How fascinating to watch the sequence of steps leading to your own demise. To look at the clockwork mechanism of destruction tick toward the end. The spring unwinds and the gears mesh and the minute hand moves toward the midnight of our ultimate day. My last day maybe, with good luck. Or, if unlucky, the beginning of wasting away and being draining of life . The Grateful Dead will be more than a hippy band remembered by retro music fans and old men like me. I refer to the headlines my family members have forbidden me to quote. “Russia sharpens warnings as the U.S. and Europe send more weapons to Ukraine”. I don’t need much imagination to visualize my last days. I had the image burned into my retina by movies. The day after, Terminator, Doctor Strangelove, and many many more. Nightmare scenarios but not fantasy. High tech, cutting edge, but not special effects. And too, I was part of the mechanism. I was a gear in the machine of destruction. A cog, a tooth on an escapement, a tiny little part. I saw the flash of a French nuclear explosion in North Africa. I stood next to a 1.5KT warhead in the belly of an Air Force interceptor in California. I made radio direction finding fixes on Soviet SLBM boats in the Atlantic. I was at a putative ground zero at a NATO base in Germany during the “cold” war. This stuff is all real. But to so many people it isn’t. It can’t be!, can it? They don’t want to hear about it. Ignorance is taken to be innocence. Hands cover ears. I have no argument against covering the ears, blocking the news. History is composted news. The fresh stuff stinks, it has the overpowering stench of something to be feared….But, humans can’t be on the edge continuously, thinking “I’m going to die”. The mind has a circuit breaker. The funny farm is full of people with breakers tripped. The combat veteran tells us that you either become numb or loose it completely. Unless you are in my position, our position my friend. Unless you look at the news then avoid it then look again then look away. Unless you dilute it with, Old movies, jazz, physics tutorials, Amateur radio. But even then. Today I talked in Morse code on 14 Megahertz short wave with a Ham radio operator from Ukraine. He was licensed in Ukraine but transmitting from Croatia. Kyiv has shut down the Ham radio hobby in the country. Its too easy for the invader to use it against his victims. I’ve learned to say “NO WAR” in Cyrillic letters in Morse code. But I know for a Russian to agree would make them subject to a 15 year prison sentence. Its real to them. There is a new Gulag now. A new archipelago for a new Solzhenitsyn to write about. Maybe its because I have never lived an insular life. I have kept abreast of the geopolitical news and dug into history for background and context. People who haven’t are possibly finding this current news thrust at them, unbidden and unwelcome. As though reality was intent on ruining their peace. The hands covering ears, attempting to block unwanted information. Listening isn’t a virtue and turning a deaf ear isn’t a fault. These are habits, the way we interact with “reality”. The imagined objective reality. Of course we do not share one world view so who is to say what is what? Me for my little fraction of the greater world. You for yours. A cloud of doom and gloom over my head gives no advantage. The end will come if it does when it will and nothing I can do can alter that. That pop song from years ago should be my mantra, “Don’t worry, be happy”
I think I was looking for mushroom clouds as reference for drawing when I came across this photo from July 1945. An amazingly short time later two Japanese cities were laid waste by these gadgets. I am told that killing 150,000 civilians in a matter of days was NOT a war crime. Because it did a greater good….ending the war, saving lives. Such was the logical argument at the time and its been the logic ever since. Is morality accumulative? I mean, if you kill ten people you are 50% more moral than someone who kills twenty. If there are not grades of morality, a granularity to goodness, then its binary. But killing on orders of your government, that doesn’t count toward your score. Friendly fire. I have always wondered about that term. Hey, I just shot one of our guys! Oh, that was friendly fire, don’t count toward your score. You do need a score card, it gets complicated. The Knights Templar had a logic worked out for killing non believers and they got paid well for it. Eventually they got into the banking business, they had so much loose change.
The author of two iconic novels of the recent century, George Orwell, was in Barcelona in 1937. Those novels were the product of Orwell’s souring on Stalinist Communism, “1984” and “Animal Farm”. He also wrote of the Spanish Civil war he briefly participated in. The work was called, “An Homage to Catalonia”. Catalonia being the last province to fall to Franco. He grew sour on the organized left in part due to the absolute chaos of infighting among the groups. The POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista) organized a militia and Orwell joined it as a fighter on the front lines at Zaragoza. After an injury and bullet wound he returned to Barcelona to find he was being hunted by the police. He managed to escape to France. Right away he started writing “Homage”. I wouldn’t call him a “tourist” because he took big chances and almost bought it by bullet…but he was also gathering material.
So I see a parallel because of the international brigade(s) now and then. A couple of years after Orwell’s experience in Spain Hitler invaded Ukraine. Now Putin has. Sadly there might be another parallel. Russia, then the Soviet Union, had a very dysfunctional military, at first. In part because Stalin had purged the top commanders. Anyone who was a leader was also a threat to Stalin. The Germans drove toward Moscow and almost got there. But, the Red Army, got its act together and turned things around. Somebody recently said “The Russians must loose and be seen to loose” (in Ukraine). The sanctions will help slow or make impossible a turn around in their army in this war. Putin seems to have Stalin’s paranoia. Lets hope it is justified.
As a break from the experts being interviewed about the current war in endless cycles I am listening to a post game analysis of the “Great War”. They called it that, or the “World War” because they couldn’t imagine another. The first world war. Nobody expects we will need bothering to number a third world war. The terror frozen from the moment of the Trinity blast to the present is thawing. The unthinkable is tangible. President Biden points to a cordon, a crime scene tape, around an ongoing crime, a war crime. But it is a barrier to intervention and also a barrier to the unspoken danger of loosing of nuclear genie. The primitive peoples of the Americas, heathens encountered by Cortez, sacrificed virgins in bloody ceremonies to appease the gods. This to prevent their wrath and the ensuing destruction the world.
The war in Ukraine is being reported as though it were a game. The analysists tote up the score and analyze the various team’s game. Several teams contest the field and their fans and supporters are not far away following the action. Today we are hearing that Putin has been declared a war criminal for targeting civilians. A reasonable charge, he is the commander of the forces attacking civilians. But I have a hard time forgetting that civilians were targeted by an American general at the end of WW2. I think the Russian foreign minister Lavrov pointed this out today. There is a qualitative difference between fifty or a hundred and a hundred and fifty thousand. There can’t be a moral difference. I guess it all depends on who the winner is.
I see something. Maybe because I am old. Maybe the perspective of having had the culture shift under me a couple of times. Once a generation and there have been several in my time. I see structure I grew up with being dissolved. The social structure. The social reality. For anyone under forty the US Viet Nam war is history as ancient as the US civil war. Worse than that, the last couple of generations have not been taught or haven’t learned their country’s history. Does that mean they’re doomed to repeat it? They would be anyway, people don’t learn. Circumstances don’t change much and human nature not at all. So I need to disconnect. Following all this without having even the slightest influence is masochism. I don’t need that in my reclining years. My re aligning years. The years I should resign from being a watcher of human history.
I was just out in the tiny house on the edge of the big field. Today it is warm, 55F. The mud shows signs of drying out. Under the stubble and stalks of last years weeds this summer’s weeds are awakening. Thru the big energy inefficient windows I thought about marking a “No Weed Zone” in yellow crime scene tape. Within the zone weed whackers would patrol. The ground is most excellent for growing weeds. An accident of a sort. Where the tiny house stands now there once was a huge barn. It was the largest barn in the county 110 years ago. Its last years were served as an apartment building for chickens. That use resulted in a ton or two of chicken poop. Before the barn was demolished the poop was pushed out and spread. It composted and enriched the soil to the degree we get five crops a year….five crops of weeds. A lot of whacking will be done. A better use of my time than watching the big “game” on the internet.
A couple of related items registered with me today. A high school teacher told a friend of mine that he noticed students now show less empathy. He has been teaching long enough to see a generational change. Specifically he was talking about news that tornados had killed dozens of people in the Midwest. The kids shrugged and said the events were far away and thus didn’t affect them. I can understand that. The news overload I’ve written about. The draining and burnout of empathy. The other item was something on National Public Radio as I drove into town. Anymore I can’t listen for more than a few minutes before something makes me switch the radio off. The affected voice with the up tone at the end of sentences, question or not. Or the vocal ticks each generation seems to have, Like you know? or so. What got me this time was advice on how to avoid a reaction to the pictures of dead babies on your twitter feed. Putin’s tough love for Ukraine sends missiles into maternity hospitals. Seems people here are being upset by the images. Looking away I think was suggested. So… of course there is less empathy. The young are incorporating the callus that isolates us from a reaction to the murder of innocents. Older people look away when it gets to be too much but we still feel it. We feel a powerlessness too. The kids will be better prepared for a nasty world, the one they will own and suffer. There is no other.
But I wasn’t going to talk about any of that…..and yes, I am one virgin short.
The ex marines I hung out with on the sidewalks of Vilcabamba were tough. Not as tough now in their 60’s and 70’s as they were in their 20’s but still somewhat….tough. They didn’t like the pretend veteran. There are a surprising number of these folks. They will buy old medals on ebay and old uniforms and go out on the street asking for donations. “Help a disabled and homeless vet” Not really homeless but certainly shameless. So these grizzled vets have a sixth sense for anyone trying to “steal valor”, the euphemism for this pretenses of having served. Valor is, I guess, doing your job in spite of being scared shitless. So we are on the sidewalk of this little village in the Andes, drinking and telling war stories. Mine are pretty tepid. I never got shot at and was never scared shitless. So try to visualize their expressions when I told them I was at an American air base near Tokyo during the Korean war. Like hawks spotting a mouse in the open they swooped down and pounced. “Bull Shit!” they shouted, “You would have been five years old!” I said, “Yes, I was”, When my father, an Air Force Sargent was sent to Japan, I went too, along with my mother and sister. Why doesn’t anyone think of the tens of thousands of wives and children, dependents, accompanying service members overseas? So what reminded me of Santa when I saw that Korean War era aircraft? It was a Christmas tradition. On the several dozen US bases overseas Santa arrived on the tarmac in a chopper full of gifts. One of the welfare funds purchased the gifts and GI’s fight off homesickness, as they wrapped the presents. I am pretty sure I got a gift that way in Japan in the early 50’s. Then again in Greece and Libya in 1956, and ’57. So where did I see this ancient flying machine? an old movie on YouTube. Something about rescue choppers in the Korean war. Stirling Haden as the tough officer with a heart of gold. Yes, I am taking a break from the “doom” scrolling by watching old war movies. Sick eh? But I always justify myself by coming full circle. Igor Sikorsky was born in Kyiv Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire. He fled west to escape the Bolsheviks who threatened to shoot him. So here is a flying machine fighting the decedents of Bolsheviks, designed by a refugee from Kyiv. Things don’t change much do they?
I thought someone might be banging on the door. It was the wind. The wind lifting and dropping the show shovel hanging there. Hung by a cord. A handle, a lanyard. The shovel didn’t come with a lanyard – I added it. Shoveling snow must send lots of people to the chiropractor. It sent me. With the lanyard I can stand straight and use my left arm, to fling the snow away. Its called mechanical advantage, leverage. The modification helped. The other pains these days don’t seem to have fixes close to hand. Not my hand. No lanyard to yank collective behavior toward common sense. Greased by human nature we slide toward the greasy abyss. Hey, Isn’t an Abyss the head of an Abby? A religious community where they make wine or jelly and meditate several hours a day. No, they spell it Abbess. Do they meditate or do they pray? No, its raptors that prey. Our pond has raptors hundreds of feet above it . They prey on the mice running on mouse runways. Yes rodents have runways. No aircraft but lots of runways. Runways through the weeds or under the crusted snow. Invisible runways. Our raptors are a pair of eagles. Their territory is the air for a couple of miles around the pond. They fish the pond in the seasons it’s ice free. In winter they still patrol the sky but they don’t see fish. They see snowmobile trails. They watch hot blooded youth enjoying the cold, crashing into drifts, getting numb. I remember that. It wasn’t a big deal to stay out all day in my youth in Colorado. Or snowshoe or ski across the cold whiteness of winter. Its interesting that a painter uses blue to show the shadows in snow drifts. A body of water, liquid water, reflects the sky. Also blue. Feeling blue, ya me too. The sky is blue for some reason having to do with optical physics and chemistry. Or maybe its “FM”. You know FM, fricken magic. FM is the reason for everything really. Science just explains in other terms. Gives grad students something to do. For me its time to sketch something for the top of this post.
Elon Musk wants volunteers for a trip to Mars. He has said that humanity is doomed by not having another home, another planet. The practicality of him sending his new space ship to the red planet can be questioned. This in spite of his candor in saying people will not survive. There will be no plan to return anyone. The trip is so much effort that turning around to come back to Earth makes little sense. I think Musk would want to go to Mars regardless of the situation here on Earth, but….he has said the risk of humans making the Earth toxic to humanity is by itself a good reason. Starts to look like some early science fiction where a few of us escape to another world as this one gets toasted. But the best fire prevention is keeping the fire from starting. Easier said than done in the case of total war on Earth. So rockets to Mars will save us? Rocks were one of Man’s first missiles. They were ballistic and deadly when the windage was accounted for. If rockets loaded with colonists are to be our salvation it will be because rockets with warheads were our demise. Our only hope is peace. Going to Mars will not save us. Survival isn’t rocket science – It is the science of peace.
There is good news. The good news needs attention to keep balance. “Ice Out” we call it here in Maine. Ice out is when the crust of ice on the lakes and ponds melts. The cracks and wet spots on the frosted surface of our pond bodes well. History suggests we are still three weeks from local ice out but climate is changing so….maybe a little earlier. Astronomical spring is a week away. My way to mark the start of functional, enjoyable spring, is to take the motorcycle out. Yes only a woos waits for warmish weather to wide. To ride. Thoughts of a trip into Atlantic Canada on the motorcycle have entered my head. Might be on the bucket list. Going over the new bridge would be cool. I would want a camera mounted on the Yamaha to record everything.
That is of course, if I’m still here in the summer.
I watch old movies. Now and then old war movies. This to escape, for a while, the war news that isn’t a movie. Its sort of real, surreal anyway. The news I mean. But the movies are too. The thing about the movies is that they are propaganda. The war was just, the USA wore the white hat, stood for freedom, etc. But objectively the country acted for perceived self interest. As I type this screed I have the fifty inch screen set as window on Kyiv and I watch for flashes in the sky. Its night their. They are eight hours ahead of us here in the eastern USA. The propaganda movies about wars of the past are so different than watching one unfold in front of you. That is something new. But the values cast in these two different views of war stand in such contrast. The raw history and the sculpted heroic history. The one where the outcome is known at the beginning. Then there is the other, where not knowing gives that pit of the stomach top of the rollercoaster feeling. I am sure one of these Tom Clancy types wrote the script for this. I’m just an extra in the production. The cameras are everywhere. I play victim #3459588847498495847 and there are no lines to learn….we just improvise to the end. That will be when God almighty raises his hand and says, “cut”
The “truth” is seldom reality. Objective reality, the kind that is impossible for any human, always differs from any individual reality. And each of us has our take on what is truth and what is real.
The cultural history of the USA over the past half century has landed us where we stand today. A lot of individuals in the United States who were forming “their” reality in the late 60’s and early 70’s distrust everything the government says. Their own government. Another government, the one in Moscow for example, says the opposite of what Washington says….so, logically, its true. Binary is popular. It is either A or B, good or bad, right or wrong. But sadly, most of objective reality isn’t binary, even in simple human perception. Tucker Carlson isn’t a shill for Putin, he’s a shill for Fox Network and for himself. Did he ever say, “I would sell my soul to be a news “personality” I doubt it. These old parables are based on good and evil in binary terms too. No, Tucker and Fox saw a wind blowing in the country and set their sails to catch it. A famous Communist once said, “The capitalist will sell you the rope you hang him with” Fox doesn’t loose money promoting sympathy for Putin or his stooge Donald. Put Donald Trump on camera every night. That might be entertaining, seeing him try to read from a teleprompter. RT, Russia Today, the propaganda channel, now largely shut down, has a slogan…..”Question everything” sounds like Socrates doesn’t it. Nothing pro Russia there. No, its like acid…it dissolves structure. When you’ve been cleaned of your beliefs our newly re-installed stooge and his helpers will tell you what to believe.
Moral ambiguity. That is a bottomless pit for people. Anything short of angels and God and his/her staff will not be able to see the moral compass – it’s needle swings wildly when human societies try to steer by it. Morality is the justification for the Godly side killing the un Godly. Hollywood took the cause of moral clarity as their own in all the wars the USA has fought. Maybe that’s why seeing war as a raw feed on modern media is so weird.
My feeling is that being dominated by the Kremlin isn’t healthy for anybody…not the Ukrainians, not Europe, not even the Russian people themselves. But the Kremlin is in the same business Hollywood has been in. Creating propaganda to remove any ambiguity in the cause. They can go to the extreme and ban words, like war, or invasion. George Orwell didn’t invent the “memory hole” on his own. He was inspired by Russian Communism and its use of language to shape a reality. Victory to Ukraine!
I generally do these posts starting with the graphic. It is usually related to my state of mind. But, with the events coming on so rapidly, I find I am getting overloaded. Which is to say I don’t want to study war no more as the good book says. Its only interesting as an academic subject. Any kind of practical stuff, like conducting a radiological survey, that’s much too close to the impossible, fallout.
Kitty Genovese was a 28 year old barmaid murdered in Queens NY in 1964. Not too much notable or remarkable in NYC for someone to be murdered. What made Kitty’s death become emblematic was the associated reporting. It was said at the time that 38 neighbors saw her being assaulted and did nothing. In the decades since research hasn’t been able to corroborate that number, 38 witnesses. The story became apocryphal and iconic because so many believed that 38 neighbors would ignore her screams. Not wanting to get involved. Fearing some retribution. Fear. That’s the element in everything now. There is added sugar and added salt in commercial food. There is fear in political campaigns. There is fear when the defense budget is debated. Fear in making eye contact or smiling at a stranger.
Can you guess why I remembered Kitty? Fear, yes but also the missing fear. The Ukraine president asks for a no fly zone. Many in the west have taken up the call, yes! Why doesn’t NATO or the USA implement a no fly zone? So what fear is missing in this? You can call it a no fly zone if you want but until you shoot down a Russian aircraft it isn’t one. Until a Sukhoi or MIG is taken out we’re bluffing. When US and Russian pilots are in each others cross hairs we are on a very slippery slope toward Armageddon. That’s the fear and it is not irrational. Same for sending in the military on the ground. The fig leaf of deniability, having thousands of seasoned, trained civilian vets with combat experience fighting for Ukraine, is no doubt going to push things along well enough.
Who can look away? even now. Who will be able to look away when Putin is murdering thousands a day shelling and bombing cities? History will see 2020 as a boundary between epochs. That is if history or historians survive. Extinct animals don’t have histories or need them.
I can look away for brief periods. Going out and walking helps. Sitting in the quiet of the tiny house helps too. Its been two years in the making but the tiny house is nearly done. Its water tight and insulated. It has a nice view of field and woods. I sacrificed a lot insulated wall in favor of big windows. Glad I did. I sat out there a while a while ago. Instead of going over the new bad news in my head I watched a mouse hurry down a mouse path. He didn’t want to be exposed to danger any longer than he needed to be. I guess he had important business down the path. With gas heading for $5 a gallon limiting trips is a sensible policy. He doesn’t perceive his risk any greater. He doesn’t check the news very often. He checks the compost box often. The squirrels do too.
That’s how the world ends. The party seems to be over for humanity. The reckless expenditure of our potential. We could have been creating an Eden. Instead we’ve squandered the wealth the Earth has given us. We creep toward our just doom.
I saw a photo yesterday. On the front page of the NYT. A young family dead at a checkpoint where safe passage was promised. Yes Ukraine. I must learn to look away. I am too old now and maybe that’s for the best. My instinct is to go and fight. Tens of thousands of veterans younger than me will go to Ukraine. The hairless ape has learned so much but nothing about living in peace. Our response to killing is more killing. But how to look away?
I have a friend who covered wars as a correspondent for many decades. I told him about my reaction to the photo. I ask him if someone who is exposed to the carnage as an observer only, a non combatant, develops a callus view, an emotional shield. He didn’t he said. He suffers what he calls empathy overload. He said he was returning to his garden. I will avoid putting any more salt in his wounds, the “news”. His garden is along a river in a valley in the Andes. Mine must be for now a plan on paper. Spring is close though and my thoughts need to leave eastern Europe. Any fighting I do needs to be with weeds and ticks. Nature heals.
The new 24 inch Huion 4K tablet is a lot more useful with the arm I just received and installed. The Huion is at the upper limit in weight for the arm, 15 pounds. There are tensioning adjustments and they have brought things into balance. I can have landscape or portrait orientations, depending on the subject. Still need to find all the controls for rotating the video but its good already. Always a lot to learn. I got the little keyboard dial too. The KD-100 made by Huion. They are phasing it out I think so it was bundled into the deal to get rid of it. It worked for a while but I think the driver stumbled and then the buy me buy me unzip started screaming and refusing to work. When I get the free one working I will try the driver again. Its always something but considering the complexity of all this at all levels….surprising it works at all. I mean, really, there are a billion transistors in the processor! A thousand million little field effect devices, FET’s, the invention that made this stuff possible albeit incredibly difficult.
I can sketch with this thing. With the little 13 inch Wacom one I couldn’t. Or, it didn’t feel right. I would sketch something on paper and scan it, then work on it in GIMP. GIMP is the open source graphics program I use. Strange how NOT having the paper’s “tooth” makes a tablet feel strange. I got used (over 60+ years of drawing) to a drag on the stylus, pencil or pen. Paper at the point of contact is like the floor of a pine forest, lots of fibers matted and a little rough. This stylus on plastic is slick, the friction is missing. Maybe somebody offers a film overlay that restores the feel of paper, the “tooth”. Or I could just get used to this.
Took a walk with a friend. We crossed town and walked among the fifty or so sail boats up on jacks waiting for spring. Not too much longer and they will be lifted and moved to the edge of the harbor and lowered in. At the height of summer Rockland’s harbor has maybe 75 sailboats at anchor. Many more come and go on the highway on trailers. I have one in the back yard. Maybe its days are over. I am certainly not sailing it again. Too old to step that mast as I did twenty years ago. It was fun. I can always ingratiate myself with a local and go out on their boat. I can pay for a cruise on one of the schooners that sail with tourists out of Rockport, Rockland and Camden. Did that years ago, great fun. Sailing the Penobscot Bay in a hundred year old two master, hauled over, scuttles awash….can’t beat it.
We walked without talking about the war. We avoided the subject. Then over wine back at his house it came up. Nothing in this country (USA) isn’t polarized politically. I heard an argument that the USA provoked the Russians. My friend is old enough to have a gut fear of a nuclear war. I am too. I am not sure younger people have it in their gut, that fear, a rational fear. But after a while, as with the virus, I’m tempted to say….f*ck it, bring it on, lets get it over with. Easy for me to say, I’m old. My movie has run most of its length. the credits are about to scroll up the screen. I don’t loose many years. But the kids do – so I am scared for them I guess. I looked up Einstein on Wiki, on his attitude re nuclear weapons. He said if he had known the Germans were nowhere near creating a bomb he would not have recommended to president Roosevelt that the USA start a program to develop one. I think he, like Oppenheimer and unlike Teller, regretted the development of these terrible devices. Human nature is plenty perverse already, these nasty gadgets just make it worse, deadly in fact.