Our Gifts And Our Baggage

Sometimes we do not even understand the nature of the gifts and the baggage we carry with us. It is possible that we do not even know that we are carrying gifts and baggage. How does one remain open-minded enough to get an adequate understanding about this? How can we build up relationships without understanding the nature of what we are carrying, something whose nature can change even within the context of the relationship itself?

How can I best use my gifts to relieve other people of the burdens of their baggage? Do I even understand the gifts and the burdens of the others in my relationships properly and adequately? It is still a work in progress.

Sweating The Computer Stuff

I have not been in the state of mind to write a blog for a little while now. You can blame technology for this. I finally got a new computer. I ended up spending a lot of time getting the new machine up and running. I found myself in a frame of mind not conducive to writing anything.

My old laptop computer has had a few issues with it for a long time, but I tried to manage without a replacement for as long as I could. One of the buttons on the touchpad has been sticky for a while, which sometimes led to unexpected responses when it was pressed. The plastic casing of the computer had cracked and separated an even longer while back – at the location on the side where the power cord got plugged in, to the extent that the connector for the power cord inside the computer was not firmly connected to anything within the computer itself. When the lid of the computer was lifted to the certain level, the broken plastic on the bottom of the computer would separate, and the connector would become free to move. The only way to ensure that the connector was stable was to push the top and the bottom elements of the casing together and to try to keep them together using some force. The engineer in me had to try to come up with a solution to the problem. Super-strong adhesives would not work since the force pulling the broken pieces apart was too much. I was using a sticky tape instead as a temporary solution, and had been trying to limit the actions of opening and closing of the lid of the computer. That careful approach had its limits, and mitigated the issue for only so long. It was time for a new computer!

I got a new laptop computer with much more memory than I had before, with the hope that it would make it easier for me to support multitasking, and also speed up running of my photo editing app, a piece of software that is a complete memory hog. I also upgraded to a Solid State Drive (SSD) instead of the traditional Hard Disk Drive (HDD) in order to eliminate a moving part in the computer.

Laptop technology has advanced significantly since my last upgrade about 6 to 7 years ago. The newer units are far more compact (smaller in overall size for the same screen size), significantly thinner, and much lighter. This is in spite of the fact that the new machines are much more capable than the older ones. The core chipset technology has advanced significantly.

The effort involved in bringing up the new machine to a configuration of familiarity to me, so that I could do all the stuff that I used to do on the old machine, was what disrupted my past week completely. This process should not have taken a lot of time. But one of the key apps on the old machine that I use for image processing would not install on the new one. I spent a few days trying to get past this issue, even spending a significant amount of time with representatives of the company that made the app – on the phone and on my computer – trying to figure out what was going on. I even gave the company reps temporary access to my computer for hours on end. (I was very nervous for the duration of the remote sessions when they were running.) In the end, they were unsuccessful in figuring out what was going on. And, in the end, they also dropped the ball on solving the problem. They had promised a call back from their experts within 24 hours. A few days have passed since then…. But, fortunately, I had also been trying to troubleshoot the problem on my own, and finally found out the source of the issues I was having. It was due to the existence of a use case that they were not likely to see too often – one that they were not familiar with. But shame of them for not following up! If they had stayed on the case, the information that I have found could have been helpful to them in the future. Too bad that they gave up!

Changing gear……
Changing topics…..

We went out to pick fruits at a farm last weekend. It was my first such experience. It was a fun couple of hours. The fruits available on this farm for picking at this time of year were nectarines, peaches, and blackberries. It turned out to be a very pleasant day to be outside. It was good exercise to walk across the fields to the locations of the best pickings. I was quite surprised by how engaging the process of trying to find good fruit to pick actually turned out to be. One becomes adept at making out the level of ripeness of the hanging fruit. And, of course, you are sampling some of the fruit you have just picked as you go along. There we a lot of families out there having fun. In the end we ended up picking more fruit than we really needed.

The farm had other activities to keep the families engaged, including places to pet the animals, and a flower garden where people could cut flowers for themselves.

It was a good day!

We were also able to go to the canal for our Sunday walk last weekend. It was good to be out again after a short break. We went to a familiar section of the trail – between Sycamore Landing and Rileys Lock. The parking lot was unusually full because of the people who had come to see the garden of sunflowers next to the lot.There are very few flowers along the trail itself at this point in the season in this section of the towpath. There were the dying Wild Sweet William that I had seen in full bloom while biking a couple of weeks back. The underbrush is also very thick at this time, with the various tall grasses and shrubs pushing up against you from the sides in the sections of the trail that have not been cleared out yet. It is green everywhere.I did see some leftover Bee Balm, Coneflower and Touch-Me-Nots. There seemed to be fewer than usual birds around. We noticed the occasional cardinal. The woodpeckers were scarce.

There was the one Zebra Swallowtail that we saw feeding. It did not seem to notice us.

Fortunately, there were very few gnats, probably because it was a unusually cool and cloudy morning.

It is possible that the reader will get the impression that the experience of the towpath must have been diminished because of what I have written above. Banish the thought! That certainly was not the case. There is nothing like being out in the quiet of the woods to rebuild one’s spirits – in order to carry you through the rest of the week. Thus it was last weekend!

Thanksgiving in The Time of Thanksgiving and COVID-19

I had told myself that I did not want to do the long drive to Massachusetts once again, so soon after the previous trip. But we ended up heading north for Thanksgiving anyway. The drive turned out OK since I had help with the driving in both directions this time.

Of course, coronavirus was on the mind. Ventilation, masks, physical distancing, etc.. were on the mind. The infection rate has skyrocketed in our country in recent weeks. We had to be careful. Our family group was small enough, and every person had to take responsibility for their own actions.

Conversations, games, daytime naps, walks in the park, including Lucy, cooking,bird watching, etc.., were all part of the informal routine during this vacation, with people free to participate as they desired. No pressure!

We did gather at the table for the significant meals. What you are seeing in the picture below are mostly the remains of the Thanksgiving meal the day after. I neglected to take pictures of the Thanksgiving meal itself, which included an Irish Soda Bread that was demolished in a single sitting.Even Lucy seemed to feel free to do whatever she felt like.



There have been a couple of very specific occasions during the last few weeks when I have strongly felt the spirit of community and sharing in a way that felt somewhat different and unique, yet familiar. When sharing of effort is done with a complete sense of openness, without holding back, without a feeling of being imposed upon, without any expectation of any kind of reward other than the generation of a somewhat vaguely defined feeling of happiness and satisfaction that cannot be quantified, then you are mentally and spiritually in a special place. One could ask, what more does one need other than to experience such a feeling, a feeling that immediately warms the cockles of your heart. The goal of the sharing in some instances is not perfection, but the outcome feels that way.

The first time I felt that way was when I assisted with the preparation of the Thanksgiving meal. I provided only a couple of the many hands that helped in the efforts to prepare the roasted chicken, and to cook the beans.Different people participated in the effort in barely organized fashion. It felt like nobody was specifically in charge of worrying about the outcomes. The sense of responsibility was shared and we stepped into roles organically. But the outcomes were good nevertheless. Somehow things all came together.

I had the same feeling back in Maryland when working at the food bank the week after Thanksgiving. I had an intense sense of commonality of purpose. We, the volunteers, just stepped in to do what was needed to prepare closed boxes of food for distribution – including piling the boxes on pallets for shipping, moving stuff, including the loaded pallets, around, recycling cardboard packaging, cleaning up waste, etc.., instinctively stepping in to help each other as needed. In the end, there was great satisfaction in the outcome, and the sense of a successful team effort. We all felt happy about what had been accomplished. We actually lost count of the number of pallets that we had piled up with boxes. It sounds repetitive, but perfection was not necessarily the goal of our effort, although it felt like this was the result that had been achieved. I have been volunteering for years at this point, and I have felt this way in the past when I am working with the regulars (now my friends) who come in on Tuesday. Perhaps I have even articulated this same thought already in the past, but I was so surprised at how similar it felt to the Thanksgiving experience.

As I might have indicated in earlier blogs, my personality lends itself to trying to plan things in detail in advance, sometimes with a degree of obsessiveness, trying to make sure that all the angles are covered, so that one can anticipate anything that can go amiss. That approach can lend itself well to the professional engineering environment where 100% solutions might be important, where you want to do everything you can to ensure that very little can go wrong. This thought process may not be that relevant in many situations in real life. When you are working with others with a genuine sense of community and commonality of purpose, your approach and goals can tend to be different, and the results can be much more fulfilling, and relevant to the human condition.

Transitions

We are in a seasonal transition in our neck of the woods. It is a truth – as true as anything and everything else that is real and factual. There is no way that somebody can refute my statement, right? Winter is around the corner in Maryland.

Unfortunately, facts seem to be more and more difficult for people to accept in today’s world. It is the belief that counts, and a lot of our actions will be based on these beliefs. I could have edited those pictures I am showing you, or even picked pictures out from my collection from a different year, to state something that is untrue. You believe that I will not do that. There is an element of trust involved. You believe that I will not lie to you.

It is a sad thing that active efforts are being made to destroy the trust that people in the US have in their electoral system. When this happens, the truth, and the facts, do not matter. The lies are considered credible. And the lies can become a matter of faith. Living in a virtual world of computers and social media makes this process even easier. Facebook’s algorithms have no means to separate out truth from lies. AI technology is also not necessarily based on starting from truths. Scientific truths have no basis in a virtual world, facts have no foundations there. These days you can argue that the world is flat, that man did not land on the moon, and that a conman won this election – and the algorithms in the computers will say, fine, we do not care if this is true or not, and we will proceed as if this is fact.

All real facts point to the successful and honest conclusion of the election process in the US, a process that was as fair as it could be. Unfortunately, apparently 70% of Republicans, at this time, believe that the election was really won by the candidate who actually lost it – the two-bit huckster, the conman. Unfortunately, this fantasy is also not explicitly repudiated by the people in power who are in a position to state the facts. They are afraid. They are hypocrites who look out only for themselves. People lie, these lies are amplified, and these lies are believed because of the kind of world we live in. The facts have no place here. There is more chaos, uncertainty, and anxiety, in the transition that is taking place in our country because of all of this. This is nuts!

They’ve All Come To Look For America

Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike,
They’ve all come to look for America
Simon and Garfunkel……………….America

This song was playing in my head as we drove back to Maryland from Massachusetts last weekend – as we headed down the New Jersey Turnpike. Traffic on the roads was normal, not as bad as it can get on a crowded day, but enough to slow you down when you least expected it. You would think that this was a typical day in the USofA at the end of summer. Labor day is over and you get the feeling that autumn is around the corner.People like us are out and about, going about our lives, as if everything were normal.

But these are not really normal times here in the USA. Within a few short days, over 200,000 people would have perished in our country because of COVID-19. Who knows what the numbers will be by election time. About 20% of the global deaths due to the virus are in our country at this time. It is not a record to be proud of. The raw numbers are already much higher than the number of US soldiers killed in the Vietnam war, a war that left its painful mark on the American psyche. How will we remember this particular crisis?

And yet there are those who still believe that this is all a big hoax. No real effort is being made by the authorities, the people in power who know what is actually going on, to correct this mistaken belief. In fact, the misinformed are being encouraged by some to carry on living in their imaginary world. And we all carry on.

Back on the New Jersey Turnpike, at one of the rest stops, there are plenty of cars in the parking lots – but the lots are also not full. Thankfully, the indoor area, where the food court and the restrooms are located, is not completely packed with people – but there are enough of us that we have to keep our eyes peeled in order to maintain physical distancing. Some of us seem to have become somewhat used to performing this particular kind of dance by now. There are also only a few tables and chairs left in the open area of the building for people to dine at. The tables are clean, leading me to believe that they are being more careful in cleaning up after customers. The lines at the eateries for ordering food are long. Our food takes a long time to arrive.

Thankfully, most people are masked. Perhaps it is because New Jersey has already been through the worst of it during the first wave of the coronavirus earlier on, and they know how bad it can get if they are not careful. But the urge also exists to try to carry on as if everything is normal – that there is nothing that is wrong. Yet the virus remains in the air – unseen. We do not know who is carrying it. It could be anywhere.

But, you know, things could have been worse. The virus could have been more virulent. What if it had been able to survive in the open without a host for longer periods of time? What if it actually survived on certain surfaces and under certain conditions for a longer amount of time? What if a higher percentage of the people that caught the virus die? From a very different perspective, what if something like this had happened before we had a robust online system to keep at least some of the systems that maintain our infrastructure still operational, i.e., what if this had happened before we had a well-developed Internet?

These are strange and unique times. And they are not going to end any time soon.

Where Have All the Hippies Gone

The motivation to write this particular blog arose after I saw a particular episode of the PBS series American Experience. This one was titled Woodstock – Three Days That Defined A Generation. The movie was remarkable!

For some reason or the other, even though I did not live in the United States at that time, I have been drawn to the US of the 60s and the 70s. Part of it was the music. I do not know if others of my generation who lived in India at that time remember this, but we used to be easily able to get comic books from the US in India during those days. I used to read any that I could get my hands on. Many of these comic books would include pages where they advertised certain music clubs in the US that you could join to get the few albums for almost no cost. Even though we were not able to join these clubs, I used to read about the music. I could even listen to some of this music on shortwave radio.

Anyway, it was not until the 1980s that I was able listen to more of this music, and to even obtain the complete official live recording of the music of Woodstock. We still have the VHS tape of this recording in our basement. I will be honest in admitting I did not really completely understand the spirit of those times since I did not live in the country, but, as I said before, I was still drawn to it. Maybe it reflected something that I felt in my inner self.

Which brings me to today. The movie from PBS which I saw last week tells the entire story of the Woodstock concert. It is not a music video. It is a remarkable documentary. First of all, the event itself would be considered a complete disaster from the point of view of the staging of any kind of event. Almost everything that could go wrong in the organization of the event went wrong. Our sense of organizational structure these days would not allow a concert like this to happen in the United States today. The organizers of Woodstock completely miscalculated. They did not have enough time to set up for the concert, and the crowds that came were many more than they anticipated. They did not set up enough resources for the concert-goers, including food and sanitation. The place was a disaster zone by the end of the four-day event.

But a remarkable thing also happened during those days of Woodstock. Hundreds of thousands of young people gathered in an open field, under very, very, crowded, and appalling and dangerous conditions, to listen to music, to get high, and to basically have a good time. During the almost four days, they slept where ever they could. They managed in spite of the lack of toilets. They took to skinny dipping in the local pond to clean themselves and have some fun in the process. When a dangerous thunderstorm passed through they sheltered in place, and then they started playing in the mud like little kids. And they managed to have their fun in spite of the chaos and the terrible conditions around them. They did not riot. They behaved as a giant human family – taking care of each other, and managing with whatever they had. The kids were completely peaceful in spite of the worst that others were expecting of them.

There are too many things worth noting about the concert. (If you are interested, it is worth watching the movie to get a better insight.) The organizers had to make it a free concert because people arrived well before the fences around the field had been set up. An activist commune from California called the Hog Farm provided “security”, and whatever organization and community service that was needed – even feeding the people after the concessions ran out of food, and also taking care of the people who had overdosed on drugs. The members of the Hog Farm were hippies who did all of this for the benefit of the community just because they wanted to, and not because of any monetary incentive. The community of Bethel, NY, where the concert took place, was a deeply conservative one. They were generally Republican folks who supported the war in Vietnam, something that the young people were against. They did not want the concert in their backyard, and opposed Max Yasgur, the farmer who provided his land for the purpose. In spite of their opposition, the locals banded together to provide food for the kids when the situation grew desperate on the concert grounds. The military even flew in doctors and medical supplies to take care of the kids. (The Huey choppers that flew in for this purpose were similar to those being used in the Vietnam war at that time.) The musicians had to be flown in to the concert grounds in helicopters because the roads were all blocked. Each group that was performing had their own unique story line and attitude that they brought with them to the stage. It was a remarkable set of circumstances.

And I should probably say something about the music itself. The organizers tried to keep the music going all 24 hours of the day, hoping to keep the kids entertained and in a good mood. They did not want trouble to break out. The music was of the times – starting with folk music on the first day, and moving on to more mainstream pop music and rock and roll. There was a general anti-establishment theme to a lot of the music. The kids were rebelling against the voice of authority, they were against the Vietnam war. Richie Havens was the first performer. He improvised the song Freedom on the spot at the end of his set. The organizers had him performing well beyond his initially allotted time because the next band was not ready. Santana apparently took the excitement in the crowd to a higher level on the second day with Soul Sacrifice (listen to the mother of all drum solos in this rendition!). Sly and Family Stone took the crowd higher with their final rendition of I want to take you Higher in what was apparently one of the most energizing sets of the concert. Who would have thought that Funk would work well in the middle of a series of rock and roll music sets? On the last morning, after many of the concertgoers had already left for home, Jimi Hendrix woke up the remaining crowd with the now classic rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. The sounds and the violence of the Vietnam war (“The bombs bursting in air!”) come alive in the song through his guitar. It was electrifying! If you do a search on the “Best Performances at Woodstock”, you will find a few articles that tell you a little more about some of the songs that were performed at the concert. Here is one such article. There were apparently a few duds at the concert, including the Grateful Dead. They were too stoned for their own good.

After seeing the movie, I decided that I wanted to find out more about Max Yasgur, the farmer who had provided his land for the concert. I found a great video – a talk given by Max’s son Sam Yasgur to a legal group. The video is supposed to be about the First Amendment and free speech. I found the entire video interesting, but you can skip directly to the 40th minute of the video to go directly to the part where Sam starts talking more about the circumstances of Woodstock, and about Max himself. Sam Yasgur is an amazing speaker, and quite entertaining. And Max Yasgur was a remarkable human being. (I hope that this video does not get removed by Youtube!)

I did a little more of searching on the Internet regarding Woodstock. This is a video of an interview given to the The Guardian more recently by one of the organizers of the original concert. You can find interviews with a few people who were at Woodstock, including this video. There were attempts to have concerts at the original location (or close to it) for the 40th and 50 anniversaries. I do not think they were very successful. I am sure there were a few people who went back for these concerts to try to relive some of the days of their youth. There is apparently an art center near the original site of the concert.

Although, I was not here in the US during the time of Woodstock, I somewhat identify with the sense of idealism of the kids. They were the hippies, the flower children. They were questioning the ways of their society. They were not into materialism. They were looking a simpler way to live. They wanted a peaceful way of life. They were against the war that was going on. I get the impression that at least a few of the young people of the 1960s and 70s remained true to their original spirit as they went on through life. I am guessing that there must be others who went on to become conservative Republicans. I wish we could feel and see more of a positive impact of these youth of the 60s and 70s in the culture of the current times, but it is difficult to influence the world in the major way when your life is based simply on peace, love, and understanding.

The world has changed a lot since the days of Woodstock. It seems to have become tougher, and life has become more regulated and seemingly more systematized. Society is less inclined to allow you to take risks. But, I would like to believe that the young people today are still idealistic, although it must be more difficult than ever to confront The Man in today’s world. Life ought to be about looking out for your brothers and sisters. I wonder how many people think that way today. For heaven’s sake, we cannot even come together in our country to confront the corona virus!

An event like Woodstock would not be allowed to happen today – even if there were enough interest. There would be too many rules. There are new causes for the day, but it is a different crowd – a less mellow one than before, I think.

Trying To Focus

Outdoor activity seems to bring out the ability in me to focus, especially when it comes to putting my thoughts together, and also when expressing these thoughts in letters or blogs. Considering that factor, this particular blog might be heading right down the toilet (sorry, I have had the toilet on my mind for a few days!). A stubborn stomach ailment of some kind (I am still assuming that it was not related to the coronavirus) had me grounded for the last several days. I usually recover from such ailments quickly, and I usually have a good sense about the state of the recovery of my digestive system, but this time I was off. Every time I thought I was out of the woods, I had a relapse. But there was a slow and gradual progress through it all. There was a learning process into what worked and what did not in the recovery process. Different kinds of household remedies that were suggested by concerned citizens were also tried. I think I am finally done with all of this. I am keeping my fingers crossed. I feel stronger and hope to resume my outdoor activities within the next day or two.

The disruption of the digestive system only added to the chaos and turmoil caused by all of the other disruptions going on around us. The earliest possible date by which some of these other disturbances could begin to dissipate is probably the time of the elections in November. The only hope is that enough people see and understand the man-made destruction and chaos going on in our country and vote appropriately. Until then we just have to wait and endure – as we descend further and further into the national crapper – the country getting sicker by the day – while the unqualified conman twiddles his thumbs and declares that all is well. Did Nero really fiddle while Rome burned? Did he add fuel to the flames? Was there a Senate in ancient Rome that joined in the orchestra? I know that this is all myth, but it does fit into my theme nicely.

I am slowly reaching a conclusion that we may have reached a possible inflection point in the political and structural health of the country. The person in power has actively challenged all norms, and has destroyed a lot of the governmental structures created for the benefit of our country and society. The question is whether we have let the genie out of the bottle, or if there is a possibility of returning to the way things were earlier. Truth of the matter is that we are what we are as a country largely because of the well defined structures and the norms of our society, including both the good and the bad, and including the bureaucracy and government. Structures work if they are fair, if the people involved are doing their jobs, and if people are not abusing their power. They support a way of life. Unfortunately, the foundations of our infrastructure are now being eroded and chipped at actively and deliberately. Sticks of dynamite have already been lit at the base of the structure. Anything can happen. Damn the consequences!

The Red Leaf

The leaf dropped out of the sky as we were walking through the green woods. It floated lazily about in the air, carried by the air currents, while steadily making its way down to the floor of the forest. It drifted past my eyes. It was a red leaf, completely out of place in the green woods. I am not sure if this fact even registered in my mind at that moment.

The presence of the dry leaves in the middle of the normally ultra-green summer is not a real surprise. I have seen such leaves in the past. In spite of the humidity in the air, some trees are beginning to lose their leaves. The heat, and the lack of water in the ground, take their toll. If you saw the cherry tree in our backyard at this time, you might even suspect that it was sick.

Instinctively, I reached out for the leaf that was floating past me. It was a whimsical thing that I was doing, without thinking. It was an act of the subconsciousness. I was surprised to find that I had actually made contact with the leaf.

And the leaf had actually also landed in my hand! Some may say that it was meant to be. I was astonished by how red the leaf appeared – redder than I am used to seeing in summer. It was a unique sample. For some reason or the other, I did not feel like letting go of the leaf. It began to occupy my thoughts as we kept walking. The red leaf in the hand actually led to some contemplation. Was it going to come home with me as a reminder of sorts of some obscure encounter with nature – an encounter that was somehow profound in my mind in that moment?

Towards the end of the walk, we decided to take a detour on to a narrow path that led to the river. It seemed a little ridiculous for me to be carrying the leaf over the detour. I was going to be coming back that way. I left the leaf on a bush at the entrance to the detour thinking that I would pick it up on the way back.

That was the last I saw of the leaf. That was the last time I thought about the leaf – until I looked at the pictures I had taken that day on the computer at home late in the evening. I had forgotten the red leaf by then. The red leaf was no longer significant. All that remains in a picture in a blog.

Days of Introspection and Reckoning

It is a time of introspection for me, a time for me to once again confront the possible limitations of my own humanity. This time, my internal conversation is about my latent biases.

I think that those of us who happen to be privileged in some way or the other cannot help but have our own biases. Regardless of whether our parents tried to inculcate the right set of values in us, regardless of whether we were taught that all human beings are the same regardless of our race or background, or creed, people can end up feeling not just different, but maybe even superior. I am probably guilty of that even if my first reaction is to try to deny it.

At this time, my thinking is mainly focused on racism against blacks in America. I want to spend some time thinking about my learning process in this regard. As a young person growing up in India, I was not very knowledgeable about the experience of the African American people. I knew about slavery, and I had read Roots by Alex Haley as a youngster before I came to the United States. I also knew about the civil war and events associated with it. That was probably the extent of my exposure. I remember seeing movies from the USIS that talked about America, but the plight of the former slaves was not one of the topics that was touched upon. Lets admit it, the USIS was mainly peddling in propaganda that only presented the country in a positive light.

Before I came to the United States, I did not know much about the Civil Rights movement. I did not know anything about Jim Crow, or the events of the South in those days, in places like Birmingham, Durham, Selma, etc… I had not heard of the Freedom Riders. My real education on this topic started when I came here in 1980 for my higher studies. I would like to believe that I did not have any inherent biases against people of other races that I interacted with when I arrived as a graduate student. I encountered people from all over the world in the university, and we were all going through the same experiences in the same set of circumstances. But I am not sure now if I am remembering things correctly.

My regular trips from the university where I studied to New York City opened up my eyes a little bit to the black inner-city experience of that time. It was not a very happy introduction. You have to first remember that those times were, in general, especially bad for NYC as a whole. The city was still recovering from near-bankruptcy in the 1970s, and the infrastructure was in real bad shape. Times Square was still a red-light district. There were a lot of homeless people in the city, and they seemed to be mainly black. There were people hanging out in street corners who seemed to be looking for trouble. You had to be careful wherever you went because the city could be a dangerous place. There was graffiti and rubbish everywhere. The place was dirty. I remember being attacked by a bunch of kids one evening on a street near Columbia University. I remember the smelly and graffiti-covered subway cars that I traveled on. Often, there were homeless people sleeping on the cars. But I was young, and I found NYC to be a fascinating place. I used to love to travel on the subway system. I tried to experience every subway line there was, and every destination. I even bought a book about the subway (I think I still have it), and also resolved to cover all of the many lines of the subway system within a 24 hour period. Thank goodness I never attempted that in real life. On a different occasion, I remember being stopped by a plainclothes agent of the law (I was not sure he was an official policeman) for inspection at the Pelham Bay Park station, a terminus, because there had been some incident at some previous station on the line. The person wanted to make sure I was not involved in a crime. He let me go after a few minutes. I loved to wander around Central Park. New York City was my backyard, and I really experienced a lot of what it had to offer to a young person living on a shoestring budget.

One of the things you noticed about New York City was that there are a lot of people who were not well off who actually lived there. This was in spite of the fact that the place was very expensive. In my mind, the white man would commute every weekday morning to the downtown area from his suburban home – for his high paying job some big financial company, in one of the massive skyscrapers that dominated downtown. He would arrive in the morning for his work, and then disappear back to his comfortable suburb as soon as he was done in the evening. Such people were actually scared of the real city, and did not seem to want to have anything to do with it. The downtown areas used to become empty shells in the evening, abandoned by the better-off. The other rich who could afford it would live in the expensive apartment buildings around Central Park. The rest of the people who lived in the city were spread out over the five boroughs, depending on the levels of income, and depending on whether they were able to find a rent-stabilized apartment in a reasonably good neighborhood. Many people lived in high-rise apartment complexes in NYC. The poorer you were, the further away you were from downtown. Some of the apartment complexes in the outer boroughs of NYC looked like remains from a battle-zone. Many seemed to have been abandoned. In some cases, all that was left was what looked like a shell. Some of the buildings had fences around them to prevent them from being using for nefarious activities, like drug dealing. Most of the people who seemed to hang around these spaces seemed to be black. And you could ask yourself why things turned out that way for the blacks who occupied these spaces, and you could reach different conclusions based on your biases, and based on how much real studying you bothered to do about the history of the black people in the USA. That was the way it was in the 1980s for me.

We now live in Montgomery County in Maryland. It is a diverse community overall, and we would like to believe that we are enlightened, but I wonder. In spite of all its affluence, there are pockets of poverty, and places where people need help. People who are well off do not generally wander to these places. I have tried to tell myself that I am one of the enlightened people who understands where people come from, but how can I be so sure. I try to keep up with all aspects of American History these days, not just from the perspective of the White Man, so that I know what I am talking about. I have educated myself about the time of Jim Crow. I have educated myself about the Civil Rights Movement. I learned about the experiences of people of those times who spoke up, people like Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. I have listened to the speeches of MLK. We have watched shows like 13th, and When They See Us by younger film makers like Ava DuVernay. I learned about the workings of police forces all over the country. I learned about the Southern Democrats, and about the Freedom Riders, Birmingham, Selma. I learned about Rosa Parks, and discrimination, and lynching. I learned about the biases and the racism in the system. The white people actually thought they were superior human beings in those days, and, even though they may not admit it, many probably still have a few subconscious biases about this even to today.

And we now arrive at this moment in the history of this country, and the horrible incidents of today. I tell others that in order to understand the situation properly and achieve empathy, you have to study the history that brought us to this point. But now I am not convinced that even this is sufficient. Something more basic has to change. So I continue to try to educate myself about myself even more. Teresa and I watched the videos of Jane Elliot. We realize that there are insidious ways in which we can develop our biases, and it is not just about color. It is not simply a matter of empathy. It is not just a matter of knowing the true story. There is something more basic within oneself that is not good that is just waiting to come out. I realize that I have developed my own biases without really thinking about it. I really need to act with more thought and purpose in each and every moment going forward.

Today, we listen to the many, many, voices, some of them young, providing perspectives on the lives of the black people, especially in the inner cities. Social and news media are, thankfully, providing the outlets for people to speak. And I have hope. There is a significant push back from the black community every time some kind of police-on-black atrocity takes place, and it has become more and more effective. The voices are being heard, and they are voices that speak with a clarity of vision. They speak with reason. And I become a little hopeful that the push back will trigger some real change.

The first major backlash I remember from police on black violence in recent times was after the beating of Rodney King in 1991. The only reason why people knew about the incident was because somebody had made a video recording of it. Similar backlash, and accompanying violence, happened big time most recently in Ferguson, MO, when Michael Brown was murdered by a cop. Many other incidents have happened in the time between Rodney King and Michael Brown. The police officer got off without any punishment in Ferguson, just as has happened countless times in the past every time blacks have been killed by cops. Unfortunately, the focus of the press and others in these situations in the past seemed to be on the violent aftermaths. So, it is a legitimate question to wonder if things could go in a different direction this time.

I do think it is possible! One of the differences is that the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis was so blatant that it is not just the blacks in the community who are outraged and are actively responding. And the response to the murder is happening not just in Minneapolis. It is happening not just in the USA. It is happening everywhere! The press has picked up on the important narrative of racism, injustice, and police violence. The white people in the country are actually joining the marches in large numbers. And the youth of all backgrounds are involved. And it is also multi-generational. And the police have responded in many places with their entire arsenal of military-grade hardware and shown their true colors by using these against the citizens. And every single thing that happens out there is being video-recorded. Every mindless violent act of an out-of-control police officer gets shown to the whole world. I think every reasonable person who sees the official violence has to be angry. And , for a change, social and television media has been very good at amplifying the positive messages coming from the protestors. I hope for something concrete to happen before the momentum fades away.

But a reactive response to the moment is not sufficient. We need fundamental change in our mindset as a society. A band-aid simply will not cut it. It is going to take much more hard work by every single one of us to get a better understanding of our our biases and our racism, and to effect real change. It is not easy.

I want to conclude with a few links that caught my attention.

This is a interview on CNN.
https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2020/06/10/cornel-west-george-floyd-cooper-ac360-vpx.cnn

Here is a blog about the murals that are coming up in Minneapolis in the aftermath of the shooting.
The George Floyd Murals of Minneapolis: A Demand for Justice, Hope and a Better Humanity

There are moments of humanity in the middle of the violence. Here is a nice story.
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/06/06/breonna-taylor-protesters-protected-lone-lmpd-officer/3166914001/

We shall overcome.

Dear World, We Are So Sorry

Dear World,

We are so sorry we cannot cooperate and work with the rest of you in this time of the COVID-19 crisis.  This is because, unfortunately, our government has broken down and become completely dysfunctional.  In the past, in times of disasters, we were happy to take on a leadership role – to help with the direction and coordination, to provide support and assistance to the rest of the world as needed.   With our outstanding capabilities in science, medicine, and technology, with our robust government structures, and with our access to plentiful resources, we used to be well positioned to respond when needed.

But times have changed.  We have a big mess on our hands over here right now.  It looks like we cannot even take care of ourselves properly.  Our leaders have no idea what leading means, even within the context of our own country.  The president is missing in action.  We have set out on a destructive path that will lead to people dying in large numbers.

We are incapable of coming up with any kind of real plan to tackle the coronavirus.  Instead of doing the hard work that is needed on so many different fronts to fight the fight, the career conman who is in charge is engaged in preening and self-aggrandizement, and in trying to find ways to get a leg up in the coming elections. There is not a concern for the fact that too many people are dying.   They are collateral damage.  Bluster and bombast and outright lies rule the day.  Inputs from scientists and doctors are being ignored in policy decisions.  The apparatus of the government bureaucracy that has been so effective in the past has been damaged in a bad way.  Politically appointed hacks and yes-men, many unqualified, rule the roost, and they run amok playing their games for the benefit of our master of the con game. There is also nepotism going on at the highest level. It would be comical if it were not so sad.  There is no going back for the next few months.  It is a complete disaster.

Dear World, I hope you now better understand why we are unable to work with you.  In fact, our leader has made it clear that he is not interested in cooperation with any of you in any real sense.  Also, quite clearly, many of you are doing a much, much, better job than us in handling the pandemic.  I know that all of you are getting restless with the current situation – just like those of us here in the USA.  How much of social distancing can one take?  You want to break out of isolation, engage with other human beings person-to-person, and get on with life like it used to be. Please keep the faith and do what is right for humanity.  Know that many of us in the US are being quite reckless in our behaviors in this regard, unfortunately often at the prompting of our supreme leader and his minions. It is definitely resulting in a death toll that is unprecedented in recent times.

I would guess that even after all of you have managed to get this contagion under some kind of control, we will still be scrambling – flailing in various directions, wasting our time and energies, fighting. Many will probably still be dying.  There is no common strategy or set of rules in our country to handle the situation.  At some point in time, I expect that neighboring states that have different approaches to handling the pandemic could even end up tussling with each other in order to make sure that their own borders are protected from contagion.  Fissures have even developed within state boundaries. These are, in fact, encouraged by our great leader, the “stable genius”. In fact, even after you guys open up your economies and your borders, you are going to have to watch out for us.  We are not likely to be as prepared as you are.  We may be in a position to cause further worldwide damage.

Do not worry about us.  I will admit that the situation is scary, and somehow seems unreal, but we will manage. The mortality rate with this virus being what it is, many of us will still survive in spite of the astounding overall stupidity. People who believe in the science are themselves trying to be careful. We also have some sensible governors.  And the percentages are still relatively low.

We are OK.  One does not have to dwell on the absurdity of the situation all the time.  We can compartmentalize things in the mind.  Other aspects of life still go on.   For example, there is interesting news on the space exploration front.  Did you know that SpaceX and NASA are scheduled to jointly launch the first manned US space flight since 2011 this month?  The two-member crew entered pre-flight quarantine (standard operation procedure as I understand it) yesterday. 

On a personal note, it was warm enough for me to go running outside the house yesterday.  Did so for the first time this year.  I had been using the treadmill thus far.  Covered 6 miles, and I felt great. It was certainly an endorphin high!  There was also less traffic on the road. I think I must have also been breathing cleaner air.

Before I end, I would be remiss not to mention, once again,  the major positive that has come out of all of this, which is the response of the many citizens on the front lines who are doing their jobs and protecting the rest of us, all of this while the national leadership flounders. People are stepping up to help others.  Citizenship includes working for the common good.

Dear World, some day, after a vaccine is developed, we can join you guys in closer fellowship.  Or perhaps the elections will allow us to bring some sense to the conversation more quickly.  This too shall pass.  In the meantime, we would not blame you, the rest of the world, if you felt it essential for your own safety to maintain a travel ban to and from the USA for a longer period of time than expected.  That would be sad for those of us who have very close connections all over the world, but some of us would understand.

Once again, sorry for our mess, and sorry that we cannot work with the rest of you. We have our own battles to fight.  We wish you all the best.

With you in solidarity during these troubled times.