How (Not) to Celebrate New Years

A traditional way of celebrating New Years Eve in France is by setting cars alight. According to the BBC, as of some 12 hours ago, a total of 874 cars have been set on fire. I’m sure that’s kind of like a firecracker, but multiplied out, that’s got to be about 10 million dollars in damages.

Far better is a series of two cartoons from Brooke McEldowney in his “9 Chickweed Lane” series. The first cartoon ran on December 31 and was a bit confusing:

It all came clear with today’s cartoon:

I loved this set of images. We make a jump from one reality to another. Actually, it’s the same reality: Just a different template overlaying it. BTW, the look on the little girl’s face is priceless.

So let’s take that leap without incinerating any automobiles, if you please.

The Year in Review? Why?

Every year around this time, the press and the broadcast media like to run stories in which they remind us of the many infamies of the year that is to expire. I say let it expire in peace, without unnecessary commemoration.

It is good that we now have vaccines. If only we had people who were caring enough to take advantage of them. Today, I saw on Santa Monica Boulevard a pickup truck plastered with signs attacking the vaccine as a nefarious government plot to impugn our purity of essence, or some other likely rot. The vaccine would have been a triumph, but not in a nation teeming with ignorant mofos.

It’s equally to difficult to look back at the disasters wrought by climate change: California wildfires, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and a steadily rising mercury level.

While the economy hasn’t altogether collapsed yet, it gives dangerous signs of doing so.

So please forgive me if I neglect to celebrate the passing year. Only a fool celebrates the passing of time.

Return to Uayeb Yet Again

To date, I have written five posts about the Maya “month” of Uayeb or Wayeb, which consists of the last five days of the Haab Calendar of 365 days. The Haab calendar has twenty months of eighteen days each, which isn’t quite enough to make up the full complement, so the Maya added a short stub of a month containing the five “nameless days.”

There is also a Maya god named Uayeb, who is the god of misfortune. That sounds about right.

The Cartoonist Scott Stantis Has an Intuitive Understanding of Uayeb

Here is a link to my previous posts on the subject:

Below is the Maya glyph for the “month” of Uayeb, or Wayeb (kind of looks like a tiny-headed god flexing his muscles, doesn’t it?)

In his comments to last year’s post, my friend Mudpuddle noted that “the glyph looks like a surfer headed for muscle beach!”

I am amused by how well a Maya calendrical belief fits in so well with our civilization, in which the days between Christmas and New Year and almost universally considered as dead time.

So don’t make any big plans until the New Year. But you kind of knew that anyway, no?

Grinchlike … But No Grinch!

I am no Ebenezer Scrooge (post the three spirits), dancing with joy, dispensing gifts, and in general comporting myself around Christmas time with uncomely glee. Today, going to lunch with Martine, I encountered scores of stressed-out drivers in the process of driving in such a way that easily merited a serious car crash. (Also, I encountered far fewer drivers who drove with courtesy and watchfulness.)

Christmas as a religious holiday gets my respect. I myself am unaffiliated with any official religion, but I can understand the significance of the Incarnation for Christians.

It’s Christmas as a secular holiday which is out of whack. You should see the frenzied shoppers trying to fit into the Culver City Costco parking lot around noon. I imagine many had to roam the lot for upwards of an hour before they found a spot. For many, this weekend is the optimal time to get those last-minute gifts.

Well, I’m not shopping for gifts this Christmas, though Martine and I did send out a number of cards—both religious and secular—to our friends and relatives.

What’s wrong about the holiday is the whole secular mythology: Santa, the Xmas tree, stockings by the fireplace, the f—ing “Elf on the Shelf,” Christmas parties, yearly attending the Nutcracker, reindeer antlers on car windows, those stupid Santa hats…. Need I go on? What we have year is a recipe for distress. It’s damn near impossible to have a perfect Christmas with all the trimmings and cancer-like accumulated practices

My Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa wish for all my readers is simple: Enjoy, but when you begin to stress, PULL BACK! It’s not worth making a nightmare out of the whole thing. Above all, survive in good spirits!

The Alliance

What makes you YOU? Is it a single thing? or an alliance of upwards of 30 trillion things working together? According to an article in the April 2021 issue of Scientific American:

The human body replaces its own cells regularly. Scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, have finally pinned down the speed and extent of this “turnover.” About a third of our body mass is fluid outside of our cells, such as plasma, plus solids, such as the calcium scaffolding of bones. The remaining two thirds is made up of roughly 30 trillion human cells. About 72 percent of those, by mass, are fat and muscle, which last an average of 12 to 50 years, respectively. But we have far more, tiny cells in our blood, which live only three to 120 days, and lining our gut, which typically live less than a week. Those two groups therefore make up the giant majority of the turnover. About 330 billion cells are replaced daily, equivalent to about 1 percent of all our cells. In 80 to 100 days, 30 trillion will have replenished—the equivalent of a new you.

In a strange way, every human being, every animal, every plant is an alliance of micro particles. In my lifetime, I have given birth to and sloughed off untold trillions of tiny pieces of me. Yet I still see myself as a unified being with certain likes and dislikes, certain patterns of thought.

When it comes time for me to die, it’s like Better.Com firing 900 employees on a Zoom call. Except some 30 trillion parts of me would be abruptly cashiered—without benefit of unemployment compensation. I would like to think that my mental processes would continue somehow, but that’s getting into highly disputed territory.

So far my alliance has held together pretty well. The whole coronavirus situation has been like an invasive plant or insect species. Undoubtedly, I have ingested perhaps thousands, perhaps even millions of Covid-19 viruses, but never enough to disturb the majority population of the alliance, which, by the way, itself includes billions of non-threatening viruses of various sorts.

When you look at yourself as an agglomeration of tiny living things, it makes you feel humble. And it makes you laugh at a lot of the things that make people worry.

I feel good about myself because, as of now anyway, my 30 trillion parts are a kind of parliamentary democracy in which all the components still work together, peacefully for the most part.

Veterans: In Harm’s Way

I don’t usually pay much attention to holidays. That does not mean I’m a Jehovah’s Witness: It just means that I think most holidays are a major pain in the ass. Some of them, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, are notorious for putting incredible stresses on families, and sometimes breaking them up.

The men and women of our armed forces typically did not join because they wanted to serve our country. I think most wanted to lift themselves out of poverty and take advantage of educational opportunities that would jump start their post service careers. Unfortunately, in the process, they often put themselves in harm’s way fighting our nation’s interminable wars.in Korea, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, et cetera ad infinitum.

In those “little wars,” some 100,000+ Americans gave their lives. And a much larger number came back with debilitating physical or mental scars.

I consider myself fortunate that my brain surgery operation in 1966 gave me a Selective Service rating of 4F, so that I would not have to fight in Vietnam. Truth to tell, I would probably have been 4F in any case, as I had been walking around with a pituitary tumor for ten years or more and was not in great shape.

During the Vietnam Era, many war protestors held a grudge against the armed forces. I didn’t. Most of them were just trying to survive under difficult circumstances. Instead, I wish them well.

Flirting With Death

It seems that, as time goes on, Halloween is becoming an ever more popular holiday. It has moved from being a children’s celebration to one that is equally observed by adults. In the Catholic liturgy, it is merely the eve of All Saints Day, which continues to diminish in importance as Christianity slowly recedes. The next day, All Souls Day—November 2—is the Mexican Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.

What with all the horror films and Stephen King novels and Jack O’Lanterns, Halloween tends to flirt with death without really facing it. As a culture, we tend to stay in the outskirts of death without descending into the center of it. The skulls and skeletons we affect are free of putrefaction and stench.

When I was a student at Dartmouth College, I spent four years in the remote Middle Wigwam dormitory (later re-christened McLane Hall). To get to the center of campus, I had to pass along the northern edge of the Hanover, New Hampshire cemetery, which has tombstones dating back to the 18th century, as Dartmouth was founded in 1769. It was an eerie experience, especially when walking home at night after a movie, play, or visit to Baker Library. Yet it looked nothing like the fantasy cemetery pictured above. Even the much older Copps Hill Burying Ground in Boston, where Cotton and Increase Mather are interred, is nowhere near as nasty as a typical horror film cemetery.

We like to keep our cemeteries on the neat side else no one would want to visit them. That’s because we are forced to acknowledge death, but we’d rather not think about it. And when we do, we use typical horror themes to frighten ourselves before returning to normality. Among these are vampires, zombies, Frankenstein monsters, ghosts, hauntings, mummies, shock operas like Hitchcock’s Psycho, demons, goblins, and so on. In fact, most of these themes are wildly fictional and outside the experience of most everyone.

Absent from most of these themes is the real sting of death: a numbing sense of loss of our loved ones and the realization that we will not escape the same fate.

So celebrate Halloween by all means. I certainly do. This month I read Thomas Ligotti’s stories in Grimscribe and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. And I just started Sheridan LeFanu’s Uncle Silas (1864).

Parking

Talk About Something We Take for Granted …

In just about every movie I’ve ever seen, the hero never has any trouble finding a parking spot directly in front of his destination. And, moreover, if there is a parking meter, he never has a problem getting the exact change or running his credit card. As for myself, I usually find that most meters have either been vandalized or never worked right in the first place.

And that’s not the worst of it. To use a meter, I have to make an existential decision. Which is more important to me? Quarters for parking, or quarters for the washer and dryer in my apartment building? Rarely do the meters accept any of my credit cards: I guess it’s more difficult to vandalize the coin reader part of the device.

Today was a rare day for me: When I went to see my doctor, I found a good parking place on the residential street just north of Wilshire Boulevard. Usually, I have to hike from four or five streets away; and even then I have reason to fear getting a parking ticket. Then, when I went to lunch at Gilbert’s El Indio I got the coveted parking space right next to the front door. And I was able to order the excellent Enchiladas Suizas Monday lunch special.

Speaking of parking, I typically avoid parking garages. It’s a quick way to not only empty your wallet but get your car all dinged up. So I have adopted a practice which I abbreviate as PFAW—short for “park far and walk.” I need the exercise anyway, so if I have to walk half a mile from my parking place, it’s probably good for me, no? I always smirk at the drivers who absolutely have to park right in front of their destination, even if it means messing with the flow of traffic. There is a Trader Joe Market near where I live which always has a bunch of “parking playas” jockeying for the ten desirable spots right in front. I just turn on Granville and park about a block away.

Parking is one of those activities that people don’t usually talk about. Yet you will find that the time one spends looking for a parking place (not to mention the money) adds up when you look at a whole year’s time.

Here’s hoping that the magical parking spaces will suddenly be available to you. If not, may you be philosophical about parking far and walking.

Too Many Freedoms

Maybe Wee Need to Stop Desiring “Freedoms” That Were Never Guaranteed to Us

Look what happened to our Second Amendment. Somehow, the original text—“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”—became in the minds of our dimmest and most criminally inclined citizens an invitation to accumulate military grade weapons for non-militia use.

As school children, we all heard that we didn’t have the right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Now I think almost half the population would disagree with this.

The outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic has created a whole slew of crypto-freedoms, such as the freedom to refuse Covid-19 vaccination or to wear a mask to protect oneself and others from the virus.

I have just finished reading a collection of Franz Kafka’s shorter works that were published during his lifetime. In one of the stories, entitled “A Report to an Academy,” we find this very germane discussion in a speech given by a talking ape:

I deliberately do not use the word “freedom.” I do not mean the spacious feeling of freedom on all sides. As an ape, perhaps, I knew that, and I have met men who yearn for it. But for my part I desired such freedom neither then nor now. In passing, may I say that all too often men are betrayed by the word freedom. And as freedom is counted among the most sublime feelings, so the corresponding disillusionment can be also sublime.

Take a look at the above picture of the January 6 insurrection by Trump’s followers at the Capitol in Washington. This insurrection was conducted by people who have decided to take a lie (that Trump won the 2020 election) and make it into a cause for revolt. Repeating a lie at the top of one’s voice, even when accompanied by violence, is not a right guaranteed by the Constitution.

Such freedoms I can do without!

Waiting for the Train: A Dream

Combination Bus/Self-Propelled Railroad Car in Alausi, Ecuador

Last night I had a vivid but inconclusive dream, which I would like to summarize here. I was waiting in a suburban area for a train to pick me up. There were two tracks, for trains going in either direction. I was uncertain that the train to Sacramento would stop for me, as I was not sure where I was standing was a station. I was thinking that I should have caught the train in downtown Los Angeles, where it originated.

So, with several other people who were in the same situation, I walked southward through a railroad tunnel to what I hoped was a legitimate station. I noticed that, inside the tunnel, the two tracks had merged into one, and that there were only a few widely scattered indentations in the wall of the tunnel to avoid being crushed by any oncoming trains. I noticed that the walls of the tunnel were covered by what looked like tall pieces of perfectly straight bamboo.

Fortunately, no trains came while we were in the tunnel. On emerging, I noticed an area of large broken stones, like an abandoned quarry in which many others were waiting for trains. I was told this was the station for Newhall. (Actually, in real life, Newhall has a rather nice and very proper station.)

Suddenly, several adults were marshaling high school students, who were looped around with a large chain to keep them together. With equal suddenness, a number of self-propelled railroad cars painted yellow/orange and shaped like school buses showed up to take them to their destinations.

I continued to wait, but was cheered when tickets were being collected and shoved through slots cut into a large rock; and there were signs that my train was approaching.

Did the train stop for me? Did I board it? I’ll never know, because I woke up noticing that I had forgotten to set the alarm to wake me at 7:30 AM.