Archive for February, 2020

Letter from the Vineyard 02/25/2020 What should we do?

February 26, 2020


Sunday was the first real harbinger of a Vineyard spring, the temperature climbed into the 50s, sky a cloudless blue, people on the streets, walking, wandering, everyone in a good mood, treasuring an extraordinary February day.

It is Beethoven’s 250th birthday; he and Chopin have been playing on my Echo, soothing in a time of chaos.

It has been a time of being island cozy, glad to be away from the mayhem out in the world.  It is a thought often crossing my mind as I move around the island; what is going on out in the world is truly discomforting.

The primaries are in full swing.  Biden, who arguably should be the front runner, is not, looking to be soon marginalized. Pete Buttigieg, a gay man, is getting serious attention.  Like gay marriage, I didn’t think this would happen in my lifetime and it is.  I just wish he had ten more years of experience.

President Trump is, post acquittal, unleashed, none of it pretty. Petty, yes.

He is livid about so many things, I have lost count.

It is my fear this president finds the presidency intoxicating and addictive.

Mr. Trump is now in India, being treated to the kind of rallies he so likes, big ones, full of adoration, pumping up his ego.  At his side is Modi, India’s Prime Minister, seemingly determined to turn his country into a nationalist Hindu state.  My Hindu friends in India are appalled.

The Russians are back!  Supposedly helping Trump and Bernie.  Makes sense.  If all we hear is true, they want Trump and Bernie is the weakest to defeat him.  Unless there is a turn of the screw…

We have coronavirus, unleashing itself upon the world, taking its toll.  Italy has spiked in cases as has Iran.  A series of bad decisions made the Diamond Princess a cluster of the disease, largest outside of China for a time.  That honor now is South Korea’s.  The world economy is affected.  And a kind of panic is setting in.  Even here.

At church today, at the Peace, the man in front of me, used the namaste gesture rather than shake hands.  It surprised me though I understood when I thought about it.

At Stop & Shop, the lady behind me in the checkout line began talking about an island couple who had been on the Westerdam, a ship quarantined, outraged they were allowed back on the island.

As this whole thing is, it is confusing.  The woman who tested positive on the Westerdam has now tested negative and the island couple is self-quarantining for two weeks after already being quarantined for two.

In her fear, I saw how it swirls, gets the better of us; I was a bit frightened of her as she swirled toward the irrational.

I am frightened by the coronavirus, Covid-19.  We don’t quite know what we’re dealing with.  Italy has a surprising number of cases. Iran, too. South Korea is over 1000.  Nearly 90,000 are sickened, near 3,000 dead.  It may become pandemic, like influenza in 1918.

As it mushrooms, markets are tumbling. The Bologna Children’s Book Conference has been cancelled as well as Venice’s Carnival. Brazil announced its first case.

Monday was a day to be thoughtful about many things, not just potential pandemic.

Kobe Bryant and his daughter were memorialized in Los Angeles at the Staples Center, often referred to as the house Kobe built.  Katherine Johnson, the real-life central figure in “Hidden Figures” died at 101, a life well lived, one I am glad I found out about.  As did B. Smith, African American lifestyle guru, to early onset Alzheimer’s, 70.

In Syria there is a humanitarian crisis of Biblical proportions with nearly a million refugees.  In Greece, refugees beg for bread; while just miles away tourists consume grilled octopus.

What to do with all of this is overwhelming.  It would be easy to turn off even more of the information founts, retreat into the island, and I am tempted.  It is too easy and not, at the end, a reflection of the best me.  But what is it I should do? Or, rather what should we do?



Letter From the Vineyard 02 10 2020 Under a buttery moon…

February 11, 2020


Mondays have become winter special.  The bookstore is closed; I spend the morning lingering, reading the newspaper, my current book, sipping tea, usually Irish Breakfast, savoring the interior warmth while outside is grey and chill.  Yesterday, when I heard a couple comment on how cold it was, I thought: it’s not Minnesota cold.

Last night, the snow moon floated above the earth, a soft buttery gold orb, seen through bare branched trees, on a mostly cloudless Vineyard evening. As I stood watching it, it reminded me of the inexorableness of nature and the world.  Mother Nature, as my friend and author Howard Bloom says, is a bitch.

And we have seen her bitchiness at work these last weeks, in the horror of Australian fires, the storm named Ciara, currently bludgeoning Europe after wafting a British Airways jet to the fastest Atlantic crossing of a subsonic plane in history, to the coronavirus marching, seemingly inexorably, out of China and onto the world stage, to the flu which claimed a four year old boy when people convinced his mother not to give him prescribed Tamiflu but to put potatoes in his socks.

As Howard says, Mother Nature is a bitch, and she is having her way with us right now.

As she has for eternity.  Think of the Pompeiians lost to angry Vesuvius or the thousands upon thousands swept away in the Christmas tsunami not so very long ago.

We live in a time of wonders.

Christina Koch has returned from the International Space Station, the woman who has spent more time in space than any other woman and who is second only to Scott Kelly in total length of time in space.

Space tourism will kick off in the next years.

Driverless cars will come.  Robots will march.

Science Fiction is reality, or soon to be.

“Longtime Companion” [1989] may well have been the first film to put a real face to the AIDS crisis.  In one scene, a handsome young man lies in a hospital bed, an oxygen mask on his face, his eyes wide with fear, not understanding what is happening to him.

It was was scene that came to mind when I first saw the picture below, on, I think.



It is Li Wenliang, the Chinese ophthalmologist who raised concerns about the coronavirus and was accused by Chinese authorities of “rumor mongering” and made to issue a public apology.

He died in the early hours of February 7th; his picture will haunt me, as did that scene from “Longtime Companion.”  How often in history has common sense and human dignity been trumped by fear in fighting illness?

We are fearful, we human beings, in equal or greater measure to our ability to transcend fear and do great deeds of kindness and heroism.

And that dichotomy is one which constantly amazes me, moving me to anger at times and to tears at others.  I thought of it earlier when I saw a photo of a young man helping an older woman get out of her home in the above-mentioned Storm Ciara [or Sabine, if you are in Germany].  The MET is calling her the “storm of the century” though the century is young; I suspect worse is to come.

Next year’s federal budget calls for a cut in social safety nets in this country while boosting spending for the military.

If I remember my history correctly, it’s a problematic scenario.  Louis XVII and his wife, Marie Antoinette, literally lost their heads because the French diverted so much money to the military, largely to help we Americans win our revolution against the British.

There is a tipping point.

So, here I am, bemused and bewildered, as I write this particular letter, not too happy with what I see.  A dangerous virus is advancing, fearful people are reacting with, not unexpectedly, xenophobia [there is, at least to me, something disgusting in those “wet” markets but a whole race should not be condemned], we are becoming unbalanced in our national priorities and it will come to roost somehow.

In the early 20th Century Teddy Roosevelt bridled the Gilded Age horse, preventing it from running amuck.  Something will change here.  Such is the nature of history.  It always changes.




Letter From the Vineyard 02 02 02 Not again, for a thousand years…

February 2, 2020



Letter from the Vineyard

02 02 2020, a palindrome not to happen again until 03 03 3030,

a thousand years away

As I write this, the process to acquit Trump has mostly succeeded.

Cue:  Gotterdammerung.

Our political lunacy and distress are impossible to escape, even though I make every effort to keep it as much at bay as I can. It infects and infests my Facebook feed; most people I know are ardently anti-Trump, so I see post after post ripping at him, which I am sure gives some people relief though they are mostly preaching to the choir.

Doing my best to slide by that constant stridency, I love to see photos of my favorite Amtrak conductor, Loretta, celebrating her life and the amazing island pictures of Michael Blanchard, capturing magical Vineyard moments [really, do look up his work here.]

I love to see photos of my friends’ children and grandchildren, those are the things I feel makes Facebook delightful but when I do use it, there is a part of me feeling just a little slimy, knowing Mark Zuckerberg is living out the adult version of himself from the film “The Social Network.”  His company could become a force for global good; didn’t he herald that once upon a long time ago?

It serves a purpose and from these eyes which have seen the digital revolution, it has work to do to be its full potential and I wish it would get about it.

The founding mantra of Google was:  Do no evil.  They might like to think about that a bit more often.

Ah, it was nice to rant a little.

That is what most people I know on Facebook do, rant a little [or a lot] though I wish folks would rant less and do more.  The ranting comes from not knowing what to do; ranting helps people feel they have done something, that they are not powerless.

A sense of powerlessness raised Trump up, a sense of powerlessness may take him down.

What concrete things we can do feels elusive and contributes to this malaise, an illness pulling us in over the last half century, a thing begun, not with Trump but long ago, perhaps with Vietnam.

Lamar Alexander explained his vote to not hear witnesses this way: he didn’t want to throw gasoline on the cultural wars.  Ah, kicking the ball down the court, a thing we have become very good at doing…

How did it all get this way?

Solomon I am not, though I am not sure Solomon was as wise as we think he was, though certainly clever where the baby was concerned. He had moments of regal hubris; my friends who rant on Facebook are, not without reason, concerned the current ship of state is captained and crewed by men who know only hubris as their default position.

As a nation we are shaken by the death a week ago of Kobe Bryant, a very human man who shown like a star, fell from the sky, had feet of clay, acknowledged that, at least a bit, appeared working at making the world a little better, in his own basketball way.

Not a sports fan, I was still rattled by the flaming departure of someone who was so alive his smile could light up Staples Arena.

Coronavirus, not having anything to do with Corona Beer [seriously, some people believed that], is a fluttering angel of death over the world; we wait to know how bad it will be.

It has been a momentous week and in the velocity of life, it is comforting, at this minute, to be curled up in the winter quiet of the island, to be able to momentarily close my eyes and ears to the madness, simply listen, as I do now, to jazz [Billie Holiday], read good books [currently “The Ship of Dreams” about the sinking of Titanic and the end of the Edwardian era], eat good food, sip a nice wine now and again – and breathe, praying I will not actually have to hear Gotterdammerung.