Astronomical Halloween

Pumpkin bin supermarket sentinels, cob web fluff, fold out spiders, broom stick witches. Pumpkin patch, amusement park Fright Night, haunted house tours, behemoth inflatable yard ghosts, pop-up fireworks outlets – it must be Halloween.

This year, take a moment to ponder astronomical Halloween, one of four “cross- quarter days” in a year – a cross-quarter day falls midway between a equinox (sun sets due west) and the solstice (sun sets at most northern or southern point on the horizon). March and September equinoxes, June and December solstices plus one cross-quarter between each, makes eight astronomical sub-divisions in a year.

Astronomical Halloween, rooted in the ancient Celtic festival Samhain took cues from the Pleiades star cluster. Cosmically vigilant pagans celebrated Samhain on the night Pleiades reached its highest point in the sky, coincidentally falling at cross-quarter time. Trouble is – the 7th century Catholic church knew nothing of Pleiades or cross-quarter days. They declared November 1 All Saints Day (honoring any saints who didn’t have their own day), October 31 All Hallows Eve (mass for all who are hallowed) – set in stone dates based on a wonky Julian calendar.

Had the Gregorian calendar been applied, Halloween would fall on November 7.

A color-composite image of the Pleiades from the Digitized Sky Survey. Image credit: NASA/ESA/AURA/Caltech

A color-composite image of the Pleiades from the Digitized Sky Survey. Image via NASA/ESA/AURA/Caltech.

Chinese Plea

As the New Year looms, lets all ponder our priorities. Rather than feeble, half hearted promises; why not resolve to take a wider view of the world? A world crowded with mega stores, offering inexpensive goods, 24 hours a day – comes at a price. We grumble about the economy, complain about employment, whine over out sourced call centres; then flock to Wal Mart for cheap imported goods. Unfazed by recalls, faulty workmanship, lead contamination, or labour practices; we gobble up imported goods without blinking an eye. Worse still, we encourage trade to “stimulate the economy”, roll out the red carpet to foreign companies, and look the other way.

On Dec. 27 the Business Insider reported on a chilling story. A woman from Oregon discovered a letter written by a Chinese factory worker,  inside a box of Halloween decorations purchased last year at Kmart.


“If you occasionally buy this product,  please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization.  Thousands people here who are under the persecution of the Chinese Communist  Party Government will thank and remember you forever.

People who work here have to work 15 hours a day  without Saturday, Sunday break and any holidays. Otherwise, they will suffer  torturement, beat and rude remark. Nearly no payment (10 yuan/1 month).

People who work here, suffer punishment 1-3 years  averagely, but without Court Sentence (unlaw punishment). Many of them are Falun  Gong practitioners, who are totally innocent people only because they have  different believe to CCPG. They often suffer more punishment than others.”

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I must stress – it is alleged to have been written by a factory worker. Obviously the author must be educated as it is written almost entirely in English. The context of the letter indicates these workers are not there by choice or court sentence.

I’ve written a lot about China, and realize the situation is complicated. That said; it’s no secret certain Chinese factories had to install “suicide nets” to stop workers from jumping to their death, imported pet food sickened or killed hundreds of animals, or that thousands of products are removed from shelves each year due to lead, pesticide, or melamine contamination. Banned or restricted Chinese food products; like honey, make their way to our supermarket shelves via other countries. Laundered and relabelled, we snap them up – pleased with ourselves for being great little shoppers.

Saving a few pennies has become a fact of life for countless families; I understand that. Imported goods are inexpensive.  Given the choice between providing for my family or not, obviously family trumps conscience. The disturbing fact is how the situation has taken on a life of its own. All of us feed the flames by being oblivious.

No one said life was fair. We can’t fix all the problems or change different cultures by applying our standards. What we can do is realize we have a voice. I guarantee that speaking up won’t empty mega or dollar store shelves. Waking up and saying “enough” might just put an end to the madness condoning flagrant disregard for health and human rights.

We owe it to one Chinese factory worker to at least ponder a plea for help.

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Will O’ The Wisp

Halloween punctuates a very strange week. As fireworks crackle in the distance and the driving rain pounds my window – it is the Will O’ the Wisp that enters my pondering mind.

Will O’ The Wisp, by definition – a delusive or misleading hope – is also known in folklore as ignus fatuus, and jack-o-lantern. Throughout history a mysterious glowing light that appeared over bogs and marshes. Folk tales from England, Appalachia, to Newfoundland describe “Will” or “Jack” as protagonists doomed to haunt graveyards, swamps, and marshes for the evil deeds committed during their lives.

The first recorded attempt to explain the wisp was by Italian physicist Alessandro Volta in 1776; he attributed them to methane gas igniting over bogs and marshes. Many took issue as his theory couldn’t possibly explain why they seemed to move away as they were approached. Although his reasoning concluded that air was pushed forward by movement, exhaustive studies continued through the 18th and 19th centuries.

There is still no definitive explanation. Theories from chemical reaction, electric energy, to refraction of light abound. In Marfa, Texas  they are attributed to car or train lights in the distance.

Marfa lights viewing area this way

Marfa lights viewing area this way