By on December 3rd, 2020



Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico was the world’s largest single-aperture telescope from 1963 until 2016 when China built a bigger one. Sound is what its great disk caught. Pulsars, ice on Mercury’s poles, the quasar 3C273’s brightness temperature at greater than 1013 K. Wonders for scientists who knew details of what they meant.



It was revered, busy, important in its day. In 2020 supporting cables began to snap. The final titanic smash came on December 1, 2020. The 1000 foot disk was hit by a falling observation deck, cracked and crumbled into itself.



What struck me most was the soundtrack. The way the destruction kept going on, pieces giving way.I so regret the sound was cut short bwforemsilence returned.



They say no human life was lost, but was no islander beneath the disk that had become familiar, existing there placidly for a generation or more? Nor in that teeming jungle no parrot, jaguar, tapir killed, broken, traumatized?  In Medieval times the theory was that humans sat supremely atop a pyramid of other animals, the less humanoid splayed out near the wide bottom. In some ways we still believe this.



There is a strange way that non-living things can become dear to us. I had read enough about Arecibo to feel it was a permanent feature of my world. And now it’s gone in an echoing cascade of roars. You’d think the catastrophic film of cables no doubt wider than a man’s arm, giving way to gravity — you’d think an artist would focus on that. But what this artist found the most evocative was the long sound of Arecibo’s dying.




The last moments of the Arecibo Telescope.

By on June 3rd, 2020

It was the third of June…

It was the third of June, another sleepy dusty Delta day. The Ode to Billie Joe as written and sung by Bobbie Gentry won her armloads of fame in the pop universe. Not only for its pop sensibility. Partly I’d guess for the song’s formal structure, the lazy way the story sets its trap, the snapping-turtle snap when it concludes. We don’t talk much about murdering unwanted babies. Our culture muffles our mouths with wads of bedding. Badding? Taboos.


Here are pictures of another third of June. 1945. The Battle of Berlin has just put an end to the Nazi infamy. German wives, faced with the intricate and unfathomable facts of their next years, find a water source and begin washing clothes. How supernally practical. Not sitting dazed on their couches. Though some are. Not mourning the end of German glory. But taking up the living of life.


The stuff that must also go on while others are dropping bombs.




German women washing clothes at a water hydrant in a Berlin street. A knocked-out German scout car stands beside them, 3 July 1945. Public domain, Wikimedia



You can see in the following photo how incomprehensible the streets of Berlin became. War correspondents in following years have shown us similar heaps of debris clogging civic blocks, Syria, Sudan, Kashmir.


Shangra-la before some men decide they can’t be happy unless they drop some bombs.



A devastated street in the city centre just off the Unter den Linden, 3 July 1945. Public domain, Wikimedia



War, so easy, so paltry to start, always ends with the destruction of more than an innocent babe. But we’re so used to war, the photos of war, the excuses, that flinging whole peoples off the bridge hardly raises an eyebrow. We can talk about this.