Women’s Rally In Rhode Island

Crowd Pano #1

January 21, 2017 marked the gathering of more than two million people in over 670 sites in the US and 63 countries around the world. Here in Rhode Island I joined an estimated 7,000 men, women and children in front of the Rhode Island State House, gathered in solidarity with the Women’s March in Washington, DC. The crowd here, as estimated by Providence Police Chief Hugh T. Clements, Jr., was larger than any he could recall seeing on the state house lawn.

State House Setting

People were there to make their voices heard in support of women’s rights, men’s rights, LGBTQ rights, Earth’s protection, immigrant rights, union rights, and the many other causes and concerns that are potentially threatened by the presidency of Donald Trump.  The Donald himself was present, in mock form. Shanna Wells, the event organizer, introduced a variety of speakers and performers, intermixed with chants of “Rise Up!”

Governor Gina Raimondo spoke, as did her husband, Rhode Island’s First Gentlemen, Andy Moffitt. They were accompanied by their daughter. The Governor urged vigilance and pledged support for protection of civil rights in Rhode Island, a state that has welcomed immigrants for decades. People of all ages were there, women and men, too. Banners declaring “No Limits for Women” were joined by the rainbow banner of the LGBTQ community. People’s concern is illustrated by changes made to the White House web site at noon on inauguration day, January 20. Purged from the site were all references to civil rights, LGBT rights, and climate change. In addition, Trump signed an action requesting delay in the Justice Department’s case against Texas for its deliberately racist voter registration law. What will our country be like for this little guy?

Very Young Protester

The Extraordinary Rendition Band

Entertainment included Actress Rose Weaver and The Extraordinary Rendition Band, which led the enthusiastic crowd in singing “We don’t want your tiny hands anywhere near our underpants!” Signs with various messages were everywhere. At one point people were asked to turn to their neighbor and declare they were not working alone, but together. All in all, the event was positive and without any violence. One protester chanting “Trump is my president” was quietly led away. I have a feeling this will not be the last such gathering during the next four years.

Rise Up Chant

Illegitimate

Sunday, January 15, 2017 on NBCs “Meet the Press,” Chuck Todd asked Rep. John Lewis (R-GA) if he would be attending the inauguration this coming Friday, January 20.  The civil rights hero and moral voice of the Congress responded that he would not.  Asked why, Congressman Lewis replied that he did not consider the President Elect to be a legitimate President.  He explained that the Russian influences and intrusions in the recent election cycle were the basis for his assertion.  Not surprisingly, Donald Trump spit out a tweet denigrating Mr. Lewis, and a flurry of reactions from all directions continues.

So, who’s correct?  Is Donald Trump going to start out as an illegitimate President?

Last evening I enjoyed a delightful dinner and conversation with some friends.  The topic of Rep. Lewis’s remark and Mr. Trump’s pending inauguration came up.  One friend worried that the institutions that define America and hold us together may become severely eroded over the next four years.  Let’s start there, with our institutions.

Over my teaching career I frequently used this example to illustrate the strength of our American institutions, since for most students these events were history.  In the 1972 presidential election Richard Nixon was elected President and Spiro Agnew Vice President.  The election, however, was the occasion of the Watergate scandal, and Nixon’s impeachment seemed all but inevitable once that scandal broke into clear view.  Spiro Agnew resigned the Vice Presidency under a cloud of corruption.  This presented a Constitutional crisis, for the Founding Fathers, despite their many wise moves, had not provided for replacing the Vice President.  Were Nixon to be removed from office by impeachment, Agnew’s resignation would leave the nation leaderless.

The Constitution provides that, should the President be impeached or die, the Vice President shall take over that office.  But what if there is no Vice President?  A Constitutional amendment, in this case the 25th, was needed to provide a process for filling a vacancy in the office of Vice President.  The process is that the President nominates someone, who must then be approved by a majority in both the House of Representative and the Senate.  Amending the Constitution, however, is a hugely larger task.  It requires a 2/3 majority vote in each house of Congress, followed by ratification by 3/4 of the states.  I can’t imagine how anything, however grave the content, could pass such a process today.  Yet, the 25th Amendment was approved and ratified, and Sen. Gerald Ford (R-MI) soon became Vice President.  That cleared the way for President Nixon to resign, thus avoiding removal by the impeachment process.  Gerald Ford subsequently became President.  He ran for re-election in 1976, but lost to Jimmy Carter.  Gerald Ford is the only person to serve as US President without ever being elected to that office or to the Vice Presidency.

I detail this example to illustrate the strength of the institutions enshrined in our Constitutional system.  These institutions hold us together as Americans and define, in part, the world view that unites us as a nation of laws.  The Nixon-Ford transition was a proud moment in American history, from an institutional point of view if not from a moral one.  We had another institutional electoral crisis with the 2000 presidential election, when the Supreme Court stopped the recount of ballots in Florida, resulting in George W. Bush becoming President.  Neither a Constitutional Amendment nor a decision by the Supreme Court were necessary in 2016, even though Donald Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, the most ever by a President Elect.  Our Constitutionally enshrined electoral process played out as designated, and Donald J. Trump will assume office at noon on January 20.  From an institutional perspective, he will be the legitimate President of the United States.

Is John Lewis, a revered leader of our country who literally put his life on the line to secure voting rights for all citizens, wrong?  Is he questioning the very institutional structures for which he nearly died?  The reason he gave is Russian influence in this election cycle.  I have some hesitation in simply accepting this justification, for the reality of Russian hacking, while indisputable and intended to have influence, has not been proven to have determined the outcome.  Thus, Americans went to the polls and cast their votes as they saw fit; their votes were counted; the Electors voted as they saw fit; and the results of the Electoral College were accepted by the Congress.  Donald Trump was duly elected according to our legal processes, despite the highly troubling and disturbing intrusion by Russia.

I do not intend to question the integrity of John Lewis, nor even, basically, to disagree with him.  I simply wish to present a different reason for the same conclusion.  Institutions are important, as exemplified above.  They provide identity, continuity, and unity, especially important in a country that prides itself on welcoming diversity among its people.  Yet, in and of themselves, institutions are merely granite columns, rituals, and sheaves of paper.  Their vitality and efficacy derive from the character and actions of the individuals who inhabit them.  The legitimacy of Donald Trump’s presidency, therefore, depends on the character and actions of Donald Trump himself.  Let’s examine what he has said and done before concluding this discussion of legitimacy.

Mr. Trump responds with tweets to any criticism, real or perceived, and attacks the character and integrity of his critics, thus deflecting or distracting from the criticism.  He exhibits no capacity for self-examination.  For example, his spokespersons justified his Twitter denigration of John Lewis by saying “He [Lewis] started it.”  Really?  That’s the response of a pre-adolescent (with due apologies to pre-adolescents).  He mocked a disabled reporter and bragged about groping women.  The list of crude and rude words and behaviors is extensive and wearisome.  Nevertheless, however distasteful, this behavior is not sufficient to delegitimize his presidency.  The question is not resolved yet.

What do draw into question the legitimacy of his holding the highest office in the land are the policies he says he will implement.  He says that, should Russia cooperate in fighting terrorism, he will likely lift the sanctions on Russia, making no distinction between those recently imposed for hacking or those imposed for invading and taking hold of Crimea.  So far, Russia’s fight against terrorism–in Syria, at least–has resulted in massive bombing of civilians, including women and children, to secure the presidency of Assad, hardly an assault on terrorism.  Trump denigrates John Lewis, but has yet to utter a single critical word about Vladimir Putin.  In turn, Putin today denounced the Obama administration for trying to delegitimize the impending Trump presidency.  It seems the Russian president knows just how to stroke the narcissistic inclinations of the soon-to-be American president, and Trump does not seem to recognize how he is being manipulated, whether by Putin alone or Putin with the help of some people close to Trump.  This Putin-Trump relationship raises serious concerns for undue influence in our government by a foreign power.  This poses a direct threat to the very governmental institutions that assure our security.  The danger may lie less with Russia’s intrusion on the election than with Putin’s influence on Trump.  I do not mean to diminish the seriousness of the former; rather, I want to emphasize the peril presented by Putin’s proximity to the President Elect.  The independence of the Presidency from undue outside influence is foundational to our national security.

Another institution fundamental to American democracy is a free press.  Mr. Trump, throughout the campaign and after, dismisses and undercuts the press.  He calls them liars and, in some instances, refuses them access to rallies or to the microphone, as at his recent press conference.  Probing questions are either deflected or dismissed outright.  Reince Priebus, a senior advisor to Trump, recently said there are plans to move the White House Press Corps out of the White House.  The reporters whose day-to-day job it is to monitor and inquire into the activities of the White House so that the public can hold their elected officials to account may be removed from the very venue that enables them to do their job directly and responsibly.  This is a significant threat to our democracy and ought not to stand.  The press, on the other hand, has even greater responsibility to persist in deep, investigative reporting, and to recognize when they themselves are being trolled by tweets.

More might be said, and may be as time goes on, but these two examples are serious enough to illustrate the threat that a Donald Trump presidency poses to the very institutions that define and secure our nation in a dangerous world.  A morally bankrupt man is about to assume the power to destroy the very institutions that constitute this country.  Donald Trump, while legitimately elected, is truly an illegitimate President.

African Penguins

Click For Animation

Click For Animation

A colony of African Penguins (Spheniscus demersus), also known as Jackass Penguins because of their call, nestles on the Cape Peninsula in South Africa.  Nestled as well are the penguins in their nesting burrows.  Other residents include Rock Hyraxes and visitors such as Cape Wagtails, Egyptian Geese, and Blacksmith Lapwings.

Penguin With Wagtail

Penguin With Cape Wagtail

African penguins are closely related to Magellanic Penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) and Humboldt Penguins (Spheniscus humboldti).  The three  species can be distinguished by their location.  As their name suggests, African Penguins come to land to breed along the southern border of South Africa, whereas Magellanic Penguins breed along the southern coast of South American, in greater concentrations on the Atlantic side of that continent, and Humboldt Penguins nest further north, along the coast of Peru.  They also vary in appearance.  African Penguins generally have a bare (pink) skin patch that extends over the eye, and have a single dark breast band.  Magellanic Penguins have a less extensive bare patch and a double breast band.  In Humboldt Penguins, by contrast, the bare patch extends under the chin, and there is a single breast band.

Visitors access the colony via an extensive boardwalk.  As one walks along, one sees Rock Hyraxes feeding and adult and juvenile penguins near their nesting burrows.  The young birds are of various ages, as breeding is poorly synchronized.  Some are still in their downy plumage from birth, others have more adult plumage, still others are already heading out to the near shore to feed for themselves.  It takes approximately 14 months for the birds to reach adult plumage.

Juvenile Penguin

Juvenile Penguin

Penguins Heading Out To Feed

Penguins Heading Out To Feed

The birds head out to feed singly or in groups.  Watching them return to land and an upright posture can be very entertaining.  In the next image, “Penguins Heading Out To Feed,” I think the animal further out is a Southern White Sea Catfish, but that is only an educated guess.  If anyone reading this can provide a more definitive identification, I’d be glad to know of it.  It is not a shark, I am fairly certain.

Upon returning, the adult birds frequently reinforce their pair bonds by calling and by posturing and bowing to one another.

Young Penguin After Swim

Young Penguin After Swim

Penguins Renewing Pair Bond

Penguins Renewing Pair Bond

Enjoy this little gallery of penguin pics!

Cape Sugarbirds

Cape Sugarbird Male Singing, #1

Cape Sugarbird Male Singing, #1

Did you know there is an entire floristic kingdom almost exclusively found in South Africa?  It’s called “fynbos,” the Afrikaans name meaning fine-leaved.  In Afrikaans, “y” is pronounced as a long “a”, so “fynbos” would sound like “fain-boss”.  Fynbos is also the name of an ecological biome, confined almost exclusively to South Africa.  During our trip we saw several plants endemic (found exclusively in) to the fynbos of South Africa.  A number of fynbos plants belong to the genus Protea, also known as sugarbushes.  These beautiful plants are quite varied, having nectar-rich flowers and beautiful bracts colored pink, red, yellow, and/or orange.  Unfortunately, I’m a very long way from being a botanist, so I was totally overwhelmed by the plant species we encountered.  I had enough difficulty with the new bird groups with no counterparts in North America.  I cannot identify the species of protea these birds are feeding on.

One species of bird did put on quite a show for us on the third day (August 27), however, the Cape Sugarbird.  I was able to get enough photos of this bird to warrant its own post.  As you might expect, Sugarbirds feed on the sugarbush plants.  They are relatively large, larger than the Sunbirds, being 10-17 inches long, including the tail.  There are only two species found in Southern Africa, the ones we saw being Cape Sugarbirds.  This species is endemic to the fynbos, feeding almost exclusively on proteas and associated arthropods.  No hummingbirds are found in the Eastern Hemisphere, so Sunbirds and Sugarbirds fill the same ecological niche, feeding on nectar and thus pollinating the nectar-producing plants.

Looking For A Better Flower, #2

Looking For A Better Flower, #2

Male Sugarbirds have very long tails, with some variety in the length.  The one at the beginning of this post fared well in this regard.  Males will fly up and make a remarkable display, flapping their wings and clattering their tails.  Apparently females find this attractive, for various studies have found that longer tail length yields greater pair bonding success, but not necessarily greater reproductive success.  Those wiley females sometimes mate with shorter-tailed males in addition to their longer-tailed social partners!

We saw two males, one with a longer tail and one with a shorter tail.  Also hopping around and begging for food was a juvenile.

Enjoy this series of images of Cape Sugarbirds. 

Strandfontein Wetlands

From Strandfontein Wetlands

From Strandfontein Wetlands

We were blessed with good weather while at the Cape.  Prepared for rain and low temperatures, we were happily spared both, although South Africa as a whole needs rain.

Our second day, August 26, we traveled south from Cape Town to Strandfontein Wetlands.  This is actually a sewerage treatment area, but there’s little olfactory evidence of its actual purpose.  (In the US, we would use “sewage” instead of “sewerage,” the word used by the facility in South Africa.)  The area is also highly attractive to birds, both grassland species and waterbirds.  We saw some little grassland species, such as the Karoo Prinia and Levaillant’s Cisticola.  The Prinia’s call is a regular buzzy call, but the Cisticola’s is more melodious.

Levaillant's Cisticola, Front

Levaillant’s Cisticola, Front

When we arrived we learned that several avid birders, Twitchers by nick-name, were hoping for another glance of the Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, the wayward migrant I mentioned in an earlier post.  We had several brief glimpses of the Fiscal Flycatcher while waiting.  We walked along, looked at the Prinia and Cisticola, then returned, just as the Scrub Robin appeared on a log, perking up its tail similarly to a wren.

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Julie Zickefoose Amid Flowers

Julie Zickefoose Amid Flowers

That lovely surprise was followed by beautiful flowers and lots of waterbirds.  We saw Cape Teal and Red-billed Teal.  Teal are small ducks; we have a few species in North America, as well.  Both the Red-billed Teal and the Cape Teal have red bills.  The Red-billed, however, also has a black head.  Easy to tell them apart with that field mark.  We also saw Cape Shovelers, with that unique filtering bill that shovelers have.  The sexes look alike except for eye color; the male’s is yellow.

Cape Shoveler Pair, #1

Cape Shoveler Pair, #1

The teal seemed to enjoy the company of a Black-winged Stilt.  The reason for its name is obvious!  We made our way to an observation blind, called a hide locally, where Greater Flamingos abounded, flying back and forth.  Trying to capture these beautiful, but ungainly, flyers was quite a challenge.

Greater Flamingo Duet

Greater Flamingo Duet

Hanging out on some piers were Sacred Ibis, Hartlaub’s Gulls, and Swift Terns, also known as Greater Crested Terns.

Swift Tern Landing

Swift Tern Landing

After a long but lovely morning at the wetlands we sought out some lunch, then made our way to Table Mountain.  It was a beautiful day–no rain, not a lot of wind–so our hopes were high that we would ride the cable car to the top for some magnificent views of Cape Town and the rest of the vicinity.  No such luck.  We unloaded from the van, which Kim parked, then strolled down to the ticket booth, only to learn that summer hours didn’t begin until next week.  Nor were we the only ones disappointed.  As we engaged (argued) with the agent, another tour guide, with her entourage and a similar understanding as ours, aonly to be equally surprised and disappointed.  The cable cars were indeed running, but the final group had already ascended, and the cars were only bringing people down.  We debated briefly about trying to come the next day, but rejected that plan since it would come at the cost of something else more desirable.  Still, the view of Cape Town from the parking area is nevertheless lovely.

Cape Town from Table Mountain

Cape Town from Table Mountain

We ended the day with a beautiful sunset over Chapman’s Bay.

Chapman's Bay Sunset

Chapman’s Bay Sunset

Enjoy these images from south of Cape Town.