The Grand Convergence

Tonight the moon will pass through the Earth’s shadow, and if you have a good look at it, you will be able to clearly see that the moon appears to disappear completely. And then it comes back. At a time in history when people did not understand why this was happening, a lunar eclipse caused great fear and consternation, especially among creatures who still had their amygdalas (see the weekend post). Some believed that a dragon was swallowing the moon, and they fired cannon blasts to scare the creature away.

Human history tells us that in the absence of an explanation, one will be created and blame will be assigned accordingly.

Courtesy Nasaimages.org

On the very same day as tomorrow’s lunar eclipse, our hemisphere will be leaning away from the sun at its sharpest angle of the year and the winter solstice will occur. Daylight will be brief and nighttime long. People once thought this was an indication that the division between our world and the spirit world was stretched very thin, and mischief was somehow more likely at this time than at any other. Noisy parties were held to keep the demons at bay. But now we are wiser, and we know noisy parties are where mischief tends to happen, especially if it’s been a hard year at the office and certain people (we won’t name any names) wind up holding too many drink tickets.

Every so often we get this kind of cosmic convergence and much is being made of the fact that a total lunar eclipse and the winter solstice haven’t happened on the same day since well before any of us were born (456 years ago) and won’t happen again until most of us are good and dead (2094). If being alive for this conjunction is on your “bucket list”, congratulations. You made it. But if you live in the Twin Cities and actually want to SEE the eclipse, you’ll probably have to leave town to get out from under the clouds and snow. But that simply adds to the opportunity. You could wind up seeing a total lunar eclipse, experiencing the winter solstice AND sleeping in a room at he Motel 6 in Fort Stockton, Texas, all in the very same day. Trifecta!

I am not sure why so much attention is paid when planets line up in a row or eclipses coincide with other astronomical events. The universe has lots of shining, spinning things that rotate around one another and cast shadows. Stuff is happening all the time. Perhaps tomorrow is also the day some distant star goes supernova, but we won’t know about it for millions of years. Well, WE won’t know about it at all. But maybe some Earthing will, eventually, and they may track the explosion back to that crazy moment in 2010 when there was an eclipse and a solstice on the same day.

In case the record is closely examined by some future researcher, allow me to announce that Tuesday is also the last pick-up day of sort-it-yourself recycling in my neighborhood. Beginning on Wednesday, everything that I typically recycle can be (MUST be) put in the same big bin. This is an unfathomable change. I can’t tell you how long I’ve been sorting newspaper from office paper and keeping the milk jugs and tin cans over by the garage wall. Separating stuff is what recycling was all about for me. Like an ancient chieftain who thinks a dragon has swallowed the Moon and the Lord of Misrule is planning to raise a ruckus, I am suddenly quite uneasy and unsure of myself.

When have a lunar eclipse, the winter solstice and a change in recycling rules happened on the very same day? Never before. And perhaps never again. Will we even call it “recycling” in 2094? I don’t think so. I feel extra lucky to be alive for this moment.

What event in your life would you like to add to the roster of amazing synchronicity for tomorrow’s grand convergence?

Fearless!

After I read this fascinating article about a woman with no fear, I sent it to an acquaintance of mine who is an expert in the field, Dr. Larry Kyle of Genway – the supermarket for genetically engineered foods. Here’s his reply:

A woman with no fear?

How sad! The feeling of fear is overwhelming and so deliciously intense! I don’t want to say fear is “fun”, but when you face an incident that triggers real fear, you feel vibrantly alive afterwards.
If, in fact, you’re alive afterwards.

In this study, the scientists set out to test whether the amygdala, an almond-shaped button inside the brain, is the physical seat of fear in humans as it is in animals. Their subject was a 44 year old mother of three who had lost her amygdala as the result of a rare disease.

What did they do to test her fear response? They introduced her to a snake and a spider at a pet store. They took her on a tour of a haunted house. And they showed her excerpts from “The Blair Witch Project” and “The Shining.” When she seemed unperturbed they concluded that her fear response was inhibited.

I’m very disappointed. She’s a mother of three! You can’t scare someone who has given birth three times by using one stupid pet store spider! You need at least 1,000 spiders rushing out of a shower drain just after she has put the shampoo in her hair.

And a tour of a haunted house? Please. If you have three children, your real house is haunted every day. Yes, there’s a zombie in the closet. So what? The really frightening stuff has to do with the funny smell coming out of the dryer and the growing realization that some people in this house don’t empty their pockets before they put their clothes down the chute.

Movie clips? They’re nice, but they’re entertainment. Faux fear, if you will. Besides, if I read this report correctly, the subject (identified as “SM”) was accompanied by scientists in every instance. No wonder she wasn’t afraid. Anyone who has seen a horror film in the last 40 years knows the first thing a creature does is destroy its creator. When I’m in the movie theater I don’t even start to get worried until at least 3 scientists and a security guard are dead.

Researchers – the next time you do a study like this, I hope you’ll bring more theater into it. Yes, take your subject on a group tour of the darkened haunted house. But drop off one by one as she walks through. With each disappearance there should be a chop, or a scream, or the unmistakable roar of a chain saw. Splattering helps.

Or just observe her as she reads her children’s Facebook pages. Then we’ll see if it’s possible for a human to feel no fear!

I thanked Dr. Kyle for his expert opinion, but I’m inclined to think the study is accurate and the amygdala really is the fear center in humans. Which begs this question about getting an amygdalaectomy.

If you could have an operation that would leave you totally free of fear, would you?

Snow Shovelin’ Man

The people who showed up yesterday morning to shovel snow at the University of Minnesota’s TCF stadium were willing to do some physical labor in the great tradition of John Henry – a character out of folklore who generated a variety of songs about man’s unquenchable spirit in the face of a challenge from the steam drill.

Unfortunately, some of yesterday’s shovelers waited through the morning, and left in frustration before doing any actual work.

John Henry simply beat the steam drill with brute strength, and then he laid down his hammer and he died. Tough wages. But brute strength won’t help you overcome a mismatch between available workers and piles of snow in the absence of a plan that can quickly put them together. That’s a real heartbreaker.

When John Henry heard about the Vikings,
playin’ in the winter’s cold.
Well he picked up a shovel and his parka and a hat
Said Shovel’s gonna bring some Christmas gold, Lord, Lord.
Shovel’s gonna bring some Christmas gold.

The captain said to John Henry
You can wait over there in that line.
With your shovel and your parka and your hat, Lord Lord
You can wait ‘til it’s shovelin’ time.

John Henry said to the captain
I’m freezing and I’m ready to go
Before I’ll wait and stand and get frostbite on my hand,
I would die with my shovel in the snow

Now the captain said to John Henry
Just an hour more and maybe you’ll begin,
There’s a form you gotta sign and another friggin’ line
To endure before your shovel’s suckin’ wind, Lord Lord
To endure before your shovel’s suckin’ wind.

Now the planners that did those logistics
Meant to organize the snow removin’ troops
But so many came to town, when that sun was goin’ down
Poor John Henry hadn’t turned a single scoop

Now John Henry had dug snowy mountains.
From Duluth to Saskatoon and on to Nome
But he never dug that day where the Golden Gophers play.
He just waited ‘til they told him to go home, Lord Lord.
He waited ’til they told him to go home.

When have you been victorious against the machine?

Ask Dr. Babooner

Dear Dr. Babooner,

Ten days ‘til Christmas and I’m helpless when it comes to those cute little cookies. Some of them aren’t so little! And neither am I, once the festive tin has been emptied. What with all the parties at the office, I expect to gain about 6 pounds by New Year’s Day.

Here’s the real problem – Christmas cookie bakers are also pushers.

Typical scenario – an e-mail goes out to everyone in our department saying there are cookies in such and such a location. The mingle bells are ringing, and all work stops. Within moments, crowds are streaming past my desk, all on their way to load up with goodies. If I don’t immediately join the herd, people swoop in as they walk by, saying something like “Christmas cookies by the coffeemaker”, as if that’s a magic phrase that will allow me to drop everything I’m doing at the moment.

Before long, the social pressure becomes unbearable. I can hear them down there, talking and laughing and munching, and it becomes difficult to concentrate. I do believe in sociability and teamwork, so I get up.

When I arrive at the scene, someone grabs a little paper plate and begins loading it up with gingerbread snowmen, toffee squares and snickerdoodles. I say I’m watching my diet and people scoff. “C’mon, it’s Christmas,” they say, as if that somehow suspends the well-documented physiological effect of massive amounts of sugar and fat.

In some ways, I think the Christmas cookie crowd is the opposite of a therapy group. They are a community of food abuse sufferers, bent on self-destruction and committed to dragging you into their sad pool of caloric misery in the name of glad tidings and good cheer. They foist their morsels on you with such earnestness it borders on an insult if you refuse to take one or seven of these tiny fat bombs back to your desk.

Dr. Babooner, I want to be nice, but Christmas cheer is killing me.

Sincerely,
Santa’s Overstuffed Sack

I told S.O.S. that is is OK to lie at Christmas time if the goal is self preservation. I would tell the cookie pushers that I am under doctor’s orders to eat only vegetables at work. In fact, bringing a tray of festive green celery and jolly red radishes to the Christmas party is a great strategy that might succeed in getting everyone back to work more quickly!

Another tactic – let co-workers know about a newly released study that indicates exercise is much more potent in its effects against weight gain and the onset of diabetes if that exercise is done in a “fasted state”. So tell everyone you’ll be happy to enjoy a plate of cookies with them – after you lead the group through an exhausting regimen of jumping jacks and push-ups. That will help you manage the extra calories, and it might get your name permanently removed from the Impromptu Cookie Binge e-mail list!

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?

Suburban Archeology

Wooly Mammoths Unearthed

Our monumental weekend snowstorm continues to deliver amazing discoveries. Impatient amateur archeologists are excitingly trumpeting the news that an out of work plumber claims to have uncovered the remains two wooly mammoths in the enormous pile of snow at the end of his suburban driveway.

“My shovel hit something,” said Barry Tukeman, “and I thought it was another filthy ice chunk kicked up by the plow. But when the snow fell away, I could see tusks.”

Unfortunate Creatures Encased in Ice

The mammoths are remarkably well preserved and fully intact, with two tusks each.

Tukeman, an instant paleontologist who has studied the science extensively on Wikipedia, theorizes that the animals became encased in ice during Saturday’s particularly vicious blizzard and expired standing up. He dated the find at a full 3 days ago.

“Saturday night the snow was blowing so hard sideways I don’t think I woulda seen the Titanic if it had come crashing into my front yard,” Tukeman remarked. “In fact, the Titanic might still be out there. I haven’t cleared the front walk yet.”

Sadly Frozen Though Help Was Nearby

No one in the area recalls seeing the creatures before the storm hit, and many of Tukeman’s neighbors were skeptical that the mammoths wandered in by accident.

“His lawn was an eyesore last summer, that’s for sure,” said Sara Tonin, who lives two doors away from Tukeman. “My children claimed they heard strange rustlings and snorting when they passed by his place, so it’s not farfetched to think that he already had a Wooly Mammoth infestation going on. We couldn’t take legal action, but if I find any evidence that things with tusks have been digging in my garden this spring, he’s paying for the pesticide treatment.”

Dr. Dima Hannibal, an expert in wooly mammoth research in the Cryptozoology Department at the University of Proboscis at Durante, received images of the discovery by e-mail yesterday afternoon. Her immediate comment was, “You’re kidding, right?”

She was reacting to photographic evidence that the creatures are not wooly, nor especially large.

“They look like plastic children’s toys, and elephants at that. Not even related to the Wooly Mammoth. If they were biological creatures in the first place, which they’re not.”

Pressed on the likelihood of migratory, non-living plastic mammoths getting lost in this past weekend’s storm and winding up encased at the end of a driveway in Woodbury, Dr. Hannibal called the explanation a hoax, and not a very good one at that.

“My guess is that a child dropped some toys in the yard and didn’t pick them up. This find might date back to sometime last summer. But I wouldn’t go much further than that.”

What lost childhood toy would you most like to recover?

A Day at the Beach

These are the days of deep cold that make you think about the atmosphere. Scientists say it’s “an insulating blanket” that filters out harmful rays and moderates the temperature on Earth. Yes, I’m grateful. But this is moderate? After a night with a low of -22 in Hibbing, suffering Minnesotans might well ask – how much worse would it be with no atmosphere at all?

If you consider our moon a reasonable test case, the answer is – a lot worse. The moon is, of course, roughly the same distance from the sun our Earth. With very, very little atmosphere, the permanently shadowed craters get to be -397 degrees Fahrenheit. The good news – there’s no wind – is also the bad news. No air.

A couple of days ago astronaut Neil Armstrong left a comment on Robert Krulwich’s blog at NPR that overturned my uninformed thinking about lunar weather. I look at this photo of Buzz Aldrin on a lunar walk during the Apollo 11 mission and I’m glad he has a suit to keep him alive in the brutally cold vacuum of space.

NASA/Courtesy of Nasaimages.org

But actually, in this scene, it’s hot.

Armstrong told Krulwich “We were operating in a near perfect vacuum with the temperature well above 200 degrees Fahrenheit with the local gravity only one sixth that of Earth.”

I’m having a hard time getting my head around the idea of a hot moon.
Maybe this would help.

Where is your favorite sandy beach?

Metrodome Deflation Haiku

Minnesota was making some progress, reputation-wise. We used to be known for miserable weather, but thanks to the efforts of many thousands of stalwart, politically active, civic minded citizens, we were well on the way to becoming famous for election recounts.

Now it’s back to weather.

This weekend’s snowstorm put the upper Midwest front and center on many news summaries coast-to-coast. Apocalypse in the Heartland! We could have withstood that negative publicity by sharing the weight with Iowa and Wisconsin, but Sunday morning’s deflation of the Metrodome re-reminded the rest of the nation that Minnesota is part of the upper Midwest. Dang. And as the repairs are made over the next few days, it will be bitterly cold. Double dang. They were just starting to forget!

All we can do is graciously embrace the climate we were given with a zen-like acceptance. Toward that end, I suggest you consider writing a Metrodome Deflation Haiku. It’s fun. And once you’ve done it you can read your work of artsy genius out loud, using a breathy, downward vocal trajectory. Just like all the air rushing out of something.

The Americanized version of haiku uses three unrhymed lines a 5 – 7 – 5 syllable sequence.

My bumpy pillow
Feels as cold as a blizzard.
White sand fills my dreams.

Fully inflated
They call me impervious
But I don’t like snow.

Brett Farve’s shoulder must
hurt like torn fabric panels
waving in the breeze.

See? Easy cheesy.

Write your own!

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