Archive for December, 2010


December 31, 2010

The East Coast storm delivered the snow, and I was soon out playing in it, diving into the pristine woods (to get out of the wind) on my cross-country skis while it was still coming down.  Dollops of white roll off the evergreens onto my head; the pine branches arc upwards when relieved of the weight. It’s great exercise – by the time I’m twenty minutes in, my coat is open and my hat off.

Even when the snow stopped falling, the wind continued reforming it.  You could shovel  – not such great exercise, but a necessity – a path through the foot-deep fairyland – out to Quan’s rabbitat, say – only to see the trench fill in over the next minutes.  The wind scours the snow off the high spots down to the earth, tosses it up into the sunny air with gay abandon like ocean spume, whirls and weaves it into all-white sculptural desert shapes downwind of obstructions, and piles up three and four feet deep drifts in the lees.  The old folk here built their houses at angles to take advantage of this tendency.  The path to the woodshed, specifically, was designed to be a scoured area, so you could get your morning fires started after a blizzard without too much work.

The weathermen and people who move here call these storms ‘nor’easters’, but anyone who grew up here knows they’re ‘no’theasters’, and no one but a weatherman from the city would say noreaster.

I was thinking on these old native winters as I took a turn outside last night, looking up at the myriad stars that profuse on the lens of a cold winter sky.  Low over the horizon to the southeast, I spotted a strange twinkling light.  It appeared to zig-zag over the trees in an odd manner.  It was large and very bright, with red, green, blue, and white lights on it.  It could have been a helicopter – by this time it was apparently still in the sky – but what would a helicopter be doing hovering over the sea on nearly New Year’s Eve with a bunch of Christmas-y lights underneath?

I called to Quan to make sure I wasn’t seeing things, and then ran to get the boat binoculars, in my bedroom for the winter.  By holding the binocs against the window, we could get a pretty steady view of the lights.  There was red flashing lights every 120 degrees, with a steady white light, another appeared to be flashing, and sporadic green and blue lights – a cosmic version of those lightboxes that added so much to the 70’s.

Quan has a lovable crank tendency to believe in UFO’s, having seen them before, and in chem trails, and in 9/11 as a government plot, and Aids and Lyme disease as CIA-tinkered viruses that escaped – generally a prophet of coming apocalyptic doom.  I am of a more conservative and logical turn – I lived through Watergate; the government can’t even keep a third-rate burglary secret, let alone a highly complex airlift designed to poison our soil, and UFO’s venturing light years only to fly around in our skies without landing to gas up or try sushi makes no sense to me – but I was having a hard time coming up with anything earthly that would match my sense impressions.

I called up a friend who lived to the southeast to see if she could see what we could see.  At first she thought it was just a star twinkling, but I countered, “This is no twinkling star, at least none I’ve ever seen. It’s way too big, and the lights are flashing too regularly.  Something military, maybe, but that doesn’t make much sense either.”

I had even, in my initial excitement, called 911, to ask if they knew of anything happening that could explain this.  They were polite, non-committal, and gently dismissive.

Both my friend and Quan, independently, could see tendrils of bending blue light raying out from this thing, which my friend described as ‘like a colored jellyfish in the sky’.

She has a telescope, so we agreed to meet at Pemaquid Point.  With the world turning ghostly white every fifteen seconds as the lighthouse lit up the eerie night, we set up her grandfather’s telescope on the rocks over the sea and trained it on the object over Monhegan Island.  In the half hour it took to get there from home, the colored flashing had diminished.  It was still there, but fainter, and we were quite chilled but no closer to knowing what it was when we had finished with the telescope.

Fortunately, there’s an app for that.  Literally, when she got home, my friend downloaded an iPhone app for finding stars, and texted me before I made it to bed: It’s Sirius.  The Dog Star, the brightest star in the sky.  Nah, it cannot be.  I couldn’t resist texting back ‘Seriously?’  But then I went outside to look.  Easy to spot – just follow Orion’s belt down and to the left – Sirius was by this time well up in the sky, and had settled down to be the big bright blue slightly-twinkling star she had first thought it was.

What we had been looking at was Sirius on the horizon, where the light was prismed through a large secant of cold atmosphere, splitting the light into its constituent colours.  As it rose, it became less and less spectacular, as the light fell less tangentially and more directly toward our position.  The phenomenon – like the size of the rising moon – was very local, very explainable, very sheepish-making.

Now, it really was an extraordinary light show, one I’ve not seen in my 60 years of gazing upward – not that I am an astronomy buff or anything.  But what I am ruminating on in the aftermath is just how gullible I am, how easy it is to be drawn along into a narrative, and how all the evidence tends to be pulled into alignment with that story, like filings around a magnet.  I am sure I am that way about the importance of fascia’s role in consciousness, and I believe Quan’s that way about her intricate government plots.

Our image of reality is but a computation of a computation of a computation.  It was my mind – or even the neural processes in the eye and optic nerve before it reaches consciousness – that made the coloured twinkles into a regular pattern.  It was adjusting nystagmus that gave the illusion of the object zig-zagging before it ‘settled down’. It was my unreliable eyewitness mind that, both drawn along by and encouraging agreement from others, created a powerful and sustained illusion.


Re-Pealing Bells

December 23, 2010

I always lose my ‘Bah, Humbug!’ view of Christmas just before the holiday, when I do a rush of buying, male that I am, rarely picking a present for an individual, but just buying things I like, deciding to whom they are going bent over the paper and tape.

I do insist on finding a wreath for the house and barn, and a long string of lights along the paddock fence, but these are less in celebration of anything particularly Christian, but more of a rage, rage against the dying of the light.  The sun comes up so late, dims after lunch, and leaves well before the working day is over.  It’ll be a while before that sine wave turns back in our favor, but winter darkness is like the recession – it seems to come quickly, despite all the signs of preparation, and then digs in for a long run.

Cold rain and mud is no fun in the dark, but snow is fine and blends well with moonlight. This storm swirls down on us northerners like bolts of lace to quiet the world just in time for Christmas.  The dark sours our mood, but the arrival of snow lifts it again.  We Mainers are used to it: the wood laid in, the snow tires on, the shovel ready by the door.  In the morning the world has changed – fresh and magical.

The cats are loving it, skidding and playing – for three of our cats this is their first winter.  I keep wondering if their brains think that this cold is the way it will be forever, or if some instinct  within their ancestral matrix knows that it will pass and spring come again.  The rabbits – we’re up over 80 again – hate the rain that floods their burrows, but love the snow that insulates them.  Quan puts plenty of hay out for them, which serves as bed, blanket and a midnight snack all in one.

I cannot let the 111th Congress (and so close to 1/1/11) die without noting this extraordinary week in politics.  When the history of Obama’s groundbreaking presidency gets written (and rewritten), I expect his craven capitulation to the opposition’s insistence on silly tax breaks for the super-rich to be a footnote, and even the new START treaty seen as a minor step in a long and steady progression of giving up the arms race for sanity.

Likewise, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – a shameful 20-year period in American history that bridged the gap between gayness being anathema in the military and gays openly serving, which is what will happen now – is but one step in a long process.  But it is thrilling that in these politically dark days when America’s experiment in democracy is threatened by the forces of feudalism and fascism, we can take this step toward biological democracy.

Race equality, gender equality, and sex equality are all biological in nature, and none of these were contemplated by the Founding Fathers, who held slaves, did not entertain the notion of their wives or daughters voting, and probably rarely thought of the love that dare not speak its name, except in terms of Greek antiquity.  In the modern world, one thinks of Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein paving a road that James Baldwin and others followed, leading to Stonewall which marked the initial turning of shame into pride, an essential moment early in every liberation movement.

Many gains have been made paralleling the black and women’s movement – elected officials, out of the closet stars and athletes, the national outrage at lynching and bullying – but opening up the military to allow the biological, chemical orientation to be a normal part of who you are, not a bar to service, is a definite mile-marker in this winding way.  But if we are big enough to admit that gays can heed the vocation to give their life for their country, then hopefully it is not too long a time before we’re big-hearted enough to allow them to marry, fully and openly, as a simple, personal statement of commitment, one to another.

(Lt. Dan Choi, discharged and disgraced, sent Senator Harry Reid his West Point graduation ring some months ago, saying, “This no longer means what it once did to me.”  Reid kept it, saying he would give it back when this law was repealed.  Yesterday he was able to fulfill his promise, with a hug for the Asian gay officer who will now, I expect, return to the military.  Choi, now a full-on activist, tweeted: ‘The next time I get a ring from a man, I expect it to be for full, equal, American marriage.”)

If you don’t believe that gay is biological – rather than diabolical, perverted, disgusting, or, as my liberal parents had it, maladjusted and sick, the ‘overburdened by your mother and in need of therapy’ condescending attitude – then try this simple question: Did you ‘choose’ the heterosexual lifestyle?  Did you try both and weigh the options?  Or were you just shunted by your biology into your relationships?

(Found on the wall in the lavatory: My mother made me a homosexual.  Underneath, someone else wrote: If I buy the wool, will she make me one too?)

I had a couple of affairs with men in college in the 60’s, when homophobia was still the rule, even among us hippies.  But the simple and incontrovertible fact was also biologically based: men just don’t smell right to me.  There is nothing so compelling in our sexual life as smell, pheromones, body odor, and the aroma just behind the ear.  You choose your physiological response to this no more than you choose your tastes in food or perfume.

Putting a sexual bite on someone else is a violation – gay or straight, whether you are a priest or Assange, no matter how we weigh the rest of your contribution, sexual pressure and rape of any kind must end all over the world.  But gays serving in the military – and yes, even showering in the same bath – doesn’t even come close to that.

Simply making you uncomfortable, o homophobe (perhaps because you have not explored to assure yourself of just who you are and are still frightened of what you are not), does not qualify as a crime or a bar to service.  Certainly the young man with whom I spoke a few weeks ago ( will care not a whit as to whether his fellow soldiers are gay or straight – it is a non-problem to the young, and the rest will have to deal with themselves.

The difference in Obama’s face told the story.  When he signed the tax deal, you could see his genuine disgust, forced not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  When he repealed DADT, his mouth was likewise turned down, but – like my father’s, I recognized it easily – he was simply clamping down on the lips that needed to stay serious but were itching for a broad smile.  “This is done” he said, slapping the signed bill on the table.

It is wonderful that in this season of the Tea Party and corporate bullies, of political cold rain and mud, that such a small but significant soprano voice, singing to our core values as Americans, as enlightened world citizens, could emerge through the political and media noise.  It’s like the snow: the same old world is made fresh and renewed.  Merry Christmas.


December 9, 2010

They are attempting to stop the truth by smearing Assange.  And by using sex – how revealing.

WikiLeaks is a fascinating story, and echoes back to Brezhnev in the 60’s / 70’s, when he had to decide whether to let computers into Russian schools or not.  He decided, in the end, to let them in, lest Russia fall behind in engineering.

But once computers were in, glasnost, perestroika, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Gorbachev were inevitable.

Now we have a very internet savvy person doing what more will do in the future: revealing the underpinning, the underbelly, the hidden cost of feudal transnational corporations running our governments.

Did you hear that MasterCard et al’s sites were hacked and cyberblocked after they cut WikiLeaks off from payment?  The power of the flow of information on the internet may be greater – much greater – than we think.  The internet – if it is not quashed – will be a very good tool for real democracy.

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win – Gandhi.

They are starting to fight Assange.  We are all Assange.