Out of the mist, Mr UD emerges…

… gazing at one of many 2022s scratched into the sand, and wishing his sister a happy new year.

Poem

WASH

People are drawn to nothingness

Here on the coast at the end of the year
The horizon makes itself disappear
The banner planes are gone the gulls are gone
It's nothingness to which people are drawn

The sand is smooth the blue umbrellas went away
The noisy white boats that nose up and say
Ladies Night at the Bar and Grill are not missed
People are drawn to nothingness



The lifeguard stands are standing down
Calm waves make the only sound
Portugal  Africa  None wonder anymore
What lies along the other shore

Really all that's left is us
Drawn so hard to nothingness

Packs of winter scarves and coats
Black against the gray of the coast
Praising the sacred empty space
The misty mystic vacant place

People are drawn to nothingness
‘Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist’ has long been UD’s favorite book title…

… with its lyrical meter and meld of sentiment and science. Not that she’s ever read it – she only now, googling it, discovered it’s a novel, and not a long personal essay as she had all this time (pub. 1982) assumed. She had all this time assumed it was an end of life – or deepest night – dirge on the deepest themes: For creaturely beings, we know a lot, but we really know nothing; or, anyway, our cosmic knowledge, full of violent immensities, mainly frightens us.

In the other direction, the microworld pulses with pandemics; or, as merrily we roll along, masses against our hearts.

*******************

As in this brief night thoughts essay by a neuroscientist recently diagnosed with heart cancer.

I was absolutely white-hot angry at the universe. Heart cancer? Who the hell gets heart cancer?! Is this some kind of horrible metaphor? This is what’s going to take me away from my beloved family, my cherished friends and colleagues? I simply couldn’t accept it. I was so mad, I could barely see.

David Linden spins his anger, puzzlement, and despair into an intriguing riff on the permanent propensity of humanity to project eternal life. No real night thoughts, no real December 31.

I cannot imagine the totality of my death, or the world without me in it, in any deep or meaningful way. My mind skitters across the surface of my impending death without truly engaging. I don’t think this is a personal failing. Rather, it’s a simple result of having a human brain…

[B]ecause our brains are organized to predict the near future, it presupposes that there will, in fact, be a near future. In this way, our brains are hardwired to prevent us from imagining the totality of death.

… I would contend that this basic cognitive limitation is not reserved for those of us who are preparing for imminent death, but rather is a widespread glitch that has profound implications for the cross-cultural practice of religious thought. Nearly every religion has the concept of an afterlife (or its cognitive cousin, reincarnation). Why are afterlife/reincarnation stories found all over the world? For the same reason we can’t truly imagine our own deaths: because our brains are built on the faulty premise that there will always be that next moment to predict. We cannot help but imagine that our own consciousness endures.

Or, as a much earlier (1745) night thoughts thing (“The Complaint: or Night Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality”) has it:

As on a rock of adamant we build
Our mountain hopes; spin out eternal schemes,
As we the fatal sisters would outspin,
And, big with life’s futurities, expire.

“I can’t believe this needs to be said but the BBC should not give a platform to people accused of child sexual abuse.”

Everyone’s having a field day [‘BBC: Who Better To Break Down Ghislaine Maxwell Verdict Than… Guy Accused In The Same Matter?‘] now that the BBC has chosen to interview Harvard’s finest, of all people, about his buddy Ghislaine’s guilty verdict. (See post below this one.) Whodathunkit?

To be sure, Dershowitz fully exploited the big fat opportunity the BBC gifted him with to protest once again his own innocence in the child sexual abuse game. Yeah yeah tough titties ’bout Ghislaine but did you notice I’m still out of jail? See what a good boy I am? You wouldn’t put an eminent Harvard professor on trial for child sexual abuse, would you?

Maxwell Verdict Not Very Good News for Harvard’s Finest.

A jury found claims against Epstein/Maxwell persuasive. Maxwell will spend a lot of time in jail. Let’s see if things heat up for Alan Dershowitz.

Congrats, USA. You’d never see this on the streets of Paris. Or really in any of the world’s cities. But American exceptionalism now means burqa/open carry on the streets of Philadelphia.

And do we ever take open carry seriously. Look at the poor mayor of America’s current deadliest city, Jackson, Mississippi! Desperate, he tried getting rid of open carry — and the state came down on him like a ton of Glocks.

As for burqas – they’re banned in much of Europe, but babe this is the land of the free! Banish the thought.

Les UDs leave for their traditional Rehoboth Beach New Year today.

View from our balcony.

Another dishonest move in the defense of putting three year old girls under hijabs.

An opinion piece writer begins by noting the specific controversy – the act of putting toddlers under hijabs – and then, in response, says only that “donning the hijab is an intimate matter of choice for most Muslim women in the West.”

Even if I grant that this writer is in a position to know that most Muslim women in the West freely choose the hijab, this is irrelevant to the matter at hand, which is whether a three-year-old chooses to wear the hijab.

As UD often says, you are getting absolutely nowhere if you refuse to engage honestly in this issue. Big majorities of populations all over the world, when asked, tend to vote to outlaw burqas and restrict hijabs. That is clearly, empirically, their choice. It is at odds with the choice of many Muslim women. And as for the choice of three-year-old girls, I think it’s just as empirically clear that in this matter they don’t have any. These are the facts with which you must deal.

End of Year Poem.
    DECEMBRIST

    It's the old annual end-times go-round
    When the revolution goes up in flames
    And everyone flees to an assisted
    Living facility.  But not you.  Yet.
    Checks still go out to the truly needy
    Which must mean that you yourself... You're young still
    In some senile way and unprepared to
    Abandon the ramparts and call the
    Revolution ended. 

                End-time subversiveness
                Mainly involves mantras. Surreality
                Of Everyday Life remains popular.
                A far remove from Here at Senior Sylvan Retreat You Are
                Never Alone.  Alone is what I want!

        Alone I can work out another New Year --

 Reckon up lost ground, lost troops, morale issues.

********************************

My basic animal spirits are sound. 
Born lucky, raised lucky, lucky in work
And love, I pause in the hallway, steady
My mug of tea, and undergo full-body gratitude.
From a winter poem by Weldon Kees.

The room is cold, the words in the books are cold;
And the question of whether we get what we ask for
Is absurd, unanswered by the sound of an unlatched door
Rattling in wind, or the sound of snow on roofs, or glare
Of the winter sun. What we have learned is not what we were told.
I watch the snow, feel for the heartbeat that is not there.

Remembering Joan Didion, who has died.

I wrote about her on this blog a few years ago. Here’s what I said.

*******************

I’ve been reading Joan Didion’s Blue Nights – her chronicle of her daughter’s death and her own aging – on this flight from Phoenix to Baltimore. It’s kept me occupied. We land in fifteen minutes.

I like Didion’s mournful chant, her brief, much-repeated litanies. She plays the “blue night” idea (we want to think of our lives as long summer nights that never darken) beautifully through the text. Her constant rounding back to painful motifs and memories cuts a deeper and deeper circle of implication, the prose grinding down until we’re surrounded by very dark canyon walls.

It’s poetic prose, stating and restating its symbols, making them a dirge. She’s troubled, in the text, by her technique of indirection, but she needn’t be. Solemn poetic dance is the best way to get at this stuff – in particular, the ridiculous tendency to believe in the permanence of life and health and happiness, “this refusal even to engage in such contemplation, this failure to confront the certainties of aging, illness, and death.”

Returning, as I am now, from seven blissful days in Sedona, Arizona, I could almost assume this ridiculous tendency myself. The sweet spot: Didion’s eye travels over that long moment when her life achieved the sweet spot: Love, vocation, money, friends, glamor, fame, seaside Malibu in bloom… It’s rare for anyone that things turn out that well, and that they turn out that well for any length of time. Didion had this; and inevitably her book dwells on that delight, wonders if the recollection of the delight can sustain her.

She doesn’t think it can.

UD will cop to sharing with her a failure, so far, to confront certain certainties. She does, though, Didion-style, circle around them a lot.

The darkening to black of the blue night. It’s happening just outside UD‘s window right now. Maybe it’s not so much about not confronting it as not knowing how to play it (play it as it lays) – this bizarre concurrence of sweet and dark.

I know what I do. What I do is – like Didion – keep moving, keep feeling gratitude and love and excitement. The red rocks shine in the short blue night and I passionately respond.

********************

The sun cannot change, writes James Merrill to his just-born nephew in Little Fanfare for Felix Magowan:


It’s earth, it’s time,
Whose child you now are, quietly
Blotting him out. In the blue stare you raise
To your mother and father already the miniature,
Merciful and lifelong eclipse,
Felix, has taken place;
The black pupil rimmed with rays
Contracted to its task –
That of revealing by obscuring
The sunlike friend behind it.
Unseen by you, may he shine back always
From what you see, from others.

The foreground of one of Joanna Soltan’s best paintings…

… is a MoMA box, inside of which is a Bodum Assam Brew teapot for her.

Because our family Christmas in Boston has been cancelled (covid), Joanna’s

vestibule will for some time remain clogged with tons of mailed gifts.

(We have all of them sent to her, and then wrap and distribute them.)

Since MoMA’s box isn’t shy about announcing to Joanna that the

teapot she requested is indeed to be found right inside that specific

package, the whole what’s inside the wrapped gift thing is kaput.

So UD has granted her permission to open it and start brewing, pre-

Christmas.

As a tea fanatic, UD can only imagine what it’s been like, staring

at that beautiful teapot day after day and being unable to use it.

‘He went on to offer detail about his financial arrangements with the Wuhan university: A portion of his salary was deposited in a Chinese bank account and the remainder — an amount he estimated as between $50,000 and $100,000 — was paid in $100 bills, which he carried home in his luggage.’

Plus “I didn’t declare it, and that’s illegal.”

UD has already, uh, sung the praises of Harvard 大人物 Charles Lieber here. He has now been found guilty (max. sentence five years) of

two counts of making false statements to the U.S. government about whether he participated in Thousand Talents Plan, a program designed by the Chinese government to attract foreign-educated scientists in China. They also found him guilty of failing to declare income earned in China and failing to report a Chinese bank account.

See, you’re not supposed to take millions and millions of OUR dollars for your scientific research and secretly subsidize it with millions of dollars from our rich, interested-in-our-secrets, non-friends.

But for UD the real fun here is the whole vulgar bag-man thing, the image of Hahvahd lugging its piles of dirty cash onto airplanes. Will the TSA discover (sweat sweat) the C-Notes in my Louis Vuitton steamer trunk?

************

It’s very University of Miami… And yet a closer look at Harvard yields Jeffrey Epstein’s stable of over-age girls, Andrei Shleifer’s Moscow Adventures, Larry Summers’ hedge fund presidency, etc. Let’s not give ourselves airs.

UD’s Little Town of Garrett Park Struggles with an Embarrassment of Riches.

The next segment of the [Town Council] meeting is action items — those that require a vote of the Council. There was only one, but a big one: introduction of the mid-year changes in the town’s budget. Before the vote, the explanation and discussion went on for more than an hour. The big picture is that the budget adjustment deals with what to do with the unexpectedly large carry-over of funds from the previous fiscal year ($480,000 rather than the $70,000 forecast in the initial budget). Despite the large carryover, the mid-year adjustment includes no change in projected tax revenue. The other big item is that the town has now received over $500,000 as the first chunk of funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), to be expended on as yet undetermined town projects…

From this month’s Garrett Park Bugle.

UD’s Little Urban Denizen…

La Kid, beams beneath a holiday display in sunny Washington, DC.

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