The Dragoons of Cultural Fantasy by William Benz
Dulce materia, oh rosa de alas secas, en mi hundimiento tus pétalos subo con pies pesados de roja fatiga, y en tu catedral dura me arrodillo golpeándome los labios con un ángel.
Sweet matter, oh rose of dry wings, in my sinking I climb up your petals with feet heavy with red fatigue, and in your hard cathedral I kneel bumping my lips against an angel. Pablo Neruda, 1934 (translation, René de Costa)
As this article takes form tonight, January 31st, the first of two Blue Moons of 1999 rises orange over snow capped mountains to the East. The frigid, silver peaks of the Cascades are shimmered in warm radiance. But the Moon is in no way blue.
I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting. A hint of bluishness? An aura of some sort? I notice that looking with this anticipation momentarily interferes with my enjoyment. I’m thinking too much about seeing too little. As a result, I see less. I don’t mean to wax overly metaphysical. My intention would be to keep this very simple. Orange glow. Snow capped peaks. Moon, at the window. Me, at the keyboard. Composing alternatives for us.
Where do we get the overlays we heap upon experience? What reward comes in cramming simple awareness through filters of fantasy? Sometimes they’re expectant. Sometimes fearful. Always, a burden to bear. Each by itself is no big deal. But, little by little, they all add up.
We use words to color our realities. We know their effect is far beyond their simple definitions. We don’t usually allow strangers to boss us around. Yet, we daily allow words in vogue to cause us to fret, to become euphoric, to explode with righteous indignation. “Teen Violence.” “Eternal Salvation.” “Y2K.” What any of these words actually means is dependent on where we look to find out.
Traditionally, our definitions came from family, friends, books, education. Of late, we rely more on TV News, tabloid journalism, and the diatribes of talk show pontificators. Even if it’s not our intention, these blaring and blatantly addicting media intrude upon our sensibility. As if through osmosis, this fabricated pablum contaminates the well of our deepest meanings. We don’t remember how or from where these definitions come. Definitions bound to the relationships they keep, not to the dictionary. Maybe it’s time we look for our definitions in the part that usually does the looking.
Blue Moons Five centuries ago, a “Blue Moon” referred to something that didn’t exist. “He’s talking a blue moon” meant “He’s talking nonsense.” This remained the term’s principal use until the Fall of 1883. It was then that actual blue moons were observed, the result of unusual atmospheric conditions. Months before, the Indonesian volcano Krakatau erupted. Erupted is an understatement. Three quarters of a sizable island off the West coast of Java were blasted into the stratosphere. There was so much ash encircling the globe, rising moons took on a bluish hue. As a result, the phrase “Once in a Blue Moon” changed to denote a rare occurrence.
The current practice of referring to the second Full Moon in a month as a “Blue Moon” is the most recent evolution in this term. One etymologist suggests it’s as recent as 1937 when it first appeared in a Farmer’s Almanac from Maine.(See: http://www.griffithobs.org/IPSBlueMoon.html)
In the 40’s and 50’s, the phrase “Blue Moon” caught the imagination of the public again. Love Songs on the radio made the phrase popular. It didn’t hurt having Elvis step up and do his part. (As Graceland addicts know, the King’s first backup band was called the “Blue Moon Boys.”) Blue Moon now became associated with pining away for lost love, something never in short supply. Once popularized, people continued to add meanings to the phrase.
(The Dragoons . . . )
While Blue Moon retained its indication of rarity, some allusion to a sense of plenitude was added. “Get ready, this month’s going to have lots of energy with that Blue Moon at its end!” Oh. Really? Well, considering the Moon’s orbit isn’t any quicker, it’s hard to imagine where the additional energy would come from. I thought about this a lot. (In Oregon, in February, when it rains all the time, you do things like that.)
The Wiccan tradition calls this moon the “Black Moon.” Spells cast on this night are said to be especially powerful. But since most people don’t know what a Wicca is, there’s probably a simpler explanation. Something mundane, like having five paydays in a single month. Of course, believing five paychecks in a month makes you richer sets you up for a rude awakening four weeks later.
Upon dispassionate examination, a Blue Moon will simply appear as an artifact of arbitrary divisions of our calendar. The Lunar Cycle is 29 and a half days long. Whereas our months, with the exception of February, are longer. Four have 30 days, seven have 31. It’s interesting how February came up short. As the story goes, Augustus Caesar stole a day from February so his month, August, would have just as many days as his Great-uncle, Julius Caesar’s month, July. We all need to feel special.
These facts, along with our year being approximately 11 days longer than 12 lunar months, result in some years having a 13th Full Moon. It’s got to go somewhere. So some month gets a second Full Moon, the so-called Blue Moon. Whether or not this constitutes a rarity depends on whether once every two and a half years feels rare. 1999 happens to have two Blue Moons. The last time this happened was in 1961. Two Blue Moons in a year happens about four times a century. Is that rare?
I can’t remember the details, but one night in a Pub I heard someone hold forth how this was a foreboding sign that the coming Millennium would be a doozie! Something about the increased energy from all these Blue Moons would put us over the top. As the night wore on, conspiracy theories, alien eating habits, and Mayan galactic force fields obliterated the grip of logic. Blue Moons may be nothing to mess with, but neither is a good Brauenmeister who knows his trade.
People seem compelled to create things to justify a sense of specialness. If One Blue Moon is heavy, then Two Blue Moons will take us to the Brink.
But really, if a Full Moon doesn’t happen around the 1st of January, like it did this year, the one around January 31st would fall in February. This causes the Full Moon on March 31st to fall in April. Thus, giving us no Blue Moons at all. For there to be two Blue Moons in a single year, February must have none. The variations depend on when in January the first lunar cycle begins. The difference is usually no more than a dozen or so hours. Sometimes it’s so close you’ll have a Blue Moon, but friends a mile east will not. Arbitrary divisions producing imagined rarity. Take away Caesar’s thievery and even fewer years would have Blue Moons. Would fewer Lunar Paydays ease our pain?
Is this the stuff that Liberation is made of? Are we about to find the Promised Land or face the Pearly Gates? Do we always need harbingers to convince us our times are momentous?
Maybe we do. Maybe, surrounded by so much negativity and doubt, we need all the help we can get. Is it so difficult to believe we’re already in good standing with the Universe? Such awakening is possible. Do you feel it?
No? Okay, for you Jaded Naysayers out there, get this. I began this article 333 days before the beginning of the New Millennium. Pretty Awesome, huh? Well, Numerologically speaking that’s Utterly Auspicious.
No? Okay. Try this. Add 333 to 1000, then subtract the total from 1999, what do you get? 666! Now you can’t tell me that isn’t Heavy.
Still not convinced? Okay. Take the Second letter in the word New. Add the third letter in Satan. Then take the first letter in Cascades. Add the second letter in January. Followed by the second and third letters in Millennium. Then, take the last letter in North. The second letter in Moon. The first letter in Momentous. And finally, add the first letter of the second word in the phrase, “Most Excellent!” and what do you get? “ET. CALL HOME!”
Get it? Communication with the Pleiades! I’ll tell ya, Mon! It’s Happenin’!
Yeah. I admit, that’s stretching it. But do you think you’d be more edified if I substituted a documented exposé on how the Y2K Bug spells total disaster? Or if I helped you suck down another Alan Greenspan admonishment about how the economy can prosper indefinitely if we just bite his analytical bullet. We just need to tighten our belts so the billions in assets of his Federal Reserve can remain safe and sound. Get it? (You didn’t actually think those assets were ours, did you?)
If we take a closer look at these predictions with a fresher perspective, they may appear as ridiculously constructed as my extracted message from the Pleiadeans.
(The Dragoons . . . )
Y2K , I’M OK For instance, the details supporting the prediction that at the stroke of Midnight the failure of embedded computer chips or flawed programs will lead to catastrophic collapse of our whole power grid are about as patchy as a string of letters plucked from random words. You can beef it up with technical jargon to make it sound more scientific and irrefutable. Throw in the bit about stock market collapse and no social security checks and you’ll have people begging to be led out of the Wilderness!
I’ve read a lot about Y2K. It’s embarrassing. Like being caught at the checkout stand reading that story about the man at a Sperm Bank finding out he’s his brother’s father. But my decade long experience with programming makes me fascinated with the spurious logic behind many of the Y2K predictions. For instance, not all decision-making routines are year sensitive. The chip in the power transformer is more likely to activate based on voltage than the day’s date being 1900. Our power grid would have gone down long before this if maintenance was only performed after computers gave permission. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some pretty bizarre code launched in my day. But I doubt that a 747 has a program on board authorized to shut down all jet engines while flying at 39,000 feet because the last time they were serviced was 85 years before they were built. But doomsayers say it only takes a hidden, fatal flaw in a single line of code to do the deed. I commend this growing awareness of the concept of interdependence, but I think its use here is a bit dubious.
Emphasizing the house-of-cards or domino effect is just one perspective. You could just as easily emphasize another. I, for one, believe in the power of corporate greed. There’s no way you can convince me that utility conglomerates are going to let us sit in the dark while they lose billions. It would be reassuring, to think otherwise. What would happen if more of us saw they’re not as powerful as we’re taught to believe? We’d be talking real panic. But on their side for a change!
For those saying I’m in denial, I could just as easily question their credulous acceptance of predictions of doom. I mean, isn’t it pretty foolish to let the very industry that got us into this mess chart a way out?
Is this issue only about technological updates? Or should we be spending these billions instead to create an infrastructure that’s not dangerously dependent on clumps of inanimate silicon? Why should we trust that a technical fix today won’t contain a meaner Bug, tomorrow? Y2.1K? Dependency is dependency. Taking a bigger dose never cured an addiction. Maybe it’s time we Just Say NO! As in, “Take this Plentium® III and shove it, I ain’t working here no more!”
Floating A Con Or Taking The Cure The gut-wrenching contortions roused by Millennium Fears feel overly contrived. On one level, it’s very simple. We’re all suckers for a new start. Whether a rabid fundamentalist, a dreamy New Ager, or a computer geek with an upgrade itch s/he can’t scratch, the chance to begin again is a hard one to resist. Of course, new beginnings don’t remain unblemished for long.
New entanglements will raise their captivating heads. We sway to the snake charmer’s flute as notes spew forth promising powers beyond our wildest dreams. We slither to join the collective performance. We have premonitions. We see signs. We learn and teach methods of augury. If you can keep a straight face while telling others where it’s at, job opportunities abound. It doesn’t matter whether the message is laced with impending doom or promises of final deliverance. Attentive ears are there for the filling.
Of course, making prophecy believable takes effort. When catering to the fantasy that Bears are extinct and Bulls are inheriting the Earth, it may be necessary to acquire accoutrements of the independently wealthy. (Or, at least, enough trappings to make ‘em drool.) Leading off with “I’ve made so much, my joy comes now in sharing this path to fabulous wealth” can get their attention, but holding it will require more.
Can’t afford a Rollex? Lease on a Rolls Royce too expensive? Don’t worry. There are other cons to float. The basic format is to find a common malady. Broken hearts. Bulging midriffs. An aging computer infrastructure. Then, either fan feelings that the Universe owes us more, or is about to clobber us. Both can cement the relationship.
Keeping hope alive can be a bit tricky, but spreading fear is a piece of cake. It can be done by those lacking social skills. It can be done without a stitch of imagination. Any empty-headed Dingbat can do it. Voilà! Y2K doomsayers!
First, identify those dependent upon computers, but clueless how the little buggers work. Voilà! Senior Administrators, Members of Congress, and Greedy Corporate CEOs everywhere.
Next, spell out an easily remembered Fatal Flaw. “You see, all time sensitive data is stored in a two byte numbers field ...” Go light on explaining exactly how this makes a program incapable of distinguishing between 2000 and 1900. That can lead to embarrassing questions. Instead, emphasize the pride that comes from being a part of a chosen few in the know. Then, toss in a pinch of guilt, for not covering their butts earlier. Congratulations! You’ve got a captive following, deluded as ever.
Before I’m accused of being a Luddite, let me say, considering my very limited means, I’m computerized to the gills. And before this obsession to write for a living abolished all reason, I programmed in six languages (Yep, starting way back in the days of punch cards!) So, I’m fully aware that behind the scenes of Y2K there are some disturbing facts.
(Dragoons . . . )
For instance, many programs used by large institutions were written in COBOL or FORTRAN by programmers when Strom Thurmond was a young man hoping to get elected to Congress. Many of these programmers have gone on to meet their Maker, leaving their legacy behind with woefully inadequate documentation. Even institutions and companies with the foresight to update their programs to state-of-the-art languages attempt to run these programs on computers for which parts are no longer available. We are beginning to see that the Wonders of the Computer Age are far more expensive than presumed. How do we now break the news that the whole kit and caboodle needs to be replaced at the cost of billions of dollars? Simple. We don’t.
Instead, we discover a common enemy on the horizon. A BUG so nasty, so insidiously fiendish, that the very survival of our species is at stake. Also, the urgency with which we must stamp out this BUG is so pressing, there’s absolutely no time for discussion! No time to place blame. No time to add up the costs. We’re in a fight for survival. Stopping to ask questions may result in total destruction. Whoooa! That was close!
But wait a minute. Let’s say for the sake of discussion, the Millennium Bug is as bad as reported. Who you gonna’ call? Computer consultants? Isn’t that a little like asking the son of Howard Hughes to build you a bigger Spruce Goose? The first one hardly got off the ground. Instead of buying the next installment, shouldn’t we be coming to grips with our Digital Dependency?
Guilty If You Did; Guilty If You Didn't Some of you may have heard the stories about Y2K troubleshooters quitting their jobs and running off to the desert. Supposedly, a grave indicator of just how bad things are. They’re portrayed as getting out while the getting’s good. Of digging in for the final show down. Armed, provisioned, and fantasizing they’re Mel Gibson, they hide in their bunkers awaiting a chance to prove their mettle in Tina’s Thunder Dome.
But maybe, they’re not running away from an un-fixable mess as much as running away from a set-up. They took the job thinking it was about fixing code, but it soon became apparent someone was being groomed as a scapegoat.
Does this mean I think nothing is going to happen? No. Not at all. I’m sure the Millennium Bug will result in one type of chaos: chaos in the courts. Where the defendant won’t be embedded chips, but anyone without a good lawyer. El Niño will be a culprit of the past. Everything now will be blamed on the Y2K Bug. Or more specifically, one’s response to it, or lack thereof. Can’t meet your deadline? Probably, gross negligence on your part. You had warning, but you didn’t update your computer system. Or you did. And a billion lines of hastily written code came back to byte the hand that typed it. Don’t think attorneys haven’t been licking their chops watching computer consultants reap a windfall from past mistakes. There’ll be more than enough culpability to go around.
But how about us little people? Can we avoid chaos? Either way? Let’s say we shine the whole thing on and let it all hang out New Year’s Eve. We’ll feel awful stupid driving home the next morning, blurry eyed, and seeing riots in Safeway’s parking lot. Or say instead, we hunker down at home and wait for the lights to go out. But the TV never stops. The vinyl siding salesmen on the telephone are able to interrupt our dinner. Our freeze-dried dinner. Our Millennium Meal™. The same one we’ll have to eat every night for the rest of the year. And what will we do with the noisy generator? And the cases of batteries under the bed? That’s enough energizing power to keep a pink bunny drumming for another Millennium.
Do you really believe that stockpiling provisions would ensure your survival? If everything falls apart, the sound of a generator or smell of frying bacon would lead the marauding gangs directly to your doorstep. Oh. You’ve thought of that. You’re heavily armed. Right! With about 2000:1 odds, you better be a mighty good shot. I’ll stick to the sign I’m putting in my yard (see page 11). With every house having a cash reserve, it will be good times for looters. As an old farmer from West Virginia once told me, “The best way to protect yourself from thieves is don’t have nothin’ to steal.”
Shouldn’t we see this Millennium Bug as the golden opportunity it is? As a chance to peel off the layers of useless fantasy we’ve collected. Fantasies about Wealth. About Individualism. About Corporate, Transnational Economies. At the least, let’s make our technologies work for us and not the other way around. And let’s finally understand, our survival is dependent on local community. On mutual cooperation. On learning to live with less. A whole lot less. An opportunity like this may not come around for another Millennium.
William P. Benz is an Artist, Writer, and Poet living in North Portland. He Specializes in the Design of Information Filters, the Surfacing of Mental Models, and the Creative Reintegration of Defective WorldViews. For more info, visit his NEW WEB Space at http://www.aracnet.com/~wpbenz. Or send email: