Thursday, September 26, 2002

Go Schroeder!

For the past several days the American media have been all over German Chancellor Schroeder for his victory over Stoiber. Not once have I heard it mentioned that it is a victory of the socialists over the Christian Democrats in coalition with other more conservative forces. Not an ounce of critical analysis, in other words. Instead, all of the talk, and I mean all of it, has centered on the claim that Schroeder "pandered" (sic) to the German voters instead of doing the right thing and showing his support for the American "effort to fight terrorism." (Foreign Minister) Fischer flies to Washington to "put things right" with Colin Powell. Schroeder himself flies to London to get Tony Blair to "put things right" with Bush. All of the focus is on how Schroeder made a mistake, how he knows he made a mistake, and how he needs to behave now to control the damage.

The absurdity of current events goes on, in other words. Yesterday came the news (the U.S.A Today poll) that something like four out of five Americans will support Bush’s plan to bomb the Iraqis provided he does it in concert with Allies and with U.N. support. And four out of five Americans are clear that they will not support him otherwise. Here in Republican U.S.A., however, the discussion goes on about how Bush can pull it off even without American support!

Fouad Ajami maintains that if Bush manages to get Hussein out quickly and with a minimum loss of life there will be dancing in the streets of Baghdad and not a rumble of Arab opposition. (Ain’t nobody don’t hate this loser, quite evidently.) But if he fails, and if Arab lives are lost by the thousands over weeks and months, the acts of anti-US, anti-Israel terrorism will rise to ferocious proportions. I’ll bet he’s right on about that.

But if you're wondering why Americans are viewed as cowboys, here it is, folks. Gamble it all away for one chance at glory! You got to feel sorry for Bush. The guys planning all this can get another head on their puppet, but if it doesn't work, all the oil money in the world won't put George W back into this Punch and Judy show. Wonder if he has a clue what they're up to?

If the Bush-head does act alone, and if he pulls it off, then George Light will be a hero and Schroeder will be portrayed by history as a coward. If Bush acts in concert and wins, then Schroeder will be a craven coward. But if Bush causes the destruction of an ancient civilization along with modern schools and hospitals, and if Iraq is split in three (disgruntled Kurds, disgruntled Shiites, disgruntled next-in-line Hussein look-alikes) and if thousands more people already living in fear and misery end up dead to no lasting good end, it will be the American voters whom history will call craven.

I am a republican (small r) and understand that when you elect leaders you want them to use their judgment, their understanding and experience, even when the majority of folk are against them. But what kind of screw-loose jingoist virus has gotten into the body politic that it goes on wondering all over the airwaves whether we can still go it alone? Is it the sheer unadulterated arrogance of American leadership that started this talk? Or is it the media folk who think all it takes to become a news commentator is the ability to tie at least one shoe?

75% of the German population, apparently, is opposed to war under any circumstances. And their reelected chancellor is taking flak in the American media and from the American government because he didn’t kiss American ass. Well go get’em Schroeder. I’ve never been much of a fan of yours (wish you wouldn’t dye your hair) but I think you deserve better than to be considered "obscene" (as Senator McCain, I believe it was, called you on the Charlie Rose show) for "catering to the will of the people." When a politician chooses to dash another politician for following polls in order to get elected, he adds another brick to the wall of conviction that politicians are hypocritical to the core.

Sometimes people just don’t want to go to war. Sometimes they even have reasons for their views. And sometimes their leaders listen to them.

Let’s hear it for Chancellor Schroeder.

September 26, 2002

Friday, August 23, 2002


On Tuesday, August 13, Joe put a ladder to south wall of the house and climbed to the third story to clean out a furnace vent. I had not used the wall furnace for six years, partly because of a gas leak, but mostly because birds had gotten in and built a nest and there was too great a risk of fire. Now, finally, I saw the chance to be able to go through a winter without the clumsiness of space heaters.

When Joe got to the vent, he found a missing baffle, six years of impacted nesting, and a recently-hatched living chirping English house sparrow. Fearful that its mother would suddenly appear and cause him to fall from the ladder, he quickly pulled it out and tried to give it to Taku. Taku had left his perch in the third-story window, however, and Joe had to let go. Down the bird came with a thud and a whimper. One dead bird. We thought.

Minutes later, however, Taku noticed that it had started to move again. Apparently it was only stunned. We picked it up, made a nest for it in a plastic container and put it in a box. Nobody gave any thought to what to do with it, and we went back to work. Once work was over and the bird’s chirping brought us to the reality of this new life in our midst, we wrapped the box up in a blanket, but left a space big enough for the heat of a light bulb to keep the bird warm, and left it overnight. I assumed we would put it outside in the morning and leave things to nature. Either the mother would find it or somebody else would. I wasn’t terribly interested in its fate.

The next morning, Taku phoned home from work at about 9:30. He had gotten on the computer and dug out information about the Wildlife Hospital in Walnut Creek, a 30 to 45-minute drive from here. “I want you to take it to them,” he said. “Are you kidding?” I asked. “We’ve got work to do.” “We can’t just abandon it!” he said, his voice full of pleading. All his office colleagues had also gotten in on the act.

The sound of his concern spoke to me and the three of us, Karen, Joe and I piled in the car, the box and the bird now wrapped in a blanket to keep it warm. It was at the hospital we first learned that the bird was a house sparrow—none of us had been able to identify it. The hospital, however, wouldn’t take it in. “It’s an invader species,” the girl told me. “If you want to save it, take it back and let its mother take care of it. Otherwise, it probably won’t survive. “ “Why won’t you take it in?” I asked. “We are committed to keeping native species alive, and the sparrow steals the nests of native California bluejays and other birds.”

Something misfired in my brain at that. “You’d let a sparrow die to save a bluejay?” I asked. “We will euthanize it for you if you like.” “Not on your life,” I said, remembering Taku’s plaintive appeal that it be turned over to folk that would see it prosper. Back we went with the bird, now chirping with full lungpower.

That evening I put my foot down. “Taku,” I said. “The bird is your responsibility. Whether it lives or dies depends on you. We can’t take care of it.”

That wasn’t quite true, of course. The hospital did give us an information sheet with advice on feeding. Combine some dogfood with a boiled egg and a strained banana and some vitamins, it suggested, and feed it to the fledgling with an eye-dropper. I went out and got the eyedropper, but refused to buy a bag of dogfood. Besides, we had some meatloaf in the refrigerator that looked like dogfood, and an overripe banana, so Karen boiled an egg, we mixed everything up in the Cuisineart, and poked a bit of mush down its beak. It was clearly desperately hungry and the food went quickly. We were calling it Edith now, after Edith Piaf.

That evening Amy came over. She had worked at a wildlife center and warned us that it was easy to overfeed a baby bird. Apparently their instincts were to accept everything given to it, regardless of whether there was room in the stomach, and bird mothers apparently know when enough is enough. Amy, too, warned us that birds seldom survive human nurturing. The bird was not very active, and it looked like its days were numbered. The next morning, after some agonizing decision-making, and realizing we might be torturing it to no good end, Taku took it outside and set it in the bushes. We would be done with this responsibility before it became a burden. It was up to nature now.

Edith lay in the bushes less than ten minutes when Joe brought her back in. “She’ll be eaten by a cat!” he said. “And did you ever see a cat go at a bird? It tortures it and plays forever with it before it finishes it off.” It didn’t take much convincing. We shredded some newspaper. Apparently we were in for the duration.

The next day I went to the birdstore and got some serious baby bird food. “Never feed the bird at room temperature,” the caretaker told me with horror. “It must be about 100 degrees!” And keep that light on it or it will freeze to death!

And be careful of bacteria. Make sure the bird is cleaned up after every feeding, and keep careful track of how much you feed it. Gradually increase the food as the bird grows.

Others gathered and gave us advice. “You’ll have to teach it to fly,” somebody told us. “Put it on the coffee table once its wings are fully formed and push it off onto a pillow. Otherwise you’ll never catch it at the right time.”

Over the weekend and through this week Edith continued to grow. We were not good about regular feeding, occasionally going several hours when we were out. But she was clearly healthy and full of life most of the time. After each feeding, she would immediately poop and we would feel a great sense of accomplishment. I began to notice her feathers filling out and in the last couple of days she would almost rise off the ground when I approached with food.

Every morning I got up and fed her before doing anything else. Taku’s responsibility had become a household responsibility. Actually my responsibility, since Taku was at work during the day when I kept up the two-hourly feedings. The house began to smell of bird, even though we were religious about changing the newspaper after every feeding. I began to wonder how it would feed itself once we let it go, so I put some cracker crumbs in the box, along with a little bit of water. Edith pooped in the cracker crumbs, then pooped in the water. I kept changing them. She kept pooping in them. I put off the concern about how and what she would eat once we let her go.

Yesterday we considered the real possibility that the day was coming when she would fly and we agreed that whatever happened to her after that we had to let that mark the moment of separation. We would care for her till then, but if she starved to death, if a cat ate her, if she died of loneliness, we would have to let go. Secretly, I found myself fantasizing that she would fly back and sit outside the window and I would feed her like some Snow White figure and we would be a happy family of three. Karen and Joe had gone back East, or it would be five.

Last night, however, I noticed she was listing. She would lean to one side. At one point, she actually fell forward. I pretended she slipped, since she was standing in the water dish at the time, and shortly thereafter she was back to her old self, flapping away and crying out for more food. She got quiet, though, at times, and I began to suspect I had over fed her. She had become quite at ease with my handling her, and I could even take her into the sink to wash off the caked on food that would spill after each feeding. But at night she got quiet for a long time, and I saw something was wrong.

This morning, I woke as Taku was heading out to work. “Is Edith OK?” I asked him. “She’s fine,” he said. “I just fed her, and she’s jumping around as normal.” I went back to sleep. An hour later I got up, prepared a new batch of food (we did this every day) and prepared to feed her. She wouldn’t take it. She was breathing quietly, but she wouldn’t open her beak. I put the eyedropper down and watched her for a while. Her eyes were clear, and there was slow breathing, but there was no sense of health. I put the towel around the box, put the light bulb a little closer, and left her for about an hour. When I came back she was totally still.

I can’t understand the depth of this sadness. I know it is possible to get attached and it shouldn’t surprise me that a little creature dependent on me entirely for life would grab me by the heartstrings, but I am quite broken-hearted. I don’t feel like doing a thing but sit here and let the tears pour out. I haven’t felt this empty in a very long time.

There is guilt. I’m sure I overfed her. I left her too long between feedings. I didn’t get the caked-on food off soon enough and the bacteria got to her. I held her too tight and too often. I scared her with the vacuum cleaner. I did something, I didn’t do something, I just know it, that did her in.

There is sadness and a sense of loss. Someday I’m going to see a bluejay and I’m going to feel this resentment that I didn’t try harder to save this little California invader. Edith is going to be with me for a long time, I suspect.

Nobody knows yet. I’m writing this waiting for Taku to call back so I can give him the news. Tonight we’ll bury her in the back yard.

Edith the Sparrow
Born in a furnace vent a few days before August 13
Died in an box August 23, 2002
Much loved
Much missed

Monday, March 25, 2002

Letter to Bishop Walsh

The Most Reverend Daniel F. Walsh
Diocese of Santa Rosa
320 Tenth Street
Santa Rosa, California 95401

March 25, 2002
Dear Bishop Walsh:

This morning’s San Francisco Chronicle has your picture on the front page, and staff writer Jim Doyle has a story about your Palm Sunday address to your parishioners. “The smearing of all priests,” he has you saying, “and the open questioning of their fidelity to their vows because of the sins and crimes of the few has caused great pain.”

Like you, I have complaints with the media. It’s possible Jim Doyle misquoted you, or took you out of context. But even if smearing the imperfect media was not the primary focus of your sermon, your choice to call the kettle black suggests that, after all the attention this issue has demanded, you apparently still do not understand the reason for the widespread outrage and disgust. You still evidently think the fault lies elsewhere but in the hierarchy that circles the wagons to protect its corporate interests, even at the expense of the young souls in its charge.

You may be justifiably resentful that the media help keep this story alive, but you should recognize it is remarks such as yours that drive the outrage that drives the interest in the first place. Attempts to deflect attention from the real problem will only hurt the church in the long run. Lust for children does not stem from celibacy; it’s not about celibacy. And the presence of a few sexual predators in a brotherhood of hundreds of thousands surely is beyond human control; it’s not about statistics.

And it’s not about the media. The issue is whether the arrogance of power that led bishops and cardinals to cover up abuse will ultimately destroy the church from within, and whether catholics will withhold contributions to an organization managed for bureaucrats in cassocks, rather than for human souls.

More than 80% of Roman Catholic Americans admit to practicing birth control, according to a report I read recently. The fact that this represents about the same percentage as among Protestants is telling. Figures are similar for ever increased recognition of gay and lesbian relationships as loving and healthy. These trends and patterns demonstrate that Catholics are no less than Protestants full participants in American culture and that they are governed more directly by cultural norms than by institutional religious directives.

A few screwed up priests won’t drive most catholics out of the church any more than mediaeval constructions of sexuality. One can learn to live with imperfection. Arrogance, duplicity, and deflection of responsibility, however, is another story.

Sincerely yours,

Alan J. McCornick

Bishop Walsh reponds:

April 5, 2002

Dear Mr. McCornick,

I wish to acknowledge your letter of March 25th, and want to thank you for your observations. I do feel my words were taken out of context and the primary focus of my sermon was encouragement to priests as well as acknowledgment of mistakes made in the past by the hierarchy in dealing with this question. I thank you for your observation.

With kindest personal regards I am,

Your Brother and Servant in the Lord,

Most Reverend Daniel F. Walsh
Bishop of Santa Rosa