Green The Journey: New Year’s 2022

The new year 2022 unscrolls.  As we struggle to get clear of the wreckage of 2021, the question is whether Americans have it in them to begin again, to journey into the future with some humility.  Can we leave behind the evil passions that have eroded the order and security of American life and re-envision something more wholesome, more generally beneficial, that’s kinder to nature and humankind?

The pressure to turn conservative is increasing: by which I mean, the pressure to appreciate and preserve what we have and to consolidate public sentiment around goals consonant with our historical strengths.  Partisan sniping, barbarizing technologies, upper-class selfishness, and decades of in-migration have triggered keen disillusionment, anomie, and rage.  Meanwhile, our love affair with globalism has turned sour.  We are croaking from the environmental and monetary costs.

Amid the disappointment and weariness, January invites us to be open, to be curious, to regard the world with fresh eyes.  Paradoxically, the recollection of what Americans have struggled toward as ideal goods can green the journey, can guide our hejira through a broken world.

Image: “The Journey” (1903)
by Elizabeth Shippen Green Elliott,
from this source.

Heavens, The Great Conjunction!

Our first view of the Christmas Star (Dec 19), © 2020 Susan Barsy

After a difficult year, the advent of the Christmas Star was something wondrous to look forward to.  The internet buzzed with how Saturn and Jupiter would align almost perfectly in their orbits, so much so as to appear as one unusually bright star.  This rare occurrence, coinciding with the winter solstice and technically known as “the Great Conjunction,” happens only once every four-hundred years.  The last time the Great Conjunction occurred in the night sky, however, was in 1226.  Earthlings primed to look up into the late December sky in 2020 stood to witness a cosmic and extraordinary rapprochement.  Bob and I (total amateurs when it comes to such things) talked over our astronomical excursion excitedly.

Seeing an astronomical wonder depends on information, good timing, and good luck.  Whereas some articles asserted that the planets would be visible for just forty-five minutes after sunset, from our present quarters in southwest Michigan, the two planets were above the horizon for almost two hours (per this sophisticated “time lapse” sky map for nearby Benton Harbor). The two planets had begun drawing closer to one another for many weeks prior to December 21 and will continue to appear close together in the night sky until early January.  The evening of the 21st was overcast in our area, but on the 20th and 22nd the conjoined planets (above) were easy to spot.

Pink halo above Jupiter (Dec 20), © 2020 Susan Barsy

On the 20th, as the sky grew dark, the two planets grew more distinct.  Jupiter sported a sweet pink halo; that was Saturn.  We found that our best view of the sky was from under some huge evergreen trees near a very powerful streetlight.  Gradually, we lost a clear view of the planets, as they descended at a roughly 45-degree angle toward the horizon.

The two planets (Jupiter and Saturn)

I took this photograph on the 22nd, using a Nikon with a 36x zoom.  This is a more clinical, scientific view.  The planets only appear to be “next” to one another, when they are hundreds of millions of miles away from one other and from us.  Saturn (at right) is roughly twice as far away from Earth as Jupiter is.

This picture from the 22nd, taken with my Sony on a tripod, better captures the thrill of seeing the two planets in the cold twilight sky.  Saturn is now clearly to the right of brilliant Jupiter.  Saturn looks like a pearl with an ermine ring.  Fiddling with this picture in Photoshop doesn’t improve anything.  The astonishing clarity of the planets filled me with awe.

The moons of Jupiter extend in a line to the left. New Buffalo, MI.

This was perhaps the best picture I took, because, to the left of the planets, one can just make out several of Jupiter’s moons.   The 22nd was partly cloudy, and we were lucky that the wispy clouds broke enough up to reveal this dazzling sight.  For a happy hour, we gazed up with our binoculars, our cameras, and our unaided eyes, until the planets disappeared into the trees.

All photos © Susan Barsy 2020

Janus Faces 2019

Full length figure of the Roman god Janus, showing his two faces in profile. The god of beginnings is holding a key and a vine.

Janus is the Roman god of beginnings and endings; of gates, doors, and seasons; and all sorts of metaphorical passages.  Associated with time and change, the two-faced god, whose gaze takes in both past and future, presides over all transitions, “whether abstract or concrete, sacred or profane.”  He opens and shuts doors with his key, his staff (depicted above as a living branch heavy with fruit) symbolizing his power to determine what prospers.  From this architect of the new, the month of January takes its name.

Where the past and future meet, Americans stand, wondering how “happy” or “new” 2019 can be.  Given the dismal character of national politics, cries of “Happy New Year!” have a hollow ring.  No need to be blithe, given that, in the manner of Janus, the new year will proceed from the year we’ve just had.  An impotent Congress, two parties captive to an unproductive quest for partisan dominance, a president whose vulgarity and viciousness are infecting civil society: these conditions, in combination, are weakening and destabilizing one of the most prosperous and powerful nations in the world.

Underlying it all is a decline in social leadership and the dying off of what was formerly an effectively unifying civic culture.  In 2018, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the late Senator John McCain, and the late President George H.W. Bush all pleaded for a renewal of civility, comity, and patriotic service, exhorting a new generation to assume the burdens of enlightened and disinterested leadership, in some cases pleading to us from beyond the grave.  To my mind, motivating America’s “natural leaders” to resume their traditional role in promoting communal well-being and an enlightened politics is a crucial task that will determine whether this year improves upon a politically dismal 2018.

Image: from this source.

On the verge (Election Day)

The shadow of a man and woman standing under a tree in autumn along the shore of Lake Michigan.
Today is Election Day, and we are each and all on the verge of something new.  Something unknown.  The campaign has been a time of trial—a time of bad dreams, friction, and more than a few out-and-out breakdowns.  Charisma, in the form of Donald Trump, has ruptured fault lines in the Republican Party and the nation that existed already.  Because of his candidacy, we as a nation and as individuals have gained some self-knowledge the hard way, which is how self-knowledge is always gained.  He has tested us, exposing our weaknesses, our normally veiled resentments, our various gnawing dissatisfactions.

Americans need.  Some truly live in a state of want, but others are fearful of the future, sensing decline and the increasing challenge of securing work and access to opportunity.  Others, not in need, want something other and better than what they already have, and, for that, they’re ready to trade something away.  Certainly, this is true of Republicans who have enjoyed considerable political power but insist the political order should be delivering something better than what it has managed to create so far.

Twitter sometimes delivers thought-provoking jewels, such as a tweet this morning quoting Gerald Ford: “Truth is the glue that holds governments together. Compromise is the oil that makes governments go.”

Hillary is not an innocent, but someone who has winked at the order herself and at acts within her province that are immoral or unseemly.  She is a tarnished political heroine, this ‘First Woman’—the other choice that all our earlier choices have made.  Many will vote for Hillary as a symbol of something she doesn’t really stand for, then expect her to wring something better from federal government and the political establishment.  She is the good-enough candidate, particularly in the eyes of those who feel no urgency about political change, whose hearts may have stopped bleeding some time ago.

 Whatever we stand on the verge of, it is best to acknowledge our complicity.  Whichever future we’re on the verge of, it will feature a world of political work that the republican model calls on ordinary people to perform.  My hope is that the election will usher in a period of broad ideological ferment and political reorganization, necessary precursors to restoring what is unifying and wholesome in American culture.

Hello, 2016

Color drawing of a female ice-skater being pushed out onto the ice, her skirt and scarf flying..

A new year begins, bumpy with the legacy of all the months and years preceding.  On the brink of the presidential primary season, we see patches and hazards ahead that bear the marks of the candidates, their penchants, and those of previous presidential administrations.  We advance in a world filled with drones, guns, bombs, hotheads, and uncompromising minorities, some of these made more fearsome by government missteps or inactivity.

The deeds and failures of our political leaders and America’s most powerful citizens shape the society we must make our way in.  As we careen into January, it befits us to acknowledge the best and worst of 2015:

Biggest winner
Barack Obama, who achieved most of his agenda for 2015.
Biggest loser
Every state that has refused to expand Medicaid.

Worst politician
Rahm Emanuel, narrowly beating out Benjamin Netanyahu.
Best politician
It’s still Bill Clinton.

Most overrated
Scott Walker, once touted as the ideal GOP candidate.
Most underrated
John Kerry, America’s best statesman since Kissinger.

Most stagnant thinker
The US Congress.
Most original thinker
The creative team behind NASA’s Mars Rover.

Best political theater
Pope Francis addressing Congress.
Worst political theater
Paul Ryan’s beard.

Worst lie
That Carly Fiorina is qualified to be president.

Best photo-op
September’s blood moon.

Capitalist of the year
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, now owner and invigorator of the Washington Post.
Turncoat of the year
Ted Cruz, now excoriating a justice he once admired.

Worst political scandal
Chicago’s cover-up of police misconduct.

Worst idea
That the US should wage war against ISIS in the Middle East.
Best idea
That everyone living in the US should have a legal status.

Boldest political tactics
Donald Trump’s.

Best government dollars spent
Investments in NASA that brought us closer than ever to Mars and Pluto.
Biggest government waste
Most of our military involvement in the Middle East.

Honorable mention
The swansongs of John Boehner and Joe Biden.

Enough already!
Obamacare repeals.

Sorry to see you go
Good-bye to the open out-cry trading pits of Chicago!

Destined for political oblivion in 2016
Marco Rubio, who has foolishly burned his bridges to the Senate.
Destined for political stardom in 2016
South Carolina governor Nikki Haley.  She is a prime pick for VP.

Image: Ethel Rundquist’s cover illustration
for the January 1916 issue of
Vanity Fair, from this source.