The Masque of the Red Death

And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

Edgar Allan Poe, The Masque of the Red Death – 1842

The Die is cast!!!

Last Friday I found myself driving through Lexington to run an errand on my way to work. A stone-grey January day, the Presidential inauguration was just commencing. I passed by the Battle Green in the center of town as I returned. Less than four miles from home, I had never really stopped to wander around.  I pulled the car over and parked.

The Revolutionary Monument, 1779

The Revolutionary Monument, 1779

Lexington is normally a busy suburb on a weekday, but by 10am, the rush hour traffic had abated.  Maybe it was the impending rain.

On the edge of the Battle Green is a monument to the Militiamen who were killed in the initial volleys of the Revolutionary War on April 19, 1775.  The monument was erected in 1799 – long before the Battle Green was established as a national historical landmark.

The Revolutionary Monument, 1779

The Revolutionary Monument, 1779

The Die was cast!!!

The Blood of these Martyr’s, in the cause of God & their Country, was the cement of the Union of these States then colonies & gave the spring to the spirit, firmness, and resolution of their fellow citizens.

More than a monument, this is a modest tomb for the soldiers killed in battle.  Their resting place is inside the small fence surrounding the obelisk.  A few small coins mark tourist’s visits.

I walked across the park — the only other person sharing the space was a woman walking her dog.  She traversed the wintry park without stopping.

A bronze Minuteman statue stands guard at the edge of the park, looking for any threat that might approach from the southeast.

A statue of a Minuteman, Lexington Battle Green

A statue of a Minuteman, Lexington Battle Green

The Minutemen did not know what was to come after their brief skirmish.  Their leader, John Parker, died a few short months later.  Some of them must have survived to the end of the war, and even to see Washington’s inauguration 14 years later.

Wars are always mile markers in the history of a nation, and regular touchstones for citizens to measure their identities against.  The Revolutionary War is the strongest of these, with World War II close behind.  One of the most compelling – the Civil War – whose conflict echoes unto this very today – is rarely regarded, and the repercussions of 9/11 are still to be seen.  Yet we always look back at the Revolutionary War, an event a now quarter of a millennia in the past – as our guiding star.

What would those Minutemen have thought about the election of 2016, and the inauguration that was taking place at that very moment?  That they had founded a nation and established freedom.  A later generation would fight against fascism and the far right in an even more epic conflict, and a generation beyond that stood to embrace it once again, spurning the progress made in 242 years.  At its best, a manic kleptocracy who will loot the people’s democracy established by the citizens on the Battle Green.  At worst – a drastic pivot to fascism that will shift the balance of power in the world, and shred progress that the Greeks could only dream of.

John Parker's quote, Lexington Battle Green

John Parker’s quote, Lexington Battle Green

The inauguration went as planned.  At least in theory, it was a swearing in and not a coronation.  What next?  What next?  What’s that?  Robert Munroe, Jonas Parker, Samuel Masey, Caleb Harrington, John Brown, Ishael Porter, and John Parker were whispering:

The Die is cast!

Stand your ground!


The Revolutionary Monument and First Parish Church

The Revolutionary Monument and First Parish Church

In honor of our first real storm, and the eve of Burns Night

The wintry west extends his blast,
And hail and rain does blaw;
Or the stormy north sends driving forth
The blinding sleet and snaw:
While, tumbling brown, the burn comes down,
And roars frae bank to brae;
And bird and beast in covert rest,
And pass the heartless day.

“The sweeping blast, the sky o’ercast,”
The joyless winter day
Let others fear, to me more dear
Than all the pride of May:
The tempest’s howl, it soothes my soul,
My griefs it seems to join;
The leafless trees my fancy please,
Their fate resembles mine!

Thou Power Supreme, whose mighty scheme
These woes of mine fulfil,
Here firm I rest; they must be best,
Because they are Thy will!
Then all I want-O do Thou grant
This one request of mine!-
Since to enjoy Thou dost deny,
Assist me to resign.

Winter: a Dirge
Robert Burns

Returning to the Cosmos

Tonight at 9pm is the premier of the reboot of Cosmos, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. It’s been 33 years since the original Cosmos was aired on PBS.

That was quite a sequence of years for science: the year before, in 1979, the Voyager spacecrafts flew by Jupiter; in 1980 and 81 they flew by Saturn. In that low-tech pre-Internet age, an incredible thing happened: PBS stations across the US opened their doors to allow people to come in and view the live feed from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, hosted by Carl Sagan himself. After school, I took the bus to the Maine Public Broadcasting studios on the UMaine campus where my mother worked. The feeds from JPL were made available by direct satellite link, a feat which felt futuristic at the time.

In real time, 13-year-old me watched as the first images of the rings of Jupiter, and the moons of Saturn were returned to Earth at a speed roughly equivalent to the modems we would be using for dialup Internet access a decade later. How amazing that we could accomplish such a feat – never before had mankind been witness to acts of discovery such as this in real time across our solar system.

Jim Blinn's computer rendering of Saturn for the Cosmos TV Series.

Jim Blinn’s computer rendering of Saturn for the Cosmos TV Series — one of the first computer graphics ever produced for television.

There is no small amount of irony that the new Cosmos is airing on Fox Television. It is even perhaps a greater irony that in the 80s Cold War era, we were more focused on science than we are today. Today, members of the US Congress regularly espouse a disbelief in evolution and natural selection, and display scorn for the scientific process as a whole. But how are we going to advance as a species without science? Does it take the us-versus-them mentality to really make it happen?

Tyson was a student of Sagan’s, and will bring his own style to the show. But he is bringing back the Cosmic Calendar and the Spaceship of the Imagination, and for that I am grateful. I am hopeful that it will renew, if only for a moment, the sense of amazing discovery that the original series did when it first aired.

And if we need another sense of renewal, the entire original series is available on YouTube. It still stands the test of time.

Armistice Day

I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not.

So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.

What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.

And all music is.

Kurt Vonnegut
Breakfast of Champions (1973)