Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Flags of our Fathers

There has been a lot of talk of flags since the shooting in Charleston. Specifically what some call the "confederate  flag" from the US Civil War.
Stars & Bars?

It has a storied history to be sure, but not a very good one. Some claim it is the confederate flag of the Confederate States of America, or CSA. But here's the thing... it isn't. Let's do a quick history...
The flag for the CSA looked like this for most of the war...

It was actually known as the "Stars & Bars"

What everyone seems to refer to as the "Confederate Flag" was actually used for the confederate navy. Which didn't even use that design initially. the first CSA navy flag looked like this...

There was a battle flag of the Army of Virginia that looked like this...
A little square thing. But the closest the battle flag got to being the CSA representative was as a little corner piece of the next CSA flag, known as "The Stainless Banner".

Just the little battle flag on a field of white. Remember that, we'll get back to it.

So when you hear people say that the Confederate Flag is "a part of our heritage" and they are waving this...
In the Navy

Then you know for a fact that they have no clue about Southern heritage in the civil war era. Especially in South Carolina, as the flag that flew over the rebel forces during the siege of Fort Sumter, which as you might recall started the whole thing, was called the "Bonnie Blue Flag" and looked like this...

Last part of the flag lesson is this... What is now known as the confederate flag...

was used by the KKK in the sixties as a symbol of white supremacy. That's right kids, a white supremacist hate group chose this flag to rally their troops because they believed themselves to be superior to all others who are not of their race.

sound familiar?

Long ago, when I was a gung ho Marine, I got into an argument with my dad about the US flag. I told him I was willing to die to protect the flag. To grab it away from those who would burn it or trample it. NO ONE WOULD DESECRATE MY FLAG!
And Dad told me something that not only changed my perspective, but still rings true today.

The flag? Any flag? Is only a piece of cloth.

It is only a piece of cloth.

It is the ideas and ideals that the flag stands for that are important.

Is our country perfect?
Most decidedly not.

But the ideals of the US? The things we could be? Those are amazing. Elections not marred by violent coups. The idea that all people are created equal. That we should have liberty and justice for all. Yeah, those are worth fighting for.

You want to stomp on the US flag or burn it? OK. It's just a piece of cloth. But if you take up arms against it, like the CSA did, then yes, we will have a problem.

So let's take another look at the Confederate flags... not in pictures, but in ideas and ideals.
What do they stand for?

Well, the arguments you'll hear from supporters are that they are a part of southern heritage. They stand for standing up for your rights, for state rights. They are a symbol of rebellion against all that would take away their freedoms!

But peel back that layer of cloth and look underneath.

What rights were they wanting to defend?
-The right to own slaves. To use other human beings as work animals to bring in their crops.

What "heritage" are they wanting to glorify and remember"
-The heritage of the Antebellum South, where the rich white folk lived in luxury...due to the fact that they had slaves doing all of the work for them. So again, slavery.

What freedoms did the Federal Government want to take from those oppressed southern states?
-The freedom to own and use human beings as farm animals.  Slavery.

John Adams said that "Facts are stubborn things." Whether you want to admit it or not, whether you want to believe it or not, facts are.

Re-imagining history does not nullify the true history. The so called "confederate states" committed treason against the United States, using armed uprising. Those who fought on the side of the confederacy were traitors to the United States. 

You will hear some say that they were all Americans just fighting for what they believed in. That it was really just about states rights. That after the war they were all friends again and even met on the battlefields to commemorate their fallen.

Yes, they were all Americans. But some of them were traitors. Yes, it is commonly sold in the south as a battle for states rights. But it was the right to slavery that they were fighting for. And yes, they did meet after the war to commemorate the fallen. That happens after many wars. WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam. US and "enemy" combatants meet on old battlefields and talk of the war.

But none of that eliminates the things that started those wars. Pearl Harbor. The 38th parallel. Our own hubris at wanting to "stop communism". All led us to war.  And the CSA fighting for the right to own slaves started our Civil War.
Symbolically - fighting for the right of slavery for all whites

I have travelled all over this country. I have seen "confederate" flags flown and adorning vehicles and t-shirts. I believe that those who fly or defend the use of those flags are either too deluded or too stupid to realize the truth that lies behind that piece of cloth.  Sure, it is a cool looking flag. If I didn't have any concept of history, I would think it was a cool flag.

But the simple and inevitable truth is that it is flag that represents hate. I don't think it should be outlawed though. Flying a flag is a great way to show exactly what you stand for. I fly the US flag because I believe in what we can be. Not because I blindly follow a piece of cloth. But I am against flying any confederate flag over state or federal buildings. Not because I am against state pride. I love being a native Iowan. But because the confederates were traitors, and they lost the war. Their flags are symbols of all that is wrong with that era, not anything that was right.

Fly them if you believe in what they stand for
We can do better in this country. We should not be flying the flags of hatred.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Birds and the Bees

Well. For Father's Day this year I had to have that all important talk about the birds and the bees with my kiddos.

Of course, in our house, nothing is normal - so we have been talking about birds and bees quite literally in the past few days.

Our latest bee hive checkup showed that our beloved Queen Beatrice had abdicated the throne. The Boyo now suits up with me to check on the Girls on the Hill, and as we looked through our hive, we noticed plenty of capped brood, but no babies in larval stage. Which means the Queen isn't laying eggs, which means she's either dead or out of the hive.

We did see some bees emerging from their comb, which was really cool to see for the first time ever in real life!

But no Queen and no babies. I went ahead and scraped off the burr comb - that is, comb that the bees have made off of the frames that are there for them to build on. As I scraped off one particularly thick patch that was connecting the upper brood box to the lower brood box, I scraped straight through a bunch of capped larvae, and noticed a thick, Elmer's glue looking goo. In reflecting on that later, I came to the realization that I had scraped right through the next queen. The glue goo was royal jelly surrounding her, and she was probably less than a week from emerging.We thought for sure that this spelled the end of beekeeping this year, as a queen-less hive is pretty much dead.

Fortunately, one of our local beekeeper contacts had a spare "nuc", which is basically a mini-colony that includes a laying queen, and bees from eggs to adults. We added this on Friday and I am already anxious for next weeks hive check to see how things are going! Fingers and toes are crossed.

Now, for the birds...

On Thursday we were picking up paint to paint one of our rooms. Little Sweet Pea is growing fast and we are moving her into the larger "office" room, and converting her smaller bedroom into our family command center.

I went for a quick walk through the garden to check the plants and make sure all was well. (It was) The Boyo was following me when he suddenly stopped and pointed at the ground. "Toad! I mean.. Chick! Chick!"
I turned around, a bit confused, and saw what he was pointing at. It was a baby bird. It looked as if it had been out of the shell for maybe a day. Two at the most. It had split skin on it's head and was looking quite dead.
"Yeah, buddy. I think that is dead." I told him.

Of course the bird chose that moment to weakly lift it's head and flop back into the dirt.

"Dad! We have to save him!"

Now, I've rescued a LOT of birds in my years. I know for a fact that birds this young will die pretty quick without their families. So I suggested we just return it to the nest it came from. We do have several birdhouses in the yard after all, and it was likely that it was from one of those.

So I checked the locals. One was empty. One had eggs. The last one had babies decidedly older than this little fleshy thing. I looked around for wild bird nests. I looked for circling predators wondering if it had been carried here by a crow or a jay or something. I found no certain signs for a place to return it to.

I took it into the shop and sat with it for a bit.

It was so small. So new. I know from experience that it is a long shot that it will survive even if we take it in. The wound on it's head is threatening it's left eye, and if that doesn't heal, the bird would not be releasable into the wild anyway. I considered quickly snapping it's neck to spare it from suffering.

"Dad! We have to save him!"

Oh crap. The guilt I would have... The guilt I would be subjected to from my children if I didn't try...

"OK little bird." I told it. "I'll give it a shot. But you'd better do your thing one way or another pretty fast. If you are going to die, do it tonight. Otherwise you better fight to live."

So I built a makeshift incubator to keep it warm and decided that if it survived the night, we'd look into feeding it.

The children were at once fascinated, and appalled by the featherless, bulging mass of skin and limbs. They both wanted to sleep in the room with it, but we convinced them that it needed quiet and rest. I explained to them flat out that the chances of this bird surviving the night were slim to none, and that they should be ready for it to be dead when we awoke. They tearily said they understood and headed to bed.  After they went to sleep, I pulled out all my old wildlife rehab books and read up on rearing hatchlings. I got a quick picture of it, said a prayer, and went to bed.

To my happy surprise, the little thing was still breathing when I checked on it early Friday morning. It was hungry, so the kids and I headed out to collect feeding supplies. We got some mealworms from a pet shop, and started soaking some dog food.

Now, my kids are about as big on bugs as I am (really - only like dragonflies, don't wanna touch any others) but they pitched right in chopping up mealworms to feed their new ward.

After trying a syringe to feed it, we settled on tweezers. It is too small for a little syringe, as the food would have to be very liquid to fit through the hole in it.  Tweezers allowed us to feed it the moistened dog food, which was all the fluid it needs, and lots of good proteins and nutrients as well.

After spending Friday feeding every 20 minutes until sundown, we once again said a little prayer that it would survive the night, and went to bed.

Saturday morning came early, and once again the little bird had survived the night.
Another day of feeding every 20-30 minutes commenced. I was able to teach both of the kiddos proper feeding techniques for newly hatched birds. The Boyo can do it on his own now, and my little Sweet Pea is rapidly improving! We got into a good routine where the Boyo would chop mealworms, I would feed it the worm bits and mushy dog food, and the Sweet Pea changed the Kleenex in the "nest" to keep things tidy.

During the day, I changed my prognosis of the bird from poor to guarded. I could see how much the kids had already fallen in love with the little thing, and I didn't want to get my hopes up too much. The Wife and the kiddos decided a name would probably be in order, and after tossing around many, many ideas, we finally decided to call it Flap.

We went to bed exhausted again from the care of little Flap, and I said another prayer that it would live.

This morning, Flap was still going strong. It has developed quite a bit in the past few days. Itty bitty feathers are starting to erupt from it's wings, and a little bump on it's butt is starting to develop into a tail, complete with little pin feathers of it's own.

I was initially thinking that we would have to take it up to the Wildlife Rehab center, as it is illegal under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to have wild birds. But I'm pretty sure this is a baby House Sparrow, which - although extremely common - is actually a non-native bird in our country, and like the Starling, is not protected under that law. If I had had no training in wildlife rehab, I would have already delivered it.  But since I was trained, and I know what I'm doing, I think we are going to try and raise little Flap. If it's eye doesn't heal, it may not be releasable. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

For now, we'll keep feeding it every 20 minutes or so, and see how things progress in the next few days and weeks.

Ah, the birds and the bees...Shaffer style.