Strictly Personal, 2020

For me, the sustainability crisis — of which global warming climate change is a very prominent symptom — is a moral issue.

The locus of immorality driving that crisis is the nature of our civilization. Undoing that immorality would require destroying all our politics and economics, and abandoning all our ideologies and religions — which are basically just categories of excuses apologizing for varieties of egotistical selfishness and separatist bigotries — and rebuilding our entire civilization from zero on the basis of a homo sapiens wide solidarity and intelligent compassion in harmony with Nature and with a reverence for All Life on Planet Earth.

All other attitudes about the sustainability crisis are excuses to avoid facing it, seeing it as: an economic, or political, or technical, or emotional issue, or opportunity to advance an agenda during the course of its inequitable immiseration of humanity and destruction of the non-human natural world.

Overcoming that crisis would certainly require taking economic, political, technical and emotional actions, but all these would just be tactical aspects of living out a cohesive moral imperative.

Whether such a globally cohesive moral imperative ever materializes into real action is a matter of probability — admittedly quite low — but it is not an impossibility by either the laws of physics nor the limits of human imagination.

And that’s it. No further Jeremiads, ideologically political and revolutionary tracts, self-pitying psychobabble of angst and despair, or jargon-laced obfuscation palmed off as erudite policy statements, are needed.

Face the facts, World, and take the consequences for your actions or non-actions in response. “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Character is fate.

It is interesting that today — 589 years after the execution of Joan of Arc, burned at the stake at the age of 19 by the English for having had visions that rallied the French to defeat them in the Lancastrian (last) phase of the Hundred Years War, and subsequently canonized as Saint Joan by the Catholic Church — that the peasants, workers, wage-slaves and youth of the Earth see their hopes for a just and sustainable future as radiated out by the visions of a 17 year old Greta Thunberg, our Saint Greta of the 21st Century, whose public persona is figuratively burned at the stake by capitalist-apologetic corporate media.

So, I will not berate you further (at least for today).

Escapism being preferable to reality for most people, let me entertain you with the following.

My favorite 50 movies (today, in order of personal preference) are:

#01 Casablanca (1942)
#02 Citizen Kane (1941)
#03 The Big Sleep (1946)
#04 The Maltese Falcon (1941)
#05 The Grand Illusion (1937)
#06 The Rules of the Game (1939)
#07 The African Queen (1951)
#08 Goldfinger (1964)
#09 Seven Samurai (1954)
#10 The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
#11 Captain Blood (1935)
#12 The Dawn Patrol (1938)
#13 The Three Musketeers (1973)
#14 The Four Musketeers (1974)
#15 The Night of the Iguana (1964)
#16 The Moon and Sixpence (1942)
#17 My Man Godfrey (1936)
#18 In A Lonely Place (1950)
#19 Dr. Strangelove (1964)
#20 Catch-22 (1970)
#21 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
#22 Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
#23 Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973; 1988 version)
#24 The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
#25 Hiroshima mon amour (1959)
#26 Stolen Kisses (1968)
#27 Jules and Jim (1962)
#28 La Dolce Vita (1960)
#29 Otto e mezzo (1963)
#30 The Earrings of Madame de… (1953)
#31 From Russia With Love (1963)
#32 Forbidden Planet (1956)
#33 Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
#34 The Crimson Pirate (1952)
#35 Women In Love (1969)
#36 Betty Blue (1986)
#37 King of Hearts (1966)
#38 The River (1951)
#39 La Vie Extraordinaire de Lola Montes (1955, the Nov. 2008 restoration)
#40 They Were Expendable (1945)
#41 The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
#42 Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
#43 Yellow Submarine (1968)
#44 The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
#45 North West Frontier (1959)
#46 Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
#47 Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)
#48 L’Atalante (1934)
#49 The Producers (1967)
#50 Rodan (1956)

I like many more films, and numerous of those could easily be inserted in the above list.

Books/stories/plays I read (or re-read) between ~2017 (most since 2019) and 2020 include:

John Keats (Selected Poems, edited by John Barnard)
William Wordsworth (selected poems)
Sky Above, Great Wind; The Life and Poetry of Zen Master Ryokan (Kazuaki Tanahashi)
The Cid (play by Corneille)
Phaedra, and Andromache (2 plays by Racine)
Tartuffe, The Misanthrope, The Miser (3 plays by Molière)
Moby-Dick (Herman Melville, re-read)
Bartleby The Scrivener (Herman Melville)
Benito Cereno (Herman Melville)
Le Père Goriot (Honoré de Balzac)
Cousin Bette (Honoré de Balzac)
The Wrong Side of Paris (Honoré de Balzac)
The Human Comedy, Selected Stories (Honoré de Balzac, edited by Peter Brooks)
Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert)
Sentimental Education (Gustave Flaubert)
Three Tales (Gustave Flaubert)
Bel Ami, and 98 of Guy de Maupassant’s short stories
The Plague (Albert Camus, re-read)
The First Man (Albert Camus)
All Quiet On The Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque)
Wind, Sand and Stars (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
The Drowned and the Saved (Primo Levi)
The Periodic Table (Primo Levi)
The Upanishads (Juan Mascaró)
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones (Paul Reps, re-read many times)
Japanese Ghost Stories
– (Lafcadio Hearn, edited by Paul Murray; have read earlier Hearn books)
Siddhartha (Herman Hesse, re-read)
Magister Ludi, The Bead Game (Herman Hesse)
F. Scott Fitzgerald (all 5 novels and most short stories)
My Wicked, Wicked Ways (Erroll Flynn, re-read)
Earth Abides (George R. Stewart)
A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter M. Miller)
In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed The World (Ian Stewart)
The Invisible Invaders, Viruses and the Scientists Who Pursue Them (Peter Radetsky)
The Best of Medic In The Green Time; Writings from the Vietnam War and its Aftermath
– (Marc Levy)
Catch-22 (Joseph Heller, re-read)
Catcher In The Rye (J. D. Salinger, re-read)

Three more items:

#1 I am now 100% introverted, and never going back to extroversion.

#2 My special skill is shutting people up, with the truth.

#3 The mark of superior people is the ability to acknowledge the achievements of others, especially those they wish they could have done themselves. Few have the courage to do this.

Life is a gift; Have fun; Be kind.

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Magic Mirror of You All

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Magic Mirror of You All

This is my Roseanne Roseannadanna equivalent of a response to the many skeptical good-hearted people who have replied to any of my scribbles.

Thanks for writing and sharing your own memories with me of the ‘good old days,’ whose madness by luck we both managed to survive. Such recollections by others help me sharpen my own memories, and improve my interpretations of my old and often confusing experiences. Learning never stops for anyone really intent on living.

Maine I loved (like you), Wes Montgomery records I have (like you), piano lessons I took for years in my adulthood (instead of your clarinet), music is a touchstone for me. Hippy I never was, though I let some coeds who insisted I was to keep thinking so because it was better for me that way. A lost world, 1969. I loved some of everywhere I’ve been, some of everything I’ve heard, some of everything I’ve seen; and some of that love was only realized long, long after the ‘now’ of the original experiences.

In fairness to you as you make your corrective judgments on my words, let me share my biases: between Guy de Maupassant and Anton Chekhov, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, I prefer: Maupassant, Fitzgerald, and Camus.

Since I haven’t worked for anybody in a long time, have no career ambitions, no reverence for authority or wealth, nor interest in any ideology or religion; no need for recognition, attention, ‘honors,’ votes or even “likes,” and have nothing I can be blackmailed for, I have devoted my external interests to presenting the truth as I find it.

In doing so, I have learned that no rational argument can overcome an irrational belief, and that religious fantasy in a myriad of forms is part of every human personality. And that is why COVID-19 is “just a flu,” anti-pandemic masks are “loss of freedom” while guns make you free, vaccines cause autism, and the televised American Fatima on 11 September 2001 was a divine revelation bestowing on the souls of true believers an instantaneous graduate degree in engineering and physics. Amazing grace.

I don’t argue: people believe what they want to believe, facts don’t matter.

Why? Because it is part of a person’s self-image and self-definition, and protecting that from modification against the pressure of cognitive dissonance can be achieved by fashioning psychological armor against reality out of fantasy. People don’t reason, they rationalize.

Humans have always made sacrifices to propitiate the gods — the powers beyond them and which control them — to help them live through their fears; and that is why they invented those celestial potentates in the first place: whether elevated on Mount Olympus, or by the Electoral College. And the sacrifices?: their minds.

So, yes, I know I am embarrassing and annoying (and wrong!). I make no apology.

From my earliest days, I realized that people, generally, are very inattentive; in a word: unaware. They amble blithely in their personal little bubbles oblivious to all that lies outside them. They babble loudly in their little groups in cafés without any thought to disturbing the people around them. They drive their cars with minimal notice of traffic, bicyclists and pedestrians. They have an unfailing ability to not-notice you if they are waiting tables or behind a counter you are in line in front of. There are just an uncountable number of ways that people can not-see, not-hear, not-notice and not-know. Of course, sometimes this not-noticing is intentional, arising from laziness, envy, fear or hostility. But, most of the time it is just simple short attention span mindlessness.

Because of the commonness of human narrow-view, short-focus bubble-vision, coupled with perceptual insensitivity, communications are often garbled, incomplete, misdirected, mistimed and ineffective. Who is without complaint on this score, whether at work, at school, among family and friends, and out and about in public?

Millions have been painfully and pointlessly consumed unseen by such blanket unthinking ignorance, like with the Vietnam War, whose discarded memory in the United States has been given the finalizing punctuation of a Black Wall past which the untrammeled unchanging national amnesia and human-reduced-to-robot OCD proceeds locked onto the almighty unending ‘grab.’

So, I have learned that it is necessary to be quite redundant in my verbal and written communications: repetition is the essence of pedagogy. Repetition is the unavoidable necessity of successful communication. So, when I want to ensure that my message is received by another consciousness, I repeat myself: in the speaking of the message, in the writing of the message, and in the repeated sending of the message.

Those who notice this repetition easily form the impression that I am “old,” and even “dumb.” But, I have made the calculation that it is acceptable to be taken for a bit of a clown if that ensures that the messages I care about have been effectively transmitted.

The messages I care about are those that will make for better lives for my children, and also all children; even though I think most American kids (and adults) are spoiled brats. But, “man is a social animal” (as Aristotle said), and the second best way to ensure a good future for my children is to advocate for a just and peaceful society of benefit to everyone.

This motivation has led me to advocate for the left-wing political causes and candidates I’ve written about. Astoundingly, advocating for a real response to global warming to cut off the Sixth Mass Extinction (which includes us) is branded by the status quo as beyond-the-pale radical left-wing extremism!

Sometimes in giving out my truths (the rational) and opinions (the somewhat less rational), people smile at me (agreeing), and sometimes their assholes pucker (disagreeing), but usually I glide through a human sea of not-noticing — both conscious and unconscious. I have plowed up a mountain of embarrassment before me, and I trail a wake of relief behind me. And, I don’t care. Transmission gets through (as best as it’s ever going to).

I have high hopes for the new generation resplendently buoying up the revitalized identification with “socialism” in America. But, I also have no confidence in the character of the Americans who see themselves as part of the establishment, or who fool themselves into believing they are entitled to its privileges by dint of their heritage and attitudes. It is disheartening to realize that Donald Trump can claim 74 million Americans as devoted fans.

Former president Jimmy Carter is correct to say that the United States “no longer has a functional democracy,” because incorporated Big Money can and has bought politicians and elections, so that the vast bulk of the public has little impact on government policy, which they are paying for in money, blood and impoverished futures for their children. And, all that sacrifice subsidizes the obscene corporate looting of the public commons, and the subversion of government to the service of very selfish and destructive special interests.

Even so, the remnant of democracy that we still have seems able to produce political figureheads for the oligarchy, whose dismal characters do reflect the embarrassing reality of the dominant traits of the American electorate: morally weak intellectual mediocrities who are tolerant of corruption, sloppy to the point of incompetence, and cravenly selfish. Not everybody, and for most not all the time, but in aggregate just too much.

If this were not so, Bernie Sanders’ mildly utopian mildly socialistic vision would have been implemented long ago. The opposition to the political visions of Bernie Sanders and young champions like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and “The Squad” is really of the same type as that before 1865 to the vision encapsulated in the 13th Amendment. I like to believe that the socialistic vision of Eugene V. Debs through The Squad will eventually prevail in the United States, when the evolution of the aggregate character of the American people finally arrives at the requisite “higher level.” But, it’s so damn slow getting there!

So, for my outnumbered fellow rational thinkers and fatigued ethicists, let me leave you with this summation by W. Somerset Maugham (himself quite a flawed and compromised human being — and who isn’t? — but also a much better writer), from his 1944 book “A Writer’s Notebook”:

“There is a nobility which does not proceed from thought. It is more elemental. It depends neither on culture nor breeding. It has its roots among the most primitive instincts of the human being. Faced with it, God, if he had created man, might hide his head in shame. It may be that in the knowledge that man for all his weakness and sin is capable on occasion of such splendour of spirit, one may find some refuge from despair.”

And some of those ‘occasions of splendour’ have been sprinkled randomly on me through unexpected letters.

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Photo:

Laura Williams
19 June 2013
https://www.flickr.com/photos/laurawilliams_x/9732914426/

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The Smoke Rings of My Mind

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The Smoke Rings of My Mind

I landed in college as a green wide-eyed freshman, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (NOT Penn State!), in September 1968. This was an explosive year, to my mind the most pivotal one in the United States since 1945. My dorm room was in a short cul-de-sac second floor hallway of the large antique pseudo Oxford-Cambridge style ivy-festooned stone masonry men’s dorm quadrangle building off Spruce Street.

I felt really good to finally have gotten out of the prison day-camp Catholic boys high school I’d been in for 4 years, and out of the nice suburban North Shore Long Island town my family lived in during my adolescence (before that being in New York City); and I had a brand spanking new draft deferment that I thought would insulate me from the carnage of the Vietnam War, which was at its peak at that time with the Tet Offensive.

In fact, Lyndon Johnson’s televised speech with the surprise announcement that he would not seek reelection in November 1968 happened two days after my 18th birthday, after which I had to troop down to the post office and register for the draft. That didn’t feel too good believe me, because I’d watched the news and read the papers daily all through high school. Those were my “Greta Thunberg” years, 1964-1968: from the Bay of Tonkin con-job and 1965’s Marine invasion of South Vietnam — “escalatio” as Tom Lehrer called it — to Tet, erupting on January 31, 1968, and pulsing through three bloody phases that year; when I was dreading the fucked-up situation the adults were shoving my way (you know: die for us, it’s good for “the country”).

My own priorities were: #1, study engineering so I could become the next Enzo Ferrari and build my own sports cars; #2, find receptive female companionship to find an outlet for my raging testosterone levels; and #3, stay out of Vietnam. I was not wise as an 18-year-old, I was NORMAL, having been instructed about women (“girls” was the pre-feminist term used then) by Beach Boys songs (those cherub troubadours of the white colonial culture of the Occupied Territories of Mexico’s northern part of Baja California) and Sophia Loren movies.

In the decades since then I’ve come to realize how difficult it is for women everywhere, and most certainly in the United States with its huge proportion of knucklehead males, to accept becoming the “second mothers” to so many needy fake-macho lunkheads: pickings for good husbands, mates and sperm donors (drones in the Bee World) can be slim for so many alert and intelligent women.

But, in the fall of 1968 I was feeling good and with high hopes. I burrowed enthusiastically into my school work and got on the Dean’s List. Three of us in our hallway were socially awkward and stayed in at night from lack of alternatives and fear blunting initiative. Besides, all the coeds had lots of upperclassmen to pick from and who owned cars and had money to spend. So, Joe Williams invited two or three of us to listen to his Bob Dylan records (note: using a plug-in electric machine that played vinyl discs to produce recorded music sounds).

Now, I had heard all the pop music of the day every day before that, because I had gone to my somewhat distant high school in a carpool driven by a neighbor boy’s father (a NYC fireman with rank, so lots of time to call his own), in a Ford Econoline van (a very cute unsafe-as-hell design), and Robert (the son) would put on the radio for every trip. Beside hearing it all in this way (the grating falsetto Sherry Baby too, too many times, but the Rascals on “Good Lovin’” was the best), and outside school it was so easy to hear spillover sounds from radios playing everywhere. At home I listened to the classical music and Spanish Zarzuelas (operettas) so close to my heart. So, by September 1968 I knew about Dylan’s hit songs up to that point.

But, Joe Williams said we had to hear Dylan the right way. Joe turned us on to grass: marijuana. We would sit up through the night listening to Dylan’s 1965 and 1966 albums: “Bringing It All Back Home,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” and “Blonde on Blonde.” We laughed our asses off totally stoned listening to “Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35” — “everybody must get stoned!” — yeah. It was so hilarious to read the “adult” press on this, where the experts saw in this song a deep poetic cry of alienation. Man, the adult world is just one big blivet of puffery.

I had heard all the popular folk music during its period of prominence, which coincided with the Civil Rights movement from about 1961 to its crescendo in August 1963 when Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed his dream to the nation and world from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (which is my favorite single building in Washington D.C.), until its triumphs with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

At that point Bob Dylan checked out of the topical political protest folk singer-songwriter role he’d mastered, and moved on artistically. No creative person can stand typecasting. Dylan’s early career in pure folk music was masterful, but I wasn’t into folk music. I turned onto Dylan when he went electric. For me a good song has both good words (even poetry) plus lots of really good instrumental music. And this essay is, believe it or not, about that.

Bob Dylan went on tour in 1966, backed by a 5 piece rock band, 4 of whose musicians (except the drummer) were a longtime group that would emerge on their own in 1968 as “The Band.” Dylan was booed at all his concerts in Europe and at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, as a “traitor” to the pure folk music style his earlier audiences had typecast him into. Even his pals Pete Seeger and Joan Baez were put off. Why?

In the late 1930s, Frank Sinatra exploded into popularity because he revolutionized how pop music was delivered to the fans. Earlier singing phenomena, like Bing Crosby, knew how to croon with projection to make up for the deficiencies of the crude electrified public address systems of the times, if one even existed in the halls they sang in. By Frank’s high school years (which he bailed out on) microphones and amplifiers were improving significantly (“modern” hi-fi equipment was finally introduced by RCA in 1941).

Tony Bennett has perceptively pointed out that with this new equipment Frank Sinatra did not need to project, so he “made love to the microphone” and sang in a very intimate style, and which every listener in the dance halls and over the radio broadcasts felt was delivered just to them, person-to-person. The Bobby-Soxers went ape-shit over this, a mega-scale precursor to the Beatlemania of 20 years later.

This is where Frank Sinatra was a pivotal figure in the evolution of broadcast popular music: he had that smooth melting crooner’s voice (and had even taken voice lessons from an ex-Metropolitan Opera vocal coach), he had lovely breath control (much learned from Jo Stafford, listen to her meltingly wonderful “The Nearness of You”) with which to fashion long lingering phrases, and he had that intimate emotional and yet cool even vulnerable at times feeling, which he conveyed so convincingly.

Bob Dylan’s folk music was conveyed to his initially small audiences in just this intimate way. Even without a P.A. system, a non-projective (non-operatic, non-Irish tenor) style of singing was just fine in the always small coffee houses and folk clubs of Greenwich Village in the 1950s and early 1960s. And of course, Dylan’s albums from 1961 to 1964 carried his recorded intimate-delivery folk music far and wide.

Now, the American folk music of the early ’60s was nothing like the polished hip big band standards that Frank Sinatra put out, but even at its most angry, and ‘protesty’ and ‘shouty’, the folk music of those years was essentially intimate (think Phil Ochs): it spoke to the personal feelings for and dreams of social transformation in each of the audience members, and with minimal acoustic instrumentation. Those songs were usually not stadium-sized sing-along sonic-boom anthems like Freddy Mercury’s “We Will Rock You,” even though Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-changin’,” and “Blowing In The Wind” sort of became ones.

So by 1965, Bob Dylan was typecast by his folk fan base as “their” intimate public voice. But by then Dylan had gotten stoned and was now deep into making group electric music for being stoned. That was the first pop music that could burrow into your stone-cave and light up the panorama movie screen of your stone-mind with its soundtrack — for so many of us lunkhead males, and also for plenty of girls (sorry: women) as I soon learned from direct experience —: the blazing folk-rock of Dylan in 1965 and 1966: “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” and “Like A Rolling Stone.”

The poor folkies who wanted to be aurally cuddled by their post-Beatnik second daddy folksong troubadour wailed about their Big Brother’s abandonment of them. This is where Bob Dylan is a pivotal figure in American (U.S.) broadcast popular music: his was the folk-blues phantasmagoria of proto-rap lyrical torrents cascading out on streams of blazing hot blues-rock electric music that engulfed the newly stoned minds of the emerging adolescent and young adult nymphs, and the innocent drones and satyrs scheduled as cannon fodder for the Vietnam meat-grinder. That was me.

In 1969, I lost my deferment (2S) and was classified as ready for war right then (1A), because of some screw-up where it was reported to the draft board that “my” grades were failures. For those people any boy Garcia was the same person, so I get pegged with someone else’s failure. When I called the draft board to complain about this clerical error, telling them I could send them a copy of my dean’s list letter from the school, the old lady scarecrow on the phone just said to me “once we start the process we just keep going.” Up to 1968, 50% of the Vietnam War casualties among U.S. soldiers were Blacks and Latinos, always sent out “on point” by their white-boy lieutenant platoon commanders ‘leading’ their men, from the rear, into jungle ambuscades (I heard about such things from first hand recollections by Puerto Rican veterans who survived their 1960s in Vietnam).

So I basically lost my mind, desperate to achieve my goal #2 before being done in by a failure to meet goal #3; and I kept up my studies in the hopes of being ultimately able to proceed with my career ambitions to do engineering and science in a creative way, should I survive. I eventually lucked out by getting a very high number in the draft lottery of December 1969, and so I was passed over for being inducted into the U.S. military.

And during those years of 1968 and 1969, I listened to much music designed to accompany being stoned: Dylan, Doors, Janis Joplin, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, and even Crosby Stills and Nash. Janis and CSN were favorites in the girls’ dorms (dorms were segregated by sex in those days, so making an overnight stay involved careful planning and inside help to pull off, like a bank heist caper). I learned much about all this music from the young ladies — all of them far more socially aware than me, keenly informed about pop music, and all very bright — who accepted me into their group company to listen to records at night.

After 1969 I started becoming an adult, but that is another story. Last tip: put Crème de menthe into your bong instead of water, especially helpful with hashish.

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The Connected, and The Unmoored

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The Connected, and The Unmoored

I saw the sunrise, from pitch black to clear light over the canyon rim this morning. An owl was hooting before the light, the air warming as the dark faded. Heard the birds wake up and each begin its chatter; the hummers buzzing over my head to inspect me before tanking up at the nectar bottle. The turkeys gobbled confidently from across the canyon.

Made French Press coffee. Watched our cats play, stalking and chasing each other on the hill as morning light expanded. We later ate some simple cold cuts, cheeses, bread, pasta salad; cool water.

I played, stumbling with some exponential functions, trying to simulate CO2 buildup in the atmosphere (55.5 million years ago, and also again today), a perennial project. Seems pointless to tell people about it, but it keeps my mind occupied, and I’m curious. That CO2 and its growing heat will be with “us” for centuries, a millennia? (who cares?).

Went out a few times to look at the day, which was lovely, with only a subdued hint of ash haziness from the fires up north. My mother is living with us for a while, waiting it out. She told me of her grandmother who raised her, who was born in the last days of Spanish rule in Puerto Rico, before the 1898 takeover by the Yankee Conquistadores. My mother wishes she could buy the platanos to make pastelón, like her grandmother used to make for her in Río Piedras.

I thought of my father, who would have been 96 on his birthday during these early days of October. I remember the stories he told me of his father’s childhood, spent with his father sheepherding in the Cantabrian Mountains, in the very early years of the 20th century: stories of facing off against prowling wolves, armed with long wooden staffs and Great Pyrenees mountain dogs, of drinking wine from the bota, of wild strawberries, and bagpipes.

Watched a nature video from 26 years ago, about Caribbean sea life, so lovely then. Had Caprese and guacamole (with tortilla chips) for supper, both made to perfection; I handwashed the dishes.

Watched a video (from 30 years ago) on the life and art of Mozart; I always have tears well up when I hear the Lacrimosa.

Life is short, and there is so much to do, so much to experience, even for us lacking the talent, grace and insight of a Wolfgang Amadeus, and I see none of what is worthwhile in the close-in noisy opaque bubbles everyone jams their heads into to plug up their senses with the flickering trivialities and remote dramas of the moment.

The owl, the birds, the turkeys, the cats, the critters who keep out of my sight (but not the cats’s), and later the crickets at night, they all know what is happening at any moment every moment. They have to, to eat, to stay alive; for them paying attention is the essence of living, but so is napping in the sunshine, which they all in their turn do so luxuriantly.

We can be so pitifully disconnected, and most of us always are, for we just don’t notice the whole world changing: drying, melting, burning, receding, dying. It’s no wonder animals look at us with such amazement: “how could they be so clueless?” There’s always a reason I guess, a crisis of the moment, to not get out of your head and wake up to the flow of the world; but that’s just tragic: death. It’s also why people feel so alone, because in fact they are alone in desert bubbles, befuddled, lost castaways, wired to artificiality: empty static.

I realize I’m an anti-social socialist, a hermit socialist, “out of the loop” in every way for sure. And I need to be, it’s best.

My boy black cat — Buster — will bump into my leg at night, when I’m out looking onto the deep sound of the unseen. He understands of course, his connection to the primordial is undimmed by civilization, his wisdom is locked safely in DNA that has been 25 million years in the imprinting, and I appreciate his encouragement.

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Burning Thoughts on the Sonoma Fires

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Burning Thoughts on the Sonoma Fires

The map shows the fires in Sonoma County, California, USA, during 2017-2020. These were/are all big. My mother had to evacuate in 2017, and stayed with us for 10 days. Today (28 September 2020), I went to get her and bring her here again.

I monitor the internet to follow the progress of the fire (the Glass-Shady fire of 2020 – now – is 0% contained; it started about 2 days ago – see the red blotch). This year I know of 8 people – 5 directly and personally – who have had to evacuate from fires: in Sonoma and Solano Counties, and in Oregon. Many fires in Western America right now, and they occur from earlier in the year, and more frequently, and last longer, and are bigger, with each succeeding year.

Other regions and nations have their own increasing environmental degradation trials and tribulations: droughts, heat waves, crop failures, locusts, storms, hurricanes, floods. My thoughts about all this are rather dark, as reflected in my recent writing.

The gems to be found in all these hard events are the generous and kind actions individuals can take on behalf of others, very often strangers, to help them get through the difficulties and losses. I was fortunate to have two such people help my mother (who is 95) in the first rush to evacuate yesterday. The fact that people, as individuals, can be so decent is what keeps me from condemning all of humanity (being a total misanthrope) because human society has been so adamant to continue failing miserably when it comes to seriously addressing global warming climate change.

In this, my attitude is similar to that of Jonathan Swift, who said he cared not for human society, but appreciated John and Tom and Dick (I paraphrase) because of the very thing I just described: stellar individuals (even if just occasionally so) live among a society we curmudgeons find morally bankrupt, and their good actions are momentary redemptions of that reprehensible mass.

This outlook makes it basically impossible for me to find any interest (or waste any time) on the many frivolous concerns of others, and which are often most on display on that frivolity of social media: Facebook. Sorry about that.

My appreciation for the beauty and organic complexity of Nature remains undimmed, but my interest in the minutia of the daily drama, or the silly entertainments of the last 15 minutes (with shelf lives of 10 seconds), is zero. I can’t help looking at American society as reenacting the fate of Captain Ahab and his crew, so obsessed with their delusions that they could not wake up from them even as they were being drowned by them.

The Romantic in me wants the Next Generation to float free from the doom we’ve programmed ourselves for, like Ishmael floating free atop Queequegs’s coffin; and refashion the World aright. The Realist in me is not so optimistic. But I don’t feel it is fair for me to criticize the Next Generation, whose elders – as American Society – have so basely used and poorly provided for. I had a decent shot at life, and did what I did with it; now it’s their turn, and they should be free to make their own choices, and learn (hopefully) from their mistakes (preferably enjoyable ones) just as I and my predecessors did (well, some of us did).

The Romantic Engineer and Artist in me knows that tackling Climate Change – which means entirely transforming human society worldwide – would be the greatest adventure, and moral and social uplift, that our species could ever have in its history as part of Life-On-Earth, if we “all” had the Zen-like satori (awakening, AHA!) to motivate a joyful coming together to achieve that purpose in all of its many dimensions: personal, political, social, economic, technical, moral, intellectual; the fullest expansion of human potential for everyone.

The Realist in me scoffs at this flight of fancy by the Sappy Curmudgeon, but the Romantic in me still wishes it were not entirely a hopeless dream. Others, I know, have particular and detailed wishful fantasies for our Future, and I have few quarrels with most of them. But I think the simplest life of fulfilling work (self-assigned), safety, security, health, happiness and freedom for artistic and intellectual pursuits; with Nature secure in all its beauty – on this Planet! – is my ideal.

My mother is now afraid that she will be threatened by fires every year. This should not be so, she should be able to live tranquilly tending her roses without such concern. That our governments and societies will not do anything — as we should for the rest of human history — to eliminate such fear (which many people now have) has led me to cancel any sense of allegiance to them, or respect for “the institutions.” Like Jonathan Swift.

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Having Children

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Having Children

The experience of wanting, having and raising a child is beyond all theories: legal, political, sociological.

Those who are alert become awakened and attuned to connections between ourselves and every other living entity, and every cycle of Nature.

Thus, in having children we cross a boundary, and those left behind that boundary, including your old self, are not capable of understanding.

This is not to blame them, it just is. The childless continue with their old lives within the confines of their fixed Idea Bubbles (which always seem infinite to their inhabitants), while the newly parenting-‘us’ launch into a new — and last — phase of our lives within new Idea Bubbles, which are vastly expanded for the alert, or narrowed down for the simple.

In both cases, one has come to intuit — to feel beyond words — deep connections with the past and toward the future.

And, no explanations are necessary.

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Moon Gliding Over a Time of Stillness

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Moon Gliding Over a Time of Stillness

The Moon rose large over the forested far slope of the canyon, shining its cool reflected effulgence from a pastel blue evening sky down through faint high wisps of nebulous mist and into the otherwise invisible water vapor filling the air to glow with a plush soft burnished halo around that majestically floating orb of crisp ghostly luminosity bringing to sharp silhouettes the forms of branches and leaves interposed between us, as an expansive polyphony of sparkling birdsong gradually diminished toward silence as pools of darkness swelled to merge into a night stillness cored by a tunnel of clarity between that Moon’s silvery pockmarked hemispherical surface in vivid sharp relief, and and my enchanted eyes.

The myriad meshed wheels of the unimaginably vast machinery of the Heavens and of the Earth, from the astronomical to the subatomic, continue their many cycles indifferent to the stoppage of humanity’s wheels of thoughtless contention, what we call civilization, now brought up short by the collision of all our ambitions into the stark terror of an erupting plague, a pandemic of an uncontrolled, evasive and pervasive deadly virus. Many of us hide from each other hoping to avoid chance and fatal infection, and waiting fearfully hoping for the conjuring of a magical medical salvation soon, it can never be too soon. Others hide from reality burrowed into their shaky fantasies of imperviousness and longings for illusions of self-importance, angrily protesting their mandated self-incarceration from a now shattered and scattered society, an anger that is really the roiling surface of the deeply suppressed realization of being inconsequential and superfluous. And then there are those who walk through the undefined extent of the valley of death each day: to battle the virus, attend to the sick, bury the dead; or forced by the needs of their own survival to labor blindly through the pervading pestilence; or moved by a higher calling sacrificing themselves to be of service to others.

For some it is a time of being terribly tested and of exhibiting great nobility, for others of being cravenly malicious parasites taking advantage of a prostrate humanity. It is a time when the contours of authentic merit and of the foulest degradation within the usually amorphous mass of humanity are brought into the sharpest contrast by the glaring light of pandemic circumstances. It is a time when the best hold solidarity with all and affirm life, without denying and being disheartened by the indeterminate inevitability of death. It is a time to savor the great and mysterious gift of life, of consciousness along a stream of time; but in truth it was always that time, now only sparked into many minds by the viral invasion of our human meshwork of flesh, blood and behavior.

How should I conduct the uncertain continuation of my survival? In what form will humanity emerge from this winnowing, and when if ever? I suspect this pandemic is but a skirmish in a much larger and longer war against the unrelenting forces of overstimulated entropy, evolution and extinction. Human consciousness is an evanescent field of scintillating glints flashing off the rippling surface of the deep black night of nonexistence towards which our human world of tragic innocence, of blithe self-absorption and of damning hubris, inexorably drifts.

Millennialist dreamers, both romantically religious and technologically ideological, envision humanity’s future to be a unanimous transformation of attitudes and behaviors that coalesce as a new self-perpetuating good life of affluent coexistence, a hoped-for transformation of our civilization prompted by the finally awakened realization of its self-caused catastrophe of increasing inhospitability to our form of life, as well as to that of many other organisms, by this Planet Earth.

I would wholeheartedly welcome such a transformation, but I suspect such a desirable outburst of human behavioral evolution as the endpoint of our old paradigm inflecting into the gateway to an imaginary new utopia, will never occur. I expect the actual finish of our human world will be, metaphorically, as the ending of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick: The brute force of Nature stoves in our obsessive, exploitative, narcissistic, predatory collective boat and it plunges to oblivion, with Tashtego — the “native” worker whose life was a struggle for survival against extinction, by being carried along as an underling in the Great White Conquest of the Living, to Gain Wealth — climbing the sinking mainmast in a vain attempt to evade engulfment, and finally — as the last gesture possible from the Earth-connected people of his kind — nailing the American Sea Eagle bannering master-race illusions to the mast-top, so it too would vanish with those it had entranced, and those enslaved to that entrancement, to their self-imposed and necessarily collective doom.

But why give oneself over to such thoughts, even if ultimately true? One’s life will have its extent, and between its dawn and dusk spans a spectrum of opportunities to apply one’s energy and talents to the creation of beauty, dignity, truth, healing, and noble connection, all independent of fate’s hazards and happenstances. It is from each individual’s weaving of all these efforts that whatever fulfillment is possible for them will be found. And the commitment to this attitude forms the center of gravity, the stillpoint of a calmed awakened mind, of a life of balanced openness and worthy purpose though immersed in the endless uncertainties, luckless cruelties, and constant flux of unfolding existence.

The Moon has arced far across my night thoughts, dispelling my illusions of judgement and knowledge while infusing me with a wordless sense of acceptance, of trust, in just being. In this I may have finally achieved after seven decades the intrinsic wisdom of my self-assured night-ranging cats, of my feisty day-flitting hummingbirds, and of all the lovely Sun-soaked non-human life I will see and hear all along my wooded canyon when day comes. Life continues by being, not wanting. It is only our wanting that is extinguishing itself in the flood of its own excesses, and there is no necessity that we extinguish ourselves by only being our self-absorbed wanting.

A White-throated Swift twitters at the first blush of eastern light, rippling the once glassy surface of the evening silence as the cool ghostliness of moonglow fades into the dusky shadowless twilight before dawn, and a Chestnut-backed Chickadee then lilts its pulsating greeting to the day seeping up from the horizon into the sky. Goodnight Moon.

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Letter to a Good Father Despairing of the World

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Letter to a Good Father Despairing of the World

Is Malachi your first child? I’ve known a few men, including myself, whose “eyes were opened” to the total interconnectedness of the world both in its physical dimensions as well as in the psychological and ‘metaphysical’ ones (depending on how you define the intuitive and non-material dimensions one can experience but not put into words), by their awakening to first fatherhood.

It is because of my concerns for the wellbeing of my children, now all adults, that I made my efforts to do more than just “make money” or “do my job” or “be successful” or just “have a good time.” I’ve seen some profound transformations of character for the better in men who fell in love with their first fatherhood and who saw the actual wonder of the little beings that had been entrusted to their care. I find such examples very heartwarming.

As infants we start out shamelessly and blamelessly grasping for all our needs, wants and desires; and as we grow older we slowly expand our horizon of concern to others — that is most of us with any decency. For some men, as I’ve noted, that expansion can be sudden and profound with their becoming fathers. Such an awareness and care for an other can then expand into a concern — the Buddhists would call it compassion — for the rest of humanity, especially the young, the helpless, the struggling, the unlucky and disadvantaged, the poor. And for those of us with such an enlarged feeling of compassion — some call it socialism — and who have a reasonable degree of personal security in this life, we can express that feeling as political attitudes and activism: from ‘do-gooder-ism’ to manning the barricades of “revolution.”

Sometimes our acting on the impetus of our extended compassion can help bring about real practical improvements to the lives of others beyond our own family members. But certainly not always, and for many of us not often at all. But such efforts are worthy even when impractical and failures because at least they elevate our own personal moral character, improve our own personal behavior, and such improvement even when “inconsequential” and “invisible” to society beyond our own families, or even beyond our own minds, is nevertheless a contribution of goodness to the civilized world because it at least represents an absence of negativity that we could otherwise have manufactured and emitted into the wider world. To put this mathematically, contributing zero — neutrality — is always better than contributing negativity: harm, degradation, parasitism.

But, it is always more than zero because: it feels so rewarding to extend good to others; it is so satisfying to extend love to those we care for. The emotional “reward” is intrinsic in the act of giving love, not in “getting” something: attention, praise, “gratitude,” or ego-gratification. The radiance of love is all in its giving. And the giver gains by the improvement of his character, which is the afterglow of that gifting of love.

And that experience is what can sustain you during the inevitable hardships life will toss at you. Individually, our lives may turn out to be “failures,” even luckless tragedies, but in those moments when our minds are not overwhelmed with racing thoughts while dealing with some crisis, we can reflect on the instances when we reached the peaks of cosmic consciousness — unseen by anyone else — while caring for our children, especially in their youngest years, and we can recall those instances of profound satisfaction that we gained by enacting our compassion and love — what the Buddhists might call “merit” — and feel justified in this existence however indifferent or even cruel it might be for us at the moment.

So, while I would certainly be thrilled to have been able to “change the world,” or even know that one action of mine made some small yet definite contribution to a significant societal advance and improvement, I can’t let the fact of this being quite unlikely to cast me into total despondency. As fathers we each know at least a few people whom we can help make life better for, and that is all the difference between despairing about human life, and celebrating our conscious experience of it.

In the Jungle Book stories by Rudyard Kipling, the various animals and the wolf-boy Mowgli who would acknowledge each other’s existence with respect and in some cases affection would say: “We be of one blood, ye and I.” And that is the essential and primordial reality of Life On Earth: the Buddhist “interconnectedness of all things,” the Gaia of the ancient Greeks and now of the Western New-Age Romantics, even the biodiversity of the deep environmentalists. This realization is as old as our species, our modern homo sapiens ancestors during the Ice Ages painted it on cave walls in France and Spain, and without doubt our remotest primate ancestors knew this even before they mastered the use of fire. Alan Watts said: “Man is something Nature is doing.” Awakened fathers see in the wonder of their children a reflection of themselves as expressions of that totality.

So, yes, we can all easily grow weary — “old” it’s called — contending against the selfishness and stupidities of people, the inhuman tyrannies of enslaving economics, and ultimately our flames will go out for lives are finite. But we each can experience some of what is authentically eternal, the totality of being, just by being good fathers and caring people. And that is all the difference between “saving your soul” and having a satisfying life, or of having a thoughtless, soulless existence lost to money, things, ego and materialism, and of dying without ever having experienced really being alive and profoundly aware of it.

I know Malachi will enjoy his day at the beach with his father.

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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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