Saturday, July 04, 2015

An American Tradition

Among my eccentric interests, I keep a lookout for historical information about convergences of Native American and African American cultures, which seems a very understudied subject.  This interest began when I heard echoes of the blues in Native American songs and vice versa.

So this article on the origins of an Independence Day ritual, the outdoor barbeque, caught my eye today.  It's another convergence of those cultures, and like a lot of American traditions it's filled with irony.  These two subjugated groups created what has since been assimilated and appropriated as an American thing, which for most means a white thing.  The African origins in particular are never attributed, according to this article.

There were many places where African American and Native American cultures met, the most conspicuous being in Louisiana, especially New Orleans, and to some extent in Florida.  Another is South Carolina, as per this piece, and I wish I remembered more clearly what a Native American trio of singers (or maybe a duo--all women in any event) said in introducing a Native blues song--but I believe they referenced an area of North Carolina for this convergence.

I heard this group years ago at the Arts Festival in Pittsburgh, which is held in early June.  The July 4 events are part of the Pittsburgh Regatta, which this year does not include anything actually on the water.  The rains were so persistent in June that the flow rate of the rivers is four times normal, so boat races, etc. are too dangerous.  But the fireworks will go off tonight.  When I lived in Pittsburgh, particularly the year I lived on the South Side and could see them from just outside my apartment (and from my windows), I loved the fireworks.

It's a little more complicated here in California, where the drought adds extra danger to playing with fire.  We're just looking to get through it safely.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Get the Idea Yet?

Nothing happening here move along is harder to get away with when it's happening in your backyard, literally.  Lots of places--from PA to Georgia--experienced unusually severe weather in the past few days, but some of it converged on the Washington DC area.

The Washington Post reported: In the middle of the night, in July’s opening moments, the most violent complex of the storms since the June 2012 derecho blasted the immediate D.C. area. It downed scores of trees and produced blinding rain and almost non-stop lightning as it swept straight up the I-95 corridor from near Dale City through the District and into Baltimore. This morning, area utilities, including Pepco, are still dealing with thousands without electricity.

The story appended tweets and photos--a lot of the tweets said the same thing--I was as scared as I've ever been by a storm.  (The same thing Margaret's mother said from Arlington, VA.)  Booming thunder and near-constant lightning flashes as well as heavy rain (an inch in an hour) characterized this event.

Meanwhile, Jeff Masters latest blog at Weather Underground begins: Unprecedented June heat scorched portions of four continents during the past week, and many all-time heat records are likely to fall across multiple continents this July as the peak heat of summer arrives for what has been the hottest year in recorded human history.
WA Post time lapse photo over five minutes: Silver Spring, MD

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Summer Weather Report

A week's worth of weather--the first official week of summer-- as reported on the Weather Underground site is enough to fill the entire newspapers that mostly ignore it.

Last Sunday, the US Southeast was in the midst of a sweltering heat wave.  On Tuesday, reports of at least 12 damaging tornadoes in the High Plains and Midwest.  Severe thunderstorms hit the Northeast on Wednesday. On Thursday, storms caused significant damage and caused widespread power failures in Missouri.  Today a huge dust storm hit Phoenix, and flooding in the Midwest killed two while also causing power failures.

Meanwhile an extreme heat wave had settled into the interior Pacific northwest from northeastern California as far north as British Columbia.  Records for June highs were broken in many locations, and significantly for this area, so were record high nightime lows--that is, things didn't really cool off as much as they usually do at night there (Portland, Oregon for instance.)  Moreover, the conditions causing this heat weren't changing, and were likely to persist into July--breaking records for the length of the heat wave as well as its intensity.  The summer fire season in these regions is already far advanced to what used to be midsummer levels.

And incidentally, heat waves in Pakistan have killed more than 1200 people, with more heat and more deaths expected.

Studies announced this week included one that showed that summers in every region of the US have been getting hotter consistently since 1970.  There's an interactive map to illustrate it.

Another study: Scorching summertime heat waves in Europe, Asia and North America, as well as extreme cold snaps in central Asia, have become more likely because of changes in the way air is flowing over those regions, a new study detailed in the journal Nature suggests.

The exact relationship of these changes in atmospheric patterns to global heating from greenhouse gases emissions is yet to be determined.  Is it causal or interactive? Do the two phenomena have different causes that tend to reinforce, exaggerate or counter effects of the other?  At this point it seems that the effects vary from place to place.  But for most places, it adds to the heat of hotter summers.

Amazing Grace

President Obama's eulogy in Charleston Friday has received various characterizations and praises, but most use the template of searing discussion of race.

My response to seeing it as recorded was different.  The context that he created for talking about Charleston and broader racial history and issues, plus related specific issues such as the Confederate flag and gun control, was what I found remarkable.  It was a highly Christian context, in a eulogy that seemed even more specifically evangelical.  He spoke with the vocabulary of a member--or a minister--of the church he spoke in, the African Methodist Evangelical church.

His overarching and at times subtle theme was grace.  I hesitate to call it a metaphor, since it seemed he meant it specifically in the Christian sense.  His definition in fact was the one I learned in Catholic school.

That he ended his eulogy by leading the singing of Amazing Grace--a few minutes excerpted from it in various media--was entirely consistent with the eulogy, even to its beginning as he recited lines from this song.  Update: I missed an aspect of this context; fortunately Jelani Cobb did not.  President Obama had just stated that the Confederacy fought for slavery, and it was wrong.  Then he launched into this song, written by a slaverunner who turned abolitionist.

My impression was that the murders in that church did send him deeper into his own faith.  And that faith is remarkably orthodox.  Much of it I can no longer share, but I found myself thinking that the logic of it for a real evangelical Christian would be profound.  I could even see sincere white evangelicals thrown into a crisis of political faith by his trenchant and clearly sincere lesson from their putatively shared religious faith.  It was, as some have pointed out, the most thoroughly religious speech a recent US President has ever given.  That alone should change some hearts and minds, if they are at all open.

The Week That Was: Legacy Continued

David Remmick's New Yorker piece continues the theme of Obama's big week, but adds some perspective on the week's events, especially Supreme Court decisions and President Obama's eulogy in South Carolina.

Jonathan Chiat at New York adds his perspective on what he calls a time of social revolution.  And another at the New Yorker, looking more specifically at the Charleston eulogy, comparing it with Lincoln's second Inaugural, and the way forward from it.