Band Members' Individual Blog Pages and other great links:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mad Farmer on the Loose!

That's what one of our homemade garden signs says, anyway.

It's gardening season again. I always look forward to nurturing my tomato seedlings and cleaning the yard from a long winter of neglect. Every spring I get a great burst of energy for my outside projects. It usually lasts until the end of June after which I like to kick back and reap the bounty of my labors picking only an occasional weed.

So this last month has been a whirlwind of cleaning out plant beds, rototilling, hauling manure and starting my early seedlings. All that good stuff intertwined with the drudgery of rearranging junk piles, battling the never-clean garage and organizing the biggest poop-party of the year.

The manual labor and working the dirt have a literal grounding effect that tend to keep one down to earth. I really enjoy that aspect. Of course I also really enjoy my fresh peas, beans, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, radish, squash, cucumbers and many herbs. The time investment my garden is so worth it to me.

Speaking of seedlings...

Seeds of song grow at unpredictable rates. On some magical moments, a song may go from germination to full bloom in a single day. Other ideas spend eons locked in a hibernation state waiting for the right conditions in which to emerge.

Here's hoping that this summer brings a bountiful harvest of vegetables and songs!

And would somebody please catch that mad farmer. I have some weeds for him to pull.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Apocalypse: The Forever Ending Story (excerpt 2)


"By defining human suffering in cosmic terms, as part of a cosmic order that contains an issue, catastrophe is dignified - enabled with meaning, and hence made bearable."
- Eugen Weber

Marge: It's the apocalypse. Bart, are you wearing clean underwear?
Bart: Not anymore.
-"The Simpsons"

The Psychology of Armageddon

As we shuffle off to explore the dusty, winding paths of apocalyptic thinking, we start at the trailhead where apocalyptic thought became possible, then necessary, and finally unavoidable. Freud postulated that there are certain desires that govern human development and action. Among these are the drives to procreate in a manner suitable for pleasure and party tales, the need to please our parents, and the need to pay large therapy bills. Added to these is the overriding human need for things to make sense. We crave an ordered and predictable series of events, with as many connections between otherwise disparate happenings and ideas as possible. This allows us to feel secure and confident in a universe that seldom shows any intrinsic tendency to actually behave that way. It is so much simpler when we just know that the universe comes with instructions and has been created in perfect order just for us. This has sometimes been considered so desirable in fact that one might be enthusiastically burned alive for suggesting otherwise. Enforced opinions lend a singularly comforting kind of certainty - at least for some. And what better way for it all to make perfect sense than to pigeonhole all Creation into a series of numbers, the days of our lives, making time itself our predictable companion? So in part, the art of calendrics was born.

Calendar calculation has always been a surprisingly uncertain endeavor, seeking as it does to impose order on chaos; to establish mortal time within the timelessness of the cosmos. At first, the effort was rough yet practical. Primitive people recognized that predictable patterns of success in hunting for meat, wild produce, and one another seemed to follow the cycles of the moon. This powerful connection made it appear reasonably certain that the moon was a god or goddess, and so the first calendars counted the days, nights, and seasons by the moon's motions and cycle. It also seemed reasonable that if the Moon God(ess) was thus following the rules, that the Sun God(ess) would do the same thing. Yet, despite the potential comfort and satisfaction to be gained from such cosmic conformity, the moon and the sun simply refused to march to the same numerical drummer.

A moon cycle is 29.53059 days. So, a lunar calendar winds up with a dozen cycles of twenty-nine and a half days, or a 354.36708-day year. This is about ten days shy of a year as calculated by using the Sun. Obviously, some new math and a bit of heartfelt shrugging would be needed to bring the days into acceptable order. Still, for most folks, a little ambiguity was all right. The exact numerical day was unimportant so long as the length and timing of the seasons were properly predicted to allow for planting, hunting, animal husbandry, and armed thievery. This laissez-faire attitude regarding precise timekeeping went on up until certain societies became materially stable and could afford to start worrying about abstract, non-survival oriented things like precisely numbering the days, thereby inventing ulcers and regular jobs in the city. This was known as the Classical Age.

For the Greeks, the early lunar calendar provided for ten months of 304 definite days, with the rest left up to the whims of politicians, philosophers, and theologians. This tradition was borrowed from the Babylonians who had several days that they just didn't give a whit, either. More precise techniques were demanded as classical society became more sophisticated, however. So, Greeks began to make use of an "intercalary" month every second year. This adjustment meant that the Greeks eventually settled, like the earliest civilizations in Europe, Asia, and Africa, on a neat little calendar of twelve months of thirty days each, leading to fewer make-believe days for which one would have to find a use. Meanwhile, most people simply went on about their business, satisfied that it all made sense to the people that mattered.

Just who it was that mattered eventually came to mean certain Roman officials who were given the task of keeping the calendar up-to-date, as it were. This was a job for which they proved so clever, that by the reign of Julius Caesar, scarcely two souls in the Empire could have agreed on precisely what day it was(6). Fortunately, the Egyptians, whom Caesar was by then referring to as suburban Romans, had a nifty and accurate solar calendar ready for the taking; an act of appropriation for which Rome showed real aptitude. So, with shiny new Roman names scribbled over the archaic Egyptian sacred days, the solar calendar came into fashion. This became known as the Julian calendar, because Julius Caesar was the one credited with stealing it.

All this might have been the end of it, had Augustus Caesar not noticed some time later that a three-year leap factor had been poorly managed, and the Julian calendar had been thrown off by three days. Plus, Augustus simply couldn't do with the month of Quintilis having been renamed “July” in honor of Julius Caesar, and the entire calendar then being known as Julian. He was a Julius fan, but wanted some credit too. So, Augustus cancelled leap year for awhile until the whole rotation corrected itself, then went to a four-year leap cycle. Gaius Asinius Gallus and Gaius Marcius Censorinus, the Ordinary Consuls of the Roman Republic in 8 BCE, were so impressed that they renamed the month of Sextilis “August” by way of congratulations.

Except for a few annoying differences in the lengths of the months, the new calendar suited everyone just fine for a while. Yet, there was still an extra eleven minutes compounding annually. Not that anyone was really worried. Planting olives eleven minutes one way or the other was not a bother. Still, eleven minutes here and there added up until the middle of the sixteenth century when somebody noticed that important Christian holidays were no longer being celebrated during the proper seasons. Although the problem had already been bandied about for hundreds of eleven-minutes-too-long years, the Julian calendar was not revised further until the late sixteenth century rule of Pope Gregory.

Gregory corrected Augustus' intercalary equation by figuring that a year whose number ended with 00 must also be divisible by 400 in order to enjoy a 29-day February. Again, this change went by most folks as nitpicking, as they could have just as well used moon cycles to plant crops and unpack their summer clothes. Nevertheless, to the educated and fastidious it was a stroke of brilliance. The desire for ever greater precision and certainty has caused numbers of suggested calendrical corrections since, including two different lengths of weeks, extended Sabbath days, intercalary weeks, and even aligning the Gregorian calendar to the Shire Reckoning of J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings tales.

The long and short of it all is that, as folks became used to an increasingly certain organization of weeks, months, years, centuries, and so forth, the natural human tendencies to see structure where none exists and to draw correlations between disparate ideas and events took hold. Because of this, the calendar itself was given a divine and prophetic significance. In other words, it seemed logical that if we were created in God's image, then we must also think like God and experience time like God; except that God, being much larger than us, would have bigger thoughts and bigger time. So, we took the biggest number anyone had any real use for, one thousand, and made it God’s Big Number, as in 2 Peter 3:8, where we read:
"But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.

Combining this formula with the Genesis story of God creating the world in six days and resting on the seventh, religious thinkers figured that God had made the world in six thousand years and then rested for one thousand. The Latin terms "mille" meaning thousand, and “annus” for "year," together became used to denote this thousand years of God's rest. Theologians extrapolated from this that Creation as man knew it was to likewise last six thousand years before the Millennium, when the whole show would be over. So, figuring out the end of everything meant simply finding the beginning date and adding six thousand. The search for the beginning of the end had begun!

Before the Christian era, the popular calendar had simply begun with the supposed date of the founding of Rome. This came to be seen as impractical and awkward to Christians for obvious reasons. Because of this, Pope John I had earlier given sixth-century Scythian monk and stargazer Dionysius Exiguus (trans. Dennis the Little), the job of setting the start date for the calendar. Dennis decided to first correct the church's dating system, then based on Anno Diocletani, or years since the beginning of the reign of Diocletian, the infamous persecutor of Christians. Dennis thought it more proper to base his Christian system from the date of Christ's birth instead. The difficulty was that Jesus' actual birthday is not mentioned in the Bible, so Dennis had to rely instead on the only sources at hand, which were naturally Roman. Using these, he attempted to count backwards using various biblical references as his guide, since the exhaustive Roman records strangely made no mention at all of Jesus. This was all well and good except that the date-keeping of the biblical writers was also less exact than that of the Romans, often conflicting even with one another. In addition, Dennis himself was no math whiz. Nevertheless, he eventually arrived at a suitable starting place, stuck his finger on it, and called it 1 Anni Domini Nostri Jesu Christi, later shortened to Anno Domini, or the "year of our Lord."(7) In the end, however, the diminutive Dennis saw his work come to naught, suffering the ignominy of having his patron pope die while serving a prison sentence for treason. Dennis’ papally-sanctioned calendar fix fell out of favor, and would not be put into effect for over two centuries, when Saint Bede the Venerable used it to postpone a calendar-based apocalyptic crisis of his own day. It is through the clear planning and calculations of men such as Dennis and Bede that we settle on an otherwise random point of origin for the development of Christian apocalyptic thinking in human thought and history.(8) From this calendrical vantage point, we come to a better understanding of our history, both recorded and mythological, and the psychological importance of attempting to foresee the date of our own demise.

While such deeply-seated apocalyptic beliefs might seem pessimistic or unnerving, again such is not the case. The comfort of thinking we know the plan is far less threatening than either not knowing, or worse, realizing that perhaps there is no plan or deeper purpose to our existence beyond whatever we ourselves might establish. A divine plan offers spiritual security and refuge. So, even if the end is near, as it has been for our entire recorded history, we find comfort in thinking we know the how and why of the whole affair. Just as we complain if a book or film leaves a story open ended, we find closure and a strange serenity in plotting our fate on a story curve, then placing a little white doodad upon it and confidently proclaiming "you are here."

(6) For several centuries prior to Caesar, Romans often used a 22 or 23-day intercalary month called either Mercedinus or Intercalaris, following the 23rd day of Februarius. This was employed in order to keep the seasons in line with the calendar. However, the period was observed sporadically and not every second year like it was supposed to be. You know how the calendar can get away from you when you're not watching. Remember last Christmas? As a result, by the mid-first century BCE, the seasons were no longer showing up where they should. Caesars' favorite astronomer, Sosigenes, suggested that the calendar be extended that year to something like 444 days, give or take a day or so. "Many modern historians have accepted the figure of 445 days for 46 BCE, or the 'year of confusion.'"(Hollon, 2002.) It seems that the road to Hell is paved with not only good intentions, but also with discarded calendar pages.

(7) He might have called it the year "0", but he was using Roman numbers, which have no symbol or term for "zero." Islamic scholars would later reintroduce this Meso/Greek idea to the West in exchange for being slaughtered as heretics whenever the time seemed right.

(8) Although we will often focus on the apocalyptic strain as seen through the lineage of Jewish/Christian mythology, the apocalyptic traditions of other cultures are often similar enough to it for the Judeo/Christian version to serve as a template of sorts for comparing the various other doomsday scenarios throughout history.