Friday, April 30, 2010

Farewell to April

Today we say goodbye to one of the most exciting months of the year for birders along the Gulf Coast. It has been a month filled with a constant stream of migrating birds. Even birders who haven't been able to get out of their own backyards have been in the "catbird seat" of bird viewing this month.

Of course, here at the end of the month, we are getting a little more excitement than we bargained for with the oil spill that threatens the wildlife that we love. But that's a topic for another day. Today I want to talk about poetry.

Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? April, also, marks my fourth anniversary as a blogger. I started the Backyard Birder blog for the Houston Chronicle on April 3, 2006. So, today, before I let April go, I want to honor National Poetry Month with a poem and also to mark my blogging anniversary with a poem about one of my favorite backyard birds. Enjoy.

by Mary Oliver

This morning
two mockingbirds
in the green field
were spinning and tossing

the white ribbons
of their songs
into the air.
I had nothing

better to do
than listen.
I mean this

In Greece,
a long time ago,
an old couple
opened their door

to two strangers
who were,
it soon appeared,
not men at all,

but gods.
It is my favorite story--
how the old couple
had almost nothing to give

but their willingness
to be attentive--
but for this alone
the gods loved them

and blessed them--
when they rose
out of their mortal bodies,
like a million particles of water

from a fountain,
the light
swept into all the corners
of the cottage,

and the old couple,
shaken with understanding,
bowed down--
but still they asked for nothing

but the difficult life
which they had already.
And the gods smiled, as they vanished,
clapping their great wings.

Wherever it was
I was supposed to be
this morning--
whatever it was I said

I would be doing--
I was standing
at the edge of the field--
I was hurrying

through my own soul,
opening its dark doors--
I was leaning out;
I was listening.

(Thanks to Susan of Well-Mannered Frivolity for bringing this poem to my attention as one of her 30 poems of the day in April.)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Arizona: Our role model

When I heard about the racial profiling bill passed by the Arizona legislature and signed into law by their accidental governor, I remarked to my husband that it was a good thing that the Texas legislature was not in session, else they would be tripping over themselves to follow suit.

Well, that didn't take long, did it? It seems that the execrable state representative Debbie Riddle of Tomball, TX is all set to introduce such a bill just as soon as the legislature meets again next year. In fact, there are said to be five or six states around the country that are considering similar laws.

So what is it with state legislatures anyway? Why are they so bad? Very many of them, including states like Arizona, Nevada, South Carolina, and Oklahoma, as well as New York, seem totally incompetent to manage their state's finances. Had it not been for the Federal government coming to their rescue with stimulus money in the past year, many of them would be even more broke than they are. What am I saying? ALL of them would be more broke than they are. But the Feds should not hold their breath waiting for a "thank you."

Meantime, passing draconian social laws that invade people's privacy and their very bodies is the favorite indoor sport of state legislatures, especially when those people are a different color or sex than they are. Just take a look at Oklahoma's new abortion law which further limits rights which the Supreme Court has said that women have. This law may make it to the Supreme Court and considering its present makeup, I would not bet that it would vote to uphold established law in this regard. Unfortunately, it's not only state legislatures that have lost all regard for the Constitution and for precedent.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Drill, baby, drill???

Last week a deep water oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, my backyard, exploded and sank. The reasons that this happened are still to be determined. Was it simply an accident? Was it sabotage? Was it an attempt at terror? Or is there even some other explanation that hasn't surfaced yet?

Whatever the reason for the explosion may have been, the consequences are horrendous. First of all, eleven human lives lost, lives of people who accepted those risky jobs on the rig - as the dead coal miners in West Virginia accepted their risky jobs - to support themselves and their families and to try to make better lives for them all. The jobs were there because of our insane addiction to oil.

But that's just the cost in human lives. The cost in animal life and in degradation of the environment because of the oil now spilling from that wrecked rig is incalculable and is ongoing. Where will it all end? Will the oil reach the Gulf Coast to damage the birds and turtles and other wildlife there? Or will it go out to sea and damage the deep water species which we do not see? Out of sight, out of mind? But it is all connected, all interrelated. Damage to one part of the environment resonates in the entire ecosystm.

This happened at a very inopportune time for the Obama Administration. Just when the president had acceded to the demands of the oil companies and their lackeys in the Republican Party to "Drill, baby, drill" and had agreed to open up more areas to offshore oil drilling, this very inconvenient spill occurs to remind us of why that might not be such a good idea. Do you think Mother Nature is trying to tell us something? Do you think we will listen this time?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fear of "Others"

The debate about immigration reform in this country is driven by the attitudes of liberals and conservatives toward immigrants.

Liberals, like myself, are generally open to the idea of a multicultural and multiracial society. When we look at immigrants today, we see people not unlike ourselves or our ancestors - people who are working hard to make a better life for themselves and their children. We feel an empathy with these people, even with those who may be here illegally, because we understand some of the hardships that have impelled them to make the difficult decision to leave their homes and loved ones and to emigrate to an alien country where they are not always welcomed. We see them as people who work and pay taxes in our country and thus contribute to society to the benefit of all of us. In return, they receive little protection or assistance.

Conservatives, on the other hand, hate the very idea of having alien-looking, alien-sounding people in this country. They see them as "others," not as people who have anything in common with them and their world view. Whether or not the immigrant is here legally, the conservative sees him as a drag and a leech on our society. They do not acknowledge any contributions from immigrants, least of all the fact that they are taxpayers. Conservatives - i.e., primarily, angry white males - are afraid of losing their dominant position in society. They are afraid of the rising power of the immigrants. They see their addition to our country as a way of diluting what they think of as "true American stock."

With such diametrically opposite views of immigrants and of the value of immigration to our country, it is very hard to see how the two sides will ever find common ground on which to establish equitable immigration reform. Like many other issues in our culture at the moment, it seems that we may just continue to agree to disagree, to the detriment of the country and to our civil society.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Chickens for checkups

Finally, after all these months of debate about health care reform and after final passage of the bill, the Republicans have come out with their own plan for paying for medical care. It is simplicity itself. Instead of money, you are supposed to offer your doctor something of value in return for his/her services. In other words, you are supposed to barter for your medical care. In the famous, and now infamous, words of Sue Lowden, Nevada's Republican candidate for the Senate, you should bring your doctor a chicken to pay for your care.

We used to keep a few hens in our backyard. They are wonderful animals and I value them, but, frankly, I don't see them paying for our medical services. The priciest hen would be valued at around $6 to $10.

My husband recently required a medical procedure the total cost of which was right around $100,000. That's a lot of chickens. I don't think our backyard could hold enough of them to pay that bill.

I wonder if the Republicans have thought of extending this innovative plan to other areas of commerce. Ms. Lowden, I understand, works for a casino in Las Vegas. I wonder if her employer would consider taking chickens from its patrons to pay for their losses at the casino.

Or perhaps the Republicans would consider taking their campaign donations in chickens instead of dollars. After all, if it's good enough for doctors, surely it's good enough for politicians.

Friday, April 23, 2010

What is it?

Do you know what this is? If you said, "Bird dropping," well, you're actually close. It is sometimes called the "bird dropping" caterpillar. It is, in fact, the caterpillar of the Giant Swallowtail butterfly. It mimics a bird dropping in order to fool predators. If I were a predator, I'd be fooled and I would definitely steer clear!

That unappetizing looking caterpillar is the result of a mating like this. Two Giant Swallowtails get together to create the next generation of their beautiful kind.

If the tiny caterpillar can munch enough citrus leaves to grow to its final stage of caterpillar-dom without attracting the attention of a predator and then if it can find a safe place to make its cocoon and pupate, maybe someday it will turn into a beauty like this. And the circle of life will be complete.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

This is it, this big, blue marble. Our only home in all the universe. The mother of all the known life in the universe. Protect life. Protect our Earth. Don't foul our nest. Celebrate all that we love about our Earth today, Earth Day 2010.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Could it actually happen here?

It begins to look as though financial regulation reform may actually happen. The President is foursquare for it and so, for the most part, are the Democrats in the Senate and the House.

And now it seems that even some Republicans may be coming around to the idea that controlling Wall Street and standing up for Main Street instead of vice versa may not be such a bad idea! Will wonders never cease? Could it actually happen here? This year? This ELECTION year?

Wow. Maybe President Obama really is an alien after all. He really must be Superman if he can get a strong financial regulation bill passed with at least token bipartisan support in this rancid political environment.

So, let's get it done and get on to the next fight. There is so much more to do and Superman will certainly be tested to the limit. The Republicans will be searching all the while for a piece of Krytonite.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Don't go there

Now comes the Arizona Legislature to solve the country's "immigration problem." In their exalted wisdom, both houses of that state's legislature have passed a bill that would make not having immigration documents on your person at all times a state misdemeanor. It would allow police officers, on their own discretion, to stop anyone who looks like a non-citizen to them and require that person to prove that they are in the country legally. If they don't have papers documenting their legality, they are to be arrested. The bill requires that police officers who have "reasonable suspicion" about someone's immigration status demand to see documents and it empowers anyone to sue any state agency or official or any county, city or town that he or she believes is not fully enforcing the law.

Can you say racial profiling? How about frivolous and politically driven lawsuits? (It is worth noting that this bill was introduced and passed by the party that always proclaims itself against "frivolous lawsuits" that jam the court dockets.) Police agencies that are already overwhelmed by overly tough enforcement tactics, particularly in regard to drugs, would be further hobbled by this appalling bill, should it become law. Now it is all in the hands of the governor, a Republican, who must decide whether she will sign into law this bill that has been pushed by her party.

As the rest of the country gazes in some bemusement at this spectacle, one wonders how this might affect the tourism industry which is a big part of the Arizona economy. Let's say, for example, that I decide to take a road trip to see the Grand Canyon, but sometime after I pass the New Mexico/Arizona state line, a cop pulls me over, takes one look at me and decides I look like an alien. He asks to see my "papers." Well, I don't carry "papers" within the boundary of my own country. I don't have my birth certificate or my passport. That police officer is bound by this bill to arrest me and toss me into jail.

Looking at myself in the mirror, I am very much afraid that I would appear too much of an alien to an Arizona police officer. I think the safest course for me and other alien-looking Americans is to stay the hell out of Arizona! Just don't go there.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"Some say..."

I was reading the op-eds in the Houston Chronicle yesterday, specifically Kathleen Parker's column in which she was talking about the legacy of hatred from people like Timothy McVeigh. It is a legacy that seems particularly rampant in our country today.

Anyway, I was reading her column and finding myself mostly in agreement with her, which is sort of an unusual and strange place for me to be. Then I read this sentence:

At a tea party rally in Washington, some claim racial slurs were aimed at, of all people, Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights hero. (Emphasis mine.)

"Some claim" that this happened, Ms. Parker? Who would that "some" be? Could it possibly be that Rep. Lewis the "civil rights hero" might have mentioned that he was appalled at the words that were hurled at him like missles as he made his way up the steps of the Capitol to try to do his job?

Now, I wasn't there, but, like thousands of others, I saw the incident on television. I saw the pushing and shoving and rowdiness of that unruly crowd and I saw their faces as they shouted things at Rep. Lewis and others. I couldn't understand all that was being said to these men, but I don't think it was words of praise and encouragement. Some of those people appeared to be virtually frothing at the mouth with anger, so if "some claim" that they were shouting crude and rude insults at Lewis, I feel very much inclined to believe them.

What irritated me so much about Parker's sentence was that this phrase has become an overused weasel phrase in the mouths or on the keyboards of right-wingers (not only them, to be sure, but it is a special favorite of that group) by which they signal their listeners or readers that they don't really believe the statement that follows it, as in...

"Some say that global warning is a serious problem."

"Some say that financial regulation of Wall Street and the big banks would be a good thing."

"Some say that Barack Obama was actually born in Hawaii as his birth certificate and public records in the state indicate."

"Some say that the sky is blue and the earth is round."

Well, you get the idea. The mysterious "some" are, of course, never identified.

Alternatively, the phrase is sometimes used to spread unsubstantiated rumors or outright lies that the speaker or writer might like to be true or would like people to believe. In that usage, it is a favorite phrase of people like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

"Some say that Sarah Palin is a great political leader who would make a terrific president," to give just one example.

If I had my way, weasel words and code words would be outlawed in public discourse. People - including politicians and pundits like Parker - would have to speak plainly, say what they really mean, and stand by their words. Such writing that implies but doesn't clearly say that racial slurs were NOT aimed at Rep. Lewis is completely unworthy of someone like Parker who just won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. But then, of course, some say she didn't deserve it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Pardon my ash!

If you were planning a flight to Europe in the near future, it's looking more and more like you'll need to make alternative plans. How do you feel about a boat trip?

The eruption of the unpronounceable volcano in Iceland is playing havoc with the world's airline schedules, and travelers - or would-be travelers - stuck in some place they don't want to be in Western Europe are getting more and more frustrated. But what can be done? Once again, we are at the mercy of a Nature who always bats last and always bats a thousand.

The really scary part of this whole scenario as I read the reports in the news is that this is a very minor volcano and a relatively minor eruption. What scientists - and everyone else - now fear is that this may trigger an eruption by the much larger and more dangerous Icelandic volcano Katla. This could be bad news for more than the airlines. It could have deleterious effects on the world's climate and the ability of the world's farmers to raise food. Such disastrous consequences have happened many times in the earth's past. (Does the name Krakatoa ring a bell?) So this is not just a matter of scientists being worrywarts.

There is even a theory that has seen more discussion in light of current events that the melting of the ice caps, which is a result of global warming, could trigger more volcanic activity. This could be especially devasting in Iceland which is a hotbed - literally! - of volcanic activity at all times.

Overall, I'd say this whole incident is a nice little reminder that, in the end, we are dependent upon the natural processes of our home planet. And a very large component of those processes is volcanism.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A very welcome visitor

This is a Texas rat snake, an absolutely beautiful and very useful reptile. This particular one was curled up in the corner of my back porch where he had been herded by my cat, Nicholas. At first I didn't know what species he was but since he didn't appear to be aggressive, I ran for the camera to take a picture hoping I could identify him later, and it worked! Peterson Field Guides' Reptiles and Amphibians revealed his identity. All that was left was to distract Nicholas so the snake could be on his way. Mission accomplished, I congratulated myself on having such a worthwhile resident in my backyard. It's enough to make a habitat gardener proud.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Finally. Our long national - or at least regional - nightmare is over. The Houston Astros have won a game! They will not go 0-162 in the 2010 baseball season.

History will record that on this day, Tax Day 2010, the most significant event was not the tea parties taking place around the country, but the after-game party in the visitors' locker room in St. Louis where the Astros prevailed against the hometown Cardinals by a score of 5-1. The young pitcher, Bud Norris, in his first year as a starting pitcher in the big leagues from the beginning of the season, became the first Astros pitcher to win a game. He essentially overpowered the heavy-hitting Cardinal offense.

By winning today, my Astros avoided tying the worst start in their history, nine losses which began the 1983 season. This year's slide ended at eight. Now all they have to do is win seven in a row and they'll be all even again! Who's to say it can't be done? Anything is possible. It's still April.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Free-floating hate

The U.S.A. is a fractious country. There are always various political and social factions in the nation that pull and push against each other and engage in hyperbole and sometimes outright lies when describing their opponents. Only once in our history has all this hatred actually boiled over into a shooting war, although there have been some other skirmishes that have come close, and periodically some militia movement somewhere in the country will decide that it is ready to begin the next war against the federal government. The phrase "delusions of grandeur" springs to mind.

For the most part, all of this heat is contained. The First Amendment is a powerful escape valve. People who are able to congregate and freely speak out about whatever is bothering them - even if it is complete twaddle - have more difficulty building up steam for actual violent action. Their steam escapes through the mechanism provided by the Founders of our country. Those old guys really were pretty smart.

Thus, though the pot boils, it doesn't usually boil over. All of this roiling of the waters simply ensures that we will live in interesting times. But these times are getting a little too interesting for me. When we have groups of people marching on state Capitols openly wearing firearms or marching as close as they can get to Washington, D.C. while wearing firearms, the situation becomes more dangerous. Eventually, I predict that some nut is going to go off literally half-cocked in one of these demonstrations and somebody is going to be hurt.

Meantime, we have idiots, including some idiot elected representatives, encouraging attacks on Democratic leaders' offices, encouraging their followers to harass these people, and even suggesting that they should be killed. And then there is the faction that completely refuses to acknowledge Barack Obama as the legally and democratically elected (by a substantial margin) president of the country. One of them, it seems, was a lieutenant colonel in the Army who refused deployment because, he said, President Obama was not legally president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces and he had no right to command him. The Army will court martial him and perhaps a few years in Leavenworth might help him to see things more clearly.

As I say, this has always been a fractious country throughout its brief history, but within my lifetime - and I lived through the '60s - I don't remember a time when there has been so much free-floating hatred and intolerance for other people abroad in the country. It seems to be boiling up, building up to something, and I have no doubt that the F.B.I. and other law enforcement agencies around the country are working overtime trying to prevent an explosion. As we approach the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah building in Oklahoma City, it might be a good time for all those fiery speakers to dial back their rhetoric a bit and remember that words can have consequences. It might be a good time to show respect for those with whom we disagree politically and to show respect for the laws and the political system of our country. It would definitely be a good time to give the people who put their lives on the line to enforce those laws a break. We don't need a repeat of Oklahoma City.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A mediocre Supreme Court is a very bad thing

Media outlets around the country are licking their chops and wetting themselves in anticipation of another summer of conflicts and tea parties across the nation now that Justice John Paul Stevens has announced that he will retire from the Supreme Court at age 90. They are hoping for a highly controversial nominee to replace Justice Stevens, someone who will keep the pot of discontent boiling. Conflict is good business for them, and if it doesn't come naturally, outlets like Fox News will do their best to engender it.

Of course, the truth is that no matter who President Obama nominates, that person will immediately be controversial to the tea partiers and their Republican allies. There isn't even a nominee yet, but the imaginary nominee is already being denounced by the most rabid of these wack-a-doodles. Unfortunately, for those of us on the opposite of the political poles from the tea partiers, it seems highly unlikely that the president will nominate anyone who can fill Justice Stevens' liberal niche on the court. Indeed, no matter who he nominates that person is likely to be more conservative than Stevens and will probably move this already fairly radically right-leaning court even farther to the right.

For me, that is truly the saddest part about seeing this honorable man leave the court. For the rest of my lifetime, I will most likely be stuck with a Supreme Court that is ruled by the likes of Roberts, Thomas, Alito, and Scalia. In other words, a Supreme Court that I do not trust and do not believe in, a court that is ruled by political considerations rather than by reverence for the Constitution and the welfare of the country. I really don't see how anyone that the president nominates for this new vacancy will have the weight to balance out the mediocrity of our present court, but I wish him well in the effort to do so. For the sake of the country, I hope he proves me wrong.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Lack of responsibility

Frank Rich's column today was entitled "No one is to blame for anything." It's all about the avoidance of responsibility in our public and private lives. It often seems that no one ever takes responsibility for anything anymore.

For example, Alan Greenspan, Fed chairman for some 18 years, in his testimony before Congress last week essentially just said, "Not my fault, man!" This man who was in charge of the economy for 18 years during which the housing bubble grew and grew and grew until it burst. This man who oversaw the rise of corruption on Wall Street and the wearing away by the free marketers of any kind of effective regulation of banks and credit institution. This man who has the reputation of being a financial genius - "The Oracle" - tells us that he never had reason to suspect that anything was wrong and he voices no regrets over his actions or inactions that have caused incredible hardships to literally millions of people. He feels no responsibility. He was just doing his duty.

Of course, Greenspan is only one example. Unfortunately, there are many others, especially in the world of politics, and in all areas of public life. Whenever they are caught with their hands in the cookie jar or up the skirt of some woman who is not their wife, or, for that matter, in the pants of some man, it's not their fault. The devil made them do it or it's all an invention of "the lamestream media" to borrow half-Gov. Palin's phrase. It was just a momentary lapse and not a pattern of behavior. Yeah, right.

How refreshing and unexpected it is when anyone actually owns up to his failures and accepts responsibility without trying to shift blame onto someone else or some unusual set of circumstances. Thus, as Rich points out in his column, David Letterman was a winner when he came clean on his television show, without obfuscation, about his infidelities, he acknowledged that everything was his fault, and he apologized to those he had hurt. Would that Alan Greenspan, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and others of their ilk would show such honor. Then we might think about forgiving them. Not until then, though.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

An angry Catholic woman

Maureen Dowd can be a real screech, particularly when writing about the Clintons. For some reason, she seems to truly despise both Bill and Hillary Clinton. During the Democratic presidential primaries in 2008, she was merciless and, in my opinion, downright misogynistic and completely unbalanced in her coverage of the the Clinton campaign.

Now, admittedly, I might be somewhat prejudiced because I was a supporter of Hillary Clinton's campaign. I thought she was the best qualified candidate for the job, and she was a woman, and I dearly wanted to see a woman become president in my lifetime. As far as Maureen was concerned though, if her name was Clinton, that disqualified her from consideration. She is totally unhinged on the subject. I finally just stopped reading any of her columns that mentioned either of the Clintons because I knew what her opinion would be. It was preformed and cast in concrete. It was not going to change.

These days, though, Maureen has become a screech on another subject and this time I find myself on her side, cheering her on.

Dowd is apparently a devout Catholic. She frequently mentions this, so I take it to be true. And she is totally appalled at the behavior of the clergy, including the pope, in her church and their complete lack of understanding of the enormity of the Church's crimes against children. All of her columns recently have addressed this subject. This Sunday's column is no exception.

Again, she points out that the hierarchy of the Church, which is totally male and unmarried and uninvolved in family life, devalues children and considers them "collateral damage" in the sex scandals racking their institution. The Church as it exists today is far away from Jesus's vision of family and his valuing of women in society. The Church today places no value on women and their contributions to society. They, like their children, are simply collateral damage. Collateral, subordinate, and subservient to the really valuable human beings - who are all male.

Dowd has already received criticism from the Catholic Church because of her stance. If she continues her criticism, I suspect she will receive some discipline as well. How dare she, a mere woman, criticize "infallible" males? Who does she think she is anyway? The Popess?

Friday, April 9, 2010

We're humming again!

My resident female Ruby-throated Hummingbird has arrived.

She blew into town earlier this week and soon she'll be settling down to housekeeping. The female Ruby-throat is a single parent. Once she mates with the male, he moves on, on the lookout for other females with which to mate. He likes to spread his genes around.

The female, meanwhile, settles down to build her tiny, walnut shell-sized nest and lays two little white eggs the size of Tic-Tacs in it. She incubates the eggs and then raises the chicks all on her own. She is one independent lady! I am very happy to welcome her back to my yard this week.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Wait'll next year and hope?

Three games into the 2010 baseball season, my favorite team, the Houston Astros, has a record of 0-3. It may be a historical fact that no team has ever finished the seaon with an 0-162 record, but somewhere in the dark recesses of the mind, a fan begins to wonder, "Could this be the year?"

What are the odds of a season with zero wins? I'm no mathematician but even I know they are fairly astronomical. There is an axiom in baseball that on any given day any given team can beat any other given team. And that's true. After all, there is another axiom in baseball (Baseball is full of axioms.) that it is a game of inches. That one is true, too.

So, all it takes are a few lucky bounces of the ball, an umpire expanding his strike zone by an inch, a strong puff of wind at just the right moment, an outfielder making a spectacular dive for a ball and catching it or missing it and having the ball roll all the way to the wall, the "winning" run sliding into home plate to be tagged out by the waiting catcher - so many combinations of things can go right (or wrong) in a baseball game that on any day, almost any outcome is possible.

Therefore, the chances are good that somewhere along the way, even though their play so far has been extremely uninspired and uninspiring, the Astros will actually win a game. It might even happen tomorrow night when they play their next game against the Phillies. I'll be watching and waiting to find out.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

April is National Poetry Month

In honor of National Poetry Month, here is a poem that I heard recently and that I like very much.

Beach Attitudes
by Robert Dana

Blessed is the beach, survivor of tides.

And blessed the litter of crown conchs and pen shells, the dead
blue crab in all its electric raiment.

Blessed the nunneries of skimmers,
scuttering and rising, wheeling and falling and settling, ruffling
their red and black-and-white habits.

And blessed be the pacemakers and the peacemakers,

the slow striders, the arthritic joggers, scarred and bent under
their histories, for they're here at last by the sunlit sea.

Blessed Peoria and Manhattan, Ottawa and Green Bay, Pittsburgh,

And blessed their children.

And blessed the lovers for they shall have one perfect day.

Blessed be the dolphin out beyond the furthest buoy,
slaughtering the bright leapers,
for they shall have full bellies.

Blessed, too, the cormorant and the osprey and the pelican
for they are the cherubim and seraphim and archangel.

And blessed be the gull, open throated, screeching, scolding
me to my face,

for he shall have his own place returned to him.
And the glossy lip of the long wave shall have the last kiss.

If you are a lover of poetry, check out the blog Well-Mannered Frivolity where Susan is featuring a poem a day in April in honor of National Poetry Month. We all could use more poetry in our lives.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The sickness that is Fred Phelps

You might not ever guess it from reading my opinions expressed here, but I try - I really do - to be tolerant of others, even people with whom I disagree. I make an effort to give everyone the benefit of a doubt when it comes to the sincerity of their beliefs and I try to understand what has led people to the views that they hold. But there are some few people for whom I refuse to make that effort. Fred Phelps and his hateful flock at the so-called Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas are some of those people.

This "church" claims around 75 members, most of whom are related to the leader Phelps. This congregation believes in a gospel of anti-homosexuality which asserts that America has embraced "fags" and because of that God is punishing the nation by killing its soldiers. Phelps adage is "Thank God for dead soldiers," and he and his flock carry this message to the funerals of members of this nation's military service who have been killed. They carry signs proclaiming their message in even more heinous and disgusting terms than I have described here and they march up and down in full view of the grieving families at these individuals' funerals.

Imagine that your child has been killed in service to his/her country and at the funeral for that beloved child you are confronted with one of these idiots carrying a sign saying, "Thank God for dead soldiers." How would that make you feel? Well, that's about how the parents of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, age 20, who was killed in Iraq in 2006 felt. His father, Albert, sued the Westboro Baptist Church for disrupting his son's funeral. Initially, he won a $10.9 million verdict, which doesn't seem nearly enough to me, but last September, an appeals court tossed that verdict out and ordered Snyder to help pay Westboro's legal bills! Talk about adding insult to injury. Fred Phelps has said that his congregation will use the money to continue going to military funerals around the country to insult grieving families with their hateful demonstrations.

Snyder's lawyer, who is representing him for free, will be appealing the case to the Supreme Court. The outcome is unclear, but one thing is very clear: Even if Westboro's actions are deemed legal, they are wrong and un-Christian, and, if there is a hell, I fully expect that rooms are being readied for them in the basement there.

(If you are interested in helping the Snyders, a family of very modest means, with their legal bills, please visit this website:

Monday, April 5, 2010

The killer state

In an editorial today, the Houston Chronicle pointed out that if Texas were an independent nation, it would rank seventh among nations in the number of its citizens that it executed last year. Boosted by Texas' prolific execution rate, the United States as a whole ranks fifth on this dishonor roll, right behind China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. This country executed 52 individuals last year, of whom 24 were executed in Texas. No other country in the Americas executed a single prisoner last year. Not Cuba. Not Venezuela. Not one American nation besides the United States executed a prisoner.

Moreover, last year alone there were nine inmates who were on death row in American prisons who were exonerated of the crimes for which they had been condemned. How many others who were innocent of the crimes of which they were convicted have nevertheless been put to death? Common sense and the probability doctrine will indicate that such miscarriages of justice have occurred and that innocent men (most of those who are executed are men) have been killed by the state.

Also, all of those who are executed are poor and frequently outcasts of society. When was the last time you heard of a rich man being executed? The dirty truth is that "justice" is for sale in our society. If you have the money and the influence, you can get away with murder. If you are poor and uneducated and without powerful people to speak up for you, your chances of losing your life if accused of a capital crime are relatively high. This is so obviously unfair that it hardly even needs further explication.

Why do we continue to do this? Why do we continue to hang around with the likes of China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia? Why can't we be at least as forward looking and humane as our other neighbors in the Western Hemisphere such as Venezuela and Cuba?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The unrepentant sinners of the Catholic Church

Is there any institution in today's world that is more insular and self-absorbed and truly tone deaf to the world around them than the Catholic Church? If there is, I don't think I want to know about it.

We have the spectacle of the pope's own preacher addressing the world at Easter time and comparing the "sufferings" of pedophile priests and those who have protected and sheltered them from the consequences of their sins to the sufferings of Jews during the Holocaust. He has now apologized for that statement, but I suspect the apology only came because of the storm of outrage that it provoked. I really doubt that he has changed his opinion. Others in the Catholic hierarchy have compared the priests' "sufferings" to the suffering of Jesus at his scourging and crucifixion. As I said, totally tone deaf and with no apparent remorse for the children who have been scarred for life, both physically and mentally, not to mention spiritually by their actions.

Of course, the American Catholic bishops seem to have completely forgotten their mission to succor the poor and disenfranchised, as shown by their recent statement excoriating and urging defeat of the Health Care Reform bill which will assist those people they are supposed to care about. Moreover, their opposition to the bill was based on the lie that it allowed payment for abortions. Truly, these guys are one trick ponies. They seem to have abortion on the brain and cannot see beyond the issue to the wider need for accessible health care for all.

Catholic nuns, on the other hand, defied their bishops and supported the Health Care Reform bill. For this sin, and many other acts of independent thinking in recent years, they are being investigated by the Vatican because of their straying from orthodoxy. I predict that they will be admonished and punished by their Church for following Jesus instead of the pope. When that punishment falls, I further predict that we will still be waiting to see any meaningful punishment for those in the priesthood who are still out there abusing children and being protected by their hierarchy.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The hypocritic oath

So, have you heard about the urologist in Florida who is refusing to treat anyone who voted for Barack Obama? He posted a notice on his office door which reads:

If you voted for Obama...
seek urologic care elsewhere.
Changes to your health care begin right now,
not in four years.

Moreover, he has stocked his office waiting room with anti-Obama and anti-health care reform pamphlets. I'm not sure what section of the Hippocratic Oath admonishes fledgling doctors to screen their prospective patients for their political beliefs or to seek to impose their own political beliefs on their patients by plastering their offices with political pamphlets. I've just reread the oath and I didn't see anything about this in it, but perhaps I'm just too naive to correctly interpret the ancient oath.

Remember last summer amid all the tea party screaming about health care reform when some of the crazies were complaining that, under this reform, health care would be rationed and that Republicans could be refused treatment because they are Republicans? Apparently, this bozo in Florida decided to implement that policy - only in reverse. Mr. Cassell - I won't call him Dr. because he doesn't deserve the title - has decided that people who disagree with him politically are not worthy of receiving medical attention. Let them suffer and die early and, eventually, there will be no one left except people who agree with him, or who pretend to agree with him in order to receive medical treatment.

Obviously, Cassell misunderstood the oath he was taking upon entering his profession. He thought he was taking the Hypocritic Oath.

God help those who fall under his tender care.

Friday, April 2, 2010

CNN: Castrated News Network

I am old enough to remember when CNN was actually a respectable news network. That was back in the long ago days of Ted Turner when CNN was the new brash kid on the block, the one who dared to make waves. But CNN is a "news" network no longer. Today, it relies on viewers who have a Twitter account or email address to "report" news for them and to comment on news stories. They present these viewer-generated dispatches without screening and with no explanation and comment. Where they used to have professional news gatherers in the field and editors to actually review content, they now have Twitterers and bloggers. This is no way to run a news network. No wonder CNN is losing so many of its viewers. Soon no one will be watching. And no one will care.

And now it seems that CNN is determined to complete its suicidal slide by hiring bloggers like Erick Erickson as commenters. Jon Stewart had an excellent take on that development on The Daily Show last night. He also had some excellent advice for CNN on how to recover its mojo. I don't expect them to take it, though, because CNN has most definitely lost its balls and its direction.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Swiftly they fly

One of my favorite summer birds is back in town. The little Chimney Swifts blew in over the weekend. I first heard them in my chimney on Saturday night. Sunday, I saw the pair flying over the backyard.

I'm guessing that swifts were named for the way they fly - very swiftly. They fly like a bird out of hell, as if the devil were right on their tail feathers. And they twitter as they fly. Not the silent, keyboard kind of twittering but the noisy, chattering twitter of a bird that just seems happy to be alive.

Swifts around the world have declining populations primarily because of loss of habitat. They need a rough, vertical surface on which to roost and to build their nests. They have very weak legs that are not meant to support perching but those feet can cling to rough surfaces like the bricks in a chimney. In the past, when most houses that were built had chimneys that were open to the sky and to the birds, the little Chimney Swift flourished. But today, most houses either don't have chimneys or they have excluders to keep the birds out. Not my house though.

Our house was built in the '70s and the chimney is open to the sky. Most of our neighbors with houses built in the same period have since added the excluders to keep birds out of their chimneys, but we welcome them. We enjoy sharing our house with the little birds. Their arrival is the signal to close the flue, and their chattering throughout spring, summer, and early fall is a happy sound and is one of the things that makes my house "home."

Admirers of the Chimney Swift are fostering a movement to encourage homeowners to build appropriate towers in their backyards to provide a place for the birds to roost and nest. These towers are not yet as popular as Purple Martin condominiums or bluebird boxes, but as people become more familiar with the swifts and with the work that they do to clear the skies of flying insects, perhaps we will see more of the towers in backyards around the country. As an admirer of Chimney Swifts myself, I can only hope so.