Category Archives: Random Reflections

What, after all, is the flag?

We’ve been seeing the flag a lot these last few days. It’s gotten me thinking quite a bit.

I pledge allegiance to the flag,
of the United States of America,
and to the Republic for which it stands,
one nation, under God,
with liberty and justice for all.

When I started school, back in the dark ages, we said the Pledge of Allegiance every morning.

Today I see the flag as being abused: used by people who are not paying attention to the point of the flag, as clearly stated in the pledge of allegiance.

Specifically, the flag is a symbol, it stands for our Republic. Our Republic, which is defined by our constitution.

Continue reading What, after all, is the flag?

Another way to vote

I read this morning that POTUS is planning to abuse his privilege, nothing new, but it’s getting to where constant push back is needed if we are going to have a democratic republic, as laid out in the Constitution.

Because the current incumbent of the White House is planning to abuse the White House, by using it as the background for his acceptance speech, I believe that we should all protest by not watching the convention.

Trust me you won’t miss it…its always better to wait for fact checking on anything he says. The ratings being low will send a powerful message. Frankly, the only one he understands.

Another wordy Wednesday

If you aren’t caring about the political situation in the USA this post isn’t for you. I am working on a post of late summer in the garden that should be done soon.

I’m following the Democratic National Convention this week. This is the first time I will have seen it in full. I figured out how to stream it from PBS.

I have also been following the news a bit. I have a major peeve. I am really getting sick of people speaking as if Ms. Obama attacked the current resident of the White House. She spoke calmly, lucidly, eloquently and sincerely. Yet the news describes her speech using the same words that are used to describe tirades by the likes of Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Janine Pirro. There is simply no comparison. They are not calm, lucid, eloquent or sincere.

I would also point out that if people truly believed that the current incumbent had done a good job then they would not judge her use of his own words to describe his presidency as “it is what it is” as an insult. The real insult was his insult to the citizens of this nation when he chose to use that phrase to speak of what was then over 150,000, and is now over 170,000, deaths due to Covid 19.

While I am at it, because I feel it is a related complaint, I would like to point out that after reading that the current incumbent had gone on about how “mean” Senator Harris was to Brett Kavanaugh and others. I reviewed the videos and she said things like “would you please answer the question?” she was never rude, simply polite but not letting them get away without answering the questions. When one compares this to the rudeness to which Congressman Jordan subjected Dr. Fauci, there is no comparison.

I am getting sick of this miss-characterization of people who are being courteous, calm and reasoned in testimony and debate as comparable to the frothing-at-the-mouth, bat-crap-crazy “conservatives”.

Lest we forget

Today is the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. I visited Hiroshima in September of 2005, about 15 years ago. It was a very sobering pilgrimage, in more than one way. The museum wasn’t more graphic than it needed to be, but it didn’t put a gloss on things either.

The recent explosion in Beirut was traumatic, so much so that even with the video footage it is almost impossible to wrap our minds around what the experience was for the people there. Yet it was tiny compared to what Hiroshima experienced.

My grandfather fought in WWII in the South Pacific, and his unit was preparing to invade Tokyo when the bomb was dropped, likely a nearly suicidal mission. Since the bomb ended the war and Grandpa was in my life because he didn’t get killed, I was raised believing that the bomb was a good thing, at the very worst a necessary evil. I had never connected it to the human carnage and horrific trauma. I have felt since my visit that every world leader should take that pilgrimage. One of my concerns about current leadership is that so many of them are sociopaths and couldn’t learn from that.

This is a good time for us to remember what was at stake in World War II and the tyranny and fascism that allowed people both near and far to be viewed as less than human. We are experiencing that sort of autocratic thinking.

As over 160,000 US citizens have died from COVID19 we see an administration that stopped trying to do anything much about it because it was raging first in states that did not have the same political bent, then gave up entirely when statistics began to demonstrate that minorities were more effected. It has a very familiar tone to the lead up to the holocaust:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemoller, Lutheran pastor.

The phrase “lest we forget” comes from a poem written in 1897:

God of fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far flung battle line,
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine–
Lord God of Hosts be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

from Recessional by Rudyard Kipling

A wordy Wednesday for me

Fandango’s Provocative Question this week: Do you believe racism is an inherent human train or is it learned? Either way, are there actions that society can take to eliminate, or at least diminish, racism? Or will racism always exist, no matter what we do?

These questions resonated with me because they align with the things I have been thinking about, and learning about, since George Floyd’s death.

First a little perspective:

Like many with White privilege I didn’t think much about racism. I, naively, thought it had been “cured” by the Civil Rights movement. There aren’t currently any black people in my sphere, but there have been. Mostly when I was at MIT in the early 1980s. But not much since, I can’t even do the “I have one really good black friend…” rationalization, so Black-White race relations are abstract for me.

The systemic disregard for Black lives was first driven home to me in the death of Charleena Lyles in 2017. It probably didn’t make the news outside of Seattle (a tell in itself). While I realize that I didn’t know the exact details, it sure seemed to me that in not taking a non-lethal way to deal with someone both known to have mental health issues and be pregnant the police officers where basically planning to commit murder when they took the call. A double homicide. That incident is why the Seattle Police still have to report to federal overseers.

I am a very conventional person and when people started to call for de-funding the police, a couple of months ago I was taken aback. But, on further study about what people really meant by that, and reflection about the Charleena Lyles case I can’t help but wonder: what if a mental health professional had gone on that call? Would both mother and child be alive today?

Is racism an inherent trait or is it learned?

Yes.

People are herd or pack animals. On some level, that type of animal depends on an ability to discern who is, or isn’t a part of the tribe. Skin color, eye color and shape, body build are the easiest cues to read. It starts with recognizing Mommy and Daddy, siblings and extended family. People who tend to share physical traits.

We also learn. We learn that some traits matter less than others, for example, people can have different color eyes and still be in the same family. We also learn the way our herd treats non-members, an ethos. Included in the ethos may also be a morality about how human beings should be treated, there are references in the Old Testament to obligations to the stranger. (There may be in other cultures that is just the one with which I am familiar.)

We also learn through life experiences: I have never viewed Black people as intellectually inferior, because most of the ones I have known are MIT graduates, smart, talented and well educated people. Yet I know that some people do see Black people that way, either because they have not known any Black people well, or because their experience is with those who did not have access to education.

Are there actions that society can take to eliminate, or at least diminish racism?

Yes. I think there are ways.

Overton Window

Per Wikipedia: The Overton Window is the range of policies acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time. I learned about this concept from the Beau of the Fifth Column YouTube channel. P

Shifting this window is probably the single most effective thing that can be done.

In my lifetime it has shifted in both directions. First, when I was a child, it moved in the direction of justice for all, and fairness, equal rights and so forth. That is not to say that all wrongs were righted, but effort was made. John Lewis was an example of someone who shifted the Overton Window in a positive direction. it became less acceptable to talk about minorities as being inferior. Diversity was viewed as positive.

In the past ten years it has shifted back in the other direction. Shockingly so.

The current incumbent of the White House is a master of shifting the Overton Window.

One example of this is in the area of justice. I believe that one factor in people rallying to try and help the Black Lives Matter movement is that many have been witnessing this erosion of principles with regard to justice. They were galvanized by the sight of a human being judged and given a death sentence without due process in such close succession to some of the truly awful people who have been pardoned, by a criminal who has stated that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not “lose any voters”.

How can the Overton Window be shifted?

Well, it seems like the current incumbent of the White House uses words, most often tweets. How about a tweeting for justice? (I shouldn’t suggest this because I don’t Twitter or use Facebook, but it does seem to be an effective way to signal.)

Facebook makes its money from people seeing ads. Some companies forced it to at least pretend that it was going to change policies. Maybe that could be used further? Setting a tone that certain discourse is not okay (outside the window). I unfriended someone who shared something I considered out of bounds. I go back and forth about whether I should have confronted the person, but at the time I didn’t want to validate it by engaging in discourse, as if the concept was valid enough to discuss.

I eventually closed that account altogether, because the platform seems to have become one for evil trolls and marketers. The algorithm that determined what I saw creeped me out as well. One person quitting may not be important, but if a lot did…

Education

In this case, I am talking about improving the quality and availability of education to EVERYONE in the USA, with a goal to fill our graduate schools with people from the USA. I am talking about raising everyone up, giving those without means an extra nudge of assistance. We are alone in the first, and second world in not nurturing our own talent.  If you aren’t born rich the odds are that, even if you are a genius, you will not be able to live to your potential. This is terrible for the USA as well as the people.

The H1B visas currently being yammered about are primarily to bring in skilled professionals (when they aren’t being used to bring in “models”). They are necessary in large measure because we do not nurture our own talent.

The systematic degradation of our education system is a Republican strategy intended to keep people down. They were worried that educated people don’t vote for Republicans. It is ironic that the people resenting and lamenting Huawei’s success in 5G are the very reason why the USA doesn’t have adequate talent and resources to be competitive anymore.

I have been careful to not specifically mention Blacks so far in this one, because I feel like women and other minorities are also intended victims of the education policies.

Another note on education: I’ve seen discussions lately about teaching history better. That is not what I am talking about here. While changing the history taught to be more accurate and realistic is a great idea, I fear that it muddies the water. It is too easy for the discussion about education to degrade into “okay, we’ll change the history to be slightly less racist…” then change the subject away from education. I am talking about both access and encouragement so that everyone can participate in the future instead of a dead end past.

Will racism always be there?

I fear that the answer to this is probably “yes”, at least on some level.

That doesn’t mean that it needs to be regarded as okay. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to right the wrongs or be better. That doesn’t mean that Black people should be held down. It means that we need to always be learning, and teaching, that “freedom and justice for all” actually means freedom and justice for all. Black Lives Matter is part of that.

We can make changes to systems so that the racism is not intrinsic to the systems. Fair systems help to keep the balance. We would be so much stronger as a nation if we could learn this.

The best way to move to the future would be to create a shared goal that could pull people together for the common good. We could, potentially, be using the pandemic to unite and build a better future, but I’m not seeing signs of that in the current administration. Joe Biden has put forward ideas of that nature for moving forward if he is elected.

Learning to live in the web woven by insidious technology

I don’t think I’m addicted to tech. But I certainly spend a good deal of time using my computer and smart phone. Lately, especially after the revelations about Facebook during the past couple of years, I’ve been trying to find my way to using technology as opposed to being used by it. I closed my Facebook account and have started to use Firefox, which has a containment add-on for Facebook, instead of Chrome for many things. I am also testing DuckDuckGo as a search engine, because I sometimes feel like the Google Monster has a creepy grasp on me.

How do you turn this thing off? Good attention is going to waste.
Continue reading Learning to live in the web woven by insidious technology

The same, but different

It is good to take a few days away, where you can’t be reached with casual day-to-day communications. A few days when your job is to breathe in the mountain air and smell of wildflowers, and see the beauty in distant mountains and up close in the intricate pattern of dew drops on wildflowers.

The Tatoosh Range peeking up over a wildflower meadow.
Close-up of dew drops on Queen Anne’s Lace

We just returned from Paradise.

Paradise Inn on Mount Rainier with the Tatoosh Range behind it.

Every year we go to Paradise on Mount Rainier for several days. Every year it is the same, but every year it feels different as well.

Some of that is the way the season plays out, was there a large snow pack? was spring early or late? Is the weather hot or cool, clear or cloudy? Is there smoke from wildfires?

But some of it is what we bring to the mountain inside us.

This past year has seen several changes in our lives, including the death of two people dear to us and a great deal of upheaval from other sources. I am not gifted at dissimulation, and when asked how I was, I said “okay”. It was an honest answer, but it seemed to surprise the asker. I realized that the expected answer was probably “great!” After all I was in a magical place with good friends.

As I walked things out I realized that if I was truly”great!” after the events of the past year I might be considered a bit of a sociopath. In days of yore we had rituals for the loss of loved ones, including periods of time set aside for grieving, you wore black to let folks know that you were in mourning, so they realized that you weren’t “great!”

The meadows worked their magic on me. I can’t say that I went up “okay” and came back “great!”, but I did come back okay with being “okay” for now.

The answer is blowing in the wind…

Walking the dogs today I saw the two flags in the header. The crisp clean one at half mast, and the tattered one hanging by the door of a house with notices on the doors and windows indicating that it will soon be torn down. Blown by the breeze in a synchronized dance.

The flag is not a thing you should worship. It is a symbol. Hopefully a symbol worthy of respect for what it stands for. The symbolism that I see is e pluribus unum (from many one) in the field of 50 stars, and the 13 stripes standing for history. We do not have a perfect history, and much more work is needed, but a history of progress based on two principles: the idea that all humans are created equal and the rule of law applies to us all. There have been many fits and starts in that forward motion, and, to my thinking, we seem to be moving backwards right now. But I believe that we can reverse that. Just as McCarthyism was eventually shown to be malarkey.

For the past week, since learning about the mass shootings, I’ve been sick in my heart. I’ve read various theories and thoughts about our nation’s epidemic of mass shootings. Normally I don’t have anything to add to the conversation, but this time I think I do.

The usual suspects

No question, we need stricter gun laws. The need for guns is not what it once was: we no longer need to hunt for food and very few need to protect their families against threats from bears, wolves, etc. There are no legal activities that you can do with assault rifles. Anyone who wants one is at least somewhat sociopathic and should be watched.

Yes, we need to take better care of the mentally ill. But perpetrators of many of the shootings would not have raised a red flag.

I’m not crazy about the violence of video games. I believe they sanitize violence and make it seem like a fantasy. You can say that about an awful lot of television and movies as well, although they are less of a training type of activity.

My first bit of insight, from a drive in the country

Speaking of training activities:

My family hunted. Yes we had guns, and we learned to use them. We were told to NEVER point a gun at a person. When I was a kid my dad wouldn’t let us even point an imaginary finger gun at another person (I think a childhood friend of his was killed in some type of accident related to gun play, but he never talked about it). By the way, we also ate what was killed. It wasn’t just a sport.

Imagine my shock when we were driving out in the country a couple of years ago and a family (with two grade school age kids) were out shooting at people shaped targets. This is what passes for wholesome family fun???

When did that get to be okay? That was a trick question: it isn’t okay now, just as it wasn’t okay back then.

The real question is : How come people don’t know this?

Paying mind to the values portrayed in video games, and TV and movies may be part of the answer. Not sufficient on its own, but still part of the answer.

My second bit of insight, from Facebook

I rarely go on Facebook anymore, for a variety of reasons. I don’t feel passionately about it, one way or another. But it has its uses, and one is that it is easy to communicate and share with certain people. My dad and I took a nice day trip to the water front in Seattle and I wanted him to have access to some of the photos I took, so I posted them on Facebook. That has the benefit that his friends and family also could see them.

It had been a long while, so I ran my eye over some of the feed to see what folks were up to. For the first time ever I unfriended someone. I can’t go back on and find the exact post they had shared to show it to you, but it went something like this: You’d better support (the current incumbent of the White House) because with a single tweet he can mobilize a bunch of people with guns (numbers were listed but I don’t recall exactly what they were).

When I heard about the shooting in Gilroy, I thought about that post. When I heard about the shooting in El Paso, I thought about that post. When I heard about the shooting in Dayton, I thought about that post.

I wonder how many of the perpetrators of the recent attacks saw that post?

You can blame trolls for many things, and that post was likely written by one. But it didn’t need to be shared…by anyone… ever.

In summary

We all get scared, frustrated and angry. But, while self-control and restraint may still be viewed as virtues by some, if you crave attention (which seems to be how people are measured in our society today) then in-your-face acting out is the way to go.

Patriotism

Patriotism is a word that means different things to different people.

We have come to a point where a bunch of folks seem to think that the right to speak freely means that they should use that right to promote hatred of various groups (Jews, Hispanics…). The right to bear arms seems to mean to them that they can go and shoot their neighbors buying groceries, on a night out, or worshiping in a synagogue.

Matriotism

Maybe we need something new and different: Matriotism? the idea that we need to take care of each other and stand up for what is right. It can be as simple as being very careful what you encourage on social media. Think about it before you “like” and “share”. Trolls invented the “anti-fa” movement to try and drum up conflict. Don’t let them have the win.

Yes, we need more restrictive gun laws. We need to find a way to take care of the mentally ill. We should try to find ways to entertain that do not romanticize violence or make it seem like a game. But we also need something else.

To view all people as people, and you don’t point guns at people, ever.