Sunday, November 22, 2009

Autumn into Winter

Autumn in the desert is a subtle season, not as garishly over-the-top as autumn on the east coast. Back east, the fall colors explode over the landscape and in your face, literally demanding that you pay attention to them. Fall is everywhere you look, and that is not a bad thing at all. One of the most memorable autumns I ever experienced was many years ago on a vacation in Maine and eastern Canada. I flew to Boston and got a rental car, and headed up the coast. I was blessed with a week of the most perfectly clear, warm weather I could ever have asked for, and the autumn colors were at their height. Along the coast of Maine I came across countless picture-postcard scenes of white clapboard churches nestled in groves of brilliantly-colored trees, under a deep blue sky with wispy, delicate cirrus clouds. My mind became completely saturated with color and beauty, and my visit to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and especially the serene, pastoral Prince Edward Island still provide some of the most intense and pleasurable memories of any vacation in my life.

But as I said, this time of year in the desert kind of sneaks up on you on little mouse toes. You start to notice small things, like the deep chill in the morning, and the light shining through the trees takes on a more golden or orange hue. The sun rises a little further south each day and as the solstice approaches, I have my own little version of Stonehenge in my home. For a couple of weeks before and after the winter solstice, the sun sends a strip of light shining through my kitchen and on to the closet door next to the front door, and illuminates the entry foyer with a glow that only happens during this time of year, and only for a short time. Strangely enough I've come to look forward to seeing this little display of light every winter, and the incongruous, fortuitous alignment of morning sun and windows in my home that creates this miraculous little apparition.

Up in the nighttime sky things are changing, too. Orion the Hunter has cleared the neighbor's mammoth pine tree and is slowly righting himself in the eastern sky, his arm raised, his knife hanging below his belt. Hidden in his belt is the Horsehead Nebula, a cloud of dark gas and dust which appears as the silhouette of a horse's head against the dim glow of heated hydrogen gas behind it. Running ahead of Orion is Taurus the Bull, and ahead of him are the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades. Taurus is also famous for having had one of the brightest supernovas visible to the naked eye. Back in the year 1054, Chinese astronomers were shocked and surprised to note the appearance of a brand new star in the sky, which for a couple of months shone brighter than any other star, and was actually visible in the daytime. This brilliant exploding star gradually dimmed and disappeared back into the blackness of the sky, but left behind an enormous, expanding cloud of gas and dust, which has formed a complex, dense network of streamers, filaments and debris, along with a pulsar at the center - the dead, destroyed remnant of the stellar core - spinning rapidly and sending out pulses of radiation at extremely precise, regular intervals, just like the ticking of a cosmic clock. Under Orion, Lepus the Hare is slowly, cautiously becoming visible and behind Orion is his faithful hunting dog, Canis Major. Also making an appearance low in the east is Gemini, with the twin stars Castor and Pollux making an unmistakable pairing.

Autumn here doesn't last very long and neither does winter. Half of November, December, January and part of February make up the lifespan of the two seasons, and by Valentine's Day the trees will be blooming again, the days will be noticeably longer, the weather will be warming up and hopefully the desert will be green again after a good dosing of winter rains. The fleeting nature of the desert seasons make it all the more important to savor and appreciate them while they are here, because they bring a color and a tenor and a feeling to this beautiful land which is very subtle, very lovely, and very enjoyable.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

November Madness

Here we are in mid-November, and we're getting some of the best weather of the year in Phoenix. The days are sunny and clear, with temps in the mid- to high-seventies and the nights get delightfully chilly. Most evenings you can go outside and smell the aroma of fireplaces in the still air. Everyone is gearing up for the imminent holiday season, the time when a bit of childish silliness is permitted and our inner child is encouraged to come out and have fun. But instead of gentle, good-spirited playfulness we get wave after wave of batshit-craziness, as we have had all year long. It seems that even the approaching Christmas season can't flush out all the entrenched idiots in Congress and beyond.

The remnants of the health care reform bill limp tragically along through Congress, with everyone and their mother taking pot shots at it, hoping to put it out of its misery. The Republicans, as they always do, are goose-stepping along in perfect lockstep with each other, united in their mindless addiction to the lobbying money of the health care industry. And the Democrats, as they always do, are proving to be their own worst enemy with the "Blue Dog" Democrats siding with the Republicans in critical votes. And to no one's surprise, abortion - which by the way still happens to be a right guaranteed by the Supreme Court - has to be dragged into the fray as a cultural wedge issue. The only surprise was that a vile, loathsome amendment blocking ANY coverage for abortion under truly outrageous, restrictive conditions was introduced by a Democrat, Rep. Bart Stupak from Michigan. You would never see a Republican representative defying their leadership like that - slavish, robotic devotion to an ideology does have its advantages.

And what are we to do with Sarah Palin, who continues to be a giant infected pimple on the butt of America? Now she is getting on a big bus, not for the one-way trip to Oblivion that she so richly deserves, but for a cross-country March of Stupidity to flog her ridiculous book. Amazingly, the book is something like 413 pages long. Palin has not had 413 pages of coherent thoughts in her whole life. What did she do, document every single trip she made to the Wasilla Walmart? The only thing more incomprehensible than her writing this colossal waste of paper is anyone spending money on it and God forbid, actually reading it. There is absolutely nothing Palin could say in her book that would interest me in the slightest, although there were some unintentional moments of comedy as excerpts trickled out. In the campaign last year, Palin got a lot of flak from the $150,000 spent on her wardrobe. Her book documents that she got upset because in her mind, it made her family "look like a herd of hillbillies that were living high off the hog!" HAHAHA! She actually said that! In another stunning example of her total lack of self-awareness, she doesn't realize that her family LOOKS like a herd of hillbillies because they ARE a herd of hillbillies! They come from Wasilla, Alaska for God's sake! They can't help but look like a herd of hillbillies! That was such a hilarious thing for her to say, I can't tell you how much that made me laugh. I really believe that anyone who reads her book will suffer a loss of at least 10 I.Q. points, and the vast majority of conservatives in this country simply cannot sustain such a huge drop in their brainpower.

As another example of the dumbing of America I submit the recent premiere of a movie called 2012, a high-budget, special-effects laden disaster movie. Movie-goers love their disaster flicks, maybe because after watching the destruction of the planet their own weirdly pathetic lives don't look so bad after all. And there's all kinds of ways that humanity can meet its end, whether through ecological disasters such as The Day After Tomorrow, or alien invasions as in Independence Day or War of the Worlds, but this latest shake-and-bake epic is triggered by the ending of the Mayan calendar, which runs out on December 21, 2012. What they don't bother to tell you is that the Mayan calendar is made up of a series of epochs called "long counts," and what is going to happen on 12/21/2012 is that the current long count will end and the NEXT ONE WILL START right after it! It's just like when your current calendar runs out on December 31. The world doesn't come to an end, does it? Of course not, you just start a new year with a new calendar! Well that's what's going to happen with the Mayan calendar. Anyhow the movie says that neutrinos from solar flares microwave the Earth's core and cause massive seismic disruption. These flares come from the Sun lining up with the center of the galaxy as it does EVERY DAMNED YEAR in December when the Sun moves through the constellation Sagittarius!! The movie shows crustal buckling in Los Angeles and part of California falling into the ocean. Such things do happen, but in geological time scales involving millions of years, not twenty minutes of movie time. There are just so many things preposterously wrong with this movie that I can't even start, so I'm just going to go along with it and treat it like the escapist fantasy diversion it really is, much like Congress would be if it wasn't so stupifyingly evil and destructive in real life.

After all, the complete annihilation of the planet would be a day at Disneyland compared to the Palins living in the White House.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Boycott Christma$$$

As the year barrels to a close and the second decade of the twenty-first century rears its ugly head above the horizon, everyone should become dimly aware of the approaching holidays. Thanksgiving is a little more than three weeks away, and Christmas a bit more than seven weeks off. So, we should be hearing more about Thanksgiving, right? Not so fast, because I just saw my first television commercial for the Christmas holiday, and I haven't heard squat about Thanksgiving.

Walgreen's and Costco have had some of their Christmas merchandise out on display for weeks now, and I can't tell you how jolting and disorienting it is to see fully decorated Christmas trees right after coming in from near 100-degree temps outside. But I voluntarily walked into both of those fine establishments and I can walk back out again if I want to. When advertisers start showing their Christmas commercials on television, that is more of an invasion of privacy. By bringing their sales harangues uninvited into my living room and dumping them in my lap, they are showing an aggressiveness and pushiness that does not go unchallenged.

And I really wouldn't care if they started in with the Yuletide commercials right after Thanksgiving, the usual start of the holiday shopping madness, because that's when I really curtail my television viewing. I seriously get aggravated when I see the same damned annoying commercial 50 times in the space of a half-hour. And Christmas music can be very nice when it's not used as background music for hordes of greed-crazed children going into grand-mal seizures if they don't get whatever overpriced piece-of-crap gift the advertisers tell them they have to have this year, or their Christmas will be a complete failure.

There are plenty of things about Christmas that I like, such as the cooler weather, the house decorations (although that can get really out of control), going to Christmas parties with friends, and the aforementioned Christmas music. XM Radio in particular has a wonderful audio channel called "Classical Christmas" that they broadcast only during the holidays, and it showcases incredible holiday music that you rarely hear anywhere. There are some really enjoyable holiday movies on TV, and one of my favorites is "White Christmas" starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye (more about it in a future blog). I love the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert, strange as that may sound. And there's just something so damned reassuring and comforting about "A Charlie Brown Christmas." It's like a big warm blanket made up of your childhood memories that just wraps around you and makes you feel like a kid again. That kind of stuff is priceless.

I've started my own Christmas traditions, and one of them is to boycott the store who shows the first Christmas commercial on TV. Last year that honor went to Wal-Mart, and this year it goes to Kohl's department stores. So, suck it Kohl's, Merry Damned Christmas to you. Because of your greediness and self-serving rush to shove your name into everyone's face so early on in the season, you won't be seeing me or my money in any of your stores. It's called voting with your wallet, and my wallet does not vote for Kohl's.

Obviously the kind of money-grubbing Christmas season the advertisers are trying to force us into experiencing comes from a place of greed and avarice. We're going to hear so much of the upcoming shopping season being a barometer of the success or failure of all the economic stimulus efforts that have been and are being done. And it's really a shame to cast Christmas in that light, because it just turns the holidays into more of a mad, delirious shopping spree/death march than usual, leaving everyone tired, demoralized and deeper in debt. But it doesn't have to be that way.

The choice really comes down to whether you will sit back and passively accept the edicts and demands of the business world when it comes to celebrating Christmas the way they want you to, or actively reject the stifling consumerism that chokes all the joy out of the season. I choose the latter, and this year as last year I'm backing away from the shopping and spending and gift-giving hysteria that used to make me fear this time of year. It's really simple and easy - all the power is in your hands. I'm going to start by telling my friends to please not buy me anything. I love my friends and appreciate their generosity, but I am very fortunate to have more "stuff" than I need. I would really love it if they kept their money and either spent it on themselves or their pets, or donate it to a charity of their choice, and Brambley Hedge Rabbit Rescue is always my first choice when it comes to worthy charities. For me, what I want the most is to spend time with my friends, enjoy their company and their good humor with a wonderful meal or a bottle of wine, and just get back to the way Christmas should be celebrated - as a time for gathering-together in friendship and holiday spirit.