If you’re reading this the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 21, when this paper comes out, you should be aware that the Winter Solstice is happening this afternoon at 1:48 p.m. PST.
There’s a widespread misconception that the equinoxes and solstices are events fixed to certain days. I have known people who swear that all winter solstices have to happen on December twenty oneses. OK, it’s been true in Seattle lately, but that’s not necessarily the case. The truth is the solstice happens at a moment in time that can move around, and the date depends on your time zone. The reason it stays close to Dec. 21 is because of leap years. That’s why we have leap years: to keep the solstice from wandering off.
Without leap days, the solstice would ratchet forward almost six hours every year, and, by the fourth or fifth year, it would happen on a Dec. 22. The horror. We could accidentally bring the cows into the barn a day early.
If you can’t trust a calendar to tell you the shortest day of every year, you can’t trust anyone. When time unravels, society itself unravels. Cows unravel. Figuratively speaking.
This is why I like to periodically call out the times of the winter solstice. This year, it’s at 1:48 p.m. Next year, it will be at 7:28 p.m. The year after, it would be in the morning of Dec. 22, but an intervening leap day will put it back to the morning of Dec. 21 instead. Leap days to the rescue! Hail Julius Caesar and his astronomers!
The other reason the solstice doesn’t wander too far is because of Pope Gregory XIII and his astronomers. They noticed that there were too many leap days, and the excess leap days were over-correcting for the solstice drift, letting it go days too soon before Dec. 21. That couldn’t be allowed because the solstice always has to happen about four days before the birthday of Jesus, and we’re again mismanaging the cattle, this time in the other direction. So the pope decreed that three leap days every 400 years would be no more, retroactively, and poof, the calendar was fixed.
All of this is designed so we can count on the coming Christmas being on Sunday, rather than Friday or Saturday, as the founders of the church always intended.
Meanwhile, as the calendar was corrected, Elon Musk took over Twitter and turned himself into a fine illustration of the hazards of ideology.
He didn’t have to be a free speech fanatic. He could have realistically acknowledged as he took Twitter over that there would have to be checks on free speech on the platform. But no, he couldn’t do that, because ideology. So then he discovered that someone was tweeting the location of his private jet in real time, a practice called doxxing that never concerned him until suddenly it was putting his life and the lives of his friends and family at risk. So accounts have been suspended, and he is looking like a hypocrite. He’s not really a hypocrite, just an ideologue who got his chain yanked by reality.
Reality has a way of yanking chains. Life finds a way, said Jeff Goldblum as my favorite character, Ian Malcolm, in the first “Jurassic Park” film.
The news this morning: a 50-foot-tall cylindrical aquarium built in a hotel in Berlin almost 20 years ago burst and flooded the hotel with 264,000 gallons of water and about 1,500 fish. That’s reality. Authorities can’t explain it except to say there was a technical flaw in the structure. Well, yeah. It was built. Who needs a 50-foot, 264,000-gallon aquarium?
I got interested in chaos theory the morning after Albert Einstein died in April 1955. After having it explained to me that Einstein was a famous scientist and being told roughly what scientists do, namely discover things no one knew before, I went outside and tried to think what I might ever be able to discover. There happened to be a pretty significant sidewalk crack in front of the house. I thought, “Maybe I could someday learn how sidewalk cracks work?”
They work like earthquakes and calendars. Things drift. Eventually they go too far, and the next thing you know the cattle are being mismanaged or the barn or aquarium has collapsed.
Read more of the Dec. 21-27, 2022 issue.