The Casual Blog

Our new floor, Liszt, and some ants

At Raulston Arboretum, September 3, 2017

They finished installing our new wood floor, and so we said so long to the Hampton Inn and moved back home on Friday.  There’s still a lot of unpacking, reconnecting, and rearranging yet to do, but the worst is behind us.  The new flooring is American walnut in wider planks and a more textured surface, and we really like it.

We had a special sound absorbent underlayer put under the floor, in consideration of the neighbors situated under my Fazioli 228 grand piano.  The instrument can put out a lot of sound, which I hope isn’t too annoying for them.  I was very happy to be able to play it again.

The new floor under the Fazioli

Among other things, I’ve been working on one of Liszt’s songs for piano, Oh! Quand Je Dors, from the second Buch der Lieder fur Piano Allein.  It’s so beautiful!  At times it feels a bit lonely caring about Liszt, since my friends generally don’t seem to like him nearly as much as I do.  I suppose loneliness often comes along with a passion, since caring intensely about something will separate you from others.  Of course, it also connects you to others, but they may not be close by, and may even belong to generations long gone.

My teacher lent me a book by one of Liszt’s piano students, August Gollerich, which consists of diary notes of master classes Liszt conducted in 1884-86, the last two years of his life.  The format of Liszt’s master classes was just like those today, with a series of students playing works, and then getting critical comments from the master.  Liszt was very direct about what he liked and didn’t like, but he also had a sense of humor. He mixed practical instruction on tempo and volume with notes on the animating emotions, and frequently played to demonstrate his points.  How daunting and amazing it must have been to play Liszt for Liszt! For his part, the master, nearing the end, seemed happy to be surrounded by adoring students, and still passionate about music.

Speaking of lonely passions, I heard a radio interview with Eleanor Spicer Rice, an entomologist who truly loves ants.  She pointed up their under-appreciated contributions to the environment and some wonderfully quirky behaviors.  She was so sweet and excited about these tiny creatures that I ordered and started reading her book, Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Ants.  For each species, she writes three or four pages about their habits, customs, and talents, and her enthusiasm is infectious.

Construction work, butterflying, golfing’s promised land, and some rough rugby

Demolition work this week in downtown Raleigh

This week there was a lot going on at the site of the gigantic fire of last March.  They’ve been tearing things down and cleaning them up, and I’m guessing we’ll soon see new construction.  This operation — knocking down the almost completed parking deck — was what we saw from our balcony on Tuesday, the day before we moved out.  

Since last May, when our dishwasher overflowed and destroyed part of the hardwood floor, our condo has been in disarray —  bare concrete underfoot and furniture situated in unusable places.  It took some time to get estimates, and more time to get the insurers to step up to the plate.  Then we had to pick new flooring and get on the contractor’s schedule.  Then we (that is, Sally — thanks,  Babe!) had to pack up everything that normally sits on the floor.  It’s been a trying time.  

Meanwhile, we got a new Korean  dishwasher that does its job amazingly quietly and has a charming trick:  when it finishes, it plays a few bars of Schubert’s immortal Trout theme.  Of the thousands of engineers at Samsung, there’s at least one who’s a music lover.  

Dragonfly at the pond at the N.C. Museum of Art, August 26, 2017

Anyhow, on Wednesday we packed our bags and moved out, and the construction got started.  We’re staying at a hotel in our neighborhood. It’s fine, but we miss Rita, our cat, and there’s no good way to eat out every night and not gain unwanted pounds.  It will be nice to be back home with Rita and the new floor.

On Saturday morning I had my fourth lesson on the butterfly stroke.  I’ve been practicing diligently, and was quite pleased when my teacher gave me an 8 on a scale of 10.  He challenged me to get more power from the dolphin kicks and make it less about about the arms.  We started working on improving my breast stroke.  There’s a lot more technique involved in good swimming than I realized.  It’s challenging, but also very pleasing to discover new ways to move through the water.  

I’ve also continued my project to improve my golf swing.  Gabe has made up his mind to become a real golfer, and it’s been fun practicing as a father-son duo.  He’s advanced quickly, and is now beating me.  In my search for the perfect swing, it may be that like Moses, I won’t make it to the promised land, but I could still have the happiness of seeing him get there.

But I’m not ready to throw in the towel.  I’ve changed my swing path substantially to come from inside to out and figured out how to get my hips moving separately from my torso.  I can hit a draw.  There are still some bad shots, but more of them are flying closer to my ideal.   

Saturday night we watched the Rugby League national championship game between the New York Knights and the Atlanta Rhinos.  We’re new to rugby, but learning fast, because Kyle, Jocelyn’s boyfriend, is a key player for New York.  The game was played in Atlanta.  It was streamed online with lots of technical difficulties (periods of loud buzzes, slowed video, no video, no sound), and the color commentator seemed heavily biased in favor of Atlanta.  And despite our best fan efforts, our Knights got beat.  

But hats off to Atlanta, which, from what we could see, played a strong game with excellent defense.  And congratulations to the Knights for a great (undefeated except for this game) season.  Afterwards we went to the Mellow Mushroom for some comfort food — a veggie pizza and beer.  

Is it OK if our President supports neo-Nazis?

Dragonfly near Booth Amphitheater, Cary, NC, August 19, 2017

Last week it seemed like we might be ready to start a serious conversation about how to get out of our nuclear predicament, while we worried about a possible war with North Korea.  Now that all seems long ago.  Those hopes and worries were preempted by news feeds of marching, chanting, menacing neo-Nazis.  

Of course, we always knew there were such people, but we understood that they were a small minority that posed little risk beyond being disgusting and offensive.  Then the President announced that he thought neo-Nazis  were OK, or at least no worse than the people opposing the neo-Nazis.  The neo-Nazis were enraptured. 

If you haven’t already watched the short Vice News documentary on this, you should.  It brings home that these guys are real, and scary.  They are not ashamed of their racism; they’re proud of it.  And they are definitely not non-violent.  

What is the matter with these people?  There was an interesting interview on NPR last week with Christian Picciolini, who was a neo-Nazi leader as a young man.  He eventually renounced the movement and  founded a group to work for peace and help young people looking to get out of such groups.  

In his view, all people seek three things:  identity, community, and a sense of purpose.  Hate groups are good at providing these.  The young men who are vulnerable to being recruited by such groups generally have an underlying issue, such as psychological difficulties, or past trauma or abuse.  

We can all hope that these guys get their issues addressed, but in the meantime, let’s not be encouraging them to act out!  They could so easily get out of control.  It is despicable that the President has knowingly inspired them.  

On a related subject, what to do about confederate memorial sculptures, Trump’s commentary  (suggesting they’re comparable to statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson) is ill-informed, but raises interesting issues. These founding fathers were indeed slave owners, and that doesn’t fit well with our tradition of venerating them.  As I’ve learned more about them and their time, I’ve found my admiration for their courage and intelligence tempered by disgust for their willing participation in the slave system.  

But, obviously, individuals are complicated, and history even more so. As to the confederacy memorial statues, I didn’t learn until this past week that  most if not all of those currently being discussed do not date from the generation that experienced the Civil War.  Rather, these statues were put up decades later,  well into the shameful era of the Jim Crow, when blacks were suppressed by law, custom, and mob violence. Those statues were not put up as reminders of beloved fallen ancestors, but rather to terrorize and subjugate living black Americans.   

Maybe on the race issue, the debacle of Trump will ultimately do some good, by highlighting history that we might have preferred to forget and forcing us to grapple with unresolved problems of prejudice and inequality.  But in the meantime, we need to get past Trump.  He still has fervent supporters, including some who are not committed racists or otherwise crazy.  For them, perhaps this latest outrage will bring home that he is a national disgrace and morally unfit to be president.    

Looking on the bright side — how to fix our nuclear problem

This week Trump has been threatening to start a nuclear war against North Korea, which got me rattled.  So far, the sun has come up every morning, and with each additional day with no mushroom clouds it seems more likely that those threats are just bombast.  His continuing along on his golfing vacation is also reassuring, if ridiculous.  But how could anyone with the slightest clue as to what nuclear war would do even talk like that?  And how could anyone think it a good idea to explore what happens when you provoke a nuclearized,  paranoid dictator with threats of ultimate destruction?   

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that Kim Jong-Un is only pretending to be crazy,  Trump’s impulsivity is contained, and we survive.  Even so, the threats will have done real damage.  Markets have been roiled.  In the community of nations, our government is viewed as even more irresponsible and unpredictable.  At the personal level, my own mood has been darker than normal, tense and uncertain, and I’m surely not the only one.  Our mental health is not good.

I usually try to find the bright side of dark situations, so I’ll take a swing at it here. If we’re lucky and avoid disaster, we might finally wake up, realize we’ve long been on the edge of the nuclear precipice, and carefully back away.  Nuclear risks are not something anyone likes to think about, which in part accounts for why we are where we are.  But we can’t not think about them now, with the threat so clear and close.  We might take this as an opportunity to reconsider received ideas and correct some mistakes.    

We thought initially  that nuclear weapons could assure our safety by terrifying others into submission.  When that didn’t work, we raced to build still more weapons, with ever more destructive force, until we could in a matter of hours destroy the world several times over.  We put the weapons on hair-trigger alerts, and the risks of accidents and miscalculations increased.  

In the past decades, there have been several nuclear accidents and close calls that could have killed thousands or sparked an all-out conflagration. In  Command and Control, Eric Schlosser  recounts a number of these, and there was a quick overview last week in the HuffPost .  Our engineering is imperfect, and always will be.  Maintaining large numbers of weapons on hair-trigger alert is incredibly dangerous.   

In addition to the risk of system accidents, we live each day with the risk of human failure.  People make mistakes in the use of violence for any number of reasons — lack of knowledge, lack of sleep, intoxication, mental illness, etc.  And people’s reasoning powers are frequently overwhelmed by  powerful emotions.  It’s far from impossible that fear or anger could cause a nuclear attack that results in a counter attack and the end of the world as we know it.  

The worst possible way to manage this risk is the one we’ve adopted:  give one person with no training or qualifications complete power to launch the missiles.  The dependence on the good judgment of a single individual with no constraints is inherently dangerous.  Even the best of us from time to time make poor decisions when angered or confused.  To put it mildly, Trump is not the best of us.  

So is the situation hopeless? No.  It’s not hard to imagine international agreements that greatly reduce nuclear forces and the risk of total annihilation.  Indeed,  the START treaties accomplished a lot.  The new U.N. treaty banning nuclear weapons adopted by 120 countries shows that more is possible.  It’s not hard to imagine doing away with the hair trigger and engineering in more time for analysis before launching.  Likewise, we could put in place checks and balances on the executive, as we do in other areas.  

But we need to start with adjusting our thinking, and recognizing that the nuclear risk is intolerable.  We need to treat this problem as time-sensitive and high priority.  If we do nothing . . . well, it’s unthinkable.

The anti-Scout, and Dunkirk

Great blue heron at Apex Community Park, August 5, 2017

Being a Boy Scout was never cool, but I look back on my Scouting days with gratitude.  It was good to go camping with friends and learn to  paddle a canoe.  In fact, I learned a lot of little skills that could someday come in handy, like first aid, basket weaving, and wood carving.  

As a grown up, I’ve had issues with some of the Scouting lessons, like uncritical obedience, and I’ve been disappointed when Scouting’s leadership has been intolerant of minorities.  But I’ve always valued the core  lessons of integrity, decency, and caring for others.  

And so  I was dismayed when  Trump addressed the Boy Scouts at the annual national jamboree.  The surprise was not the content, since his once shocking dishonesty, ignorance, and vulgarity are now depressingly familiar.  Rather, it’s hard to see how any responsible adult would think it appropriate to put Trump in front of Scouts.  Trump is the anti-Scout, with a lifetime record of the exact opposite of Scouting ideals — not trustworthy, not loyal, not helpful, not kind, etc.  

It looked like Trump had a good time giving the campaign-type speech.  Perhaps his handlers and the Scouts viewed the performance as less likely to do harm than letting him sit around tweeting out attacks on the press and unexpected major policy changes.  Maybe in the aftermath some Scouts and others will examine more deeply Scouting values, and their relation to political life.  

Bravery of the heroic sort is not something one sees often in ordinary life, but it does exist.  I was reminded of this when we saw Dunkirk this weekend.  The movie was stunning.  It managed to communicate some of the terror of warfare, like the possibility of dying at any moment from bombing and artillery, and the reality of death.  But there were inspiring moments, like the bravery of the small boat crews and the fighter pilots.  When the last fighter plane ran out of gas, I got a little misty.  

In New York: Trump-TV land, Rauschenberg’s big heart, Bolshoi beauty, and trying rugby

Looking west  from our balcony at the Bernic Hotel on 47th Street

We just got back from a long weekend in New York, where we celebrated Jocelyn’s birthday, went to art museums and galleries, stopped in at a double Dutch jump rope festival, saw the Bolshoi Ballet, and watched a rugby game.  

Of course we talked about the latest Trump oddities and outrages.  Though Jocelyn may have been the first to say it, it’s getting to be a commonplace that the current presidency resembles a reality television show, with ginned up drama that seems to have no point except drawing continued attention.  Indeed, Emily Nussbaum had an interesting piece in The New Yorker this week about Trump’s reality TV career.  Trump apparently liked the job, and may well think of the presidency as mainly about being surrounded by people who make him feel like a big shot.  

He may have no other objective, but I wonder whether there could be a long game.  It’s possible that somebody (maybe Bannon) has a plan that’s well served by stripping all dignity from the presidency and substituting crass vulgarity.  As we come to think of the president as an idiotic clown, we also may view the executive branch as basically ridiculous and unworthy of any respect.  This could make us more open to a solution along the lines of Russia’s Putinism or fascism.  But maybe we’ll be smarter than that.  

Black Market by Robert Rauschenberg

In New York I went to the Robert Rauschenberg show at the MoMA with low expectations.  From prior encounters, I’d thought of his painting and sculpture as facile and kind of messy.  This show changed my mind in a big way and  gave me some new ways of thinking about and looking at art.  Rauschenberg’s art emits swirling emotions and ideas, which are always subject to change, even as we try to comprehend a single painting over time.  He expects the viewer not just to look at the work but to bring feeling and intelligence to it, to become part of it.  Engaging with the art this way is exhilarating.  

Rauchenberg’s approach to art was open-hearted and continuously experimental, trying new materials, new sources, new subjects. There was such a range of feeling and humor, and engagement with the world.  His art was highly collaborative and connected to friendship and love.  These works are particularly resistant to photography, because of their rich textures and sculptural depth.  There’s no good substitute for standing in front of them and seeing what they do.

First Time Painting by Robert Rauschenberg

We also did some gallery hopping in Chelsea.  We noted a lot of new construction in the area,  which made me wonder if the galleries will eventually be priced out.  For the moment, the scene is still lively, and we saw works in many different styles.  Some people are still mining the 60s pop vein, just as some are continuing expressionism and other established styles, while some were creating objects that haven’t and may never be part of a movement.  I particularly liked the photo collages of a young Chinese artist named Ji Zhou at the Klein Sun Gallery and Sally loved a show of Japanese Nihonga painting.

On Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Center we  watched kids of all ages showing their skills at double Dutch jump roping.  There were some impressive feats of speed and agility, as well as creative athleticism.  I briefly considered giving it a try, but couldn’t quite get in the right mental gear while wearing black loafers.  

After that, Sally, Jocelyn, and I saw the matinee show of the Bolshoi Ballet, which performed a new ballet version of the Taming of the Shrew.  We loved it!   The dancing was of the highest caliber, with athletic energy balanced by delicacy and natural-seeming ease.  The acting was strong throughout.  The leading ballerinas in this performance (Kristina Kretova and Anastasia Stashkevich) were beautiful and charismatic, and fully inhabited their roles.  Together with their male partners (Denis Savin and Artem Ovcharenko), they brought great romance to this sometimes disturbing drama.  

That evening, we went to Pier 40 on the Hudson and watched a rugby game between the New York Knights, Kyle’s team, and Boston.  Kyle was injured and unable to play, but was able to give us a tutorial on the rudiments of the sport and first lessons on tactics and strategy.  It was fun!  Happily, the Knights won, completing an unbeaten regular season.  

Learning new things, including the butterfly stroke and about our worst tendencies

It was brutally hot here in Raleigh this weekend, which made me consider breaking my commitment to getting outside with my camera at least once a week and trying to see something fresh in the natural world.  But I ultimately hung tough and did a short photo safari at Raulston Arboretum, which was not as miserable as I expected.  I was happy I got these pictures.

Learning new things is sometimes fun, and sometimes hard, but always important, to keep our brains from turning to mush.  And so I decided to take some swimming lessons, and had my first one this week.  As I told my teacher, a young woman named Deanna, I would like to try to learn the butterfly stroke.  It’s one of those things I’ve always wondered if I could do, and it would add another variation to my lap swimming.  My first efforts were awkward, but by the end of the lesson, I had a version of the dolphin kick going.  I found it hard and fun.  

In these tumultuous times, we’re learning a lot about our weaknesses and strengths.  Under a constant deluge of lies, vulgarities, and mad fantasies, it’s more difficult to be open and curious, to think rationally and critically.  Panic and anger seem natural, and at times overwhelming.  We’re seeing how some of our worst tendencies, like intolerance and bigotry, are unleashed and encouraged.  

It’s not exactly cheering news, but at least we have a more realistic idea of the extent of our ignorance, intolerance, and susceptibility to manipulation.  We’ve gotten these and other  problems out in the open where we can potentially address them.  Eventually we might figure out how to be better people.

In the policy area, we’re learning more about our health care system.  Repealing Obamacare somehow became a mantra for the right — a symbolic acid test for signalling membership in the conservative tribe.  It’s hard to feel great about the enormous waste of time, energy, and public funds from the repeal effort, and the failure so far to address pressing problems, but there is a slightly bright side.    

It’s looking like some delusions are getting cleared up.  We now know that the mantra of repeal had almost no relation to the real issues of our health care system.  Some who liked the mantra have belatedly realized that cutting off insurance means real humans die prematurely. It appears that even the most committed ideologues, or at least the majority, get uncomfortable once we reach a certain level of cruelty.    

This debate has cleared the landscape like a forest fire, and some fresh ideas are starting to germinate.  For the first time in a couple of generations, we’re starting to widen the discussion about health care.  It’s starting to be more widely understood that we pay way too much for it, and the quality of care is bad in comparison with our peers.  There’s a new openness to the possibility of a sensible single payer system, such as an expanded version of Medicare.  

It won’t be easy to get from here to there.  Even leaving aside our dysfunctional political leadership, there are powerful institutional forces supporting the status quo.  Here’s how the Economist recently put it:  If the amount the U.S. spends on health care were reduced to the level of France, Germany, or Switzerland, we would save a trillion dollars, or $8,000 per family.  “Much of that trillion dollars goes to enrich the owners and executives of drug companies, device manufacturers, and relentlessly consolidating hospitals.  This rent-seeking is supported by an army of lobbyists:  there are more than twice as many lobbyists for the pharmaceutical and health-products industry than there are Congressmen.”  

Indeed, there are quite a few other blockers, like doctors, many of whom would be resistant to having their incomes reduced, and insurers, with similar issues.  Real improvements don’t seem likely in the near term, but I’m not giving up hope that eventually we’ll make progress.

Dragonflies, On Tyranny, and the strange reverence for Putin

 

A dragonfly at Apex Community Park

On Saturday morning I had to drive out to Apex for a haircut with Ann, who’s been cutting my hair ever since we lived there.  I asked Sally if she had any good ideas for nearby places to hike and look for dragonflies, and she suggested the reservoir at Apex Community Park.  I spent an hour and a half there before my haircut, and took these pictures.  It was quite hot and muggy, and with my 180 mm lens and tripod, I managed to work up a considerable sweat, as Ann noted.  

 

This week I read On Tyranny, Timothy Snyder’s latest book.  Snyder, a history professor at Yale, has  a deep knowledge of the authoritarian regimes of the twentieth century, and perspectives on how they bring civic life to an end.  He points up that these developments have been the product of many individual choices, including choices to quietly compromise, let go of moral principles, obey orders,  and submit.  His book is short and unsystematic, but full of sparky insights and practical advice on opposing authoritarianism.

Do we need such advice?  Yes.  I’d been starting to think once again that Trump was more a disturbed clownish bumbler than a genuine threat to our democracy.  But even after several months of failures, embarrassments, and scandals, he’s still popular with conservative Republicans (90 percent of them approve, according to one poll last week), which is making me wonder.  

I felt a cold chill when I read in the NY Times yesterday that there’s a prominent branch of conservative Republicans that are aligned with  Trump in admiring Vladimir Putin.  The Times cited several high-profile ideologues like Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani, and Pat Buchanan as viewing Putin as the kind of leader it would be nice to have here.  Apparently they admire his “Christian” values (such as criminalizing homosexuality) and manly aura, and aren’t much bothered by his murdering of opponents, military invasions of neighbors, looting of his own country, or his subverting of elections here and elsewhere.  I somehow had missed that this point of view existed, and found it shocking.  

Snyder’s book shows how the personal is related to the political:  authoritarian systems invade the personal realm and then undermine it.  Accordingly, there is a political aspect to maintaining personal integrity and ordinary human relationships.  Eye contact, smiles, and small talk have a deeper meaning  and value when the government is unleashing attacks on minorities or suppressing dissent.  Part of resisting is maintaining human contact.  

Snyder observes that constant grandiose lying is a common thread of the successful authoritarian regimes in Germany, Russia, and elsewhere.  But we now have a related problem never seen before:  the internet echo chamber, filled with bots, which create and amplify illusions, and make it hard to distinguish true from false.  The very concept of truth is at risk.  For some, facts seem to be irrelevant.  It is both ironic and scary that Trump and his minions have repurposed the term “fake news” to mean news they dislike.   Part of resisting is serious reading, evaluating evidence, and applying reason.  

Of course, it’s still possible that our institutions will work as intended and our traditional liberties will survive without permanent damage.  The recent demonstrations of the weaknesses in our systems could teach us some lessons, and we might even emerge stronger and wiser.  But it’s a good idea to do some contingency planning and worst case modeling.  We may  need all of our courage.

Reconsidering racism

A water lilly at Frank Schwartz’s Water and Garden Creations

On Saturday I visited a water lily garden in southern Wake County.  The outing was organized by the Carolina Nature Photographers’ Association, and there were some nice people there who had good cameras.  Along with the lilies and other flowers, there was a little green frog.  

As regular readers of The Casual Blog know, from time to time I express myself on political subjects, but recently I’ve had some trouble doing so. There are so many issues worthy of closer examination and critical thought.  But that’s also the problem — it’s hard to know where to start.  Issues are proliferating. Before you’ve got one terrible problem in focus, there are two more even worse.  

You can wear yourself out with fear and outrage, while accomplishing nothing.   While it’s very easy to get depressed about the state of the union and various real world problems, that doesn’t help anything.  I’ve been trying to develop a perspective that’s connected to what we know of reality, but that isn’t hopeless.  Admittedly, it’s a challenge.

Lately my non-work long-form reading has been mostly history, which I find both calming and stimulating.  It helps to take a longer view.  Stories of tyrants, like the Roman emperors who were insane and murderously sadistic, are interesting in themselves, but also put our problems in a bit of perspective — that is, there have been worse heads of state.  

I used to think of history as facts collected in history textbooks that could be known with certainty.  It turns out, though, that history is far from fixed.  It changes.  Historians can be completely blind to aspects of their subjects which later historians bring to light.  It’s a safe bet that our vision also is clouded and incomplete.  But it’s capable of improvement.  

Alan Taylor’s latest book, American Revolutions, reframes the revolutionary war from one of united American colonists against England into a multifaceted and lengthy civil war with international aspects.  It was in significant part a war between groups of colonists, many of whom favored England and were uprooted, tortured, and killed for their loyalism.  It was in part a war to maintain slavery and to seize native American lands.  The level of blood and gore was high, and the level of idealism and integrity not as high as we thought.  

I’ve also been reading Carrie Gibson’s Empire’s Crossroads:  A History of the Caribbean from Columbus to the Present Day.  I came to the book with a vague idea that the islands of the Caribbean were useful as stopover points for explorers transiting the Atlantic in the age of sail.  It turns out that beginning in the sixteenth century and for hundreds of years, they were wildly successful in generating wealth for Europe.  The English considered their islands more valuable than the American colonies, and gave up those colonies in part because they thought it better to use their navy to defend the islands.  

Empire’s Crossroads tells the story of the development of hugely successful sugar plantations, which is also the story of the development of the African slave trade.  The extreme brutality of Caribbean slavery was not well understood in Europe at the time, and probably not well understood by many people today.  Gibson observes that slavery wasn’t caused by racism, but rather racism was created to justify slavery.      

It would be nice to think we’re over racism.  But we noticed quite a few Confederate flags when we were on the Outer Banks last week.  There are numerous reports from around the U.S. of displays of hangman’s nooses and swastikas.  New laws are limiting voting rights of minorities and freedom of movement of immigrants.  And of course, not all the violence is symbolic.  There seems to be a stream of racist attacks and murders, which are somehow recognized as “terrorism.”  

One good thing about the Trump presidency is that it has brought a virulent racist element of  America  into the light.  I’d thought it was almost gone, but now there’s no mistaking, it’s still there.  Encouraged by the regime, the racist minority has felt emboldened.  I suspect that explains in part Trump’s rise.  His rallies, with coded messages giving permission and encouragement to prejudices that had been held in check as shameful, sparked an enthusiasm that lots of us didn’t take seriously enough.  Now we know this racist minority are highly motivated, and they won’t give up their hateful ideology without a fight.  

But history can be inspiring.   Our ancestors, black, white, and other, finally, after hundreds of years, did away with legalized slavery.  They eventually ended the legalized racism of Jim Crow, and the housing regulations that prevented black people from buying houses in white neighborhoods. There are still living some who risked their lives in the struggle for voting rights for blacks and school desegregation.  We stand on the shoulders of moral giants, who pointed the way forward.  But there’s still some hard work to be done.  

 

At the Outer Banks

Just before the four-wheeling area at Corolla

We had a family gathering at the Outer Banks for the Fourth of July Weekend.  My sister and her family made us welcome at their place in Corolla, and we did what you do at the beach:  some reading, dipping in the ocean, walking on the beach, getting sunburned.  I went out at sunrise with my camera and tripod.  I took some pictures of pelicans, got my new SUV stuck in the sand, and needed a pull to get out.  We ate and drank too much, and had some good laughs.  

It was good to relax, and take a little break from the Trump show.  You could easily wear yourself out with worrying these days, with so many big things to worry about, but  the resistance needs a little R&R from time to time.   

One afternoon three of us signed up for a wild horse tour — that is, a four-wheeling trip along the beach north of Corolla and up into the dunes to look about for the resident wild horses.  We had some good luck, and found a group of four eating before a storm moved in.  I felt a little better about getting stuck after I saw dozens of vehicles having the same problem.