All week I have heard two Cassin's Vireos singing along my familiar San Fransquito Creek trail during lunch. At first they sang, presumably two males, from the Menlo Park side of the creek. Finally, on Friday, they had both crossed the boundary into Palo Alto and could be seen in the oaks near the intersection of Bryant Street, Poe Street and Palo Alto Avenue. The same place they were last spring. Now I must ask, where are the females?


The following post has nothing to do with birds, so I apologize in advance for those looking for my typical news. I am not a fan of George W. Bush, understand that first. Read on if you wish, but be warned. This is a fairly political message.

Recent images of prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq disturb me more than anything I can remember in many years. I find the situation to be an awful reminder of how much I oppose the Bush administration's policies regarding the war in Iraq. I believe George Bush has behaved like a stubborn, spoiled child and squandered any foreign support we may have had after the events of September 11. He has turned much of the world against us with his determination to wage war unilaterally, charged forward toward military solutions against the wishes of our many long-term allies and saddled future generations with an inconceivably large national debt. He has done more damage to our civil liberties and global harmony than any other political leader I can remember and distracted the American public from serious domestic issues with his constant diatribes against terrorism. These are my feelings however, and I do not wish to convince anyone to agree with me, nor do I wish to participate in any arguments. The situation we find ourselves in is unpleasant enough, without us fighting amongst ourselves so I will try not sermonize anymore about about George Bush or the war in Iraq. I want to speak about something else.

Abu Ghraib has made me uncomfortable for some unexpected reasons. Reasons I can't say I've ever considered before. It is upsetting enough to know that these abuses have occurred and that our country will experience increased resentment around the globe because of these shameful events, but there is something more. The guards that were involved in the abuses, it seems, must have been following orders, from their superiors. I find the suggestion that the guards involved were rogue individuals, simply acting on their own volition, to be an insulting distraction from the real issue. Ultimately, I believe the suggestion is irrelevant.

The fact is that the human desire for, and subsequent addiction to power is hard to escape. Almost anyone can fall victim to this hunger. What has made it difficult for me to sleep recently though, is the suspicion that this, combined with the "just following orders" mentality is a human weakness that will likely surface again, perhaps closer to home& Perhaps even among my friends or within myself. Human nature is such that we often do things because we see others doing them and so come to believe that such the behavior is acceptable. For example, if we are told by an authority figure that we must perform a task, let's say, mark up expenses for one client more than another, we may do so even if it contradicts our personal values, because we are afraid of consequences. I am fearful that humans, including myself, do not question authority as often as we should. We all want to fit in and avoid the difficult consequences of asking "why are we doing this? ". Countless dark periods in our own history attest to this fact and I don't need to remind people of them now. I worry because it takes enormous strength and principal to ask such challenging questions. I worry because I don't know what I would do if I were assigned to Abu Ghraib and told to discipline the prisoners... I don't know how I would behave in a battlefield. So few of us can say honestly that we know how we would behave. That is what keeps me awake at night.

The small voice we hear within us when we're confronted with such evil surroundings, is that of our principals trying to be heard. I suspect many people are asking themselves the same kinds of questions I have been asking myself this week. "What would I do?" " Would I behave like the guards in those images?" "Do I have the courage to challenge such evil? We can only hope that if we find ourselves in a situation where our principals, honesty and respect for human dignity are challenged, we will listen to our consciences and our values will prevail, no matter how loud the surrounding voices of authority, and not fall victim to blind obedience.

I don't pray often, but recently I have been praying a lot.


Cricket and Brian and I made another reconnaissance trip to Pinnacles National Monument today. This time we toured the west side, coming in from Soledad, to assess which side is more suited for our group trip next week. It's very hard to say... The scenery on the western side is perhaps even more beautiful than the east (see last month entry 04-09-04) and the hiking seems generally a bit easier. The problem is though, we saw very few birds. True, we did get a glimpse of a California Condor as it flew over the peak, and we may well have seen another perched high atop one of the rock formations, but other than that, birds were scarce and hard to observe. Species encountered include California Quail, Hairy Woodpecker, White-throated Swift, Pacific-slope and Ash-throated Flycatcher, Western Wood Pewee, Violet-green Swallow, Western Kingbird, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Canyon Wren, House Wren, Western Tanager, Bewick's Wren, Townsend's and Orange-crowned Warbler, Black-headed Grosbeak, Dark-eyed Junco and Song Sparrow. While many of the birds we encountered last month were also seen today, I think we saw them better last month. As of right now, I'm leaning toward a group visit to the east side next week. I'll discuss it with the class tomorrow night.