Cougars and calves and babies and Berettas

As I sit here in the high plains, I am thinking about lawyers and judges in large metropolitan areas. For what it is worth, I am persuaded that geography is more important to our collective endeavor than one might imagine.

In a prominent original piece in the Lincoln paper, I learned this morning that a “Mountain lion killed calf near Brewster.”  This is the “first confirmed instance of livestock depredation in Nebraska by a mountain lion in modern times  . . . .”  The rancher has now been given the right to shoot the lion if it appears again on his property.

The front page headline, above the fold, provided another original article about a gathering of gun wearing folks at a local steakhouse.  “Group wears guns to promote open-carry.” The story begins by recounting a woman walking into the joint “packing a 6-month old baby on one hip and 9mm Beretta handgun on the other.”

What were the headlines like in your paper today?  For most of you, I am betting what you read was vastly different from my morning news.  Somehow, I think that makes a difference for lawyers and judges. I am just not sure how.







29 responses

  1. I think you are right about geography. I often look at maps (well, less often than when I was younger), and consider the world view of people in different parts of the nation or the globe. Where I live, in New England, the ocean is a constant presence, even for those who hardly ever even see it. On the other hand, rivers are minor features–the Connecticut, New England’s great river, would be puny in the Midwest or West. Perhaps the clearest example of the effect of geography on viewpoint is the UK, where the island mentality dominates, far as I can tell, even in the age of the Internet and the Chunnel (the Channel Tunnel, a misbegotten venture that lets you take a train from Paris to London, or vice versa).

    And you’re right that we don’t have many stories about livestock being taken by wild cats. Indeed, I don’t believe there’s been a verified sighting of a wildcat in New England since the mind of man runneth not to the contrary. On the other hand, coyotes, which when I was growing up were animals you only saw or heard on Roy Rogers or Gene Autry, are now common in Eastern Massachusetts. There are probably some in the city of Boston, but I know there are coyotes in my town, Brookline, which is 3/4 surrounded by Boston. They don’t take livestock; they take pets. And wild turkeys, which I thought extinct as a kid, now live in almost all neighborhoods. I was walking down a very tony street when out of the corner of my eye saw what I thought was a yard sculpture. When I turned to look at it, I realized it was a turkey, standing to full height, and still. You may not have turkeys in Nebraska (or maybe you do), but we don’t have sandhill cranes. We do, of course, have seagulls.

    As for open carry laws, Massachusetts is one of the harder states to get a license to carry concealed, and anyone in civilian clothes who walked down the street with a pistol on his (or her) hip would certainly be stopped and questioned by the police–that would probably make a headline. (On the other hand, Vermont, a state we generally consider to be sympatique with Massachusetts and New York, has virtually no laws controlling firearms.)

    As they say in Brooklyn, go figure.

  2. Well, the headline on my local paper is about the NAEP test results showing no progress in math or reading skills for 12th graders over the past 4 years.

    While I am thankfully not in that field, my mother practices family law, often being appointed in child custody cases to serve as the attorney for the child. Not sure if Nebraska has a similar program, but NY routinely appoints counsel for custody cases. If the parents are indigent, it is paid by the State. If not, then the parents pay.

    Anyway, the amount of time spent arguing over school districts, colleges, and assorted educational matters, especially among relatively high income/status divorcees, is astounding. It is usually the #1 topic in any custody case, unless neglect or abuse is being alleged. I am not sure if this is a local phenomenon or if similar importance to exactly which school district little Johnny is in is a Nebraska thing too.

  3. I think the handgun toting is a function of ideology not geography. Metropolitan Nebraska, Omaha and Lincoln if you will, aren’t geographically part of the high plains anyway. Geographically and climate wise Lincoln/Omaha is much more like Iowa and central Illinois than we are like the western part of the state. Many major urban areas have bigger problems with big animals than we do in eastern Nebraska. Cougars are a concern in the mountainous areas of southern California. Black bears are a problem along the I-95 corridor. Bears are not a problem in Lincoln and Omaha and we have only had one documented cougar attack. I am not a gun enthusiast, but since I am a native Nebraskan I know enough about hunting to know that you wouldn’t want a 9 mm to stop a large predator like a cougar. Again handgun toting is more a function of a right-wing ideology that is not unique to Nebraska or areas with a similar climate or geography to Nebraska.

  4. I would be curious if more lawyers and judges got their news from the specific internet sources rather than their local paper. I often find that the Los Angeles Times is too depressing to start the day. Instead, I wake up to headlines from Google alerts. Today’s gem: Roger Federer and wife welcome ‘miracle’ second set of twins. Along with that came speculation about his twin daughters and twin sons playing mixed doubles in the finals of Wimbledon and the Australian Open in 2040. This kind of happy news is easier on the nerves than diving straight in to: “Bridge fire leaves Hesperia plan for economic boost in ashes.”

  5. Jon,

    I get your points ’cause I practiced law in Lexington for 13 years, spent 4 years in college at Kearney, lived three years in Wilbur while going to law school. lived two years in Bellevue while clerking for Judge Ross, lived 5 plus years in Omaha as a magistrate judge, and have lived 20 plus years in Lincoln doing my present gig, but:

    1. According to Merriam Webster, “Definition of HIGH PLAINS: the Great Plains especially from Nebraska southward”

    2. Omaha is like Council Bluffs, Iowa (I refer to it at Counciltucky), but not Lincoln. Not by a long shot.

    3. Yea, other places have big, bad animals.

    4. I didn’t say that gun toting was unique to Nebraska.

    5. Respectfully, I think you to took my post too literally. But, heh, if I write shit that is unclear I deserve to be misunderstood.

    All the best.


  6. We have a cougar in the neighborhood; I sent RGK a photo, which I honestly don’t know how to post it here myself. And if you want your biennial dose of bat-guano crazy, become a delegate to the Republican state convention. They do a saliva test; if you are rabid, you get to vote. 🙂 We could actually carry our Glocks into the convention hall, but kindly leave the pen knives at home.

    As for newspapers, we don’t actually have one; we have the Denver Post, which is best described as a purveyor of coupons. I define a newspaper as an entity that actually does reporting, and the Guardian is now the best in the world; the Post was way behind the curve on the Nottingham story (despite my best efforts), and hasn’t done any kind of reporting since we came back.

    I find on-line citizen reporting more informative; in its heyday, Daily Kos used to be superb. Now, not so much. If I want sports, the 24-hour channels give it to me in excess.

  7. Nancy,

    While I use the internet a lot, I get most of my news from newspapers that I read either on paper or on line. Local papers (Omaha W/H and Lincoln Journal) on paper and New York Time, LA Times, and WAPO on line. I am also a slave to National Public TV, but I seldom listen to NPR.

    All the best.


  8. Ken, got your photo and will post it with a separate post in few moments. Neat photo. Thanks for sending it.

    All the best.


  9. My reading of your post was probably cursory and my comment might have been unclear. I am also old enough to remember how tough the farm economy was in in Nebraska in the 1980s. Part of the reason was that my dad was on the Rulo murder defense team during that era. The Rulo murders weren’t motivated by the economy per se, but I always thought of Mike Ryan being in the same mix as guys like Arthur Kirk.

  10. John’s obviously right, a 9mm isn’t optimal for a cougar, that said, it’s a whole lot better than say, a shovel, and it is just about right for a rattlesnake, which is a lot more common. There is an ideology involved in carrying a tool, like a gun, it’s called being prepared, something a good many of us learned in Boy Scouts. Is it right wing? I don’t know that it should be, it’s mostly about personal responsibility.

    Does that translate to the metro areas? I don’t know, it strikes me that some of the denizens there are about as trustworthy as rattlesnakes on two legs, but I avoid cities whenever possible.

    BTW it’s mostly the first time that DNR admitted to a cougar attack, I’ve seen reasonable documentation from around Farnum going back to about 2000.

    But maybe the view out here in Cozad may be a bit warped as well.

  11. Pingback: Ken’s neighbor « Hercules and the umpire.

  12. Judge, here in southeast Michigan our headlines are dominated by BIG issues, like Detroit going broke or how the Michigan football team won or lost to Nebraska. But we occasionally read about wolf hunts in the Upper Peninsula (if you haven’t visited, you should go). And we also read about schemes by residents of the Great Plains to pipe Lake Michigan water to replenish the depleted Oglalla aquifer. As an environmental lawyer, I more often pay attention to the latter two.
    On that note (and in the manner of the bumper sticker that says “My kid is an honor student at ___”), here’s a portion of the summary to a comment just published by my 2L son at Arizona Law School, (available at
    In November 2013, the Arizona Game and Fish Department began a five-year project to reintroduce bighorn sheep to the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. Within weeks of the first release, mountain lions began eating the new arrivals. In response, to help the herd gain a foothold, the Department made good on its written policy and killed two of the predatory lions. Public outrage ensued.
    All the best.

  13. NEO,

    As far as I am concerned, and despite my agnosticism, Cozad comes pretty close to God’s country. One of the greatest of American painters, and certainly one my favorite painters, Robert Henri spent his summers in Cozad back before his family got run out of town. His paintings, like this one, are exquiste.

    The Robert Henri Museum in Cozad is a treasurer. So is the Elks Club. Never worried about mountain lions in Cozad either (but the sighting in Farnam certainly gives reason to pause).

    All the best.


  14. Yep, he was good, I’ve enjoyed the museum (and the Elks club) often and well.

    Apparently they stay out in the hills, I haven’t heard anything for years but then, if a farmer shot it, I doubt he’s tell much of anybody anyway.

    It’s a really good place to be.

    And yes, I do like your blog a lot, an interesting perspective

    Take care, sir. 🙂


  15. Jeff,

    Random thoughts:

    Re the UP: Up there, I spent a couple of summers as a teenager visiting a beautiful girl who became my late wife. The UP is gorgeous as is much of Michigan.

    Re: Pumping water from Lake Michigan to replenish the Ogalalla aquifer: Whiskey is for drinking, and water is for fighting. By the way, Nebraska’s portion of the aquifer, while depleted, is still in pretty good shape.

    Re: Detroit: Grew up in Toledo. My heart goes out to the Motor City. What a tragedy.

    Re: Peter’s article: Peter should be very proud of Peter Haynes Clash Between Public Opinion and Wildlife Science In the Catalina Bighorn Sheep Reintroduction Project (April 11, 2014). He is a good writer. His bachelor’s degree in environmental science from the University of Michigan obviously provided him with a great foundation for this area of the law. In the small world category, my oldest son is a fisheries biologist and ecologist in Australia.

    Re: On being proud of your kid: That’s one of the few joys of raising kids. Most of the time, all you do is worry about their next damn fool screw up. It doesn’t make a bit of difference that they are all grown up either.

    All the best.


  16. How about piping it down from Hudson Bay? I mean, since sea levels are going to be rising anyway….

  17. Jon,

    Your dad is a tough, courageous and great lawyer. The Rulo murders were, as you know better than I do, horrific beyond any description.

    Thanks for your engagement. All the best.


  18. Peter H.,

    Don’t get me started on privileged kids. One of the few things I did right raising our three was to insist that they were not allowed to “go to a good college.” The University of Nebraska was just fine. Turns out I was right.

    All the best.


  19. Jon,

    Yes, that was my point. As lawyers and judges, I think we forget how much our viewpoints are shaped by the small part of the vast expanse of world that we inhabit. At least for me, my parochialism sometimes distorts my powers of analysis when it comes to legal stuff.

    Re: Wild Turkeys: If you hunt (I don’t), come to Nebraska, and I will see that you get an opportunity to shoot one with an arrow or a shotgun.

    All the best.


  20. Enough, you trouble maker. You might as well suggest we invade Canada. Forgot. John Candy already did that.

    All the best.


  21. Judge:
    New york City boy here. My idea of wildlife is a homeless guy outside my front door in the morning. But seriously, I think that you are on to something: geography is destiny, both for nations and for people (even lawyers and judges).

  22. Judge:

    I recognize that animal. We have the very same thing down here in South Florida, except we call it a “Florida Panther.” The panther is protected, so if you bang into one on the expressway between Naples and Fort Lauderdale, the law requires you to report it to a state agency and stay with the carcass until some functionary appears and determines you didn’t kill it on purpose. We even have a national refuge to protect their territory. These animals are so protected that groups routinely protest activities within their range, which is apparently enormous. According to them, and the federal government, virtually nothing should occur on these lands, which are covered by swamp, sawgrass and the occasional prairie. This is what often appears in my newspaper. whether electronic or print.

    Of course there is a problem: the Florida Panther has been extinct for decades. Way back in the 70s and 80s, when their numbers were really low, some geniuses decided to mate the few remainders with mountain lions. So now we have mountain lions in Florida, and they have their own national preserve. And all that glory is due to the logic of the federal government.

    I’m working on getting a mountain. We are really short of those down here.

  23. Julio,

    In the 1950s, I lived on Vina-Del-Mar. (Pass-a-Grille, a/k/a Saint Pete Beach). I lived there from about 8 to about 13 or 14.

    Anyway, there was an undeveloped island across a little bay from our house. My brother and I would sail a pram (a small lightweight nearly flat-bottomed boat with a broad transom and a squared-off bow) to go “hunting.” Some old-timers told us that a “dangerous” bobcat lived on that island.

    Never found that old bobcat despite our best efforts. We were both scared out of our wits every time we “hunted.” I have never had more fun.

    I cannot recognize the Florida of my youth when I return now. It was, but is no longer, an idyllic place.

    By the way, Florida has a mountain. It is all of 312 feet above the sea. It is called Sugarloaf Mountain. So, don’t complain to me about having no mountains.

    As for the “Florida Panther,” that is indeed creepy. But, now that I think about it, “The Florida Panther from Sugarloaf Mountain” would be the perfect book title for one of my favorite writers, Dave Barry, a Floridan who has written some of the funniest books ever about all things Florida.

    Stay out of the sun. All the best.


  24. Judge,

    By the numbers:

    1. The Florida you remember is still here–it’s just hidden. C’mon down, and I’ll show you where we’re hiding it.

    2. That’s not a mountain, but another trick by the government. Remember the extinct panther?

    3. Hiaasen. For Barry, “The Florida Panther from Sugarloaf Mountain” would be a good name for a rock band.

  25. Julio,

    That would be fun. And, I’m glad that Florida is not entirely gone, really glad.

    And, you are right, I forgot about Carl Hiaasen, although I don’t know how that is possible save for the fact that I am getting old enough to check into one of the waiting rooms they call “elegant senior living” down your way.

    In Double Whammy, one of Hiaasen’s characters races around with a dead dog head clamped to his arm. I particularly loved it when he goes to a drive-in-window at a sunny Florida bank.

    Come to think of it Julio, maybe I will start calling you “Skink” the hermit and ex-Florida governor who inhabits Hiaasen’s writing. Be sure to wear Skink’s shower cap!

    All the best.


  26. Judge, perhaps that is part of what I appreciate about your blog. Like me, you hail from “Middle America.” I generally see that as a plus. Our headlines for the past several months have also involved those open-carry folks. I love my guns and thanks to Uncle Sam, I was paid for some 25 years to “open carry” and shoot – as a member of the Army. Army Reserve and National Guard. I have always been careful not to display my guns even when I simply move them to my truck to go hunting. It does cause some undue alarm, I think, to see folks carrying a rifle or shotgun.

    Back in the 1980’s, i worked for an older rancher cutting wood for him. He used to say often that coyotes did not attack calves, but they would attack sheep. That was the big issue then in Texas for ranchers. We never had problems with mountain lions then. But, in the past few years, there have been some sightings. I like knowing they are out there, somewhere, but prefer they keep their distance.


  27. Tom, your experience with real life farmers and ranchers is the same as mine. Guns are shovels. They are tools.

    But, the “open carry” folks of 2014 remind me vaguely of the dangerous and crazy bunch I dealt with in the early 1980s called the Posse Comitatus. They were violent. When I showed up in small county seat towns to go to the courthouse, and saw them and their signs, I often wondered whether I, too, ought to carry a gun. (Never did.) But, the “open carry” folks of this generation strike me like the definition of the “urban cowboy” in the Urban Dictionary. I hope they don’t morph, but continue to drink beer and eat steak at small bars and grills proudly displaying their nines while frightening and harming no one.

    All the best.


%d bloggers like this: