Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

11/18 – III: The Glass Flowers

April 22, 2011

Across the Charles to Cambridge, I meet my friend Martin at the door to the Natural History Museum.  Martin’s brother Lucky, a composer and conductor, had an untimely death, and the Harvard Music Library is archiving his manuscripts and recordings, so Martin is completing a geosh (a wonderful Gaelic word for a family burden handed down that no one but you can resolve) by trucking the boxes of his brother’s work from Boulder to Boston.  He is waiting for his bold-as-brass daughter to come down from my class, where she is working handily through the process of becoming one of our graduates.

Always priestly, always real, and always keenly observant, Martin is a pleasure to be with, and I am sorry that I have only a short hour before I must drive north again.  We go upstairs to see the famous glass flowers, of course – Martin is a master gardener.  These glass flowers are amazingly real – no Chihuly undersea fantasy forms here, but flowers, leaves, stamens and seeds so accurately rendered a century ago by a couple of Russian craftsmen using simple tools on a bench.  So real that they become totally prosaic in minutes – yes, they’re glass, but they have the dusty museum look of just-gathered real plants, no artifice involved and therefore no artistic ‘lift’ either, beyond the ‘how did they achieve that?’  And anyway Martin and I are chattering away to each other sixteen to the dozen, catching up and singing our spirits to each other, close friends that we have been these twenty years.

Inside this building I suddenly remember my other visit there: As a freshman, and with all the innocence a plebe possesses, I had requested, and been granted, an interview with Ernst Mayr, the eminent evolutionist of the time.  I brought along my reel-to-reel recorder – this was 1967 or early ’68 – which the old gray man with a large chest and head looked at askance, but said nothing.  With a distance of more than forty years, I cringe at my ignorance of evolution.  My questions would be better today, but still not up to Ernst Mayr’s standard.  As it was, he must have wondered how he got stuck into this, a meandering and inept interview from an undergraduate with no point beyond a freshman anthropology paper.  When I brought up something about eugenics, the old German bristled and I was soon sent packing, but with enough for my paper for sure.

I am surprised to see that he lived until 2005 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernst_W._Mayr) – he seemed quite old then.  He got to comment on Dawkins and all the modern neo’s.  May I also live to pass one-hundred.  Martin too.  Misty too.  You too.

Today is – would have been – Teddy’s 95th birthday.  She was forgetting things and people.  Always a sharp observer, timekeeper, and a rememberer of facts, she hated her diminished capacities, and checked out fairly quickly after they started to fail.  My father checked out quickly after he was forced to leave his beloved home of many years for the retirement apartment.  Obviously, Mayr kept his grip.  What will make me lose my grasp on this life that I love so much?  When will my words fail me, and my ability to understand the developments in my own field? What cleavage from my sense of purpose will send me tumbling toward my death?

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Solstice 2010

April 22, 2011

It’s the astrological event of the year: the solstice coming with a full moon and a total lunar eclipse.  I set my alarm and turned to at 3am this morning, but I only got as far as the bathroom skylight, confirming a totally overcast sky – nothing to be seen.  When I came to in early dawn, the world was dusted with snow.

Solstice is my New Year; the Nativity, however hopeful, and the vagaries of the Gregorian calendar do not hold a candle to the power of these long nights and short days, and this one where the sun stands still and begins its six-month ascent. (Though the Bucky Fuller voice inside me reminds you that it’s the 23 degree cant of the Earth that is responsible; the sun is only apparently moving.)

The winter, of course, has just begun – as the days get longer, the cold gets stronger – but the promise of new light is enough to get us through this time when even the spinach in the greenhouse has faded to black.

I am reminded of another lunar eclipse, more than 15 years ago, when I took my new lover Quan down to Cape Elizabeth, and we peered out across the sea to the blood-red moon, and in a sudden urge and a strength of voice I did not recognize, I prayed aloud to Artemis to release her handmaiden so that she could become a mother, a Hera.  It was a worthy gesture, from heart and gut, but it was a prayer not answered: Quan and I never had any children, and she is still the amazonian warrior I continue to love so deeply.

Nuclear

March 23, 2011

In the next few days, I must choose whether I am willing to go to Tokyo to do a series of workshops.  Apart from the Fukishima reactors, I wonder whether this is not too sad a time in Japan’s history for such a venture, but my organizers assure me everything will be back to normal within a few weeks.

However, the nuclear situation is real – this morning they are talking about increased reactivity in spinach – no oshitashi for me!

I am reminded of Bucky Fuller, when asked about the then-current, pre-Chernobyl enthusiasm for nuclear power, said (and I paraphrase, not quote), “God, in His infinite wisdom, loved  power from nuclear fission so much that it happens all over the known universe.  But also in his infinite wisdom, he placed the nearest such heating plant 93 million miles (that would be about 150,000,000 km, or 9 light minutes) away from Earth, and I think we should respect that distance.”

I love Japan’s organization, and it’s efficient and caring response to this disaster.  But placing nuclear power plants over a subtending tectonic plate is of questionable judgment.  Maybe placing nuclear power plants anywhere near this planet is of questionable judgment.  When there is so much power in the wind and sea motion, do we need to use such dangerous (and absolutely unrenewable – indeed, hard to get rid of) fuel?

Sydney Harbour Bridge

March 2, 2011

When I lived in London, I never did anything touristy unless one of my American friends came to town – and then I would gird up my loins for the trip to Greenwich or Buckingham Palace, or Hyde Park Corner.  I never did make it to the Tower of London in ten years of living there.

My genial Australian seminar organizers and mates for these two weeks Brad (sharp-eyed, athletic, shaven-headed) and Geoff (gentle -eyed, but observant, with the resigned, tolerant, and self-aware air common to fathers of three girls), had never climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge, but they bought tickets for my visit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I was here before at the end of ‘87, you couldn’t climb on the bridge, though I did see the bicentennial fireworks, sitting with my one-year-old daughter who learned to walk on a Sydney porch.  They have continued the fireworks tradition, trying each year to outdo the last.

I don’t know what I was thinking  – that we were just going to walk up the bridge, and these guys are athletes, like most Australians, so I imagined being humiliated as they sprinted to the top.  I didn’t bring any trainers – was going to buy them on the way to the airport, forgot, they are mightily expensive here – so here I am in boat shoes.

But the Bridge Climb was a good choice, and a totally unexpected variation on a carnival ride.  I thought it was a lot of overplayed palaver at first – the T-shirts and Sno-Globes for sale in the lobby, the photos of celebrities who have made the walk (the most recent and most famous being Oprah the previous month). The orientation in a series of locker rooms, medical forms and taking a breathalyzer test (two people were eliminated on that one), getting into a jump suit like an astronaut, going through a metal detector, strapping on a hankie, clipping on a cap and lanyarding your sunglasses (nothing, but nothing, must drop), a raincoat, and a radio with a headset – seemed totally over the top just to walk up a bridge.

There were about 12 in the group, all pleasant enough.  Most were from overseas, including a couple from Carolina and a fellow from Toronto (with one ‘Stry-an with a thickened accent of flat vowels presumed to lecture us Americans and Canadians on the Queen’s English).  The oldest in the party, Maureen, was going up for her 70th birthday with her daughter.  I wasn’t very hopeful be the time we set out 45 minutes later – seemed like a tourist trap and a doddle.

Finally, you drew yourself into a belt system with a webbing strap – just like the one I clip myself into my boat with when the going gets rough.  The end of the strap was a unique and clever little yo-yo-shaped metal doohickey that we threaded onto a steel wire as we stepped out of the staging area and onto the bridge-work.  We all went single-file in the same order all the way, as were always strung to the wire.

At this point, I was glad of all the prep and safety gear.  Five stories above the street on a tiny catwalk with a metal mesh floor, I tried to hide my fear from my compadres (morbid fear of heights didn’t enter our conversations about organizing workshops), but I was alternately gripping my strap or a handrail, as we traversed metal ladders up past the road and railways, and up onto the bridge itself.

Once onto the span (still the longest single-arch metal bridge in the world – go somewhere else for the factoids of how much metal was used, and why it is the record-holder still – the only ones I remember are an estimated 10,000 rivets dropped into Sydney Harbor and that 16 people were killed in the making, and one Irishman who fell survived by hitting the water just right – straight as an arrow and toes pointed – and came up with only three broken ribs) the fear was over.  The arches on each side are wide, the climb easy, and the power of the wind abated by being strapped in.

One sits astride the city, stretching out in all directions from the sea to the Blue Mountains.  The view from the top is magnificent; looking down at the Sydney Opera House, of course, the most recognizable building in the world, and the complex waterways of this vibrant cities that combines the best of LA, Seattle, and New Orleans.  Out away lay Manley Head, the last land before the endless Pacific.  Sailing yachts, tugboats, ferries, tankers, and luxury motor yachts passed under us while we were up there.  We could see schools of fish jumping in the green waters of the bay.  Our guide Darren pointed out the sites and pumped a steady stream of cheerful information to us through the headsets of the radio.

The whole thing was exhilarating and very worthwhile.  By the trip down I was very nonchalant, pulling my yo-yo along the wire with aplomb.  I found the business aspects most interesting.  Many governmental obstacles had to be overcome, and the thing took nine years to put together (the Bridge Climb, not the ridge itself – that took less).  It used up the fortune of the man who pioneered it.

Over 200 employees work this gig, taking up to 1800 people safely up and down the bridge in a day.  Now they are raking it in, and it is very well-run.  Of course they take photos and get you for that on your way out.

Most intriguing to me was the security system that they had to perfect to get governmental permission to do this business: You were never off the steel wire from the moment you stepped into the catwalk until the moment you stepped back in.  There was no way that you could remove the yo-yo from the wire, even if you wanted to.

Even your hip belt was cleverly constructed so that you could not remove it from yourself if you chose this way to end your life spectacularly.  Even if you managed to get a ceramic box cutter onto the bridge like some terrorist, it would take you so long to get through the webbing that Darren & Co would have been on you like white on rice.  I find my fear is less of falling than of jumping – that the devil in me will urge me over the edge against my other will and better judgment.  But even here they are protective and protected – you couldn’t commit suicide on this ‘ride’ even if you wanted.

Down the bins with the jump suits and recover your goods from the locker, and back through the lobby to the street.  Touristy it may be, and expensive it is, but it is a unique opportunity to see a unique bit of engineering in two forms: the bridge itself, and the operation to take people up and down it with absolute safety.

Though I wonder how we would all feel if an earthquake such as happened at Christchurch, New Zealand last week had occurred when we were on the bridge.

Millions Against Monsanto

February 23, 2011

Never before in human history have so few people had such control over the food supply of all humanity.  What they are doing with that control is extraordinarily dangerous, in my opinion.  Our biological heritage represents 3.5 billion years of research and on-the-job training for genes, biology, and the metabolic cycle of exchange.  Biology in general and food in particular are part of the ‘commons’ – what we partake in collectively – and should not be ‘owned’ or liable for alteration without representation.  GMO crops have shown themselves to spread easily into non-GMO areas, which could lead to a massive and uncontrollable experiment with all of our lives.  Be informed, and take action if you feel the same way:

https://organicconsumers.webex.com/mw0306lc/mywebex/default.do;jsessionid=Gs1yNlGT1ZlqWn1MLfDzfMGXDp5phd2yvnyDDdjzNFnJlWghDB3H!-219442439?nomenu=true&siteurl=organicconsumers&service=6&main_url=https://organicconsumers.webex.com/ec0605lc/eventcenter/event/eventAction.do%3FtheAction%3Ddetail%26confViewID%3D279380859%26siteurl%3Dorganicconsumers%26encryptTicket%3D945e4e5400c5355171b6c7d1bbbe10ca%26encryptTicketRegister%3Dfcc41586825ea7ba381896b771c363fb%26email%3Dmolly%2540viaorganica.org%26%26

Limits

February 5, 2011

More snow.  Although that’s a likely forecast for Maine anytime through April, in the here and now it is a reality, another foot dumping down in snowball-sized hunks, alternating with drifting snow mist, and, at the end, crystals like Ivory Snow flakes, leaving the whole field twinkling in sequins this fine sunny morning.

As nice (and frigid) as the day is, limits have been imposed.  Those living through a real Maine winter (we got off lightly last year) are circumscribed.  We have run out of places to store this water in its solid form, so our lives get limited into small lanes of passage.  I start making a path from the deck to the rabbits – only one shovel width.  So many snows, the trench is hip deep, and that’s not down to the ground, just down to better footing of the hard snow.  Filling the bird feeders is a matter of bending down, not tippy-toes, but the birds are safe because the cats can’t make it through the fluffy medium to get at them.

The world is almost unrecognizable, fences between the rabbit pens obliterated, and the stockade designed to keep the foxes out could be easily leapt by the bunnies, let alone a predator.  But no fox is out hunting in this world of white – it’s too hard going.  Bobbie plowed around six, as light came, and I dig from the deck the other way to the cleared drive, and walk out to free up the barn between two banks higher than my head.

I can dig out the barn doors, and of course they get their grain and hay, but the poor horses have to trample down the paddocks themselves.  It’s slow work, and heavy on the legs.  I tried skiing, but the snow was so deep that within a half-mile I was sweating like a pig and turned for home.  The wharf is completely covered, and I have not bothered to shovel it off, as our attention moves away from the sea in the winter; there’s not much to do there, and the wind goes right through you.

The cats are fighting because there’s nowhere to go even if they do go out.  The rabbits have stopped fighting and just run around their front doors (they love each snow like it was the first, but they still can’t get far either).  In a couple of months, the world will open up, but right now it has closed in on us until we get a thaw. “As the days get longer, the cold gets stronger” is an old saying around here.  In the old days, before Netflix and easy travel, folks had the intestinal fortitude to withstand not only the winter, but the limits on human interaction it imposed.  If some national disaster cut off our power for a long while, we would not only have babies being born nine months later and people dying of cold, but I think we’d be killing each other as well out of sheer circumscription.

We have lost twelve cats to cars, predators, illness and old age since we’ve been here.  Each departure is hard, but this one especially: this morning Gandhi dove out the door and stayed under the deck – as far as we know, it is completely snowed in and we cannot see a thing in there – to leave his body behind.  We feel terribly, because he must have had a kidney infection or some such for a bit, but we took it as winter blues, pickiness on his food, cabin fever with the other cats, and sheer cussedness, in which he had a long trump suit.  Cats go to earth to die alone – it will be my favored way too, if I get the chance – and that’s what he did.  When we realized he had been out too long, and tried to find him, we could not.  By last night, when he hadn’t shown up, we were sure, and let go into grieving.  Ah, Gandhi, we could have been more attentive!

I wrote this at home, but am posting it from UK, where it is 50 degrees (10C) and raining.  Hope they’re doing ok in Maine, as the storms roll over like waves.

Greece #1 – Athens

January 19, 2011

A trip without purpose or plan is a rare indulgence for me, but somehow that’s what my spirit required. My daughter Misty and I arrived in Athens with no hotel for Sunday night, and no plan for Monday morning. Of course there is an uber-purpose: for bonding, to introduce Misty to the country of my soul, to revisit the source of what I feel to be my healing tradition, and to scope the Greek islands as a possible bolt-hole if the America we know and love starts becoming unlivable, rather than just annoying. I love my country, but not ‘right or wrong’, and I love where I live, but not if it becomes physically or socially poisoned.

Even the Metro has ruins

We join the morning commuters on the Metro, and find our first archeology in the Monasteraki station as we surface. It took them forever to build the Metro, as they were running into valuable ruins every few meters. As we emerge into the square, it’s pouring a Greek winter rain, such as I experienced in the winter of ’84, when I lived in a ramshackle stone house in the Peloponnese. Might seem funny to be cold after leaving a Maine winter, but it is. We hasten to a café to get out of the rain and into some warm drinks. There are so few tourists compared to usual that finding a table is no problem.

Like NY, there are touts selling €3 umbrellas, and we negotiate 2 for €5, clacketing our suitcases up the cobbled tile street and ducking the other umbrellas. The little hotel Phaedra, tucked between the Akropolis and Syntagma seems to meet our needs and we use the hand shower to slough off the travel grime. I always forget something and this time it was a razor, and my hair gel leaked all over my suitcase, so I am right mess.

Our first walk is down through Plaka for a snack, but then right on up the Akropolis, just in time for it to close. By clever maneuvering, you can stay up there a while after the close, so we got to see the whole thing. Although we missed it in white sunny grandeur – I don’t know that I have ever been up there in the rain – nothing can dim the wonder of Periclean Athens.

Plaka – the old village below the Akropolis – has internationalized and gentrified almost beyond recognition – I didn’t see Rive Gauche or MacDonalds, but it is only a matter of time. There are only a few of the old kiosks left that spill out onto the street with their cheap icons, T-shirts, prayer beads, and rough reproductions. We saw a natural sponge – a decent size but still just a sponge – for 80€. Gone are the laughing whores and the bouzouki music, enter outlet stores with stainless steel and halogen lighting.

When I was first here in the 70’s, the music from one taverna spilled into the next, it was a little rough but friendly. By 1980, when I returned, it was more Donna Summer and disco. We went looking for some corner where they had the old music, and finally found a bar with some decent bouzouki playing, but backed up by a synthesiser with disco lights playing over the stage. Maybe tomorrow, jet lag overcomes us.

I suppose these stories will keep coming up, but in 1970, my first trip to Greece, I first landed on Corfu (Kerkyra), in a spot called Paleokastritsa – the “little old castle”. You can no longer go where we went, as the two little beaches near the end of the winding road to the monastery are now lined with hotels, the hills behind thick with houses. In those days there was a tiny pension on one beach, where we took one of the two rooms, and spent a few days nearly alone on the curve of the susurrating Adriatic.

We were joined at each lunch first by the wasps (eat around them) and Baudoin, a Dutch engineer who was the first telecommuter I ever met. He designed electronic circuits for Phillips, and in those pre-computer days must have done his work and posted it to the Netherlands by mail, with the unreliable Greek post. (For an hilarious view of life on Corfu leading up to it’s gentrification, read any of the early work of Gerald Durrell – start with My Family and Other Animals.)

On about our third day, a man was pulling his caique (that’ll be near as dammit to a dory for you Mainers) up onto the beach. A tall man with a barrel chest, broad shoulders, and a shock of oddly light-brown hair for a Greek, maybe late 40’s, dressed in an old T-shirt and a brief bathing suit, he was white with salt rime and fish scales. Baudoin asked if he could join us for lunch and we said of course, expecting to have an injection of local colour. Boy, were we surprised – he spoke cultured if accented English, and turned out to be a 2-star general.

This was time of the junta (see the movie Z for a harrowing account), and things were very repressed with a lot of people disappearing. This guy – I think I can name him as Stavros by now – had said something mildly against the regime – of course he never said what it was -and had escaped execution, instead he had been banished to his home village on Corfu, where he was reduced to making his living as a fisherman.

For some reason he took a liking to us – I was in those days a raging pacifist – and for three days he came to lunch. Though the conversation flowed, it was essentially his discourse on the art of war. He started with Hannibal, as I remember, not Xerxes and Xenophon or the 300, working his way up through WWII. His knowledge was comprehensive and his tale was riveting, and except to keep the krasi and narrative flowing, we did nothing to interrupt Stavros. I hope he was restored to power when the junta fell a few years later.

Stargazer

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 (https://tomyers.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/roll-out-the-drums-of-war) 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.

Wikileaks

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.