Leap Year 2020


Okay, ladies and gentlemen!  Brace yourselves — because there’s no way to sugar-coat it.  Tomorrow doesn’t exist; you are about to enter a man-made time warp.  As of midnight tonight, what you think is the present is actually the past, and the future won’t begin again for another 24 hours.  Deep, huh?  Don’t be scared, though; it happens every four years.  (Not really, but it’s too complicated to explain*.)  It’s called a Leap Year, or Leap Day to be more precise, and we need it because the universe doesn’t care what time you want to go to work.

The Universe, Mother Nature’s boss, doesn’t get involved in the affairs of humans.  It’s got better things to do.  We humans, Mother Nature’s most precocious children, have never quite understood that.  We think that if we make a couple more scientific discoveries or sit naked on a mountainside for a couple of years, we’ll get this whole universe thing figured out.  It’s not likely, but nobody ever accused our species of being humble.  The Universe actually rolls on without us, asking neither permission nor forgiveness, and nothing we say or do is going to change that.

Despite what old hippies and serious dope smokers will tell you, Time is not an artificial concept.  It exists, and people have always measured it.  Way back in caveman days, there were only two times — dark and light.  This is an extremely accurate measurement which most species on this planet still use.  However, as our species got busier and busier, we discovered that minor Time (major time is beyond our grasp) had recurring themes.  The sun travelled across the sky, the moon got larger and smaller, and familiar clusters of stars moved in elliptical patterns.  All these things happened with incredible regularity.  Therefore, it was simple for primitive humans to figure out that there were usually twenty nine suns between each full moon.  Not only that, but our ancestors also found that if they persistently watched the night sky, the movement of the stars corresponded to the seasons.  For example, in the Northern hemisphere, what we call Orion’s Belt first appears in the southwestern sky in early January, soon after the morning sun is lowest on the horizon.  Thus, by noting when Orion’s Belt first appeared in the sky and counting the number of suns until it reappeared, early sky watchers discovered a complete earthly cycle — or a year.  These two rough and ready measurements (or something similar) are the basis of all early calendars.

Unfortunately, as our society got more and more sophisticated, these primitive tools didn’t keep pace.  There’s an inconsistency between the months and the years that causes nothing but problems.  Essentially, 12 lunar months equal only 348 solar days — which leaves a 17 day gap in the celestial year.  As the years went on, the seasons were slowly getting out of whack.  No less a light than Julius Caesar saw this and devised a new system called The Julian Calendar that remedied most of the problems – for a while.  However, 1600 years later, these problems were back — with some extra added attractions.  Not only were the seasons out of place again (they had moved twelve calendar days in the centuries since Caesar) but the highest holiday in the Christian calendar, Easter, whose timing is based on the Spring Equinox was disappearing into seasonal winter.  Pope Gregory XIII decided rather than let the Universe figure it out, he would fix it.  After all, he was the infallible head of the Roman Catholic Church.  He set his minions a mission: devise a calendar that would work for all time and keep Easter in the spring (where it belonged.)  They came up with the Gregorian Calendar which added an extra day in February every four years (or so) to even out the imbalance.  Gregory’s new calendar was proclaimed in a papal bull on February 24th, 1582 and is now in general use.  Problem solved.

Which brings us back to the time warp that is tomorrow.  Tomorrow doesn’t exist because Gregory’s extra day was inserted for time already past.  Here’s the deal.  As our earth moves around the sun, it takes 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds to made one full circle.  For simple calculations, we call that a year.  That was the amount of time a year took in 2017, 2018 and 2019.  Obviously, that time is gone.  However, in our burning need to realign the Universe, here we are with a whole extra day to make up for it.  But the reality is that day is over.  We’ve already lived those hours, minutes and seconds.  In the great metaphysical scheme of things, this is borrowed time.

So take tomorrow off, kick back, throw a ball, read to your kids or just lie elbows deep in a pillow, contemplating the infinite.  If anybody asks, blame it on Pope Gregory.  He’s the guy who thought a little time management would be good for the Universe.

*A Leap Year is every year that is exactly divisible by four, except for years that are exactly divisible by 100.  However, the centurial years that are exactly divisible by 400 are still leap years. For example, the year 1900 was not a leap year but the year 2000 was.

Originally written 2012 and gently edited.

January — The Lonely Month


I feel totally sorry for January: it’s got to be the loneliest month on the calendar.  All the other months have something going on.  Think about it!  March has Spring and sometimes even Easter; September has back to school; October has Hallowe’en; even dreary old November has Remembrance Day.  Sad but true.  Unfortunately, January has nothing.  Okay, it got a little exciting a couple of days ago when Trump got pissed and blew up a general nobody ever heard of until he came apart at the seams (Too soon?  Probably not.) but normally, January has to act like it’s overjoyed to be forever known as “The Month after Christmas.”  That’s like being Santa Claus’ little sister.  Not a lot of career opportunities and you can pretty much forget about a date for the Prom.

“Hey, I’m going to ask Susan Claus to the Prom.”
“No way, man!  You don’t want go there.  That’s Santa’s sister.  Mess that one up and you’ll be on the Naughty List for the rest of your life.”

So what have we got to look forward to in January?  Elvis’ birthday on January 8th (we missed it — again) Dress-up Your Pet Day on January 14th (that’s just morally wrong) and Burns’ Night on January 25th (celebrating a poet whose works have never been translated into English.)  And it gets even worse — January is Thyroid Awareness Month.  Now, doesn’t that sound like a party?

Thyroid Thursdays
Dance to the music of Nelly and the Neck Throbs
Two for one shots of Iodine
BYOL (Bring your own levothyroxine)

Whoa!  Party on, dude!

And speaking of parties, for the last couple of years, the Brits have tried to dress up the month with Dry January.  That’s right.  Some button- down civil servant from Whitehall decided that NOT going to the Pub all month would be a great way to take the sting out of Brexit.  Yeah, right!  Stay home and watch BBC News: that’ll put you in a good mood!

Plus, and this is the football boot to the goolies, January is the month when all those punitive New Year’s Resolutions kick in.  The people who ODed on chocolate over Christmas are starving themselves on carrots and kale.  The Quit Smoking crowd are one Marlboro away from killing somebody.  And the Get Fit folks are spending half their day sweaty and the other half sore.  Meanwhile, the weather sucks and the credit card bills from Christmas have arrived.  It’s no wonder everybody’s miserable.

The thing is, though, it’s not January’s fault.  It just happens to be stuck between the adrenaline surge of Christmas and the hormone rush of Valentine’s Day, and nobody’s going to look good with those two hogging the spotlight.

So good luck, January, you poor, pathetic, little beast!  You have my sympathy, but honestly, I’ll be glad when you’re gone.

Suddenly, Every Day Is Special!

calendar 15

Yesterday was Pi Day, a celebration of the number 3.14159 etc., etc., etc.  Numbers don’t usually get a day, but mathematics is not what you’d call a labour-intensive profession and Math Nerds have a lot of time on their hands.  Today is the Ides of March, an ancient Roman something-or-other festival that nobody would care about if Brutus and his buddies hadn’t taken the opportunity to turn their pal Julius Caesar into a pin cushion.  And Sunday is St. Patrick’s Day, a day when everybody tries to drink themselves green because a pack of 19th century New York Irishmen got homesick.  Folks, I think we’re getting a little over- scheduled.

Back in the day, primitive humans observed a couple of annual events to break up the monotony of trying to stave off starvation.  They celebrated Spring because they’d lived through the winter.  “OMG! We made it!”  And they celebrated the autumn harvest because there was food on the table.  “Yay!  Let’s eat!”  Aside from that, there wasn’t all that much for primeval humans to get excited about.

Enter organized religion.  When you have nameable gods, it makes sense to pause from time to time and thank them for life, liberty and the pursuit of getting enough to eat.  “Oh, Lord!  You’ve been awful good to me this year.  Thanks for letting me kill that mastodon.  Here, I made you a necklace out of his bones.  Any chance of getting another one before winter sets in?  Amen.”

From there, it was an easy step to commemorating tribal events — things like the death of a great leader, a particularly successful hunt or a military victory.  “Hey, Benny!  Remember last winter when we kicked the crap out of the Neanderthals?  We should set aside a special day to have a howl and a dance and tell our kids that story.”

The calendar wasn’t all that crowded, and these were important occasions.  They were seasonal or religious events or days of national pride, and for hundreds of years, our society used these times to celebrate our common beliefs and aspirations.  We even added a few new ones, like Thanksgiving and Labour Day, and allowed a couple of “not-so-serious” days to come along for the ride – notably, Hallowe’en and Valentine’s Day.

Welcome to the 20th century.  We loaded up the year with enough “special days” to give every date on the calendar five or six notations.  It all started with Mother’s Day in 1908 because, of course, everybody loves their mother.  She deserves a special day.  But, what about dad?  We couldn’t leave that poor bugger out in the cold.  He needed a day.  And from there it was just open season – Grandparents’ Day, Groundhog Day, Farmers’ Day, Secretaries’ Day, Road Construction Day, Robbie Burns Day, Bloomsday (June 16th) Star Wars Day (May the 4th) and on and on and on.  Suddenly, every day was special.

So, today, if you don’t want to celebrate the 2,062nd anniversary of the death of Julius Caesar, you have some choices — and BTW, these are all official days.  First of all, it’s International Day against Police Brutality (kinda self-explanatory.)  Next, it’s World Consumer Rights Day (Good luck with that one!)  But, it’s also World Day of Muslim Culture (which, depending on where you live, could tie in with item #1) World Speech Day and Eva Longoria’s birthday (she’s 44.)

Personally, though, I’m going with World Contact Day.  That’s right:  This is the day that the International Flying Saucer Bureau wants you to go outside and try your best to contact extra-terrestrials — telepathically.  Don’t knock it!  It beats the hell out of World Malaria Day.