The Casual Blog

Tag: fear

Dance photos, octopus minds, and engineering Islamophobia

Dress rehearsal for Petit Ballet Romantique

Dress rehearsal for Petit Ballet Romantique

I took a photography lesson this week from Ted Salamone at a dress rehearsal of the Carolina Ballet.  The lighting conditions were challenging, and at first I felt well out of my depth.  It took some pressurized experimenting with ISO and shutter speed to get anything to work.   Ted gave me some great tips, and the dancers were beautiful and inspiring.    

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I just finished reading Other Minds:  the Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, by Peter Godfrey-Smith.  Godfrey-Smith is a diver as well as a philosopher who has spent a lot of time watching cephalopods.  As he notes, octopuses are aliens to us, about as far removed in evolutionary terms as possible.  

Yet  they have abilities and behaviors that merit the word intelligence.  Their shape-shifting and camouflaging abilities are astonishing, of course, but they also solve problems and exhibit curiosity and affection.  Godfrey-Smith connects them, and us, to the great journey of evolution, and to a better understanding of the nature of consciousness.  There’s a good review here.  l  

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Trying to understand non-human intelligence eventually leads to the question, how well do we understand ourselves?  The question came into focus in a new way for me this week, when I read of polls indicating that a more Americans favored Trump’s new anti-Muslim measures than opposed them.  I like to think of my neighbors and fellow citizens as mostly kind, compassionate, and tolerant, and mostly willing to help others in need.  I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around the possible alternative.  

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When Franklin Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” I think he meant that fear was a powerful force that could undermine us, but also that it could be overcome.  The new President has a different message:  the world is very scary and we need to be more fearful.

And that message seems to be having an effect.  Of course, humans have always been wary of those who are different.  But other forces usually counterbalance those feelings, like curiosity, generosity, and love.  We seem to be losing our balance.

Dress rehearsal for The Little Mermaid

Dress rehearsal for The Little Mermaid

Is Trump’s demonization of Muslims a deliberate strategy?  At first it just seems arbitrary and bizarre.  But Amanda Taub wrote a worthwhile piece in the NY Times this week that suggested a possible method in the madness.   

Taub points up that authoritarian politicians often exploit fears by targeting a politically powerless minority and creating an us-versus-them mentality.  By creating artificial enemies and claiming to be protecting against them, they may increase their popularity and power.  Unless such leaders are checked, they tend to expand the list of targets and dial up the level of violence.  

Of course, we have a governmental system with certain institutional checks and balances.  Are they strong enough?  We’ll find out.

Dress rehearsal for The Little Mermaid

Dress rehearsal for The Little Mermaid

 

Skiing at Telluride with love and fear

We went to Telluride, CO lasts week in part because of it jagged mountainous beauty,in part to be together with Gabe and Jocelyn, and in no small part to ski.  The town is a repurposed Western mining town with squared-off storefronts and Queen Ann style houses, and has part of the vibe of  a college town, with a wholesome, natural charm.

The ski resort is famous for its rocky alpine beauty and high level of challenge.  The stats are impressive:  4,425 of vertical (3,845 served by lifts), base elevation 8,725, lift served elevation 12,570, maximum elevation 13,150, longest run 4.6 miles, 2,000 skiable acres.  The significant percentage slopes are classified as double black diamond, and a few double black slopes have the further warning EX, which stands for extreme.   The place gets about 300 inches of snow a year, and we had about 17 inches arrive in the middle of our stay.  It was extremely light — snow champagne.

Gabe led us on some substantial journeys down the double blacks.  We did one “hike to” — Genevieve — and felt we earned our turns.  In the deep fresh snow of our  last two days there , we did, among other runs, Dynamo (“EX”), Electra (“EX”), Genevieve again, the Rose, Apex Glade (3 times), Northern Chute, and Locals, the last of which is a fairly tight glade run that does not appear on the official trail map.  Sal and I also had memorably challenging runs down Allai’s Alley, Kant-Make-M, Mammoth, and Lower Plunge.

As we followed Gabe, I hoped he had not overestimated our experience level.    Hiking up Genevieve, Sal was heard to say “Holy God,” which appeared to relate not only to the beauty of the sheer walls around us, and the rigors of the hike, but also to the question whether the very steep and  narrow way down was going to kill us.  Skiing with Gabe, I was reminded that I was not 25 years old, but I also noted that I was skiing fantastic deep powder with new authority, which made me cheerier.  Sally also raised her game to a new level, taking on more mountain at higher speeds.

One afternoon we met up with Jocelyn and her friend Britt for lunch yesterday in Mountain Village.  At 1:00 pm every eatery was jammed, and there was no possibility of a seat inside.  Although it was too cold to take off hats and gloves, we ended up eating deli sandwiches at a table outside while it was snowing.  At least we had food.

We skied one run with Jocelyn after lunch, after which she said she was calling it a day for reasons of tiredness.  At dinner that night, she acknowledged that fear was a significant issue for her skiing.  I said that this is true for most people.  Those that end up loving it are those who overcome some of their fears.  But as Gabe noted, good skiers are continually seeking a new level of challenge, which means a new confrontations with fear.

It is one of the satisfactions of skiing to confront and overcome personal fears, but there’s much more to it than that.  At times it’s hard —  cold fingers and toes, weary thighs, fogged goggles, wind blowing snow.  But at times the struggles fade, and there is something pure and clean remaining.  On demanding slopes, there is no faking.  It’s time for truth.  Everything is in sharp focus.  There is kinetic harmony, turns perfectly suited for a particular stretch of rock and the snow, the human body synchronized with the moment, the season, and geologic time.