Diary: Thursday, 16 August 2018

Posted August 16, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

It’s 12:42 in the afternoon. The temperature is 86 degrees Fahrenheit, but ‘feels like’ 92. The real, measurable temperature is expected to reach 90 or above today, which means it’ll feel close to 100 degrees.

In addition to the very high temperatures, we also have an Air Quality Alert in effect.

That means it’s unhealthy to go outside . . . if you intend to breathe. If you don’t intend to breathe, or if you take your own portable oxygen tank with you, then it’s probably safe. But that’s only as far as breathing is concerned.

There’s the other problem of the sun’s rays. Exposure to the sun is not only unpleasant on days like today, it’s also unhealthy. You could get skin cancer. The ozone layer around the Earth, which used to protect us from the sun’s ultra-violet waves, has been weakened by all the gas we’ve pumped into the air for the past hundred years.

We have been so ignorant and so stupid for the past two centuries that we have turned our Earthly nest into a toxic homeland. We have made conditions ripe for mass, unintended suicides. We are unintentionally killing ourselves by our own hands.

And not just here in New Haven, but around the world. Rivers are drying up. Icebergs are melting and raising the levels of sea water. Soil is parched. Crops are dying. Lakes are polluted. Animals in the wild are keeling over. More people are starving to death. Children’s growth is stunted. And still the world population expands.

The weather we’re experiencing today is the way it’s going to be from now on. Every day. Every year in the summer. This is not an anomaly. Winters are growing warmer. And in between, the weather grows more temperamental and violent.

The best we can do is try not to make it worse.

It’s too late to make it better.

Meanwhile, the moron in the White House denies that there’s a crisis and undercuts efforts to cut back on fossil fuels.

We are doomed. This is just the beginning of the horror. Don’t expect things to improve. They won’t.

It’s time to take another look at the 1973 science-fiction movie, “Soylent Green,” directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson. It gives us a glimpse of a very nasty tomorrow .

In the film, the year is 2022. That seemed a long way off 45 years ago, when the film was released. Our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will spit on our graves.

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Back To The Diary

Posted August 13, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

George Orwell was at his father’s side when he died in Southwold, England in July 1939. At the funeral, the father’s eyes were closed, which is customary, and his eyes weighted down with pennies.

The editor of Orwell’s diaries notes that After the funeral, Orwell walked along the Southwold promenade pondering on what he should do with these two pennies. He could not bring himself to spend them and eventually threw them into the sea.

That seems the right thing to have done. It’s what I would have done, if I had placed pennies on my dead father’s eyes.

Nowadays, people don’t keep pennies for dead men’s eyes. Everything is paid by credit card.

I keep two silver dollars on my desk as paperweights. One is dated 1921, the other 1923. I hope they survive me and continue their dislocated journey down through family time. When all other currencies become virtual, these solid pieces of silver should remind whoever owns them that, once upon a time, money came out of the Earth.

Today is August 13th, 2018 It is rainy. Very rainy since about 10 o’clock this morning. The water is running down the sidewalk in front of my apartment like a rivulet. It’s enough to keep me inside.

But before it began to rain, I left my apartment at 6:30 this morning to drive the 25 minutes to Leetes Island in Guilford to pick up my brother Bill and drive him back to New Haven and the train station.

It all went well, although I’m not feeling good. I’m weak and woozy and exhausted. I slept badly — worse than usual. I never sleep a good, full night’s sleep. I’m lucky to get five or six hours’ sleep on a good night, which is rare. Last night, I got less. Plus, my right foot still aches from my daily two-mile walks on the cement and asphalt of the city’s sidewalks and streets.

It’s been a long while since I’ve slept well and felt in good fighting trim. I think I’ll avoid the news today. I feel bad enough, without having to listen to reports of more degradation coming out of Washington and more cruelty spreading across the country.

Orwell was living in the English countryside in1939, reading the dreadful news that was detailing the coming war. He didn’t have much money at the time. He never had much money. And so he kept chickens, to supply him with eggs.

This is his complete diary entry for August 13, 1939: Warm & fine. 10 eggs (2 small).

Our Sun’s Uneasy Childhood

Posted August 8, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

We look up at that big bright, hot thing in the sky and we call it the “Sun.” That’s fine. We can call it anything we like. Different languages translate it pretty much the same way, calling it, in one way or another, the Sun.

But our Sun isn’t just a sun. It’s more basically a . . . Star. Our Sun is a Star, like all the other twinkling bright specks of light we see in the night sky.

Creatures standing on some beach in some faraway planetary system would look up and see our twinkling Sun as just one more flashing star among the millions of other flashing stars in the firmament.

Our Sun is just our local life-support Star. Other than that, it’s no big deal. There are bigger and flashier stars in the galaxy.

We keep saying how great we are, how the heavens all bow down to our wonderfulness. But the truth is, we’re pretty much a mediocre planet sitting under a mediocre star.

The bible has it all wrong. We are not the Be-All and End-All of creation. We are just who we happened to be when one of the stars found itself a part of the local evolutionary tag team and made it possible for us to exist.

And some day our star will run out of nuclear fuel and will blow up and take all its planets with it. And there will be a hole in the sky where we once used to be.

And when some other creatures from distant galaxies pass by in their space ships and look out the window, they’ll see nothing in this space. No Sun, no Earth, No Mars, No Fenway Park. No Brooklyn Bridge. No Rocky Mountains.

In the long run — measured by billions of years — it will be as if we never were.

What we see today, what we think, what we feel, what we do, what we plan, what we dream is all on a short leash. Eventually, it will all disappear. Eventually, it will all amount to nothing.

But looking back, before there was an Earth or a Mars or a Venus or any of the other planets in our solar system, there was this star burning brightly.

Scientists estimate that the Star-that-would-become-our-Sun began forming about 4.6 billion years ago. That’s according to a small article in the science section of yesterday’s New York Times.

The Big Bang happened about 13.8 billion years ago, which means it took about 9 billion years before our Sun showed up and started to glow. And even then, according to the Times, it wasn’t an steady glow.

“Much like a toddler throwing a tantrum,” writes Times reporter, Nicholas St. Fleur, “the sun was exceptionally explosive early in its life. It kicked and screamed with ferocious flares and rambunctious bursts of radiation that were much more energetic than what we see today.”

Astronomers call this period of our Sun’s development, “the terrible 2s.”

They know all this by studying a meteorite that slammed into Australia in 1969. What makes this meteorite so valuable to study is that it was formed way out in the cosmos before any of our local planets were formed. By studying the blue crystals in the meteorite, scientists can figure out what the sun’s activity was like in its early, pre-planets stage.

But what really caught my attention in the article was the last sentence. “The sun during that period,” writes St. Fleur, “was surrounded by a rotating disc of dust and gas that would eventually birth the planets.”

Our Sun had formed by collecting other stuff from the Big Bang. Now it was sitting there by itself, agitated and fuming. Meanwhile, trapped in the Sun’s gravity was all the stuff that would end up making, not only Earth, Mars and all the other planets in our system, but you and me.

That dust and gas and stuff would eventually coalesce and evolve and make everything that exists within our planetary system.

You and I and our planet went from nothing — none of us existed, including the local planets — to the formation of a star, the nuclear agitation within that star, the dust and gas generated by that star, until one thing gradually led to another thing which led to another thing which led to another thing until there became . . . everything we are and everything we know.

All the stuff we are and all the stuff we see and touch and speculate about have happened, step by evolutionary step, thanks to our Sun-Star — and the cosmic ingredients that formed it.

As astronomer Carl Sagan used to say, “We are star stuff.”

And he meant that — literally.

And that includes your dog and cat.

So embrace them, while you still can.

Trump As Tough Guy

Posted August 2, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I heard a series of interviews this morning on NPR from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. It’s an old, former mining town, now a working-class, rural town of about 40,000 people.

These are the quiet people, the overlooked people, the don’t-bother-with-them people, the lower-educated, lower-economic people that Democrats don’t talk to anymore. In the old days, these were the bread-and-butter people of the Democratic Party. But no more.

Democrats have drifted away from people like this — people who get their hands dirty when they work and who don’t make it a habit of watching Masterpiece Theater on PBS.

The people in Wilkes-Barre are down-to-earth people who are pissed off at all the fancy talkers who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about when they show up every two or four years and plead for their vote. In most years, the fancy talkers don’t even show up. They just fly over on their way to where the money is.

Except for Donald Trump. He showed up and talked to the people of Wilkes-Barre in language they could understand and provoked feelings that came from their guts. And so they voted for him in huge numbers and will vote for him again, if and when the time comes.

In the meantime, they’ll vote for anyone Trump tells them to vote for, because they like the guy and like the way he talks. They trust him. They like his ideas: bring business back, keep the foreigners out, cut taxes, make the military strong. In general, kick ass.

None of this mealy-mouthed, double-crossing, abstract-sounding bullshit that Democrats push. And none of the Deep State connivance of middle-of-the-road Republicans.

Trump is the bull in the china shop, and the people in the rural areas of Pennsylvania like him for it. They think it’s time all those political glass menageries in the china shop get smashed.

For them, Trump is the bad-ass sheriff come to town to knock heads and push losers out the door. Compared to recent presidents, Trump is the tough guy and the tough-talking guy these people have been waiting for.

Obama was too light-weight, a creature from another world, an alien from the planet Vulcan. Bush, Junior, was too much of a Yale fraternity goof-ball. Bill Clinton was ‘Slick Willie,’ with his hands in some woman’s underwear. Bush, Senior, was a nice enough guy but too tied in with the la-de-dah crowd. And Jimmy Carter was too evangelical and a ‘Mr. Rogers’ peanut farmer. Nixon, at least, had the guts to break the law and to lie about it.

The sad part is — the dangerous part is — that Trump is the biggest phony of them all ! And the people of Wilkes-Barre don’t see it and don‘t want to see it. Trump’s guff is just warmed-over real-estate blather, without an ounce of depth or integrity or honesty. He’s no John Wayne or Clint Eastwood — not even the movie versions — though he likes to fake a tough-guy image.

Trump was raised in wealth and spent his 30’s and 40’s knee-deep in Manhattan’s nightclub scene. He’s a product of Wall Street and Madison Avenue and pretty girls in bed and various wives out the door.

He’s a draft dodger who never let his physical ’ailments’ keep him from a round of golf.

He cheats in business, doesn’t pay back bank loans — so no American bank will loan him money anymore, and so he goes to Russia for money.

He skirts the law, he betrays friends, he strokes his self-image, and he insists on gold-plated faucets in his Trump Tower bathroom.

This guy is no Gary Cooper in ‘High Noon,’ no Steve McQueen in ‘Bullitt.’ He’s a fraud masquerading as a tough guy. A real tough guy would make mince meat out of him.

And yet, millions of people are like the working class people of Wilkes-Barre, who have fallen for his posturing, his take-no-prisoners approach to humanity, his shallow, counterfeit swagger.

Any man who would drag thousands of little kids away from their parents and keep them far apart from their moms and dads is basically a bum. Those kids have been psychologically damaged by Trump and will suffer from that damage for the rest of their lives. Hundreds of them are still not back with their parents and may never find their parents again.

But Trump is not the first bum to make it big. And if millions of his blood-eyed supporters have their way, he’ll be a big league bum for years to come. Say what you want about the guy, but he knows how to fool many of the people all of the time.

It’s sad, really.

All that the people in Wilkes-Barre and other rural areas wanted was someone to notice them and to speak straight to them and to do something to pull them out of the ditch that life had dumped them into.

But all they got was a gold-plated bum masquerading as the straight-talking hero they wished for.

The more he riles them up, the more they love him. The more he exploits their frustration and anger, the more they believe in him.

But in the end, of course, Trump will betray them. And they will blame his betrayal on the press that hounded him and on the law that keeps failing them.

And after Trump’s circus leaves town, nothing good will have happened to them except that they got to shout their anger to the sky . . . which, like most skies, took no notice.

Another Long Goodbye

Posted July 27, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

The young couple next door just moved away. Just a few hours ago. The moving men they hired loaded the large rental truck with all the household goods and then drove away. And then the young husband and wife and child got into their car and followed the truck.

And now they’re gone. They will not be back. I will never see them again. For me, goodbyes are always a kind of death, and that makes me sad. People move away and disappear, the way people die and disappear. It amounts to the same.

What was, no longer is. People who were here are no longer here. People I spoke with and exchanged smiles with, and who I waved to during my walks, are gone and will never return.

Most people shrug off goodbyes. No big deal, they say. It’s just part of life. People come, people go. That’s just the way it is.

But that’s not how I feel. For me, goodbyes are not part of life. They’re part of death. They are an ending. They are the closing of a book. They are the disappearing of lives. They are the severing of one more connection to something or someone outside my own little island. Goodbyes always make me feel melancholic, even when I may not know the people very well who are leaving.

It’s not just the people — and sometimes it’s not even the people — that make me sad. It’s
the ending. It’s the crossing over from being here to not being here. The breaking of the thread that wraps each day in a kind of cocoon of continuity, of existential reliability, a kind of non-committal intimacy.

As long as I can still see that you’re there, then I’m still here. The ‘you’ and the ‘I’ become a kind of congenial ‘we.’ And as long as there is a ‘we,’ I am rescued from the solitary ‘me.’

Death is always singular, always solitary, no matter how many mourners may be present. No matter how many thousands of Japanese were instantly obliterated in Hiroshima, each death was individual, each annihilation was a personal extinction. Each death was a private, albeit instantaneous, ‘goodbye.’

The only goodbye I ever really enjoyed was the goodbye I said to Fayetteville, North Carolina, when I was discharged from the Army and left Fort Bragg aboard the Atlantic Coastline Railroad. The train left Fayetteville in the late-morning of August 9th, 1958 and headed north to my home in Connecticut. That was a goodbye of such relief, such joy, that I didn’t stop smiling until I reached Philadelphia. I think the whole trip took about eight hours. It was like riding first-class in Poseidon’s chariot.

The young family lived next door for two years, while the man studied for his doctorate at Yale’s forestry school. His name is Bryan. The woman’s name is Maddie, and the young child they had during their two years here is named Jung. I think they are Korean.

They were friendly here, but not especially out-going. They smiled and waved and would exchanged greetings, but were not particularly expansive. They were very bright and congenial, but pretty much kept to themselves. They gave me a Christmas card that featured all three of them smiling broadly for the camera. All six photos on the back of the card showed Jung in different stages of smiles and tears.

They were a young couple on the move, who had stopped briefly in New Haven to pick up an important Yale graduate degree. Maddie seemed to have her own professional life, but I don’t know what it was. She often took cars early in morning driven by Uber drivers or chauffeurs and would be gone for the day.

In other words, they were a pleasant young family who lived next door. But they were not people I got to know very well.

And yet . . . their leaving town throws the metaphysical balance of my emotional world a little off-kilter.

They are headed to Massachusetts toward a house they’ve just bought in a town 20 miles outside Boston. Bryan will be teaching in the fall at Northeastern University. I wished them both much happiness, when I said goodbye this morning. Maddie told me she will miss New Haven “very much.”

“Really? “ I said.

“Oh, yes.”

“That’s nice to hear,” I said. “And New Haven won’t be the same without you.”

Which is true. At least, my New Haven. It won’t be a big loss, but my intimate neighborhood will be different in a way you measure differences after something significant changes — like a move-away or a death.

After all, when it comes to forever, moving-away is just a prelude to, or another version of, The Long Goodbye.

A Simple Explanation

Posted July 20, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I think they’ve got it wrong — the people who are trying to figure out what’s behind the Trump-Putin relationship. I think all the wild conspiracy speculations about Putin having “something” on Trump are misplaced.

I’ve come to think that the relationship between these two autocrats is a simple you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll scratch-yours.

Yes, Russia used the Internet to invade the U.S. election campaign. It spread lies, distortions and ‘fake news’ about Hillary Clinton, and spread positive propaganda about Donald Trump.

Russia carried its false messages into Facebook and Twitter and other social media platforms and earmarked those messages for states that Trump needed to win in the Electoral College. And it worked. The Americans on the receiving end of those fake messages bought the lies and went out and voted for Trump.

Some of those voters hated Clinton to begin with and would never have voted for her, no matter what. Plus, the Democrats were so full of themselves that they thought the election was in the bag. And so they skipped many of the rural areas in Wisconsin and Ohio and Pennsylvania.

They skipped just enough of those voting areas to lose the Electoral College.

Bu the point is, the Russian cyber invasion worked. Vladimir Putin wanted Trump to win the election — which Putin has just confessed publicly. And Trump himself, obviously, wanted to win the election.

You had two well-placed guys working toward the same greedy goal.

And not only did Trump win, but enough Republicans won to hold onto the Senate and the House of Representatives.

So why would Trump and Putin — having won the big prize — want to change things? The short answer is: They wouldn’t. Trump wants to hang onto power, and Putin wants Trump to stay in office. It suits them both. They think alike. They act alike. They share a lust for control. And Putin knows that Trump has a certain boy-romance with him and envies Putin’s swagger. And for Putin, that’s flattering.

But it goes beyond romance. The fact is that Trump would like to have the same kind of power in the U.S. that Putin has in Russia, adjusting for inconvenient democratic principles.

So Trump says to Putin: “You keep doing what you’ve been doing with your cyber warfare, and I will return the favor by making you look more prominent on the world stage.”

Putin has long wanted to present Russia as a newly-awakened world power worthy of big-time respect. But Russia’s weak economy and questionable monetary structure and nagging social discontent among his citizens has taken the edge off Russia’s claim of big power status.

But Trump can make up for that inconvenient Russian weakness by pumping up Putin in public. So he and Putin show up together and shake hands multiple times and dance a kind of self-enhancing tango.

That’s Trump’s side of the bargain. He will bring Putin to the White House, in exchange for Putin and his cyber-punks continuing to manipulate the American elections.

Quid-pro-quo.

After all, it’s working for Trump. All that cyber-invasion has put Trump in the driver’s seat. And he wants to stay there, with a pliable Republican Congress that keeps saying, “Yes sir, boss!”

Trump waxes poetic about how good and strong Putin is, and Putin keeps denying that Russia had anything to do with cyber attacks, all the while making it possible for more attacks to continue.

I think that’s the real nature of the relationship: each man scratching the other man’s back.

You don’t need a scandal to explain it. You don’t need prostitutes in Moscow peeing on a bed or on Trump or Trump heavily in financial debt to Russian oligarchs.

You don’t need any of that to explain the operations of these two thugs.

These are two amoral, unscrupulous liars with visions of despotic greatness. One speaks Russian. The other speaks English with a forked tongue.

It’s a buddy-buddy relationship made in back rooms and in spacious mid-Manhattan towers. Both guys see themselves as winners, as long as they keep the faith and don’t let pesky investigators mess things up.

Trump can always “pardon” any inconveniences that crop up on his side of the deal.

It’s like a couple of mafia chieftains dividing up the territories between New York and Moscow or St. Petersburg and Las Vegas.

You don’t need some backstage personality sleaze to explain it. It’s as clear and culpable as any high-stakes criminality.

On the one hand, you have blunt force. On the other hand, you have treason.

You don’t need anything else.

What We Remember

Posted July 15, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

It’s not surprising that if something violent happens when we’re really young, we tend to remember it for much of our lives. Maybe, as in my case, for all of our lives.

When I was four or five years old and living in a second-floor apartment in New Haven with my young mother and the sperm-provider who was officially my father but never acted like one, an act of violence happened that was not only ugly but potentially dangerous. And it changed the direction of the lives of both my mother and me.

It was an afternoon. I remember it was sunny. I hadn’t started school yet. I was home in the front room of our small apartment. I was standing on the couch. My mother had set up the ironing board in the same room and was ironing shirts and underwear and pillow cases, when the sperm-provider showed up, as he often did, drunk. He was a drunkard. He was also a reporter for the morning newspaper. He covered the police beat.

He and my mother exchanged words, and then suddenly he hit her across the face and she fell against the ironing board, and it tumbled down, taking the iron with it.

And there I stood on the couch witnessing my biological father hitting my mother and hurting her enough so that she fell to the floor.

She then crawled over to where I was standing and wrapped me in her arms to protect me. That’s all I remember of the event. I have no memory of what happened next, who said what, who did what, what happened the rest of that day. I just vividly remember her being hit and falling against the ironing board and then crawling over to the couch and holding me.

This was in the early 1940’s. I was born in 1937. My mother had called the police on previous occasions when things got ugly. But when they arrived, she wouldn’t press charges and the police would go away pissed. That’s how it was in those days. Women got knocked around, but wouldn’t press charges. They felt tied to the marriage or they wondered how they could support themselves with a child, without the husband’s income. And divorce was frowned upon by state and church alike.

My mother, although she was good and beautiful and smart in everyday things, lacked enough self-confidence to fight back. And in those days, how did a woman fight back? They were told to just stay in the marriage and accept the blows to the face and the punches and the insults and the endless fear.

But this occasion was the one that went too far. And so she and I left the apartment and she went back — humiliated — to her parents’ home in the next town and that’s where we stayed for the next five years.

That’s the kind of memory that sticks for a long time. A violent, life-changing memory.

But there are also sweet and soft and gentle memories that can last a lifetime, as well.

I remember when my mother and I were living safely and quietly with my grandparents and it would be time for bed, my mother often sang to me a little song, as I lay under the covers getting ready to sleep.

She would sing it slowly and gently and quietly.

“Lazy bones,” it began, “sleepin’ in the sun,
How you expect to get your day’s work done?
You can’t get your day’s work done,
Sleepin’ in the noonday sun.”

It was such a sweet song, and she sang it so slowly and sweetly. And there was more to it, I learned later. But my mother only knew the first verse and that’s the one she would sing to me in bed.

I would learn that the song was very popular on the radio and many people bought the sheet music for it. That’s what people did in those days: they listened to the radio and they bought sheet music.

There was no television then nor, god help us, an Internet or cds. My grandparents had two radios — a small one and a floor model. And they had a Victrola that played 78 rpm records. They had a few records by Tommy Dorsey and Fred Waring and Louis Armstrong — bought by my uncles Joe and George. But “Lazy bones” wasn’t one of them. My mother must have heard it on the radio.

The song was written by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer in 1933. Carmichael claimed that they wrote the song in 20 minutes. Then he sailed to Europe — people took ships to Europe in those days — and when he returned to the states six weeks later, he learned, to his astonishment, that the song had sold 300,000 pieces of sheet music. It was a huge hit in 1933.

My mother was still singing it to her little child 10 years later. And I’m still remembering it 70 years after that.

I’ve since learned the second verse:

“Lazy bones, sleepin’ in the shade,
How you gonna get your cornmeal made?
You can’t get your cornmeal made,
Sleepin’ in the evening shade.”

That second verse wouldn’t have made as much sense to a five-year-old as the first verse. So I’m glad my mother just sang about the sleepin’-in-the-sun part.

I knew then, as I know now at 81, how to sleep in the sun. But I’ve never learned, nor have I ever wanted to learn, how to make cornmeal.