The Casual Blog

Tag: Trump

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.

Eureka! On Trump’s refusal to defend the Constitution

Sally’s orchid

I thought I’d had a eureka moment last week, when I glimpsed a rock solid case for impeaching Trump sitting in plain view.  Simply put, Trump has clearly violated his oath to “support, protect, and defend the Constitution” by refusing to recognize and defend against Russia’s attacks on our elections.  There may be other powerful reasons for ending this presidency that emerge out of Mueller’s and others’ investigations, but this one is here now.

But I haven’t seen a bandwagon, or even a small wagon, for this idea, and I started to wonder if I’d missed the boat.   So this week I did some research to make sure there wasn’t some little known legal doctrine or evidentiary issue that might require me to issue a correction and apology to Mr. Trump.  So far, I’ve seen nothing to apologize for, and discovered a bit more.

Is this this too much on Trump?  Perhaps.  I don’t want to worry you or myself  sick.  I find it therapeutic to regularly step outdoors and spend some time with the beauty of nature.  A walk in the woods helps, and so does a stroll around the block, which is what I did when we had this week in Raleigh.  Light, powdery snow, no good for snowballs, but pleasant to hike in, and it made the trees sparkle.  

While we were snowed in, I looked closely at Sally’s new orchid (which is part of nature, though also of art) and took some pictures.  I used a tripod with focusing rails to make several exposures, then figured out how to stitch them together in Photoshop.  It was more complicated than I expected, but I figured it out and liked the image above.

Anyhow, my legal research turned up no authority indicating that the presidential oath means anything other than what it says, which is that the President is constitutionally obliged to protect and defend the Constitution.  Free and fair elections are at the foundation of our constitutional system.  It’s beyond dispute that Russia interfered with our 2016 election, and we need to defend against likely future attacks.  

At sunrise by the roof top pool

This is not a Republican/Democrat issue.  In fact, a bipartisan group of Senators, including Republicans Rubio, McCain, and Graham, co-sponsored a bill last week to impose sanctions on Russia for its interference with our elections and military aggression.  In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Senators Rubio and Van Hollen put the issue squarely: 

While the 2016 election may have left our country divided on many issues, it exposed one critical problem that should unite all Americans:  Our democratic process is vulnerable to attacks by hostile foreign powers.  

As our intelligence community unanimously assessed, Russia used social media channels to influence and mislead voters.  It also hacked political campaign committees and local elections boards in a brazen attempt to undermine and subvert our elections.  There is no reason to think this meddling will be an isolated incident.  In fact, we expect the threat will grow in future years.  The United States must do everything possible to prevent these attacks in the future — and lay out the consequences well in advance of our next elections.  

The sanctions proposed by this new bill seem reasonable.  But the President is still declining to take action.  In fact, he has repeatedly attempted to divert attention from this serious problem.  Over and over, he’s called it “fake news,” a “hoax,” and a  “witch hunt.”  He’s praised Vladimir Putin as brilliant and a strong leader.  Using Stalin’s chilling phrase, he’s called the free press the enemy of the people.  

This is beyond not normal.  However innocent or not innocent his motives, he’s violated his constitutional oath.  We should not be tolerating this.  

 

Our sexism comes out, and the campaign to stop the Trump investigation boots up

At the edge of the marsh near the Elizabeth River

Early Friday morning, I completed my hundredth spin class at Flywheel.  I did not meet my goal of 300 points (285), but I made it in in the top three, and I certainly got my heart rate well elevated (low 160s). Afterwards I drove over to O2 gym for some upper body resistance work and stretching.  Then I came home and fixed a green smoothie for breakfast, this time with orange juice, almond milk, kale, banana, baby carrots, celery, and blueberries.  That’s a lot of health in one glass, and it was also tasty.  

I’m exercising to feel good and increase the chances that I’ll still be here when Donald Trump is gone.  It helps my mood, which needs all the help it can get these days.  In particular, the recent flood of stories of powerful men sexually harassing women is depressing.  It suggests our problem is a lot worse than I thought, and we may well have not hit bottom yet.  

It’s no surprise that some percentage of males are dangerous sexual predators, and that there’s a larger percentage prone to crossing the line.  What’s new is the level of tolerance for such behavior. Last year almost half the population voted for a presidential candidate who bragged on tape about sexual assault.  Now a candidate in Alabama with a well documented record of molesting young teenage girls and lying about it stands a good chance of being elected to the United States Senate.

I formerly assumed that we all — Republican, Democrat, or other —  would agree that it is beyond the pale for middle-aged men to sexually assault fourteen-year-old girls.  That is, there are plenty of close questions when it comes to the boundary areas of sex, but there are some, like that one, that I thought were beyond debate. But apparently not.

What does this mean?   I think we’re seeing something that has been right in front of our noses all our lives but seldom noticed.  That is, we have a system in which women formally have equal rights, but in certain respects are regarded as unworthy.  In the US, we allow women to vote, attend school, work, and wear what they want. But we also systematically pay them less, give them less authority, and accept as normal that they’ll be subject to some degree of sexual misconduct.  

Ferguson and Black Lives Matter began a wrenching process that exposed a  hidden strain of racism.  Similarly, the disgusting and illegal behavior of Trump, Weinstein, Moore, and others  may be the start of a process that shines the light on our entrenched sexism.  We may expand the dialogue and expand the population that considers and treats women as fully human, and get to the point that nothing less will be tolerated.      

I hope so.  Meanwhile, I’m worried by the new effort to discredit and undermine the investigation of Russia’s interference in the last presidential election.  The evidence of Russian assistance to the Trump campaign is already extensive, and the evidence of ties between Trump’s top aides and the Russians is growing.  Now, as the plot thickens, Robert Mueller and the FBI are being accused of being partisan hacks out to get the President for no good reason. 

This campaign of slime is being led by Trump, Fox, and several Republican Congressmen.  There’s a good Washington Post piece on this by Paul Waldman here.  There’s also an account of the House Judiciary Committee’s work along this line here.  

I was sufficiently astonished by this idea that I decided to get out of my own bubble and watch, for the first time ever, an hour of Fox News.

So we saw Sean Hannity’s show on Thursday night, and it was both better and worse than expected.  Hannity and his guests are very skilled at weaving together uncontested facts with unfounded speculation and outright falsehoods so that they’re hard to distinguish.  The people are well-dressed and look serious and intelligent, and they all agree with each other on their key points.  

Thus several people at once will assent verbally and non-verbally to a proposition like “Hillary is the real criminal.”  They repeat their basic points over and over, but with enough variations that it isn’t completely obvious.  Unless you bring to the table a body of background knowledge, you might not notice the leaps in their reasoning, or the lack of any supporting evidence.    

So if you were to get all your news from Hannity, you might well believe that Trump is basically a good guy doing his level best and being unfairly thwarted by evil liberals.  And you might end up thinking that there’s no reason to worry about Russia taking over our political process.  At the same time, you might not be much concerned about electing sexual predators to high office.  

Hannity and Fox are really good at big lie propaganda.  Ordinary journalists can’t counter them as long as they are constrained by honesty and actual facts.  Reality based reporting doesn’t always fit neatly with our prejudices, and it just isn’t as exciting.  

Despite the effectiveness of Fox and Hannity, Trump’s poll numbers continue to sink.  I was heartened to read last week that his support among evangelical Christians had dropped by 17 percent since February.   Maybe it’s a trend.

I took these pictures last weekend when we visited my brother in the Virginia Beach area.  We got out on the Intercostal Waterway and did some kayaking.  The water was smooth and peaceful.  

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.    

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.  

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 flowers, golfing again, and a new question: is nuclear war good for us?

It is well and truly spring!  I highly recommend getting outside and looking at what’s blooming.  These pictures are ones I took on Saturday at Duke Gardens in Durham.  In the native plants area, the wildflowers did not disappoint!  The tulips were a little past their peak, but still riotously colorful.   

 

 

I read recently that learning new sports could slow down the inevitable mental decline of aging.  The idea seemed to be that new physical activities would stimulate new brain activity.  It sounded plausible, but time-consuming and potentially embarrassing.

It might be more productive and fun to improve at a sport at which you are currently mediocre.  Anyhow, that’s my working theory, as a new golf season beckons.  The last few months I played very little, owing to a series of minor injuries and uncongenial weather.  But this week I resumed my golf lessons with Jessica at GolfTec, and started practicing again, ever hopeful.

 

It’s a shame that Trump is such an avid golfer; it reflects badly on the game.  But the game will survive, and so will we.  I hope.  My confidence was somewhat shaken by recent reporting by Jane Mayer on the Trump circle. Her recent New Yorker piece  focused on Robert Mercer, a hedge fund billionaire with wacky right-wing ideas and enthusiasm for politics.  He and his family funded Bannon and Breitbart News, assumed a leading role in Trump’s presidential campaign, and are now directly involved in presidential decision-making.  

It’s not surprising that there are super rich people with nutty ideas, but this seems new:  super rich loonys more or less controlling the presidency.  The Mercers have promoted the “science” ideas of a bizarre figure named Arthur Robinson who champions the nonsense of climate change denialism.  Again, we know such people exist.  But new to me was his idea that nuclear war could be beneficial to human health.

In an interview on Fresh Air (transcribed here), Mayer said that Robinson and Mercer believe that nuclear radiation is good for people, and actually benefitted the Japanese who were subjected to the first nuclear attacks.  

In this political season, we’ve learned that there is no idea so crazy that it cannot be adopted by certain large groups of Americans.  So there may already be a significant  subpopulation that believes that nuclear war might be a good thing after all, with some of them in the White House.  That’s scary!  We need to reread  Hiroshima by John Hersey, and discuss the reality of the nuclear peril, and try to contain this existentially bad idea before it spreads.  

 

In New York with my kids, and a Snap Pea dinner in Raleigh

St. Patrick's Cathedral from the 35th floor of the New York Palace

St. Patrick’s Cathedral from the 35th floor of the New York Palace

After the Softer Freedom Law Center conference on Friday, I grabbed a cab and headed downtown. The plan was to meet up with Gabe, Jocelyn, and J’s friend Kyle for Italian food and then some jazz. I allowed an hour for the trip from Columbia (116th St.) to the West Village, but the traffic was epically bad, and the trip took almost two hours.

My cabbie was a compulsive talker, and he really wanted to talk about Trump. Out of desperation for another subject – any subject — I started asking him about himself, and learned about his upbringing in Ecuador, his work as a commercial printer with diminishing opportunities as those jobs moved abroad, and his plans to move to California. I ended up liking him.

Olio e Piu, a fine Italian restaurant on Greenwich Ave., was crowded, but they quickly got us a table. My ravioli al funghi was to die for. Afterwards, we walked over to the legendary Village Vanguard and listened to a quartet led by the pianist Enrico Pieranunzi.

Pieranunzi had the elegant pointillism of Bill Evans joined with the percussive emotionality of McCoy Tyner. His original charts were both engaging and bold, and three bandmates were excellent. I particularly loved drummer Clarence Penn, who was a hard-driving yet subtle polyrhythmist with a huge smile, and tenor Seamus Blake channelled the smoldering intensity of John Coltrane. I couldn’t find any online recordings of this current group, but here’s a sample of Pieranunzi’s playing.

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On Saturday afternoon Gabe and I went to the Frick. Since he’s well along in his graphic design program at Parsons, he’s got a high level of visual sophistication, but he hadn’t yet experienced the world class collection of old masters there. It was fun sharing some of my favorite paintings, including the Vermeers and Rembrandts. We had an espresso afterwards, and then he headed downtown to do some studio work, and I walked over to the Met Breuer.

There, I had my second close encounter with the fantastic Diane Arbus exhibit (leaving Nov. 27), and my first with the paintings of Kerry James Marshall. These included some very large-scale works with a lot of painterly quotes, references and influences, with most of the works prominently depicting black people.

Marshall’s art is political in a vital sense: it makes visible previously hidden social forces and assumptions that limit us. Marshall points up that blackness is normal and part of us, but black people have been largely excluded from the paintings in our museums. The implications of this are interesting. His black people as really black – darker than any American with African ancestors that I’ve ever seen. That seemed to be part of his playfulness, but it was also provocative.

A view of St. Pat's from the hotel gym.

A view of St. Pat’s from the hotel gym.

Afer that, I walked over to the main Met to check out the work of Max Beckmann. He’s generally thought of as an Expressionist, though he rejected that label. His best work has the psychological depth and penetration of Picasso. Some of it was dark and macabre, but there were also elements of humor. I liked it. I also spent some time with the pre-Columbian collection and a small current exhibit of Native American work.

That evening, Jocelyn and I ate at Rosa Mexicana on Columbus and 61st, where they made guacamole at the table and served fantastic vegetarian hongo tacos. It was just across the street from Lincoln Center, and so we were confident that we’d get to the opera on time. I was very excited about seeing Rossini’s L’Italiani in Algerie, which I’d prepped for with a recording from Spotify. But it was canceled. New York’s Finest were there in force when we arrived. Apparently there was a scare having to do with a patron throwing some brown substance (possibly human remains) into the orchestra pit.
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Jocelyn proposed a Plan B, which was to go to a Jazz at Lincoln Center concert: Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks. We got in to the 9:30 show off the waiting list. The band was some 14 ace musicians who recreated the hot jazz of the 1920s with passion and erudition. Vince G played tuba, string bass, and bass sax, and sang a bit as well. It was delightful, toe-tapping fun!musicians

On Sunday, my flight back to Raleigh went smoothly. That evening, we went to our first pop-up dinner by Snap Pea with our friends Gerry and Gay. The Snappea dinners are multi-course vegetarian events held in surprise venues (revealed only hours before) with food created around a theme paired with the physical space.

Jacob Boehm, the owner and executive chef, was inspired by an abstract mural gracing an otherwise vacant shop in North Hills Mall, and used different colors for the 9 courses. As each course came out, he told the group about where the ingredients came from and what he’d done with them. He helped you taste more. I especially liked the spoonbread with turmeric butter and the chestnut soup. Jacob explained that the reason he did not use meat in these dinners was for him not premised on animals rights or health, but rather because using plants inspired more interesting experimental cooking and tasting.