Today is Labor Day in the United States. It’s another holiday that seems to have lost a lot of its meaning.  Like some other holidays – Veterans Day, Memorial Day, some would even say Christmas – we now view this as a day off and a long weekend. Many children associate today with the end of summer and going back to school.

The first American Labor Day was marked on a Tuesday – September 5, 1882 – organized by the Central Labor Union in New York as a day of rest for working persons.

The Haymarket Riots (or Haymarket affair or Haymarket massacre) was a demonstration on Tuesday, May 4, 1886, at the Haymarket Square in Chicago. It started out as a rally in support of striking workers. Someone threw a bomb at police as they dispersed the public meeting and that resulted in gunfire from the police, the deaths of eight police officers (most from friendly fire) and some civilians.

The legal proceedings that followed got international press and eight “anarchists” were tried for murder. Four men were convicted and executed, and one committed suicide in prison, although the prosecution conceded none of the defendants had thrown the bomb.

U.S. President Grover Cleveland supported moving the holiday to a September date to avoid associations with the Haymarket riot and Socialist May Day associations. He signed a bill into law making the September Labor Day observance a federal holiday in 1894.

Most other countries celebrate workers on May first of each year. “May Day” refers to several public holidays but is associated with International Workers’ Day, or Labour Day, a day of political demonstrations and celebrations organized by unions and other groups.

Americans don’t really do much to celebrate work or workers today. We have barbecues, backyard blowouts, watch early college football games. And yet, now is not a good time for workers. Unemployment is high and businesses are cutting back. It’s not a good time for labor unions either. There are lots of demands for concessions by unions on their contracts and some politicians are calling for an end to unions.

America is a work-obsessed culture and it seems a shame that this holiday doesn’t have more of a connection to the positive aspects of work and workers.

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The 1983 film, National Lampoon’s Vacation, depicts a family vacation that has become less common in America over the past two generations.

Did you take a vacation this summer? I’m not talking about a long weekend but a real full week off and away. According to a post on Factually, if you are an American and you did, then you are part of the shrinking 56% that will in 2014.

In 1976, 80% of Americans took a week’s vacation. What has happened?

On this Labor Day weekend that marks the end of summer vacations, looking at other countries, you find that many give full time workers guaranteed vacation time. In Australia, four weeks of paid vacation is guaranteed each year. In Japan, it’s 10 days, and in Canada it is a minimum of 19 days of paid vacation.

The United States is not typical of the wealthier nations in that we do not guarantee paid maternity leave. So, the fact that we lack a federally guaranteed paid vacation time is not shocking.

No guarantees may be a factor in the drop in people taking vacations over the past two generations, but the real changes are cultural. We don’t seem to value vacation in the same way as we once did.

The odd part of this shift is that Americans working full-time who do have the option to take some paid vacation time may not use that option. I have known co-workers during the past 20 years who were “banking” vacation time and some who were told to use their banked weeks or lose them. It does seem strange that someone would not take their vacation time, but it happens more and more.

I see it with friends and family. They feel that taking all of their vacation days or taking them in one or two-week blocks makes you appear lazy or unmotivated. It might hurt your chances at getting promoted.

My son’s employer requires that vacation time be taken in at least a one week block. They see this as less of an interruption than someone taking off five Mondays.

Do you and your friends feel obligated to read work email when you are on vacation (weekends included)? Is that a true vacation? Another article tells me that some French companies ban employees from responding to work emails after work hours.

Both our work days and days off have become less work-free because of the Internet and smartphones. Several studies have shown that even though an employee may not be required to read mail after hours, on weekends or on vacation, they do it anyway. I tend to check my work mail every day, though I am not required to, because I a) I don’t want to have hundreds of unread message when I return  b) fear that there is something urgent that I need to deal with.

And what about the emergence of the “staycation” in our culture when people are taking vacation time but not going away? When I first heard the term, the idea seemed to be connected to economic concerns, such as high gas prices. After the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, terrorism caused concerns about traveling. But it seems that Americans are doing staycations even if money or security isn’t the major concern.

iphone-batteryMy neighbors took a week and went away recently. (Interestingly, they had friends who were house-and-dog-sitting for them and that was their “vacation.”) When I next saw my neighbor, I asked “How was your vacation?”  He said, “It was fantastic. We had a great time. But after two hours back at work, I felt like I had never been away.”

We need true vacations to recharge, but in many case that full charge runs down as fast as a iPhone running too many apps and services.

 

 

In the summer of 1818,  poet John Keats went on a six-week walking tour through northern England, Scotland, and Ireland. Keats and his friend Charles Brown set off in June and walked 600 miles before sailing back to London.

Keats was not an outdoorsman and had spent almost all of his life in London never having been out of southern England. He was 22 and had never seen a mountain.

They set off with very little in their knapsack – shirt, stockings, nightcap, towels, a brush and comb, snuff, and one book: a translation of Dante.

They started from Lancaster and headed for the Lake District. Keats’ brother George and his wife Georgina accompanied them as far as Lancaster and then continued to Liverpool, from where the couple emigrated to America.

This was not a poetry tour but he stopped at William Wordsworth’s home. Wordsworth was not at  home.

Keats did not write his first poem until age 18. He was encouraged by a literary circle of friends in London, though he worked at a hospital to make his living. Keats’ first book, Poems, appeared in 1817 and after that, he devoted himself entirely to poetry.

Keats wrote that as the walk continued he found himself more moved by the people they met than by the landscape. he thought much of the mountains and moors seemed bleak.

He recorded that on June 29, they set off at 4 a.m. up the mountain Skiddaw. It offered a  to the Irish Sea and Scotland.

In the town of Ireby, that watched a performance of traditional dancing and Keats wrote: “I never felt so near the glory of patriotism, the glory of making, by any means, a country happier. This is what I like better than scenery.”

Keats was not pleased with the food on the trip either. In a letter, he writes: “We dined yesterday on dirty bacon dirtier eggs and dirtiest Potatoes with a slice of Salmon.” In Scotland, they seem to have survived on oatcakes and whiskey. He hated the oatcakes but enjoyed the whiskey.

Another poetry stop was to Alloway, the birthplace of the Robert Burns in Scotland. He was happier with this area. He said that the River Doon was “the sweetest river I ever saw” and he enjoyed a large pinch of snuff while standing on the Brig o’ Doon, a bridge Burns wrote about in his poems.

Keats and Brown continued through Scotland and made a short trip into Northern Ireland averaging 10-20 miles a day. By August 2, they had made it to the top of Ben Nevis, the tallest peak in the British Isles.

Keats’s health had actually not been very good before the trip, but developed a bad cold at this point and was advised by a doctor to quit the walking tour. He headed back to London, but Brown continued and walked another 1,200 miles.

1818 was not a good year for John and his family. He had financial difficulties. His brother Tom was battling tuberculosis. George and his wife made a poor investment in America and was left penniless in Kentucky.

The one happy thing in his life was his fiancée, Fanny Brawne.

1819 was a very productive year. By September, he had written a book’s worth of poems including “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “Ode to a Nightingale,” “Hyperion,” “The Eve of St. Agnes,” “To Autumn,” and “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.”

John Keats Tombstone in Rome 01.jpg

“John Keats Tombstone in Rome” by Piero Montesacro – Wikimedia Commons

John developed tuberculosis (for which there would be no cure until the next century),  possibly from caring for his brother. Early in 1820, the disease worsened and he was advised to move to a warmer climate.

In September 1820, Keats left for Rome knowing he would probably never see Brawne again. After leaving he felt unable to write to her or read her letters.

Keats wrote his last letter to his walking partner Charles Brown on November 30, 1820: “Tis the most difficult thing in the world to me to write a letter. My stomach continues so bad, that I feel it worse on opening any book – yet I am much better than I was in Quarantine. Then I am afraid to encounter the proing and conning of any thing interesting to me in England. I have an habitual feeling of my real life having past, and that I am leading a posthumous existence”.

He died in Rome on February 23, 1821 and is buried there. He was only 25 years old.

He wanted a tombstone without name or date, only the words, “Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water.” Charles Brown and another friend had the stone place but added a lyre with broken strings and this epitaph which lies some blame on critics who were harsh with Keats’ poetry.

“This Grave / contains all that was Mortal / of a / Young English Poet / Who / on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his Heart / at the Malicious Power of his Enemies / Desired / these Words to be / engraven on his Tomb Stone: / Here lies One / Whose Name was writ in Water. 24 February 1821″


Bright Star: Love Letters and Poems of John Keats to Fanny Brawne

John Keats (a biography)

solar flare

We still see the effect of Superstorm Sandy here on the east coast of the United States, but not many people know about the two powerful solar storms that hit the Earth back in August 1859. These were superstorms of a very different kind.

When the geomagnetic disturbances from the solar activity reached Earth:

  • Telegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed. Some telegraph operators received electric shocks and some telegraph pylons threw sparks and some telegraph paper ignited. Telegraph systems continued to send and receive messages despite having been disconnected from their power supplies.
  • Compasses were useless because the Earth’s magnetic field was wildly affected.
  • The northern lights were seen in Hawaii and as far south as Cuba and Jamaica. The southern lights, aurora australis, were seen in Santiago, Chile. In some places, the aurora was so bright that birds began chirping in the middle of the night because they thought the sun was rising. Over the Rocky Mountains, it was so bright that their glow awoke gold miners, who began preparing breakfast thinking it was morning. People who happened to be awake in the northeastern US could read a newspaper by the aurora’s light.

The solar storm of 1859 became known as the “Carrington Event” because the associated “white light flare” in the solar photosphere was first observed and recorded outside London by English amateur astronomers Richard Carrington and then independently by Richard Hodgson.

On September 1–2, ground-based magnetometers registered that the ejection hit the Earth’s magnetosphere. The Carrington Event was by far the strongest geomagnetic storm ever recorded. By examining ice core samples, scientist could determine that it was twice as powerful as any other storm in the past 500 years.

Because of the distance of our Sun, the coronal mass ejection took 17.6 hours to make the 93 million mile journey. But that is actually a relatively high-speed trip. Typically it will take several days to arrive at Earth. The theory is that a prior ejection which caused the large aurora activity on August 29 made it easier for the second ejection to make its way through the ambient solar wind plasma on September 1 -2’s Carrington Event.

Today, we have a tremendous amount of dependence on satellites and electronics which are affected by these solar flares. Beyond you losing your television and Internet connections, it would wreak havoc on GPS and navigation for planes and ships and affect computer systems worldwide.

In June 2013, researchers at Lloyd’s of London and the Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER) in the United States used data from the Carrington Event to estimate the current cost to the U.S. from a similar event at up to $2.6 trillion. A study by the National Academy of Sciences, also estimated the total economic impact at $2 trillion or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina. Multi-ton transformers damaged by such a storm might take years to repair.

Scientists estimate that there is a 12% chance of a similar event occurring before 2022. Though it didn’t make as big an impact on media coverage as you would expect, a powerful coronal mass ejection tore through Earth orbit on July 23, 2012. Luckily, the Earth wasn’t in the right position (or really, the wrong position) but the storm cloud did hit the STEREO-A spacecraft.

NASA scientists who studied the event have said that “If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire.”

All this sounds like a good treatment for a summer blockbuster disaster film.

 

 

In my early days of teaching, the idea of the left-brain-/right-brain person was very popular.  Left brain dominant people are logical analytic, organized, rational.  Right-brained folks are creative, passionate, sexual, colorful, poetic, a bit irrational.

But current neuroscience seems to be saying we should get rid of that notion. In a post for Scientific Americanu by Scott Barry Kaufman, “The Real Neuroscience of Creativity.”  he writes that the left/right distinction is “not the right one when it comes to understanding how creativity is implemented in the brain.”

As someone who always turned out to be half and half on those L/R tests, I am pleased that the science now shows that creativity does not involve a single brain region or single side of the brain. Creativity is a process with multiple steps and multiple parts of the brain are involved in those steps.

The preparation, the incubation, that moment of illumination, verification are all steps that have been identified. The steps all need to interact and not usually in a clear linear fashion. We jump from right to left brain.

There are three large-scale brain ‘networks’ that seem to be critical for creativity.

1.  Executive Attention Network – recruited when a task requires that your attention be very focused like when you’re concentrating on a challenging lecture, or solving a problem.

2. The Imagination Network:  used when you are imagining “alternate perspectives and scenarios”.

3.  The Salience Network:  monitors both external events and internal stream of consciousness and “flexibly passes the baton to whatever information is most salient to solving the task at hand.”

The new takeaway on understanding creativity, according to neuroscientists, is recognizing that different patterns of thinking are important at different stages of the creative process.

I like that scientists are also studying seriously brain regions that are critical for daydreaming, imagining the future, remembering deeply personal memories, constructive internal reflection, meaning making, and social cognition.

As Kaufman concludes, “much more research is needed that investigates how the brain creates across different domains, species, and timescales.”

 

 

two-moons-hoax

This faked photo often appears online with the story that Mars will appear as big and bright as a full moon on August 27.

Right off, let’s say that Mars will NOT be approaching Earth this week at some extraordinary closeness.  I think this must be an offshoot of the “supermoon” phenomena.

This hoax or just misinformation has been bouncing around the Net since the days when these kinds of memes were passed via emails. Here’s what you might see posted online on Facebook or other networks

On August 27 lift up your eyes and look up at the night sky because the planet Mars will pass just 34.65 million miles from the earth. To the naked eye it will look like two moons. The next time Mars will be so close to the Earth is in 2287. No one living on this earth has ever seen this and no one living now will ever see it again!

The closes we have to there being any truth to this goes back to August 27, 2003.  Mars, the red planet, did come within 35 million miles (or 56 million kilometers) of Earth and that was its nearest approach to us in almost 60,000 years. I remember looking up that night. My view was obscured but Mars appeared approximately 6 times larger and 85 times brighter in the sky than it ordinarily does.

This what is known to astronomers as a perihelic opposition. It is a rare occurrence, but Mars comes almost as near to us every 15 to 17 years. Mars’ appearance in August 2003 wouldn’t have looked much bigger to the eye than on its other close appearances.

If you want to mark your calendar for 2018 (I’ll queue up the blog post now), our view of Mars will be similar to the 2003.

But it won’t be until the year 2287 that Mars will come closer to Earth than it did back in 2003.

So is anything interesting happening this week in the sky?  EarthSky reports that first of all the moon will not be full on August 27, 2014 but just a thin crescent in the west after sunset. Mars will also not be at its brightest or its closest at all in 2014.

It’s still a good idea to look up in the sky at night and enjoy the Moon, the stars and the planets.

Mars_Hubble1

Mars will never appear as large as a full moon in Earth’s sky. But if it did, it might look like this NASA photo taken of it from the Hubble Space Telescope.

 

 

SPACE-TIME CONTINUUM The U.F.O.-logist George Van Tassel, in a photograph for Life magazine in 1962, outside the Integratron, where he hosted annual spacecraft summits.

Welcome to the Integratron” is a piece written by Jody Rosen on a location that is seen as a place of spiritual healing and musical sound baths in the Mojave desert in California. It was designed by an alien. Maybe.

Thousands of people visit the Integratron  because of  how the place sounds. Some consider it to be “an acoustically perfect” space, a “resonant tabernacle.”

This curvilinear dome is built from woods that act as natural amplifiers.

The “sound baths” occur while visitors lie on mats while and let the tones from striking quartz-crystal singing bowls wash over them in what is claimed is a kind of “sonic healing.”

It sounds new age – but aliens?

Giant Rock, Landers, California

Back in 1953, George Van Tassel, a former aviation engineer, claimed he was awakened by an alien. George was a good new age candidate. He moved to the desert to be near Giant Rock.

Giant Rock is a large freestanding boulder that covers 5,800 square feet  of ground and is seven stories high. Giant Rock is purported to be the largest free-standing boulder in the world. Native Americans of the Joshua Tree, California, area consider it to be sacred. In the 1950s it was a gathering point for UFO believers.

George would sit in the shadow of the rock for hours to commune with the spirits of American Indians. But the visitor he had on that August 1953 night was a Venusian, according to Van Tassel. He was captain of a Venusian scout ship. He looked, dressed and spoke English like anyone else.  George said his name was Solganda and he was 700 years old. He took George to his spacecraft. He told him that Earthlings were building too many buildings using steel and other metals and they were disrupting interplanetary “thought transfers.”

George built Intrgratron according to Solganda’s instructions. He held annual Spacecraft Conventions there that attracted UFO contactees and explorers in the fields of anti-gravity and primary energy research and weekly meditations in the rooms under the rock.

Although Van Tassel said Solganda also gave him the secret could help us build a device that would generate electrostatic energy to suspend the laws of gravity, extend human life and facilitate high-speed time travel, we have no evidence anything was done with the secret. That seems odd. Van Tassel died in 1978.

Visit Integratron.com

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