Archive - January 2012

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AEROLAB
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BAN FEBRUARY

AEROLAB

Airports make excellent laboratories. Looking about me, I see how serious everyone looks. Certainly, some are business travelers, all dressed up with somewhere to go. Others maybe have a funeral to attend or some other formal function. Still others are probably just nervous about flying. All of them wear solemnity well on their faces, and for good reasons. But what about the rest? What about the Disney-goers or Cancun revelers? What about the family reunioners or those who might be traveling just to do so? Why so serious?

Staring down the backside of my admittedly scratched-to-hell ipod, I see the very same solemn expression looking back at me. What is it about airports that makes everyone appear so grave—and suspicious. People look about them, glancing timidly at strangers as if they might just pull a knife on them or worse. Sometimes, I leave on my shades just to watch the reaction. The security personnel don’t seem perturbed at all. But then there’s this elderly woman in the seat across from me, flashing me nervous glances as if I don’t know she’s doing it. She must think I’m up to something; why else would I leave on my shades?

Am I a potential terrorist? No. Too easy. Most people think as much about terrorists in airports as they do about Cuban commies coming ashore in Miami—as in, not too much. Am I a perhaps a maniac, bent on tossing fire hydrants through airplane windows? Maybe. But then again, if that was such a concern to her I doubt she would leave her home, let alone ride in an airplane.

Let’s get cultural. Maybe it’s the environment itself—the social kind—that leads to such distrust. Like hyenas or humpbacks or pigeons, humans are social animals. This is no accident but a very important means of survival for a species. Strength in numbers implies more than just the numbers. It implies an affinity between the numbers that must exist for there to be large numbers. It is no accident that all humans organize themselves into groups. It is no surprise that all cultures recognize the fundamental importance of family by erecting their entire social, political, and economic systems around it. Solidarity enhances group survival by providing a defense against rival groups while discouraging dissension from within. Solidarity is predicated on uniformity in thought, word, and deed. Solidarity maintains stability by creating cohesion through consensus.

As societies grow too large to maintain solidarity amongst everyone, chaos always ensues. Cities are more prone to violence not simply because there are more people, but because there is less cohesion—less consensus—between residents. As cities grow more cosmopolitan, diverse populations introduce alternative modes of thought that disrupt uniformity and thus foster conflict.

Back to airports. Airports are excellent laboratories because they bring together not just different nationalities with disparate control systems (i.e. social structures) but also every sort of localized group from within as well as without said nations. Airports are passageways between worlds, and it is my guess that the larger the port, the more suspicious the traveler. Affinity is impossible because airports are not places to go but places to go through. Interaction is not only limited but circumstantially unfeasible. Small talk is not preferable as you are running from one gate to the next hoping not to get stranded at the airport. And why is that so bad? Because airports are the antithesis of our primal instinct for having a home and a community. They are cold and impersonal places; they are mechanized and abstract structures filled with modern hieroglyphs and haphazard assortments of shops which aim to facilitate some modicum of familiarity but succeed only in evoking and evincing surreal notions of what might lie outside the drab confines in which they are enclosed.

Airports are labs because they bring together everyone from everywhere for a limited time only, in a place that resembles no one’s home but does not try to be one anyway. Airports make us run fast, read quickly, and do so in the midst of strange multitudes.

I look back at the suspicious elder sitting across from me, suddenly realizing that she wasn’t staring at me at all, but at the Sikh sitting just behind me. In a strong Midwest accent she comments to her friend how much she looks forward to returning to Witchita. How strange the Sikh must look to her. How alien he must seem to her experience of community and the kind of identity it both espouses and enforces.

BAN FEBRUARY

We should just get rid of February. It’s just too inconsistent to be taken seriously as a Gregorian unit of time: two or three days shorter than every month except for every fourth year, when it miraculously gains an extra day, or leap day. Leap days are added to force the seasons to stay synchronized with our yearly calendar of social and commercial events, because having a white Christmas is obviously more important to humanity then correctly plotting time. The Maya didn’t use leap days, but since having snow on Christmas is probably unheard of in a rain forest, we may never know if such frozen magnificence would have made them reconsider.

In Australia, February is the last real month of summer and is still an ideal time for surfing, sunbathing and koala hunting. Anyone living anywhere north of the 38th parallel will be insulted to know this. Up here in the polar north, February is the ass end of winter: a bleak and unholy time littered with the salty, lumpish remains of once towering snow banks. Here there exist only two types of weather: freakish snow and hard rain.  These usually alternate, but sometimes they generously pummel us into submission at the same time. These are the kind of days that make you want to kill god. Over the course of the whole month, snow and ice fall, melt and then refreeze, eventually congealing into toxic mounds of urine and petrified dogshit. Everything is frozen in February, even time itself. Many minds are lost trying to reconcile how the shortest month of the year could actually feel like the longest. If you are terminally ill and care more about basic survival than genuine happiness, you probably enjoy February; it’s the only month of the year where every day feels like a fucking eternity.

Having Valentine’s Day in February was the obvious choice, because February is truly awful and so is Valentine’s Day. Most people don’t care to know the origins of this senseless waste of time and money, which is why I’m going to summarize it for you here. Valentine’s Day is actually a Catholic feast day established by Pope Gelasius way back in 496 to honor a group of martyrs who never even existed. This might appear like a pointless and inane gesture, but only if you choose to ignore the naturally aggressive progression of monotheism and over a thousand years of pre-Christian religious traditions. “St.” Valentine’s Day was actually instituted as a way to supplant the Lupercalia, an ancient Roman pastoral holiday originally held between February 13th and 15th.  This celebration included such heartwarming festivities as rampant animal sacrifices, blood baths and everything else you’d expect from a good old-fashioned pagan ritual. After being anointed with the blood of sacrificial swine, young shepherds and nobleman alike would take to the streets of Rome in their sacrificial pelts, indiscriminately flogging anyone they happened upon with what Plutarch suggestively described as “shaggy thongs”.  Young women actually volunteered for such treatment with the reasonable expectation that a friendly flogging with strips of hardened ox skin would get them pregnant.

The Romans called these thongs februa, which is of course where February gets its ridiculous name—from ox thongs. Most people don’t even pronounce it correctly, and I suppose this has something to do with the fact that January and February sound a lot alike, minus the trick “r”. So February is also tricky, which is a polite way of saying “you’re a disingenuous asshole”. Like februa, the word “valentine” is also derived from the latin valens, which means “worthy”, “strong”, or “powerful”. You might want to reflect on this in a couple of weeks when you’re standing in line at the nearest Target with a massive red panda bear in one hand and your balls in the other.

February plays host to some other fairly miserable spectacles as well, like Groundhog Day. This actually had the potential to be a very exciting tradition, had the German immigrants who brought it with them to Pennsylvania left intact the part where the shadow of a sacred bear is used to determine the onset of Spring, and not a groundhog. If they had just left well enough alone, viewers from all over the world could have tuned in every year to see exactly what happens when the mayor of Punxsutawney tries to lure the sacred bear from its cave. Instead, we get a large rodent and a Bill Murray vehicle that is inexplicably far more popular in Europe than it has ever been in the states (although it is a pretty decent film).

There’s also President’s Day, which I would probably respect more had the country Washington and Lincoln worked so hard to create not been effectively destroyed over the last ten years. February is also Black History Month. I think this is racist. If I were black, I’d be pretty pissed off with the government for dedicating the shortest and arguably shittiest month of the year to me. I would demand that this be changed to July immediately, where it is currently National Ice Cream month.

Trying to comprehend February as if it were just like any other month is foolhardy and will leave you totally exposed to the massive affront to reason it represents. Just look at what happened to one of the great minds over at Wikipedia when he attempted to discuss February in basic astronomical terms:

“Having only 28 days in common years, it is the only month of the year that can pass without a single full moon. It is also the only month of the calendar that once every six years and twice every 11 years, will have only four full 7-day weeks. Where the first day of the month starts on a Monday and the last day ends on a Sunday, this was observed in 2010 and can be traced back 11 years to 1999, 6 years back to 1993, 11 years back to 1982, 11 years back to 1971 and 6 years back to 1965; and so on twice 11 years consecutively and once six years either forward into the future or back into the past. This works unless the pattern is broken by a skipped leap year, but no leap year has been skipped since 1900 and no others will be skipped until 2100. (Years that are evenly divisible by 100 are not leap years, unless they are also evenly divisible by 400, in which case they are leap years). A year of this kind would be a common year starting on Friday. It cannot happen in a leap year.”

What a convoluted mess. You can practically hear the author’s voice give out half way through as he struggles in vain to make some numerical sense out of this daft monstrosity of a month. He fails miserably, unless of course it was his intention all along to drive home just how jarring a punishment living through February can really be. And even if we decided to ditch the stupid name in favor of better sounding alternatives, our only good options would be either Solmanoth (the mud month) or Kale-monath (cabbage). And as you can see by the translations, these options are even less attractive than ox thongs.

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