A Bridge in Montgomery County in Maryland and the African American Experience

Some people think of systemic racism as a thing of the distant past, especially if they happen to live in a part of the country which in the 19th century fought for freeing the slaves.  But institutional racism was alive even in the later half of the 20th century, and in some senses is alive even today.  I would bet that there are some practices today that future generations will look at and say – how could we have accepted that?  The current state of the national education system comes to mind in this regard.   The video below presents life experiences of people who lived, and are living, some of these experiences, told through the story of the bridge.  Not all stories make it to the limelight.

Talbot Avenue Bridge will eventually be demolished and replaced by a new bridge that is a part of the Purple Line project for light commuter rail.  I understand that parts of the original bridge will be saved and moved to locations where they can be used as memorials to remind us of our history.

P.S.  I biked across the Talbot Avenue bridge last year as part of training for my long ride.  The bridge is a part of the Georgetown Branch trail, which is an extension of the Capital Crescent Trail.

The Words

The  year was 2014. I was on the towpath and approaching Fletcher’s Cove from the north.  I must have been on foot since I started biking once again only in 2016.  It must have been early morning since that is the time that I usually run.  Just south of Chain Bridge one comes upon Mile Marker 4 on the towpath, and shortly after that, a concrete spillway for the canal that allows overflow water to get to the river.  Then, further south, before Fletcher’s Cove itself, a truss bridge (that earlier used to carry the B&O Georgetown branch railroad line) carries the Capital Crescent trail (CCT) over the canal and the towpath.  On the side of the bridge for the CCT, just beside the trail, I saw the some graffiti with the following words:

“In the space between right and wrong is where I will find you.”

A very recent search reveals that the poet Rumi might have said something that seems somewhat similar, but not the same:

Somewhere beyond right and wrong, there is a garden. I will meet you there.

But, at that time, back in 2014, the original words I had read stayed with me.  I was trying to understand what it meant even as I ran.  Did it mean that nobody is perfect?  I am still not sure what exactly the words were meant to convey, but I would like to think of this message as a comment on the human condition.  I still think about it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Quieten Your Mind

And the sign said, “The words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sounds of silence
Simon and Garfunkel

In the quiet woods,
On a rise beside a bubbling creek,
A creek lit up by the rays of the rising sun,
The passing hiker arrives at a resting place with a sign on it that says,
Quieten your mindOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am reminded of the song from my childhood.

Bioplastics

Some of us feel quite good about ourselves because we recycle our plastics at home.  We believe we are doing our little bit to save the environment.  But, as it turns out, very little of the plastics that we recycle are being reused in a useful way.  As the article below points out, there are many challenges to achieving real meaningful recycling.  Perhaps the solution is to use less plastics, or plastics in a more sustainable way.  (The author of this article linked to below (click on the image) talks about “bioplastics”, which is something they are working on in their University.)  Whichever way you look at it, there are additional costs involved in getting things on the right path.  The article below is a good read in the sense that it also gives you a good sense of the bigger picture, and of the damage we are doing to ourselves over the longer run.

(Courtesy – The Conversation)

Here is a video from the article.

Linda McKenna Boxx

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA couple of months ago I wrote about a trip to Ohiopyle in Pennsylvania.  During that visit, we happened to go to the Ohiopyle State Park Visitor Center.  It was nice to see the display in there honoring the work done by Linda McKenna Boxx.

Linda served as board president and volunteer executive director of the Allegheny Trail Alliance (ATA) that over the years brought together different trail groups to create the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP). My friends and I rode the GAP on our bicycles in 2016 from Pittsburgh to the Washington, DC, area.

My first interaction with Linda happened in 2009 when she reached out to me for permission to use one of my pictures in the Trail book that was being prepared for that year. She wanted to use a picture of Riley’s Lock that I had taken. I said yes, and the only thing I requested was that they send me a copy of the trail book when it eventually came out.  There was no other form of payment involved.

She reached out to me once again in 2016, before my bike ride on the GAP.  This time they ended up using two of my pictures. After seeing the book, I decided that I wanted a few more copies of the book to share with my fellow riders before the ride because there was a lot of useful information in it.  I was going to pay for these copies, but Linda would not accept any payment. She also shipped the books to me for no cost.  You are now one of us, she said. And she wished me a good ride, and requested that I take lots of pictures.

That was the last time I interacted with her.  It appears that she has now stepped down from her positions in the ATA.

I have started supporting the GAP with regular donations.

American Opinions on a Tough Topic

In my opinion, this is a subject that our politicians and religious organizations, in general, have made very difficult to address rationally. The citizenship seem to have a more nuanced set of opinions on this subject than you are led to believe, opinions that seem to change little over time. In my mind, the topic also seems to dominate the national discussion excessively, to the detriment of other issues that can more critically impact the well being of the nation.  But it does seem to be a good topic to push agendas and foster divisiveness.  The politicians of today are mostly a bunch of hypocrites.

First of all, the results of a survey.

I was led to the survey by this article.

The last section of the article seems to suggest that attempts to legislate in this regard may make little or no difference in a practical sense in the final count.

A Half-baked Theory About Everything And Nothing

I actually wrote this a long long time ago, before the days of blogs, but I did not share it with anybody for reasons that should become obvious to you.  I send it out today without trying too much to revisit the thinking that produced this.  Why not?!

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And I reserve the right to change my theory when I get smarter…..

I have not studied philosophy, and for that reason it is probably not a good thing to write about things philosophical. But I also do not see why somebody cannot develop a philosophy that is based on their experience.  It need not even be original, and perhaps someone will feel the urge to point that out to me.  So here it is – the half-baked theory about everything and nothing, the theory about life and death, the theory about order and chaos, about purpose and randomness, about sorrow and joy, love and hate (and I am actually getting carried away at this point!).  My theory may prove to be untrue, in fact there may be no way to prove it, but it can at least help me to make sense of the world in my mind, and hopefully give me some comfort in my thoughts.  Once you think you understand how things work, you may be able to stop your worrying.  Perhaps one will be able to even handle adversity better when it hits, at least that is the hope.

So everything is really all about nothing.  Everything just is. Past and future really do not mean anything, especially if you look far enough in either direction.  Your sphere of influence is very temporary.  These things that we call emotions, as opposed to things like hunger and pain, are only real in our minds.  Knowledge and so-called progress is something that we need to keep us going as a species, but in the grand picture these terms do not mean anything.  I am not trying to paint a bleak picture of the world.  I am not saying that we should not pursue knowledge and progress.  I am not saying that we should try to avoid emotions.  What I am saying is that we should realize that these things only make sense in the somewhat “artificial” circumstances of what exists right now.  In fact, we would not survive the moment or the day if we did not have these “things”, and we need to understand that and make use of these “things” appropriately.  I also know that I have mentioned thus far represents just a fraction of what defines humanity, but I also believe that the theory can cover anything can you can throw at it.

So why do we have all of this baggage that human beings carry around with them?  Essentially it is because our capability to think and join the dots has evolved to the point that we would have a hard time surviving without the baggage.  We have basically evolved from the point where we lived like the rest of the animals, to the point where we can think and put two and two together.  We have learnt how to use the capabilities of our brain in an efficient manner.  We have learnt to extrapolate from our observations.  I am not sure that we have really become smarter, but we have also learnt to somehow find ways to remember what we have learnt in the past and pass that knowledge down.  We are using what we already know to extend our understanding of the things around us.  As we extend this knowledge we also learn to make more and more use of the resources around us to further the new goals that we set out for ourselves.  Why do we as human beings feel a need to set such goals?  Is it primarily because that is the way the human beings are being taught to think from the day they are born?  A child does not know any of these concepts at birth.  We use the terms knowledge and progress.  It started with fire, the wheel, and the simple tools of prehistoric man.  We are carrying the same concept into our brave new worlds.  I wonder what would happen to a child who was brought up differently.

The ecosystem that we have created on this earth is clearly unstable.  The only reason we have created such ecosystem is so that we can support our expanding humankind, extend our lives and support our concept of progress.  But by doing what we do, we further extend our reach.  It is a system of positive feedback, and we know that such a system is destined to blow up at some time.  So the forces that work against this, both natural and man-made, are in a sense equalizing forces – but we are getting better and better at handling these countering forces also.  If we stop for a second to think about it, all of this makes no sense.  But we really do not need to stop and think about it right now, because we believe that such problems are for the future generations, and that they will find a way to address them.  Perhaps this is true, but the processes we use for addressing the daily problems today can also amplify the problems of the future.  In the worst case, humankind has taken over the entire Universe and there is no further place to go – that is unless we believe that the Universe is unending.  But most likely, it will never get that far, because, the more we assert ourselves as a species, the more we will face newer and newer problems that are more and more difficult to tackle, and at some point, the process of positive feedback may not even be able to sustain itself. We could even get hit by that one-in-a-million type of phenomena that can destroy everything around us in a single instant.  And who can forget that while we are making progress, we are also creating more and more efficient ways to destroy ourselves.  Any way you look at it, our days are limited in more ways than one.   Under the circumstances, it makes very little sense to speculate on the things beyond us, and to try to read more into the things around us than what we can actually rationally grasp and understand easily.  To us it all seems to happen for a reason that can be explained logically.  That makes us us comfortable.

So why do we have this need for progress, something it seems that other species do not seem to have on this earth?  It does not necessarily seem to be a good thing.  Is it because we are special when compared to other living things?  Why is there a belief that when we die something special happens, whereas this may not necessarily be true for other species?  Well, perhaps it does, but that should not matter in the current reality.  Human beings will surely disappear in their current form in the future.  So what does it matter in the big picture?  We think too much of ourselves.  I think all of this thinking is a result of us being able to connect the dots, and then expanding our ability beyond where it needs to go.

So, what are we to do as individuals?  Should we throw away everything around us and change our life?  That does not make sense.  The only reality that we have is what we experience right now.  It does not make sense to throw everything away and to go off and live off the land (even if there is actually an argument to be made that one may really be happier in life doing just that).  But we can at least think of the results of our actions right now.  Are we going to continue to support this system of positive feedback?

One of the elements in this ability of ours to expand our domains happens to be our ability to work with each other towards new purposes that we define.  Without this, we would be goners.  Can we use this capability to our advantage?

Do we really need to try to help other people?  Is there a universal concept of morality?  Why should I not just look out for myself?  Placed in the context of the now and here, the answers to these questions are not likely to be encouraging, because we might feel that it really does not matter.  But it does matter when you think about your place in the universe of all human beings.  The structures that we have created so that we can expand our domain only survive because there are at least a few people who think that the answers for the above questions are important.  The fact of the matter is that we would not have our societies if we did not have such people.  So what do we say about the others who do not necessarily do what we call “good”.  There is no absolute basis to condemn them.  Everything just is!  I think that this is the reason we try to find other ways to motivate people.  The only real reason to motivate people seems to be so that we can continue our “progress”.
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And I do not think I have become any smarter since I first wrote this…..