For The Birds

Blue Footed Boobie!Yes, it has been a while, I know. But here is my latest story for Texas Monthly, in defense of birds and birdwatching. Funny thing about blogging is that it originated as a riposte to this essay in Slate and turned into something much more.

As a side note, if you are visiting form Texas Monthly for the first time, here are links to photos of the birds mentioned in the story:

Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis)

Little Bee-eater (Merops pusillus)

Hoopoe (upupa epops)

Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris) Obviously the Painted Bunting photo is a terrible one. That was the whole beauty of the encounter–proving how elusive the little guys can be.


Edward Gibbon In Less Than 500 Words

I’ve seen the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire used far too interchangeably lately. So, in the interests of historical clarity I offer this Roman chronology.

The city (and Kingdom) of Rome was founded in 753 BC.

The Roman Republic, with Rome as its capital was created in 510 BC, after the last of the Roman kings, Tarquinius Superbus, was expelled. (No Roman king is to be confused with Napoleon Bonaparte’s son by an Austrian wife, who was also known as the King of Rome.)

The dates for the Roman Empire’s beginning are disputed.

One version has it upon Julius Caesar’s assumption of dictatorial powers for life in 44 BC.

The other version, which I am more inclined to accept is the beginning of the Augustan Principiate in 27 BC.

In the late 3rd century the Emperor Diocletian divided the empire into two halves: the West and the East. The Eastern half of the empire would last until 1453 AD. The Western would collapse in 467 AD.

In May of 330 the new capital of the Roman empire, Constantinople was consecrated by Constantine the Great. This date is also shorthand with the beginnings of the Byzantine empire.

In 380 AD the Emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, East and West.

In 467 AD the Western Empire collapsed when Odoacer forced the emperor Romulus Augustulus to abdicate.

In 800 AD Charlemagne usurped the term Roman Emperor of the West upon his coronation by Pope Leo III. This date is also shorthand for the creation of the Holy Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Empire, however, was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire, as Voltaire said. The Roman Empire had not existed for 333 years. Leo III gave Charlemagne the title in defiance of the rightful Roman emperor whose seat was in Constantinople. The Pope and the Patriarch and Emperor were embroiled in doctrinal disputes. Leo III gave the title to Charlemagne as a way of tweaking the nose of the emperor in Constantinople. The Holy Roman Empire was a German empire, which many consider the First Reich. The Second, of course being the Hohenzollern dynasty ruling a German empire that Bismarck created. We all know what the third was.

In 1453 the Ottomans captured Constantinople. This date is the accepted date for the final fall of the Roman empire.

It is very important to not conflate the Holy Roman empire with the Byzantine Empire. They were separate and vastly different entities.

A Short Note On Our Border Policy

Rio Grande

“La migra,” is what I shouted every time I saw the Border Patrol while out in West Texas. What I should have said each time was, “stop the insanity!”

Having passed from Ojinaga to Presidio the day before yesterday I am simply appalled, but more importantly, I’m terrified at what American has become. I do not exaggerate when I say that America is standing on the razor’s edge, tipping inexorably into a fascist surveillance state. Most people, much less those politicians who grandstand about ‘securing our border’ will ever make this border crossing. Everyone in America, however, should be forced to endure it. And I mean make the crossing, not some VIP jaunt across the border and then back with customs agents and Border Patrol officials in tow. They should be forced to sit in a car for three hours and then be interrogated at the US side of the border like everyone else passing through.

I then defy anyone who has passed through the border from Ojinaga to Presidio, or Laredo to Nuevo Laredo or Del Rio to Ciudad Acuna, or Piedras Negras to Eagle Pass and tell me me our policy is not insane. There are literally ten video cameras for each car, collecting ‘evidence’ all day long, every day of the year. The questioning is not only unnecessary but humiliating. The searches are utterly pointless, K-9 units, bomb testing materials, pulling grandmothers from cars, all the while allowing trucks to transit via a fast lane. Citizens are punished, but commerce must go on!

“Keep those fucking Mezcans outta Amurika, no matter what, but make sure my lawn gets done and my dishes get washed!”

The reason: ignorance; the cost: insane; the fear: baseless; the results: minuscule.

I’ve flown into Russia and Iran and immigration and customs there are easy and polite, especially as compared to what occurs every day in our airports.

I have crossed land borders from Kyrgyzstan to China, Turkey to Georgia, Nepal to China, Vietnam to Cambodia, Costa Rica to Nicaragua, Belize to Guatemala, Greece to Bulgaria, Macedonia to Bulgaria, Georgia to Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan and many others besides: not a single one is as terrible, intrusive, rude or humiliating as returning to the US either via air or land. None of them compare to the punishment meted out to the average guiltless American citizen. I thought airports were bad.

I have never in my life crossed any international border so over the top draconian, where you are treated as guilty of something. We have thrown up literal and metaphorical walls between us and the world and we are paying a terrible price for it.

Here’s to freedom fries!