The Casual Blog

Tag: News & Observer

Fireworks, new bluebirds, right-wing NC Republicans, and bees at work

13 07 05_2398-1

Sally fixed chilled cucumber soup and two salads for our July 4th dinner, with homemade coffee ice cream for dessert. From our condo on the twelfth floor we had a good view of the fireworks show at Red Hat Amphitheater. Fireworks shows vary, but I’ve never seen one I really didn’t like, and this was no exception. OK, it could have been faster and bigger, but there were interesting shapes and sparkling colors, and lots of noise. This may be my favorite ritual in the American civil religion.
13 07 04_2543_edited-1

Earlier that day, Sally took me along when she monitored the bluebird houses at Lochmere Golf Club. She’d promised that there should be some new eggs and nestlings, and there were! We were pleased to see the new arrivals.
13 07 04_2570

Speaking of country clubs, the News & Observer reported this week that Carolina Country Club, Raleigh’s old line club, finally admitted its first black member. This was front page news, and I was glad to hear it. CCC maintained the color barrier for way too long. Now that the curse has been broken, I hope they will implement a policy of true non-discrimination going forward.

In my lifetime, we’ve made so much progress on the race issue, for which I am happy and grateful. For all my disappointments with President Obama, every day I feel proud and a little amazed that we have a black president. I can go for weeks or months without observing anything like the racial prejudice that was pervasive when I was a boy.

But we’re still not done. Republican measures to limit the voting power of blacks in NC and elsewhere by imposing ID requirements are moving forward. This is just shameful. With this movement in process, the Supreme Court was surely wrong in striking down part of the Voting Rights Act. There’s still a ways to go to build a color-blind society.
13 07 05_2414

Our North Carolina Republican legislators have gone on a right-wing tear this session. Some of their activities make sense from the point of view of bettering the lot of the wealthy or pandering to the ignorant, but some are inexplicable in ordinary moral or practical terms.

Does any rational person, no matter how selfish or cynical, think it makes sense to get more people carrying concealed firearms into more public spaces? Would a person with a shred of decency change the law to protect agriculture operations that abuse farm animals and criminalize the behavior of those who seek to expose the abuse? Would a normal caring parent or employer find it sane to reduce school funding and increase class size? Would any responsible leader or citizen turn down federal funds meant to help the unemployed or ailing? Does any moderately educated person school think that North Carolina has the right to establish its own state religion? In establishing the highest priorities, does anyone think Is outlawing Sharia law makes the top-thousand list?

And while we’re outlawing Sharia law, why not work in a slew of anti-abortion measures? This actually happened this week without fanfare and without the usual legislative formalities, presumably to minimize the chance of organized opposition. I’ve never found the abortion issue as easy as some of my friends, but the state Senate’s work this week under cover of darkness is really disturbing from a process point of view, and looks like a huge mistake. In the aftermath of this latest fiasco, my liberal friends were looking glum, and worrying at the damage this is doing both to the humans affected (such as women with unwanted pregnancies and poor people) and to the image of our state.
13 07 05_2401

This onslaught really doesn’t seem like the result of a theory of government. To the extent it has a direction, it seems aimed less at accomplishing any policy objective than at making liberals screaming mad. Once a liberal value gets identified, it is attacked with extreme prejudice.

To a certain extent, the NC right-wingers seem to be reproducing the values battles identified by national-level right-wingers. What else could be going on? I heard an NPR interview with Bill McKibben, an environmentalist and college professor, who said the problem with building a green movement was that a movement needed an enemy. In a sense, all of us are conflicted on environmental issues, since we all like cars and electricity. We can’t be our own enemy and still feel motivated to get into the streets. His solution was to declare the oil companies the enemy. This would, he thought, allow a green movement to cohere.
13 07 05_2480

So maybe that’s what our NC right-wingers are up to: building their group cohesion by identifying liberals as the enemy and trying to cut out their hearts (metaphorically speaking). It’s hard for a liberal to find a silver lining at the moment, but I’ll still take a swing. I don’t think this is the direction a majority of the state, or even a majority of Republicans, want to go. And by forcing minorities, low-income people, women, immigrants, and the reality-based community to see their common interest, the wing-nut legislators are increasing the chances that their “public service” will not last past the next election.
13 07 05_2466

In the meantime, President Obama has seized the initiative on climate change by ordering rules on power plant reductions for CO2 and other measures. Longtime readers of the Casual Blog will know that this is a big issue for me that I think should be a big issue for everyone. At issue are mass extinctions and dislocations on a scale previously unknown in human history. The significance is much greater than putting a man on the moon, and we ought to mobilize with a level of commitment on a scale comparable to the Apollo project. I hope this is the start.
13 07 05_2522

And while we’re on the subject of things to feel good about and continue working on, let us not forget, the long fight for gay rights has made real progress. The Supreme Court, a highly conservative institution (even if not all of its justices are conservative), struck down the Defense of Marriage Act! A majority recognized this as a human rights issue. It seems the tide has turned.
13 07 05_2538

Well, that’s it, I’m climbing off my soap box. I got out to Raulston Arboretum on Saturday and found a lot of bees hard at work. I took along my tripod and used a Nikkor 18-55 mm lens in aperture priority mode. Along with a variety of bees and flowers, I was struck by the sculptural qualities of some of the blooms. My favorites are above and below.
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13 07 05_2452

Religious intolerance in Afghanistan and Raleigh

I’m not a big fan of either the Bible or the Koran, though I don’t think it’s a good thing to burn either of them. Burning any book as an expressive act seems angry, hateful, and benighted. I imagine that if I thought a book contained unusual insight or beauty that meant something to me, I’d be pissed off if someone burned it.

But I wouldn’t murder them! Much less join a mob to murder random people who had nothing to do with the burning! In Afghanistan this week, hundreds of Muslims have rioted and killed several United Nations employees and injured hundreds of westerners. The reason? First, a plainly disturbed fundamentalist preacher in Florida burned a copy of the Koran a couple of weeks ago. Then political and religious leaders in Afghanistan publicized the event.

What’s up with these rioting Afghanis and their random killing? Do they mean by this to show the world their love of Islam? Their hatred of invading westerners? Are they expressing their anger at the violence, corruption, and poverty that engulfs them?

Harnessing religious zeal, ignorance, and intolerance for political purposes is nothing new. In this case, it appears that Hamid Karzai, the beneficiary of billions of American taxpayer dollars, has again shown his appreciation for this benevolence by encouraging the most radical elements of his society toward anti-western violence. This raises yet again the good question: what in the name of all that’s holy are we doing sacrificing our children’s lives (1,521 so far) and almost $400 billion in Afghanistan? But I’ll shut up. Nobody seems to want to talk about this, I guess because it’s depressing. But isn’t the solution here really simple?

Moving on to more cheerful news: our local paper, the News & Observer, ran a front page, above-the-fold story this morning about North Carolina unbelievers coming out of the closet and attempting to build a more positive image. A billboard campaign with pro-humanist messages has been rolled out by the Triangle Freethought Society. A few local citizens who are otherwise unfamous have lent their names, photos, and four or five words, like “Science is my co-pilot!” or “Freethinking moves America forward!”

It will be interesting to see whether this helps promote tolerance, which would be good. It could certainly serve to smoke out intolerance, of which there is plenty. An example: the North Carolina Constitution officially disqualifies from public office any person “who shall deny the being of Almighty God.” This provision should be held invalid under the U.S. Constitution (Art. 6), though I’d hate to have to test that before a Bible-believing federal judge. The point is, there’s a long, strong tradition of intolerance in these parts for non-mainstream views on religion.

Hatred of atheists is almost certainly much stronger than, say, hatred of minority races or gays. And so it’s not surprising that most non-believers in these parts keep a low profile. But views on minorities and gays have changed in the direction of greater tolerance in recent years (which is not to say the work is done). It’s possible that there could be a quiet increase in tolerance for non-believers. Hats off to the brave souls willing to test that proposition with their own names on billboards. I hope they stay happy and safe.