The Casual Blog

Tag: racism

Getting ready for bears, finding butterflies, more mass shootings, and how racism affects us


Next week I’ll be going to Klemtu, British Columbia for a photography workshop involving bears.  I’m excited, but also a little daunted, since there’s a lot I don’t know about bears. This week I’ve been shopping for expedition clothing and equipment.  I’d like to thank Peace Camera, my local photo shop, for their patience and good advice, and REI, Great Outdoor Provision Co., and L.L. Bean for their high quality products and friendly service.    

Trying to get ready for the bears, I got outside a few times with my camera, but the only photogenic animals I saw were butterflies.  Those here were in Raulston Arboretum, where they were working hard in the flowers. Though they had no interest in posing for me, they didn’t seem to mind my shooting them.  Anyhow, there were many shots I didn’t get, but I did get these which I liked.  

I’m generally hesitant to refer to taking pictures as shooting, because the term is ambiguous, and I’m definitely not referring to using guns.  Mass shootings were once again in the news this week, causing fresh horror and renewed calls for reasonable gun control. It is sad and remarkable that our politics prevents fixing this relatively simple problem.   

I’ve been reading a lot lately about racial bias and wondering how much of our gun proliferation problem relates to our racism problem.  There’s a lot of evidence that white people unthinkingly and wrongly associate black people with negative qualities, including criminality.  How much of the drive to own firearms comes from an irrational fear of black criminals? A goodly amount, I’d wager. To judge from the crowds at Trump rallies, the folks most enthusiastic about guns are the ones that are most supportive of Trump’s racism.  They may well think they need guns to fend off black criminals.  

I think it’s a mistake to blame Trump for our racism.  His incitement of racist violence is revolting and scary, but the American system of white supremacy was in place long before he was born. And to fathom it requires looking well beyond the President’s outrages.  I even give Trump credit for a possible silver lining: his grotesque and overt racism takes the issue out from under the covers and makes it somewhat easier to see and work on.  

I used to think that the main problem with white racism was the disadvantages it created for black people.  Those disadvantages, from limiting job, housing, and educational opportunities on down to emotional and physical violence, are wrong, and we need to fix them.  But our traditional racism has ripple effects that are related to a host of other problems.  

The meta problem is our political polarization, which makes it almost impossible to work on other major problems (like gun control, population control, deindustrialization, fair elections, the social safety net, health care, and climate change).  This polarization is in large part a product of our racism.  

Nixon’s “southern strategy” in 1968 was to use racist dog whistles and fearmongering to get southern Democrats to vote Republican, and succeeding generations of Republican politicians have followed the same playbook with varying degrees of subtlety.  As Sahil Chinoy pointed out in the NY Times this week, race and attitudes toward race are a strong predictor of whether we call ourselves Republicans or Democrats.

Unless you just arrived here from outer space or Honduras, you probably know that Republicans are a mostly white party, and Democrats are a more racially mixed party.  This division wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if we viewed race as merely a physical difference, like height or eye color.  But we’re deeply conditioned to associate blackness with fearsome things. The political party that doesn’t much care for blacks not only disagrees with the other party; it believes it to be dangerous.  It’s hard to work cooperatively with people you think are a threat to peace and order.  

So a lot of our political disagreements that seem to have nothing to do with race are the progeny of racism.  I should note that I’m talking here about systems and tendencies. I don’t at all mean to suggest that all Republican individuals are racists, or that all Democrats are not.  On the contrary, I think a lot of us in both parties think that racism is wrong and want to end it.  But not a lot of us fully appreciate how thoroughly our racist culture has conditioned us, how much our lives today are affected by that culture, and how much work we have to do, both as individuals and as a society, for real change.      

By way of advancing the discussion, I’ve been reading, and hope others will read, White Fragility:  Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, by Robin DiAngelo. DiAngelo’s message is particularly important and helpful for white people who consciously support racial equality but don’t realize how they too have been deeply conditioned by a racist system.  She pulls no punches, and makes a convincing case that those of us who consider ourselves progressives as to racial matters still have a lot of interior work to do.  

I’m also reading and recommending Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, by Jennifer Eberhardt.  Eberhardt is a black social psychologist whose work involves studying racial bias. The book is part autobiography and part science. With moving and personal stories, she shows how deeply seated racism is in our culture, and how much work it will take to undo it. 

Snow geese and tundra swans, Roman history, and another wall problem

Tundra swans at Pungo Lake

Each winter thousands of migrating tundra swans and snow geese stop in eastern North Carolina for a while to collect themselves and eat what’s left in the farm fields.  For a human, all that bird life is a thrilling sight.

In addition to the thrill, I was hoping to capture some images of the birds in flight.  In preparation, I did some research on optimal settings and customized some of my camera buttons.  This process was involved and confusing, and I thought it possible I would end up with a hard-to-repair mess.  I also decided to try wielding my Sigma 150-500mm, a beastly large lens, free hand (no tripod).

Pungo Lake, where I saw most of snow geese and most of the tundra swans, is about 2.5 hours east of Raleigh.  For part of the time I traveled with other members of the Carolina Nature Photographers’ Association, including some friendly and very well-traveled shutterbugs.  I got to hear some of their stories and picked up some helpful tips.

I saw thousands of big white birds, as well as several species of ducks, waders, and one black bear.  We had good weather until Saturday afternoon, when the rain came in and the temperature started to drop.  I was happy with some of the shots I got before then.

On an ordinary day, I check the digital news headlines frequently, which  rarely puts me in a more relaxed, pleasurable state of mind. So it was good to unplug for the weekend and concentrate on the beauty of the natural world.  

I also spent some of the driving time learning about the classical world.  I finished listening to a series of lectures titled The Rise of Rome, by Gregory Aldrete, from the Great Courses series.  It traces the rise of Rome from a settlement to the Western world’s first superpower.

Aldrete is a good teacher and a good story teller, and mixes broad themes with interesting anecdotes.  The Romans were certainly great engineers and organizers, as well as fearsome warriors. In the late Roman Republic, the levels of corruption, extreme inequality, and political dysfunction were even worse than our own, which I found somewhat comforting.  Leaving aside the lives and civilizations destroyed by Rome, life went on.

Snow geese coming in for a landing near Pungo Lake

I’ve been trying to avoid spending too much time obsessing over the latest Trump conflagration, since it does little or no good.  But I have been keeping a sharp eye on the presidential approval poll numbers, hoping to see a change in the national mood, and possibly our direction.  Even though Trump has been generally unpopular almost since day 1, his Republican base has been mostly steadfast.

I know some sane, well-informed, thoughtful, kind and generous Republicans, and have found it hard to understand how people like them could support a President with none of those virtues.  Trump, it seemed, might have been right when he said that no matter how crazy or heinous his acts, his base would never abandon him. But in the latest polling, after his reckless government shut down and non-stop nonsense about the Wall, the polls indicate some of his loyalists may be rethinking their position.

Although Trump has a gift for bringing out the worst in people, at times he inadvertently brings out better things.  For example, his racist language encourages the no-holds-barred racists, but it also makes others think more and talk more about the hard-to-see realities of our longstanding, everyday privileging of whiteness.  His climate change denialism is getting harder for the base to swallow as they face more frequent droughts, floods, fires, hurricanes, and other storms.

Even the Wall discussion seems to have crossed a threshold.  For many, it seems to have gone from being primarily a fun slogan to yell at a Trump rally to looking like a nutty and wasteful boondoggle.  There’s an aspect of the Wall idea that hasn’t gotten much attention, which I was glad to see noted in the  news  recently: the harmful effects on non-human life. The 650 miles of wall already in existence is very bad for the hundreds of species of animals and plants that live in the vicinity. Many of these need to travel north and south for food, water, and mating.  We need to take their needs into account.

Losing our air conditioning, and getting Gone With the Wind

Yates Mill Pond last Saturday, calm and warm

It was hot again this week, and our air conditioning failed again.  The AC repair person said the system was worn out and needed to be replaced, at a mind-boggling price.  Sally began work on getting another quote. Without thinking about it, we’ve gotten very used to AC, and it feels like a hardship not to have it. That’s privilege for you.  I wonder, would we be more motivated to address our warming climate if we weren’t insulated by AC?

We liked Spike Lee’s new movie, BlacKkKlansman.  It’s funny, in a way, and unsettling.  It shows us something about our society that is ultimately tough to look at.  

The movie starts with a famous scene from Gone With the Wind:  Scarlett at the train depot in Atlanta, looking for her man among the thousands of Confederate wounded and dead.  It’s a brilliant scene, with stunning photography. There’s no comment from Spike Lee about it, so you’re invited to think, why is he quoting it?  

When I first saw Gone With the Wind, my mom told it was the greatest movie ever made. This is a conventional view. It won several Oscars and was hugely successful financially. It’s romantic and exciting, and it has a great look. But since Spike Lee brought it up, I finally understood that it is deeply racist.

It is essentially about the importance and beauty of white supremacy.  The valiant struggles, both during the Civil War and afterwards, are for the purpose of subjugating black people.  Scarlett triumphs in the post-war period with a lumber business of re-enslaved black prisoners. Rhett and the men folk’s “political activities” are about KKK terrorizing of black people.

So my generation of white people (Boomers) learned that Gone With the Wind was a great movie, worth repeated viewings, and absorbed its message of the proper relations of whites and blacks.  This is how racism now works in America: we learn it without talking about it, or even consciously hearing about it. Like the air, it’s usually invisible, and white people hardly think about it as a thing.  White privilege seems natural.  Opposing this invisible (to white people) thing can seem odd, radical, or nutty.

One good thing about the Trump presidency is it is bringing racism and other ills out to where we can see them.  For all his ignorance, he understands the white fear of dark skin, and is brilliant at arousing, magnifying, and exploiting it.  It’s his gift, and the secret of his improbable political success.

We’re in the midst of an epic social psychology experiment. Like Stanley Milgram’s electric shock obedience experiment or Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment, but so much bigger, Trump is testing the limits of power, “othering,” and ethics.  Some of what we’re learning in this experiment is discouraging.  There are a surprisingly large block of unapologetic hard-core racists.  But they are still a minority. Their vile hatred is inspiring a counterforce.  We’re reexamining themselves and this system.  We’re getting a new view of invisible racism, which is a step towards ending it.

Last week protesters just down the road in Chapel Hill pulled down “Silent Sam,” a Confederate memorial.  That’s progress.

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.  

 

Spring, some explosive questions, including a nuclear one, and hope

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More harbingers of spring arrived in Raleigh this week: forsythia, red buds, and more daffodils started blossoming. Those colorful little flowers will cheer you right up. Look closely and you can see more buds getting ready. The flowers do not last long, so to enjoy them you need to get outside quickly and focus intently. They remind us that life is such a precious, precarious thing.
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Last week a white policeman in Raleigh shot and killed a young black man. I felt very sad, and also concerned about possible damage, physical and mental, to our community. I’d like to think the race relations and police-black community relations here are much better than, say, Ferguson Missouri. But it’s also fair to say that there could be big problems that people like me just don’t know about. One thing I’ve learned from Black Lives Matter, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Alice Goffman, and others is that while I almost never see it in its raw form, racism is real, and being black in this society is still a big health risk.

Soon after the shooting, hundreds of people marched in the street in protest. There were some traffic problems, but there was no reported harm to persons or property. Also no reports of police in military armor and tanks.
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The first descriptions of the incident featured a fleeing suspect getting shot several times in the back. The official police description differed greatly, saying the man who was killed tried to shoot the officer and was wanted for drug crimes. We tend to see these things in the way that fits most comfortably with our preconceptions. Most white people I’ve discussed this with are inclined to accept the police account as true, despite eyewitnesses who say otherwise. But just as insidious racism can shape perceptions, it’s possible that eyewitnesses who fear and distrust police conformed their memories to fit their larger life narrative. I’m consciously uncertain. Either way, any time a person is killed in the course of our misbegotten war on drugs, it’s an avoidable tragedy. We need to keep working on ending prohibition.
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Also last week, the U.S. killed 150 new recruits of al Shabaab in Somalia. Using bombs from drones and manned aircraft, we caught them standing in formation, perhaps graduating from terror school. According to Pentagon sources, they were going to be part of an imminent attack in Somalia on African soldiers and a few U.S. advisors. This is very similar to the bombing of possible terrorist recruits in Libya recently, so it seems to now be a thing – mass execution of young men who could potentially attack people we don’t know much about. Are we really sure this killing was justified? Is there no possible non-fatal way of addressing such threats? Could we be increasing the chaos and the risk of more mayhem through such attacks?

We don’t have a good track record in using our military in a carefully calibrated way, or in telling the truth about our attacks. See Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. Now Libya and Somalia. Tomorrow?
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You may have missed the story, which I did not see in a major U.S. newspaper, of the trial of the Marshall Islands lawsuit in the International Court of Justice seeking to stop nuclear proliferation. The Marshall Islands were used by the U.S. as a test site for 67 nuclear explosions in the 40s-60s, which devastated the area and sickened and killed part of the population. The lawsuit is about the lack of compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968, in which some nuclear powers agreed to work in good faith towards disarmament. Apparently the suit is seeking a declaration that this hasn’t been done, and must be done.

For quite a while I’ve been thinking about whether there’s any way nuclear arsenals can be justified. They need a strong justification, because the risks are extremely high – accidental explosions, theft by crazed terrorists, escalating counterattacks, all out annihilation and the end of the world as we know it.

Here’s my current view: no political dispute could possibly justify killing thousands or millions of innocent people, which is the intended purpose of our most powerful nuclear weapons. No sane person would willingly subject the planet to nuclear winter, when much of the animal and plant life that initially survived a major nuclear war would die. Deterrence only works if an adversary is sane and rational (it doesn’t work on madmen), so deterrence is either unnecessary (as to the sane), or ineffective (as to the mad). So we cannot reasonably support the state’s creating and maintaining the risk of nuclear war. That leaves disarmament as the only credible, ethical strategy.

You may agree or disagree, but in either case, why aren’t we talking about this? Perhaps we assume that there’s nothing that can be done, or that it’s something we as individuals can’t effect. The Marshall Islands, a very small country, has challenged that stance. It’s election season, so let’s ask the candidates: what steps will you take to lower the risk of a nuclear holocaust and move towards a nuclear-free world?

On Friday, Bernie Sanders was speaking at noon at Memorial Auditorium in Raleigh, which is just a couple of blocks from where I work. It was a mild, sunny day, and so I thought it would be nice to see him, and perhaps ask him his view on the nuclear risk. By the time I got there, the line was very long. It took me ten minutes to walk to the end of it, by which time I realized there was no chance I was getting into the hall. But it was nice to see the crowd. They were very young! And, I’m guessing, hopeful. Anyhow, it made me hopeful.
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Good grad school news, reading Coates and considering our racism, and some butterflies

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Gabe got into grad school! Whew! We’ve all been waiting anxiously to hear from Parsons School of Design, and thank goodness, the news was good. As is his wont, Gabe had considered the issue of grad school carefully, and had worked on his application carefully, and ended up getting the application in rather late. But it worked!

The Parsons program may be done either online or in the classrooms in New York, and Gabe is leaning towards doing the first semester online from here in Raleigh. This would avoid the stress of a last-minute apartment hunt, and would also allow him to work on his promising new relationship. Is this a good idea? The question is not an easy one. For motivated, self-directed learners, on-line can work. These past few months, both he and I have been studying photography and design subjects on-line (e.g. Lynda, Udemy, and free YouTube videos), and learning a lot.
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Considering how important education is, it’s remarkable how little we know about what works and what doesn’t. This week I listened to a couple of podcasts from This American Life on the educational effects of desegregation and resegregation, which were bracing. I wasn’t surprised to learn that desegregation improves the educational outcomes of minorities, but I didn’t know that since the mid-80s, our schools have been increasingly segregated. This is another indicator that we haven’t worked all the way through our problems with racial distinctions.

I’ve been reading Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It’s currently high on the best seller list, which ordinarily means I’m not in the target market, but this was a big exception. It is a black man’s jeremiad on what slavery really means for our country’s past and present. I’ve found it painful and difficult, but also helpful in understanding our bizarre situation with respect to “race.” I use quotes because evidence is accumulating that race is a social, rather than a biological, construct. Coates argues that it was created to justify oppression, and I believe he’s right.
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The legacy of our long history of slavery is unquestionably still with us. As recently as two weeks ago, there was a rally near here in support of the Confederate battle flag. And every day black people are stopped for “driving while black.” Coates makes us understand that those who are stopped believe that the police might well kill them without justification, and if they do, they might well get away with murder. Recent headlines corroborate his view.

We’ve come a long way in my life time in addressing the massive injustice of slavery and racism, but it’s taken a long time, and we’re not done yet. It saddens and shames me to admit it, but as a child in the 60s, I was taught that Negroes were inferior. Not bad, mind you, but lesser. Everyone I knew, good people and bad, thought that and taught that. I remember at first thinking it strange that little children, who called all white adults Mr. and Mrs., all called our black elementary school janitor by his first name. He was Preston. Preston was a sweet, kindly man, but I’m guessing he would have preferred Mr.
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Getting that early, deep, wrong imprinting straightened out has been a long journey for me. Along the way getting to know some great black people was critical, but so was literature and film. Reading Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and Richard Wright helped. William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner definitely helped. Life on the Run, by Alice Gorman, opened my eyes. Karl Hart’s recent book, High Price, did as well. Hollywood had helped, at times – Amistad, Twelve Years a Slave. Watching the PBS series Eyes on the Prize about the Civil Rights movement helped. And Coates, with his hot burning anger, is helping me, too. I recommend his book.

Some evidence that we’re at least trying to sort this out: the end of Jefferson-Jackson dinners. The Times reported this week that although these dinners have been a traditional fund-raising bonanza, the Democrats are quietly dropping the association to these unrepentant racist, slave-owning presidents. Jefferson has gotten a huge pass from subsequent generations based on his ability to turn a soaring, inspiring phrase (“all men are created equal”), but it looks like he’s finally being held accountable for the things he did to hundreds of humans that were horribly wrong. That’s good.

This is the time of year for butterflies, and I spent some time in the area parks this weekend looking for them. I took the photos here at Raulston Arboretum on Friday after work. Back home, when I got the images onto my laptop, I realized that some of them had been knocked around a bit by life. I considered repairing some of the damage to their wings with the Lightroom healing tool, but decided I liked seeing them as individuals.
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This Saturday: irises, exercise, protest riots, Schoenberg, Indian food, and soccer

Iris, Raulston Arboretum, May 2, 2015

Iris, Raulston Arboretum, May 2, 2015

As usually happens when I travel, I picked up about three pounds, which I’d very much like to drop. Three isn’t a lot, but it can so easily become six, or twelve. And it’s so much easier to add than to subtract! With reducing in view, I’ve been focussing my exercise recently on fat burning, adding 15 minutes to my usual 30 of morning cardio, along with the usual resistance, core, and stretching. I’ve been doing various combinations of machines (elliptical, stairs, rowing, treadmill), classes (spinning, yoga), and outdoor running. On Saturday morning, I considered spinning at Flywheel or yoga at Blue Lotus, and decided to go to O2 for an aerobic martial arts-type class.

But first I went up to Raulston Arboretum, getting there a few minutes after 8:00 a.m. The big story this week was irises of various colors, boldly blooming, and still dewy when I got there. I spent an hour strolling and trying to capture their spirit, and then headed to the gym.

The exercise class was called Body Attack, and involved an hour of rhythmic footwork, punching, and kicking, to a throbbing club-type beat. I’m a highly non-violent person in real life, but I must admit, shadow boxing with a group is fun. I succeeded in sweating a lot and getting my heart rate into the mid-150s, and avoided either accidentally kicking or being kicked.
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After showering back home, I drove out to Cary for a haircut with Ann S, my hair cutter of many years. I always enjoy talking with Ann about our families and doings. Part of her news this time was sad: their 14-year-old dog had to be put to sleep this week. The diagnosis was liver failure. I mentioned that I’d been thinking of our sweet Stuart’s mortality (as I noted last week), and we both struggled to articulate what is lost when a beloved pet goes.
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On the way back to Raleigh, I stopped at Swift Creek Bluffs for a walk in the woods. It was muddy from recent rains, and most of the wildflowers were gone, but things were green and lively. The creek was burbling, and a wood thrush sang brilliantly. I ran into Matt J., a fellow photographer who knows a ton about wildflowers, and we talked about plants and cameras. I saw this little guy:

Swift Creek Bluffs, May 2, 2015

Swift Creek Bluffs, May 2, 2015

On the drive back, I made a stop at the Washaroo to get Clara a shower, and listened to NPR reports on the protest violence in Baltimore. I was not aware, since I almost never watch TV news, that the right-wing media had been demonizing the protests. That’s crazy! I think I have a pretty good idea why Baltimore’s poor blacks (like those in Ferguson and many other cities) were angry. I learned a lot from Alice Goffman’s excellent book, On the Run, which vividly lays out what it means to live in a city (in her case, Philadelphia) where the police take the view that you are either a criminal or potential criminal and constantly harass and intimidate you.

It’s a harsh reality. It is unusual to be able to have a normal job, a loving family, and a comfortable place to live, and usual to face violence from both police and gangs, poverty, and betrayal. A legal system organized around criminalizing recreational drugs and draconian punishment for violators is a basic part of the problem, but there are other layers, including police militarization and racism. The people who are the victims of this system mostly suffer in silence, and so middle class America is mostly oblivious to the depth of the problem.

But that may be changing. When people destroy their own neighborhoods, it’s a wake up call – we at least know something is very wrong, and maybe we wonder what it is. I was cheered this week to read a news story that the leading presidential candidates on both sides agree that the system of mass incarceration for minor crimes needs to be turned around. Can our political system fix this humanitarian disaster? Repealing overly harsh sentencing laws and ending the war on drugs would be a good start.
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In the afternoon, I read some and practiced the piano. At the moment, I’ve got on the workbench polishing and memorizing Chopin’s Preludes in C and G, Schubert’s G-flat Impromptu, Schumann’s Arabesque, Debussy’s Reverie, and Liszt’s Liebestraum No. 1, while working on my first music by Arnold Schoenberg – his Six Little Piano Pieces. Schoenberg wrote this in 1911 and uses his famous twelve-tone system, which systematically avoids traditional harmony. It’s highly angular music, and not easy to love, but seems much more approachable to me now. I’m finding strangely haunting melodies, and a sensuality not so far from Debussy’s.

On Saturday evening we went to see the Carolina Railhawks play Tampa Bay at the soccer park in Cary. We enjoy our soccer outings, but figuring out a food option has been challenging. There is no healthy vegetarian food on sale, and our system of smuggling in a sandwich went down last season when they began checking in bags at the gate (and we had to consume our Jimmy John’s veggie special standing in the parking lot). Sally had read a review of a new southern Indian vegetarian restaurant on Chatham Street just past the soccer park, and we tried it out before the game. At Sri Meenakshi Bhavan, the chaats were delicious, and there was a great selection of dosas. The décor was purely functional, and there was no alcohol, but the price for this marvelous food ($35 for two) was most definitely right.

At the game, it was a bit chilly, and we were glad we’d brought our sweaters. There were some exciting sequences, but I left displeased with the Railhawks’ sloppiness. We were fortunate to get away with a 1-1 tie. I’m hoping it was just an off night, and not a step down from the high level of play of last season. I was also displeased with the broadcasting of local advertising by a booming PA system during the course of play. There were several such ads in the second period, which were very annoying. Who thought this was a good idea? I intend to complain.