Starting to look like Saturnalia

McDonnell Planetarium Decked Out for the Holidays

It is starting to look a lot like Christmas, at least around here and snow is on its way. It is in the forecast for tomorrow. So maybe, but probably not. Yesterday, I brought up the purple tubs full of ornaments, also-known-as the purple worn of D&D fame. I cleared the mantel of the everyday knick-knacks and decorated it with the X-mas stuff. Today, we’ll fetch the tree and then straight away put it up in the living room. Normally, we let our live tree acclimate to the warmer inside temperature, by first staging it through the basement, but it is supposed to hit fifty this afternoon. I figure that by then the tree lot’s mercury will be pretty close to what the basement regularly resides at. After the tree is up and has been decorated, then it will really start looking like Christmas around here.

Observant readers might have noticed that I used both the parochial and secular connotations for the holiday that falls every year on the 25th of December. I’m not declaring war on Christmas or anything like that. Even an ardent Christian should have realized by now that there are now more than a little bit of secular undertones to this once entirely religious holiday. Maybe entirely is even too strong an assertion, because it is thought that early Christians chose this time of year to celebrate Christmas, because another Roman holiday, Saturnalia, was available then to mask the Christian’s religious activities. A little bit of drunken bacchanal would go a long way to disguise their devotions. I mean, who wants to get thrown to the lions on Christmas Eve?

I don’t think that it was mere chance that the early Christians chose this time of year for their story of rebirth. Winter solstice is the nadir of the year, with the shortest day and the longest night. It is not by accident that the New Year is celebrated a week later. Scholars wanted to wait that week in order to be sure that the days had in fact begun to get longer again. Does anyone celebrates Saturnalia anymore? While the whole world, if only in its commercial form, celebrates Christmas. This year though Saturnalia is staging a comeback. On December 21st, winter solstice day, the planets Jupiter and Saturn will be in a conjunction. Last summer there was another conjunction of these two planets and we witnessed it while at the cabin. This time they will be close enough to each other that both planets’ mini solar systems should be viewable in one frame. Last time, in those darker northern skies we could see the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn. I pray that it is not cloudy here on the 21st.



HIV (120 nm), Influenza Vaccine (100 nm), Lassa (100-130 nm)

We got our flu vaccines. I got the extra-strength variety, but we’re uncertain which one Anne got. Because of differences in our Medicare coverages, she got hers at CVS and I got mine at Walgreens. I was offered the choice between extra-strength and regular, which apparently she wasn’t. CVS might only have had the regular variety. The first place we tried didn’t have any vaccines. Experts are recommending that everyone get the flu vaccine, now more than ever, due of Covid. This year’s flu season will accompany the expected second wave of the Coronavirus. Lately though, our health issues have been overshadowed by those in the news. I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of two little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

We’ve all heard by now that Trump has got the Rona. His profligate and devil-may-care attitude towards the pandemic from a policy point-of-view has been mirrored with a similarly reckless approach to his own personal safety and the safety of others around him. His midnight tweet announcing his infection was apparently preceded by days in which he hid this fact, but continued to meet with the public, while spreading the disease. Now, it is all that the Twitterati can talk about. Speculation runs the gamut from he’s faking it, to he is lying on death’s door and everything in-between. Only time will tell and to paraphrase what he said of Ghislaine Maxwell upon her arrest, I wish him well. Too cold? Hey, winter is coming, baby and with it a time for reckoning.

It is somewhat academic now, but I wonder it Trump gets the flu vaccine. I suspect that he doesn’t. It does not appear to be in his nature to get one. Besides, if he did get one it would have been in the news. He is quoted as claiming that since being elected, he gets one, but he claims a lot of things that aren’t true. He also claims that he has never had the flu, but then he claimed that Covid was just like the flu. All of which is either unsubstantiated or untrue or both. So far, about 210,000 Americans have died from the Coronavirus, but if you count the number of people who have died this year and compare it to the average, more than 300,000 more Americans have died than normal. In this world, there is a lot more than the Rona out there trying to kill you. Not availing yourself of all of the benefits of modern medicine is a good way to die too.

Strawberry Moon

Strawberry Moon

We went out last night to view the International Space Station (ISS) as it flew overhead. I attempted to photograph it, but was unable to get a decent image. I did however capture the waxing gibbous moon, what tomorrow will be the full strawberry moon. The ISS pass over started at 9:38 and lasted three minutes. A beauty of the space station is that it is never late. It was distinctly visible as it passed nearly directly overhead. To the naked eye, it looked like a fast moving plane. Interestingly, it first just appeared, well above the horizon and likewise it suddenly disappeared also well above the horizon. I later figured out that this phenomenon is caused by the ISS itself, first passing into sunlight and then back out of it again. I was a little concerned going out last night. Because of all of the civil unrest, here was a curfew in the city and not in the county, where I was, but sometimes these situations change rapidly. We were on the old AB Green ballfield and were the only ones out. My only mishap last night was collecting some chigger bites. Interestingly, when Anne and I walked this morning, our path brought us close to the city-county line. Suddenly, both of our cellphones simultaneously squawked then with an emergency security warning that announced last night’s city curfew. Good to know!

Smile When You Say That

Fluorapatite in Calcite

Pictured above are two elongated, six-sided fluorapatite crystals that have grown within orange calcite and were exposed when the calcite was trimmed away. Both teeth and bones are made from a closely related mineral, hydroxyapatite. I had a dentist appointment today and if my teeth were the color of these crystals, he would have been very upset, but since the sixties that is what the addition of fluoride to drinking water has been all about, turning natural hydroxyapatite enamel into harder, more decay resistant fluorapatite.

Today has been rather dismal. It was very foggy in the morning. This changed to a downpour, while I was coming back from the dentist. I am going to look for a new dentist who is closer to home. When we first moved to Saint Louis, we had a young dentist, whose practice was close to us. Eventually though, he moved to way West County, but we continued seeing him. We has retired now, but before he quit, he joined another dentist’s practice which was more robust, but also even further away. Now it is time to make a change and find another young up and coming dentist, who practices is closer to us, so I don’t have to drive so far.

Smile When You Say That – Temnospondyl

What was even more depressing than the weather and the dentist were the stock markets and the epidemic. Regarding the stock markets, the defensive position that I took in took in November 2016 is now paying huge dividends. Some of our savings accounts, the ones that are mainly equities have been roughly battered, but for those accounts, this doesn’t matter too much. It will be years, before we touch that money. Plenty of time for them to recoup. The account that we have been living off of and will continue to do so is only down about 5%, not including today’s loses, which is still pretty good I think, considering.

I watch the news, to hear when our theater season ticket series will be shutdown. It is only a matter of time now. These series cater to a grey haired clintele, who really shouldn’t be risking it, by going to large audience performances. Sports has already pulled the plug and on Broadway the arts too have called it quits. Here, like I said, it is only a matter of time, before our shows are closed too.

BREAKING: Saint Louis City Mayor has banned all gatherings of 1000 people or more. So, no Hamilton at the Fox this spring for us.

We made the mistake last night of watching the Oval Office pronouncements. It was Teleprompter Trump who was on, but he was so stilted and tenous in his delivery that I was not surprised to learn that the market’s curcuit breakers had been tripped, practically before he was done talking. Putting aside what he said or rather misstated, how he spoke was unnerving enough for me. It was sad.

Planet of the Chickens

Incubating Chicks

Chickens are now the most numerous vertebrate on the planet. 66 billion of them are slaughtered for food annually. And these are not your father’s chickens either, because these birds sprout legs and thighs that have been genetically modified and are significantly larger than their predecessor’s. These bird’s existence is yet another example of humanity’s impact here, on God’s little golf ball.

We are now living in the Anthropocene epoch. This is an era that is marked by significant human impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems, including, but not limited to, climate change. This was the thesis of Dr. TR Kidder’s talk, The Anthropocene Era: Have Humans Become a Greater Force Than All of Nature? He is the chairman of Washington University’s Anthropology Department and was this month’s speaker, at last night’s Science on Tap.

Kidder raised the question, in future epochs, will any signs of man’s existence remain? There is no need to worry about that. The birth of humanity has always been coincidental with the creation of garbage. Anthropologists rely upon first finding human garbage, as a means to search for human bones.

Examples of mankind’s impact on this blue marble abound. Plastiglomerate, stone that contains mixtures of sedimentary grains, and other natural debris and is held together by hardened molten plastic can be found everywhere. 500 million tons of elemental aluminum has been smelted, not a naturally occurring material. 50 billion tons of concrete has been mixed. That is enough concrete to cover the surface of the Earth to a meter’s depth. The geologic record of our existence will not soon disappear.

Archeologists like to separate earth’s history into neat little time periods. The K-T boundary, the geologic transition between the Cretaceous and Tertiary eras is a excellent facilitator for this behavior. Similarly, Kidder proposes July 16, 1945 as the beginning of the Anthropocene epoch. Not that that is when this era began. In actually began much earlier, but on that day near Alamogordo, NM, the first atom bomb was detonated. In subsequent years, through the sixties, following nuclear tests have blanketed the planet with a layer of Strontium-90, a golden spike that will crisply delineate in a geologic timeframe what preceded man and what came afterwards. Because chemically strontium mimics calcium, any child of the sixties has Strontium-90 embedded in their teeth and bones. Coincidentally, Strontium-90 is already being used to detect fine wine fraud.

The current CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is now above 400 ppm, a level that has not been seen on this planet for 3 million years. No person alive today will see atmospheric CO2 concentration fall below that level. You could say that global warming is now sorta baked into the equation. It is generally thought that the rise of CO2 levels and the advent of global warming began in the Industrial Revolution, but polar ice core records show that CO2 rise began with the start of the Holocene epoch, some 11,700 years ago and coincided with the first farms. Slash and burn agriculture released CO2, but more importantly, the people of the cleared fields began changing the face of the earth. The last most significant decrease in CO2 levels occurred around 1610 or more than a hundred years after Columbus sailed. In between that date and his first voyage, it is estimated that some 20 million Native Americans died. Their deaths and the brief decline of agriculture in the New World is believed to be the cause for that CO2 dip.

Are we hard-wired for destruction? Our record as a species indicates that we are, even as far back as paleolithic man, on whom the extinction of many species of mega-fauna can be pinned. At this crossroads, we need to become better, more thoughtful stewards, but that is against our nature. Humanity has always had to wrestle with problems that offer either a pay now or pay later proposition. People invariably choose later, even though later is much more expensive.

Kidder’s talk was very informative, if a bit depressing. At least it took our minds off of the Corona virus for a while. I love the new venue for these talks, the Jefferson Ballroom on Chouteau. Anne and I shared a PW Pizza for dinner. We’ve been promised a much lighter topic for next month’s talk, Helium.