Sunday in the Sun + 17 December 17

Sunday in the Sun 17 Dec

It’s becoming difficult not to look at events in the United States over the last two years as a kind of autophagia, but over the last two weeks, the impression has been almost overwhelming – and the need to turn and look away in disgust has become as overwhelming. Decent men everywhere, if there is indeed still such a thing, have looked on in August, self-righteous horror as, like falling dominoes, the mighty have fallen – yet the timing of all this strikes me as a little odd, a little too opportune. Then the spectre of a candidate for the United States Senate refusing to concede defeat after a special election, surrounded by his legions of the evangelical faithful, telling his acolytes that the country is being engulfed in a morass of moral relativism – all the while denying he’s been up to his elbows in fourteen-year-old girls. I’m tellin’ ya…you can’t make this stuff up, and it would almost be funny if it wasn’t so surreal.

Our president, our fearless leader, now denying he ever made those comments about “grabbing pussy” – even as audio tapes and witnesses call out the lie of his words. We have, as president, a pathological liar – and yet there isn’t a Republican out there who will stand up to the man. One or two will issue veiled references of his incapacity to lead – then shrink away into the night, and so this red-headed autophagic monster just gets bigger, eats his way into the body politic with each new impulse on Twitter, leaving our most sacred traditions as nothing more than a waiting smorgasbord for his pathological delight. And yet, we stand by in mute disbelief as he shits the remains of all that we once held dear all over the White House lawn, and then calls it snow.

This Republican Bonfire of the Vanities is burning down the house, and all the rest of us stand idly by, simple collateral damage. The tax cut bill, a scam that will benefit corporations and billionaires, is a setup, a pretext to gut social safety nets enacted during the New Deal, so now Republicans dance with glee in the aisles – after they cash their checks and get set to retire – while Democrats slink away into the night, still clueless after all these years.

The Democrats are deep into their own autophagic rituals now, too. After eight years of W the United States would have elected someone, anyone other than a Republican, and so they anointed the one man who would alienate the vast majority of white men in this country. When his time behind the curtain was up, and after much hand-wringing, they came up with the second person most likely to alienate white men, aka Hillary, and then after her shellacking conclaves of Democrats could be heard asking “why did we lose the white vote?” You can hear refrains of “we’ve got to win back the alienated white vote” as Democrats gather at the temple of inclusiveness and put forth yet another platform dedicated to the proposition that the transgendered among us need to be able to go to the bathroom wherever they want. I mean, hey, it’s not like we have serious socio-economic dislocation going on, with legislatively sanctioned structural inequality overturning seventy years of progress after each new Republican bill sails through Congress – unopposed. No, Democrats are asleep at the switch one more time, proving once and for all time they are no longer a party to be reckoned with, ready to be consigned to the ashbin of history. Just another people who failed to live up to their ideals, let alone our ideas.

There’s this decent Democrat, Uncle Joe Biden, who just might have been able to pull it off. Get the party back in the hunt, so to speak…but no, he’s already been shown the door. There are women waiting in the wings, waiting for their turn under the lights now. Cultivating their angst, tearing down what’s left of us, watching with smiles, and tears, waiting for the checks to roll in. Maybe after eight years of Trump, we’ll be ready for that ride again, but somehow I doubt it.


I love this image. Read about it here.

20 thoughts on “Sunday in the Sun + 17 December 17

  1. What an awe inspiring photograph. My grandfather came from the Dolomites as a child in the 1890’s , from a village called Zoppe di Cadore, in the shadow of Mount Pelmo. The main street is named after my family (everybody in the village was related, and there were three branches with different surnames). It had 1000 inhabitants when he left, and under 300 now. The menfolk burnt charcoal in the winter, and made and sold ice cream in the summers at Lake Como. Relatives are still prominent in the industry and people of that name have recently been head of the European ice cream manufacturers organization.

    The clincher for me is the Milky Way. I started out in astrophysics, and did an observational dissertation to help establish the Big Bang theory. Basically measuring the temperature of the universe. Had to move to another field as it was at the end of the Vietnam war, and no NSF funds for 1971 and for years after. I found a niche, but away from telescopes, and made out OK. I once wrote a poem about cosmic rays, if you can believe it..


      • Well it was not more than a dozen lines or so; for that at least posterity will thank me. I haven’t shown it to anybody since I put finger to keyboard maybe 15 years ago. I think I can find it, and if it isn’t too very embarrassing I will let you be the first to experience my cosmic musing. Promise not to ban me from your site!


  2. Oh, and I wrote one about the very interesting runaway star that served as the light bulb behind the interstellar gas clouds I was studying.most (absorption spectrocopy of diatomic molecules—looking at the rotational spectra and getting temperature from the Boltzmann distribution. Was able to show that the microwave background radiation was at least approximately a blackbody. Also was first to detect C-13 in interstellar space. Not everyone can claim that.) Had a pretty good grad student experience, I must say.


      • Oh yes. I have long wanted to make a clunky piece of jewelry—a 3D cluster of tiny LEDs driven by a random generator (lengthy shift register with feedback through an XOR gate) embedded in smoky acrylic, a dusty nebula to put the viewer into a trance.

        Also, too, another poem from the era of the biggest inauguration of all time. (Had I but known, I could have worked in a rhyme of ‘Trump Tower’ and ‘golden shower’)


        When our South and south of the border
        are no longer fit for human kind,
        when the seas engulf our coasts,
        Florida’s peaks fathoms deep
        or tiny hopeful islets,
        we will look to Trump’s Tomb,
        a golden pyramid atop Trump Tower,
        waves licking at the umpteenth floor.

        What a legacy he left us:
        our mad max country,
        first of the Fourth World.

        When Trump met his Maker,
        it was not a pretty sight.
        His Final Judgment most voters sought:
        and so God called him in.
        Tweets Trump, ‘My actions unreviewable,
        never to be questioned.
        So-called Almighty? No right to judge.
        So sad.’
        ‘Yes, it is,’ God agrees, as he tees Trump up,
        keeps His eye on the pin
        way, way down hill.


      • This thread has gotten snarled, and may take an Alexander to unknot it. Replying to your query about whether I would publish it online, I am ambivalent since the inspiration waxes and wanes. Am off to China for an actual sightseeing adventure finally after more than 30 trips there on business. Off next week to Guilin to see the karst hills, the rivers and many minority areas for a couple weeks. Beautiful country, the place of mystical, mythical landscapes impossible to believe real.
        I first thought to call the political stuff A Depressed Fracture of the Soul, but now lean toward A Wreath to be Laid at the Tomb of the Unwanted President. I have some fairly hostile political verse (if it may be so called). A couple examples (and please tell me to stop when I have become tedious)

        Great Expectations

        We were told God loved America.
        We knew it to be true.
        Was He bored, just now, sitting at the club,
        shooting the shit with his old pal Satan?
        How about a little bet? He asks,
        You know, just like the last one.

        Trump said there’d be jobs coming out our ears,
        bigly, yuge,
        (he told us we’ll say, Oh no, Mr. Trump, too many jobs!
        Too much winning! Please stop it now.)
        when he assumes the position
        of commander-in-chief,
        El Caudillo de Mar-a-Lago.
        [If you catch the vulgar Latin drift,
        a little piece of tail.]

        But He meant Job,
        the Old Testament Job
        who couldn’t catch a break.
        That was Job 1.

        There are 300 million now of us,
        all losers to immiserate.
        So many, boils will be in short supply
        — lines around the block.
        Trump’ll sell us all red shirts,
        so no one sees the blood.

        But the lucky-ducky off-shore Muslims
        who want so much to visit,
        are happily spared the torments
        their American cousins now must brave.
        Basta las visas.

        When the Cubs won the Series, it was a portent.
        Now this.
        Welcome to dystopia, you Untied States of America,
        you brave new idiocracy,
        soon home to Hunger Games,
        pay-per-view on TrumpTV,
        in just a year, on Trumpflix.

        The teeth of 100 million snarling jaws
        reaching towards Trump’s throat.

        “How does it feel, Mr. Pr*sident,
        to have the teeth from a hundred million
        slavering jaws vying to tear out your throat?’
        Trump tweets, ‘Fake news.
        It is at least 300 million I’m told. Reliable sources.
        Those stories terrible. Buy some tic-tacs. Very sad.’
        … …
        Two hundred million hands,
        gloved in latex,
        impatiently lined up
        for Trump’s prostate exam…

        I could go on, but a little bit of Hemingway-an despair seems appropriate just now:

        ‘It tastes like licorice,’ the girl said and put the glass down.
        ‘That’s the way with everything.’
        ‘Yes,’ said the girl. ‘Everything tastes of licorice. Especially the things you’ve waited so long for, like absinthe.’

        ‘I wanted to try this new drink. That’s all we do, isn’t it – look at things and try new drinks?’

        Hills Like White Elephants — Ernest Hemingway


  3. You asked for it. Here’s one from my depressed period after the election, in response to a Billy Collins poem about a Hopper etching that I saw in Vanity Fair that November. This is my response (I’ve wanted to use that hokey ‘shards of broken dreams’ for ages.)

    Bloody Hell

    Do you want to end your days alone
    in a shabby room
    that only Edward Hopper might love,
    living on cat food,
    cutting your feet bloody
    on the shards of broken dreams?

    That buzzing, blinking neon sign
    out the window there
    keeps you forever
    on the edge of seizure.
    The feeling of a welcoming abyss
    yawning just before you;
    a gentle nudge poking
    at your back; a Siren call
    from cop cars down the block;
    a crowd below shouts, ‘Jump!’

    Can we talk you
    off this ledge?
    Find you somebody to love,
    if only a cat to share a dinner?


      • I am still tender from 9/11: my son was downtown that day (but not THAT close thank goodness) and called to tell me he was safe and too to turn on cable news. One of his friends nearly got crushed by one of the landing gear from the second plane. My brother-in-law was hit by debris and suffered head injuries, a broken jaw, a ruined ear. In a coma for two weeks. Yes, it hit hard.I wrote about the summer before last. An excerpt:

        Early, and Close, Encounters
        .:. 1 .:.
        Mr. Cowham, you are the eggman, two dozen a week,
        maybe a capon, or a laying hen for soup.
        Always a kind if Vermont-brief word,
        and feathers for us kids when asked at hallowe’en.
        I don’t recall a walrus, or being one, not then.

        Just before retirement, Mr. Cowham drove a new blue Chevrolet,
        nineteen-fifty-eight it was,
        the year before those Chevy wings took flight
        in autocar iconography, and informed all of Calatrava’s buildings ever since.
        You know the one I mean specifically,
        that transport hub downtown hoping to make us
        think something positive about 9/11 going onward.
        Repeatedly downscaled; its final form a shadow.

        I could tell you of that morning: no one close killed,
        but still a damn near thing, with a broken jaw, a broken ear, a broken head,
        two weeks in coma with no one the wiser,
        and that was just my wife’s brother.
        My son, down there that day, freaking out,
        called to say he’d survived. I then turned on the TV,
        just in time to see the second tower fall.
        He was a little uptown, thank the lord, so had had a head start.
        There is yet a poorly patched hole in the wallboard upstairs from that day,
        from the second plane (my foot as proxy), whose wing wheel nearly smeared
        my son’s friend’s life into those mean streets downtown.
        Close, and close enough.

        It was then I became a walrus of a sort, on the soft couch beach, for seeming months,
        cable news on, day into night,
        till there was other news again.
        Then suddenly one morning, maybe at 5, who but Martha Stewart,
        green bean recipe in tow (steamed with tomato and garlic, perfumed with basil)*
        came on to rescue me.
        First scheduled programming in weeks.
        That recipe etched itself inside my eyelids;
        no need to write it down.

        We were going in to see ‘Urinetown’ that strange September day.
        I have always claimed I had ceased to believe in the perfectability of mankind,
        and wore glasses, not of rosy tint, but yellow.
        Having just had cataract-clouded lenses fixed, I can attest it’s true.
        (I am reveling now I can again see blue.)
        In the end, I claimed New York as forever my home city, my New Jerusalem,
        the one that won that day the so-called war on terror, before it ever was declared.
        I am forever proud of these my kin,
        looking not outside for vengeance,
        but to each other,
        together then, an undivided front.

        Later, Jon Stewart asked us, ‘Are you OK?’, when his TV show returned,
        a decent and a caring man. [the clip is still on Youtube]
        OK? I was not then, and still not quite.

        Oh, the recipe, I did sorta write it down.
        *My Savior Recipe
        In a good sized sauce pan, heat some oil,
        extra virgin (the volcano god that haunts the stovetop has his needs.)
        Add a garlic clove (well-abused or smooshed),
        a good sized plum tomato in eighths or twelveths and cook.
        Then a pound or so of green beans, tipped and tailed;
        a nice big sprig of basil to sit on top;
        salt and pepper as you like, red pepper if you please.
        Cook on low, with cover on,
        to steam till beans’ heart-cockles cry out, ‘Hold!’.


  4. Send all you want…I’ll read what you share…but the point remains. These are a howl of rage and despair, the music of our age, and your words should be shared beyond this small corner of the universe. If you like, I’ll post them here and let more people read them, but I think you should post them yourself. Perhaps AFTER you return from overseas…
    Until then – safe travels, and keep in touch.


    • Hey I found my star poem. It’s about the Big Bang. There is a magnificent composite photo visible and IR that shows the clouds being shoved by the shock wave of its trajectory. I guess I can’t embed an image here, so here’s a link.
      zeta O is the bright star up in the eyebrow. The NASA text explains it all. There are two clouds we see its light through, one at -14 kM/sec, the other at -29 kM/sec relative to the local standard of rest. If you want the gory details, my short and relatively equation-free dissertation is found at
      Best damn thing I ever wrote.My first draft was twice the length and had half the substance. Took a year to beat it into shape. It’s actually readable and and perhaps a little interesting to some curious people.

      and the poesis:
      Haydn had his ‘Surprise’ symphony; this is mine, after a fashion.

      ζ Ophiuchi

      To Arab navigators sailing dhows,
      it once was known as Saik, the Driver,
      though few men know this
      in the GPS now.

      My star Saik is very rude,
      a heedless runaway,
      driving through clouds,
      pushing bow wave up ahead;
      wake left in its passing,
      spinning fast,
      barely holding tight its starstuff,
      a Dervish caught in trance.

      An observer though,
      seeking grace
      beyond the beauty of its path,
      can piece together that old, odd tale
      of how we came to be.

      It is young still,
      just three million of our years,
      bright blue and simple,
      just a light bulb one can use
      to measure some thing
      in the clouds it buffets.
      In that sparse cold, in microcosm,
      two-atomed species spin,
      to tell there still is left a remnant
      of the first titanic Clap. [at ‘clap’, narrator strikes hands together loudly]


      • Back in ’67 – ’68. The coude focus spectrograph there is magnificent and damn fast. Dispersion 1.3 Angstroms/mm on the plate (yes, two 10 x 2 inch glass plates, Kodak IIA-O emsulsion sensitized by a magic known only to an anointed few. The plate holder is curved so the plates conform to the focal plane. There were several cameras (as they were called in the huge chamber) with catwalks and handrails since the plates were open Despite the tawdry image, it is not what you think.
        till the slides on the holders were pushed back in. Thank goodness my kinesthesis is pretty decent. Switch, open the new holder and set up the next exposure. and off to the dark room. Actually someone has to fine-guide the stellar image on the slit the whole time, and on a good seeing night exposures were typically 30-40 minutes. Had an integrating light meter picking off some light just outside the slit.

        Once I spent the night with Werner von Braun, we never slept a wink!
        Despite the tawdry image, it was not what you think.
        The night was foggy; the humidity high,
        The dome could not be opened, so we coped in other ways.
        He had come to see a telescope, the Hubble just a glint in his eye.
        The kitchen staff was all a-twitter, ‘He’s come to take our prize!’

        So we chewed the fat, and he explained translunar insertion trajectories and so on to my boss and me. I still have his sketches somewhere. He was very pleasant, despite the Tom Lehrer song. Wrote us a nice letter thanking us for our time.


    • Did you know that James Lick is buried in the pier of the 36-inch refractor? Also, at the coude spectrograph there was a plate changing room where some wag had placed a sign over the changing table (no, not that kind!) that said ‘THE EAST IS RED’, and it was true.
      Those were glory days: I was in NY half the month and out in Cal for two weeks, one observing, the other walking in the sierras. Once a radio astronomer buddy of my boss at UCB (a pilot) got the assignment to ferry a piece of IR gear to the White Mtn high altitude observatory and lab above Bishop. So plane rental (Piper Cherokee)was free. Going there from Hayward we flew through the Yosemite at the height of the rim at sun up. OMFG! Then we were met at the Bishop airport by a turbo-charged helicopter, and we flew up the side of the mountain. That was a ride and a half.Then we walked up into the Cathedral Peaks for a few days. On our return, we had to wait all afternoon for the temperature to drop for takeoff. We came into Hayward at night, and on landing, the nosewheel collapsed. But John, our pilot, got us up, and made a miraculous two-point (plus only a little tailskid) landing. We went to look at the runway to see what was what, and found
      a three-inch deep gouge in the tarmac. Luck and skill. Last time ever on a light plane. On the way back to John’s house, I was in the back seat, and we were discussing near death experiences (or rather they were because I had only this one). There was a small cubical box on the seat nect to me that sounded interesting when I shook it.. ‘Hey John, what’s this?’ Oh, he answered back, it’s my mother-in-law’s ashes. You simply can’t make this up. My boss then told of his one and only skydiving jump. He must have been high on something more than just the altitude. He said he thought the D-ring didn’t open the chute, but found himself on the ground alive anyway. Then on the way back home he saw an elephant. Was he delusional, or just pulling our legs? Interesting evening. It later turned out that that club plane hadn’t been properly maintained, so no pilot error, as we had observed. Never anything like this again. Except maybe a stupid takeoff from LaGuardia through a thunder storm with bad wind sheer. And getting struck by lightning in a 747 on approach to Beijing in the nineties. Or the time going to Beijing during the SARS epidemic with 6 fellow passengers on a 747 in 2003? No cases up north they said. But on the weekend I was returning home, the Chinese govt admitted they had 700 cases in hospitals all over the city. There are no words.


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