At last, something we can all be proud of! The new rover Perseverance touched down in Jezero Crater on Mars, in another of NASA’s patented hair-raising landing sequences, beautifully illustrated in this short animated video from NASA.
Well done, JP, NASA, and Perseverance! Among the many cool things about this rover are its mini-helicopter, to be used for aerial reconnoitering, and its tools for taking core samples, to be stored in sealed containers for later pickup by a followup mission.
Here’s Perseverance’s first picture, taken by a low-res camera, with its protective cover still on. This came back within minutes of the successful landing. Expect high-res photos soon.
Also soon, the Chinese Mars lander will be attempting that nation’s first landing on the red planet. Let’s hope the two rovers don’t start tossing pebbles at each other!
Presidents Day is upon us in the U.S., and what a way to celebrate it—by the cowardly betrayal by Senate Republicans (with a few notable exceptions) to hold their seditious and insurrectionist president accountable for actions that took lives and endangered the democratic process. In the face of the most appalling desecrations of truth and decency by their party leader, forty-three Senate Republicans, apparently ruled by fear, abandoned their duty to defend the Constitution. They should all be turned out of office, every single one of them.
First to go should be Mitch McConnell, who—immediately after voting to acquit Trump—declared, “There is no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day,” and called his actions “a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty.” He further acknowledged that months of Trump’s false claims about the elections set the stage for the event.
But where was this good Senator for all those months when Trump was whining and spinning lies to persuade a shocking fraction of the population that he’d been wronged? What was Mitch McConnell doing? He could have taken steps to at least stem the anti-democratic tide in the Senate. He did not. He could have acknowledged the outcome of the election when it became clear. He did not. He abandoned his responsibility to the republic, and instead, hid in fear of disfavor from the Trump base.
It is often said that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.” That assertion has rarely been demonstrated as clearly as by the failure of currently sitting Republican Representatives and Senators to hold their own party’s leader accountable for sedition, insurrection, and wholesale dishonesty.
I know you already know all this. I just felt a need to put exactly where I stand on the record. For Presidents Day. May the coming year prove a good civics lesson for all of us.
Happy New Year, everyone! For me, the year 2021 started at noon today, when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris took their oaths of office. They swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America, and unlike another individual who took that oath, I genuinely believe they meant it. I am filled with joy, and I believe history will show that on this day, America began its turn away from the darkness and toward the light.
(Of course, the darkness is still out there. The white supremacists and QAnon and the delusional conspiracy theorists, the liars and the fear-mongers, they are still with us; they have just been stilled for a little while. But it has always been so. If the price of peace is eternal vigilance, then we must continue to pay that price.)
It’s hard to say what stirred me the most: Biden’s call for us to come together in humility rather than self-aggrandizement; the swearing in of Kamala Harris and all the “firsts” she represents; the sight of all those former presidents, each of whom willingly and graciously transferred the power of office to their successor; or the vision of Amanda Gorman, the remarkable young woman who served as inaugural poet. I was even moved by Lady Gaga singing the national anthem, a startling sight that.
While it was sobering and sad to see the nation’s capitol closed down under the watchful eyes of the National Guard, there was a definite poignancy in watching the proceedings move forward in spite of the attempted coup. As President Biden said, our democracy is fragile, but it is also strong, and it prevailed. I pray that it will continue to do so in the days to come.
A year ago, I posted that I fervently hoped 2020 would be a better year than 2019, which had been personally difficult. That, um, didn’t happen. At least not to the world and the nation. I’m not going to make that mistake again. In fact, I’m not even going to reflect on the obvious about 2020, as we head out to wherever the future takes us. I think I’d rather close with dancing robots and Christmas tree-eating goats.
The latest video from Boston Dynamics. I leave it to the viewer to decide whether it’s enchanting or terrifying. I find it a little of both.
BTW, I’m saving my real New Year celebration for January 20, when an actual president is sworn into the White House and a dangerous and incompetent fascist is shown the door, ending at least part of the nightmare. That’s when the new year starts for me.
There’s no denying I’ve been breathing easier, and had much more spring in my step, since Biden won Pennsylvania to become president-elect of the United States of America. In fact, I felt an enormous weight lift with that news, a feeling of oppression melt away, an oppression that’s been with me for four years, since the DTs first set in. (Who would have thought that one man could cause so much damage? In 1930’s Germany, sure. But not here. Surely.)
But has the nightmare really ended? DT hangs on, a child gripped by a tantrum; but is it just that? If only. He knows he’s lost—the whole world knows it—and still he continues to raise money, and to sow distrust of democratic elections. Is he planning a coup to stay in office? If you were planning a military coup, what’s the first thing you’d do? Probably remove defense leaders who were resistant to your autocratic authority. Check. Keep the top leaders of your political party in thrall because they fear your displeasure, and get them to act (to their eternal shame) as if nothing of significance had happened on election day. Check. Lie, lie, and lie some more. Check.
Meanwhile, Covid-19 rampages unchecked, and the presidential transition is obstructed, hampering the new administration’s ability to hit the ground running to bring Covid under control. It’s almost as if they want Biden to face the pandemic at its worst, the better to cast blame.
Note my choice of the word “they.” It’s not just DT, it’s the Republican Party (save for a brave few who have spoken up) that’s overwhelmingly complicit in this malevolent charade. It’s disgraceful; it’s unpatriotic; it’s unchristian; it’s treasonous, really; and it’s a very dangerous game they are playing with our democracy. The Cylons could not have done it better.
We may be more dependent on the honor and oath of our military command than we (or I, at any rate) imagined would actually happen in real life. The day may come when the generals will have to say No to their commander-in-chief when he orders them to choose between serving him, and serving the Constitution. I believe they are up to the challenge.
Meanwhile, we the people, if we want our democracy to survive, are going to have to be vigilant, indeed.
If there’s one firm rule we have in this house, it’s that the dogs are not allowed on the sofa unless specifically invited. How, then, to explain this:
Also, no squirrels are allowed on the porch!
In case you wonder, I’m an emotional tightwire (like many of you), waiting to find out what’s going to happen on election day—or, more likely, several weeks after election day. Will we step back from the precipice we’re dancing on? Will we put responsible adults in charge in Washington? Before we all die of Covid or drown in the melting ice caps? Will we save democracy from our worst impulses?
I can’t stand the wait, and that’s why we’re getting dog pictures on the day before the election.
Following the Boston Pops musicians-at-home tribute to COVID-19 first responders, I was blown away today by this solo performance at home by the New York Philharmonic’s principal clarinetist Anthony McGill, of “America the Beautiful”—beautifully and subtly re-tuned to convey Mr. McGill’s sorrow and anger at racial injustice. Watch and listen to it on a device with good sound; it’s worth it. McGill ends the piece with… well, I’ll let you watch and see.
McGill’s statement inspired this haunting and inspiring rendition of Sebelius’s Hymn from Finlandia, by music students and faculty from four different music schools, all taking two knees in protest of injustice.
The story appears on NPR’s Here and Now, with an interview by WBUR radio’s Robin Young. The interview is well worth a listen:
The situation on the ground in “our” part of Puerto Rico (Ponce) is apparently a lot tougher than we had come to believe. Allysen finally got through to the next-door neighbor for a talk via cellphone. She says conditions are terrible. Still no water, and this in the second largest city on the island. Still no power. They fire up the generator for about an hour a day to charge things up, and they’re being very miserly with the water that’s left in their cistern (which, fortunately, is larger than average for a home). They have enough food still, but many, many people are hungry. The land feels devastated, and for the first two weeks, they felt utterly abandoned. The National Guard was down there somewhere, they supposed, but nobody came up to their side of the city until just recently.
Her description of our property was pretty discouraging, too. We still haven’t seen any pictures, but apparently trees are down everywhere, making things look like a bomb went off. We’re hoping that the original report that the house itself is okay was accurate, but we just won’t know until somebody can send us some pictures.
Frances said in her whole life on the island, she’s never seen anything even remotely this bad. The kicker is that, prior to the hurricane, tourism had been on the rise. Cruise ships had been coming in—not just to San Juan, but to ports like Ponce. Even our house was getting rented. All that’s over. I hate to think how long it will take to rebuild a viable economy.
These folks still need our help in a big way—and will, for a long time to come.
We finally heard from our friend and property caretaker in Ponce, and the word is that he and his family and their house are okay! (Concrete house; concrete structures fared far better in the storm than wooden structures.) We had gone so long without word that we were worried, to say the least. But, he said, the cell companies were working together to get communications back up, and he was at last able to call out. He’s been working extremely long hours as a policeman, and he reports that people have really been pulling together to put things back together. The U.S. military is there, and has been providing much-needed assistance. A little bit of power has come back in the city. I don’t know about water.
Our own house (when I say “our,” I mean my mother-in-law’s) escaped major damage, though a much-loved mahogany tree went down, and also a large Northern pine. There was some damage from the trees falling, but amazingly, all but one of the windows survived, and that one was on the side of an open-air dining area that was exposed to the elements anyway. The road up the hill to the house was cleared by the residents.
We count ourselves and the people we care about extremely fortunate, to say the least. I wish the same were true of everyone. These pictures from the New York Times can serve as a reminder that the people of Puerto Rico still very much need our help.