Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Insurmountable Odds

When we went to Florida recently, my son took me to visit the bird rescue facility where he works. The cages where wounded birds are held until they can be returned to the wild, if ever, are large and roomy. The place is situated on the edge of a mangrove swamp and borders a shallow inlet. There is a veterinarian on staff. There are owls and hawks and pelicans and herons and ducks and gulls....

Oddly, the captive birds attract wild ones so that outside the cages are large numbers of free ones feeding in the inlet. We saw two Roseate Spoonbills, which I gather a lot of  serious birders would be thrilled to add to their life lists since they are rather rare.  As you walk the wooden paths that lead past the cages, a wild heron stalks past you or a busy little cormorant waddles along at your heels. A gang of  wild pelicans crowd around at feeding time trying to lure the workers into throwing them a fish.

As I understand it, a wealthy benefactor subsidizes the refuge and beyond that, the railings along the pathways are studded with signs honoring contributors, large and small. There are significant donations from estates and smaller ones from visitors who simply appreciate the work that's being done here.

I didn't ask John how many employees there are but in addition to the doctor, there is a veterinarian's assistant and the bird keepers and maintenance people and groundskeepers and a receptionist. Some of them are volunteers but there is also a paid staff.

John said what has impressed him most is how much all these people care about the birds. Some of them could make more money elsewhere but concern for the welfare of their charges is what keeps them there.

You complete your visit with a positive feeling about the goodness of life, in general, and the generosity of human kind in particular.

Until, that is, you get home and turn on the television and watch a vast oil spill spreading ugliness and death to everything with which it comes in contact.  The efforts made by the people at the sanctuary to rescue an egret here, a hawk there, seems like the tiniest drop in the ecological bucket in comparison to the incredible amount of destruction caused by the oil, which will overrun whole colonies of birds, whole feeding beds of marine life, whole livelihoods of fishermen and those who earn their bread by catering to tourists.

And you are shown, below the Gulf, thousands of gallons of oil continuing to spew furiously into the water. I'm not especially religious and I tend not to believe in the Biblical version of evil but if anything ever struck me as evil, it is this ongoing outpouring of ruination.

And the folks at British Petroleum say, "gee, we never had a clue anything like this could happen and we don't have a clue how to fix it." And the folks at whatever administrative agency is supposed to regulate and monitor oil rigs (I could make the effort to look it up but they're all the same) says, "gee, we never had a clue something like this could happen and we don't have a clue how to fix it"

And the voters, who try as best they can, say - "gee, we never had a clue this could happen and we don't have a clue how to fix it." Because it seems that no matter what we do, what party we put in place, the big money multinationals always step on us and squash us under their heel like so many bugs. Whether they are banks or credit card companies or HMOs or mines or the oil industry or utilities , they win and we lose. Whether they are tearing the tops off our mountains, despoiling our oceans, making off with our pensions, fixing the prices we pay to keep the lights on or perpetrating the kind of financial practices on us that would have made the moneylenders at the temple blanch with shame, we are the helpless chickens at the mercy of the foxes, with the government that's suppose to guard us bought off to turn a blind eye.

Several years ago, I worked as a mayor's secretary. I can't remember what the name of my power company was then but it was a few incarnations ago. I remember that they took the mayor, along with many other officials, to the both the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500 that year. The guests rode in limousines and enjoyed the races from a sky box and ate choice foods and drank high end alcohol in a hospitality tent.

When he came back, I asked the mayor why they did that when they were a freaking monopoly. It wasn't like I had a choice about which power company to sign up with, so why did I have to help pay for him (who had plenty enough to pay his own way) to get the star treatment at two prestigious races via my electric bill when I couldn't begin to afford to attend those events myself?

He laughed and said, "don't worry, Vic, I can't be bought that cheaply."

He couldn't but a lot of people can. It probably didn't even cost that much in the power company scheme of things to stroke a small town mayor....but multiply that by thousands.....of dollars and officials... and it leads to unbuilt levees and unsafe mine practices and shoddy bridges and oil spilling by the millions of gallons into the Gulf of Mexico.

To counter that, you only have a small bird sanctuary working to save an ibis here, a pelican there. Pretty heavy odds.