Saturday, May 23, 2015

Bigotry, oppression, liberals, freedom of speech, and hate

A recent Facebook "discussion" with a friend has brought to my attention some disturbing trends.  It seems that in some "liberal" circles, it's become fashionable to redefine racism as "prejudice + power" - this new definition assumes that racism can only be applied by those who have the power to enforce their bigotry.  Hence, in the USA, it could be said (using this new definition) that only white people can be racists, because whites are the majority and traditionally have excluded participation by non-whites from having much power.  As I see it, the combination of prejudice and power can equate to "oppression" - but not to racism. 

My personal definition of racism is when someone assumes they can know something meaningful about someone else simply by knowing the person's race.  If I had experienced many of the things my African-American friends tell me about (i.e., if I were black), there's a good chance I'd be a racist.  My life would be dominated by white people making assumptions about me based solely on my race, so it would be natural to reciprocate.  Tit for tat, and all that.  It would take an extremely strong sense of shared humanity to shun that path and instead allow every person I meet to show by their actions who they really are.  I discovered this concept for the first time in the Army, when I was forced to interact with a very diverse set of people - I learned on my own that someone's outward appearance said nothing at all about their character.  Not all racists are white!  Why condemn those not participating in racial oppression?  Race is a useless, divisive concept ... but I've discussed that in other blogs, so let me move on with today's thoughts. 

It's clear that the combination "prejudice + power" often results in oppression.  Women are the victims of male dominance in many professions and in many aspects of their lives.  Misogyny (literally, woman-hating) is a gender-based prejudice - another sort of bigotry.  Naturally, misandry (literally, man-hating) is its female equivalent.  If we assume that men have more "power" (at least in some ways), then they could be misogynists if they combine their power with a prejudice against women.  Obviously, it would be natural for someone consistently victimized by misogyny to develop misandry, and such women exist, some of them in the halls of academia.  Unfortunately, prejudice against men (or women) is just another form of bigotry.  It's understandable why some women might embrace it, but it's not very effective in doing something about misogyny in the long run.  Not all men are misogynists!  Many men support and even encourage the legitimate aspirations of women.

No matter what people think, and no matter how bigoted they might be, I strongly support their right to express their views.  I've commented on freedom of speech several times in the past - it only means something when it's applied to the expression of ideas with which we disagree.  What's disturbing to me today is the news that dissension is being suppressed by "liberals" in academia.  Personally, if someone is actively shutting down free discourse on any topic in a university (or anywhere else), such a person is not what I consider to be a "liberal".  My notion of being a liberal is that dissent should be encouraged, not suppressed.  The founders of this nation clearly intended free speech to be the law of the land, and so freedom of speech was the very first item in the Bill of Rights - the first 10 Constitutional Amendments.  To suppress dissent is an implicit admission of either a fundamentally flawed viewpoint, or a weak foundation for that viewpoint.  Lacking valid logic and/or evidence, one way for a viewpoint to dominate is to suppress other viewpoints, perhaps even with violence.  History has shown us many examples of this and no truly liberal person should ever support suppression of dissent.  The willingness to allow dissenting views implies a sense of confidence in one's viewpoint - its logic and evidence are sufficient to convince a rational person of its validity.  It's in academia where many of us first encountered ideas that weren't in full agreement with the culture in which we were born and raised.  This is a good thing, forcing us to think about our ideas, and is the principle so nicely embodied in the University of Wisconsin's "Bascom Plaque".  It's precisely in academia where free speech is most important!

One characteristic of bigotry is the use of hurtful epithets hurled in the faces of the oppressed.  Thus, many liberals espouse the notion of banning "hate speech".  To me, this is an unacceptable tactic.  Who decides what qualifies as "hate speech" and what's the basis for that decision?  Sounds like censorship to me, which is the antithesis of free speech.  I continue to argue that words only have power over someone when that someone grants that power to those words.  I always refer to the old childhood chant, "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me!"  To be offended, one must agree to be offended.  We may well find the use of hurtful epithets to be distasteful and off-putting, but they're just words and if we choose not to be offended, they lose any power over us. 

Finally, let me repeat comments I've made in previous blogs - the notion of "hate crimes" that some "liberals" have embraced.  The general idea is that if a criminal act is perpetrated by someone who hates the victim for some reason, then that adds to the level of criminality and so deserves more punishment than normal for that crime.  This is, to put it simply, a ridiculous notion, because it requires us to know what the perpetrator was thinking before and during the criminal act.  It's a concept similar to the Orwellian notion of "thought police" - that you could be punished just for thinking incorrectly.  If you've committed a crime, you should be punished for that crime, not for what you were thinking before and during your criminal act.  Perhaps the concept of "hate crime"  was an outgrowth of WWII and the evils perpetrated by the Axis powers, but I find it a disturbing concept that's likely to be abused.  If you think "hateful" thoughts but commit no crime, should you be punished just for thinking them?  Not in my world, thank you!!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Security, bureaucracy, and information flow

Ruminating on some recent events discourages me about bureaucracies once again.  An incident of late was characterized by an appalling absence of information flowing to the public, evidently because "public affairs" types are dead set against providing any information about negative events.  They seem to think that the best thing they can do is limit the discussion by providing no information, even when there's no conceivable harm to do sharing that information.  To such bureaucrats, the quicker the incident disappears, the better.  Unfortunately, such a policy opens the door for speculation and even encourages conspiracy theorists to allow their imaginations to run wild, while there isn't any information by which to dispute talk of conspiracies.  In an investigation following such an incident, it seems to me it would have been helpful to update the public about the situation - choosing utter silence is disrespectful to the public.

Our whole national paranoia about threats to our security, encouraged by many politicians, leaves me disgusted with the process of "security theater" - in which seemingly rational security measures make access for innocent people more time-consuming and even privacy-invasive, even though such measures represent little or no meaningful barriers to a determined terrorist.  Yes, creating barriers to external threats is rational, but the barriers I see would be little more than a minor annoyance to anyone with reasonable intelligence and a fierce will to do harm.  I think of it as I think of the act of locking your home's doors at night: door and window locks prevent honest people from entering, but represent little challenge to any criminal with half a brain and a determination to do you harm.  The act of locking your doors offers little more than a trivial contribution to your home security against those truly intent on harming/plundering you.  Security theater gives you the illusion of security, but does little to improve on it, in reality.

In our national obsession with foreign terrorism, we've been allowing government more and more license to commit unconstitutional acts in the process of "protecting" us.  The 4th amendment has been eviscerated in the name of security.  There's now a tolerance for widespread use of electronic surveillance measures, including the NSA's collection of emails and cell phone calls into a giant national data base for them to "mine" for whatever strikes their fancy.  There are reports of ugly abuse of security measures by TSA employees in airports.  The so-called "Patriot Act" continues to sanction abuses.  Bureaucracies impose stupid rules and "protocols" that may be totally unnecessary, but must be followed at the operational level by the agents of the organizations.  Such protocols seem mysterious and disturbing to the public, so without any information explaining their actions, the public is left to speculate about what's going on.  I consider that to be more harmful than good.

I've seen the notion of being ready for a storm result in a "certification" process that's mostly an empty sham, without much real substance in terms of storm readiness.  No matter how many certificates they may have, the city of Norman and the University of Oklahoma are far from being truly "storm ready" - it would take many years and cost a lot to provide what truly is needed to be ready for a storm (e.g., a tornado). 

In some situations, it's difficult to imagine just how to protect everyone in real-world events.  If the public is not equally committed to accepting responsibility for their own safety, and I'm pretty confident in assuming most people are not committed to that, there's little organizations and governments can do to protect them beyond what they're doing now.  It's comforting to see them working to improve the situation, but I doubt seriously they can protect themselves from lawsuits in the event people are harmed by a storm.  I can foresee circumstances in which people are killed but am powerless to do anything about it.  This situation is not helped when the bureaucrats place the protection of property as a higher priority than protection of people!  I've seen many examples of this, unfortunately.  "Oh, we can't use that space as a storm shelter!  It holds too much valuable property!"  Wait long enough, and the big disaster will occur ... and the lawsuits may well follow.   Being silent is not helpful or beneficial.  

Friday, April 24, 2015

Dealing with drought

Lately, some alarming messages have been spread via the media about drought in California - some of them are a bit misleading (e.g., that CA has only one year's worth of water left - the situation is dire, but that's a hyperbolic statement of the reality).  There are those who will lay the blame on global climate change.  This is also not an appropriate position, since there always has been a danger of drought in the semiarid and arid regions of the US, and no guarantee can be made that what we've observed in the historical record is as bad a drought as natural variability can generate.  Climate change may be making the situation worse, but it's not the whole challenge.

A major part of the problem for CA and, indeed, for much of the western third of the USA (east of the coastal mountain ranges) is that drought always has been a frequent visitor - from the Great Plains westward to those coastal mountain ranges.  The notion that the expanding population centers from the continental divide westward are living on borrowed time is not a new one.  I recommend reading "Cadillac Desert" to learn some of the history of the "water wars" in the west.  Dividing up the scarce water resources among all the competitors has always been a challenge even during non-drought years;  increasing populations demand more of everything.  Making choices is not necessarily easy.  Drought magnifies the urgency and the seriousness of the consequences for any set of choices.  Large population centers, like Los Angeles, El Paso, Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, etc., are reaching out over increasing distances to find new water to support additional growth. 

A lot of agriculture west of the Mississippi River uses irrigation to grow crops that in most years would not be possible depending only on natural rainfall.  On the plains, much of this water for irrigation is "fossil water" in underground aquifers that represent finite resources.  When (not if!) those aquifers dry up, that agriculture can't be sustained.  Decreasing fresh water sources in the west leave agricultural (and industrial) uses competing with human water needs.

What's worse is that water is being squandered stupidly ... for example, building grassy golf courses in the desert is an ecological nightmare.  Where I used to live in CO, the neighborhood association discouraged xeriscaping, and encouraged homeowners to maintain Kentucky bluegrass lawns that required heavy watering at least every other day in that semiarid climate.  Wasting fresh water in such stupid ways has potentially harmful consequences even in non-drought times, but when drought is ongoing, such waste can be criminal.

Some simple calculations show that the cost in terms of energy to pipe in water from water-rich areas, mostly east of the continental divide, is quite high.  Using that much energy to import water - generally uphill - creates problems in its own right, and will make that water very expensive.  The real problem here isn't the current drought.  It's the growth of unsustainable populations in regions that inevitably are going to experience serious droughts that constitutes the real problem.  Anthropogenic global climate change may be enhancing that concern, but it's always been there.   Whenever local sources of water become inadequate for the population centers, those centers have populations that have become unsustainable.  Even before anthropogenic climate change became a topic for discussion, there were ongoing battles for fresh water resources.  Everyone feels their personal concerns take priority, but politicians who make the laws governing water rights can be influenced by the rich to favor the claims of the rich to that fresh water.

Drought has been ongoing for several years in the western half of Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle, to the extent that an old bogeyman is making an unwelcome appearance:  cloud seeding.  It's not widely understood that the conditions of a real drought - an absence of rainclouds - make seeding completely useless in mitigating that drought.  Even in cases when rainclouds are present, the actual contribution of cloud seeding to net rainfall has never been shown to be effective in any carefully-done statistical trials.   I have a more comprehensive discussion of weather modification, but the substance of the science is that weather modification to enhance rain has never passed rigorous statistical tests of its effectiveness.  The weather modification companies who sell their "services" for the purpose of drought mitigation haven't a scientific leg to stand on, and yet are profiting from the misery of those suffering from drought.  Those companies may well honestly believe in what they're doing, but the opinion of weather modification activities from the science of meteorology is pretty much dubious.

In OK, we now have vast quantities of waste water from fracking being pumped underground, which not only consumes that water, but has the potential to contaminate the underground water (to say nothing of causing earthquakes in certain areas).  As I said, drought makes many "minor" concerns morph into serious concerns.

Dealing with drought is never easy ... as fresh water availability declines, there will be winners ... and losers.  Who decides who wins and who loses?  On what basis?  The simple fact is we can't survive without adequate fresh water, and as the resource declines, it's going to get ugly.  The sooner we face the unpleasant realities of drought and its consequences, the better.  Sticking your head in the sand won't solve anything.  Solutions won't come easily and it's impossible to use the diminishing resource to satisfy the needs of the increasing demand.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Discrimination disguised as religious freedom

These days, there's an ongoing brouhaha over Indiana's new legislation signed into law by the governor - it's a "religious freedom restoration act" (RFRA) that effectively grants businesses the right to discriminate against persons on the basis of the business owner's religious beliefs.  An outpouring of disgust regarding this has resulted, including calls to boycott the state.  RFRAs are a total load of rubbish, of course.  The true origins of this legislation are rooted in the fear and revulsion (bigotry) that some people (mainly christian right-wing conservatives) feel about the LGBT members of their communities.  I'm not qualified to offer any sort of psychoanalysis of that fear's origins, so I'll not engage in "pop psychology".

In the USA, there's no need to restore religious freedom!  It's been guaranteed since this nation was founded within the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution.  Some christians are especially fond of seeing themselves as being persecuted on the basis of their religion - in a nation where the majority of its people are christians, christian churches are open and operating throughout the land, christian holidays are national holidays, and most of the people's elected representatives are christian.  Persecution?  What a load of self-centered nonsense!  If religious freedom is under attack by anyone, it's by the christian "religious reich", not the non-christians!  And one of the rights protected by our religious freedom is to be entirely free from religion, despite what christian religious reich apologists assert!  In some cases (e.g., within the military), Americans are literally being forced to participate in religion!

The absurd, convoluted rationalizations on behalf of these RFRAs are a communion wafer-thin veneer over the bigotry many of their supporters show regarding LGBTs.  Consider this:  a civil war was fought, and a massive civil rights protest leading to anti-discriminatory legislation was conducted, just to allow people of color in this nation to be granted their freedoms, rather than being enslaved and marginalized.  Open discrimination on racial grounds is no longer acceptable.  Similar rationalizations to those being heard today, also with their origins in religion were used, especially prior to the Civil War, to justify the evil institution of slavery (which is sanctioned in the Old Testament).  Not all christians see the bible as racist, but racists always have been (and still are) cherry-picking the bible in order to institutionalize their bigotry.  The battles to support civil rights for people of color in the USA have been fought - and, unfortunately, are still being fought to this very day - albeit not with armed conflict, but instead with political activism on both sides.  I'm sorry to say that racism is alive and well in the USA.

So we now have RFRAs designed to restore something that has never been interrupted in the history of the US:  "religious freedom".  What can be the real point of RFRAs?  No rational person today can argue that businesses are empowered to discriminate openly on the basis of skin color (race is now recognized to have virtually no meaningful scientific basis), of course.  Here and now, the fear and loathing are not openly directed at people of color, but rather at a person's sexual orientation.  And virtually identical arguments are being advanced that religion can justify that discrimination.  Of this, there can be absolutely no doubt!  The handwaving and rationalizations are only a transparent disguise on behalf of discrimination.  Please, let the christian conservatives supporting this legislation enlighten me:  just how does baking a cake for a gay couple to celebrate their marriage restrict your freedom to practice your religion?  Such a marriage may offend you, of course, based on your opinion of what the bible says.  Too bad for you, there's no Constitutional protection against being offended!  Are Christ's teachings such that he would discriminate against anyone for any reason?  In the entire New Testament, nothing is said by Christ about homosexuals whatsoever!  The Christ in the bible I read would send no one away, especially those he considered to be sinners.  The notion of homosexuality as a sin might have been extant at the time of Christ, but there's no scientific basis for seeing it as anything other than inborn sexual orientation - you can't catch it from someone else, and it can't be "cured" of it, any more than you can "cure" the color of your skin.  You don't choose to be gay, anymore than heteros choose to be "straight".  Homosexuality is a natural condition, as science has shown, and we share it with many other creatures.

Thus, it seems to me that the real intent of RFRAs is two-fold:  (1) To allow discriminatory business practices, and (2) to push a particular religion-based concept into the law of the land.  Both of these are direct violations of the Constitution, and are lynchpins of the religious reich.  All the other arguments, meant to deflect attention from the blatant bigotry of RFRA proponents, are just so much obfuscation.  They realize they can't simply discriminate against LGBTs, so they create this smokescreen to disguise their true intentions.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A memorial tribute to my colleague and friend, Ron Pryzbylinski

This is more or less the text that eventually will appear in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society this coming June.  Thanks to the AMS for graciously granting me permission to post this ahead of its formal publication


This image is from the National Weather Service, St. Louis, MO.

The severe local storms community, including both research and operational meteorologists, lost one of its most distinguished members, Ron Przybylinski, on 12 March 2015. Ron passed away as a result of complications arising from treatments for cancer, which came as a terrible shock to everyone as he appeared to be recovering from his illness and was about his normal business at conferences and work until his untimely passing.

Ron was born in South Bend, Indiana, in 1953, and obtained his B.S. (1977) and M.S. (1981) degrees in meteorology from St. Louis University.  His full-time professional life began in 1981 when he joined the staff of the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Indianapolis, Indiana.  In 1991, Ron was selected for the position of science and operations officer at the St. Louis office of the NWS, which he held right up to his passing.  Although his service to those offices was at the highest levels, his influence and knowledge went well beyond them, spreading throughout the nation and the world through his publications and his many presentations.

Ron was a forecast meteorologist dedicated to the science of meteorology, applying scientific principles to his forecasts as well as contributing to that science by his research.  His primary interests were bow echoes and quasilinear convective systems (QLCSs), especially when those systems produced tornadoes.  Not only did he do the research, he served that science whenever the opportunity arose:  he was a project leader for the Operational Test and Evaluation of the new WSR-88D Doppler radars in the 1980s.  Ron also helped to organize (and participated in) the Bow Echo and Mesoscale Convective Vortex Experiment in 2003.  As part of the COMET Cooperative Project with Saint Louis University, he investigated severe wind gusts from convective systems, starting in 1994.  Ron also made time in his busy schedule to volunteer as a tornado damage investigator as a member of the NWS Quick Response Team.

In addition to numerous scientific publications and conference presentations, Ron served a term on the Severe Local Storms Committee of AMS, as well as two terms as a Councilor of the National Weather Association.  He was awarded the NWA Operational Achievement Award in 1989, and in 2003 he received the NWA’s Fujita Award for his research achievements.  The AMS awarded Ron the Charles L. Mitchell Award for outstanding service by a weather forecaster in 2012, and in 2013 he was recognized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with a Distinguished Career Award for his forecasting and research achievements.

Another important facet of Ron’s career was sharing his passion for storms.  It seemed he could always find time to talk at length with anyone who shared an interest in storms:  with youngsters, students and NWS interns, and his professional colleagues.  He helped to develop COMET training materials, particular those related to bow echoes and QLCSs, and shared his abundant experience and knowledge with many younger forecasters, helping them learn how to deal with diverse weather situations.  Ron’s infectious passion for storms was irresistible to those around him, inspiring everyone who knew him to work a bit harder and learn a bit more.  He had an engaging manner that endeared him to all his friends and colleagues, and he also had a delightful sense of humor.  Ron was a serious meteorologist, but he didn’t take himself too seriously.

Ron Pryzbylinski can never be replaced, but those of us who had the distinct pleasure of knowing Ron and working with him are grateful for the legacy of professional dedication and knowledge that he left us.  We miss him and would like to convey our deepest condolences to his family and close friends.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

A memorial tribute to my friend and mentor, Yoshi Sasaki

I took this photo in his old office in the Engineering Laboratory across from the Union on the OU main campus.  This was in 1973, but he looked very much the same right up to the time of his death.

Today, I was informed that my friend and mentor, Yoshi K. Sasaki, died sometime this morning.  Many younger people at the OU School of Meteorology (OU-SoM) have little idea what a great meteorologist and person he was and how influential he has been.  He certainly was the advisor for the majority of doctoral students graduating from the OU-SoM during his active tenure there.  He won many OU and international awards for his work, including promoting US-Japan business collaboration, bringing Japanese companies to Norman.  He helped Walt Saucier found the Department of Meteorology when he came to OU with Walt from Texas A&M in the late 1950s.  I did an earlier tribute to Yoshi when he was still alive.

My first interactions with him were during my first days at OU as a beginning grad student in 1967.  In a stroke of stupendous good fortune, I was "assigned" to his care as my advisor.  I didn't know him at all, then.  Yet, shortly after I arrived, Dr. Ed Kessler (then Director of the National Severe Storms Laboratory [NSSL]) called Yoshi while I was in his office, and I heard Yoshi describing me to Dr. Kessler in glowing terms as an outstanding student!  That left me flabbergasted and determined that I would do whatever it took never to let him down.  He clearly had more confidence in me than I had in myself at the time.

This was at a time before Yoshi became famed for his work with variational data assimilation.  He had the time to be a great advisor and to do some excellent work as a classroom teacher.  It was in his graduate dynamics class that I began to gain some inkling of what the atmosphere was all about.  What soaring excitement there was in his classes, where putting in extra effort paid big dividends in terms of understanding.

It was clear that between us was a considerable cultural divide, but I never felt that it damaged our interactions.  He slapped me down when I was cocky, and he picked up my spirits when I felt overwhelmed and beaten down by the challenges.  In fact, he challenged me more than anyone to become what I wanted so much to be.  He looked at my lousy math grades when I first came to grad school and announced that I would minor in mathematics!  By colossal good luck, I took courses from some great math teachers as a result, flushing my math phobia down the toilet and replacing it with huge enthusiasm for a subject that had been so brutal for me.  He recommended I take rigorous courses in fluid dynamics from the School of Engineering, which again put me in classes with some outstanding teachers.  As a result of this, I went from being a so-so student to the point where I was "setting the curve" in most of my courses.

Following my sabbatical in the military, I returned to my graduate studies more determined to complete my doctorate than ever and, although Yoshi was now much busier than he had been owing to his rising fame, I was ready to become more independent - something Yoshi let happen.  He supported me with his grants as I flopped and floundered, trying to figure out a topic for my dissertation research.  When he went on a sabbatical to Monterey in 1974, he told me either I had to find a new advisor or find a way to support myself.  In no way did I want anyone else's signature on my dissertation, so I found employment at NSSL.  That turned out to be the change of venue I needed, and I eventually found my topic and completed my doctorate, with his signature on it!!

All that I have accomplished is in no small measure a tribute to this wonderful man, who did just whatever I needed, when I needed it.  He was a master at giving me just the help I required and not a bit more.  I graduated with a clear vision of what I wanted to do and how to do it.  That's worth considerably more than a piece of paper!!

I could go on and on about his accomplishments, and the friendship he has offered to me after graduation.  I'm reminded today of his comments to me at the time when his university mentor, the late Shigekata Syono (who was also the advisor of the late T. Theodore Fujita) had died:  he told me that Syono told him the best way to thank your advisor for what he did for you was to become successful in your field, and to pass on what you have learned to others.  Yoshi was trying to honor that advice, and  I've tried to honor it, as well.  It was so typical of him to have deep human insight as well as a great intellect - no cultural barrier could inhibit that!

As we mourn the loss of this honored individual, we can take solace that he's left behind a huge legacy:  I can mention a few names of his doctoral students from around the time when I was a student - Dr. E. W. (Joe) Friday [a National Weather Service Director], Dr. Robert Sheets [a Hurricane Center Director], Dr. Stanley L. Barnes [NOAA research scientist], Dr. Jerome P. Charba [NWS research scientist], Dr. John McGinley [NOAA research scientist], Dr. John M. Lewis [NOAA research scientist], and many others.  Obviously, this list leaves out many who were influenced by Yoshi, including many of my storm chase friends (e.g., Al Moller).  He will not be forgotten and can never be replaced.  We will miss him, but are proud to have been a part of his legacy.  My deepest condolences to Koko, his wife, and sons Larry, James, and Okko, and daughter Anna.


Monday, March 9, 2015

A First Take on the OU Fraternity's Racist Video

It just happened yesterday that a video showing the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity doing an overtly racist chant went viral.  The reaction by the University of Oklahoma (OU) and the national administration of SAE has been to suspend the organization.  That's great and sends the right message that such behavior is unacceptable.  But that's not the end of the story, here.  Racism has not been eradicated at OU as a result and I don't expect that to happen any time soon, actually.  The roots of racism go much deeper than that, so eradicating it will take more time:  likely many generations.  Although racism tends to be more overt in 'southern' states, it is comparably pervasive in the north.  No region has a stranglehold on bigotry, unfortunately.

My personal story is relevant here, in explaining my reaction to all of this.  I was raised in a family that was not overtly racist, but in looking back, I see some tell-tale signs of a racist undercurrent.  We lived in the lily-white western suburbs of Chicago, where I was 'protected' from other races by hidden, but very effective barriers to integration.  We were segregated in a state where segregation as codified in law did not exist, but was just as entrenched as in Dixie.  To know a Catholic or a Jew was about as diverse as it got.  Hence, I grew up knowing little or nothing about races other than mine.

When I was drafted into the military during the Vietnam era, I was immersed suddenly in a racially and culturally diverse group with no prior experience in dealing with that.  For me, it turned out we all had a common enemy (the military - most of us didn't want to be there) so we had grounds on which we could build a personal relationship.  And we did.  It was easy to get along with people unlike myself  simply because we shared one very important characteristic:  we were human.  I didn't like everyone I was in contact with, but there was no clear reason to dislike any particular racial/cultural group just because of that factor.  All races and cultures produce both people I like, and those I dislike.  After the military, my scientific career put me in contact with some very smart and talented people who put the stereotypes to the test.  This revealed that those stereotypes are bankrupt notions.  I know of no racial or cultural reason that prevents individuals from becoming whatever they want to be - some of my friends/colleagues were not of my race or cultural background.  Imagine that!!  The ratio of nonwhite to white meteorologists was small and remains so, begging the question:  is that because of some racial/cultural disposition to not do well in my profession, or is that because of racial and cultural barriers (of various sorts) keeping many individuals out for reasons other than their abilities?  My conclusion was that the stereotypes are horseshit, and there's no reason to conclude that, on the basis of race alone, an individual of a nonwhite race or a different culture automatically is incapable of being successful in my profession.  Logically, then, this likely extends to any other profession.  Race alone provides nothing useful in the way of information to conclude anything concerning the value and potential of an individual.  Race represents real differences among people, but those differences aren't universal and, therefore, aren't significant.  Cultural differences are even more obviously irrelevant.

Martin Luther King's dream is a living reality to me:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

What I've learned is that humans evolved in a hostile world by banding together in tribes for the mutual benefit of tribe members.  This gave us humans an evolutionary survival advantage, so tribalism is deeply embedded in our very core.  But tribalism has a dark side:  distrust of and contempt for other tribes.  Tribalism is the source of racism (and cultural conflict) - it's a meaningless distinction that some people cling to in hopes of having an important place in the world, I suppose.  Science tells us that all humans are the same in the vast majority of their characteristics, but they have some superficial differences that evolved because they were isolated from each other in different parts of the world, where things like skin coloration gave certain individuals an evolutionary advantage.  The acid test is that we different 'races' can still interbreed.  We can have sex with a monkey (a distasteful thought) but we can't interbreed with them, any more than we could interbreed with a rabbit, or a tree.  There are enough differences in our DNA compared to that of a monkey that offspring of such a physical union aren't possible.  Tribalism makes us resist interbreeding with other races, even though virtually all of us have at least some DNA from other races (that resistance has not always been effective!).  Many African Americans have white bloodlines, and vice-versa.  I know of many black Americans with the Doswell surname (many of whom I'd be proud to know personally), and I'm pretty sure that name didn't come to America from Africa.

If we accept that racism is simply an atavistic holdover from tribalism and represents a concept that has absolutely no meaningful (scientific) basis, then perhaps eventually we can overcome the detestable scourge on humanity of racism.  But racism dies hard:  too many people find too much comfort for their insecurities in thinking themselves superior to those of a different race.  Whether hidden or overt, racism is simply inconsistent with reality.  There is no important distinction among the different races, although there are likely slight differences (on average) among the races with regard to characteristics like athletic or intellectual prowess.  Any such differences say nothing about individuals!  Racial and cultural bigotry are manifestations of ignorance, and it's ignorant people who inculcate their children with such bigotry.  Deep-seated racist attitudes are prevalent today, despite the species having made progress.  Most humans now recognize that overt expression of racist and cultural bias is unacceptable - even if they still believe in such things.  To believe that racism is dead is to perpetuate it.  We much acknowledge the widespread persistence of bigotry if we are to be successful some day in making Martin Luther King's dream a reality.

If you find yourself uncomfortable with those of other races, my advice is to work at developing more diverse interactions.  When you know people as individuals, not stereotypes, their racial characteristics fade away, and you know them as a person - not as a member of a particular race.  You may or may not like them at a personal level, but you may now have good reasons for that like/dislike.