Monday, December 30, 2013

The eagle has landed

This snow formation is on our tree stump. It is completely natural and nothing was done to enhance it.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Winter Solstice

  At this rolling time of the year we look forward to the beginning of winter. This year it will occur in central Michigan on December 21 at 6:11 am. This is when the Earth’s tilt of 23.5 degrees points its axis directly away from the Sun. It is this tilt that causes our seasons. The sun will appear directly overhead along the Tropic of Capricorn, at 23.5 degrees south latitude. With the Earth’s North Pole at its maximum tilt from the sun, locations north of the equator see the sun follow its lowest and shortest arc across the southern sky. For the next six months, the days again grow longer as the sun spends more time above the horizon.

  Places on or north of the Arctic Circle will be in total darkness. Those on or south of the Antarctic Circle will receive 24 hours of sunshine. The sun will appear directly overhead along the Tropic of Capricorn, at 23.5 degrees south of the equator.

  December 21 is the shortest day of the year for us with about ten hours of daylight.  The earliest sunset for us was on December 7. The perihelion (closest point to the Sun in our elliptical orbit) occurs around January 3rd at about 147 million km. This is a little over 88 million miles.

  Astronomers have refined the degrees into minutes, seconds, and highly accurate decimal places. Because the Earth wobbles slightly on its axis, due to problems of indigestion (that magma rumbling around is a pain), the times and degrees change from year to year.

  In the Northern Hemisphere the Winter Solstice was taken seriously by the ancients, leading to a number of festivals to coax the gods into bringing back the sun and warmth. The Saturnalia was a major event for the Romans, with lots of drinking, gift-giving, bonfires, candles, and feasts. It lasted from three to seven days depending on the whims of the Emperor and economic conditions. Saturn was the creator of man in the Golden Age, where there was no winter. He was ousted by his son, Jupiter and life went downhill from there.

  Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights and is symbolized by the candelabrum known as the menorah. It celebrates an incident in Jerusalem during the Maccabean revolt in the second century BCE. The Syrians occupied Jerusalem. During the conflict, the temple's menorah, or ritual lamp, was running out of oil. Although it only had fuel enough for one night, the lamp burned brightly for eight nights until help could arrive. Hanukkah was not a particularly important holiday until modern times. It has always been a popular part of Jewish identity, and families play games, eat certain foods, and light a new candle of the menorah each night. This year Hanukkah lasted from November27 through December 5.

  Dies Natalis Solis Invicti means “the birthday of the unconquered Sun”. In what is now Iran, the Zoroastrians worshipped Mithras, who was created by the chief god, Ahura-Mazda, to save the world. This festival was celebrated in his honor by Roman soldiers who occupied the land. In 274 CE the Roman emperor, Aurelian, made it an official cult holiday alongside the many other Roman holidays.

  Brumalia was a Greek winter holiday associated with Dionysus and wine. By the time of this winter holiday the wine was ready to be poured into jars for drinking.  Although a Greek holiday, the name Brumalia is from the Latin for Winter Solstice. (N.S. Gill, .)

  For one and all, enjoy the Winter Solstice!

Monday, December 16, 2013

The stain on America’s history that has not been cleaned


   The American history most of us would like to remember is one of stalwart founding fathers setting forth on this continent a template of perfection. One need only read Founding Brothers, by Joseph J. Ellis (Vintage books, 2000), see the movie 12 Years a Slave, or pay close attention to what we say to each other. The vestiges of racial prejudice are still with us.

  Slaves had been an integral part of the colonies almost from the beginning. Southern states though it their right to maintain their “property” if there were to be a Union. In February, 1790, two Quaker delegations, one from New York and the other from Pennsylvania, petitioned the House of Representatives to end the import of slaves. They were ignored. Ellis refers to the founders as a group of greatly gifted, but deeply flawed individuals. The men selected to write the Constitution compromised their principles to assemble the rules of governing the new nation at the expense of the Blacks. Even among the abolitionists, many did not see Blacks as their equals. In the 1790 census, only two states had no slaves: Maine and Massachusetts. Of 3.9 million people in American, over 694 thousand were slaves.

  If you have not seen the movie, 12 Years a Slave, I urge you to do so. Yes, it is a fictionalized version of the life of Solomon Northrop, kidnapped and brutally enslaved in the 1850s, but it is based on sufficient evidence of the harsh treatment of human beings by hateful, uncaring “masters.” It took a Civil War followed by decades of Jim Crow laws before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 provided a structure of law protecting Blacks.

  That did not end discrimination or racial prejudice. It goes on today, it goes on here. Some of our locals have a deep-seated intolerance for Native Americans. They resent the monthly payouts to members of the Anishinabe people. They do not understand the culture and ways of these Native Americans. They never knew the Somicks who led the tribe in the 1970s. They do not know the artists, such as Smokey Joe Jackson, Shirley Broucker, or Norman Nayome. The tribe has internal problems and is trying to deal with them, but do not judge a people by the acts of the few.

  I have never understood “the white race.” If white is so great why are there so many tanning salons? Europeans excelled because of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution, not the color of their skin. Nations with skins of other hews have adopted the principles of capitalism and democracy, with varying degrees of success. Education and skill are among the attributes of achievement.

  In fact, “race” is a murky term. Archeologists have found that those who emerged from Africa changed skin tone after long periods of staying in a specific climate that granted them increased survivability. These groups, however, wandered back and forth across the Euro-Asian land mass and cohabitated early and often. This includes the people who travelled to the New World more than 12,000 years ago.

  You received half your genes from your mother, half from you father. Each of them had two parents. Go back ten generations and 1024 people had to be in the right place at the right time for you to be here now. That’s only 200 years. Since everyone along the way was a bit different, you are the result of the genes of 2047 individuals. Can you account for the whereabouts of those 2047 during their lifetime?

  During this holiday season, resolve to rid yourself of prejudice. Hatred is based on fear and ignorance. We are born with only a few fears, such as falling or loud noises. The rest are learned. What we learn we can unlearn. Understanding through education dissolves ignorance. Not all, but some.

  The United States has changed culturally, ethnically, and acceptance. Each of us must adjust to the new reality. Hostility now divides us. Much of this hostility is based on prejudice. We must become more tolerant, or those who are screaming for civil war will get it.

  Soon half our population will live below the poverty level. While the economy is making headway — the stock market and unemployment figures are encouraging, top level managers, who generate no goods or services, are paid 200 times that of those who do. Such inequity breeds hatred. I hope you have a merry Christmas, and don’t forget your resolution.



Thursday, December 12, 2013

Happy Holiday!

Happy Holiday! There are those in our community who would restrict religious freedom by insisting that the only “appropriate” greeting at this time of year is “Merry Christmas.” Such people are isolated from the greater community of the world and would restrict this time to their own convenience.
  Indeed, the end of a year is important to many in this country, for whom there is religious freedom guaranteed in the Constitution, who are persuaded by various beliefs. Wikipedia (not necessarily the best source: they didn't mention Epiphany ) lists at least 29 winter celebrations in December and 4 in January, around the world. With our college community there are many who may hold these truths to be self evident, that all beliefs shall be held in esteem.
  To put this into economic focus, no business in central Michigan can have a sign available for each and every one of these celebrations. The best alternative for them is “Happy Holidays.” And so it should be. Telling those of other beliefs “to go back to their own countries” would be to tell the Pilgrims to go back to England (where they would be imprisoned or worse). Here, then, are the holidays:
December • Advent: four weeks prior to Christmas (Western Christianity). • Chalica: A holiday created in 2005, in the first full week in December, celebrated by some Unitarian Universalists. • Saint Nicholas' Day: 6 December • Bodhi Day: 8 December - Day of Enlightenment, celebrating the day that the historical Buddha (Shakyamuni or Siddhartha Gautama) experienced enlightenment (also known as Bodhi). • Saint Lucy's Day: 13 December - Church Feast Day. Saint Lucy comes as a young woman with lights and sweets. • Winter Solstice: 21 December-22 December - midwinter • Dongzhi Festival - a celebration of Winter • Soyal: 21 December - Zuni and Hopi • Yalda: 21 December - The turning point, Winter Solstice. As the longest night of the year and the beginning of the lengthening of days, Shabe Yaldā or Shabe Chelle is an Iranian festival celebrating the victory of light and goodness over darkness and evil. Shabe yalda means 'birthday eve.' According to Persian mythology, Mithra was born at dawn on the 22nd of December to a virgin mother. He symbolizes light, truth, goodness, strength, and friendship. Herodotus reports that this was the most important holiday of the year for contemporary Persians. In modern times Persians celebrate Yalda by staying up late or all night, a practice known as Shab Chera meaning 'night gazing'. Fruits and nuts are eaten, especially pomegranates and watermelons, whose red color invokes the crimson hues of dawn and symbolize Mithra. • Mōdraniht: or Mothers' Night, the Saxon winter solstice festival. • Saturnalia: the Roman winter solstice festival • Pancha Ganapati: Five-day festival in honor of Lord Ganesha. December 21–25. • Christmas Eve: 24 December • Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Day of the birth of the Unconquered Sun): late Roman Empire - 25 December • Christmas: 25 December • Twelve Days of Christmas: 25 December through 6 January • Yule: Pagan winter festival that was celebrated by the historical Germanic people from late December to early January. • Anastasia of Sirmium Feast Day: 25 December • Malkh: 25 December • Boxing Day: 26 December - Gift-giving day after Christmas. • Kwanzaa: 26 December - 1 January - Pan-African festival celebrated in North America • Saint Stephen's Day: 26 December • Saint John the Evangelist's Day: 27 December • Holy Innocents' Day: 28 December • Saint Sylvester's Day: 31 December • Watch Night: 31 December • New Year's Eve: 31 December - Last day of the Gregorian year • Hogmanay: Night of 31 December - Before dawn of 1 January - Scottish New Year's Eve celebration • Hanukkah: A Jewish festival celebrating the miracle of oil • The Epiphany.
  January • New Year's Day: 1 January - First day of the Gregorian year • Saint Basil's Day: 1 January (Christian Orthodox) In Greece, traditionally he is the Father Christmas figure. • Twelfth Night: Epiphany Eve: 5 January • Epiphany: 6 January: the arrival of the Three Magi. • Armenian Apostolic Christmas: 6 January
  When I brought these to the Editorial Board several snickered at the likes of Chalica and particularly Bodhi. They were also amused by Dongzhi, Soyal, and Yalda. In our region, however, there are Unitarians, Buddhists, Chinese, Native Americans, and Iranians.
  My wife and I are particularly fond of Advent (we eagerly open calendar doors), the Winter Solsctice, Christmas Eve, Christmas, the 12 Days of Christmas, the New Year, and our wedding anniversary (strange it wasn’t mentioned in the list). To you all: Happy Holidays!