Long Term Worries Are A Luxury

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Long Term Worries Are A Luxury

It is impossible to think about long term problems when you are in the midst of an emergency. Who can worry about the balance of their bank account, or who should get elected, or global warming, when they are in the middle of a medical emergency, or a police nightmare, or a flood, or just the “normal” worries of a homeless person looking for food for themselves or their children, and a safe place to get some badly needed sleep? And this situation is repeated by the billions around the world.

Because so many people are struggling to deal with their basic survival and personal security needs, which are under assault from so many directions by the forces of human malevolence: political, economic and racial, they have no mental capacity nor psychological reserves left to expend on long term worries like global warming. That long term worry is a luxury enjoyed by people who are fortunate in life, secure and safe, and even prosperous. They are also likely to be the kind of people who are in the most anthropogenic greenhouse gas emitting classes on Earth.

I consider global warming to be an emergency, exactly as Greta Thunberg has so brilliantly broadcast to the world. Many professional “Green” activists, bloggers, book writers and internet “influencers” have advanced a variety of social behavioral adaptation schemes, and technical schemes, that governments are urged to mandate and manage in order to “transition” our current profits-above-life-itself economies to a “post carbon” alternative energy mode. In general I agree with such ideas, but I realize they are just fantasies of luxurious long term worries (LLTWs). I suppose my Marxist friends would call LLTWs a class interest.

It has finally dawned on me that the route to real action on global warming climate change is through a complete social revolution that meets the immediate survival and security needs of the great mass of humanity, and which spectrum of aspirations is being vibrantly voiced through the worldwide George Floyd protests. A psychologist might phrase this as the need for a climb up the ladder of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The smaller the fraction of the world’s population that is overwhelmingly taxed by scrambling for their survival and safety needs, the larger the fraction of the world’s population that can begin to enjoy the LLTW of global warming climate change.

Because meeting those many aspirations for societal renewal and social transformation are technically the easiest and quickest remedies to begin addressing the root causes of the LLTW of global warming, they should be pushed for hard by everybody who gives a damn. Thus, the George Floyd protests are really for much more than just their essential and vitally important calls for anti-racist anti-capitalist and public health actions by governments, they are also the trumpet fanfares and bugle calls for a worldwide charge up the hierarchy of popular needs, from physical survival and personal security through societal reconstruction based on indiscriminate human dignity and the wide availability of opportunity that affords achievement of personal fulfillment, and ultimately up to us “all” having the luxury to worry about global warming, and then actually act on it.

I do not think there will ever be useful action on global warming until the social needs of the masses of humanity are vigorously and effectively attended to. This is not a utopian fantasy, this is realistic hard nuts logical thinking. The first and foundation step for everything that should follow is for all of us to actually become “we.”

So, yes, I realize that implies many wished-for political, economic and social revolutions and changes, but there it is. That is what “we” need to do if we want to make “anthropogenic” a positive adjective describing our stewardship of Planet Earth, instead of leaving it with its currently negative connotation regarding our massive fouling of the most beautiful jewel known to exist in the entire Universe.

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Sunshine Girl, and Good People

Nit’s Cafe is a small, wonderful Thai-themed restaurant in Fort Bragg.

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Sunshine Girl

I saw the granddaughter of Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin today —
Beautiful girl —
Lives in Berkeley sometimes
Sometimes in Fort Bragg or Albion
Not sure what she does for a living
Maybe work part-time in Nit’s Cafe
But she’s a good singer
Makes up her own lyrics
Loves animals —
Feeds the hummingbirds
Has a pet skunk —
Not bad at gardening —
Trades with her tomatoes at the Farmers’ Market —
Even knows Spanish!
Said Zapata was an ancestor, it’s likely true
Said Santa Monica is like golf:
A Republican pig playpen
Lights incense to read
Rings a Tibetan bowl-bell when the Moon is full
Does her own math even, I’m impressed
Keeps bees I heard, earns her honey
Hikes the hills to see the hawks
Watches waves from the cliff
A tough cookie with a sweet disposition
Free spirit
Always fun when she’s around
Glad I lived long enough to know her

4 June 2020

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Good People

I do not think it is fair to ridicule people of modest education and sophistication, who are otherwise good-hearted, right-thinking and right-acting. Wisdom is not the same as intelligence, which is not the same as education. Education is the product of opportunity, and thus usually an accident of birth; intelligence is a product of genetics, and thus a blameless accidental attainment; and wisdom is a product of rationality coupled with good character. It is rationality and good character that are essential to the making of a complete person, and to the making of a good society.

4 June 2020

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Global Warming is Nuclear War

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Global Warming is Nuclear War

The average global surface temperature rose by 1°C during the 110 years between 1910 and 2020.

During the 50 years between 1910 and 1960, the average global temperature rose by 0.25°C, an average rate-of-increase of 0.005°C/year. Another 0.25°C of biosphere heating occurred during the 25 years between 1960 and 1985, a rate-of-rise of 0.010°C/year. During the 20 year span between 1985 and 2005 another 0.25°C of temperature was added, a rate-of-rise of 0.0125°C/year. During the 15 year span from 2005 to 2020 another 0.25°C of temperature rise occurred, with an average rate-of-rise of 0.0167°C/year.

While the average temperature rise of 0.25°C was the same for each of the four intervals, the first (between 1910 and 1960) required 45.5% of the 110 years between 1910 and 2020; the second (between 1960 and 1985) only required 22.7% of the 110 years; the third (between 1985 and 2005) required the smaller fraction of 18.2% of the 110 years; and the most recent period (between 2005 and 2020) took the smallest fraction of 13.6% of the 110 years.

Given that a 1°C rise of the temperature of Earth’s Biosphere (EB) is the equivalent of it absorbing, as heat, the energy yield of 109 billion Hiroshima atomic bomb explosions, we could imagine the EB being bombarded by an average of 1 billion Hiroshima bombs per year between 1910 and 2020 (within 109 year-long intervals). If that yearly bombardment were done uniformly, it could represent 2 Hiroshima bomb explosions per square kilometer of the Earth’s surface once during the year; or it could represent one Hiroshima bomb explosion per day in each 186 km^2 patch of the Earth’s surface, for a worldwide bombing rate of 2.74 million/day. Global warming is very serious!

Let’s refine this analogy so it reflects the acceleration of global warming since 1910.

The 27.25 billion Hiroshima bomb equivalents of heating that occurred between 1910 and 1960 would represent a bombing rate of 545 million/year; or 1.5 million/day spaced out at one daily explosion per 342 km^2 patch of the Earth’s surface.

The 27.25 billion Hiroshima bomb equivalents of heating that occurred between 1960 and 1985 would represent a bombing rate of 1.09 billion/year; or 3 million/day spaced out at one daily explosion per 171 km^2 patch of the Earth’s surface.

The 27.25 billion Hiroshima bomb equivalents of heating that occurred between 1985 and 2005 would represent a bombing rate of 1.36 billion/year; or 3.73 million/day spaced out at one daily explosion per 137 km^2 patch of the Earth’s surface.

The 27.25 billion Hiroshima bomb equivalents of heating that occurred between 2005 and 2020 would represent a bombing rate of 1.82 billion/year; or 5 million/day spaced out at one daily explosion per 103 km^2 patch of the Earth’s surface.

The heating rate for the 1°C temperature rise of the EB since 1910, averaged on a yearly basis, was 5.725×10^24 Joules/110years, or 5.2×10^22 Joules/year, or 1.65×10^15 Watts of continuous heating. This rate of heat storage by the EB (into the oceans) is only 0.827% of the continuous “heat glow” given off as infrared radiation by the EB (mainly at the Earth’s surface), which is 1.994×10^17 Watts at a temperature of 288.16°K (Kelvin degrees; an absolute temperature of 288.16°K = 15°C+273.16°C; absolute zero temperature occurs at -273.16°C).

If we were to imagine impulsively infusing the EB with the same amount of energy, by a regular series of “heat explosions” each of energy release equivalent to the Hiroshima bomb, then the 1 billion explosions per year (the 109 year average) would have to occur at a rate of 31.7 per second.

Atomic bombs release their energy explosively within 1 microsecond, representing a radiated power of 5.25×10^19 Watts for an energy release equivalent to the Hiroshima bomb yield (5.25×10^13 Joules). In this hypothetical exercise, I am lumping all the atomic bomb explosive yield into heat, but in real atomic explosions energy is released in a variety of forms: heat, nuclear radiation (gamma rays, energetic neutrons, X-rays, radioactive material) and blast pressure. The energy forms emitted by atomic bomb explosions ultimately heat the materials they impact and migrate through, and this is why I lump all of the bomb yield as heat.

An explosion sphere with a 56.4 centimeter diameter (22.2 inches) radiating heat at 5.25×10^19 Watts during a burst time of 1 microsecond would present a 1m^2 surface area at a temperature of 5,516,325°K = 5,516,051°C. Imagine 32 of these popping into existence at random points around the world during every second of the day and night since 109 years ago. We would certainly consider that form of global warming a crisis deserving our attention.

Because the invisible low temperature heat glow style of global warming that we actually experience does not rudely punctuate our lives with random blasts of such intense X-ray conveyed heat that any human standing nearby would simultaneously be vaporized while the molecules of that vapor were atomized and those atoms stripped of all of their electrons down to the atomic cores, we ignore it. But the heating effect on the biosphere is energetically equivalent to what we are causing with our greenhouse gas and pollution emissions.

Thermodynamically, we have greenhouse gas-bombed out of existence the pristine biosphere and its habitable climate that first cradled and nurtured the infancy of our species 2000 centuries ago, and then fed and protected the development and growth of that fragile chimera we call “civilization,” which our potentates have been proudly boasting about for at least 8,000 years. And we’re still bombing, now at an ever increasing rate.

All of the numbers quoted here come out of the results described in my report “A Simple Model of Global Warming” that I produced to help me understand quantitatively the interplay of the major physical effects that produces global warming. I invite both the scientists and the poets among you to consider it.

Global Warming Model

70% or less of the sunlight shining onto the Earth reaches the surface and is absorbed by the biosphere. From this absorbed energy, in combination with the presence of water and organic material, all life springs. The oceans, which cover 70.2% of the Earth’s surface and comprise 99.4% of the biosphere’s mass, form the great “heat battery” of the planetary surface. All weather and climate are generated from the heat glow of that battery. A portion of that heat glow, equivalent to the solar energy absorbed, must escape into space for the planetary surface to remain in heat balance, at a constant average temperature. For that temperature being 15°C (59°F), 62.31% of the heat glow must escape.

30% or more of the incident solar energy is reflected back into space, with 24% of that reflection by clouds, and 6% of that reflection from land and ocean surfaces. While snow and ice are the most nearly perfect reflective of such surfaces, they only cover 10% to 11% of the planet and that coverage is slowly being reduced by global warming, increasing the solar heating.

Our introduction of greenhouse gases and pollution particles into the atmosphere has added to the already existing load of naturally emitted humidity, organic vapors and grit from volcanic eruptions and windblown dust. These components of the atmosphere absorb and retain heat (infrared radiation), blocking some of the necessary heat glow loss, and thus warming the planet. The increasing accumulation of these components — because a warmer world has higher humidity producing more clouds, and because of our continuing emission of atmospheric pollutants — scatter an increasing portion of the incoming sunlight back into space, which is a cooling effect called “global dimming.” The imbalance of all these effects is dominated by warming and the biosphere’s temperature is rising at an accelerating rate.

My life is a race against the clock of a certain though indeterminate finality. The COVID-19 pandemic has made me very conscious of this inevitability. After seven decades of existence I cannot do everything I want, in terms of living, fast enough. This is not irrational terror, it is awakened appreciation and understanding. There is all of Shelley yet to read, and Keats, and so many more; and so many more birds and flowers, and daylight and nighttime beauties of the Nature to see, and so many more differential equations and physical problems to solve, to not want to go on living. The urge for continuation is innate, genetically programmed, whether in robotic virus particles or in cognitive life forms like cats and human beings. For me, that cognition includes the irrational emotional desire to combat global warming so that future generations of all Earth’s life forms have decent chances of continuing.

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Tsunami, & Pangaea Resurgent

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Tsunami

Does God have an ego?
Does God’s ego need acknowledgement?
Does It have a preference on our form of worship:
— Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, free-thought?
Would not such a needy God be limited?
And if so, from where arise the people and beliefs
— outside God’s limitations?
How could such a God create a nonconforming world?

The water comes in frothing, foaming, white,
Throbbing with agitation,
Pulling out the very roots of ground underfoot,
Suffocating light under a flood of black gravity,
Time compressed to timelessness its heart stops,
Parallels converge, infinity sleeps;
The waters suck back into distant depths
The souls of earlier dreams,
Leaving only the wreckage of their hearts.

Why has God abandoned us?

You have not been abandoned, merely awakened —
Loss of a dream — nothing more.
The life and death themselves are real,
But they were never certain.

Truth is indifferent, I am sorry this is painful.

Release disillusion and tend your proper grief.
May the bitter rain replenish the well of compassion,
For who is untouched?

3 January 2005

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Pangaea Resurgent

The earth quakes
Olympus breaks free
Floating west an island,
The heights rise
The shoreline plunges
The wine-dark sea runs to blood,
Old lands wither unseen
Plato is upended.

I wake cast upon the rocks,
Find the edge of town
Meet the Prophet by the tracks,
Where am I?
Everywhere, he says.
How?
Capitalism is Theft
Suburbia is Segregation
God is Murder.
I have no money to pay him,
Is there no hope?
He smirks:
Blood dries.

20 January 2005

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Awakening, and Reopening

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Awakening

Fresh sun warms morning
Light splash crisping forest green
Hush cool dark fading
Life revealed that was unseen
Bird trills dance from silk web gleam

Dawn fills air so clear
Green light blades thrust up from hill
Bees spark glints so near
Breath of life in birdsongs thrill
Open mind to timeless still.

24 April 2020

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Reopening

Is watching Fox News
Pre-existing condition?
And dying trump
Making America great?
Will Dow Jones itch spike
Enslavement volition?
From happiness chasing
To make a clean break?
And kill off the old
With free conscience cold
Re-spinning roulette
To let the plague strike
So gold dreams can shit
On a world dump as toilet
Where you’re a condition
Of easy dislike,
Forgettable ache,
Eventual coal lump,
With hurried ambition
Our dead primal ooze?

24 April 2020

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Can COVID-19 Save Lifeboat Earth?

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Can COVID-19 Save Lifeboat Earth?

Harbhajan Singh asks [6 April 2020]: “Could COVID-19 save Lifeboat Earth?”

Many realize that eliminating humanity would make Earth healthier for Nature, plants and animals.

Many also realize that without profound changes to human behavior — by everybody, everywhere; including limiting population growth and ending greenhouse gas emissions — that humanity can not exist in balance with Nature, and both will increasingly suffer, eventually — in a few lifetimes? — fatally.

It is well documented that as human encroachment and destruction of Nature (e.g., environments and biodiversity) advances, that habitability decreases.

That decrease is due to a combination of:

— pollution (bad air, ocean plastic, dead seas, lost topsoil, lost forests, toxic land);

— climate change (and more violent weather, floods, droughts, wildfires);

— food source degradation (inorganic industrial farming, loss of natural varietals, loss of seafood), and

— greater hazards of releasing viruses (epidemics and pandemics) fatal to people.

The scientific reports get very specific on ‘this particular negative effect has this particular [human stupidity] cause’, but in aggregate they show what I’ve just outlined.

More people are realizing that humanity’s accelerating encroachment and destruction of Nature can only cause more deadly virus pandemics to plague us. Hotter environmental temperatures from global warming, and greater particulate and noxious gases pollution from human activity (industrialization, capitalism, militarism) aggravate the severity and lethality of all respiratory illnesses, like COVID-19.

I prefer that humanity became vastly more intelligent, and cooperative, and altruistic, and balances its existence (both individual and collective) with Nature’s timeless rhythms and geophysical limits.

The most important aspect of that wished-for cooperativeness is that we cease viewing each other as deadly rivals in a grim zero-sum game of making-money one-upmanship and competing narcissistic schemes of enslaving others.

Miraculously, the Earth is the most wonderful Paradise we know of in the entire Universe. If we treated it as such, instead of treating it like a garbage dump and sewer, it would return that appreciation, and we would knowingly experience life in this actual Paradise, for ourselves and for endless future generations.

This is not just poetry, it is fact.

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Poetry For Our Silent Spring 2020

Robert Babbitz, historian and my college dorm room-mate from 50 years ago, sent me the following reflection of poems appropriate for our remembrances today. I have added full texts of the poems mentioned to Bob’s commentary, a few small notes, and some of my own poems at the end (probably too many) — without any intention of trying to compare myself to the luminary poets Bob has listed. My purpose is just to share some literary beauty and insightful thoughts with my fellow humans burrowed into their social isolation, hiding from the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Bob —

Compared to today’s shabby, disease-riddled existence, I cannot help but think of the early 1970’s, when we were roommates, and on into our grad school years, despite the insanity of Nixon, the war, and all the rest, as a better time. Thinking of those years reminds me, somehow of Wordsworth’s lines on the French Revolution:

Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive
and to be young was very heaven.

Of course, the French Revolution didn’t turn out all that well, given the Terror and the rise of Napoleon. An interesting if flawed book is Crain Brinton’s Anatomy of Revolution, in which the author compares the major revolutions. One problem is that Brinton wasn’t a historian, but more of a sociologist or political scientist, and it shows. I read it in grad school. At the time it was the only work of it’s kind.

Recently read an interesting poem by Rupert Brooke, best known as the patriotic British poet who died during the early years of WWI. But his poem “Tiare Tahiti” is not a war poem. I do not think it has racist implications. If you read it, please let me know what you think.

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Tiare Tahiti
(by Rupert Brooke, 1887-1915)

Mamua, when our laughter ends,
And hearts and bodies, brown as white,
Are dust about the doors of friends,
Or scent ablowing down the night,
Then, oh! then, the wise agree,
Comes our immortality.
Mamua, there waits a land
Hard for us to understand.
Out of time, beyond the sun,
All are one in Paradise,
You and Pupure are one,
And Taü, and the ungainly wise.
There the Eternals are, and there
The Good, the Lovely, and the True,
And Types, whose earthly copies were
The foolish broken things we knew;
There is the Face, whose ghosts we are;
The real, the never-setting Star;
And the Flower, of which we love
Faint and fading shadows here;
Never a tear, but only Grief;
Dance, but not the limbs that move;
Songs in Song shall disappear;
Instead of lovers, Love shall be;
For hearts, Immutability;
And there, on the Ideal Reef,
Thunders the Everlasting Sea!

And my laughter, and my pain,
Shall home to the Eternal Brain.
And all lovely things, they say,
Meet in Loveliness again;
Miri’s laugh, Teïpo’s feet,
And the hands of Matua,
Stars and sunlight there shall meet
Coral’s hues and rainbows there,
And Teüra’s braided hair;
And with the starred tiare’s white,
And white birds in the dark ravine,
And flamboyants ablaze at night,
And jewels, and evening’s after-green,
And dawns of pearl and gold and red,
Mamua, your lovelier head!
And there’ll no more be one who dreams
Under the ferns, of crumbling stuff,
Eyes of illusion, mouth that seems,
All time-entangled human love.
And you’ll no longer swing and sway
Divinely down the scented shade,
Where feet to Ambulation fade,
And moons are lost in endless Day.
How shall we wind these wreaths of ours,
Where there are neither heads nor flowers?
Oh, Heaven’s Heaven!—but we’ll be missing
The palms, and sunlight, and the south;
And there’s an end, I think, of kissing,
When our mouths are one with Mouth….

     Taü here, Mamua,
Crown the hair, and come away!
Hear the calling of the moon,
And the whispering scents that stray
About the idle warm lagoon.
Hasten, hand in human hand,
Down the dark, the flowered way,
Along the whiteness of the sand,
And in the water’s soft caress,
Wash the mind of foolishness,
Mamua, until the day.
Spend the glittering moonlight there
Pursuing down the soundless deep
Limbs that gleam and shadowy hair,
Or floating lazy, half-asleep.
Dive and double and follow after,
Snare in flowers, and kiss, and call,
With lips that fade, and human laughter
And faces individual,
Well this side of Paradise! ….
There’s little comfort in the wise.

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The last two lines of this poem were used by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) for the opening quote, and title, of his novel This Side Of Paradise.

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My favorite poet of The Great War is Wilfred Owen, who served in the British army and was sent back to Great Britain to be treated for PTSD, then, of course, known as “shell shock”. Owen was treated at Craiglockhart hospital in Scotland and eventually sent back to the front, where he was killed just days before the Armistice. His antiwar poem “Dulce et Decorum est” is, in my opinion, brilliant.

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Dulce et Decorum est
(by Wilfred Owen, 1893-1918)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

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Ironic then, and now:

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.
How sweet and honourable it is to die for one’s country.

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Some of my favorite poems: Yeats’s “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”, Eliot’s “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock”, Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach”, and many others. What are some of your favorites?

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The Lake Isle of Innisfree
(by William Butler Yeats, 1865-1939)

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

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The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock
(by T. S. Eliot, 1888-1965)

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma percioche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.*

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
    So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
    And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
    And should I then presume?
    And how should I begin?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it towards some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head
    Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
    That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
    “That is not it at all,
    That is not what I meant, at all.”

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

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*From Ella García:
Roughly translated, it says:

If I believed that my response were
To a person who would never return to this world,
This flame would be no more shaken.
But alternatively if for some reason
I don’t return alive–yes, I hate the truth–
Without theme of infamy I will respond to you.

This is pretty old Italian. It’s hard to understand and translate poetically because some of the phrases are colloquialisms from that time. It sounds like a love poem involving the afterlife. Italian flows beautifully, but most of the phrases are very exaggerated and long. I may have misunderstood some passages, but I think I got the basic theme.

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Dover Beach
(by Matthew Arnold, 1822-1888)

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

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Though I am in no way religious, since Toni passed, I find myself rereading the 23rd Psalm. Make of that what you will.

Toni Jean Crouse (Mrs. Robert Babbitz) 1950-2015, in 1972

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23rd Psalm (King James Bible version)

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

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Based on your recommendation, I will look for the book “Cadillac Desert.” Unfortunately, there’s probably not much chance I will catch up with the Disney movie about Cape Cod [The Finest Hours, a movie about the 1952 rescue, by Bernard C. Webber and three other volunteers, of the 32 survivors of a busted tanker off Cape Cod during a nor’easter]. However, I remembered the correct name of the book about the brutal 1929 Nor’Easter at the Cape. It’s “The Outermost House”, by Henry Beston. Obscure and difficult to find, but IMO, worth reading.

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I add the following items to Bob’s thoughtful letter.

Begrenzt ist das Leben, doch unendlich ist die Erinnerung.
Life is limited, but unending is the memory.

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Why does the Buddha smile?
(by Manuel García, Jr.)

Autumn light falls on the leaves
and makes them luminous against the blue,
it falls upon a woman’s form
and chisels breath to beauty –
even desire.
Breeze percolates through the light,
quivering leaves;
life is sweet.

Like a lotus, radiant, blooming
above the fetid pond it roots in,
so the luminous beauty and joy of life
flower in every corner of time and place.
Whether we find ourselves in war or peace,
satisfied or desolated,
the honeyed light
dims not its warming grace
to match the hue of our anxiety.

Somewhere in this world,
at this moment
for some individual
there is no personal God,
there is only loss, abandonment, despair.
We each will have this moment.
Yet, the light falls,
the lotus blooms,
the grace is there
amidst the wreckage we feel entangled by.
Tranquil beauty and stark terror are all one in this world.
The lotus blooms over the stench of death,
but it blooms – daily.
And so, the Buddha smiles.

27 October 2001

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That poem is not a great nor clever work, just a personal and heartfelt one.

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Ghosts
(by Manuel García, Jr.)

Ghosts crowd the mind,
living flesh only mirrors images cast by memory —
realities lost to dust —
scattered into wind.
A woman, alive only in fantasies of desire,
an aroma in the mind, gardenias?
How is it I can feel the palpitations
under a receptive embrace
now not even a breath from butterfly wings?
Motionless life fills thought
while lifeless motion crowds vision of the street.
Who are these people?
They appear real but they are castaways
boring through their mutual unconscious
with blaring determination,
their horizons close,
filled with illusions but free of ghosts.

I sit in a eucalyptus grove,
the afternoon sun cascading down tiers of leaves
shimmering to the eddies,
the streaming air shushing
through swaying fronds, against vaulting trunks;
a weaving dance of light and shadow,
the shifting of veils hung from a dome of light.
Spirit brushes along quivering green,
the caress of light warming earth’s uplifted hands,
massaging warmth down eager limbs
drawing the milk of life deep into folds
below the darkness of all birthing,
beneath the gravity we rise from.

Is some of the air you once breathed
now drifting in this stream?
Is some of the force of your life
now rippled by waves of birdsong?
Is some of the heat of your passion
now a whisper of love
absorbed imperceptibly from this day?
Am I as much a ghost as you?
Yes, of course;
this breath is what matters,
this kiss is what matters,
this love is the vessel of life.

I hear the voice of Maria Callas —
la divina
an echo preserved to rekindle sensations of presence,
to relive our own times of transcendence,
to feel life.
And yet, what of hers?,
less than the whisper of sunlight on seafoam,
now as much part of the Aegean wind
as the smile of Helen of Troy.

And, so it must be,
as we loose our last breath
we melt into the earth’s breathing.
Perhaps our bones will imprint future rocks,
perhaps our ashes will trail the last eddy of our body’s heat
like spent candle soot coiling up into darkness.
Is that your memory, a lingering warmth in the darkness?
And now you mingle with so many,
my mind a country of spirits,
new immigrants arriving daily;
a land I can know yet never visit.

Shall I tell you about it?
There is a wonderful bar, top shelf in the well,
jazz trio backing Ella;
all the many Jesus drinking wine, relaxed,
dancing with Mary, Martha, Salome,
the intense political debates resolved.
Down by the river, the poets convene,
and I listen as their word plays
wrap around the fire and lift into velvety night
twinkling unseen with the chirping of crickets.
At dawn we stretch to greet the sun,
naked bodies flushed with warmth, washed of time.
At night in the city
I will hear sopranos and drink white Burgundy,
I will see Don Giovanni and drink Médoc.
The once ambitious wander the streets bewildered —
harmlessly deranged —
there will be no order, only peace.
At the shore, a poet will say of the dawning light
“It is as bright as the love left behind.”
I hear the voice — love is an art.

29 October 2006

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Variation of parameters
(by Manuel García, Jr.)

Perhaps it was a change in the weather
that caused things to happen.
I remember warm winds
blowing up from the south in early spring,
and yellow moons in blue glazed nights.
The melting of the cell phones was first.
Overnight,
they were just frozen puddles of plastic and metal,
nothing seen, no heat felt,
just stone-cold carbonized slag heaps
in their hundred millions.
None have been made since –
they all dissolve –
as if the very form, even the concept
had been banished by some capricious god.
Soon after, every fifth spark plug failed,
crankshafts and turbine blades
inexplicably disintegrate.
No cause can be found, no process observed,
large gasoline motors rarely run, now,
there was much fearful whispering about gremlins.
Still, we all adjusted reasonably soon,
and then the great shock arrived –
all the money disappeared.
One morning,
no account could be found with a balance,
all bills showed zero totals,
all currency had vanished.
Everyone is penniless and free of debt,
work has no pay, selling has no buyers –
no obligations, no inducements.
At first, there was chaos, riots, death,
many went insane or took their lives,
“He’s gone back to look for his money,”
we say now –
our phrase for the departed.
Yet, soon enough, most people found occupations,
either from habit, inclination,
or simply to shake off boredom,
like a group of children
picking through a pile of costumes
to take on roles in a game.
In this game, we trade
for food, for our chores, for our entertainment.
With so much use of time,
and no easy accounting,
no one can accumulate
beyond the stores for a winter.
Our leaders bemoan the fall of civilization,
and, as they are ignored,
it must be so.
Our evangelicals howl in ecstasy,
dancing naked around bonfires through the night.
The children are delighted,
now, with so many schools close by,
and always elders, and relatives in attendance
along with their teachers,
so joyous, compared to what now seems imprisonment
in the old moneyed days.
I think it is the learning joy of children everywhere
that makes one feel as if always walking in a village,
even as it stretches between the oceans.
The young easily try on any role,
experimenting with great fervor,
adding such sparkle to the daily routines,
and reminding us to keep our perspective,
for they can leave without notice
for vacations of unknown length,
to satisfy the needs of the spirit.
Yet, in this ebb and flow,
all social needs are filled,
like the hollows children dig out at the beach;
our social lives are smoothed
by the washing of tides from an unseen ocean.
While the fortunes of many have tumbled,
most have tasted liberation, by now,
and those who have lost are left to their own devices.
Shortly after the money left,
the wars erupted – somebody had to pay.
By two years the shooting sputtered to a halt,
all the bullets were turning out to be duds –
plutonium turned to salt, rockets crumbled to powder –
and so they remain.
No explanations.
Our armies are helpless, vulnerable,
unable to attack, and unassailable.
The great migrations began when the guns died,
but soon quelled
when gold was found dissolved in the oceans,
and laced through the sand underfoot.
It is so common, now, it is worthless,
though most beautiful,
and a warm metal to replace broken teeth.
And so, we live under a mysterious power
we cannot explain.
We are people with a broken history
and a continuously randomized future,
liberated from our parallel lives of isolation,
and the apprehension of survival.
Around here, we each hoe our gardens
while spending long afternoons watching clouds curl,
or walking into town to carry home a gallon of milk.
Just this afternoon,
I heard the pub switched from sports on TV to poetry –
for a change.
Maybe I’ll go down and have a few, tonight.

17 February 2003

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Footprints in the river, handprints on the sky
(by Manuel García, Jr.)

My life is as dewdrops on a lotus leaf
spread above the quiet of Walden Pond,
disappearing slowly, inexorably, in the warmth of the sun
birthing an unending present – my unknowable future;
evaporating my sufferings
into the buzz of hummingbird wings
and the laughter of children playing,
no different today than in the days of Pericles and Gautama,
and certainly no different in those days to come
when my forgotten name will be half as old as theirs.
The American Ryōkan, the Japanese Thoreau,
how glad I am of their gifts,
examples of living by principle –
content, enlightened, generous, humane, calm, funny,
engaging me with their words
the way their living engaged their neighbors,
waking so many from torpid lives of expediency
by the sheer force of example –
without exhortation,
their tangible traces, now, pure art.
And when I am gone what will be my legacy?:
the impish glee of a child laughing on the swings,
hands furrowing the warmth of the sand,
plunging through sweet air reaching for the higher bar,
watching ripples of light on the water.

24 November 2002

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I love the collection of Ryōkan poetry, One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryōkan, translated by John Stevens.

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Horizon
(by Manuel García, Jr.)

I drank from a hidden fountain:
everything stopped,
sound froze,
cracked, fell to the ground as powder;
light melted,
dripped, clung to the skin like sweat,
sank in.
I breathed in cold darkness
and exhaled puffs of light,
my eyes illuminated everything,
my vision bore through steel,
rocks, smoke;
mirrors evaporated.
I closed my eyes
and saw a brilliant azure sea
caressing a band of dazzling white
stretching away past the edges of sight,
fringing the toes of flower strewn dunes;
the air alive, vibrant, yet light as grace,
and all in a shower of warmth
under the luminous dome of sky.
My eyes opened,
I saw my other cell mates,
“We can get out,” I said,
“You must leave,” they replied,
“Come, let me show you,”
I said, leading them to the great iron door,
it was unlocked, as always.
I opened it, walked out,
calling for them to follow, saying
“We are always free.”

They closed the door behind me,
pushing hard to keep it sealed,
“Go, do not come back, do not speak,”
they screamed without speaking,
“Wolves will eat your flesh,
your bones will lie in the open,”
they cried in fearful anger
and returned to their cells.
I can see them,
each staring at the texture of the bricks
in the walls of their cells,
pining for freedom,
clinging to the certainty of parallel isolation.
And I am cast out, left to die,
wandering the dunes, eating wild strawberries,
watching the flight of birds,
the unfolding of clouds,
listening to the hymn of wind across sand,
the fall of water into the embrace of surf,
sheets of water wiping the face of the beach,
the hissing kiss of foam on wet sand.
Mountains have grown and been ground flat,
washed into the sea –
and still, I am here.

17 April 2002

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An American Prayer
(by Manuel García, Jr.)

God, let me experience life without thought of profit, preference or death.

Let me know justice, by allowing me to experience the consequences of my acts as others experience them.

Let me know You for what You are: the life in all, the knower, the known and the unknown.

Let me be curious without fear of thought.

Let me be expressive without thought of fear.

Let me be forgiving, an instrument of compassion.

Let me be alert, an instrument of knowledge.

Let me be humane, an instrument of peace.

Let me know truth.

Let me be grateful.

5 July 2004

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The Buried Rainbow
(by Manuel García, Jr.)

His mind is a graveyard of memories
of young and beautiful faces,
utopian dreams,
transformative art
unseen in this island world of blind cyclopses
bumbling into each other with hurtling ambition
in the shadowed canyon bottoms.
He tosses pearls of protein, lipids and carbohydrates
on the frozen ground, and they erupt
as fluttering clouds of rock doves
rising into the clear air
to wheel about the shafts of light
streaming onto the canyon walls,
and carrying his gaze up into
the buried rainbow of an undiscovered country,
where fields of energy emanate
from fingertips of generosity
to unfurl a mesh of loving care
that cradles a race of poets.

25 January 2015

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Night Sail
(original, in Chinese, by Tu Fu, 712-770)

Soft wind gently through shore grass waving,
Alone by the tall mast sailing at night.
Fields of stars stretch far beyond seeing,
The great river flow is quavering moonlight.

All my writing is born for oblivion,
Myself, aged past thought by people today.
Heaven, Earth and I are sounding the One
Out of sand-gull wings fluttering away.

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MG,Jr. version (19 July 2016) of Tu Fu’s poem Nocturnal Reflections While Travelling.

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Love at Dawn
(by Manuel García, Jr.)

I still can feel your dawn-window eyes
as I walk through this night,
and I still can smell your long, dark hair
softly catching the light.
The sweet taste of your tender lips
I still can savor with care,
and the warming voice of your soft, soft skin
still glides upon my face.
I still can feel your dawn-window eyes
as I walk through this night,
this night though but a wisp of the past
is an eternal delight.

7 October 1969

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As the bee takes the essence of a flower and flies away without destroying its beauty and perfume, so let the sage wander in this life.

— The Dhammapada, 49 (translation by Juan Mascaró)

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Coiling Oak Smoke
(a song by Manuel García, Jr.)

Dewdrop jewels on the berries of spring
Golden grain waves in the fresh wind that brings
Crystal fresh rains that wells once again fills
And moistens the fields, the woods and the hills
Vibrant green shoots coat with radiance our land
Nature’s benev’lence again is at hand
Clear light infuses warm breath through the trees
Dispelling the mists by dawning degrees

Our gardens now lush emerge from shadow
Birds rustle and flit by rivulets low
Mayhaps our boatmen will hook us some fish
To grill tonight for a savory dish
Maybe our cider cooled down in the creek
Will loosen spirits to merriment seek
Round the oak fire that pulls us all in
As our tribe of foundlings now becomes kin

Let the young children seek sparkly rocks
Treasures and playthings their dreams to unlock
Delighting in games with imagined friends
Out in the clearings and where the beach ends
Hiding and seeking and scurrying ‘round
Learning each corner of our tribal ground
While we tend to patching houses and clothes
To keep out the rains and cold wintery blows

In afternoon balm I’ll auger flute-holes
And string my guitar to serenade those
Who ring round the fire as dusk closes in
As we rim the warmth that centers our being
And I might think back to times long ago
When my world froze up and melted like snow
And then burnt away in long hopeless wars
When all that I was became nothing more

We each disappeared into private ends
Abandoned alone by fate and by friends
Emerging alive by luck some would say
Finding each other by chance day by day
Intimate strangers now braided as tribe
Castaways now on this earth that abides
Each guarding mem’ries of those that they lost
Each guarding a soul or’whelmed by grief’s cost

Tomorrow I take Young Buck up the hill
To teach him the bow and of deers to kill
We’ll seek cedar stalks to make arrow shafts
Talk about fletching and archery crafts
To ready ourselves for hunting to come
When fall chills the days and fog shrouds the sun
In time he’ll move off with borns of his own
As I once had before being alone

When young Buck’s become the man he must be
I will be feeding my gone away tree
Returning my spirit to these deep woods
Content I suppose I did what I could
We old men and women work so to fill
Young bellies with food and young lives fulfill
With savory scents coiled up in oak smoke
That bind us together as tribal folk.

9 December 2019

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Soar Hawk Soar
(a song by Manuel García, Jr.)

I walked beneath a freeing sky
A soaring hawk wings thoughts up high
The calmed remembrance of old dreams
And clouds aglow in silent streams
That drift on by the mountain peaks
Of stories I will never speak
The light of day unfurling space
Illuminates my winding pace
Unshadowed hills of grit and green
The finest landscapes I have seen
A fading wake of memories
That seep out softly as eddies
All so common and all so mine
Connecting ever each ‘cross time
By light on silent distant themes
Adrift alone on warped time’s seas
Beyond horizons of each one
So mind hawklike soars to the sun
To look to where experience ends
Perhaps to catch a glimpse of friends
So very long ago with you
When warmth was shared between us two
Till now forgotten urgencies
Cast us adrift to families
That drew our lives out as we’ve seen
Remote from those that now are keen
As my regards go out so fleet
With hope your journey has been sweet
For mine was good despite the storms
And I survived to now inform
This freeing sky with soaring hawk
And see descending light past dark
To bask so warmly as so true
Reflections burnish life anew.

9 December 2019

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A Strictly Personal Looking Past The Pandemic

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A Strictly Personal Looking Past The Pandemic

This morning there was a Red-Tailed Hawk perched low in the woods outside my window for a least forty minutes. It was a large very calm bird perched not too high up in the trees that were downhill from my window, so binocular viewing was good, but it was too difficult to take a picture today. It was perhaps a young bird since its colors were mainly mottled, grey-brown on top, white with grey-brown blotches below. It had no obvious strong red on its tail feathers, but the wing and tail feathers were very clearly banded, partly like a tartan, and very crisply.

I have a sense that wildlife in general is seeping back into the daytime outdoor spaces they shy away from when humans are active. My neighborhood, in a canyon, is extremely quiet: no buzz saws, no leaf blowers, no house construction noises, very very few cars going down the road, no trucks, Amazon Prime delivery vans are about but again quite rarely (though I notice more of them in general since the lockdown began), very few walkers (with or without dogs), no house party noises, no landscaping services nor tree cutting services around, no water nor phone nor cable utility trucks (Pacific Gas & Electric is supposed to be inspecting power lines for fire safety), and on the weekend no mail nor garbage nor recycling trucks.

I can hear deer clomp and turkeys forage through the leaf litter; but the usual small birds and songbirds of this area seem to be gone today, and have been less in number over the last five years; a climate change die-off? Except for the odd pulses of breeze — rain should be coming later today — it is still and quiet throughout the canyon and the hillsides forming it. The Earth seems to be awaiting humanity’s fate with fatally baited breath: COVID-19.

We humans — the lucky ones that is — are shuffling around in our rooms in our bathrobes and slippers, with coffee and tea mugs or cocktails in our hands, and burrowing our heads into our cross-connected electronic attention-deficit infotainment memory holes. For the luckiest of the hapless people, society as we used to know it is slowly collapsing in on itself; and for the largely unseen and more socially distanced than ever before extremely unlucky people that social collapse is miserable and catastrophic. “That’s the way it’s always been” reflected our Apex Narcissist philosophically, to his cognitive limit in this regard, about these pandemic days.

Richard Eskow wrote a touching and reflective ramble on life and death, from his personal perspective as an older American man during this indeterminate period of the COVID-19 pandemic (COVID in the Web Of Generations: A Faint Hello From the “Only” Ones, 20 March 2020, https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/03/20/covid-in-the-web-of-generations-a-faint-hello-from-the-only-ones/).

Some of Eskow’s thoughts are:

“I’ll tell you a secret now, one that older adults carry with them every day: We walk with the dead. Oh, a lot of us don’t admit it, not even to ourselves. But once you’ve reached a certain age, the dead are with you wherever you go. Your parents are dead. Mine both died in the last couple of years. Your aunts and uncles, the ones who nurtured you and reminded you what sanity was when your parents went off the rails? They’re dead, too… I’m 66. I know now that I walk with the dead, and with death. That awareness is part of the job description, at least if you’re wired a certain way. That said, though, I’m not in any fucking hurry to go. I’ve got 20 good years, if I’m lucky. Maybe 30… This system is dying, infected with a contagion as old as humanity: greed… The time will come, the bell will toll. It sounds obvious, and it is. Until it happens. Then it feels as new as birth, as new as waking up in an unfamiliar room… And so, in the meantime, all I can do is pass on what the survivors of past worlds told me while they lived. They said you can survive by remembering to love. They said you can learn to care, even if caring doesn’t always come easily in this life.”

The present personal isolation people have receded into to avoid contagion can be heaven for introverts who are in safe circumstances. In my own case, it has led me to think back over my life, since I am celebrating my 70th birthday this week.

Since 2009 I’ve played the game of remembering where I was and what I saw “fifty years ago.” For me, the years 1959-1962 had to do with Cuba (which I visited twice to see my grandparents), the Revolution (which I saw in its glory of triumph), the Bay of Pigs, and the Missile Crisis (which nearly killed us all). 1963 was about JFK, 1964-1967 about dreading the Vietnam War draft while in high school, and having so many dreams about my “future.” 1968-1969 was about my roller-coaster ride in college, the highs of really getting into the science and chasing girls (who were always way smarter and more mature than I was), and the lows all 1969 of fending off the draft board while I was 1A (my deferment had been revoked in error, and they refused to correct that error). 1970-1972 was a combination of being a psychological wreck after surviving the December ’69 draft lottery, and the super-high of imagining an abundant Green Energy future after that first Earth Day on 22 April 1970 (perhaps the greatest day of my life). 1973-1976 was getting past Nixon, and the graduate school grind. 1976-1978 was in my view the peak of collective life in the U.S., including the first two years of the Carter Administration, and I had the illusion that that Green Energy future was about to begin and I would become one of the first generation physicist-engineers running its new-style engines, like Montgomery Scott in the original Star Trek science fiction television series. I was wrong.

During 1979-1980, President Jimmy Carter was pulled to the right by Zbigniew Brzezinski, his National Security Advisor, who laid the trap of the Afghan War quagmire the Russians sank into (and then later and still now the U.S.!), and then that bastard Reagan gained power in November 1980, and John Lennon was assassinated a month later by a gunshot to the chest fired by a narcissistic asshole, and Lennon’s death seemed emblematic of the instant death of all my illusions and those of the youthful “Imagine” dreamers of my age. It has been neoliberally downhill since.

After 1980, I realized that the best I would probably ever be able to do was to support my family. There was little chance I would change any part of our society — let alone government policy — toward green energy, environmentalism, energy efficiency and all that (even though I’ve tried doing so to this day). The political power people just wanted bombs, and my science employers just wanted more government subsidies.

For the biotech and computer people it was all an obsession with patents and getting rich off the need, addictions and misery of the masses. It is so damnably telling about our mercenary times to remember that doctors Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, each a developer of a polio vaccine (by 1955 and by 1960), put their discoveries into the public domain, giving up many billion in royalties and saving billions of lives since. Frederick Banting, who with the help of a few others invented the process for synthesizing insulin, patented it in 1923 for a token payment of $1.00 so as to ward off all other patent attempts by drug companies, and put the use of the method into the public domain.

So, even with numerous bumps in the road, humped over with the help of a Faustian bargain for brainy employment, I’ve managed to support my family, get three kids decently — though not always perfectly — cared for and off and independent for the two oldest, and well on the way to that for the youngest. And, I’ve got my little beat-up house in a reasonably pleasant hilly spot, and still have a little bit saved up (of which college tuition and a major and unavoidably necessary house-property repair three years ago took half). I’m banking on my okay pension and social security allotment for the duration, so I’m at the mercy of the thugs in Washington as regards the future of my social security.

When it comes to dying I’m just hoping that I go out like my father, a massive hemorrhage suddenly wiping out the brain, and the body dying off in just a few days. That way I won’t have the indignity of a long lingering death as a cripple during which all my remaining money will be drained away to the point of bankruptcy. My quick death is the only way there will be anything left (in the way of financial assets) for me to pass on, at least hopefully this house if I get to pay it off. It’s all quite a poker game, isn’t it?

It’s not hard to look back on my parenting and see many things I could have done much better. Hindsight is 20-20. But I’m glad that many of the efforts I made were good ones, and that my kids are all good and strong people, in many ways all smarter than I am. In my own case the work I put into helping raise the kids, despite many errors with each of them, is pretty clearly the best work I’ve done at anything in my life. I can accept being a failure at all else, but would hate being a failed parent. So, their successes are my consolation for everything else. I’ve had my fun and some high points with technical stuff (physical science, energy advocacy) and writing (ranting and bad poetry), but nothing in the world has changed because of it, and that’s okay because I can feel good about the kids.

I only wish I had been more perceptive way back when, to better appreciate the people who were kind, accepting and tolerant of me, who gave me help that I did not always recognize, and who graced my fairly clueless young adulthood when I pursued my simplistic dreams of sports cars, girls in miniskirts, protection from the Vietnam War, achieving science learning highs (and being high while learning science), and visions of saving the world through science by finding sources of unlimited electrical energy.

For me, enlightenment came through caring for my family and helping to raise children, along with a little bit of reading about Zen Buddhism. But having children was the touchstone of my essential insights. A Skinnerian behaviorist might say this is all just a genetically programmed self-delusional sense of fulfillment in male human drones to ensure the propagation of the species. Maybe so, what’s it matter? The same would then be true of that Red-Tailed Hawk who winged through this patch of its forested domain, and perched in dappled shade to regard its territory with such majestic calm.

And the same would be true of our two young cats, who move between periods of lying about sprawled out resting before the heater or curled up in a cardboard box in absolute luxuriant comfort, or rolling over and wrapping their legs and paws about my forearm as I massage-pet them while they stretch and purr, as I draw my nails along their upturned throats and the lines of their their thin lips, which they sometimes open to knead my hand with their strong sharp fangs, with exquisite precision. Our cats will burst into activity out of their keen vigilance of human activity in the kitchen when food bowls are presented, and from there gleefully go frolicking out onto the wooded hillside, delighting in their primordial wildness.

I have had too much knowing eye-to-eye personal contact, and traded too much hand-and-body-to-body personal touch with other living creatures, each with their own warmth, elegance and intent, to ever believe any of us are mere generic behavioral biological machines, though I know that fundamentally we are each unique gene colony organisms whose evolutionary role is to transmit genetic programming for birthing and animating through a lifespan future and always subtly unique examples of our particular kind.

What is not biomechanical about the more brainy creatures, which can include humans, is that we can become aware of our role in the great chain of being, the propulsive urge of life to continue on Planet Earth, by both our conscious actions emanating out of our cerebral cortexes, and our embedded instincts and emotions emanating from our limbic systems, instincts and emotions we share with so many of our fellow heterotrophs.

So, like everyone else I want to continue healthily so I can keep enjoying the greatest show on Earth: life. While I have many many preferences on how other people should think and behave so that show will unfold as I believe best, I realize I have infinitesimal power to mold reality to my vision, and trying to force that conformity can only drive me mad and destroy me. Thus I have to tread that knife-edge between letting go and giving up, and my compass for determining that pathway is how fares the wellbeing of my family.

To frolic like the cats and soar like the hawks with calm and elegant self-assurance, while finally remembering with appreciation long-lost friends as I should, dumping all lingering superficial careerist ambitions of a clueless past, and being grateful for having been able to move the next generation of my family (and others) forward into their own fulfilling independence, is what I now take with me as I look past the pandemic into my own uncertain yet hopeful future.

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ADDENDUM, 25 March 2020

Raymond McConnie Zapater
25 March 2020
FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS MANGO GARCÍA

Dear Dr. García:

Some of us ageing fools can relate to your feelings and past experiences as humane baby-boomers. I also had to dodge the draft for three years while bumbling in North American and European Universities and not being able to shed a 1-A classification. I had to flush the god-dammed card down the toilet to wash out that stain without having to embarrass my Dad furthermore. After the Complutense in Madrid was shuttered and the youthful leaders and “foreign interlopers” of the revolt were chased down by Franco, without considerable funds, I wandered alone hitching rides across Southern Europe and the wondrous Islamic world of Southwest and Central Asia before settling in a secluded hamlet with the Pashtun, deep in the Hindu Kush, “somewhere ‘they’ can’t find me”, hearkening that old song by The Moody Blues. Who would have known then that those valiant, elegant, generous, hospitable successors of the lost tribes of Israel and the Scythian and the Parthian would become the more recent targets of the “bastards from Washington” in their ceaseless search for enemies. Actually, Pashto is a Semitic language with a Persian script.

And, so it went … This long story pertains to all of us rebels of good-will still trying to survive as fugitives in Junk Terror Acropolis even though the Vietnamese people did get rid of the North American hordes and established their own stupid criminal regimes. At least, it was their own bitter wine. I almost vomit when the other night I heard right off in the first episode of Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” that the United States had gotten involved in that genocidal venture “with good intentions”. Even though the sixteen installments that followed belied that initial assertion absent any allusion to it, I couldn’t explain to my thirty-three year old PhD candidate living at home and his mother why the statement was yet another lie by the national security state. It’s unconscionable that Geoffrey C. Ward (the writer of the series) set it forth as a salvo revisionism, and that Burns would allow it if he were paying attention. I had escaped watching that series in honor of my Puerto Rican friends who were drafted and never returned and of one in particular, who, as a green beret, was dropped in a black parachute into the thickness of northern Laos on reconnaissance, but who found for himself a Buddhist monastery, took refuge there and remained to train monks in the arts of modern warfare, so they could defend their communities from the Americanos. Manny was MIA for years during the war until he surfaced in Saigon where he boarded one of the last helicopters out of that quagmire after treading the Ho Chi Minh Trail with other fellow monks and soldiers. Once in the “Land of Liberty”, Manny served five years in Attica (under the Rockefeller laws) for dealing an ounce of pot to a friend turned informant. Thereafter he became a candlemaker and sculptor in San Juan where he died.

After graduate school, my long-standing girlfriend cum wife and I left the perfumed colony of Puerto Rico to settle in Philadelphia where we raised four boys against all odds, and with a little help from our friends. The intention had been to spare our kids a colonial mind-set and still preserve the Spanish language as the Lingua Franca home and country. They are doing pretty good with that. It’s easier to live in the trigger of the Gatling gun than in the target. Puerto Ricans of the diaspora have learned that lesson.

I also walk among the dead especially when I endeavour to visit my one-hundred year + old aunt in Ponce. She is my link with the past generations. I go every three months to see her at a convent of Catholic nuns who look after the elderly. Everyone else is gone: those who haven’t yet among my family, relatives and friends are queuing up with me. The pecking order is up for grabs.

Our boys are strong decent upstanding citizens. They made it through college and graduate school facing their own provocations unlike those contended by their father. Three of them crossed the vastness of North America seeking the promised land in California while the more sensible one thought that the East Coast was a better option for him and his Puerto Rican live-in girlfriend who’s attending medical school. Like you, raising a family alongside their mother has been my saving grace. Who knows how and where I would have ended up? I also loved drugs, sex and cheap thrills not unlike Janis Joplin. Thankfully, my mistakes are solely mine to contend with going forward. I’m chastened by my karma and the teachings of the Buddhadharma, for sure.

Although I have a few solitary retreats under my belt, this quarantine is driving me overboard into the ocean of nirvana and samsara.

Beg your pardon for the long-winded screed!

Allow me to say the following without being trite – I love you!

May you have much health, happiness and a long life.

Respectfully,

– Raymond McConnie Zapater

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Manuel García, Jr.:

Dear Señor Zapater,

My favorite joke on the “Dr.” thing (from the New Yorker): Maître d’ of a fancy restaurant, on the phone: “Yes, doctor, a reservation at 7:30, and may I ask, sir, is that an actual medical degree or merely a Ph.D.?”

Yours is one of the best letters I’ve ever received in my life. I believe what you have recounted would be a wonderful contribution to human (and even Americano) consciousness.

First, your adventure through life has been much more dramatic, exciting and scary than mine. So, I salute you for surviving with such verve and elegance, and I commend you for la familia. You are clearly very well put together, as is shown by your excellent and vivid writing, and by your evident knowledge of cultures, philosophy and life.

My impression of the Ken Burns TV series on the Vietnam War (the “American War” for the Vietnamese) is that the reference in the first episode about ‘America getting into the war inadvertently and with good intensions’ (despite the rest of the series entirely belying that canard) was a sop to one of the Koch Boys, who was a generous financial contributor making possible the production of the series. You know, “and now a word from our sponsors.” I’m guessing that Koch Boy just wanted to plaster his name-tag on an artful electronic edifice he thought might last, and thus be a pedestal to his self-imagined glory. There are a lot of pedestal seekers and pedestal self-polishers in this world; the former throw their money at their vanity, and the latter usually try to write and publish themselves into popular acclaim.

During my time in college, in 1970, I met an absolutely beautiful woman in one of my basic science or mathematics classes. She was very friendly in a most upstanding way, and I was smitten and daydreaming of much closer contact. She asked me if I would help her understand some of the assigned work, which Mister Science Boy was delighted to do. She was a Puertorriqueña, and her English was good, but a second language. We arranged for her to visit my dorm-apartment room one day to get on with this work. Somewhere in the subsequent verbal exchanges over this it emerged that she was married! So she brought her husband with her to my apartment, and we ended up having a wonderful time learning about each others’ lives.

She was enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania (in Philadelphia, your home-away-from-home town!) on her husband’s GI veteran’s benefit, going for a degree in nursing (I think). She introduced her husband: Patrick Murphy. He was a recently discharged Vietnam War veteran, and had become a repair technician for the Sweda Cash Register Company. So, he worked at a wage-paying job during the day while his wife went to college. When I first spoke with Patrick Murphy he didn’t quickly understand me: he was pure Puertorriqueño and spoke minimal English! How the hell was that? It seems his grandfather or great-grandfather had been a US sailor in the Great White Fleet during the Spanish-American War, and had jumped ship in Puerto Rico in 1898, stayed there, married, and fathered children, who had their own children one of whom was this wonderful guy with his family-traditional name: Patrick Murphy.

He was a veteran of the US Marine Corps, into which he had been drafted in Puerto Rico (as you know, Puertorriqueños living on the island can’t vote for voting representatives in the US Congress, or for the US President, but they are more than welcome to fight and die in the front lines of America’s imperialist wars). I thought during the Vietnam War we boys could only get drafted into the US Army, but I was wrong (I’ve been wrong about a lot of things). He told his story. At the boot camp that the Boricua recruits had been taken (I’m guessing in North Carolina) they and the other mainland recruits were lined upon arrival. The Army drill sergeant facing them barked out “All of you who speak Spanish take one step forward! Left face! Forward march!” And there before the line of Spanish-speaking recruits was the Marine drill sergeant.

So most of those boys ended up in the forward deployed combat units of the always-first-to-attack Marine Corps in Vietnam during the height of the ground war (for the U.S.). Patrick Murphy, though deployed in Vietnam, was shunted into a mechanics role, probably because of some manual dexterity aptitude that emerged from his testing, and that exposed him less to the hazards of combat patrols, which along with surviving the various shellings of the bases he was stationed at, got him through the war alive. I would look at his lovely lively wife as we three enjoyed each others’ company, and think “he really deserves her.” Patrick Murphy told me of a common experience of US Latino Vietnam War soldiers on combat patrols during the war: their platoon commander (the usual white First Lieutenant West Pointer or maybe ROTCer) would call out one of his ‘spics’ (Spanish speakers, a.k.a. ‘no-speak-eh-de-inglesh’), like “Rodriguez, go out on point!”, to lead the file of soldiers into the jungle, and thus be the most likely first killed in the inevitable ambuscade by sniper or mine. Patrick Murphy and his lovely wife (Linda?) will always live in my memory of a sunny day in 1970 when we all felt a resplendent future lie just a few years ahead for all of us young Americanos.

My own hodge-podge memorial of the Vietnam War is posted here:

Haunted by the Vietnam War
22 February 2015
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2015/02/22/haunted-by-the-vietnam-war/

I understand exactly how you feel about your mother. Mine is 95, and living quietly, independently and happily in Santa Rosa. I was lucky in the parents I was given: papá Cubano-Español, y mamá puro Boricua.

And now, I must steal from you to complete my reply:

“Although I have a few solitary retreats under my belt, this quarantine is driving me overboard into the ocean of nirvana and samsara.

“Beg your pardon for the long-winded screed!

“Allow me to say the following without being trite – I love you!

“May you have much health, happiness and a long life.”

With deep appreciation y cariño,

Manuel García, Jr. 

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The Conquerors Of America

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The Conquerors Of America

Patrick Weidhaas, a colleague of mine from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and also a colleague from the union group there (Society of Professional Scientists and Engineers) sent me a note saying:

You may remember Ben Santer from the Lab, one of the foremost climate scientists. He just published an article in the online Scientific American:

How COVID-19 Is like Climate Change
(Both are existential challenges—and a president who belittles and neglects science has made them both tougher to address)
https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/how-covid-19-is-like-climate-change/

García’s reactions to Santer’s article follow, as responses to some of Santer’s entirely accurate and admirable statements:

“In the Trump administration, the buck never stops at the top.”

Because Trump does not care about the masses of people anywhere. He is merely the figurehead of a plutocratic-oligarchic faction that sees themselves occupying — not representing — the people of the United States, as in a hostile takeover, as in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It is all about them: their wealth, their take, their bigotry, their personal aggrandizement and their personal safety. All other people are merely impediments, or at best temporarily exploitable resources, like slave labor. As Don Michael Corleone said in “The Godfather,” “It’s not personal…it’s strictly business.” (https://youtu.be/0qvpcfYFHcw) As Don Trump said when he wacked the U.S. pandemic response team: “I’m a business person.”

“And a leader cares more about saving lives than winning reelection.”

Trump, and Biden, are not leaders; they are conquerors. They are on campaigns of conquest for plunder. The lives of the people conquered are not of interest, they are impediments beyond their utility for profitable exploitation. “Reelection” is entirely about maintaining the conquerors’ reign of plunder. That is it.

“And in an abundance of concern for public health, members of the Trump administration should have corrected the President’s misstatements on the seriousness of the coronavirus. Instead, they largely remained silent.”

They made sure to get accurate information for their own safety, and for their insider advantages in stock trading. Their prime directive is: “make money at the expense of everybody else.” Obfuscation and deception to the public are essential to the successes of their conspiracies of plunder. There is no limit to how many “other” people can die to achieve the conquerors’ unquenchable selfishness.

“After years of belittling and neglecting science, Donald J. Trump is suddenly discovering that science is imperative to human survival, and perhaps even to his own political survival.”

For the Conquerors Of America (currently led by Trump and Biden) science is entirely a means for finding patentable items needed and wanted by the masses, so the conquerors can own the exclusive rights to these items and then sell the use of them “at the highest prices that the market will bear.” It is about getting rich off the fears of death by the people, and getting rich off the people’s addictions to drugs and electronics of all kinds. The items the conquerors want their science minions to provide are life-saving and life-extending drugs (“your money or your life” is the supreme moneymaker); and better, faster, more powerful weapons, which can boost the conquerors’ ability to cow and kill rivals and enemies. Their purposes for science are to keep death further away from themselves, to find them novel ways of furthering personal enrichment, and to make it easier for them to rain death down on all others.

“If we truly care about the health of our communities, countries and global commons, we must find ways of powering the planet without relying on fossil fuels.”

“We” might care about that, but our overlords, the Conquerors Of America do not. The conquerors weave their imagined-eternal cocoons of invulnerability out of personal wealth vampire-drawn from the masses, and from their orgasmic fantasies of invincibility.

When all this will change, I do not know; but I fear that if that change ever does occur it will be preceded by a tsunami of blood. It may well be that Pandemic 2020, or a subsequent one, if it readjusts human orientation and behavior across our species for the better thereafter, would be a blessing in comparison to that now-gathering tsunami.

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