If you looked up in the sky lately and can see past the downtown light pollution, you might have noticed a big fuzzy dot near the constellation Orion. That would be Comet Lovejoy, a comet discovered last fall by Terry Lovejoy. Find a comet and you get it named after you. It’s the fifth comet that Lovejoy’s discovered.
We American journalists like to think we’re tough. Cover up a political scandal and we’ll go all Woodward and Bernstein on ya. We dig into stories, not afraid to offend politicians and ask hard questions. Sure, one Alaska journalist got handcuffed once, but last week the cartoonists and staff of “Charlie Hebdo” set a new standard of heroism. Gunmen burst into their Paris offices and shot dead 12 people, including two police guarding them.
Thanks to the services of the U.S. Government, and in particular the Naval Observatory, we’ve figured out how to compile sunrise-sunset and hours of daylight tables for Homer. We might complain about the feds, but now and then they do stuff right. Navigational charts, buoys, rescuing mariners on sinking boats, tide charts and astronomical tables: yeah, your tax dollars do work sometimes.
We’ve been working hard here at the Homer News, putting out not just this issue, but our super-mega-ginormous 50th anniversary edition, publishing Jan. 1. If you see one of us wandering around with a deer-in-the-headlights look, we’ve just stared down an 18-wheeler truck and jumped off the highway at the last minute.
Now comes the time in the holiday season when ... well, don’t panic. OK, panic. See the date at the top of the page? It’s Dec. 18, seven days before Christmas. Oh, sure, if you’re a guy, you’re saying, “Plenty of time,” but more organized people in the world have suddenly realized time’s a wastin’.
Saturday will be the end of an era, Betsteroids. That’s right. On 12/13/14 it will be the last day this century when the date will be three consecutive numbers. That’s assuming you abbreviate the year and don’t use the European method of writing dates with the year first, as in 14/12/13. Ever since Jan. 2, 2003, or 1/2/03, we’ve had a run of similar patterns. We also had 12/12/12, 11/11/11 and so on. Consider it a little bonus for living at the start of the new millennium.
Over the Betster’s decades in Alaska, yours truly has learned a few tricks about living in the Last Frontier. First, don’t get all cocky even if you have lived here 35 years or longer — not even if you were born here. Even the most seasoned Alaskans know that Alaska can humble you quicker than you can say “moose crossing the road on black ice.” Hmm. That could be the title of a Japanese brush painting.
The holiday season seems to mess up time. People used to celebrating holidays in chronological order — first Halloween, then Thanksgiving and then Christmas — can just forget about that. Starting in October, it’s like time has been put in a blender and pureed.
Holy relativity! In that new science fiction movie, “Interstellar,” an astronaut travels so fast through space time moves more slowly for him. This leads to all sorts of plot complications, like the astronaut’s daughter aging faster than dad. That would mess up the family dynamics, eh?
The other day the Betster searched fruitlessly in email for an important document. After about 20 minutes, the Betster smacked forehead into palm and realized, Oops, that document had been faxed. You know — it existed only in dead tree format. Weird.
If it seems like the world has gotten dimmer, don’t despair, Betsteroids. Last week the National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced that the universe is brighter than we thought. Observations from the Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment have detected more infrared light in the dark space between galaxies. Scientists now think the space between galaxies is filled with stars flung adrift by galactic tidal forces, kind of like driftwood logs cast up on beaches.
In this week’s election, some estimated that backers of Mark Begich or Dan Sullivan spent $50 million on the U.S. Senate race. That’s about $200 a voter, or the price of a 23-year-old Highland Park single-malt Scotch whisky. More practically, $50 million is Homer’s general budget for five years or the cost of five HERC buildings.
Be afraid. Be very afraid. Just when you thought it was OK to go out of the house, oh my, our town is about to be invaded by unimaginable horrors. Yes, it’s that time of year, Betsteroids — election season. Well, that and Halloween. Consider the parallels:
People disguised as something they may not be knock on your doors;
Said people plea for treats they wish you to give them, and depending on their doorstep street theater, said people may leave you slightly scared or somewhat amused.
Let us pause now and consider the glory of sunrises and sunsets. Holy electromagnetic spectrum! Have we been having some awesome turnings of the planet recently. Except for those bright summer days where the sun barely rises and sets, Alaska can be counted on to deliver respectable sun shows. October has given us some shows that would make the tourists in Mallory Square, Key West, Fla., drop their margaritas.
The Betster deeply regrets last week’s mention of The Precipitation That Will Not Be Named. Apparently, even not saying a certain word wasn’t enough to keep that event from happening.
But what did you expect, Betsteroids? It’s mid-October. By this time of year as the daylight hours fade and temperatures dip into the 20s, events associated with such conditions happen. Don’t like it? Move to Portland, where you can experience bone-numbing, wet rain, but usually not TPTWNBN.
If you happened to be cruising the Homer hillside on Sunday, you might have seen little white flakes fluttering down from the sky. No, that was not a jet spilling corn starch, but The Precipitation Whose Name We Dare Not Speak. The weekend forecast calls for more of The Precipitation Whose Name We Dare Not Speak, but only in amounts less than a quarter-inch. In Florida they call that a natural disaster, but to Alaskans that’s just a minor inconvenience.
Every October we enter the cusp of winter, or winter as we Alaskans define it. Alaska doesn’t cycle through the seasons in neat and tidy three-month quarters. Regretfully, the evidence shows us summer has gone. No motorhomes on the Spit? Fishing over in the Fishing Hole? Shops boarded up? Sandhill cranes departed? Trees turning glorious yellow? Farmers Market ended? Yup.
You know that metaphor about trying to nail Jell-O to a table? The Betster has had a week like that. That’s situation normal here in the news business, where every week some story comes up that wants to be slippery. Some weeks, though, the gelatin dessert fights back and your hammer turns to rust. It’s enough sometimes to make you want to go all TV reporter on the job, like the woman who delivered her resignation live, on camera and with an f-bomb tossed in to make sure she’d never work in broadcast journalism again.
Today, history will be made. Today, a northern region rich with oil and populated by cantankerous individuals votes on its independence. Aye or nay? Freedom or union?
No, no, that’s not the Alaska Independence Party’s dream come true, but the Scottish independence referendum, when Scots decide if they want to end their 307-year-old union with England or continue to be British. The polls look close, with “yes” ahead by a few points but within the margin of error.
Thirteen years ago evil men flew planes into tall buildings and changed our world. One plane of heroes fell from the sky. Towers fell. Thousands ran down the streets of lower Manhattan trying to escape dust and devastation.
Two wars later, security alert after security alert, we muddle through this brave new world. Thousands died on Sept. 11, and thousands more have died from combat and from hundreds of smaller acts of violence — car bombings and beheadings and endless random shootings.
Concerned citizens following statewide elections might have noticed how things have begun to heat up. Here at Latitude 59 degrees and some change, we don’t burn up precious electrons reporting on all that stuff. Newsroom central gets about a dozen emails a day from the elephant and donkey U.S. Senate campaigns. Knowing how sensitive Homer people can be, we’ve been sparing you this political sniping. Most of it’s like “You’re a big doo-doo head” and he like goes, “No, you’re a bigger doo-doo head,” and then he goes, “Yo’ mama” and then stuff really gets ugly.