Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Real Race Issue No One Wants To Talk About

  Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's iconic Washingdon D.C. "I Have A Dream" speech. President Obama and many others gave commemorative presentations at the same Lincoln Memorial site to acknowledge the day in history.  The news media took the opportunity to discuss and debate the status of American race relations in 2013.

 Progressive/liberal outlets like MSNBC spent the day discussing recent setbacks in civil rights in the US, including the return of ugly trends like voter suppression in southern states, police brutality, education inequality, vanishing manufacturing jobs and what they see as pretty overt racism towards President Obama.

 Interestingly, more conservative outlets such as Fox News presented a much different story. They seemed to imply that they didn't really understand why another March on Washington was even necessary. Many conservative commentators stated their belief that racism of the sort that Dr. King and other African Americans suffered in their day is long gone.

 After all, they ask, when was the last time you saw separate water fountains? Or police firing hoses on protestors, or sicking attack dogs on defenseless black men?

  And their strongest argument: How can racism still exist if the most powerful man in the country is African American?

   Isn't the race war over?

  The answer, of course, is sort of. Yes, and no.

  My more conservative friends and family will argue that there are not only African Americans but people of all races, white collar professionals who live and work amongst them in their upper-middle class neighborhoods and workplaces.  And everyone gets along just fine.

 Which leads me to my point: with the exception of certain geographical areas of the country (we all know where they are), I think we are, mostly now, post-racial.

 But this post-racial badge comes with a gigantic asterisk.

 We as white America do, for the most part, accept and welcome not just African-Americans, but Hispanics, Asians, etc., into our workplaces and neighborhoods -- but only if they dress, act, speak and live pretty much exactly like we do.

 Another prerequisite to gaining entrance into the club? It really, really helps if you're religion is of the Judeo-Christian variety. If you're Muslim, and your wife wears a burka while shopping at Whole Foods? I don't care if you're the chief of neurosurgery at the local university hospital. Ahem. You know how it is. No offense.

          We may for the most part not be racist in the old-fashioned sense of the word anymore.

           But what we are is class-ist.

                             The Cosby Show family would be welcomed into most any upper
                          middle class neighborhood in America. After all, Cliff Huxtable was
                          an OB/GYN. A doctor.   They lived in a big house and probably
                                                             drove a nice European car.
                                                           And they didn't act all rappy.

               I was intrigued by the angry response by some whites to the recent
               K-Mart ad campaign which featured urban African-American children
                                                dancing, rapping and singing.

    The words were mostly about taking the bus back to school, trying to look cool for a good price, etc. But they sang in "rap speak" -- which means they use slang aimed at the target demographic for the ad: African Americans. For lack of a better way to say it: they were speaking their own language.

  But oh, the ire. Editorials and online rants exploded from white America complaining that...what, exactly, I'm not sure. They just didn't like seeing children rapping, I guess, even if it was just about clothes and school busses and going to K-Mart.

    The key here is this: nothing offensive was said. They were just some pretty cute African American kids laughing, singing and dancing about new school clothes. There was no twerking going on.


                             By the way, speaking of twerking, please note the race
                                              of Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke.

     Miley Cyrus, by her actions in recent months, has to upper-middle class Christian white America plummeted in status from beloved child star Hannah Montana to...well...whatever label you want to place on her today.

                            And this has nothing to do with race. She is WHITE.
                                 But she has dropped in status by virtue of class.

   White America likes people of other races and cultures who act, dress and talk like we do. Period. If you don't, then you're suspect. We can't trust you. You're no longer in our tribe. Who knows what you might do? No offense. Gotta protect the family.

  Now, to be fair -- this isn't just a White America issue. This is, to a certain extent, human nature.

 For example, in the large corporate office I used to work in, there were hundreds of people of every different race and ethnicity that all worked together in the same building. By all accounts, everyone for the most part worked well together and there were no overt race-related problems.

 But come lunch time, guess what? You go to the lunch room, and what do you find?

 The Filipino table.

 The Black table.

 The Chinese table.

 And it gets worse.

 Despite the fact that I counted fellow employees of several different races amongst my friends, and I took pride in the fact that I considered the white chief medical officer and the Spanish speaking cleaning lady friends of equal stature,  I was not off the hook either.

 The sad truth is that my three very best friends at the office -- the ones I went out to lunch with,  socialized with outside of work and entrusted my most personal secrets and stories -- were white like me, and had nearly identical upper-middle class protestant childhoods as mine. They enjoyed the same music, movies, books and TV shows, had the same political leanings and had basically the same level of college education.


 So what does this mean? The cynic would say: "See? Everybody's a racist deep down."

 I could not disagree more strongly.

 I simply believe that OF COURSE, we are all drawn to people with similar backgrounds and similar families. OF COURSE we are all drawn to people who like the same music as we do, and who practice the same religion.

 You know why? Because we know that by seeking out the similar, the odds are good that we will be understood. We will be welcomed and appreciated. We will not be judged.  We know they'll probably laugh at our lame jokes!

 So, what's the answer?

 For me, after nearly two years of traveling the world, sailing thousands of miles, I know from personal experience that there are kind, quality people of integrity in all cultures around the world. I know that everyone wants the same things: happiness and security for themselves and their loved ones. We all want to be understood, appreciated and loved.

   There are thugs, heroes, saints and sinners in every race and social class. But for the most part, my experience tells me that most people are basically good and aren't trying to hurt anybody. Most people, though often fumbling and bumbling, are truly doing the best they can.

 I know for myself, I seek out people of different races, backgrounds and yes -- different classes. Because this enriches my life. Yes, sometimes it's scary. But it's always worth it.

 One more thing about human nature: scientists and anthropologists are discovering that it is in our DNA to try to work together.  To seek to help and to understand. To be part of the human tribe.

This is how we thrive.

 The lone wolf withers and dies.

We need each other. Now, more than ever.


Monday, August 26, 2013

Eastern Sierras Adventure: The Mt. Langley Curse

                                             The spectacular Eastern Sierras of Northern California

       Chris and I eagerly and rather nervously headed north this past weekend to the Eastern Sierras for our 4th attempt to summit the 14,000 foot Mt. Langley.

     We have considered the mountain cursed, because we are three time losers over the past few years in attempting to summit her majestic peak.  Mishaps on different trips included my falling and tearing my rotator cuff, our friend Mark falling on his head, and a horrifyingly icy Old Army Pass cornice which we chose not to attempt traversing.

                                   Would you try to climb this? Right. Neither did we.

   Fortunately the weather and the mountain looked good for the weekend, so we booked the trip with  Mark, Kent and Chris and jumped in our car for the 4 hour drive to the Eastern Sierras.

                        We always wonder who bought and lived in these large,
                     expensive homes we passed in the middle of nowhere around
                                 Palmdale and Lancaster. There are no jobs that we
                                              can see for countless miles around.

                                This large volcano rises out of the middle of Owens Valley

                          And soon enough, we arrived at the little town of Lone Pine,
                   gateway to Mt. Whitney, Mt. Langley and many of the other 14,000
                    foot peaks of the Eastern Sierras. We loved this little park in town.

                                The spectacular view from the sleepy streets of Lone Pine

                                                       Incredibly gorgeous vista

   Since we arrived earlier than our friends, we had a bit of time to kill. I visited the Lone Pine Film History Museum.   Countless movies, TV shows and commercials have been filmed in this area. The scenery is that dramatic.  Plus, it's only 4 hours away from Hollywood.

                                                           Among the films made here:

                                              Kalifornia with Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis

               The Eastern Sierras were a stand-in for Libya in the Oscar winning Gladiator.


                         Quentin Tarantino used the area for many external shots in his
                  recent Django Unchained, starring Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio

          Along with hundreds of westerns filmed here over the last 80 years, Star Wars, Star Trek, The Green Lantern, GI Joe and Indiana Jones have all used the locale for dramatic outdoor scenery.

               Of course, the most famous film to use this dramatic locale is Ironman.
              Here the Eastern Sierras are a pretty impressive stand-in for Afghanistan.

        The film museum sells souvenirs and DVDs related to the movies and TV shows filmed in the area.  From a merchandising point of view, I had to wonder: Who is the target demographic for the Hopalong Cassidy lunch pail? Besides the obvious fact that 99% of children have never heard of Hopalong Cassidy, even the former fans of long ago who might want to buy these for nostalgia are nearly all long dead.

     Anyway, for all I know, these lunchboxes have been sitting on the shelf since 1956, still unsold.

        This merchandising strategy made a bit more sense, although it's not really authentic to the spirit of the film museum. Since parts of GI Joe were filmed in the area, they sell the DVD (on the right). Cute how they decided "What the hell" and stuck in G.I. Jane DVD's (on the left) even though the location never set foot around here.

           After touring the museum, our friend Mark arrived and we grabbed dinner in Lone Pine. Our plan was to drive up to the Whitney Portal and car camp for the night. At 8,000 feet elevation, we figured we could start the acclimatizing before hitting the trailhead the next morning.

                After exiting the restaurant in Lone Pine, we looked up and saw smoke
             pouring off the mountain. This was NOT the gigantic Rim fire, currently
               burning near Yosemite. That fire was 200 miles to the north. This new
              fire appeared to be in the vicinity of Mt. Langley, our destination for the
               next day. Good Lord...could it be the Langley  curse at work yet again?

      We asked around town if anyone knew the source or location of the mountain fire, but the only response was *cricket, cricket* and some scratched heads. Since the Whitney Portal is several miles away, we decided to head on up the mountain anyway.

                             This family of black bears stood guard  in front of the bear boxes
                            where climbers lock up their food at the Whitney Portal.
                                            I hadn't been this close to bears in awhile.

                              We waited for them to disperse, but they did not. They guarded
                               those bear boxes as if their lives depended on it, which I suppose
                             they did. Black bears don't usually attack humans, but they have
                               been known to destroy cars to get to the tasty morsels inside.

                           Well, since the Bernstein Bear family was clearly in charge
                          of the Whitney Portal and had no plan to leave, we bagged that
                idea and took our cars (and our food!) back down the mountain for the night.

                            We pulled off the road at the bottom of the mountain and slept
                      in our cars at this lovely (bear-less) spot. Our plan with the forest fire
                     was to see how things looked in the morning. If the mountain was on
                                  fire then we would bag the trip and head on home.


                                    The next morning we awoke to crystal blue skies.
                                The fire appeared to have been completely extinguished.

                                                       The trip was back on! Yeah!

                                     Mark does his own laid-back version of Chris'
                                                      world-famous victory pose.

                               We jumped in our cars and drove up to the Cottonwood
                                             Lakes Trailhead, gateway to Mt. Langley

                        We donned our 30 pound packs and headed off on the 8 mile climb
                      to Cottonwood Lakes at the foot of Mt. Langley. This would serve as  
                            base camp for the summit attempt the next morning.

                                      It's a lovely trail. Thousands climb it every year.

                                     Along the way we entered the John Muir Wilderness

                                              Me crossing a river using a fallen log bridge

                                                                     God's country

                                                                      Taking a break


                                                            Sky, rock and trees

                 Dead needles have the appearance of bright wildflowers on this tree

                           After hours of climbing, Mt. Langley finally appears in the distance

                                             Oh, noes. What's that in the distance? Smoke?

                                                          Oh, for the love of...     :-/

We couldn't believe it. Fire. Again! 
But now we were on our own deep in the forest.

                          To the southwest, the smoke gave the area a Mars-like appearance

                                                         Not what you want to see.
                               Mt. Langley was completely obscured by the smoke.

                    We arrived at 11,000 foot Cottonwood lakes, where Chris (Jones) and Kent
                               had been camping and acclimatizing for the past 24 hours.

         We had a serious discussion about the fire situation. We decided to set up camp and stay put for the night, and then in the morning assess things at that point.  I felt pretty safe, mostly because we were surrounded by several lakes. Worst case scenario: the fire bears down on us, we all jump in the water and we've got a dramatic story to tell all our friends. Nobody dies here.

             Weirdly, as ash began raining down on us, a freezing wind was blowing. We debated if the falling ash would ruin our new North Face jackets, but Chris deducted that the wind was so cold that it cooled the ash by the time it hit the ground.

                 Hmmmmm: freezing wind,  a raging forest fire concealing the sun and
                   ash raining down...could this be the 4th Horse of the Apocalypse?
                 Not to mention that damn Mt. Langley curse. Anyway, we had fun
                      catching up, had a quick dinner and hit the racks for the night.

                                         The next morning, we couldn't believe our eyes:

                                There she was: Mt. Langley looming above us, clear as day,
                                             under the cradle of a crystal blue sky.

                           Perfect summit conditions. Mark, Kent and Chris donned their
                                                gear and headed off to bag Mt. Langley.

                         Chris Jones and I stayed behind in camp and read, relaxed and
                          chatted about Duke Elington and Miles Davis. I had decided a
                       couple of weeks ago that I wasn't going for the summit. 11,000
                        foor high Cottonwood Lakes is more than enough for me!

                                    Hard to believe only hours before the entire area
                                               was clogged with smoke and ash.

                                            Anyway, the guys made the summit,
                                          and the Langley curse has been smashed.
                                       Well done, boys!    I couldn't be prouder...   :-)

               P.S. We found out this morning that the source of the smoke and ash was
               the Fish Fire, about 20 miles southwest of Mt. Langley in the Sequoia
                National Forest. As of this writing, it's burned more than 1,000 acres
                    and is about 5% contained.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Waning Days of Summer in Green Valley Lake

                                               Boats line the shore at Green Valley Lake

                                                         Some kids play on the shore

                                                        Others happily go for a swim

                                         And other tiny ones stay on the sidelines with mom,
                                              unsure if now is the time for that first swim


The fishing is good here

All are welcome

Adorable junior hiker

             Speaking of hiking, Chris and I have been hitting the trails nearby, 
                 training for next weekend when we head up to 14,000 foot 
   Mt. Langley in the Eastern Sierras

      Actually, I should say it's mostly been Chris hitting the trails. 
           I've joined him some of the time, but mostly I'm doing lots of stairs 
         in our cabin for my training. Since we're at 7,000 feet,
    I figure it's almost the same thing (That's my story, and I'm sticking to it! LOL).

Trail above Green Valley Lake

View of Green Valley Lake from high above

Looking up from town

   These white and red posts show how much snow we get up here
 during the winter. Gotta enjoy the summer while it's still here!

Water, trees and sky

Cabin and fence

         A Bald Eagle flies over the lake, bedeviled by crows who rightly 
          consider him a threat. One or two nesting pairs of Bald Eagles
grace our lake every summer.

The view north

Looking up from our deck

Cabin and flowers

My sweet dad and his wife Michele came up to visit this summer

Quality time

Entertaining can be tiring, but with loved ones it's always worth it! :-) 

It's late August but the wildflowers still bloom

Cabin and meadow

This crazy cloud really looks like a giant asteroid hurtling towards earth!

These thunderheads foretold a frightening lightning storm we had two nights ago. Hundreds of lightning strikes hit all around -- horrifyingly close, too. With no rain. YIKES. 

We found out yesterday that there were a dozen spot fires started by the lightning on our mountain. Fortunately they were all extinguished by our wonderful firefighters. 

The view from Green Valley Lake of a wildfire this morning on Mt. Baldy

But summer is still here -- we've got weeks of it left!

So come on up to the lake...or get out in the sun,  
 wherever you are, while it's here!

Summer...summer...she still beckons...

BEND low again, night of summer stars.
So near you are, sky of summer stars,
So near, a long arm man can pick off stars,
Pick off what he wants in the sky bowl,
So near you are, summer stars,
So near, strumming, strumming,
So lazy and hum-strumming.

-- Summer Stars, by Carl Sandberg