EarthPhotos.com Facelift

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As you may know, we’ve got a little collection going, comprised of our travel photos – about 20,000 of them – on the web site EarthPhotos.com. If you haven’t browsed over there lately, please drop by and see the changes we’ve made to freshen it up a little bit. And if you find anything out of place, please let me know.

Thanks to Jerry at JR Customization for the help!

Be Careful What You Vote For

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Today the center-right French Republicans have chosen the harder right of the two candidates to offer up to contest Marine Le Pen, if you assume as I do that the chances of the left to make it to a runoff next April are vanishingly small. François Fillon is an earthquake, I think, for socialisty France, in that their center right has chosen its most supply-side, trickle down candidate as their country’s best hope against the Le Pen scourge.

I’d say, with Brexit, Trump and Fillon, we see a trend. Three longish articles for you, first on next weekend’s Italian referendum, in which polls indicate a lurch toward populism.

After that, in March it’s the Netherlands’ turn.

And finally, it may not be too bold a prediction that by next autumn, Angela Merkel’s time may be past. You heard it here first.

The face of the western democracies this time next year is taking shape and I’m not sure how well we’ll get through it.

On Trump, and Where We Are Now

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It’s hard to see what’s out there.

We live in a most pregnant moment. Outside cosseted liberal circles (where I live), one may not become unpregnant. Change will come.

There is a Great Blue Rush to understand the white working class.

A hero of the moment is J D Vance, whose Hillbilly Elegy is all the rage just now. Having lived in Appalachia for fifteen years (the very buckle of the bible belt, we like to say), I caution against taking Mr. Vance too seriously. As soon as I picked up his book, it struck me as lacking in empathy for the people he describes.

Vance is mean. He castigates his kin and their fellows, and he ascribes their predicament to flaws in their own character.

In fact, the largest single cause of underperformance around here is that all of the jobs in this part of the world have left this part of the world. Until not long ago there was a garment factory near our home. Now there are none, save for chicken processing plants largely employing immigrant labor. High school kids can’t wait to graduate and get the hell out of here. Methamphetamine is the local plague.

Rather than Vance, to get yourself thinking I recommend on the left, Roy Greenslade’s Is liberalism really to blame for Britain’s (and America’s) ills? and on the right, Joan C Williams’s What so many people don’t get about the US working class. It is not impossible to understand that white working class men (this is Williams) “aren’t interested in working at McDonald’s for $15 per hour instead of $9.50.”

It’s honor. And dignity.

After the election I watched PBS pundits answer “guilty as charged” to dissing that dignity in using the shorthand “non-college educated voters.” I would add “fly over country” and, as Sherrod Brown pointed out, “rust belt” to the slurs that surely stuck in the collective craw of the Trump electorate.

So we are off on our period of Blue Guilt. In the rush of excitement to embrace globalization, Blue World has been called out. While those of us not left behind celebrate the hundreds of millions of people lifted from poverty – China, Bangladesh, Pakistan – we stand naked and guilty as charged of overlooking our own countrymen, our neighbors.

Does anyone listen to globalization’s poster boy, Tom Friedman, anymore? If so, why?

And yet: While we may be suffering from a patch of Blue Guilt, it is not emollient to embrace the entire suite of Red Resentments, particularly the unwelcome antagonism toward the very Latin American migrants who do the essential, grinding work of our country, and do it willingly, even gratefully.

Hand in unfortunate hand with the fear and resentment of that particular “other” elides the fear of Islam, because of its perceived threat of terror. Whatever your politics, it is hard to avoid that at least since the overthrow of Saddam, the United States has had a large(r than Trump’s) hand in the disruption of the Islamic neighborhood. We dodge responsibility, but we should not.

So many innocent shattered lives, in the name of humanity, deserve safe harbor. Up until now our decent and welcoming land, a land of immigrants, would have been expected to understand, and lend a hand.

Apparently no more, because now is the time of Trump.

It may be, as Mr. Greenslade suggests, that painstaking education (ever the tiresome, long term corrective, ever with the lefty whiff of condescension) is the long term answer. This election has shown that the body politic is no longer willing to wait.

In a revolution, you have to know who you can trust. Half the country trusts, half the country doesn’t, both ways.

In the tumult of lefty thought there is no guidance. Some want to close ranks, for the good of the country. Others demand that Trump fail, and fast. For the good of the country.

We know our country must heal. And we wait, on knife’s edge.

The New Populism

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The world has been waiting for Donald Trump since 9 November, 1989. It’s not often we can calculate the end of a political era to the exact day, but the breach of the Berlin Wall on that date set off a dénouement to the Cold War, a 776 day countdown to the final dissolution of the authoritarian model represented by the Soviet Union.

The ensuing interregnum had its own name, the Post Cold War period, highlighted but not defined by the 9/11 attacks. Its defining events were the Yugoslav wars, the GWOT and the continued strong dominance of neo-liberalism in the United States, which many believe led to the other defining event of the period, the 2008 financial crisis.

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During the Post Cold War period political scientists grew impatient for the world to get on with things, to get past this pause in history. Now the new era is well and truly here; out with the old, a half century’s balance of power between representative government and authoritarianism, in with the new populism.

Few get to watch an inchoate new era take form, and that is our great good fortune. I look forward to reading future writing about the underlying dynamics that set this unnamed new era in motion. It will earn its own name in due time, but whatever we call it, who on earth would have thought one of its founding fathers would be Donald Trump?

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Berlin Wall photo from EarthPhotos.com. Other photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Airport Tale Turns Embarrassing for British Government

It was huge news when the British government announced that tiny St. Helena Island (below), some 1200 miles of the coast of west Africa, would get an airport, finally making unnecessary the five day journey by Royal Mail Ship required to visit the island. Plans were approved in 2010. Six years later the Saints have their airport but it will require an open checkbook to ever use it.

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Short Trip to East Greenland in Photos

I thought I might compile several of the photos from our recent east Greenland trip here in one place. Each links to a larger version in EarthPhotos.com‘s Greenland Gallery.

The first two are southeast Greenland on the approach from Toronto to Keflavik, Iceland. Much closer than when you’re lucky enough to glimpse Greenland on a clear day from 10,000 meters on a trans-Atlantic flight.

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From Keflavik International you transfer to Reykjavik city field for an Air Iceland flight to Kulusuk, east Greenland. The main city on the entire 21,000 kilometer coast of east Greenland is Tasiilaq (hardly a proper city really, with just over 2000 people). Trouble is, it’s on an island without enough flat space for an airstrip. So you take a helicopter or speedboat across the Ammassalik Fjord. Here is an iceberg from the speedboat, along the way.

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It is a short walk into town, and these sled dogs are there to welcome you.

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Here are a few photos of Tassilaq, beginning with icebergs in the tiny bay beyond town. I’m guessing that once they’ve floated in they stick around for a while. Once they have floated into the mouth of the little bay, what are the odds they will soon find their way back out?

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And finally, a multiframe panorama with a wider view.

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A little stream flows through town from what they call the valley of flowers. This is where the town cemetery is, row after row of mostly unmarked white crosses. Follow the stream up the hill and you’re rewarded with this fine view back across town.

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The workshop Stunk carves all manner of bones, tusks and antlers – seal, reindeer, ox, bear, narwhal – into figurines, necklaces and the like.

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Here, a narwhal tusk is roughed into shape for carving.

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And this is a result of Stunk handiwork, a tupilak, a sort of shamanic fetish carved from seal bone.

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This is our new friend Hans, proprietor of Stunk, with his much-loved daughter Paula. Hans was kind enough to host us in his home, a real honor.

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It’s not every day: Here is new inventory for his shop on Hans’s front porch, the humerus bone of a polar bear, given to him by a friend.

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These skins do not necessarily have anything to do with the bone on Hans’s porch. They are hanging on a line all the way across town.

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After having taken the speedboat on the way from Kulusuk airport to Tasiilaq, we rode the helicopter back to the airport. Here are some of the views. In this top one, Tasiilaq is on the little bay in the center. If you click to enlarge the photo you’ll see Tasiilaq town on the bank on the left.

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This is sort of a first pass at the Greenland photos we brought back. I’ll be going through them all this fall and posting more to the Greenland Gallery at EarthPhotos.com. And this trip will be included in my upcoming book about travel in the north, which will cover Svalbard, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, maritime northeastern Canada and Finland. Working title is Out in the Cold. Watch for it, and see my other two books.