Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Billionaires in Space

I didn't have plans to watch Richard Branson's foray out of the atmosphere last week, but the TV was on at my mom's house and I didn't have anything better to do so...

Quite honestly, having horrible memories of two space shuttle tragedies that claimed the lives of 14 astronauts, I was a little worried about being witness to another horrific event. That's exactly why I'm not an auto racing fan, just not into seeing people die in front of my eyes.

Fortunately my fears were not realized as Branson and his five fellow astronauts, two pilots and three other passengers or in the official space travel jargon, "flight specialists", arrived safe and sound back on terra firma about 45 minutes after their brief experience of the weightlessness of inner space.

I use that term because there is some disagreement as to where the earth's atmosphere ends and space begins. In the fifties, physicist Theodore von Kármná calculated that the atmosphere became too thin to support aerodynamic flight at around 100k or 62 miles above sea level. Branson's spacecraft did not cross the "Kármán Line" therefore to some, including his chief competitor in the current billionaire's space race Jeff Bezos, who is scheduled to blast off in his own space ship in about oh T-minus 58 minutes and counting from this writing, Branson didn't quite get there.

However NASA, who I'd say has a little experience with the subject, draws its space line at 50 miles above sea level and (something I just learned the other day) awards astronaut wings to folks who pass that threshold. For the record, Branson's craft reached 53.5 miles.  

Before the flight I was hopelessly ignorant of Branson's, Bezos's or Elon Musk's SpaceX missions. Such a far cry from when I was a kid glued to the TV for every US space launch from sometime during the early Gemini missions, through Apollo and the moon landings, SkyLab, the first American "space station" and into the era of the Space Shuttle. 

Then after about three or four shuttle missions, I lost interest, as there didn't seem to be a glamorous objective for the space program anymore, at least the manned part of it. I wasn't alone in my indifference which I'm sure inspired NASA, in order to attract more public attention and political support to their efforts, announced through President Reagan in 1984 that it would send their first civilian, a teacher into space on the shuttle. The person selected out of 11,000 applicants was middle school teacher Christa McAuliffe from, Concord, NH. 

That got my attention.. But the Chicago Bears had just won the Super Bowl and the rest of the city and I were thawing out after the glorious victory parade in single digit degree temperatures in the Loop the day before the launch of the Challenger. Let's just say my mind was elsewhere. I was at work that Tuesday and will never forget exactly where I was when I learned that Challenger had exploded shortly after the launch, killing McAuliffe and her six crew mates.

Needless to say, like practically everyone, I was deeply affected by the tragedy, I can only imagine how it must have impacted the people who were watching the doomed launch as it unfolded live on TV, especially the tens of thousands of students in their classrooms watching because of McAuliffe's involvement in the mission. 

It had been nearly twenty years since the last fatal NASA accident involving astronauts (which took place on the launch pad during a pre-flight test) and Americans had become accustomed to seeing astronauts blasting off into space and returning safely. Even the near disaster of Apollo 13 only proved that the brilliance, ingenuity and quick thinking of the team of professionals who ran the space program, made a tragedy like the one that befell Challenger, inconceivable.

Well that's what it seemed like anyway. Because of the perpetual chin up attitude (at least in public) of the folks at NASA and let's face it, a little luck, few of us I think really had any idea until January 28, 1986, how truly dangerous going into space was.  

Just as after the tragedy of Apollo I, the issues that caused the Challenger disaster were addressed, the appropriate heads rolled, and we were back in business, up in in space after an appropriate hiatus.

Then it happened again, 17 years later. Once again I had by and large little if any interest in the Shuttle program and had no idea there was even a mission taking place. But by chance I happened that day to be on my way to an all day retreat when I heard a report on the radio that the Space Shuttle Columbia, the first of the shuttles to be launched 22 years before and on its 27th mission, was preparing for re-entry after a two week mission. I said a little prayer for the astronauts' safe return, then didn't think about them for the rest of the day. The retreat went without a hitch until the end of the day when one of the leaders of the retreat announced that early that morning, Columbia broke up upon re-entry, killing everyone on board. 

Space travel is serious business indeed. 

That fact was brought up during the broadcast of Branson's flight to one of the fellows involved in the current race to space by private entities who hope to very soon be sending paying customers into space. When the interviewer pointed out that the current mortality rate of astronauts on missions into space is a little over three percent, (therefore not a very good business model), space guy assured us that today we have computer modeling systems that can predict and correct far more problems before they occur that ever before.

I'm sure he's right. I can remember when you could bank on there being at least one or two major airline crashes every year in this country alone and many more around the world. Because of artificial intelligence systems detecting problems in time, and greatly reducing the chance of pilot error, and because of ever more stringent safety regulations in place, crashes such as those common in the past, taking the lives of hundreds of people every year, are rare indeed, at least in the US and Europe.  

But they still do happen. Of course, even back when airplane crashes were fairly commonplace, your chances of surviving a commercial air flight were greater than your chances of surviving a ride in the car. Today they're far greater. 

Obviously space flight is a different matter which begs the question, what's the point of investing all the time and money into a venture that when you come to think of it at these early stages anyway, is little more than providing very rich people the world's most expensive and dangerous amusement park ride? And of course the inevitable lament that I've been hearing all my life: "just think if all that money going up into space was spent down here on earth, all the problems we could solve."

Personally I'm on the fence with this one. What Branson, Bezos, Musk and others are doing is what people have been doing since we've been people, exploring the unknown and challenging themselves to get there. It's in our DNA. Without it, the species Homo sapiens would have never left its ancestral home in Africa. 

Some say that would have been a good thing, especially for our planet. Perhaps. 

But given the fact that didn't happen, it's pointless to get on a soapbox harping about these people and their ambitions to get into space. Whether we like it or not, they're going ahead with their plans. Like all innovation, there will be discoveries made that right now we can't even imagine. ones that will in fact address many of the problems we have down here on earth. There will also be discoveries that may make matters worse for us as well, that's just how innovation works, no matter how good the intention. 

We will certainly see our home planet in a different light. You can't see national borders from space for one thing, but you can see much of the impact human existence has had on the earth's environment, most of it not for the good. From all I've ever heard, the experience of being in space is a profound, life-altering experience, perhaps it will dawn on some of the movers and shakers floating around during their magic carpet rides in space to rethink their attitudes about how we treat our home and our fellow space travelers who inhabit it.

On the other hand, I've heard arguments for expansion into space that say it's necessary to explore and develop other worlds because one day, our old world may not be inhabitable anymore.

I have a better idea.

Let's not let that happen.


Jeff Bezos's flight this morning came off seemingly without a hitch. The passengers which included both the oldest person who has ever been to space (and who deserves a post of her own) and the youngest ever, along with Bezos and his brother, all grinned from ear to ear as they disembarked from their capsule minutes after it touched down. The flight was seemingly so flawless, it inspired one reporter to remark that space travel was no longer dangerous.

That struck me as a wildly ignorant comment, and reminded me of the first passenger aboard a US space flight, Ham the chimpanzee.

That event inspired this comment from the film The Right Stuff, uttered by Sam Shepard in the role of Chuck Yaeger, regarding the character of astronauts at the time who unlike pilots, had very little if any control of their spacecraft and were essentially replacing chimps in space:

 Think a monkey knows he's sitting on top of a rocket that might explode? These astronaut boys, they know that, see? Well, I'll tell you somethin' - it takes a special kind of man to volunteer for a suicide mission, especially one that's on TV.

While going into space is no longer exactly a suicide mission, there is still a good amount of risk involved. I'm afraid once Bezos' and Branson's space tour buses get a few successful journeys under their belts, folks both working on them on the ground and those paying top dollar to fly in them are going to become complacent and forget this process still involves human beings sitting atop a glorified stick of dynamite. That complacency is where the real danger lies I'm afraid.

Real astronauts, and by that I mean the ones who train for years to get their chance to work on a mission are another story. They know exactly all of the risks involved, and that any moment, especially during launch or re-entry, may be their last. Perhaps one of the most enlightened writers I've read, explaining the experience of being in space is former astronaut, Chris Hadfield. Here is an interview he gave with NPR's Terry Gross in 2013.

If you have even the slightest interest in space travel, or for that matter life on earth, trust me, listening to this interview is 43 minutes well spent.

Anyway here's the deal. Having just said everything above about my reticence of sending civilians into space, if someone offered me a free ride in either Bezos's of Branson's space buggies, would I take them up on it?

You bet I would.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Gaslighting and Button Pushing, Spotting BS a mile away...

In my penultimate post I wrote about the kerfuffle over the ultra-right's latest bogyman, the teaching of "Critical Race Theory" (CRT) in our schools. Just as Donald Trump in 2016 used immigration (an issue older than this nation), as a lightning rod to instill fear and loathing among the potential voters who would become his base, today's Trumplicans have come up with another "new" threat which has also been around for quite some time. Much like the immigration "crisis" of 2016, they portray CRT as having the potential to destroy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as we know it. 

In other words as many have suggested, if you can't find a real issue to debate, make one up.

Once again, CRT is a school of thought based upon the principle that racism is endemic in our society. Here's a good explanation from this article in the site "Education Week":

The core idea is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.

One doesn't have to be in perfect lock-step with every idea coming out of the mouths of CRT proponents, I certainly am not. But unless you are ignorant of or in complete denial of our racist past including slavery, Jim Crow, forced segregation, as well as ongoing events such as racial profiling, the epidemic of police shooting unarmed black people, and states' disenfranchisement of minority voters under the deceitful pretext of eliminating virtually non-existent voter fraud,  (just to name a handful of injustices all of which at one time or other were deemed perfectly "legal"), it's hard to argue with that basic tenet of Critical Race Theory.

Yet the idea of teaching our children that this country's history and present are not entirely rosy is unacceptable for many, and yet another made-up crisis is hoisted upon us by the opinion shapers of the ultra-right.

I just came across an article written by David Limbaugh, yes indeedy the little brother of the late bombastic darling of the Trumplicans, Rush Limbaugh.

The Little Limbaugh's commentary is yet another diatribe from the ultra-right. It's filled with themes, images and words of doom, all designed to push the buttons and gaslight vulnerable white Americans into believing that everything they hold near and dear to their hearts is under attack from those disgraceful, godless, lefty, progressive Democrats.

I'm going to reproduce the Limbuagh piece in its entirety with my comments interspersed in red. 

The title of the article is: "Who Are the Real Bullies on Race?" 

PUSHED BUTTON NUMBER ONE: Race is a button for all Americans regardless of their ideology, and "racist" is still considered one of the most damning accusations of our day. A constant theme in the battle against CRT for example is that it is nothing more than reverse racism, and that white people are actually the victims of it. Obviously the "real bullies on race" according to Limbaugh, are the not the people for whom this article was intended.

At the top of the piece as published in the ultra-right webiste, GOPUSA, is this image of the American flag, along with the text that surrounds it. 

PUSHED BUTTON NUMBER TWO: Nothing arouses the sentiments (and other parts) of the ultra-right than the image of Old Glory flapping in the breeze. What it actually stands for is another thing.

PUSHED BUTTON NUMBER THREE: The mere mention of Black Lives Matter, a loose collection of folks dedicated to promoting the idea that black lives are just as important as other people's lives, sends shivers up and down the spines of the ultra--right-white, who see them unjustifiably as a terrorist organization bent on the destruction of truth, justice and the American way.

Put these two buttons together and you have for some, the image of black terrorists destroying everything god-fearing white Americans value by golly.

Wow, three buttons already pushed and the article hasn't even started yet! 

OK here's Limbaugh's piece. Remember, he's in black, I'm in red (until otherwise noted):

As absurd, extreme and reckless as the American left has been on race, and despite growing public disapproval of their antics, they are doubling down rather than pulling back.

GASLIGHTING EXAMPLE NUMBER ONE: Where exactly is the evidence that there is "growing public disapproval" of the American left's "antics" on the issue of race? I'll get to that in a minute.

On the Fourth of July, Utah’s Black Lives Matter chapter described the American flag as “a symbol of hatred.”

“When we Black Americans see this flag we know the person flying it is not safe to be around,” it declared. “When we see this flag we know the person flying it is a racist. When we see this flag we know that the person flying it lives in a different America than we do. When we see this flag, we question your intelligence. We know to avoid you. It is a symbol of hatred.”

OK here I have to push back on the comment that everyone who flies the American flag is a racist. That is an extreme opinion which I do not hold. Of course my opinion on this subject is understandable, I'm white not black.

The reality of the black experience in America is much different from the white experience. Not willing to accept that as Limbaugh clearly does not, is as good an argument for the teaching of CRT in our schools as any I can think of.

Here is what Jackie Robinson, today universally revered and referenced by both black and white Americans, quite unlike during his lifetime, had to say about the flag shortly before he died:

There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first World Series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world.

Lex Scott, the chapter’s founder, was hardly sorry when called out on the statement. “Ever since we put up the post, our page has been flooded with hatred from people who fly the flag,” said Scott. “And we want to thank those people for proving our point.” It seems that all flag-waving patriots are to be lumped in with the Ku Klux Klan, because according to Scott, the Klan “proudly” waves the flag at their rallies. I’m sure it would never occur to Scott that her categorical smear smacks of the same type of shameful mindset that drives racism.

GASLIGHTING EXAMPLE NUMBER TWO:  The KKK is the ultimate symbol of white supremacy and abject evil in the United States and the image of its hooded members waving the American flag certainly is a powerful symbol to all Americans, especially black Americans. Again as he does so often in this piece, Limbaugh demonstrates his refusal to show even the slightest bit of empathy for his fellow Americans who happen to be black. Rather he turns the tables and again claims white victimhood as here he compares BLM to the KKK.

Scott’s statements are not representative of the left, you say? Well, how often have you heard a progressive condemn or even mildly criticize Black Lives Matter? Have you ever heard one criticize its Marxist roots? Aren’t you more likely to see leftists defending the organization and imploring us to understand its genuine grievances?

PUSHED BUTTON NUMBER FOUR: Ah that old bugaboo, Marxism!!! I'm guessing from the way this paragraph was written, Limbaugh is saying the "genuine grievances" of the group he labels as "Black Lives Matter" are dishonest, suspect and devious, i.e.: they're not really interested in civil rights and justice for black people as they say but rather only in turning this country into a totalitarian Marxist/Communist state.

GASLIGHTING EXAMPLE NUMBER THREE: As for the left (or anyone for that matter) criticizing BLM, once again there is no one target group to criticize called Black Lives Matter, rather an amorphous collection of groups and individuals with different goals and agendas, all unified by the slogan, Black Lives Matter.  That slogan by the way is a favorite target of the ultra-right as they like to read into it as if it means the only lives that matter are black ones. 

That reading is willful ignorance, pure and simple as it has been stated time and again from people who embrace the slogan, that for centuries, and some would say even today, black lives quite literally have not mattered in this country. Refusal to accept this simple fact is yet another example for the need of an honest account of race to be a regular part of the curriculum in schools all over this country.

And yes, there is plenty to question and criticize members of the various BLM movements for such as the blanket statement that all people who fly the American flag are racists. I just did it above. 

It’s not just Black Lives Matter — not by a long shot. Pretty much the entire leftist freight train is steamrolling its way through our cultural, educational and media institutions — even our bar associations (Heavens to Betsy NO, NOT OUR BAR ASSOCIATIONS!!!) — not to stamp out actual racism but to ensure that it thrives, to force people to obsess on it as much as they do and to divide us as a people along racial lines.
GASLIGHTING EXAMPLE NUMBER FOUR: No it's not the Trumplicans actively fighting to preserve monuments to the Confederacy, bending over backwards to deny minorities the right to vote, and fighting tooth and nail to deny that racism has been part and parcel of life in this country for centuries who are dividing the country along racial lines. It is the people who seek to give our children an honest reckoning of this nation's difficult history and "obsess" about issues like justice for all who are doing the dividing. 

That is one hundred percent unadulterated bullshit.  

A friend’s son was given an assignment in a university writing class requiring him, essentially, to explain why white people are privileged and bad. You can nitpick over my words, but you’ve surely heard similar stories. "You can nitpick over my words"??? In other words what he just said was at best an exaggeration, or at worst, made up. But be careful that you don’t confirm that you’ve heard of such experiences lest you be accused of “white fragility,” you know, the unwillingness to condemn yourself as a racist for what others may or may not have done, and your audacity in disputing the narrative. Just imagine being wrongly accused of one of the most egregious sins imaginable and lifting one of your pinkies in self-defense. How dare you!

This is the only honest part of the whole piece. Yes, any person who has issues with learning the truth about the past, especially if it paints one's ancestors in a bad light, suffers from fragility, regardless of their race, creed or color.  Funny, and I thought it was the Trumplicans who love to criticize the other side for being "snowflakes". 

The truth is, we all have much to learn. Confronting, challenging and correcting centuries' worth of mistakes and shortcomings including one's own racism (yes I'm as guilty as much as anyone), is part of being human and hopefully making oneself a better person. Who would have a problem with that? Well obviously David Limbaugh does. 

Consider a less anecdotal example. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten asserted that many GOP legislators “are bullying teachers (on the subject of race) and trying to stop us from teaching students accurate history.” She shared her views during a livestreamed conference billed as “How to Be an Antiracist.” This teacher’s union has some 1.7 million members, incidentally.

Illustrating her formidable skill at projection, she allowed that these Republicans might just be trying to “raise the temperature on race relations because of the next election.” Even more delusionally, she claimed that “culture warriors are labeling any discussion of race, racism or discrimination as (critical race theory) to try to make it toxic” — as if conservatives launched the so-called culture wars, and as if we are the ones toxifying society through endless, fraudulent stereotypical racial smears.

GASLIGHTING EXAMPLE NUMBER FIVE: Interesting that the subject of projection comes up. If the Trumplicans are masters of anything, it's projection. Remember in one of the 2016 presidential debates when Hillary Clinton accused Donald Trump of being a puppet of Vladimir Putin? Trump might as well have said "I'm rubber and you're glue, what bounces off me sticks to you." What he actually said was "I'm not a puppet, you're a puppet." In fact virtually every charge he has ever leveled against someone during his public life was something he was clearly guilty of himself.  Here the Little Limbaugh as projector, is projecting projection. What do you call that. projection squared or cubed?

Apparently, Weingarten is outraged that 26 states — so far — have introduced bills or taken other action to limit or ban the teaching of critical race theory in public schools. She’s not alone. The National Education Association just passed a resolution to “fight back against anti-CRT rhetoric.” The stated intent of the broader resolution — New Business Item 39 — is to share and publicize research that “critiques empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society.” Orwell was obviously a piker.

DISINGENUOUS LITERARY REFERENCE: Here Limbaugh is obviously referring to George Orwell's distopian novel Nineteen Eighty Four

Nineteen Eighty Four is famous in part for the terms the author coined for the novel, many of which have found their way into popular English lexicon. Terms such as "Unperson", "Thoughtpol" (short for Thought Police), "Newspeak", "Doublethink", "Memory Hole", and the most well known, "Big Brother", are all euphemisms describing chilling aspects of the totalitarian regime featured in the novel.

The impressive list of  "isms" and "archies" cited above by the NEA resolution does indeed contain a few doozies, (I had to look up cisheteropatriarchy), but they're all universally accepted terms describing various forms of power and discrimination, not words made up for effect or irony.

In a deeper sense, like comparisons to Hitler, claiming one's political adversary has totalitarian tendencies has become quite commonplace, sometimes to the point of irrelevance. To ultra-right pundits like the brothers Limbaugh, policies like universal healthcare, mask mandates during a pandemic, and specifically here, the idea that history be taught honestly from several points of view, not just the Eurocentric one, are all examples of progressive totalitarianism. 

To the other side, the exPOTUS's deference toward brutal dictators such as Erdogan, Putin and Kim Jung Un, his rejection of a free and by all accounts (except his) fair election which he lost decisively, and his executive order banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory in the schools, can be said to be examples of totalitarianism of a different sort.    

Perhaps the most significant comparison of the exPOTUS's regime to the one in Orwell's novel, is its insistence that the one and only arbiter of the truth is the leader himself. Anything that contradicted the exPOTUS was in his words "fake news", a term that might rival Orwell's were it not so artless and unoriginal.  

It was the exPOTUS's minion, Kellyanne Conway, who early in the administration came up with the most Orwellian of terms when she told an interviewer who confronted her about her boss's famous penchant for lying: "well there are facts, and then there are 'alternate facts.'"

The NEA also allocated $56,500 to “research organizations attacking educators doing anti-racist work.” And they want to talk to us about bullying?

These progressive educators don’t think it’s appropriate for parents to stand up against teaching ideas euphemistically dressed up as “accurate history” even though poll after poll shows that a strong majority of Americans have a negative view of critical race theory?

GASLIGHTING EXAMPLE NUMBER SIX: OK this brings us back to the issue brought up before that there is "growing public disapproval" of the teaching of Critical Race Theory in this country. It shouldn't come as any surprise that polls have more Americans not liking CRT, as the issue has been harped upon incessantly by the ultra-right media, which is the only source of news for the vast majority of Trumplicans. By contrast, reputable media outlets (1) have put the issue on the back burner at best which is why the subject is off the radar for most of those who are not part of the cult of Trump. 

On another matter, really the crux of the whole debate, is do parents have the right to question and criticize what is being taught to our children? OF COURSE WE DO!!! That is what school boards, local school councils, the PTA, parent/teacher conferences and a slew of other resources available to parents are for, certainly NOT the state or federal government. The most valuable resource of all is the dinner table where parents and children have the opportunity to share the events of the day, on a personal, a local, and a global level. There is no learning experience greater than that. Too many of us, ourselves included, take these opportunities for granted. But shame on us, government is certainly not the institution that should be responsible for determining what our children learn and do not learn at school. That my friends is about as conservative value there is, what ever happened to those values by the way?. 

And now for the piece de resistance:

I’m old enough — actually, my kids are old enough — to remember when our society overwhelmingly embraced Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream that all people be judged by the content of the character rather than the color of their skin. How far we’ve descended.

Don’t be bullied by those seeking to intimidate you with false charges of racism from standing up for your children, for accurate history and for promoting the laudatory goal of seeing and treating people of all races as individuals made in God’s image.





You can set your watch knowing that a Trumpilican writing about the issue of race will inevitably toss in the Martin Luther King Card. It's their way of saying "hey I'm not a racist, I think that (the long dead) Martin Luther King was a swell guy." 
I wrote about that very subject in this space a few years ago in a post called "Dead Icons." 

End of article, I'm back in black now.

The hard reality is that Dr. King and Jackie Robinson whom I mentioned above, were both despised during their lives, not only by lots of white people, but also by a number of their own people. Were they alive today, you can rest assured that would be no different. 

The only difference between MLK and BLM is that Dr. King was the more radical of the two.

Every year on the day we Americans celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King, we are subjected to a feel good soundbite from his most famous speech where he dreams of the day when
...little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers...
It's all very comforting and kumbaya, especially when we hear how things have changed since then and King's words are accompanied by images of little black and white boys and girls doing just that. Then we hear from folks who hated his guts when he was alive publicly extolling his virtues, a safe fifty three years after his death, bygones being bygones. 

But we seldom hear the meat and potatoes of that speech like when he said this:
One hundred years (after the Emancipation Proclamation), the colored American lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the colored American is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.
Or this:
When the architects of our great republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given its colored people a bad check, a check that has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

Today as we see hate speech and crimes against minorities on the increase, as we see the growing gap of prosperity between the poor and the rich, as we see the Supreme Court approving states chipping away bit by bit, pieces of the Voting Rights Act whose passage was in part inspired by that very speech, we realize 58 years later, that things have not changed as much as we thought they had in that time.

After the success of his "I Have a Dream Speech" culminating the "March for Jobs and Freedom" in Washington DC in August of 1963, then FBI Director J..Edgar Hoover dubbed King, the "Most Dangerous Negro in America." Hoover persuaded then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to wire tap King in hopes of gathering evidence that the Civil Rights Leader had ties to the Communist Party. 

The government could not find any such evidence (they did find other stuff of a personal nature to use against him). and King himself had often unequivocally renounced Communism  as being anathema to Christianity, 

However  King repeatedly stated his goal was not only civil justice for his people but more importantly a ​“total, direct, and immediate abolition of poverty.” 

"In a sense..." he said in an interview with the New York Times in 1968, "...you could say we are engaged in the class struggle.” 

In 1966 he said the following to a meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Council: 
Something is wrong with capitalism, there must be a better distribution of wealth in the country. ​Maybe,... America must move toward a democratic socialism.
After all King would often say: "What good is being able to sit at a lunch counter if you can't afford a hamburger?" 

Commenting on the disparity between rich and poor in this country which has only widened since his death, King said this: 
We ​compress our abundance into the overfed mouths of the middle and upper classes until they gag with superfluity.
The phony people who today profess their love for Dr. King, like to point out that he always advocated non-violence and would never have approved of the tactics of groups such as BLM, ANTIFA, and the diverse set of folks who took part in the urban riots that followed the killing of George Floyd and the shooting of Jason Blake last summer. 

However, frustrated that his campaign to end poverty in America was falling upon deaf ears even amongst those who supported his civil rights efforts, shortly before his death Martin Luther King admitted in words that are shockingly relevant today given the events of the past year: 
Urban riots must now be recognized as durable social phenomena... They may be deplored, but they are there and should be understood. Urban riots are a special form of violence. They are not insurrections. The rioters are not seeking to seize territory or to attain control of institutions. They are mainly intended to shock the white community. They are a distorted form of social protest. The looting which is their principal feature serves many functions. It enables the most enraged and deprived Negro to take hold of consumer goods with the ease the white man does by using his purse. Often the Negro does not even want what he takes; he wants the experience of taking.
One would think that to the mind of a Trumplican, these sound more like the words of Che Guevara than their newly anointed hero Martin Luther King.
But there you have it. King was every bit as much of a radical/socialist as anyone in BLM. So please Trumplicans, stop invoking his name to support your cause because he certainly wouldn't support it were he alive today. 

The ignorance that paints MLK in the words of writer Michael Harriot, " a meek, milquetoast orator who fits (the) narrative of the sweet, submissive hero begging for a seat at the table", rather than the "revolutionary willing to bleed and die for what he believed in" that he was, is yet further evidence of the need to educate our children properly.
My guess is that ultra-right wing writers like David Limbaugh are not ignorant of history. If my hunch is correct, by willfully promoting such ignorance among his readers, he and his ilk are doing this country a grave disservice.

In his address to Congress in support of the Voting Rights Bill of 1965, President Lyndon Johnson said the following:
This great, rich, restless country can offer opportunity and education and hope to all: black and white, North and South, sharecropper and city dweller. These are the enemies: poverty, ignorance, disease. They are the enemies and not our fellow man, not our neighbor. And these enemies too, poverty, disease and ignorance, we shall overcome.  
With their opposition to raising the minimum wage to the level of a living wage, their fight against universal healthcare, their downplaying of a global pandemic and saving lives through vaccination, the Trumplicans have declared their undivided support of poverty and disease.

I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that they're now throwing all their weight behind ignorance as well. (2)
Maybe LBJ was wrong and at least some of our fellow men and women are indeed the enemy. 


(1) This comment begs the question, what is a reputable news source? In my opinion it has nothing to do with bias, there are reputable sources of all stripes, right, center and left. What separates reputable from disreputable journalism is the willingness, or not, to present both sides of a story, to get the facts right as best you can and most important, when you don't get them right, to correct it. Yes it's that simple.

(2) I'd like to thank my friend Stefan Kwiatkowski for helping me finish off this piece with the LBJ quote and those timely thoughts.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Light to a photographer is what paint is to a painter, or a block of clay, wood or marble are to a sculptor. That's why you hear photographers and film makers waxing eloquently about particular types of light as other artists do about the raw materials of their craft. One of the most desirable types of light for many photographers is the natural light that occurs during "The Golden Hour", that is to say, the hour(s) just after dawn and before dusk.  
The long, seductive shadows
of golden hour light

It is at those times when the light from the sun, low in the sky, casts long, dramatic shadows. Filtered through more of the earth's atmosphere than at any other time of day, the quality of the light is relatively low in contrast and provides a warm cast which is especially flattering for portraits. But really everything looks beautiful in golden hour light which is why it's not surprising that many photographers make their images exclusively early in the morning and/or late in the afternoon.

The antithesis of the golden hour is the light found on a cloudless day at noon, particularly around the Summer Solstice when the sun is at its highest point in the sky. From the high angle the sun's light passes through the minimum amount of atmosphere, resulting in high contrast, bluish light. That trifecta of qualities can be a deadly combination. It's unforgiving light that in the wrong hands, can make anything look terrible. 

Which is why to paraphrase Noel Coward, unlike mad dogs and Englishmen, most photographers seldom go out in the midday sun.

But the truth is, while certain types of light are not appropriate for certain situations, there is no such thing as bad light.

I first discovered the magic of high noon summertime light about thirty years ago during a partial solar eclipse. In order to safely observe the rare celestial event, I came prepared with a simple device consisting of a shoe box with a tiny hole poked into one of its sides. This simplest of cameras commonly known as a pinhole camera, works on exactly the same principle as other cameras, just without the fuss of a lens.

In a nutshell, here's how it works:

The very act of seeing and image making are based upon a very simple principle, the fact that bright objects reflect more light than dark objects. Now imagine deconstructing the scene in front of a camera into a grid of tiny squares, each square reflecting a different value of light (and color). Light reflects in all directions from our squares, but as the pinhole is so small, only a tiny portion of light reflected from any one of our image squares will find its way into our pinhole aperture, Once it passes though the aperture, that ray of light then follows a straight line until it hits the back of our shoe box camera, resulting in a tiny speck of light. The more light reflected by our square, the brighter the light speck.

As the light reflected off each image square hits our aperture at a slightly different angle, the light entering into the camera will deposit itself on a different part of the camera back, Now take the light from all those little squares, each one carrying with it the reflectance value of its source and depositing itself faithfully within its unique set of coordinates upon a new grid of points of light on the camera back and VOILA(!), we have projected upon the back of our box camera, a two dimensional image representing the scene in front of the camera.

Now unless we were able to climb into our shoe box camera and close off all outside light except the light entering through the pinhole, it's very difficult to view the image of  most subjects with the naked eye as the pinhole only permits a small amount of light to pass through. Unless that is, the subject happens to be a very bright object, such as the sun.

The problem with the shoe box/pinhole/eclipse viewer is that you have to hold it very precisely and very still in order for the image of the sun to be easily visible on the back of the viewer. Not to mention that you look silly holding a shoe box over your head. 

In no time I chucked my homemade device because I discovered that nature provided a much more efficient pinhole eclipse viewer, the leaves of trees.

We've all seen the shadows of leaves cast by the sun. When leaves are dispersed and enough light passes between them, their shadows are distinct. However when a tree is densely packed with broad leaves such as those found on maple trees, only a small amount of direct sunlight if any passes though, and these tiny holes that allow light to pass work exactly as pinhole apertures. So rather than shadows cast on the ground, what we see in the photograph on the right are live images of the disc of the sun, one for each "pinhole" opening in the leaves. 

During normal times these discs of light on the ground may be mistaken for shadows, but during a solar eclipse, the image of the sun being blocked by the moon is unmistakable, as rather than a disk what we see are crescents of light, the shape of which determined by the amount of sun covered by the moon. In the extremely rare event of a total eclipse, the crescent for a brief moment becomes the familiar ring of light that is the sun's corona we've all seen in photographs of eclipses but few (myself included) have ever seen in person.

It was a discovery for me that day as while I understood the concept of the pinhole, I never thought of it in that particular context. As I was in a public park at the time, I shared my "discovery" with passersby who cared to notice. 

A few years ago during another solar eclipse, once again around noon in the same park and the same time of year, I tried to repeat the experience. Alas, it was a hazy day and while the sun was still visible through the thin cloud cover and still possible to view the eclipse by other means, the stark contrast between the sun and the rest of the sky wasn't enough to produce the pinhole effect through the trees. 

So the recipe for the leaf pinhole effect is a cloudless sky to provide sufficient contrast to be able to see the image, and the sun being high in the sky to produce nearly circular (rather than elongated) images of the sun. In other words, the dreaded summer solstice noon light.

A few weeks ago while walking home from the grocery store, again around noon, near the summer solstice, I became enchanted by these images of the sun as pictured in the second photograph, dancing around the sidewalk due to the wind blowing about the leaves and their "pinhole" apertures.

Since then I haven't stopped looking down, observing and photographing the wonderful array of images produced by nature upon the human made canvas of the sidewalk, during what I once considered the worst light of the day.

And as of a few weeks ago, I've joined ranks with the mad dogs and Englishmen out in the midday sun.


Sunday, June 27, 2021


Army General Mark Milley is the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Last week, he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin appeared before a congressional hearing to discuss the proposed budget for the Department of Defense. Present at the hearing were two Florida congressmen, Mike Waltz and darling of the Trump crowd, accused child molester Matt Gaetz. Both took the opportunity to question the Secretary and the highest ranking uniformed member of the military about the ultra right's latest red herring, the teaching of Critical Race Theory

CRT is the idea that for centuries and to this day, racism has been endemic in American society. To anyone with any sense of US History, that is a no-brainer. Nevertheless the ultra right has taken up the cause of fighting against teaching our children, and specifically for Waltz and Gaetz at the hearing, members of the military, a truthful and honest representation of American history, rather than the sugar coated Euro-centric version that generations of us (myself included) received. 

For his part, Secretary Austin, the first black Secretary of Defense, deflected the question, saying that the military is merely interested in weeding out the kind of extremism that led a handful of its members to take part in an insurrection, storming the Capitol on January 6th of this year in an attempt to overturn a free election. Here are some of his comments:

We do not teach critical race theory. We don't embrace critical race theory, and I think that's a spurious conversation... We are focused on extremist behaviors and not ideology — not people's thoughts, not people's political orientation. Behavior is what we're focused on.

Milley chose another path. He gave an impassioned two minute speech espousing the importance of education while denouncing the willful ignorance of the questioners. Here in full is his statement:

I do think it’s important for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely read. The United States Military Academy is a university. It is important that we train and we understand. I want to understand white rage — and I’m white. What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? I want to find that out. I want to maintain an open mind. I do want to analyze it. It’s important that we understand it. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and guardians — they come from the American people. It’s important that the leaders, now and in the future, understand it. I’ve read Mao Zedong. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist. So what is wrong with having some situational understanding about the country we are here to defend? I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military — our general officers, our commissioned and non-commissioned — of being ‘woke’ or something else because we’re studying some theories that are out there while calling out those who have criticized military officials as “woke” for entertaining the theory based on the idea that systemic racism exists in America. [Critical race theory] was started at Harvard Law School years ago and proposed that there were laws in the United States prior to the Civil War that led to a power differential with African Americans that were three-quarters of a human being when this country was formed. We had a Civil War and an Emancipation Proclamation to change it. We brought it up in the Civil Rights Act. It took another 100 years to change that. I do want to know. I respect your service and we’re both Green Berets, but I want to know. It matters to the discipline and cohesion of this military.

The Green Beret comment was directed at Waltz who is a decorated veteran. During Milley's comments, Gaetz, the Eddie Haskell of Congress who is more famous for showing colleagues nude photos of his sexual partners than for his non-existent military service, was shown smirking and shaking his head. He would later tweet this:

With Generals like this it’s no wonder we’ve fought considerably more wars than we’ve won.

Later that day, the talking heads at Fox, especially Laura Ingram and Tucker Carlson threw, in the words of Vanity Fair, a massive "shit fit" over Milley's comments. Ingram suggested that Congress refuse to grant a penny to the Department of Defense until they agreed to renounce CRT. 

Wow and I thought the Trumplicans were supposedly appalled by so called "cancel culture". Now they want to cancel the Pentagon?  How times have changed. 

The "conservative" Carlson seemed to have a particular bee in his bonnet over Milley's mention of "white rage". That makes sense because through his years of publicly huffing and puffing over the subject of so called "reverse racism", and his insistence that white folks such as himself are the true victims of it, Carlson has become the poster child for white rage. 

Poor little snowflake.

Carlson called the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff "stupid" and a "pig" and later doubling down on his hissy fit, called Milley's thoughtful comments at the hearing, "disgusting and disgraceful". 

During his diatribe the evening of the hearing, Carlson said this: 
(Milley) didn't get that job because he's brilliant or because he's brave. Or because people who know him respect him. He is not, and they definitely don't. Milley got the job because he is obsequious. He knows who to suck up to, and he's more than happy to do it. Feed him a script and he will read it.

Geez given Carlson's remarks, you'd think that Milley was a Biden appointee. Spoiler alert: he's not.

For the record, Milley is brilliant, well at least in the common sense of the word, having received a bachelor's degree from Princeton and advanced degrees from Columbia University and the Naval War College. As for his braveness, well if you watched the hearings you may have noticed ten bars upon his right sleeve, each one representing six months of time served in combat deployment. The hardware displayed over his left breast displays a distinguished record of service to this country.  Where Carlson got the idea that Milley is not respected is anybody's guess, folks of his and Gaetz's ilk feel little need to back up what they say. 

Tucker Swanson Carlson, heir to the TV dinner fortune, has a penchant for questioning the bravery of bona fide American military heroes who don't happen share his world view. For his part, Carlson's military record is every bit as impressive as Matt Gaetz's.

That's not to say he's not brave, after all he did do this: 

Also for the record, Mark Milley was appointed to his current position by none other than Calson's BFF, Donald Trump. While dressed in military fatigues, Milley among others accompanied the exPOTUS during his infamous march to St. John's Episcopal Church across the street from the White House last year during the protests over the killing of George Floyd, for the sole purpose of staging a photo op of the Chief Executive standing in front of the slightly damaged church while holding a bible. 

Shortly after that shameful performance where police and National Guard members used force against peaceful protestors to clear the way for the exPOTUS's stunt, Milley regretted his presence at the event and publicly apologized for his symbolic role in the farce:

I should not have been there. My presence in that moment, and in that environment, created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.

Milley even considered resigning from his post after the public embarrassment.

Perhaps Carlson felt it was that affront to his Dear Leader that gave him carte blanche to go after Milley. 

What I find remarkable is that people who call themselves "traditional conservatives", people who express pride in their supposed unwavering support and respect for the military and those who serve in it, would put up with this relentless trash talk against them, especially coming from folks like Gaetz, Carlson and yes, Donald Trump, none of whom have ever come close to service of their own. 


The debate over Critical Race Theory is yet another farce foisted upon us by the Trumplicans. It's as ludicrous to suggest we refrain from teaching our children the truth about our past (good and bad) as it is to suggest that German schools refrain from teaching their children about Nazism.

This should be so obvious, there is really little to say about it, but I will bring up one crucial example of how the American education system has failed us, and the absolute need to teach our children honestly about race in this country. It can be summed up in three words:

Tulsa Race Massacre.

Until recently, how many of us knew about this particularly horrific event in US History? 

I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't.

If you still don't  know about it, look it up. If you don't look it up because you feel there is no need to learn about critical race theory because you believe we have overcome racism in this country, then my friend, you're part of the problem, not the solution. 

Monday, May 31, 2021

From Here to Sewickley

One of the glories of baseball is that no matter how much you've experienced it, there is always the chance that something will happen that you and no one else have ever seen before. Such a thing happened the other day at PNC Park in Pittsburgh in a game between the Pirates and the Cubs. 

In the third inning with two out and Wilson Contreras the runner on second, Chicago Cubs shortstop Javier Baez hit a sharp ground ball directly to the Pirate third baseman Erik Gonzalez. It should have been a routine inning ending out but Gonzalez's throw pulled first baseman Will Craig slightly off the bag to the home plate side of first. Dead in the water, Baez rather than trying to dive into first to avoid the tag, what you're taught to do in that situation, put on the breaks and started heading back to home plate.

Then, rather than simply turning around and stepping on first base to end the inning, Craig chose to chase Baez back to home. Actually chase is not the correct term here, nonchalantly follow him is more like it. 

In the meantime, Contreras was circling third headed for home as fast as his catcher's legs would carry him. As Contreras began to slide into the plate, Craig tossed the ball to his own catcher Michael Perez, but it was too late as Contreras slid under the tag. 

After sticking around watching the action AND making the motion calling his teammate safe at home, Baez turned around and sprinted back to first. Again he should have been an easy out (which would have nullified the run), but none of Craig's teammates thought to cover the bag. 

Despite that, Perez threw to first anyway in the direction of second baseman Adam Frazier who was en route, and the ball ended up in right field, allowing Baez to end up at second.

Ian Happ, the next batter for the Cubs, drove in Baez from second meaning two runs scored off that Pittsburgh miscue. And wouldn't you know it, the Cubs ended up winning the game by two runs. 
It was a crazy, crazy play, (a circus play as some would call it) which inspired one of the Pittsburgh radio guys to blurt out one of the best lines I've heard from a baseball announcer in a long time: "Oh you can hear the calliopes from here to Sewickley!"

As you can imagine the entire baseball world it seems has ganged up on Will Craig, calling his the stupidest play ever in the history of baseball. 

The Baseball Reference box score of the play hardly does it justice: 
Reached on E3 (catch) (Ground Ball to Weak 3B to 3B); Contreras Scores/No RBI/unER; Baez out at 2B/Adv on E2 (throw)

Here's how it looked:

It was indeed a comedy of errors (as you can tell from the reaction by the Cub bench) although the only actual error meted out was against the Pirate catcher for his wild throw to first which allowed Baez to take second.

Not to make excuses for him, but I wouldn't be so fast to gang up on the Pirate rookie first baseman. Here's why:

First of all it's true that had he simply turned around and stepped on first base, that would have been the third out and the play would have been forgotten as soon as the Pirates came to bat that inning. But here's the thing, Craig had eight teammates on the field, a bench with a bunch more, plus a slew of coaches and a manager. How is it possible that not a single one of them thought to yell at him to just step on the bag? From what I could tell, the ballpark was practically empty so not being able to hear because of screaming fans simply doesn't hold up.  

Here's my theory: the rest of the Pirates were as dumbfounded by Baez's actions as much as Craig was, (and the Cub broadcasters who as you can hear, were rendered speechless by the play). After all, who in God's name heads backwards to home plate after hitting the ball in play? 

What IS very common in baseball, is for a runner heading to any base OTHER than first, to turn around and head backwards if the ball proceeds him to the base with enough time to do so. It's called getting into a run down (or a pickle in popular terminology). 

To be sure, before every play, ball players in the field have to go over in their heads what to do in case of any situation. More importantly, at practice, players drill every conceivable fielding situation over and over again so they don't have to think when the ball comes to them, they just react by instinct.

Was what Baez did a conceivable situation? Well as far as I know, while it's not illegal in the majors (it is in high school ball), no one in major league history running in the direction of first base, has ever stopped, made a 180, and turned back and run for home.

I'd be willing to bet my firstborn (who's also a ballplayer) that no team anywhere, ever practices what to do in that situation. 

They do on the other hand, practice rundowns between the bases, over and over and over again, ad nauseam. So clearly in this situation, Craig, perhaps unaware that there were already two outs against the Cubs, was acting out of pure instinct rather than using his head. And so were his teammates.

After the game, the Pirate's pitcher Tyler Anderson took some of the heat off of Craig, saying that it was a team failure, not the failure of just one player.

He should know, photos reveal Anderson standing about ten feet in front of home plate, in perfect position to see the action unfold right in front of him, but not in position to do anything about it. Oh yes let's not forget the second baseman Adam Frazier who had plenty of time to cover first base to take the throw from the catcher to easily end the inning, but didn't because he was to busy being dumbfounded as well. 

As the basement dweller Pirates aren't likely to be headed to the post-season this year, poor Will Craig probably won't go down in history with the likes of Fred Merkel, Fred Snodgrass and Bill Buckner, all great players who went to their graves remembered for the critical errors they committed that contributed to their teams' losing a championship. But those videos of the Baez play will be played for eternity and Mr. Craig will have his imprimatur stamped all over them. Unless he does something truly spectacular in his career, he will be forever defined by that one unfortunate mental error. 

The real culprit of all this is Javy El Mago (The Magician) Baez. It was his creative style of play that caused all the ruckus in the first place. How much of this was planned we'll never know, perhaps he doesn't know himself. All we'll know is that from absolutely nothing, he singlehandedly created the two runs that won the game. 

This kind of clever play trying to catch the opposition off guard is not all that uncommon in youth baseball and in the game played many decades ago. It reminds me of an account of one of my all time favorite ball players as told by one of his teammates*: 
...Ty was dynamite on the base paths. He really was. Talk about strategy and playing with your head, that was Cobb all the way. It wasn't that he was so fast on his feet, although he was fast enough. There were others who were faster, though, like Clyde Milan, for instance. It was that Cobb was so fast in his thinking. He didn't outhit the opposition and he didn't outrun them. He outthought them!   
A lot of times Cobb would be on third base and I'd draw a base on balls, and as I started to go down to first I'd sort of half glance at Cobb, at third. He'd make a slight move that told me he wanted me to keep going -- not to stop at first, but to keep on going to second. Well, I'd trot two-thirds of the way to first and then suddenly, without warning, I'd speed up and go across first as fast as I could and tear out for second. He's on third, see. They're watching him, and suddenly there I go, and they don't know what the devil to do. 
If they try to stop me, Cobb'll take off for home. Sometimes they'd catch him, and sometimes they'd catch me, and sometimes they wouldn't get either of us. But most of the time they were too paralyzed to do anything, and I'd wind up at second on a base on balls ....

Thank you Javy Baez for bringing some of the fun back into professional baseball. Thanks to you, Ty Cobb lives.

Now if you could only be a little more patient at the plate. 

*Sam Crawford, longtime teammate of Ty Cobb. 


Friday, May 28, 2021

Old School-New School

Like many, over the last year of the pandemic I took advantage of the extra time at home to become rather obsessed with cooking. I've done a good deal of the cooking for my family over the last twenty years, but became rather bored with my limited repertoire of dishes So I started picking up recipes here and there, mostly online, and set the goal of preparing at least one new recipe per week. This might become a little more complicated as I'm about to return to being at work full time, but so far so good.

One nice thing about new passions is buying new stuff. Being a photographer means there's never a lack of new stuff to buy, especially in the digital age when cameras and other gear, lenses being an exception, are practically obsolete by the time you open the box. 

That certainly wasn't true when I was coming up in the days of silver based media, otherwise known as film. Back then, if you chose carefully and were willing to make the financial commitment, you could buy a camera and lens that would last your whole life.  

Of course there are still the old school folks God bless them, who haven't yet given up on film and keep the old practices alive.

Although I'm not as well versed in it, it seems that just like in field of photography, there are two schools of thought among cooks about what tools to buy, the old, reliable ones that require work, love and care, but will repay you with years of faithful service, or the new fangled gizmos that require little attention and work just fine until they don't, at which point you throw them away. 

Pictured here is my new pan, a traditional French omelette pan made of carbon steel. According to the advocates of such a pan, carbon steel is one of the most efficient materials as far as transferring heat to your food. And the act of cooking with it creates a natural polymer that creates an almost "no stick" surface. 

Now when we think of no stick pans, the word Teflon comes immediately to mind,  the material applied to cookware that was introduced commercially in the 1940's, as so many products were after the war. Teflon became wildly popular in the sixties and seventies, the era when so many time and effort saving devices were introduced into the kitchen. And the word Teflon has taken on a meaning of its own describing a person to who gets away with all sorts of mischief because "nothing sticks to him." I can think of two former presidents who fit that description. 

I distinctly remember those days when there were two running schools of thought regarding cooking, one was that it was a chore that should be made as painless as possible, and the other, that it was an art where every bit of effort was valued The former was personified by a woman by the name of Peg Bracken (whose name has never escaped me after all these years), who among other titles revolving around American contemporary life at the time, wrote the "The I Hate to Cook Book" 

The paradigm for the other school of thought was Julia Child. 

Need I say more? 

Both authors were tremendously popular and both served an important purpose. 

Bracken's work was created in the time when the traditional roles of the "breadwinner" man and the "housewife" woman were breaking down. As more and more women entered the workforce and households with two working adults became the norm, there was less time to cook, and every time-saving device was gobbled up.  

At the same time, a new found interest in cuisine from other cultures took a foothold in America, largely thanks to Child and her classic two volume set "Mastering the  Art of French Cooking", written along with French master chef, Simone Beck, and especially her classic PBS series, "The French Chef."  

Also in the photo, placed inside my lovely new pan, is my new fangled digital meat thermometer, which gives readings almost instantly in either Fahrenheit or Celsius. It works with both roasts, or tiny slivers of meat on the grill. Try that with your old fashioned analog thermometer. Plus it has a bottle opener to boot!

I bought it along with a digital kitchen scale which is vastly more accurate, convenient and easy to use than my old spring scale. 

And yes, when these things break, as they most certainly will, into the garbage they will go with no second thoughts. 

Barring catastrophic damage, the pan on the other hand will last me for the rest of my life and if they choose to hold on to it, my children's as well. That's quite unlike a Teflon or other "no stick" pan, whose useful life is only rated for a couple years at best before the surface ceases to be stick free. Then of course, it ends up as landfill. 

Beyond that, my new pan is beautiful, at least I think so. Over time it develops a patina that will be an image how how it was used, what was cooked in it, and the love that went into those meals. 

After all cooking, especially for one's family or friends is a labor of love isn't it?

What more can you ask of your tools?   

Friday, April 30, 2021

Baseball, Is That You Again?

Two old codgers and a baseball bat

For the first time since I started publishing this blog 12 years ago, Baseball Opening Day came and went without so much as a wink or a nod. 

I wouldn't say that my passion for the game I love has dried up, hardly. It's just that A. Bartlett Giamatti's description of it as a game "designed to break your heart" has become all too real, especially for my son.

The funny thing is that unlike most of the kids he played baseball with over the years of Little League, Travel Ball, and High School Baseball, my son, in college now, is still directly involved with the game.

That's a little bit of a mixed blessing because while he'll always be able to say he was on a college baseball team, he may not get a chance to play. 

But he's still at it and for that I can't admire him more. I would have given up years ago. So this is dedicated to him and to all the kids out there, young and old, still living the dream. 

Oh by the way, who are the "two codgers" pictured above, still living the dream in what appears to be them long past their prime? Well if there were a Mount Rushmore of baseball players, these two would have been finalists on just about anybody's list, Ty Cobb, on the left and Honus Wagner on the right, both members of the "original class" of  Baseball Hall of Fame inductees. In the voting, Ty Cobb came in first of all players nominated and Wagner came in second, tied with Babe Ruth.

Here's a photo of the two in their playing days when they faced each other (for I believe the only time) in the 1909 World Series. The two most dominant players of their era, Cobb played for the American League Detroit Tigers and Wagner for the National League Pirates.

In case you're interested in a World Series that took place 102 years ago, and for God's sake why wouldn't you be(?), the Pirates won the 1909 championship four games to three. 

That's the beauty of baseball, it's a game that lives equally in the present, in the future, and in the past. 

Play ball!


Thursday, April 29, 2021

Knowing Less and Less as I Grow Older

When I was 14, my daughter's current age, I knew everything there was to know about the world. Everything made sense, the good guys were always good, the bad guys always bad, and there was no messing with Mister In-Between. Most important, new ideas were always preferable to the way things had been done for basically ever. Why couldn't my parents understand that?

My father, God rest his soul, always took the bait and we'd end up in screaming matches so intense that it occurred to me one day that if there had been a gun in our house, one of us (not sure which one) would have used it.

Perhaps what all these years of life on this planet have taught me, is never  argue with people who have all the answers.

So unlike my father, I don't.

Yea me.

As I get older, I have more and more questions, and fewer if any answers, at least ones with any credibility. Surely for example I thought, several years ago after one of the most  the most heart breaking events of the century after 9/11, people would finally come to their senses and realize that the lives of first and second graders are vastly more important than the right to own semi-automatic rifles capable of killing people as quickly as it takes for the shooter to pull the trigger. 

What do I know? Today, nearly nine years after the Sandy Hook massacre, guns are easier than ever to procure in this country and there is a serious movement underway to push through the courts, new laws to make it even easier to carry a weapon of mass destruction out in public in the United States. Given the makeup of the current Supreme Court, these laws are likely to stick. 

Same thing a few weeks ago during the trial of Derick Chauvin, who in his role as a Minneapolis police officer, murdered George Floyd. The backlash from Chauvin's kneeling on the neck of an unarmed man and taking his life was so profound, surely I thought, police all over the country would have thought twice before using deadly force.

Once again, I was wrong, just moments before the guilty verdict was read in a court in downtown Minneapolis, there was another police shooting, this time in Columbus, Ohio. And in the weeks prior to that reading and in the subsequent week, there have been several others, two notable ones here in Chicago, one involving a 13 year old child. Their names were Anthony Alvarez and Adam Toledo

In all these well publicized incidents, the officer was white and the decedent was a person of color. As everyone knows, black people and other people of color, die in numbers proportionately greater than their population at the hands of the police.

That is a fact. 

It's also a fact that while not quite in numbers rersenting their population, white people also get killed by the police. In 2020, 457 white people (44% of all deaths at the hands of the police) were killed by the police in the US. 

By comparison, 241 black people (23% of all deaths at the hands of the police) were killed by the police last year as were 169 people (16% of all deaths at the hands of the police) of Hispanic origin. 

As roughly 12 percent of the US population is black, the death rate for black people at the hands of the police is nearly double that of the population of black people in this country.  Given that, it's not an unreasonable conclusion that there is a racial bias in this country when it comes to police violence against the general public, although as these numbers might suggest, not quite as much as we are led to believe. 

After all, today in virtually all the reporting surrounding police killing of civilians, the victims are people of color, and the police doing the killing are nearly all white. But as you can see from the numbers above, white people also get killed by the police, yet we almost never hear about it.

That is also a fact.

Another sobering statistic is this. In 2019 (the last year data was available for this statistic), 53 percent of all murder victims in this country were black, a number way out of proportion to the black population of the US.

And there are other statistics involving black folks in the US that are way out of proportion to their population, things like levels of poverty, education, and children raised in single, or no parent homes.

So what are we to make of these numbers? Well I guess that all depends upon how much you know about the world and especially which side of the fence you're sitting on. To the know-it-alls on the right side of the fence, one answer might be a lack of initiation on the part of black people. To those on the left, a one word answer will do, racism.   

But to those of us with less confidence in our knowledge of everything under the sun, there are no easy answers. True, the numbers are telling but in the immortal words of Benjamin Disraeli:

There are three kinds of lies, lies, damned lies, and statistics.

As we just saw, people can use the same set of data to tell a vastly different story. That's just the nature of things I guess. 

There are factors that run much deeper than numbers, sometimes you just gotta feel them in your heart. Take so called "white privilege." Like many, I cringe at the term as I feel it has become overused to the point where it has lost much of its meaning. It is now little more than a "talking point" for folks on the left. 

After all I too, a white guy, have had several encounters with the police in my life, none of them pleasant, including once being subjected to a humiliating body search in full view of the public. 

But here's the thing, yes, in every one of these encounters I complied with what the police asked of me, because I knew the police have the power to make one's life miserable. In other words I deeply wanted to avoid unpleasant things that might befall me such as getting thrown into  jail. On the other hand, never for one second did the notion that I might lose my life cross my mind.   

There in a nutshell is the critical difference between a typical white person's experience with the police, and that of a person of color. 

Call it what  you will, but as white parents, my wife and I have never felt it necessary to have "the talk" with our two children, explaining to them in great detail what to do when (not if) they have an encounter with a police officer, not so they won't get thrown in jail, but so the won't get killed. 

While every day I worry about our kids, including their personal safely living in a neighborhood where it's not all that unusual to hear gunshots, one thing I don't worry about is them being killed by a police officer. 

Sadly that's a luxury no black parent in America enjoys. 

Because of our personal experience, we white folks assume that if people of any color simply comply with what the police ask of us, there would be no trouble. But simply complying with what the police ask of us doesn't always work, especially if you're a person of color.  If you don't believe me, when you get to the afterlife, just ask Philando Castile

This is not to say the police are never justified in using deadly force. Sadly, sometimes it is necessary in order to protect innocent lives, and their own. This is why it is essential to not lump every act of police violence against civilians together. 

In the case of the above mentioned police shooting in Columbus, the victim was wielding a knife against another person when the officer shot her. I don't know the exact details, at this moment I don't think anybody does, but given that information, no one can deny there is a world of difference between the tragedy in Columbus and the one that took place in Minneapolis last Memorial Day.

The actions of Derick Chauvin that day against George Floyd were reprehensible, of that there is no question. There is no credible police officer in this country who can  reasonably defend Chauvin's strangle hold of a man who had already been subdued. 

Nor could any reasonable person defend the actions of Jason Van Dyke, the former Chicago cop who in 2014 emptied his weapon into Laquan McDonald, a young man who was carrying a knife, but at the time of his death, shown by video to not have posed an immediate threat to anyone. 

Both Van Dyke and Chauvin were rightfully convicted of murder.

But not all cases of police violence are open and shut like these, at least not for someone like me who doesn't have all the answers.

To me the question isn't always good cop vs. bad cop, but what is and what is not acceptable procedure. Take for example the tragedy of Daunte Wright who was killed by an officer this past April 11, about 10 miles from where the trial of Dereck Chauvin was taking place. Mr. Wright was shot by the officer who had apparently mistaken her gun for a taser. Of course the whole world asked the question: "how could anybody make such a mistake?" In all honesty I think I could have. But to me the more pertinent question is this: was it really necessary in that situation for the officer to fire a weapon in the first place? 

Again, more questions than answers but a far as policing goes in my opinion, much of the problem lies with the training of police officers in this country and the policies regarding their use of lethal force. 

And of course the eternal question of what is the proper role of police in our society.

To my simplistic thinking at least, unless lives are threatened, there is no reason why a traffic stop, even one where there is an arrest warrant pending, should end up deadly. 

Let alone an encounter with a unarmed man suspected of passing a counterfeit double sawbuck. 

And please, please, don't even get me started with Breonna Taylor.

But what do I know. 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Indelible Symbols

Last night I had a dream about all people, George Wallace. Don't know where that one came from, I can't remember the last time I thought about the former segregationist governor of Alabama, it may have been 2013 when I wrote this piece commemorating the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination.

In my dream I was interviewing Wallace late in his life, where he renounced, as he did in real life, his racist/segregationist ways. The only detail I remember of the dream was looking into his eyes and being convinced he was sincere.

Hey what can I say, it was a dream.

In case you're too young to remember, Wallace was a major player on the American political scene from the early sixties and extending well into the eighties. He ran unsuccessfully for president four times and in 1968 became the last third party candidate to date to receive electoral votes from a state. He actually won five states, all of them in the south. It's difficult to say what if any impact he had on the outcome of that election as he more than likely siphoned both Democratic votes (Wallace was a Democrat) from Hubert H. Humphrey, and conservative votes from Richard M. Nixon who won the presidency in one of the closest elections in US history.

The 1972 election almost cost Wallace his life after an assassination attempt while campaigning for his party's nomination in Maryland.

Confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, Wallace managed to run for president again in the Democratic primary of 1976, and continued to serve as Governor of Alabama, a post he held until 1987.

But much of that is forgotten. George Wallace will go down in history as the man who as governor, stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, in an attempt to prevent black students from entering, and thereby integrating the school. It took the efforts of President Kennedy and the National Guard to force Wallace to comply. Wallace is also infamous for his most well known quote delivered at his first inauguration in 1963:
In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.
Two years later, it was Wallace who ordered the brutal attack on civil rights marchers as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, during the planned march from Selma to the state capital Montgomery.

Times changed radically after the turbulent sixties and it was a kinder, gentler, but still thoroughly conservative Wallace who managed to hold on to power all those years. By the end of his life he had all but completely distanced himself from his past.

Wallace attended a commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Selma violence forever known as Bloody Sunday. He was too old and sick to speak at the event but delivered a plea for reconciliation via an assistant to those gathered. In the speech through his aide, Wallace said: 
My friends, I have been watching your progress this week as you retrace your footsteps of 30 years ago and cannot help but reflect on those days that remain so vivid in my memory. Those were different days and we all in our own ways were different people. We have learned hard and important lessons in the 30 years that have passed between us since the days surrounding your first walk along Highway 80...

Those days were filled with passionate convictions and a magnified sense of purpose that imposed a feeling on us all that events of the day were bigger than any one individual...

Much has transpired since those days. A great deal has been lost and a great deal has been gained, and here we are. My message to you today is, 'Welcome to Montgomery.'

May your message be heard. May your lessons never be forgotten. May our history be always remembered.

Whether his change of heart was genuine or out of political expedience, no living person will ever know, Wallace took that knowledge to his grave in 1998. Considering late in his life what his legacy would be, (in a very different era than the one in which he started his career), perhaps Wallace did not want to be seen as having forever been on the wrong side of history. Or perhaps his "finding Christ" later in life helped show him the error of his ways, we'll never know. 

What is true is the image of Governor Wallace standing in the university doorway in Tuscaloosa in 1963, has proven to be perhaps the most indelible image of American racism. 

That is until last week. 

It didn't take a political genius to figure out a path to victory for the Democratic candidate in the 2020 presidential election. To prove that point, I spelled it out in this post from February of last year. I may not have gotten the candidate right but I sure nailed the strategy. That strategy was simply to appeal to black voters in swing states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio, states that all went Republican in 2016 but all by relatively small, easy to overcome margins. 

In this past election, all but Ohio went for the Democrats thanks to a huge turnout of black voters. What I didn't take into account was Georgia. There, the significant African American vote of Fulton County put the Democrats over the top. Not only that but in January, the Peachtree State flipped their two senate seats from Republican to Democrat, again a result of overwhelming turnout from the Atlanta area. 

Licking their wounds, Republicans hoping for better luck come the 2022 elections in the great state of Georgia, rather than logically asking how they could better appeal to this considerable constituency of theirs, decided it would be more prudent to change the election rules so as to prevent as many of the people who voted against them, from voting in the future. 

If the lion's share of those people happened to be black, well politics is politics. 

Of course in 2021 they couldn't come out and openly admit to intentionally disenfranchising black voters, so they came up with an old standby.

Voter fraud as an excuse for losing an election has been around forever.

Here's an example of a movie made in 1941 (Citizen Kane) describing an event that took place perhaps thirty years earlier.

But without a thread of evidence of voter fraud turning Georgia from red to blue, the Republicans of Georgia who still have a stranglehold over state politics, had to come up with something. How, they reasoned, could there have been such a dramatic shift between the elections of 2016 and 2020 had there not been fraud at the polls? 

Well I have a theory. It could be that the Democrats did a good job convincing black people to come out and vote in 2020. More likely however all the credit goes to Donald Trump who in his four years as president, worked tirelessly to piss off black people. It's not all that hard to figure out a swing of a little over 100,000 votes in a state with 7.6 million registered voters, and a candidate despised by so many of them. 

After losing the 2020 election, rather than campaigning in earnest for the two Republican senators, the exPOTUS just kept harping on his blatant lie that since he lost the state, the Georgia elections had to be rigged, casting doubt among his supporters on the state's ability to hold a fair election.  Turns out enough Georgia Trumplicans were so dismayed by their state's election system, they stayed at home during the runoff election, causing their party to lose both seats and with them, control of the Senate in the January runoffs. 

Well played indeed. 

Again rather than using the sensible approach, convincing their constituents that Georgia's elections were indeed fair and above board, the state's Republican legislature wrote up eighty some different bills, each one aimed at "reforming" their election system to "restore the faith" of, well lets just say some of the voters. 

Needless to say, every one of these bills in one way or other, was designed to make it harder to vote, especially for black people. 

Many of the new restrictions had to do with mail-in and absentee voting, something black people are more likely to take advantage of than white people. 

Others restricted the hours polls were open making it harder for people paid by the hour to vote. 

New voter ID requirements were put in place, which also disproportionately effect people of color. 

One bill that passed banned the use of two busses that were put into service as polling stations to help with overflow crowds on election day. Why? Well the two busses were put into service in Atlanta so your guess is as good as mine. 

In the guise of appearing that the Republicans were willing to compromise, not all eighty of their bills made it into law, they were "willing" to let a few of the more outrageous ones go by the wayside.

But a bill that did make it into law, one that has been making reasonable people's hair stand on end, is a new restriction that prevents anyone within 150 feet of a polling place other than a poll worker, from distributing water to people standing in line waiting to vote. Failure to comply with this new regulation  could result in a misdemeanor conviction and a one year jail sentence.

Now for someone like me who's from say, anywhere but Georgia, this might not seem like such a big deal because save for the last Illinois Primary election which took place during the height of the pandemic, I've never had to wait in line for more than a half hour to vote. But for whatever reason, in Georgia the voting process is notoriously slow, and standing in line for several hours to vote, especially in black precincts, is the rule, not the exception. On top of that, Georgia can still be pretty hot come election time in November, not to mention spring when the primaries occur. 

Defending this new law, state Republicans say it is in keeping with other restrictions used all over the country, preventing campaign workers from soliciting votes by offering voters within a certain distance from the polling place, "gifts" that could be construed as buying their votes. The only difference here is that water and food have been explicitly counted among these potential "gifts" that are strictly forbidden to be distributed to the voters. They say not to worry, the poll workers are there to help distribute the water. However there is nothing written into the new law that requires poll workers to distribute water to thirsty voters. 

Again, common sense would dictate that Georgia election officials would do is everything in their power to make the voting process more efficient to avoid the long lines where people require refreshment in the first place. No one should have to tolerate waiting in line for hours to vote. But given the history of the way elections have been run in Georgia over the past oh hundred plus years or so, that's apparently not what they want for whatever reason, you may draw your own conclusion.

Don't get me wrong, I don't expect people to be physically harmed by this, one way or other, folks who need hydration will get it, at least I would hope so. This is just another of a long line of indignities and injustices that people of color in this country have been subjected to over the centuries. 

But the truth is, no matter the logic of the new law nor how you spin it, bad as preventing people from voting or from attending college, the symbolism of making a law against giving another person a drink of water is a new low. It runs counter to what every decent person is taught from day one. It is a violation not only of scripture which most Republicans these days claim to be so vitally important to them, but to the very act of being human.

For all of the bullshit new regulations packed into this unnecessary law designed to disenfranchise people and nothing else, this particular feature will stand out, inspire rage and resistance, and above all and be remembered for a very long time. 

As such, the symbol of Georgia Republicans and their new law is the political equivalent of the symbol of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin with his knee on the neck of George Floyd.  

There will be consequences of course. George Wallace's blocking  the way of integration at the Uniiversity of Alabama, forced a reluctant Kennedy administration to rethink the issue of civil rights, putting it on the front burner of national issues. Backlash from Wallace, and others' blatantly racist actions paved the way for the two major civl rights bills promoted by JFK's successor Lyndon Johnson, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And the backlash from Alabama State police attacking peaceful demonstrators in Selma in 1965, helped pave the way for a reluctant country and dare I say, even George Wallace himself to rethink the issue of civil rights.

Governor Wallace can now rest in peace knowing that his face is no longer the indelible symbol of racism and inhumanity in this country. 

Here is his heir apparent, the current Georgia governor Brian Kemp, who signed bill SB202 the so called "Election Integrity Act of 2021" into law behind locked doors last Thursday.

Brian Kemp, the new poster child for American racism.

Who knows how Kemp will feel in a few years when the terrible symbol of racism he helped create will have backfired and he will be universally viewed with scorn and derision the world over, including in the South.

How will it feel for him to have been on the wrong side of history and how will he explain himself in order to correct his own legacy?

Pathetic isn't it how some people refuse to learn from history.