A Day of No Labor

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 this 3-day-weekend-holiday with the end of summer. Though some schools start the new year in August, in my part of the country most schools begin actual classes after Labor Day.

American Labor Day was first celebrated on a Tuesday – September 5, 1882 – and was 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.

There were efforts to use that May date as a holiday but U.S. President Grover Cleveland supported moving the holiday to a September date to avoid associations with the Haymarket riot and the 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 might be the time we should consider workers. Unemployment is high, businesses are cutting back and there are still battles to raise the minimum wage to a living salary. It’s not a good time for labor unions either. There are lots of demands for concessions by unions on their contracts. Some politicians and corporations are calling for an end to unions and trying to stop new unionization of workers.

America is a work-obsessed culture. Many people are still working this weekend, just as during the worst of the pandemic when workers labeled as “essential” still had to go to their workplace while other workers were able to more safely work from home. Are those essential workers at the top of the salary guide and corporate ladder? No, it’s almost the opposite. Some of the lowest-paid and least respected workers were deemed “essential” in this very limited way.

It seems a shame that this holiday doesn’t have more of a connection to the positive aspects of work and workers and as a time to reflect on how labor is treated in the country.

Autumn Comes But Twice a Year

autumn sunrise

Image by pasja1000 from Pixabay

I suspect your calendar says autumn will arrive on September 22, but it arrived on the first of September along with some violent weather that arrived in Paradelle.

By the meteorological calendar, the first day of autumn is always  September 1 and the season ends November 30. The meteorological calendar defines the season quite cleanly as spring (March, April, May), summer (June, July, August), autumn (September, October, November) and winter (December, January, February).

Most of us were taught that the seasons change with solstices and equinoxes.  Those are the astronomical seasons that follow the position of Earth in relation to the sun. Meteorological seasons follow the annual temperature cycle and match our Gregorian calendar.

The dates of the Equinox and Solstice aren’t fixed due to the Earth’s elliptical orbit of the Sun. The Earth’s orbit around the Sun is closest (perihelion) in early January. In early July,  it is most distant (aphelion). That always seems odd to people. Closer is not warmer. Farther is not colder.

On the autumn equinox, day and night are of roughly equal length. Nights become increasingly longer than the days – something you are no doubt are already observing. The pattern reverse with the spring equinox.

So, when is it really the start of autumn? For those of us living on the top half of the Earth, I say it is with the autumn equinox when the northern hemisphere begins to tilt away from the Sun. That means less direct sunlight hits us so temperatures cool.

The end of summer in September – and hopefully early October – is one of my favorite times of the year.  In some years and in some places in the north, we may get what has become known as “Indian Summer” – that imaginary season that occurs when temperatures are more summer than autumn from late September to mid-November.

I love it when summer gets a second chance. Sometimes the universe doesn’t play by the rules of meteorology and astronomers.

Caffeine and Consciousness

coffee tea

Like a number of things, coffee, or rather caffeine, seems to be good for you and then bad for you depending on what year we are in.

Currently, caffeine “contributes much more to your health than it takes away.” Says who? Says food, drink and psychedelics writer Michael Pollan.  Caffeine has been shown to improve focus and memory, and even your ability to learn. Did you pull some caffeine-fueled late-night study sessions in college? Did it work?

Caffeine doesn’t help most people sleep. I avoid it after 3 pm but my wife can have an espresso before bedtime and sleep the same.

I don’t know if I’m so much a caffeine fan as I am a coffee and tea fan. I even like herbal teas (no caffeine and technically not tea but tisanes) and decaf drinks. But considering that caffeine keeps me awake at night, I suppose that my morning coffee must do the opposite. I do know that when I tried going decaffeinated I experienced severe headaches for a week. Withdrawal from cold turkey.

I have read a half dozen books by Pollan and written about him before. He is a good, serious and interesting writer. Pollan wrote Caffeine: How coffee and tea created the modern world as an audiobook. It’s not that the Enlightenment occurred because of coffee but “Isaac Newton was a big coffee fan… and Voltaire apparently had 72 cups a day,” writes Pollan.

Ah, the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, and the Industrial Revolution. Big things that owe something to the coffee house. These places appeared London around 1650.

Coffee houses quickly found their clientele which gathered around interests, like literature, and professions, like writers, poets, philosophers and scientists. There was even one dedicated to selling stocks. Eventually, that one became the London Stock Exchange.

Sober and civil drinking – pub – changed the way people thought and worked. Well, alcohol was safer than most drinking water. But boiling water had benefits then too.

Pollan has also written This Is Your Mind on Plants which is a broader look at how we rely on plants. They give us sustenance, beauty, medicine, fragrance, flavor, fiber. But the book’s focus is on how they change our consciousness. Plants can stimulate or calm. They can temporarily tweak our consciousness or completely alter it.

We don’t think of caffeine as a drug. We don’t consider daily users as addicts. Well, it is legal, socially acceptable and readily available. Pollan wants people to rethink that. Drug or medicine? You can make a drink from the leaves of a tea plant and that’s fine. Make a drink from the seed head of an opium poppy and you break a federal law. In This Is Your Mind on Plants, Michael Pollan goes deep into three plant drugs – opium, caffeine, and mescaline.

It probably seems odd to you to group caffeine in with opium and mescaline. It seemed odd to me considering those first London coffee houses were almost the opposite of the pubs and opium smokers. And those philosophers like Kant, Voltaire and Kierkegaard weren’t just having a cup with breakfast. They were mainlining their caffeine and it seemed to work.

I’m writing this at 6 pm. No caffeine since 1 pm. I wonder what I would have written after several 16 once dark roasts at 11 am.

Listen to Michael Pollan talk about how he gave up caffeine entirely for three months while working on his audiobook, Caffeine, and he says “I recommend it. I had some great sleeps.” But he also had an unexpected loss of confidence and lack of focus as he went through withdrawal.

Keep Calm and Kalsarikännit

This past week I learned about kalsarikännit, the Finnish tradition of getting drunk at home in your underwear with no intent to leave the house. Really. It seems that this tradition moved beyond Finland in the past year while over half of the world population was under stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Kalsarikännit (how to pronounce kalsarikännit) literally means “drinking at home, alone, in your underwear” and I have also seen it loosely translated and anglicized as “pants drunk.”

The way I learned of the Kalsarikännit drinking “party” at home that never leaves home or gathers other guests is from the eighth collection of poems by Kim Addonizio titled Now We’re Getting Somewhere. I read that the collection is good companion reading to your practice of kalsarikännit.

In the U.S., this kind of behavior would likely be considered a sign of depression. Not so in Finland. Not so by Addonizio.

It is interesting that several other Nordic words came into wider usage the past few years. The Danish hygge referring to a certain kind of coziness and the Swedish lagom meaning “neither too much nor too little” have also had their social media moments the past few years. I doubt that all Finns are pleased with the image of this practice to outsiders of it being lonely people drunk at home on the couch.
Finland always gets high scores in the “happiness ratings” and they are often touted for having an excellent education system. As the not-so-serious book titled  Pantsdrunk: Kalsarikanni: The Finnish Path to Relaxation suggests, this is more about staying calm and relaxing in a stressful world. The “drunk” aspect probably is deceiving too as overdrinking is not a requirement of the practice.

Based on social media posts alone, I suspect that some of my friends have been stripping down to underwear, lining up some snacks next to the bed or couch, grabbing the TV remote or their mobile device and pouring their preferred alcohol.

And hasn’t this been going on in first-world countries for a lot longer than the past few years? I’m sure that Homer Simpson models this practice, even though he could never pronounce the kalsarikännit.

Must you be in underwear? I think pajamas are acceptable. Must you get drunk? No, though feeling the effects does seem to be key. Does it even have to be alcoholic beverages? In the strict sense of the practice, yes, but there are no kalsarikännit police that I have seen, so get that mug of tea or cocoa ready.

Have you been practicing kalsarikännit for years without even knowing it? Drop us a comment.

The Metaverse Is Not the Multiverse

alternate worlds
(Image: Gerd Altmann)

Metaverse is a computing term meaning a virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users. It may contain derivatives or copies of the real world. But it is not augmented reality. So though “meta” (meaning beyond) and the “verse” (a backformation from “universe”) sound like something in the stars, it is really something online. I guess the idea is that an evolved Internet plus shared, 3D virtual spaces could create a virtual universe.

Does it sound like social media? Well, that’s what Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg believes. He recently said, “In the coming years, I expect people will transition from seeing us primarily as a social media company to seeing us as a metaverse company… In many ways, the metaverse is the ultimate expression of social technology.”

So what does the Facebook chief executive mean by “metaverse company”? And what will the company look like if and when it gets there?

“Metaverse” showed up in 1992 in Neal Stephenson’s science-fiction novel, Snow Crash. In that metaverse, people move back and forth from the 3D virtual living space into real-time space. The protagonist, In reality, Hiro Protagonist, is a pizza delivery guy in real life but he is a warrior prince in the Metaverse.

Google and Apple and other tech companies have been working (and investing) in augmented reality (AR) which layers tech on top of the real world.Remember Google Glass back in 2013? Facebook seems to be moving in another direction and has the platform and number of users (almost 3 billion) to do something else. It seems that the vision is to have people move between virtual reality (VR), AR, and 2D devices as themselves or as realistic avatars.

The Facebook platform includes WhatsApp, Instagram and the VR headset maker Oculus. The company’s Reality Labs division has a lot of people who came from the gaming world. That is a world I have never really entered. Even early overarching goal across all of these initiatives is to help bring the metaverse to life.” Fortnite, Roblox, and others have metaverse-like elements.

Tech companies don’t have totally free reign to move forward. In fact, Congress seems to be looking at Facebook and could make it split away from Instagram and WhatsApp, and limit future acquisitions which would impede a metaverse creation.

If the metaverse, as created by Facebook, Google, Apple, or whatever companies, scares you, maybe you should consider the multiverse.

The multiverse is not computers but cosmology. It is (for now) a hypothetical group of multiple universes. Put them all together and you have the entirety of space, time, matter, energy, information, and the physical laws and constants that describe them.

Wow.

The different universes Within the multiverse are different universes that are called “parallel universes”, “other universes”, “alternate universes”, or “many worlds”. Science hasn’t settled on a name yet.

I’m ignoring the “multiverses” in name only of DC and Marvel comics and films or Magic: The Gathering or Stephen King.

The idea of infinite worlds is not new at all. It existed in the philosophy of Ancient Greek Atomism. That posited that infinite parallel worlds arose from the collision of atoms.

I discovered that in the third century BCE, the philosopher Chrysippus thought that the world eternally expired and regenerated. That would mean that multiple universes exist across time.

Erwin Schrödinger, he of the cat, said that his equations seemed to describe several different histories. He did not think these were alternative histories, but that they all “really happen simultaneously.” This is called “superposition.”

Others in fiction, cosmology, physics, astronomy, religion, philosophy, psychology, and music, and the arts have used the term.

There are proponents and there are certainly skeptics. This is all far beyond most of us. This is the kind of science that seems like fiction. But I keep reading about multiverses, string theorysuperstring theory, M-theory, and others.

The metaverse is not the multiverse – but might the metaverse and multiverse somehow meet and merge, connect or allow passage from one to the other.  No ? there. I dare not ask.

Spiraling Nature

pumpkin spirals
Tendrils of pumpkin (Cucurbita) under magnification. From Karl Blossfeldt’s 1928 Urformen der Kunst (Art Forms in Nature) — Source.

I was weeding around my pumpkin plants this week and marveling at how the tendrils grab hold of almost anything nearby.

But why do they make spirals and not just one loop around the object?

spirals ear

And why do helical seashells resemble spiraling galaxies and the human heart?

spirals ear
From  Pettigrew’s Design in Nature (1908), illustrating the resemblance between spiral shell formations and bony portions of the inner ear — Source.

Sorry, I don’t have the answers. I’m just asking the questions here. I’m not sure I want answers. Some mystery is still desired in this world.

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