Essay: When and What Day is it?

Writers are story tellers and researchers who dig up things after getting lost running down rabbit holes. Mix in some historian, astronomer, anthropologist, math stuff, superstition, and observation of nature and mankind, and we charge into where only rabbits need to go.

My rabbit hole excursion involved time and our (USA/European) calendar. I’ve written about this before – Christmas in August, for example. So, I did some lookin’ stuff up.

Our clock time is based on a 24-hour day, determined by one 360-degree axial rotation of the planet. Calendar time is determined by the full orbit of the earth around the sun which takes 365.256 days. The spinning and orbiting do not come out even, so we have that .256 of a day to deal with. Thus, leap year and February 29th. But there is also the problem of the .006. If you don’t compensate for that, over time, things get off. It has happened.

What gets off? Easter. We had to get a grip on Easter. The solution was a new calendar. Can you imagine?

Computing the exact date of Easter is called computus. Obtaining an accurate calendar was one time when science, or observed reality, served the needs of religion. The Church needed to fix this. So, they did. And with the help of more than one mad scientist.

No shit folks. They feckin’ lost Easta and had to hire a guy to find it!

From first being questioned in 325 AD at Nicaea, it took more than 1,200 years to fix – hundreds more to get the Greeks and Turks on board.

Most of the world now uses the Gregorian calendar named after Pope Gregory VIII. It eventually replaced the Julian calendar due to the timing error. That six thousandths of a day made a big mess. But even with all of that, since Eastern Orthodox and Protestants were suspicious of everything the Roman Catholic Church did, it took hundreds of years for the Gregorian calendar to be adopted. The Pope’s authority was limited.

To bring on the new calendar in 1582, and to get dates properly aligned, 4 October was followed by 15 October, thus jumping 11 days. For approximately 500 years the world had two calendars (really it was more) due to religious mistrust within Christianity.

 

It took almost 200 years (1752) before England made the leap and adjusted from 2 September to the 14th. Historical rumor claims there were riots in London. The last European countries to officially adopt the ‘new’ calendar were Greece and Turkey in the 1920s.

I counted 34 different calendars in use world-wide this year (2018 or MMXVIII). I learned that horology is the name for the scientific study by horologists of time and the making of time pieces/clocks. I could not find an equivalent for calendar experts.

Time (Earth’s rotation on its axis) and calendar, (Earth’s orbit of the Sun) are closely tied, but the sources of measurement are literally astronomically different. We have time zones and an international date line, but we have no such logical place to start or stop measurement of a year.

Lunar phases come into play and there are lunar calendars. The Church had to deal with them, because of Easter. I know the moon is a big deal (especially when full), but I am writing a one-day blog, not a book. Back to my point.

When does each year begin? Whenever we say it does. Tradition and Greg’s calendar say we begin each year on January first. Why? Who says so? A long-dead Pope?

Another confusion issue with the Gregorian calendar is that it was adopted proleptic, meaning that dates prior to its 1582 inception were extrapolated back in time. For a long time, dual calendar dating was common. Born on 5 October 1254? Not so fast. All that work for a good, accurate calendar.

So, what day it is may depend not only on what religion you are, but also on what sect or denomination of the religion you are, what culture you belong to, and what calendar you are using.

I am thinking of the words in the song by Chicago, with a similar title, “Does anybody really know what time it is…” Do we care what day it is? Yes.

Currently, a new year begins when we are about a week into the northern hemisphere winter. Nothing really ends or begins after 1 January, just some ‘back to’ stuff like school or work, the grind, the salt mines. It’s depressing.

The new year should begin the day after Labor Day, in early September. It just makes more sense. The first Tuesday after the first Monday (Labor Day) would be when the year begins with a four-day weekend. Just move Auld Lang Syne and all the other new year’s traditions back a few months. Football would be just beginning instead of ending. Summer would be almost done, instead of the beginnings of winter.

Fall is already the holiday season. It’s when school begins and life changes. What mo’ betta’ way to bring in the New Year?

Get rid of Columbus Day (or whatever you call it, apparently, he was a dick anyway) and make Halloween a day-off – a real holiday. Pass a law that every normal person must costume up and wear a mask. Instead of trick-or-treating, kids must sing songs for money or candy. Make the day after Halloween even more spooky. Maybe graveyard parties? Bring back Decoration Day but make it Night. Cool!

Vet’s Day is good, but can we move Thanksgiving to something other than a Thursday? If we go with Friday, we can have Black Saturday, Purple Sunday (or Advent day one), and Cyber Monday, as is.

Pass a law that every kid with a birthday in December must have a party (and a good one) in June or July. Require gifts for the first 6 years. Align all the other holidays with Christmas and Yule and make the celebrations 12 days long. Light candles. Or move Christmas to August, as I’ve previously suggested. Think of it. All those f**king Christmas decorations gone by Labor Day (another law).

After New Year’s Day, add Saint Patrick’s Day as a day-off federal holiday and call it Green Day. Require everyone to wear green, drink beer, and eat corned beef and cabbage. Have a similar day for every other immigrant ethnic group there is. If an Indigenous People’s Day is needed. I suggest May first. Wait. What day was Custer’s Last Stand? Make it late June and make Juneteenth a holiday, too.

End the school year on or before June first. Make summer work vacations 20 days long. Require everyone to travel and to spend money with friends and family and to have fun for two weeks. The other six days are for trip prep and recovery. It would be an economic stimulus of the happy kind.

We determine how this goes. We, the people, make the decisions. Pass a law making it illegal for elected government officials not to do what we want. Add a law that jails them if they do not do the things they promised to do while campaigning. Include all presidents. Demand a new government agency to determine and ensure that everyone has life (health), liberty (freedom to choose), and happiness (even if they must go to the dentist sometimes).

But first, let’s fix the damn calendar. Remember, Labor Day is the last day of the year and the following day begins the new year, no matter the date. It would dress up one Tuesday of the year for someone and she’d get all sorts of Happy New Year wishes. A lot could change, until the following Tuesday.

Have a good time. Does anyone know what day or time it is? Does anyone really care?

Look both ways regardless of the days or what culture says.
It is only 2018 if we say it is,
and there have been calendar gaps for as long as
this mote of dust has hung on a sunbeam.

The most inclusive happy holiday song ever. A fun watch, if yer up to it.

Cotton Pickin’ Cotton

We were driving thru New Mexico to the Texas border. There’s no wall in that area, so we were free to pass where towns have names like Clovis, Muleshoe, Whiteface, Sundown, or Cotton Center. (Wall comment is humor.) Yolonda was driving when I first noticed sheets of white ice, which had formed on the north side of plants, tree limbs, and anything sticking up out of the ground.

 

Note wind turbine base in background.

While the scene was pretty, it looked like an ice storm had passed by. But the look wasn’t quite correct. As we continued, we drove into a thick fog, or some sort of cloud.

That part of America is a windy, unpleasant, high-n-dry desert. Why anything, much less cotton, grows there is a mystery to me. Cotton may have a history of controversy in America, but we all have items produced from cotton in our homes, and yer probably wearing some now. We were driving through the midst of cotton country, which extends from California thru the southern USA up to Virginia — once called “King Cotton” for a good economic reasons.

 

Cannot see the tops of the huge wind turbine electricity generators.

When I saw my first cotton field, I asked my friend to pull over. I jumped out of the car, crawled through the fence, and picked some raw cotton. I was 19 and a damn-yankee (Yolonda insists that’s one word) who’d never seen it growing. I knew little about cotton. Just that is was a textile and that it had a lot to do with The Civil War, The South, a guy named Eli Whitney, and his invention called a gin.

I understood that gin was an alcoholic drink, a card game, and was a word for to come up with, as in gin up. Later I learned what it had everything to do with cotton. A cotton gin is a machine that removes seeds, husks, and foreign material from cotton. Big machines are used to harvest it. Then, it’s taken to the nearest gin where all the seed stuff is removed. The seeds are used for cotton seed oil, but I don’t know if any other part of the plant is used for anything but compost.

 

Cotton fiber frozen to a bush.

As it turns out, the ginning of cotton is a messy process as it draws cotton fibers through a screen thingy to sift out the seeds and husks. A lot of stuff, especially cotton fiber, ends up floating in the air. It looks like clouds or fog. When I say a lot, I am talking majorly huge acres of cotton fiber floating all over the place. If you’re down wind of one of these gin things (as my daughter is), and allergic to atmospheric dust (as she seems to be), good luck.

After pulling off onto the wide shoulder of a Texas road, I walked about 30 yards to a brushy area for a closer look. I had no worries about critters like snakes, it was too brutally cold, as it often is in the unfriendly climate of the Texas Panhandle. I saw the white ice on branches, limbs, tree trunks, and  rocks. Closer examination revealed clear ice covering something white. I broke off a small thin branch and split it open.

I looked around when I realized that I had solved the mystery. What appeared to be fog, was not. It was cold and humid with moisture in the air, but the “fog” was actually teeny bits of cotton fiber and seed husk floating in the air. Agricultural and mechanical air pollution was being generated by the harvesting and cleaning of cotton with gins. It’s all done right there before the product is sent off to further processing and turned into consumer products.

The combination of a north wind with the right atmospheric conditions of moisture and freezing temperatures combined with the white cotton fibers floating in the air. As this combination moved south, it hit upon north-facing vegetation and virtually anything sticking up into the air. As this mini ice storm passed over, it placed a layer of white cotton fiber on the limbs and branches, then covered it with water which froze to form a thin layer of ice. The result was a glistening combination that looked like frozen snow on one side of trees, even down the trunks. It was frozen air pollution.

 

Ice on cotton on wood.

Joanna Gains of the HGTV show Fixer Upper uses cotton plants for decoration. Here is a link if you want to see, or even buy some (Click here for link). I don’t cotton to the décor, myself.

And then there is the story of the lady who was upset with Hobby Lobby (or some such place) cuz she felt cotton for décor is racially offensive. Cotton did not cause slavery, but the invention of Whitney’s cotton gin did contribute to the significant expansion of the cotton industry and slavery during the first half of the 19th Century.

A little cotton pickin’ music for your listening pleasure (CCR doing a Leadbelly tune).

Be curious as you look both ways.
Mind the gaps and watch for snakes when you stop to smell the roses
or admire nature’s work in concert with local farmers.

What Don’t We Know?

Twin fairies: Fenix and Furie
Twin fairies: Fenix and Furie

Since the early 1970s, I’ve held to the opinion that basic human nature is good. I’m not sure why I think so. My conclusion is partly evidence-based for the good, but since so much in human history is to the contrary, many people disagree with me. We seem quite set on damaging ourselves and the world around us in ways that are evil.

I’m also unclear about why it should matter. No one knows the answer to our basic nature. It’s too complicated. But when I consider my personal basic nature, the one I was born with; is it good or evil? Or should I ask, was it? When did it start to change – before or after birth? What do you think your nature is? How do we see the basic nature of others? Good or bad? Are there bad seeds among us?

what-we-dont-know-3It is what it is. However, I wonder if our opinion on this matters more than the real answer. It’s like believing in a god – it either exists or it doesn’t. Our believing or doubting anything changes nothing about reality (placeboes or magic notwithstanding). Our opinion on this affects how we see the world, other people – and most importantly, how we see ourselves. Me, is the one thing in the universe that I have some control over—maybe.

To the point, I just finished reading Straw Dogs by John Gray. It’s unrelated to the 1971 Sam Peckinpah movie of the same name, or to the 2011 remake; both of which are, ironically, based on a novel with a different name (The Siege of Trencher’s Farm).

Note to self: book titles and author’s names matter.

what-we-dont-know-4The premise of Straw Dogs is that humans are animals like any other animal. Both Christianity and Humanism see humans as capable of controlling things much more than Gray and others seem to think we do. This is a philosophical book that challenges many basic assumptions about what it means to be human. While I don’t agree with some of what Gray presents, I admit that he makes astonishing points that lead me to question which of us is correct. Regarding several of his positions, I think he’s nuts. But I find many of his other arguments compelling. Reading John Gray made me think, wonder, and contemplate – not the meaning of life, but its nature.

Are we animals? For an excellent article on this, click here.

Is our nature much different than it has been for centuries? Have we changed significantly in the thousands of years since our first existence as homo sapiens? Are we any different from other animals in terms of what happens to us?

Humans have been in existence much as we are now for about 200,000 years. For about the last 6,000 years, we have been the social creatures we know ourselves to be. How do we fit into our environment? Do we belong here? How long will we survive as a species? Are we masters of our own destiny any more than any other animal? Are we doomed to destruction by our own actions?

I’ve seldom thought about it, but Professor Gray makes this point right off. His position seems to be that the last time we had it right, we were hunter-gatherers. I tend to agree. Gray begins with this basic assumption regarding evolution and religious culture.

“If Darwin’s discovery had been made in a Taoist or Shinto, Hindu or animist, culture it would very likely have become just one more strand in its intertwining mythologies. In these faiths humans and other animals are kin. By contrast, arising among Christians who set humans beyond all other living things, it triggered a bitter controversy that rages on to this day.” ~ John Gray, Straw Dogs

Accordingly, Gray says that Humanist’s believe that through progress, humans can be free of the limits that burden other animals. That by using our knowledge, we can control our environment and flourish as we never have before. Gray also has an interesting take on history; he seems to say it has little or no meaning.

what-we-dont-know-5

I like this book because it deals with some aspects of the dark side of human nature. Interestingly, most of us know about the Holocaust, the WWII effort by Nazis to commit genocide and eradicate Jews. How many other genocides (or politicides) in human history can you name? Gray proposes, with evidence, that genocide is “as human as art or prayer.” Apparently, we are not very nice to each other, to other living creatures, or to nature in general. Along with others of similar philosophies, John Gray is talking about humans in a general sense.

The question for me is: how does all this square with my position that our basic nature is good? Maybe the answer doesn’t matter because he undermines so many of my humanist leanings, thus shattering my position that humans are special. I’ll retreat to my favorite elusion from Hamlet: “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

There is much we don’t know. But this Zen Proverb meme says it for me.

what-we-dont-know-2

Whatever our nature is, we share that truth with each other.
Let’s live our lives in awe of nature by embracing both sun and rain,
all flora and fauna,
and our fairies — Fenix and Furie.

Life is good and so are we, but mind the gaps and look both ways.

Passionate Disbelief: A Testament to Effort

hemmingway-first-draft

It may be just another from there-to-here story, but it is mine.

Officially, I haven’t written in my memoir for about two weeks. Sure, I typed over 50-thousand words for Nano in November, but so what? This isn’t just the telling of any story, it’s the recording of a part of my life. That first whack during Nano (something less than a 1st draft) is like putting primer on the wall before painting or prepping a canvas.

When I tried to make an outline, I ended up with a list of events somewhat out of order. Each time I had a memory or an idea, I quickly added it to the list. I now have a list of 165 items, memories, or events. There are a few duplicates, some ideas aren’t useable, and for some I still have no idea what I was thinking about or why I added it to the list.

I’ve glossed over a few how to write a memoir books. Now I’m slowly reading Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer. I just finished Writing is My Drink, a memoir by Theo Pauline Nestor. Giving all this thought to autobiographical writing has enlightened me that I prefer non-fiction to fiction. I prefer autobiography to biography, and specifically memoirs. I like history. In fiction, I prefer real life/real world stories to Sci-Fi or fantasy. It’s complicated. I like them all. Anything done well is better than my favorite genre not so well done.

I’m even considering changing last year’s novel to an autobiographical novel, and rewriting it from third to first person. But that’s for later. For now, I want to keep working on this memoir. While I’ve not recently written much in it, I have been working on it. Organizing both it and meh-self has taken a bit of time.

About 80% of my writing is rewriting, and if you know how Nano goes (thou shalt not edit), that effort will require mooch-o rework. It’ll keep me off the streets, out of the bars, and out of most trouble for a while. I enjoy rewriting, editing, correcting, and improving my own work more than writing the first draft. Maybe that’s cuz I don’t have to create (think) and spell simultaneously.

Writers get it.
Writers get it.

I’ll be right here, in my 11×11 spare room. This is my work-space, set up with folding tables that I can take down to turn it back into a bedroom when we have visitors. While I sometimes find other locations to write, I prefer this one. I got all meh stuff around me. And look at these post-it notes behind me. Each one has one or more of the topics contained in my memoir. Those written in pink or orange highlighter are yet to be written. It’s how I’m organizing the thing until I learn Scribner.

A memoir of post it notes
A memoir of post it notes

Below is my view from the chair at my computer. The sock monkey on top is the kind that rolls around and laughs, in case I need a lift, or someone walks in here and asks me what I’m doing. A couple of windows to my right provide an uninspiring view of my neighbor’s rooftop. But I want to know when it’s raining — pluviophile, remember?

The view from my writing nest
The view from my writing nest

Here is a little snippet from my memoir. I was 17, would soon graduate from high school, and was Air Force bound in a few months. Shirley was my sister and Danny’s meh big brudder.

As a senior in high school, my guide and advisor regarding entrance into the military was Shirley’s husband, Jack M. This hard-core, active-duty, career Marine gave me all the advice he could – more than I could assimilate. Jack was a highly decorated First Sergeant (Sergeant Major to be) and a veteran of both WWII and Korea. He would later complete two tours in Viet Nam, and he would resent being denied a third.

Sergeant Major M. was a true warrior. He was the guy you want on your side in a fight, but not necessarily the man you wanted in any situation requiring sensitivity, grace, or political correctness. Despite this, Jack was a boisterous and friendly Italian-American from Ohio who seemed to be liked by everyone.

Jack and Shirley were both Catholics, but were married by a Justice of the Peace because Jack was divorced. Eventually they were married into to the good graces of the Church, which seems strange because they never practiced their religion, or if they did, not for long.

One day Jack and I were browsing through a hardware store so he could tell me what to buy and what was good stuff. This was back when hardware stores had everything or knew where to get it.

Jack pointed at some hunting knives in a case, “Yer gunna want a good knife. Your own. Not too long, but you want good balance, feel, and steel that won’t break on bone. In the Marine Corps, everyone has a knife.”

I looked at him, “Jack, do you think I should join the Marine Corps and not the Air Force? It’s not too late to change.”

“Oh Jesus, no. First off, yer Mom would hate me, if not kill me. But I gotta tell ya, Billy. Yer Air Force material. The Marine Corps don’t work out fer kids like you. Shit, the Marine Corps is not for you.”

Jack was right. The Corps had not worked out well for Danny. Why would it for me?

Jack picked up a knife and pointed it at me. “But, this knife here looks like a good one. It’s Solingen steel and I can tell ya, the Krauts make good stuff like this. Feel it and see how it fits ya. How’s the balance?”

Jack bought the knife as a gift for me. It had a straight, one-inch wide, thick steel blade. The handle was black plastic inlaid with a red and white diamond symbol, and a black metal sheath. I soon realized that Marines have many more good uses for knives than Airmen do.

Note: My Air Force career spanned over 45 years; 22 active duty, the rest civilian. In my last job before retirement, I worked on Eglin Air Force Base for a Marine Corps Colonel. I enjoyed telling him this story.

Only you can tell your story.
Just mind the gaps and look both ways.