Saturday, March 8, 2014

Days And Years

March 8, 2014

Monrovia, California

Okay, I've already begun to backslide from my goal of posting more often.  But February was a short month, with two holidays.  How much work can you expect anyone to get done?  And speaking of the calendar, sort of, it was three years ago this week that I reported in this blog on the Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood, or at least on my trip to Hollywood to get as close as I could to the glitterati. (Check out "The Last Oscars" posted here on 2/28/11.  I just reread it and I must say it's not bad.)  At that time there were people in the streets talking about the impeding end of the world.  It was going to occur in somewhere between 84 and 90 days from Oscar night, if I recall.  This date had been calculated independently by several end-time Armageddon type groups, based generally on various interpretations of the biblical book known as The Revelation of St. John the Divine.  (St. John the Divine was so named to differentiate him from St. John the Nosepicker, St. John the Not-too-Punctual, and other Monty Pythonesque personages.)

Back then, as I waited in vain for a close look at the famous Hollywood actors who were about to go into the Kodak Theater, I had just finished my walk across the country and was examining some of the more specific areas of quirkiness in the Los Angeles area, on which I've attempted to continue to report to my readers ever since, having now made LA County my home.  On that particular day I didn't get near enough to where the A-listers were disembarking from their limousines to see any of them too well, but I got a flavor of the whole scene.  More importantly, however, I got to chat with some end-of-the-world types, including one I called Armageddon Dude, and to read his manifesto regarding the state of the world in its waning months. The guy told me he was Jesus Christ himself, and although I was skeptical of this claim initially, I gradually came to realize that he had, at any rate, a divine world view in some respects.  Apart from believing he was from somewhere between Jupiter and Saturn, he also held that the Republican Party was the apotheosis of evil in America.  No arguing with that, and indeed, even though the world didn't come to an end later in 2011, as he and others were predicting, the Republicans have continued to wage their satanic war of attrition against the few good things others have tried to do through and within the government of this country.  I had hoped to find Armageddon Dude again over in Hollywood, and though I've been there a few times since then, I haven't seen him.  Maybe he's back upstairs with The Old Man, recalculating the whole second coming thing.  As anyone knows who is familiar with western theology and mythology, sometimes even the gods make mistakes.

But back to calendars, because that was the rub in that end-of-the-world thing in early 2011 when I visited Hollywood.   Somehow the end-time Christians screwed up.  Not long after that, in fact the next year, the Mayans, or at least their modern adherents, also screwed up. They got their dates wrong, and damn it, the world didn't end.  That would have been news.  Bigger even than war or the movies or sports.  Somehow humans have a tendency to make things for their own convenience, then forget that they've made them in the first place, and begin to think of them as God-given.  Happens over and over, throughout the world.  It's a major failing of the human race.  The calendar is one such device among many--created by man and then imbued with divine authority to give it more authenticity.  Within the calendar are a number of instances of days, weeks, or months that have become special or sacrosanct merely by having been arbitrarily designated so on the calendar.  December 25 as the date of the birth of Jesus comes immediately to mind, as if anyone could have figured that out, and of course no one really did, especially since not even all Christians agree on that date.  There are the eastern Orthodox folks and the western Christians, and they have different dates.  But whenever it's celebrated, it's holy.  It kind of gets you to wondering about how a species as clever as homo sapiens is in many ways can at the same time be so profoundly silly.

As for calendars in general, whoever it was who decided there were going to be seven days in a week also had to decide which day was going to be Sunday, and go from there.  As for the number of days in a week, you might well suppose that seven days makes sense in terms of the lunar cycle--there being four seven-day periods within one such cycle.  Possibly six days of breaking your ass seemed to a lot of folks as reasonably calling for a seventh day of comparative leisure.  But there could as easily have been seven four-day weeks as four seven-day weeks.

So my question still is, Why is Sunday Sunday, and not Monday or Tuesday, or whatever?  Well, the answer is buried forever in the recesses of time, although updates to the calendar have happened over the centuries, by agreement or fiat, some not so long ago.  As recently as the mid-1700s in Protestant Europe and even as recently as 1917 in Russia, today would not have been Saturday March 8, but some other day and date, about eleven or thirteen days earlier.  Different day of the week, different day of the month, even a different year, because up to a certain time March 1 was New Year's day.  George Washington's date of birth, for instance, is recognized today as having been February 22, 1732, but when George was born, it was February 11, 1731, and until Washington was about 20 and England got on the Gregorian calendar (the one decreed by the Pope for all Catholics in 1582, and the one we use today), he thought his birthday was on February 11.  Of course there was lot more he didn't know back then, including the fact that we'd still be commemorating his birthday in 2014 and that it would be on a convenient Monday instead of the real day so we could have a three-day weekend, and that it would have morphed into President's Day and that Crazy Dave's Mattress Store and all your local Toyota dealers would be having fantastic sales to commemorate it, and so on.

The Great October Socialist Revolution, which started on October 25, 1917 in Russia (a country that was even slower getting on board with the Gregorian calendar than England was), actually started on what is today November 7.  They really should have named that submarine Red November. When the Soviets shifted calendars, 13 days just went pfffffft, and disappeared.  Anybody whose birthday was within that period of almost two weeks just sort of missed out, I guess.  Maybe birthdays weren't as important then as they are now, but still.... imagine if someone told you on the day before your birthday that the calendar was going to jump ahead almost two weeks and your birthday would be skipped that year?  You'd be plenty pissed off, I'll bet.  Maybe you'd still get a cake and some presents, and you'd have to consider yourself a year older, but imagine the havoc it would play with other aspects of the modern world, where specific times and dates are so important?  My car payment is due on March 5, but there is no March 5.  What the hell do I do?  And more importantly, what will the loan company do?

I suppose the point I'm getting to is that we're pretty strongly tied to calendars, much more so than when Washington or Lenin were kids.  In this context I was examining my own calendar this morning and noticed that on the calendar hanging on the kitchen door, picked up for free at a bank, it says March is Women's History Month.  I thought more or less the same thing I thought last month when it was Black History Month, namely, hmmmm, why do these groups--one comprising about 12.5 % of the country's population and the other an overlapping 51%--have one lousy month per year dedicated to their history?  And doesn't that mean that Black females get two months a year, while Black males get only one?  Does that mean that the other ten months of the year--from April through January--are by default white male history months?  Then upon closer examination of my calendar I observed that May has been designated Asian Pacific Heritage Month and November is National Native American and Alaskan Heritage Month, so I guess we white guys get eight months a year--but still, that's two-thirds of the time--not bad, in a disproportionate way.  And after all, in addition to all those months white males gets, even though we're 35% of the population, we get most of the wealth, property, and political power, not to mention fame and fortune in the entertainment industry and the majority of the Get Out of Jail Free cards.  It seems that on just about every corner these days you see a white man.  Turn on the TV and what do you see?  White men.  Go to court and who do you see sitting in black robes and carrying around briefcases?  White men.  Look at the heads of the large corporations, the inventors of technological advances, the members of rock bands--mostly white men.  What's the country coming to?  All but one president has been a white man, and all the vice presidents, too.  Maybe we're a bit underrepresented in professional sports--hockey and golf excepted--but that's not a bad trade-off for being the owners and head coaches and managers of most of the teams.  Even Armageddon Dude was white.

But take heart, women of America, and people of color, because you've got yourself a whole month dedicated to your history, and if you're a woman, two whole months.  And if you're part Native American or Asian and African American, maybe three months.  This, and the subject of the Oscars, helps me hop up into the saddle of another hobby horse.  The movie Twelve Years a Slave took some of the prime Academy Awards this year.  I saw the movie and liked it, in an uncomfortable sort of way.  Slavery, as we all know, was bad.  But why does it take the story of a guy who was illegally pressed into slavery to make us pay attention to the subject?  What about all his plantation companions who were born and died as slaves and didn't even get a chance to engage in a tearful reunion with their free families up north?  Twelve years is bad enough, but how about a lifetime?  I'm just saying.

Oh, by the way, here's a good trivia question involving knowledge not only of U.S. presidents but of the Gregorian calendar:  Other than George Washington, who was elected to his first term in 1789, name the only two presidents who were elected in years that weren't leap years.