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Showing posts from April, 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. Mockingbirds by Mary Oliver This morning two mockingbirds in

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 ar

Wordless Wednesday: Red, white, and blue

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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 wildlif

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 t

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

What is it?

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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.

Happy Earth Day!

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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.

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.

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

"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 televisi

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 farm

A very welcome visitor

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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.

ASTROS WIN! ASTROS WIN!

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 stil

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

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

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 fee

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 sc

We're humming again!

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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.

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

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, Dresden. 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

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.

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

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 ac

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

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.

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 ei