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I've been thinking about writing about Colin Kaepernick and the issues raised by his refusal to stand for the national anthem as a gesture of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The public reaction to his actions appear to have ended his career, since he has not been offered a new contract by any NFL team for this season. Around the league, a number of other players have begun to take a knee for the national anthem in support of Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter. It has been a couple of decades since I followed the NFL, but the cultural and economic impact of the league make it impossible to remain completely unaware of the controversy.

After the President dove into this issue this weekend, with a series of tweets (including coarse, vulgar language) calling for the owners of the NFL teams to fire any players who refuse to stand for the national anthem, I feel compelled to comment. It may take me a couple of posts to say everything I need to say, and even then I'm afraid that I won't be able to articulate all of what I'm thinking in ways that make sense.

Since the act of taking a knee or refusing to stand for the national anthem is, in my opinion, a form of protected free speech, I think it would be helpful to talk about the First Amendment. I suspect that there aren't many people who wouldn't recognize that the First Amendment protects our right to free speech (among other things), but I'm not sure how many understand that the First Amendment only prevents the government from restricting our practice of free speech. The First Amendment does not prevent employers from restricting the speech of their employees. In other words, you do NOT have an unrestricted right to free speech in the workplace.

So, if the NFL teams want to discipline players for protesting during the National Anthem, they have every right to do so. This is why Kaepernick cannot find a job in the league, and why he hasn't filed a lawsuit claiming that his free speech rights are being infringed. I have an opinion about whether Kaepernick deserves to be sanctioned for his protest, but the league and its teams can choose to do so if they wish.

But, when the President of the United States, who took an oath to support and defend the U.S. Constitution, demands that players who express themselves in ways that he dislikes be fired, the equation changes. Now the players' speech rights are being infringed by government fiat, which is a clear violation of the First Amendment. It defies belief that our President either does not seem to understand or does not care that his demands are in direct conflict with the oath of office he took at his inauguration. Regardless of the merits of the protest (which I will address in a separate post, I think), the President simply has NO business injecting himself into the matter.

Beyond that, I find it troubling that so many people are so strongly offended when people don't stand for the national anthem. Many will argue that this is simply patriotism, but I would think that a true patriot would respect the rights of others to express themselves this way. It feels to me as if we've elevated respect for the flag and anthem to the position of a nationalist religion. Any action perceived to disrespect the flag or anthem thus becomes heresy, subject to the harshest sanction. This hardly seems to be a reflection of a healthy society to me. Wouldn't it better for us to embrace a patriotism that cares less for symbolic actions and focuses instead on acknowledging our shortcomings and working together to overcome them?
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 Somehow, I was late coming to the realization that a total solar eclipse was going to cross the continent in August. I happened to see an article about it early in July and saw a map showing the path of totality stretching from Oregon across to South Carolina. I happened to mention it to my wife and daughter, pointing out that the total eclipse would pass over Charleston, SC.  My daughter suggested that we should go to Charleston to see it, and my wife agreed that it sounded fun. So we began some last minute planning. Unfortunately, by the time my wife was able to confirm that she didn't have to work, there was absolutely no rooms available in Charleston for the weekend before the eclipse. After some discussion, we decided to go part way down on Sunday, get up early and drive to see the eclipse on Monday morning and then stay in Charleston for a few days afterwards to see the city.

I booked a hotel in southern North Carolina for Sunday night, and one in North Charleston for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights. I ordered a set of solar filtered glasses to protect our eyes, and solar filters to protect our cameras, hoping everything would arrive in time. As the date of the eclipse drew closer, I began looking for a place to watch the eclipse. There were a number of viewing parties planned in and around Charleston, and I couldn't decide which of them we would go to. But then I saw a note that suggested the Santee State Park, on the shores of Lake Marion, near I-95, closer to the center of the state. Somehow, it seemed like watching the eclipse from a state park would be more comfortable than from a parking lot (where most of the Charleston viewing parties were scheduled). So that became my plan.

As the days counted down to the eclipse, I began to have second thoughts about whether it was really worth the effort and expense, not to mention hassle of dealing with the crowds, to travel this far just to see an eclipse that would only last about two minutes, at least for the totality. But the money was spent, and the schedules adjusted, so off we went. The drive into North Carolina on Sunday wasn't too bad, although there were a couple of pockets of really slow traffic, probably resulting from the increased traffic volume. Even so, we reached our hotel room by early evening, and I figured we only had to drive about two hours in the morning to get to our destination. And so it was. Traffic on Monday morning was surprisingly light, at least until we reached the exit for the Santee State Park. The traffic trying to get to the park was backed up past the interstate, so we changed our plan. The previous exit, on the other side of the lake, provided access to the Santee National Wildlife Refuge, and there hadn't been any visible traffic back-up there. We grabbed some carryout chicken for lunch and headed back to the refuge.

When we reached the entrance to the wildlife refuge, there was a short back-up as the entering cars waited to get directions and information at the gate, but once past that point, there were no delays getting back to the big field that had been mowed for parking. We followed the stream of cars to the field, parked, and got out to wait for the eclipse. There was a festive atmosphere, with people relaxed and happy. It seemed that everyone was glad to have something to talk about other than politics for a change. People set up canopies and chairs, played cards and volleyball. Eventually, it was time for the eclipse to begin, and we all grabbed our solar filtered glasses and watched as the moon slowly began to inch its way in front of the sun.

It surprised me how little change in the brightness there was until very late in the eclipse. I really didn't notice much change in the brightness until we were beyond 80% occluded, but eventually, it did dim a bit, and the light became redder. I also noticed a (very welcome) drop in the temperature as we neared totality.  And then, in an instant, it was dark as the moon totally covered the sun. We took off our glasses and were stunned by the view. The sun had become a black disk, with a flare of light around it. I snapped a bunch of photos, but also took some time to just enjoy the spectacular view.

Total Eclipse

Then, after just a bit more than two minutes, the light suddenly came back as the moon began to inch out of the way. We had to put our glasses back on again, to watch the gradual progression of the moon as the eclipse drew to an end. I took pictures through the entire sequence, and later put together a composite photo showing the sequence:

Solar eclipse 2017

And when it was all over, and we sat in the car, inching our way out of the wildlife refuge towards the highway, I was glad we had made the effort to be there. It is hard to convey in words just how incredible an experience it was, and I completely understand how a culture without our scientific understanding of the event would attribute any number of superstitious meanings to an eclipse. Even fully prepared for the event, knowing what to expect, I was completely awed by the spectacle. After all of my second guessing, I was thoroughly glad we had come to see it. We're already thinking about where we might see the next one, in April 2024.

Best intentions got me here...

Sep. 22nd, 2017 02:36 pm
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 I really meant to post more frequently than I have. I have found myself wanting to reflect on current events and I really want to share some of my travel experiences. But my most productive writing time seems to be during the day, while I'm at work, and I'm reluctant to wade too deeply into current events at the office, as that path leads into a murky swamp of legal and ethical issues. And I have found it difficult to step away from the experience of traveling to write about it in real time, and then my normal life creeps back in when I get home.

And so I write nothing. I've got an idea for dealing with the travel writing issue. I'm thinking about taking a small note pad with me on the next trip, so I can jot down ideas about what I see and do. Nothing detailed, but just reminders about things that struck me along the way. The idea is to use these notes as starting point for posts about the trip when I get home. We'll see if that works at all.

As for current events, I need to force myself to think about writing in the evenings. Perhaps notes might be helpful here too. Often I'll be inspired by a news article or a conversation, and I'll have a bunch of ideas I'll want to write about.  I might need to get in the habit of recording those ideas as notes, which I can flesh out later in the evening, on my own time and with my own computer.  No promises, but I'll give it a try.

It has been nearly two months since my last post. I've been on two trips in that time, both of which I'd like to write about, at least a little.  We have one more trip scheduled before the end of the year, and have started making plans for next year. We've got three trips at least partially planned, and are considering a fourth.  There's a pretty good chance that we'll add a couple more beyond that as well.

When we made the decision to begin travelling more last year, I was worried about whether I'd be able to get enough time off from work to accommodate what we were contemplating. As it turns out, it hasn't been an issue. Because my work schedule is incredibly flexible, I've been able to schedule a lot of my work hours around my travel, working longer days and/or weekends, so that I haven't needed to use as much leave for our trips. In fact, I've done so well at saving my leave that I'm probably going to carry almost 200 hours over into next year. Which means that the pace of our travel is likely to remain unchanged for the foreseeable future.

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