“Healthcare is not a right”

Access DeniedI try to avoid political conversations on Facebook.  Getting into a political argument on Facebook is one of the surest ways to make someone angry.  However, I just have to post political material on occasion.  I recently posted something on Facebook about political ads currently showing in South Dakota, noting how sick I was getting of the anti-Obamacare theme in all the ad campaigns from the Republicans.  Most of my true friends are quite intelligent…and thus, are quite liberal and are Democrats.  It’s not quite the same on Facebook, as some old acquaintances have political beliefs that frankly scare the hell out of me.

Thus went an exchange with one of those old acquaintances, starting with his response to my post about the anti-Obamacare political ads.  Here’s the “conversation”…

Me: Vote for me!! I’ll repeal ObamaCare! I support South Dakota’s decision to deny health care to the poor by refusing (FREE!) Medicaid expansion! I’m Mike Rounds!!  If I see his face on TV one more time I’m going to throw something at it.

Bud“: I’m just asking where this “free” Medicaid extension comes from. Someone has to pay for it.

Me: “Free” to the state of South Dakota, with Feds paying. Yet red states turn it down because, Obama. God forbid we try to ensure that access to health care is a basic RIGHT.

“Bud”: The “Fed” still has to find that money somewhere. Healthcare is not a right.

Me: Providing health care to your people is a basic MORAL right. Every other freakin’ western nation does it. In the U.S.? Richest damned country on earth? Nah…can’t afford it here.

“Bud“: But not constitutional.

Me: I’m rolling my eyes “Bud”. Next time I read a story about some poor schmuck who died because the richest country on earth couldn’t provide basic health care, I’ll send the grieving family a copy of the Constitution.

“Bud“: Yes do, and remind them that the money I earn is mine.

Ah, yes…”The money I earn is mine”.  The Republican motto should be “greed over need”.  To hell with our fellow Americans!  The ONLY person that matters i me, Me MEEEEEEEEE!!!! (picture the little Republicans all throwing a temper tantrum like a 2-year old).

The lack of care, the lack of MORALITY from the right is stunning.  Look at what the primary goal of today’s Republican Party…lowering taxes, and limiting government programs for the needy…a curious goal for the richest country on earth, particularly as the gap between rich and poor continues to widen.  Republicans wrap themselves up in the Constitution, and in the bible, trying to claim both constitutional high ground and the religious high ground.   Republicans try to portray liberals as the immoral ones.  Yet when push comes to shove, Republicans would rather ensure the wealthiest Americans continue to live it up, at the expense of even providing basic health care to America’s most needy.

“Health care is not a right”.  ”Remind them the money I earn is mine”.   Bravo, “Bud”…you’ve summed up the entire state of the Republican party in two short sentences.  Greed and personal gain…the perfect foundation for governing a nation.

Just when I think I like South Dakota(ns)…

May is a a wonderful month for birding.  After a long winter, not only do the summer breeding birds make their way back to South Dakota, but many, many species of migrants move through the state on their way north.  Friday after work, I headed out with my camera, looking for migrants. The birds certainly didn’t disappoint, with scads of shorebirds, ducks, and wading birds loafing around the wetlands I visited.

While heading towards some of my favorite spots, I stopped in a small town to get gas. Despite my cynicism and general anti-social behavior (shocking that I call myself anti-social, I know), every once in a while, you get the warm fuzzies when coming across some truly nice people.  While pumping my gas, an old couple pulled up in a pickup.  A gentleman in overalls got out and started to fill the tank while his wife went inside.  As soon as he had the gas running, he walked around the pump, just to chat with me, with a total stranger.  And a very nice chat it was!!  When I went inside to pay (old gas station, no credit card at the pump!), the wife was waiting at the counter, with two freshly made ice cream cones. “Darn that Earl, he found another person to talk to!!”, she “complained” to the clerk. Sure enough, I look out and “Earl” was chatting up another customer.  The wife wasn’t genuinely upset…she was having her own long conversation with the clerk.  As I’m paying, another person walks in, and the clerk and the wife both call out and ask how “Jodie” was doing.  Evidently “Jodie” had broken an ankle.

I walk back out to my pickup, and pass Earl, who’s finally coming in to pay.  He gives me a tip of the hat and a “have a good evenin’!” as we pass each other.  I literally could feel my cynicism melting away, being pushed down by a wonderful dose of good ol’ small-town friendliness.  It made me realize how nice it is to have a place like this, where the clerk knows the customers’ names, where people have no problem striking up a friendly conversation with a total stranger.

My gushy warm feelings lasted approximately 15 minutes and 38 seconds.  That’s about how long it took to get to one of my favorite birding spots, a big marshy spot that often has a lot of birds.  As I turned onto the gravel road to head towards the wetland, I saw a pickup about half a mile ahead, pulled over on the side of the road.  As soon as I got on the road, the pickup took off.  I didn’t think anything of it, UNTIL I got near the spot where he was parked.  Laying in the marsh grass…three VERY freshly dead Great Egrets.  One had a spot with blood, but although otherwise I couldn’t see what killed them, I assumed it was the tiny penis gun nuts in that pickup. A pretty safe assumption, given my past experiences in South Dakota.

Warm fuzzy feelings long gone, I continued on, turned a corner, and came across a pile of about a dozen dead snow geese, a mere half a mile from the dead egrets.  These were obviously long dead, with scavengers having already taken their toll.  However it’s obvious the birds were killed and then dumped in a pile on the side of the road.  It wasn’t for food, as they weren’t cleaned…just shot, and dumped.  The spot I was birding is a bit difficult to get to.  Officially, the road is closed.  With high water levels, water trickles over the gravel in a few places, and the road really isn’t passable except if you have a good 4-wheel drive.  Given the proximity of the dead egrets and the dead snow geese, my guess is that the local rednecks (of which South Dakota has plenty) use this quiet little spot for “target practice”…with my birds being the target.

I went birding later this past weekend, on Sunday, and again while out in a relatively remote spot, I came over a hill, and there were 3 young men with rifles, standing on the side of the road next to their truck.  Rifles…out in the middle of nowhwere…on a nice spring day.  Not exactly any hunting season I know about.  As I approached the three placed their rifles on the far side of their bodies, away from me.  Doesn’t take much imagination to know that people who try to hide something are generally up to no good.

Events such as these certainly are enough to fuel my cynicism for, oh…several months at least.  And given where I live, and how damned often I’ve come across dead birds and other animals that have been used as target practice, there aren’t very many occasions where my cynicism has a chance to melt away.

Alas, it’s not just the “hunting” (HAH!!! more like KILLING) culture of South Dakota. Underlying that good ol’ fashioned small town charm I encountered while filling my pickup, there’s also a lot of good ol’ fashioned bigotry and intolerance in the state.  Hell, it’s so ingrained in the culture of South Dakota that bigotry and intolerance has become a campaign strategy for some state politicians.  Check out the recent comments from Steve Hickey, a Republican (of course) state legislator. Last week he called gay men and gay sex “a one way alley for the garbage truck“.  Uh…OK…not even sure what that means, but I’m sure he meant it as a “clever”insult to gay people.  As if he wanted to make his point even clearer, this week he stated that gay sex is like “eight of your friends that you’re in love with take a dump in your bed and then you can sleep in it all year long.

Eloquent.

Small town charm in South Dakota?  Occasionally.  Every once in awhile, you may get a chance to enjoy that small town charm.  All you have to do to experience it is to put up with the gun wackos who think everything that moves is a target, as well as the bigoted people of the state and the politicians that they vote for.

Arizona Hummingbirds

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Broad-billed Hummingbird, in Madera Canyon.

Ah, Arizona.  I’d never been to Arizona, until about 8 years ago, when we went on a family vacation.  It’s such a diverse state, with mountains, deserts, the Grand Canyon, and the very large metro areas of Phoenix and Tucson.  For me, vacation is about seeing the natural world, and Arizona certainly offers some amazing experiences.  While I love the Grand Canyon, the forested mountains of the east, and the Sedona area, nothing for me can touch far southern Arizona, with the Sonoran desert habitat and the forested “sky islands”.

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird, on the outskirts of Tucson

We found a wonderful bed-and-breakfast on the outskirts of Tucson, nestled up against the eastern edge of the city and the eastern unit of Saguaro National Park.  Hacienda del Desierto is an acreage with natural Sonoran desert habitat surrounding it, with a pair of small ponds literally offering an oasis in the desert to the animals of the region.  We’ve seen coyotes, javelina, bobcats, jackrabbits, tarantulas, lizards, and snakes on the grounds of the B&B, but of course for me, it’s the birds that are the attraction.  And when I think birds in Arizona, I think hummingbirds.

May 7th.  Within a day or two, that’s the time our one resident hummingbird comes back for the summer in South Dakota.  It’s wonderful having Ruby-throated Hummingbirds around our house in the summer, but they’re the only species found in eastern South Dakota, and they’re only here from May through September.  A spring visit to Arizona on the other hand offers the chance to see a dozen or more species of hummingbirds, with several species found throughout the year.  Costa’s, Black-chinned, Anna’s, Broad-billed, Broad-tailed, Rufous, and Calliope Hummingbirds are some of the more common species to be found in the state at times, but lurking in the sky-island canyons of southern Arizona, and in nearby locations, a birder may also run across Magnificent, Allen’s, Blue-throated, Lucifer, White-eared, and Violet-crowned Hummingbirds, with yet rarer finds including a  Berylline Hummingbird or Plain-capped Starthroat,

Magnificent Hummingbird

Magnificent Hummingbird, on Mount Lemmon

After a long, very cold winter in South Dakota, we made plans for a week-long trip to the Tucson area around Easter. We again stayed at Hacienda del Desierto, and as always, the birding in the area didn’t disappoint.  My wife and son aren’t birders, so to maximize my birding time on vacation, I’ve gotten into a habit at getting up at dawn and birding until they’re ready for breakfast.  The B&B is wonderful for desert birding, but even with a few feeders up and a lush, flower-filled landscape, I’ve never found all that many hummingbirds around.  The exception is a wonderful Broad-billed Hummingbird female who annually builds a nest on the vines that cascade over the roof and trail down into the B&B’s courtyard. She didn’t disappoint on this trip either, as once again she built a new nest, and had two young that appeared to be about ready to fledge.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Black-chinned Hummingbird in Madera Canyon

Within the city of limits, there are a number of parks that are wonderful to visit, with our favorite being Tohono Chul park on the north side of Tucson.  It’s a botanical garden with a wide variety of micro habitats, and a vast array of flowering plants, and I’ve always had wonderful luck finding hummingbirds.  It seems to be a “hotspot” for Costa’s Hummingbirds, a species I’ve found without fail at the park.  Tohono Chul also has a wonderful cafe, where you can dine in the courtyard and enjoy the wonderful vegetation and birds.  On this trip, a Costa’s Hummingbird had built a nest in a light fixture on the courtyard wall, with a mother feeding 2 young and seemingly oblivious to the diners and servers continually walking by.

Saguaro National Park has two units, one on both the east and west sides of Tucson.  Hummingbirds can always be found there, foraging on blooming Ocotillo and plants, but they tend to be quite dispersed.  Sabino Canyon and Mount Lemmon are two very popular destinations on the outskirts of Tucson, for both tourists and residents alike.  Family hikes through both have yielded Hummingbirds.  On this trip, a feeder at the visitor’s center near the top of Mount Lemmon attracted many Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, but a gorgeous Magnificent Hummingbird would also occasionally fly in.

Anna's Hummingbird at Nest

Female Anna's Hummingbird feeding young at the nest

However, for both the sheer number of hummingbirds, and variety of species, nothing can touch the sky-island canyons.  Names like “Ramsey Canyon“, “Madera Canyon“, and “Miller Canyon” are famous among birders, as rarities from Mexico are often found here, and nowhere else in the United States.  The same holds for hummingbirds, with the canyons attracting an incredible number of hummingbird species.  Destinations such as the Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, or The Nature Conservancy center in Ramsey Canyon, further enhance the excitement, with feeder complexes that attract large densities of hummingbirds.  On this trip, we visited Santa Rita Lodge.  While no rarities were seen, an hour at the Lodge feeders turned up a number of Black-chinned, Anna’s, Broad-billed, and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, and a Magnificent Hummingbird also made an appearance.

A week-long vacation interspersed with casual birding, and 7 hummingbird species were tallied (Broad-billed, Broad-tailed, Costa’s, Anna’s, Black-chinned, Magnificent, and Rufous).  Arizona never disappoints, and for hummingbird lovers, nothing can top a spring trip to the southern part of the state.

Scum of the Week – Cliven Bundy

Scum of the WeekGovernment is evil.  Personal responsibility?   Personal liability?  Federal Law?  Irrelevant, if you’re fighting against the federal government. Even when someone is clearly in the wrong, that’s the message those on the right would like you to believe.

Congratulations Cliven Bundy, you’ve received the prestigious “Scum of the Week” award.  In close second…Glenn Beck.  Who is Cliven Bundy?  A rancher from Nevada.  For over 20 years, Bundy has refused to pay grazing fees for his cattle that he’s loosed on federal land.  After other tactics to get him to pay failed, the feds recently rounded up Bundy’s cattle, on federal land.  Bundy’s response? Basically an armed rebellion, with a group of Bundy supporters, some armed, confronting BLM officials.  To avoid physical confrontation, the BLM relented and released Bundy’s cattle.

Bundy in the meantime appeared on Glenn Beck’s radio show, pleading for citizens to rise up and “disarm” the BLM and feds.  Wacko Bundy then goes on to claim that the “federal bureaucracy” is “overpowering us with guns” and ruling with “unlimited power“.  A curious claim, given that it was Bundy and his wacko supporters who confronted the BLM with guns, in order to get his cattle back.

There’s no disputing the facts.  Over the last 20+ years, Bundy has been grazing his cattle on federal lands.   Over the last 20+ years, he hasn’t paid grazing fees for using federal land.  In Bundy’s world, he’s allowed to use federal lands to make a personal profit, without having to follow the law and pay for the right to use those lands.  He’s clearly been in the wrong.  He’s clearly been openly defying and breaking the law for over 20 years, while 18,000 other cattle ranchers in the west have paid grazing fees to obtain access to federal lands.  And what does that make him in the eyes of those on the right?  A hero.

That’s what the right has devolved into, a group that by default defines the government as “in the wrong”, regardless of the situation.  Having a (gasp!) black Democratic President only has exacerbated the negativity towards government in general.  The clear message from the right…we will oppose anything that Obama does.  We will oppose anything the federal government does, even something as basic as collecting taxes and fees to enable government to operate.

The anti-government paranoia has been whipped up to an all-time high, and is to the point where armed confrontation, where physical threats, are now an accepted form of dissent.  Dangerous ground, particularly when those that feel the need to break even the most innocuous of laws are treated as heroes.  Cliven Bundy, you wacko, cheating, cheap, law-breaking son-of-a-bitch…YOU are hereby named as the Scum of the Week.

Life 1.0 – The Competition

I’m a nerd.  Surprising revelation, I know.  I’d rather read a book than go to a bar.  I used to play Dungeons & Dragons in high school.  I still like video games.  And, I like science fiction.  Of course, Star Trek is near the top of the list.  As a scientist/nerd, I can watch Star Trek and think/dream that most of it may NOT be “fiction”, but a vision of the future.  From a technical and scientific aspect, I can almost believe it, if you remove some of the scientific impossibilities from a Star Trek script.

But from a social aspect?  I’m not buying it for a second.  Sure, there’s always the bad guy to fight in Star Trek, but society as a whole is peaceful.  War is the exception, not the rule. People have evolved to such a state that even money isn’t used any more, for god’s sake.  Listening to a Captain Kirk or Captain Picard speak (especially the latter) is sometimes like listening to a preacher, although it’s not religion they’re expressing, it’s the inherent “goodness” of man.

Like I said…I’m not buying it for a second. If we ever reach a Star Trek level of technology, you can be damned sure things won’t be peaceful.  You can be damned sure money, greed, and the hunger for power will be there.  The Star Trek utopia, where everyone works for the common good?  A nice pipe dream, but a pipe dream is all it will ever be.

Think about your typical day. You get ready and head for work, only to find yourself in a drag race with the guy on his cell phone who thinks 5 mph over the speed limit is an insult to his manhood. You get to work, and in theory, are working towards whatever common goal your employer (or yourself) has established.  In reality? It’s more often every man for him or herself, with individual achievement, power, and money driving workers more than the overall common good.

I pity “management”…to a point.  Imagine a work group of 20 individuals tasked to work together towards a common goal.  In that group, you have the “Invisible 4“, those that do as little as it takes to continue getting a paycheck every two weeks.  You have the “Backstabbing 5“, the aggressive bunch who is working with, or against, each other, to ensure THEY achieve the recognition, the reward, for the group’s work.  Bob in the corner?  He just doesn’t give a shit, and is cruising towards retirement.  You have the “Naive Numbskulls“, 2 or 3 inexperienced youngsters who will end up doing 70% of the work but will get buried by the group and get no recognition.  The “Blabbing Blowhards?”  That’s the pair of idiots that have no idea how to accomplish the group’s goal, but are gifted at 1) monopolizing 90% of all discussion time, and 2) trying to tell others how to do a job they themselves are incapable of doing.

Yes, the exact proportions may vary from setting to setting, and there are a few other categories of folks, but out of 20 people, it’s almost guaranteed that at least half will fall into one of the categories above.  In general, that will leave maybe 5 honest, hard-working individuals, folks who DO generally believe in the overall goal, and will do an honest day’s work to reach that goal.  That’s the group I feel sorry for, for they are the ones who end up suffering due to the actions (or inactions) of the others.  The best and the brightest too often end up being the ones who are trampled upon.  Over time, they become the ones who are the most disillusioned.

I said I feel sorry for management, to a point, given that it’s an impossible task to try to build a perfectly effective team from such a group of individuals.  “To a point” is an important distinction, though, because 80% of time, management themselves falls into one of those categories.  Those that do reach management are often the most aggressive of the original 20.  The “common goal” becomes a means to an end, with the “end” being a promotion or other reward for the manager.  The process? The end product? The workers themselves? Secondary to the personal achievement that’s to be gained.

What, I’m being a little too cynical here?   There are undoubtedly exceptions to this general characterization of the workplace.  I’d take my own personal team at work to hell and back, as I think the world of them.  But it’s disheartening as hell though to see how the backstabbing 5, or the babbling blowhards end up affecting the workplace in general, and negatively affecting the individual recognition and rewards that the standouts deserve.

Life 1.0 – The competition.  Will we ever reach the Star Trek utopia?  Will we ever reach Life 2.0 – The Evolved?  Hell no….we’ll never even get to Life 1.01.  We’re biological creatures, the same as any other on the planet.  We have the same drives, the same instincts to survive and thrive.  Competition is biologically ingrained, and no matter your place in life, you can be sure that competition and the desire to “one-up” your fellow-man is driving one hell of a lot more of society’s behavior than is striving for the common good.

Cheery thoughts!  But sadly typical as one reaches the end of the work week.  Enjoy your weekend, rest up, and get ready for Monday Morning and the next week’s worth of competition.

Congressman kisses staffer, runs for re-election while staffer is fired

A Washington Post columnist has an article today stating that the GOP has just permanently lost the women’s vote . In a perfect world where voters were 1) halfway intelligent and 2) paying attention, the column should be right.  We don’t live in a perfect world.  Voters are 1) dumber than a box of rocks, and 2) are more concerned about the latest pop song than they are about the politicians that run the country.

The story in summary…male congressman kisses a female staffer. It’s caught on tape and released to the papers. Yes, there’s been blow-back in the press, and in the short term there will be condemnation against Congressman Vance McAllister of Louisiana (A Republican, BTW…shocking, I know).  This gem of a man ran on his supposedly strong Christian faith 2 years ago.  No worries though.  After this event, he’s already stated he’s going to continue running for reelection. Given that he’s a right-wing nut job from Louisiana, he’s likely to WIN reelection.

The staffer he kissed? She, of course, was fired.

If I were a single, very selfish man, perhaps I would thank my lucky stars I grew up as a white male in America.   However, I’m not.  It has to be as maddening as hell to be a woman in America and see this same kind of story repeated over and over again.

I have little doubt conservative wackos will forgive McAllister. God knows the GOP is full of lying, cheating, law-breaking SOBs, and there’s a long history of forgiveness for these losers. In today’s political climate, there’s little worry about repercussions for bad behavior, as the only thing that seems to matter is whether there’s a “D” or an “R” after your name. The female staffer? Obviously she too is in the wrong, given that she’s married and has a young son. But for her there will be no forgiveness.  She’s out a job, and what do you think the chances are that she could get another job on Capital Hill?

Has the GOP “permanently lost” womens’ votes?  I certainly wish that were the case, but sadly it’s not. If I had a nickel for every time a male politician has done something similar, yet gotten away with it and continued on with their political careers, I’d be a rich man.

Putting down the camera…

Bufflehead

An inquisitive Bufflehead, doing pre-dawn surveillance of my blind.

Peace of mind.  Something that’s hard to find at times.  For me, it’s been something that’s been elusive over the last few months as I try to deal with the effects of Sjogren’s syndrome.  Dry eyes and mouth are something you kind of get used to, but it certainly makes me sure to always have gum and eye drops handy.  Achy joints…fine, I can handle that most of the time.  Fatigue is the toughest one to deal with, as there are days where it suddenly feels like you’ve just been “unplugged”.  One by one, they’re nuisances, but put it all together, and have it occur day-after-day-after-day, and it’s a downer.

It’s been enough of a downer that I haven’t really had much interest in the photography thing lately.  Probably a mistake on my part, to let that go.  If there’s one thing that can provide peace of mind for me, it’s one of those ‘magical’ days out in the field, taking photos.  My photography time is my chance to escape for a few hours.  It’s my release, it’s my chance to try to forget the Sjogren’s, forget any bullshit at work (of which there’s always some), etc.  It’s my chance to recharge.

Yesterday I dragged out the “chair blind” with the intention of using it to try to get close to all the waterfowl that are moving through as the ice melts. It’s a hunter’s device, what basically amounts to a very low folding chair, with legs a mere 4-5 inches long, and a camouflage shell that pulls over the top.  I’ve had it for a few years, but really haven’t used it much.  I’m not sure why, given that 1) it’s actually pretty comfy sitting inside it, and 2) I have one hell of a lot of patience, and can sit there for a while, waiting for birds to happen by.  I got up before dawn and headed to the wetlands and lakes west of Sioux Falls. I found a nice spot that was full of ducks when I arrived, and set up the blind about half an hour before sunrise.

There was already a little bit too much light at that time for me to get away with it, without the birds noticing.  The ducks all flushed as I set up, but that was fine…I knew they’d eventually wander back, forgetting there’s a weirdo in the camouflaged clamshell by the shoreline.  I was right, but ducks definitely wandered back, but much sooner than I anticipated.   The sun still hadn’t risen when a very inquisitive little Bufflehead approached.  It’s almost as if he suspected something was “wrong”, given the beeline he made right towards the blind itself.  He stopped for a moment, perhaps 15 feet from the blind, before moving closer.  TOO close, given that the minimum focusing distance on my long lens is 12 feet.

American Coot

One of the 30 or so American Coots milling around my blind. Common...drab plumage...but beautiful in their own right, especially when you get a chance to see them behaving naturally at close distance.

If I were obsessed with just “getting the photo”, as many photographers are, I probably would have wished he were a bit further away.  I’ll never understand that mentality.  It’s the same with birders who are obsessed with their “lifelists”, state checklists, county checklists, etc.  For many, it’s the list itself, it’s the photo itself, that’s the most important aspect of the respective hobby.  You’ll often see birders drive miles to see a rarity, some species they don’t have on their list.  For many, the quest seems to end the moment the bird is spotted.  Having mentally (or physically in many cases) checked the bird off their list, off they go, in search of the next checkmark.

For me?  The best moments, the moments where I do find that elusive peace of mind, is when the moment takes over, and I put the camera down.  The now too-close Bufflehead continued to poke around the area in front of my blind, seemingly half bloodhound, trying to sniff out the “trouble” inside.  I put down the camera, leaned forward, and watched this wonderful little creature parading around mere feet in front of my blind.  It’s not easy getting photos of truly wild ducks in South Dakota. They literally are “gun-shy”, equating human beings with trouble, and flushing as soon as someone comes within 50 yards of them.  The tiny little Bufflehead is one I’ve particularly had a hard time getting close to.  I certainly wasn’t going to miss the moment, and sometimes the camera just gets in the way.  It was only a minute or two that the gorgeous male Bufflehead paraded around the blind.  But it was a nice “put the camera down” moment, and one of those restorative moments that helps me find peace of mind.

After sunrise, most of the ducks seemed to leave the little wetland.  I packed up and decided to try another spot.  I ended up at Grass Lake, a large lake in western Minnehaha county that still was about half ice-covered.  As the ice melts, you often get gulls and other birds feasting on any dead fish that had become locked up in the ice over the winter, and Grass Lake was certainly full of birds yesterday morning, from massive American White Pelicans, to gulls, to ducks of many species.  I again found a little bay full of ducks, set up my blind, and waited for the now departed birds to return.

Again it didn’t take long.  One inquisitive American Coot came swimming back into the bay, and began poking along the shoreline.   It’s not often you see just one American Coot, as they’re a gregarious bunch, and sure enough, it wasn’t long before his buddies showed up as well.  About 20 minutes after setting the blind up, there were perhaps 30 Coots poking around the bay, and it wasn’t long before they returned to the same location they were before I arrived, which was right where I had placed my blind.

American Coots aren’t exactly a birder’s dream bird.  They’re not exactly a photographer’s dream bird.  They’re common, they’re rather drab at first glance, and they have a reputation as being, well…not the brightest bird on the block.  They’re not particularly difficult to get close to, at least close enough for a photograph if you have a long lens.  However, it’s one thing to “get the photo”.  It’s quite another to have an active flock of wild birds, behaving and feeding normally within feet of you, oblivious to your presence.  For half an hour, the Coots milled about the vicinity of my blind, often coming so close as to be practically touching it at times.  It when you get close to birds that you can see their real beauty.  Yes, they’re a rather drab dark grey overall, but American Coots have a brilliant red eye, a strange and contrasting light-colored beak and “shield” on their forehead, and some of the weirdest, massive floppy fleet of any creature on the planet.

Peace of mind.  Camera down.  Sitting in MY church on a Sunday morning, enjoying the moment.  It wasn’t a good morning from a photography perspective, as most other species stayed away and I got very few “good” photos.  However, it was just what the doctor ordered…

Sorry honey! I have a game today…

As the Murphy family found out this week, it's a man's world, and it's a sports world.

It’s a man’s world.  Women?  Eh.  They’re around for 1) “entertainment” for men, and 2) ensuring the contintuity of the human race.  At least that’s the message that men seem to have some primordial need to reinforce as often as they can.

Daniel Murphy is a second baseman for the New York Mets.   He also is married to…someone.  I’d provide a name, but given that Daniel Murphy’s wife is a woman, evidently the media didn’t feel it was necessary to even provide her name in the news stories about Murphy yesterday.  Surprising, perhaps, given that she is an oh-so-integral part of the story, but perhaps not so surprising, because again…she’s a woman and not worthy of referencing by name.  Thus we’ll refer to this mystery woman as “Mrs. Daniel Murphy”, a fitting moniker given that women SHOULD be discussed only in terms of their husbands.

Daniel Murphy and…Mrs. Daniel Murphy…were expecting their first child.  Mrs. Daniel Murphy was incredibly inconsiderate, offending 1) men, and 2) the collective sports world.  Evidently Mrs. Daniel Murphy procreated with Daniel Murphy approximately 9 months prior to the opening day of the 2014 baseball season.  Incredibly inconsiderate planning on her part (Daniel Murphy may have played a role, but in a man’s world, I choose to blame the woman).  Remember your birds and bees?  There seems to be some correlation between 1) having sex, and 2) having a child 9 months later.  An unconfirmed theory, but one with strong evidence.

The first child of Daniel Murphy and Mrs. Daniel Murphy was born on Monday, as 12:02 pm.  His name was Noah…a name provided by the media because, of course, the child was a male.  12:02 pm was, unfortunately, very close to the time of the first game of 2014 for the New York Mets. Poor planning, by, of course, Mrs. Daniel Murphy, who SHOULD 1) have made sure the baby was born prior to opening day, and 2) be able to do a woman’s duty and birth and take care of the child by herself.  That’s the  message/verdict given by a large proportion of the (male) sports world this week.

Boomer (What a manly name, ’tis Boomer) Esiasan chastisted Mrs. Daniel Murphy on WFAN radio this week, stating the obvious…that Mrs. Daniel Murphy should have “had a C-section before the season starts“.  Daniel Murphy, in the meantime, foolishly took the oh-so-generous Major League Baseball paternity time of 3 days, excusing himself from the Mets to be with Mrs. Daniel Murphy, and to stay with the family for a couple of days after the birth.  The reaction to Murphy’s decision to miss Opening Day and be with his family? Outrage, of course!  This is BASEBALL we’re talking about, opening day to boot, which obviously trumps the birth of your first child.  Mike Francesca, also on WFAN radio, eloquently stated what I think all men were thinking.  “You’re a Major League baseball player.  You can hire a nurse”, said Francesca, chastising Daniel Murphy for missing Opening Day.  The ever-so-sensitive Francesca went on, shaming Murphy for using his entire 3-day paternity leave by exclaiming “What are you going to do? Sit there and look at your wife in the hospital bed for two days?”

Damn straight!  You tell ‘em, WFAN radio hosts!  As basic meat bags around for men’s sexual pleasure, and for subsequently raising children until they’re of an age where they’re not such a bother for fathers, SOMEBODY needed to put Mrs. Daniel Murphy and women in general in their place.  And SOMEBODY needed to explain to Daniel Murphy that sports trumps family.

Good…fucking…god.

My son is now almost 11.  For my wife Lauri and I (yes, wives DO have actual names), he’s been our pride and joy, the center of our universe.  When he was born, Lauri took her full allotment of maternity leave, and undoubtedly would have stayed home many more weeks (months? years?) if it were possible.  As a U.S. citizen with testicles, I’m evidently not allowed, either by tradition, or by actual employer standards, to do the same, and take paternity leave for several weeks (months? years?).  After all, raising a child is strictly women’s work, right?

As our son rapidly grows up before our eyes, what I wouldn’t have given for a long paternity leave when he was born.  Daniel Murphy was allotted a pittance of a paternity leave in 3 days, and took full advantage to be with his wife and first child.  To be crucified for it by a certain segment of the sports world gives you a good idea of the neanderthal world of men in which we live.

Check out the current front page of the Sports Illustrated / CNN Sports site (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com).  This is the world folks like Boomer Esiasan or Mike Francesca live in, one where sports (MALE sports) dominates, and women are simply around for objectification, with women’s bodies being treated as their own “sport”.  When I say check out the CNN/SI sports page, I’m not worried about WHEN you check it out, given that the basic content never changes.  This morning as I look, there are 20 headlines/features at the top of the page, every one of which focuses on men’s sports.  Par for the course, even though the women’s Final Four is also going on right now, as are, I presume, other women’s sporting activities, given that unscientific polling of mine indicates that there are approximately as many women out there as there are men.

Look just below the top headline/feature section, and what do you find?  First, there’s the permanent “Swim Daily” section, devoted to the “sport” of women in swimsuits or body paint.  After all, what says “sport” more than seeing a 19-year old girl with nothing on but a bit of spray paint?  CNN/SI also has the permanent “Extra Mustard” section, with twice-daily updates of “sports” highlights and human interest stories.  Contained within EVERY “Extra Mustard” installment?  Photos of half-naked women in the “Lovely Lady of the Day” segment.  Why bother covering sports stories, if you can’t also gratuitously throw in a photo of a scantily-clad woman?

Sports, testosterone, and sex.  THAT’S the world neanderthals like Boomer Esiasan and Mike Francesca live in.  In their world, “Mrs. Daniel Murphy” is a side show, someone who does the dirty work of raising a child, so that her husband can focus on the more important job as a professional athelete.

I’m a sports fan, but find myself caring less and less as I mature (OK, get old), and as the sports world in general stays in that adolescent, high-school, testosterone-driven view of the world.  As for Daniel Murphy…BRAVO for making what should be a no-brainer of a decision, and realizing that NOTHING is as important as family.

Why Bother?

Why bother?  That’s what I often ask myself when extending even the most basic of courtesies to my fellow human beings.  Why bother, if there’s clearly no intention for (many) others to return the favor?

I’m a hell of a nice guy.  I’m a hell of a courteous guy.  I try to live as “moral” a life as possible.  I also happen to be a hard-core atheist (yes, bible-thumpers, you can (gasp!) be an atheist and still be morally sound).  If you throw out the “god” part of the equation, I do happen to believe in most of the basic tenets of Christianity.  Do unto others…right?  Seems like it should be a pretty universally accepted credo, regardless of your personal beliefs.

In reality though?  Not so much.  Again…Why bother?  Why bother being kind to your fellow human beings when so many others clearly couldn’t care less about anyone but themselves?  I don’t care what your personal belief systems as, as long as you maintain basic civility and respect for others.  I do believe the true “heart” of a human being is pretty evident when you observe their every day interactions in society.

This morning, as with every other weekday morning, I dropped my son off at school.  There’s a loop where parents drive through, drop their child off, and continue through the loop.  It’s a busy area in the morning, and I always try to be courteous by quickly moving through after my son exits the car.  Three times this week (twice the same person), someone has parked their car in the drop-off lane, gotten out, and walked into the school with their child, rather than parking in the parking lot mere yards away. In the meantime, cars behind the parked car in the loop must wait or maneuver around.  Where’s the consideration for others?  Is it worth inconveniencing others, just to save yourself from walking an extra 10 yards from the parking lot?  Do people like this carry the same sort of “me first” attitude in all their other human interactions?

Why bother?  Why bother with basic courtesies when so many ignore them?  After dropping my son off this morning, I needed to go through the ATM.  There was a car in front of me, and after her transaction was complete, she gathered the receipt, closed the window…and proceeded to sit there for at least a full two-minutes before finally pulling away.  Putting materials away, I assume, then a cell-phone conversation that started, all while she was oblivious to the (now) 2 people in line behind her.  If I’m in line in that situation and see people behind me, when the transaction is complete, I’ll take my receipt/money, pull ahead a bit so the next person can start their transaction, and then put my money away, put my seatbelt back on, etc.  A basic courtesy, but again…why bother?

I sometimes wonder if we’re headed towards a society straight out of H.G. Wells, with two separate races of human beings.  It seems like I’m forever running into more and more of the “Morlock” race, inconsiderate, nasty human beings without a shred of consideration for their fellow human beings.  Meanwhile, we “Eloi” continue to live in the light, continue to extend the most common of courtesies, and continue to somehow believe that “doing unto others…” is a credo worth following.

I’ll continue to be an “Eloi”, and despite my monstrous atheist ways, I’ll continue to live what others would likely say is a “Christian” life, in terms of ethics and morality.  But at the same time, my cynical side reserves the right to occasionally scream out WHY BOTHER?!?!!?

 

Cosmos – Best Repudiation Yet of Creationists

Crab Nebula

The Crab Nebula, about 6,500 light-years from earth. See the twinkling celestial features in the background? If the earth were truly 6,500 years old, as young-earth creationists claim, then the universe wouldn't be old enough for the light from those features to reach earth.

I admit I was pretty skeptical when it was announced Neal deGrasse Tyson was rebooting Cosmos, with shows to air on Fox.  It definitely wasn’t Tyson himself, who I think is just the kind of charismatic, down-to-earth science “spokesman” that can relate to the masses.  While scientists may be wonderful at explaining the universe, we’re not always so wonderful at translating that explanation to the public as a whole.   My concern wasn’t for the host, it was the fact that it was being aired on Fox.  What would Fox allow? Would those at Fox try to use Cosmos to push the right-wing version of “science”, complete with anti-evolution and anti-global warming fallacies?

Thankfully the answer has been a resounding NO, and Tyson and Cosmos have taken on evolution full-on in the first few episodes. This week’s episode provided a wonderful, and oh-so-straightforward repudiation of the “young-earth” creationists.  Obviously the fossil record, radiometric age dating, and other methods have been widely used in the past to refute creationists. From a scientific standpoint, there’s obviously no refuting the evidence in these records, but particularly for methodologies such as radiometric dating, it’s enough of a “black box” that the public as a whole has little understanding of how it works.  It’s therefore easier for creationists to dismiss.

Tyson’s argument on Cosmos isn’t “new”, the same argument has occasionally been used before to refute creationists.  It was the presentation and the popular venue that I think really brought it home and made it one of the most effective repudiations of Creationists.  The argument is devastatingly simple.  The Crab Nebula is approximately 6,500 light-years away.  Young-earth creationists claim the earth is about 6,500 years old.  Given that by definition, a light-year is the distance light can travel in a calendar year, if the earth were only 6,500 years old, then ALL celestial objects further than 6,500 light-years away would be invisible to humans on earth. There simply wouldn’t have been enough time for light to travel that far, so that humans on earth could observe it.  Simple!  Straightforward!

And devastatingly effective in repudiating young-earth creationists.  Creationists have a long history of creating complete fallacies to counter the fossil record and other evidence of an “old’ earth…it will be interesting to see what laughable explanation they come up with to refute the latest Cosmos episode.