Tag: USA

Staring at the Sun

There are some definite advantages of having a geek for a husband.

Last week, we managed to engineer a few days away from our brand new jobs to go down to Casper, Wyoming for the solar eclipse. Carl really did drive a 2000km round trip for the sake of 2 1/2 minutes. But it was well worth it! Casper was in the path of totality – as in, we got the full, eerie dark eclipse. The sun really did appear to go out for a few minutes.

 

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Totality Awesome

 

Two different telescopes accompanied us, one of which Carl fitted with a camera hooked up to his laptop with some nifty software that tracked the moon automatically and took around 4000 images without us having to do anything! Much better than my pathetic attempts with my normal camera.

The drive down there took over 10 hours in total, but we split the journey and stayed at a small town called Gillette (not where they make razor blades, much to my disappointment). We holed up in a cheapish hotel along with very many other people who had had the same idea as us. Unlike virtually everyone else convoying down through the US, we had to stop at the border, get our conspicuously red passports checked, get photographed and fingerprinted, pay $18 for a visa waiver, and sent on our way by Customs. In the customs office in Montana, they had a display case of contraband – things you can’t bring in to the US. Antlers, exotic animals (they had a very pretty but depressing tortoise shell in there), rum, cigars, and so on. Right on the top were Kinder Eggs with their killer plastic toys.

That night I walked to and bought some (very cheap) beer in a “drive-thru off sale” that had a sign outside saying Bikers Welcome! I wasn’t sure whether I should tip the woman who handed me beer through the window. I have never felt more British in my life! There was a “fun facts” section in the little blurb about Wyoming left in the hotel. Apparently, one archaic Wyoming state law still persists: it is illegal for a woman to stand within 5 feet of a bar. So we can go in, get table service, but we can’t actually order anything at the bar by ourselves. Good job I was at a drive-through I suppose!

We spent Sunday in Gillette, Carl recovering from the drive, and the kids recovering from their attempts to eat the utterly ENORMOUS breakfast portions included with our hotel booking.

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So. Much. Food.

We also found out that Gillette wasn’t that far from Devil’s Tower, a weird rock formation where they filmed Close Encounters. We even found the aliens. Ahem.

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In the gift shop, there was a giant display of wooden toy AK47s – perfect for saving the world from aliens of course. I hope.

But back to the Eclipse! Carl dutifully forced himself awake at 5am, as the plan was to drive the remaining couple of hours to Casper as early as possible to avoid the crowds. I was already awake as Small Beastling had invaded our bed around 4am and woken me up. We managed to get the kids in the car without waking them. That was short lived though, and they woke up as soon as we set off.  The drive was quite fun – Wyoming is possibly even more empty and spacious as Saskatchewan, but it also has hills and a higher speed limit. And deer. Many, many deer who were very active at that time in the morning and tried to play chicken with cars, leaping out in to the road. They certainly kept Carl awake!

We were right to get in early; luckily the first place we tried had space and we parked and just set up right by the car in a field at Casper fairgrounds. By 9am, the field was full up. So was the RV park next to it. Miranda and I wandered around hunting for breakfast and found people setting up telescopes in McDonald’s car park. I read later that 317,000 people had descended on Casper!

We had some special eclipse glasses that allowed the kids and I to just look up and view it without any hassle – Carl was worried that they would knock his telescopes out of alignment through over-enthusiasm! It took nearly an hour of the moon moving across the sun (looking like it was taking a bite out of it, we got “Full Pac-Man” around 10.45am) before it actually got dark. But totality was completely surreal. Even Miranda, who had been watching DVDs in the car all morning and bored, was blown away. For those two minutes, you could look directly at the sun without the glasses. Twilight, and then late evening suddenly happened at 11.30am. All the dogs that fellow sun gazers had brought with them suddenly shut up. The temperature dropped dramatically. Such a weird experience!

 

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Disclaimer: Half-a-car effect not actually caused by eclipse.

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I hope Miranda remembers this trip. The next one will be in Mexico in 2024 and Carl is determined to go to that too, but by then Miranda will be a teenager! Terrifying thought.  Here are some of Carl’s laptop/telescope images. Impressive hey?

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Alternative Facts and playing chess with air horns.

Sometimes, my beloved Canada is just far too close to the USA.

First milestone of the year: 22nd January produced my first bout of abuse on Twitter in 2017, from some Trumpanzee. Getting abuse on Twitter is nothing new, sadly, and nothing really out of the ordinary especially since I am guilty of the crime of Having Opinions Whilst Female Online. This week especially has proved Lewis’s Law of the Internet: any comments about feminism justify feminism. And in this case, any comments about the Women’s March totally justified the Women’s March.

What triggered enough Trump-supporting trolls was this image, originally from the US  National Park Agency:

c2qdr1xxcaa6wx4-jpglargeThis then got picked up by CNN who contributed their own versions. The emptiness was also recorded on countless other news sites and also by people’s personal phone videos and so on. Even better, it was then contrasted with images of the humungous crowds in the Women’s March.

Stupidly, I read the comments on the CNN piece. One of them was “Come on, CNN is #FakeNews. We’re not stupid.”

I admit it. I couldn’t resist. I replied: “Erm, yes you are.”

I know, I know… don’t feed the trolls. You can guess at the sort of responses I got to that! I went on a rapid block-fest (hence no screen-shots) and that was the end of it.  I am just incapable of comprehending the sheer level of stupidity here. This was just after Sean Spicer, the brand new press secretary came out with the claim that the Orange Toddler’s inauguration was the biggest and most watched in history, after saying no one actually had the numbers. Demonstrably wrong. Provably false. So why risk saying it? Because he/they could be absolutely certain that a significant proportion of their audience will believe it no matter what the evidence to the contrary. The Head Troll in this little twitter exchange actually told me that I shouldn’t watch so much TV because I was being brainwashed and should learn some critical thinking. Priceless!

2 + 2 = 5.

We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.

Or, for a more modern version, try Picard’s desperate scream of

“THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!!”

In an even more dystopian statement, Kellyanne Conway then claimed that the White House are presenting “alternative facts”. Going back to Orwell, first they steal the words, then they steal the meanings.

There is no arguing with “alternative facts”.

There is absolutely no point in feeding the trolls by trying to argue against Alternative Facts with Real Facts because if they can no longer accept actual evidence, then the only recourse is to just provide your own defensive insults and the whole discourse very quickly disappears down a spiraling abyss of bullshit. I know this because I am guilty of it myself. I didn’t need to actually call that idiot an idiot directly. It obviously didn’t change his mind about anything, I dare say he wasn’t remotely bothered – and if he was, he certainly gave out worse than he received on the insult stakes. All I did was allow myself to be angered by it, triggered, which then opened up my feed to a whole new cesspit of trolls and in a way, validate their existence.

He is entitled to his opinion, as ignorant as it may be, and he has the right to voice it all over Twitter, just as I do. However, no one else is under any obligation whatsoever to agree with him, or even respect it. We don’t have to read it.

And that is the crucial bit. We don’t have to read it. Nothing is forcing me to spend a ridiculous portion of my day glaring at my phone on Twitter. Neither does anyone have to watch CNN if they don’t trust them. Reading Trump fans’ feeds is like picking at scabs – I know it will only make me feel worse, but its almost compulsive. I won’t achieve anything. Any sort of opposing interaction in this online black hole results in getting more and more wound up, angry and hate-filled, and that sort of ‘discourse’ is the entire basis of the Trump regime. Divide, obfuscate and conquer.

Trading insults anonymously in restricted, short soundbytes merely magnifies the antagonism and reduces the significance of what is said. It’s like we are trying to win a chess game in two minutes by repeatedly honking air horns at our opponent. It is never going to be productive from either side of the political spectrum, and we should all just stop. There are better things to do.

I am not saying we should go easy on the Trumpanzees. I am not saying we should ‘give Trump a chance’and normalise this utter crap. I’m certainly not saying we should accept everything we read in the news. And I am not even saying we should lay off the casual insults – rascists/misogynists/homophobes/transphobes/neo-nazis and LIARS should be called out as such, as should ignorance in all its forms. But for any sort of resistance to have a lasting impact, to create meaning out of the noise, we have to actually engage.

If we can’t dispute ‘alternative facts’ we can at least point out the logical fallacies and cognitive dissonance that created them. As we won’t be listened to online, we have to march in the streets. Anyone can just shout “Listen to meeeee! I’m RIGHT!” – but to be any more credible than the trolls, we have to demonstrate why we believe what we believe. ‘Othering’ our opponents by dismissing them all as ignorant actually empowers them because they then remain uncriticized. It also furthers the divisions in American society – and in the rest of the world. How do you combat ignorance? Education. And how do you educate? Through engaging curiosity, encouraging exploration and questioning everything. Not through sounding 140-character air horns.