As the people of North Africa and the Middle East are reminding us right now, democracy is worth dying for. Just think of the immense physical and moral courage the Egyptian, Tunisian, Libyan and Bahraini protesters carry with them as they walk into their streets to demand a say in their own government.
But, I have to report, democracy is no more immune from silliness than any other form of government. Exhibit A is the war on pigeons the City of Albuquerque, New Mexico is about to launch.
Stop for a moment and join me in contemplating a person whose job it is to go around counting pigeon poops. How infinitely satisfying such a job must be, how joyous each morning, bringing forth another chance to count pigeon poop. Imagine the thrilling conversations at dinner after the completion of another day enriching humanity through unstinting effort. Albuquerque has such an employee.
But, to return to the silliness. Some pigeon poop, you see, reaches the Rio Grande, “The Great River” which has given life to humans along its banks for centuries. We’ve written about this menace before. Apparently the city fathers back then paid attention but, as a result of the workings of democracy, we some new ones now so, once again, we are compelled to spring to the defense of science and actual data, and not wild surmise.
Let’s start with the river. The late-winter flow of the river today, according to the USGS is about 600 cubic feet per second. That’s about 45,000 gallons a second or about 387,000 gallons day. And, of course, late winter is a low flow time for the river. The snow pack that feeds the Rio Grande has not yet begun to melt. A flow ten times that of today will come along in a few weeks. (Depending on the up-stream dams. The Rio Grande stopped being a free river decades ago.) The city health poobahs have not told us how many pigeons poop in the river every day or how much they poop in the river or how much of their poop even reaches the river. Apparently some does during what these health officials call “a precipitation event.” In other words, when there is a rain storm some of the poop washes downhill and makes it to the river.
Which will be flowing at a higher rate than it normally does since the “precipitation” of the “precipitation event” presumably also falls into the river and collects all over the drainage and flows downhill into the river. The river, by the way, flows south of Albuquerque to Texas and any self-respecting New Mexican is glad at the thought that our pigeon poop ends up in Texas.
We point out these realities not to cast doubt on the proposed law, you understand. After all, the city fathers, in their wisdom and without any data, conclude that the city has a pigeon overpopulation caused by humans. As we’ll see, they do have a point.
Nor do I dwell on the millions of gallons of water from the river used each day by the gigantic Intel printed circuit board factory because Intel assures us that none of the carcinogenic, poisonous chemicals used to make PCB’s ever gets into the river and I believe everything big corporations say. That is why the city health people aren’t worried about that pollution and are free to worry about pigeon pollution.
And I will not bring up Sandia National Labs or Kirtland Air Force Base or the nuclear weapon storage facilities all of which drain into the river. Those pose no pollution threat to the river and explains why the pigeon counter goes about his work unworried about radioactivity in the river.
And it would be ungenerous to bring up the arsenic. The arsenic in the drinking water. The arsenic that exceeded federal levels in several of the city’s wells. The arsenic that the city spread out to all of its wells by pumping that water all over the city to lower the average of each well. The arsenic everyone here drinks everyday.
Nor should we bother the city health people with all the hydrocarbons from cars washed off city streets into the river during “precipitation events.” That would worry them since Albuquerque has no meaningful public transportation. That would interfere with all the cars.
Nor will we bring up the tens of thousands of geese, ducks, and cranes that make their winter homes here. Geese after all, produce very little poop. Why a single goose couldn’t possibly produce as much waste as a pigeon. And we shouldn’t talk about the millions of song birds who live here. I guess none of their waste reaches the river?
The city proposes to rid us of this pigeon poop menace by enacting a law which says – and I am not making this up –
(A) It is a violation of this ordinance for any person to feed, offer food to, or through negligence allow the feeding of feral pigeons on any public or private property within Albuquerque City limits.
(B) It is a violation of this ordinance for any person to permit or allow the placement or discard of food, food by-products, vegetables, garbage or animal food of any kind in a manner that results in the lingering, roosting and/or congregating of feral pigeons.
The fine for violations? $50.00 a day for each and every violation. And the mayor or his representative may come onto a person’s property without a warrant to count pigeon poop. We assume the mayor himself won’t be traveling around without a warrant counting pigeon poop but the ordinance empowers him to do just that.
We’ll pause again and contemplate the glory of democracy. Pigeon poop. Had they known, the Egyptians might well have just gone home and let Mubarak keep his day job.
Pigeons are syanthropes, animals that live near and benefit from human habitations. As we have said many times before, if you build a city, they will come. The only way to get rid of the pigeons is to get rid of the people. Shut the city down and make everybody move away. Since the dawn of history pigeons have followed humans into their cities.
Here, on TV, is the city official responsible for counting the pigeon poop explaining that pigeons are an invasive species in the middle Rio Grande Valley. True enough. So are cats. Cat poop reaches the river. Are we to outlaw feeding cats? House sparrows are invasive. What shall we do about them? So are the Chinese Elm trees. Nobody is out chain-sawing them.
For that matter, people are an invasive species here, having arrived only a short time ago. What shall we do about them? Science demonstrates conclusively that they are the reason for the pigeons.