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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Moral and Political Failure

This morning, hours before dawn and for the first time in my life, I lay in bed and cried for my country.

I cried about the resurrection of a hate-filled faction of our country, a faction that calls for the removal of everyone who isn't white. This faction, emboldened to come out of the shadows by the election of a president who supports and approves of their white power beliefs, marches through the streets carrying torches and Nazi flags, chanting Nazi slogans. This faction celebrates the murder -- by one of their own -- of a young woman who showed up to protest the hatred espoused by this faction. This same group plans to protest at her funeral.

I cried for a friend whose family was exterminated in a Nazi death camp.

I cried for the neo-Nazi apologists who continue to defend their president, a president who refuses to condemn the hatred, violence and bigotry demonstrated by the 'white power' groups. He called them "good people," "fine people," and tried to blame the victims for the violence. 

I cried for those who believe the lie that "both sides" were responsible for the violence in Charlottesville, as Trump contends and continues to repeat. I cried for our so-called political leaders who continue to do nothing to combat the poisonous words of the president.

The following appeared on Facebook; it is well worth sharing.

"Both sides" did not come armed with long guns.
"Both sides" did not come armed with sticks.
"Both sides" did not come in para-military gear.
"Both sides" did not come with Nazi flags.
"Both sides" did not come with Confederate flags.
"Both sides" were not giving the Nazi salute.
"Both sides" did not drive a car into a crowd of people with the intent of killing and maiming.
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It was only one side that did that.
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That side was the one chanting "Make America Great Again", "Take America Back", and "Blood and Soil".
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That side is emboldened by those who talk about both sides being responsible.


~ Jonathan Odell

After my tear stopped, a wave of nausea swept over me.

Trump's failure to forcefully and unequivocally condemn and reject the violent, racist, bigoted rantings of the KKK, the white supremacists and the neo-Nazis, only emboldens these fringe fanatics. Their beliefs are based upon the perceived inferiority of those who aren't 'white,' whose race or religion is somehow 'different.' These beliefs are the antithesis of what America has always stood for -- equality and equal rights. And yet the president has cast shared blame not only on the Nazi-admiring marchers, but on the victims and on those who gathered to protest the hate.

His failure to speak out against those who want to remove the 'other-than-white,' non-Christians among us, rather than blaming "both sides", is a huge moral failure. The American president has traditionally been seen as a moral leader of the country. Trump has failed miserably as both a political and as a moral leader. None less than David Duke, former leader of the KKK, has praised Trump's blaming of the other side.

Is he in reality a neo-Nazi sympathizer, or is he merely pandering to his 'base' as he plans to run for reelection in 2020? The truth will most likely never be known. What should be clear, however, is the danger he presents to America and to American society.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Unfit to Lead

My heart is breaking for my country, once the greatest nation on earth.

I am angry. I am sad. I am heartbroken. I am concerned.I am disgusted. And I am disappointed.

With the election of an illiterate, orange-tinted buffoon with the emotional maturity of an eight-year-old, our country is devolving into chaos. White supremacists, neo-Nazis, as well as anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim and anti-anybody-who-isn't-white individuals and organizations, have been emboldened to act on their sick, twisted beliefs.

And the buffoon occupying the White House (when he isn't away at one of his many resorts playing golf)? He steadfastly refuses to condemn the hatred and the violence perpetrated by his Nazi-loving followers. UPDATE: Two days after the attacks in Charlottesville, VA, he finally, reluctantly, condemned the hatred and violence. He read his words on a TelePrompTer, so clearly the words were not really his. His words would have been much more believable and appeared more sincere had he spoken from the heart.

I travel internationally several times each year, and to a person, everyone who has spoken to me about the juvenile occupying the White House asks how the United States could have elected such a bullying buffoon to the most powerful position in the world. He and his cronies in Congress have made the US the laughingstock of the world.
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Cheetoh-Man has frequently stated, either verbally or in never-ending tweets, his opinion of individuals and organizations that have 'hurt' or been 'unfair' to him. Why is he suddenly so silent when it would be appropriate to condemn the organizations responsible for the violence in Charlottesville? Could it be that he wants to retain their support for his inevitable run for reelection in 2020? 

When the black CEO of Merck, a major pharmaceutical company, resigned his position on the manufacturing council to protest the bully's refusal to condemn white supremacy, the bully-in-chief promptly criticized him in a tweet. Neo-Nazis have praised the weak, mealy-mouthed response of the co-called leader of the United States to the terrorism in Charlottesville. They voted for him, and they applaud his actions to keep Hispanics and Muslims out of 'their' America.

Ethnic tensions between certain groups of whites and other ethnic and religious groups in the US are higher than in a long time. I lived through the racial divisions and riots of the late 1960s, and I have no wish to relive those experiences.


All those claiming that they want to make America white again have it all wrong. America has never been a white country. Our nation was founded on the principles of equality and justice for everyone. From early in our nation's history, black Africans lived in the US as slaves. The original inhabitants of this land were not white, but Native Americans. Hispanics played a major role in the history of the American Southwest, and several current states -- California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and parts of Colorado and Wyoming -- belonged to Mexico, a nation of largely brown-skinned people.

So to those outside the US, I can only say that this president and his 'make America white again' followers do NOT represent the majority of Americans. Regardless of our ethnic background and our religion, most of us want the same things -- equality, justice, peace and the ability to live our lives without fear. I apologize for the thugs and misfits who are trying to turn the clock back more than 150 years. The so-called 'culture' they are supposedly trying to preserve -- slavery and misogyny among other things -- has been relegated to the dust bin of history. Let's hope it stays there.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

The World in Black and White

While on vacation in Kenya recently, I decided to experiment with my camera's 'monochrome' setting, which allows me to take photographs in black and white.

We were watching a large herd of elephants trying to decide whether to cross a crocodile-infested river. The animals had been standing in the river for several minutes, so this was a good opportunity to switch the camera to 'monochrome.'

When I got home, I submitted one image (I would have submitted more but my computer was acting up) to a photo contest at www.viewbug.com. You can see the image here: https://www.viewbug.com/photo/74378314?type=myaward  and below.  I was pleased the next day to see that a fellow photo enthusiast had given this image a peer award. 




I took a couple other shots in monochrome as well.


















Finally, I took this image of several Samburu warriors celebrating and dancing. 





 I don't think I will switch all of my photography to black-and-white, but it's fun to see the world from a different perspective once in a while.



 

Celebrate the Magnificent Elephant!


Today, August 12, is World Elephant Day. 

Elephant populations in both Africa and Asia have shown dramatic decreases due to habitat loss, poaching and conflicts with humans. If the species is to survive, everyone must get involved.

Elephants are incredibly intelligent, caring, family-oriented animals. Female elephants stay with their families -- mothers, sisters, aunts and cousins -- their entire lives. Elephants show compassion.They appear to mourn their dead, even elephants they don't know. Recent studies seem to show that elephants have a sense of self-awareness and recognize themselves in a mirror.

Please never buy ivory or paintings by elephants, and avoid elephant rides or anything else that exploits these amazing animals. The procedures used to train baby elephants -- who suffer incredible trauma when they are ripped from their families -- are horrendous and abusive.

If you can and are so inclined, find a good elephant conservation or rescue organization (I support Save the Elephants and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust) and get involved. Educate yourself about the plight of elephants, then help spread the word to your friend.

I have been fortunate to observe these marvelous animals in the wild. Elephants are not here to entertain or adorn us. They deserve to be left alone to enjoy life with their families as they are meant to do.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Loving the Southwest

What makes people prefer one type of climate over the others? It's definitely good that not everyone likes the same sort of climate.

While some love cold and snow, I get grumpy when the temperatures drop. Some people love cloudy, rainy climates, while I get depressed without a lot of blue skies.

I grew up in the cold and snowy Chicago area. I lived in damp Maryland and in hot and humid Houston. I love the Mediterranean climate of the San Francisco Bay area. But at this point in my life, no place beats the high desert of New Mexico.

I love the vastness of the state, the low humidity and the crystal blue skies. I love the privacy my half-acre lot provides, along with the unobstructed views of the Sandia Mountains. At night, I can look up at a black sky with countless twinkling start. I love the open spaces and the ability to get away from the crowds without facing a long, traffic-clogged drive. Most of this part of the country is less populated (aside from Phoenix) than the rest of the country.

Albuquerque, the largest city in New Mexico, has a population of only 600,000. Yes, traffic can be terrible, and crime is a real problem, but one doesn't even have to leave the city to view hundreds of ancient petroglyphs at Petroglyph National Monument. A mere five miles from my home is Coronado Historic Site, which has  nothing to do with Spanish explorer Coronado, but it does include the ruins of Kuaua Pueblo. Among the ruins is a kiva, or underground ceremonial chamber, that included some of the finest examples of pre-Columbian art ever found in the US. (The original murals have been removed for safekeeping, but copies decorate the inside walls of the kiva).

From central New Mexico, I can easily drive to the beautiful red rock area of Sedona, Ariz., or to Abiquiui, made famous by American painter Georgia O'Keeffe. I can reach Durango, Colo., in less than 4 hours. I can be at the other-worldly beauty of White Sands in 4 hours. When I attend a photography trip in Moab, Utah, later this year, I will make the 11-hour drive through a beautiful land. I can be in Santa Fe in less than an hour.

Every morning I watch the sun rise over the Sandia Mountains. They aren't terribly pretty mountains, especially compared with Arizona's and western New Mexico's red rocks, but they are impressive as they soar to 10,567 feet. And they are home to some amazing sunrises. I try to keep a camera handy so I can dash outside whenever I see one of the fiery sunrises over the mountains.

Yes, it can get hot during the summer (it's been hovering in the 100-degree F range for a couple of weeks). It is very dry. And the winters are colder than I would like. But the small amount of snow we get each year generally melts in a day or less. Water is a constant concern, especially given the unrelenting demand of local governments to encourage construction of still more houses. 

I enjoy the blend of three cultures -- Native American, Hispanic and Caucasian -- in my state. I love visiting some of the historic buildings, some of which date back hundreds of years. The crisp air of spring and fall bring a much-appreciated change

My yard was xeriscaped after removal of a water-guzzling lawn. The yard is beautiful and perfect for a desert climate, with drought-tolerant and low-water trees and plants, artificial turf and lots of colored, decorative gravel and boulders. The plants bloom every spring with flowers of a variety of colors. And there isn't a cactus in sight! My yard also includes two peach trees and a cherry tree, too young to produce fruit just yet.

The Southwest states have the Grand Canyon, the Vermillion Cliffs, Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, Sedona, Monument Valley and so many more gorgeous locations. Other parts of the country, of course, have their own natural beauty. But in my mind, the Southwest has more beauty than anywhere else in the United States.

I hope my little slice of heaven stays just as it is, without a strip mall on every corner and houses crammed onto tiny lots.There is barely enough water to go around, even with careful water use and conservation of this valuable resource. Let's hope our so-called leaders can see beyond the demand for more and more tax revenue and stop encouraging people and businesses to move into the desert.




Friday, July 7, 2017

19th Century Wisdom

The great 19th century American author Mark Twain once wrote:

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

I believe this statement is just as true now -- perhaps even more so -- than when it was published in 1869, in his book The Innocents Abroad. We now have a president who seems bent on curtailing America's involvement with the rest of the world, and who has already taken steps to limit the programs set in place by his predecessor to increase people-to-people interactions between Americans and Cubans.

I am a well-traveled person. I have visited Africa several times, as well as Europe and the Middle East. I haven't yet made it to Asia or South America, but those places are on my list of places I hope to visit. I learn something and I make friends wherever I go. I have Facebook friends -- people I have met in person -- from Turkey, Russia, Ireland, Kenya, Scotland, England, Germany, Costa Rica, Spain, Chile, Botswana and France.

By visiting these and other countries, I have gained a better understanding of other cultures and people. I am more informed when I see a news story about something that happens in one of those countries. When I heard about another attack on a French police officer on the Champs Elysees, I knew where that is because I walked down that well-known Paris boulevard a month ago. When I heard about a military action against protesters on Istanbul's Taksim Square, I can relate because I was there just two weeks previously. When a story surfaced about a knife attack at Jerusalem's Western Wall, I can see the wall in my mind, as I visited Israel three years ago.

Travel provides a real life education and broadens one's horizons. It has increased my self-confidence and ability to be flexible and to take things as they come. The rest of the world doesn't necessarily do things the way Americans do. Although I usually travel with a group, I also spend time exploring on my own. Yes, a friend and I were lost in Istanbul; neither of us knows a word of Turkish. But we found our way. 

Traveling makes me see more similarities and fewer differences in people regardless of where they live. People care about the same things regardless of where they call home: family, education, food, shelter and safety.  Don't we all want those things, regardless of where we live? 

I travel with a variety of companies and for a variety of reasons: photography, adventure/hiking and just plain tourism. I wish more Americans had the opportunity to travel abroad and experience other cultures. One culture is not 'less than' or better than another. Our American isn't better than the cultures of Peru or Kenya or France. Learning about other countries and cultures can broaden our horizons and make us better informed citizens of the world. And the more we know about other lands, the less reason there is to fear them.

Monday, July 3, 2017

America's Shame

On the same day he met with the president of South Korea -- a nation facing attack (possibly nuclear) by its neighbor North Korea, which is led by a mad man -- the president of the United States was more preoccupied with attacking via Twitter two morning talk show hosts who frequently criticize him. And despite criticism by members of both political parties, and pleas for him to stop his bizarre tweets, he did the same thing the following morning. And on the morning of the third day, he released a video clip showing him punching a character with CNN as its face.

This wouldn't be funny even if it were done by a middle school student. That the source of these verbal attacks and name-calling is the president of the United States is, at the very least, shameful and unprecedented.

Our country is divided like at no time in recent history, from the halls of Congress to Main Street. Unprovoked attacks on black citizens and on Muslim-Americans have increased dramatically. Yet what is the president doing to try to bring the country together? Absolutely nothing! He has not spoken of unity, of coming together to face our country's problems, or taking America's rightful place as the leader of the free world. 

Instead, he adds fuel to the fire with his off-the-wall tweets and pronouncements. He continues his verbal assaults on women. For the first time in decades, the White House did not hold an Eid celebration to mark the conclusion of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. He says nothing when Americans are gunned down on the roads and in their homes. He offers no condolences or support to the survivors and families of victims brutalized by violence. Instead, he uses the killings as an opportunity to gloat.

His latest is a demand that the states turn over to some commission -- a commission whose members are a secret -- a list of all registered voters and their personal information. His excuse is that there was rampant voter fraud in the last election, a charge he has never been able to prove. He is obsessed with the fact that he lost the popular vote to his opponent by more than 2.5 million votes, and in his mind, that is due to voter fraud, illegal immigrants voting, and other crazy explanations.  

And now the US State Department, operating under the ban on Muslims from coming to the United States from certain countries, has refused to issue visas to an all-girl robotics team from Afghanistan. These brave young women, who live in a country that oppresses women and often does its best to keep girls from attending school, wanted to come to the US to compete in a robotics competition. But of course, the list of banned countries doesn't include predominantly Muslim countries with which his excellency has business ties.

He continues his outright war on the news media, referring to any media outlet that runs stories not favorable to him (even those that report things he himself has said and done) as "fake news." His administration has held daily briefings from which the news media were banned. Hitler and other tyrants did the same thing.

He shoved the prime minister of Montenegro aside to get to the Thafront of the group for a photograph. He insulted the president of Mexico and the prime minister of Australia during his first few weeks in office. He has publicly chastised the leader of Germany, one of our strongest allies, for not paying enough to support NATO. He has insulted veterans. He congratulated a veteran who had lost his legs in combat for winning the Purple Heart. The man has no compassion and no filters. He simply blurts out whatever comes into his brain.

It should be obvious to all but his most obtuse followers that Donald Trump's mental health isn't what it should be, especially for the man who occupies the most powerful position on the planet. The presidency needs a cool, calm, intelligent person, not a petulant, nearly illiterate, I-know-more-about-everything-than anybody person who is unable to resist attacking any individual or organization that in his mind has insulted or been 'mean' to him.

This isn't about his policies or cabinet picks or his plans to remove 23 million people from the health insurance they now have. There is absolutely nothing about this 71-year-old man with the mind of a child that I like. I agree with none of his policies. But this isn't about policies. It is about the damage he has already done to our country. We are the laughingstock of the world. Rather than leadership, we get buffoonery. 

All Americans want what is best for their country. We may have very different beliefs about what is best, but we should find some common ground and work to bridge the chasm that divides us.  That, I hope, will include replacing a dangerous tyrant-in-waiting from the highest office in the land. Meanwhile, let us come together as Americans and celebrate the greatness of our country.