The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

This week’s Lens Artists Challenge hosted by Biasini is Communication. My first inclination was to pass. How do you photograph communication? Turns out there are countless ways.

The faces of children speak to us in their innocent and genuine way.
Below my grandchildren Sophia and her cousin Jackson communicate the joy of a pool day. 

In a quiet moment, Sophia reads to her younger cousin.     

Below, grandson Zachary is overwhelmed by all the noise and attention of his first birthday party.

Below, what is Zach communicating here?  Caught with the evidence?

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October 2020, with weeks to go before an election made controversial by Donald Trump. Is racial injustice an issue in America? The question is not about the existence of racial injustice, but is it, at this moment in 2020, an issue?  That’s a good question and at the same time an unfortunate one given that we’re four hundred years into the problem. Depending on who you ask there’s a perception and a reality.

Pose the question to a random sampling of white America and you might get a range of responses from a firm “yes” to a firm “no,” to a noncommittal “we’re working on it,” to a lecture on the so-called left wing red herring of identity politics. If you ask the Vice-President of the United States he’ll deny that systemic racism exists at all as will his boss and the cult that follows this administration. Those are the perceptions.

If you ask a sampling of people of color if race is an issue in America your answer will be something along the lines of “Hell, yes it is. Every day of my life.” Being on the receiving end of racial injustice tends to make one expert in the reality.

My last post describes racial injustice as a peripheral, almost non-issue in suburban white America where I’ve spent most of my life. It is, for the most part, a look back on the days of my childhood and young adult years and it’s a story that speaks largely of indifference. Indifference to racial injustice has been the subplot of the main storyline of America’s tragedy. It’s a play that’s been repeated on the American stage for decades.

A person of color is killed under suspect circumstances or a church is torched or a klan/white supremacist rally get its 15 minutes of undeserved fame; maybe a traffic stop goes wrong or a group of good ol’ boys working off an excess of beer and boredom goes on a rampage and assaults some poor soul who had the nerve to simply be born with more melanin than his tormentors. Maybe an arrest is made, maybe not. Maybe justice is served, maybe not.

The storyline continues; protests, indignation, conflict, anger, rhetoric and calls for a divided nation to come together and to “do better.” And then the climax – detente. It all goes away. Protesters go home, Congressional hearings adjourn, politicians move on to other matters and the white community goes back to what it was doing before being so rudely interrupted. Days, weeks, maybe months pass and then the drama starts all over again.

Clear and present racism
Racial injustice has a long history in America. We know racism when we see it. Oftentimes it’s easy to spot; a bumper sticker, a comment on the internet or a demonstration in Charlottesville. That’s the low hanging fruit, the conspicuous things like the car I saw during a visit to Virginia during the Obama Presidency. The car was plastered from bumper to roof with stickers that slandered the president in the most vile and racist terms. It doesn’t have to be that car in Virginia. It could be the novelty shop in Virginia City, Nevada with anti-Obama trinkets or the comments section of Yahoo News or Confederate flag logoed doodads from the Dixie Outfitters shop in Lynchburg, Tennessee or an indignant white couple painting over the Black Lives Matter mural in Martinez, California. The examples are everywhere and they’re the things that trigger a reaction of disbelief followed by an instinctive revulsion and the question, “How could this happen in 21st century America?”

What a question. There’s racism all around us, injustice that we often pass by, sometimes daily without even recognizing it. Comfort is the foundation of complacency which allows us to ignore the day to day racism that’s hiding in plain sight. We either don’t recognize it for what it is or worse, it registers yet we choose to overlook it. Continue reading

I began this post long ago in the days just following the murder of George Floyd and since that beginning it’s been subject to a score of rewrites and questions. Part of the reason is that I’ve felt the need to really get this right. The other part, maybe the greater part, is that it’s not an easy thing to admit to six decades of apathy. This is a personal story, one of avoidance and indifference, a story that should resonate with much of white America even if much of white America chooses to deny it. I’ve always considered myself a liberal and yet for most of my life I’ve avoided an open discussion of race and racism.  Indifference, it’s a virus that’s not uncommon to the liberal white community.  Excuses are easy to come by.  If I’m not being discriminated against then how I could I possibly have a proper perspective? What could I possibly add to the discussion? What could I possibly know or say about racism if I’m not subject to it? And then of course there’s the old, “I don’t see color” or just plain, “I’m not racist.” The problem with the rationalizations is that being a part (even an unwilling part) of the group (white America) that’s doing the discriminating carries with it an obligation and moral charge to acknowledge racism and speak out.  Maybe it’s just that I’ve been too damned intimidated by the topic.  It’s part of that triumvirate that we avoid; race, religion and politics, right? And so this isn’t a story that I take pride in relating, but it’s a story that has to be told.  It’s a story that’s demanded of white America because the fight for racial justice won’t be won until white America speaks out.  It’s like the twelve steps.  You have to acknowledge the problem before you can begin to solve it.  As journalist Don Lemon asserts in the title of his podcast, Silence is Not an Option.  

When I started this I had some vague notion of where I wanted it to go but no true direction.  That’s until I heard a sports talk show in which one of the hosts said , “Race was never an issue.” 

Race was never an issue. Now, I don’t mean to say that race wasn’t an issue in a universal sense. In the context of American society as a whole in the 1950’s and 60’s, race was very much an issue. It just wasn’t an issue where I grew up. And yes I was living in America; comfortable, white, suburban America. My cozy childhood corner of the nation was in the hills west of the town of San Mateo, about 20 miles down Highway 101 from San Francisco. It bears repeating that in my own little slice of America race was not an issue.

Up the highway in San Francisco, race was an issue. Across the bay in Oakland, race was an issue. It was even something of an issue in eastside San Mateo where most of the community’s Black population called home – “the other side of the tracks,” is how the saying went.

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Featured image: San Francisco’s famous Painted Ladies as seen from Alamo Square. 

It’s not a difficult thing to find colorful buildings in the San Francisco Bay Area. A drive down Highway 80 from home brings me to Oakland’s Chinatown where the buildings are alive with murals.  Below the mural on a city owned building is emblazoned with a menagerie of pandas, dragons and birds.                 

A drive across the Bay Bridge takes me to San Francisco’s North Beach.  The Italian Tricolor is everywhere in SF’s Little Italy.

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Note: This article quotes from the book Bullwhip Days an oral history of former slaves.  The original work was recorded and then transcribed into book form retaining the spoken dialect of the subjects. I’ve retained the dialect as published in the book. 

“Putting a national lockdown, stay at home orders is like house arrest. Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, it’s the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history,” ~ William Barr, Attorney General, United States of America.

Was William Barr trying to be edgy? Flippant? Just trolling? Over the three and a half years of the current administration, just about anything, no matter how crude or inappropriate, seems possible. And given Mr. Barr’s proclivity for scurrilous ejaculations we cease to be shocked. He delivers provocations in a casual, offhand, conversational manner that expects the listener to believe that the most bizarre and noxious proposals are simply conventional wisdom. And so during a speech at Hillsdale College, Barr in a blasé, doesn’t everybody know this tone stated, “Putting a national lockdown, stay at home orders is like house arrest. Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, it’s the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history,”

Mind blowing doesn’t even begin to describe Barr’s abomination.

I’ll say this for Mr. Barr, his boss, and others in the administration, everytime you think that they’ve absolutely plumbed the lowest, deepest, most despicable depths, they manage to drill down just a bit deeper. If Trump and Barr weren’t so loathsome you might even want to praise them as masters in the art of douchebaggery. That said being a master douchebag isn’t something one looks for in a president and attorney general.

Let’s be clear, the disconnection between slavery and being told to shelter in place to mitigate the spread of a virus is so great that it isn’t comparing apples to oranges but more like comparing apples to truck tires or garden hoses. There is simply no reasonable or diplomatic way to try to make the correlation.

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The San Francisco Bay Area is well known for its fog. Sometimes it’s a high overcast that shrouds the tops of San Francisco’s highrises. At other times it’s a low lying blanket that hugs the ground and the surface of the chill bay waters, a scene that makes for picturesque photos from the surrounding hills. That ground hugging cloak usually burns off by noon leaving a crystal clear day.

Lately we’ve been experiencing a new fog. It’s a stubborn fog that never burns off or gives way to clarity but will over time, burn your supply of patience. This fog doesn’t hug the bay or embrace the Golden Gate. Instead it seeps and creeps through the halls of government. Call it, COVID-19 bureaucracy.

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Life goes on here in COVID central (aka The United States of America).  Well, it goes on if you don’t become one of the rising number of statistics; THE statistic, death, that is.  As of this writing we’re closing in on 200,000 and change.  Change. Change is a term used to describe coins as opposed to paper money.  As a rule we scoff at mere change. Change is insignificant and sometimes you don’t feel like it’s worth the trouble.

I use that term here because life is apparently cheap to the current administration and the Congress.  The mendacity started, oh…what…maybe end of January, beginning of February?  We know that on January 28th Trump was told by his National Security Advisor, “This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency,”

A few days later on February 7th Trump told Bob Woodward, “This is deadly stuff…more deadly than even your strenuous flu.” Three days later Trump told the American people, “I think the virus is going to be—it’s going to be fine” and “Looks like by April, you know in theory when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.”  Continue reading

This week’s Lens-Artists Challenge, hosted by Amy focuses on negative space in  photography.  My understanding is that negative space is the area that, by definition, you aren’t necessarily supposed to focus on. Negative space is the lack of clutter surrounding the main subject that allows us to focus on the main subject.

The photo below was taken at the San Francisco Botanical Garden.

This is the I have no idea what this flower is flower. It was too hot that day to bother with reading the description.

In the photo below taken at Marche Jean Talon in Montreal there is very little negative space but what little there is enhances the bulbs of garlic.               

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“I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues—last, because with them God’s wrath is completed.”  Revelation 15:1

At 7 in the morning the rec path along San Pablo Bay can be a busy place; hikers, dog walkers, runners and an occasional skater. Cyclists wiz by, more often than not catching pedestrians by surprise.

This morning the trail was free of cyclists. In fact it was nearly free of humanity. There was one couple walking unmasked and a woman struggling to control her overly aggressive dog that was looking to have my Lexi for breakfast. Standing at the shore a solitary man fishing, silhouetted against an ashen horizon. He was standing 50 meters or so from the sewage treatment plant, not a place I would pick to fish but then I wouldn’t fish anywhere in San Pablo Bay and would certainly not eat anything from the bay.

It’s another dreary depressing day today. Smoke from the many fires scorching California has cloaked the sky and choked the air. It’s slightly better today. The rising sun still had that surreal dark orange color to it. Yesterday the smoke mixed with fog created a curtain that had visibility down to about a mile at best. This wasn’t the usual Bay Area fog. Those are gray days when you know the sun will burn through by late morning; the morning fog that Tony Bennett crooned about.

The last two days were clenched in air that was thick with a tobacco colored tint. To even call it air is charitable. It was a malevolent thing, a living beast, shrouding trees that you knew were less than a mile distant. According to the weatherman the fog is pushing down some of the ash which is further staining the air. Everything is covered with a thin sheet of ash; my truck, the garden furniture, plants. The pool is splotched with clumps of ash. We don’t put a water bowl outside for the dogs as it quickly develops an ashen film. In fact we don’t really let the dogs out for any long period of time.

As bad as the last two days have been, they were much better than it was on Wednesday. Getting out of bed at 7 in the morning and peeking out the window felt like waking to the apocalypse or finding yourself on Mars. The entire sky was a burnt orange. Our world had taken on the hue of a Martian sky. There was no glow, there was no light, just a dull pulsing orange. Dull and dark enough that streetlights were still on at midday and people were driving with their lights on. A friend of mine told me she looked out the window and was literally terror stricken. It took her a couple of days to muster the courage to go out. She’s pining for her home in New York.

A “Martian” sky over San Francisco


If there’s any positive to be found, it’s that the smell of smoke has lessened to where it no longer chokes. A few days ago stepping outside was like putting your head in a campfire. The smell of smoke literally was clinging to clothes.

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A few months ago when the new normal predictions were all the rage and being tossed around by everyone from my personal friends to pundits, psychologists, CEOs and politicians, I threw the “bullshit flag.”  Human nature is what it is I objected.  As soon as the all clear sounds people will flock back to stadiums, crowd movie theaters, dance at clubs, get hammered at bars and work off the hangover the next morning at the gym.  People will be back at their offices complaining about the drudgery of being cooped up in a cubicle after months of complaining about the drudgery of being cooped up in the house.

Even now college football and the NFL are flirting with the notion of limited attendance at some of their games.  As it stands now it’s just talk but I wouldn’t be surprised to see fans allowed in, even if just on a limited basis.  I have to admit that I’m somewhat surprised to see NASCAR holding firm on empty tracks (and it’s very strange to watch) but I’m expecting crowds at the ovals in the near future.  Some movie theatres are opening to small crowds as if the crowds hadn’t been small during pre-COVID.

All of the above, along with other services and businesses have been subject to local regulations which have ranged from laissez faire to strict.  I still hold that human nature is what it is and always has been and sooner or later things will return back to at least close to the old normal.  Some places never left the old normal and some are quickly and unwisely back to the old normal with people flocking to beaches and parks sans masks and distancing, which makes them, in my opinion, a bunch of flocking idiots.  And then there are the Trump rallies which are attracting just plain fucking idiots.

And so I’m feeling like sooner or later my “bullshit flag,” on the “new normal” will be vindicated.  Except, in one particular area – offices.  And that may turn out to be a big deal.

The City Skyline from the Golden Gate Bridge

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