pretty much let my consciousness seek its own level.
 I’m reasonably content with the height of my consciousness. My mind is no longer in the gutter(1) and, while I admit to being unable to cope with most eastern philosophies,(2) I can spell Kierkegaard without needing a spell-checker, and I have been known to listen to music that has no lyrics.(3)
But I’m afraid I am living proof that you can take the boy out of the blue collar, but you can’t take the blue collar out of the boy. I read two things this week that convince me my consciousness is still stuck irretrievably in the last century.
Here’s the first one. Truckload full of fish being driven through Irvine. Sixteen hundred pounds of fish on their way to becoming seafood. Truck gets broadsided at Walnut and Yale, flips over and the future seafood becomes future fertilizer. Legions of fish die like Spartans—Spartans in the middle of an intersection 8,000 miles from the nearest Persian soldier.
Okay, you went to law school. What questions come to your mind? You wanna know who caused the accident, right? Is the trucker or the other driver responsible for the loss of the cargo of fish?
You wanna know whether the fish were insured, right?
You wanna know whether the terms of delivery were FOB shipping point or FOB destination. If they’re marine fish you want to know whether we’re using incoterms or standard freight usages.
And, of course, you wanna know who pays for the memorial plaque for the dead fish.
Yeah, I missed that one, too. The plaque.
What plaque you now—belatedly—ask? The plaque for the fish, man. It’s the 21st century; fish got rights.
Fish got the same right to oxygen you and I and all the non-gill-breathers have. Indeed, considering how hard they have to work extracting oxygen from water, while you and I just suck it in like the spoiled mammals we are, they should have a greater right to it than we do.
So one of our neighbors here in Orange County, Dina Kourda, wants the City of Irvine to install a memorial plaque for the sixteen hundred pounds of fish. On behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, she has filed a request with Irvine to memorialize the dead fish with a monument where they died. The plaque would read, “In memory of hundreds of fish who suffered and died at this spot.”
PETA says the plaque would remind us “to be careful,” “become vegan,” and “add tartar sauce to the shopping list.” All right, PETA only wants to accomplish two of those goals. I added the third.
My goals are in keeping with someone of my sensitivity:  I want to get the entire week’s shopping done in one trip to the market. I tend to forget things.
Now I do not make fun of other people’s beliefs. I myself worship a flaming shrubbery whose absolute omniscience somehow did not extend to figuring out He would need a second human gender, thus forcing Him to improvise a gerry-rigged woman out of a rib and some duct tape.(4) When you subscribe to beliefs like that, you don’t throw rocks at others’ glass houses.
So I honor Ms. Kourda’s vegan persuasion. But I gotta question the idea of putting up a memorial lamenting the passing of fish who died in an automobile accident hours before we got a chance to slaughter them.
I personally don’t eat fish. If it weren’t for meat, I myself would be a vegan.
But many of my best friends are piscavores.(5) My wife, an otherwise exemplary woman, eats fish, and I am reluctant to support a plaque that would make her uncomfortable.
But I must admit it makes me feel vaguely inferior. Humans who can appreciate the value of fish beyond their role as entrées are clearly more evolved than I. And if I hadn’t promised my editor a column by tomorrow, I would not make this admission in public.(6)
But it may not even be my most embarrassing admission today. That may be confessing to my absolute astonishment that the State of California is spending federal grant money and a ton of head-scratching over the question of whether the state’s one gray wolf is an endangered species.
Here’s the deal on this one. California had no gray wolves. None. Zip, nada, zilch, zero gray wolves. Hadn’t been a gray wolf in California in 80 years.
Then a gray wolf from Oregon crossed the border into California. Now we have one.
Crossing the border brought the lone wolf(7) within the jurisdiction of the California Department of Fish and Game, which immediately announced its commencement of a “status review” study to determine whether the wolf is an endangered species.
Hello!? Of course he’s endangered. Even my faith understands you need to put two animals of each species on the ark. A lone wolf—a lone anything—is endangered. In biology, 1 + 0 eventually equals zero.
But the Fish and Game folks are gonna throw trash bags of federal grant money at determining whether the wolf should be listed as endangered. Personally, I would prefer it if they threw the trash bags at the wolf in an attempt to frighten him back across the border.
In fairness, I’m not sure how many trash bags are involved here. According to the Huffington Post, “OR-7 is believed to be the only wolf in the state. The male wolf is outfitted with a tracking tag so he can be studied by government scientists.” (California’s Lone Gray Wolf Gets New Protections From The State, Huffingtonpost.com (Oct. 4, 2012, 5:45 PM), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/04/californias-lone-gray-wolf_n_1940996.html.) It may be that his tracking device will save us a trash bagful(8) or two.
But if we could just scare him back north of the border where the other Oregon wolves are, he wouldn’t be endangered anymore, and we could put this money to better use. Like fish plaques.
I’m sorry. We’re raising tuition and closing courtrooms all over California, but we’re gonna spend money figuring out whether one wolf is going to have a hard time reproducing all by himself?
Get out the winch and cable, Kelly; my consciousness is dragging again.

Beds Notes
(1) Although that may just be a function of the aging process. Men my age have no more success with gutter-thinking than dogs have with car-chasing. And we look worse with our tongues hanging out.
(2)  No, William James and Charles Sanders Peirce are not eastern philosophers. I’m talking Indian and Asian eastern. Try to keep up, here.
(3) Though not often.
(4) Please don’t write me letters. It’s a joke. It’s a joke about my religion. Besides, it’s called “faith.” If it were completely logical, faith would not be required.
(5) As I understand it, having now used “piscavore” in this magazine, all I need to do is work it into an opinion and get Adam Liptak to put it in The New York Times (less of a long shot than you might think; he reads this column) and I have a shot at getting it into a dictionary.
(6) Although admitting something in my column, whose combined readership probably weighs less than the dead fish, may not qualify as admitting it in public.
(7) I’m sorry; I couldn’t resist. I have no will power at all.
(8) Maybe not as dictionary-worthy as “piscavore,” but not bad for a part-time columnist.

William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. He can be contacted at william.bedsworth@jud.ca.gov.