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The Hoyle Suits

We live our lives like the centipede. He zips along so long as he doesn't think. If he had to decide which foot was next or, as Amie used to say, if he had to put his shoes on before leaving the house, he'd be stuck. He zips about because he think about other things, about food and safety and things we may guess but never know. We, on the other hand, ignore almost everything. In the process, the world seems like it came prepackaged, filled with everything anyone could ever want. Except us, of course. We represent the purpose of it all.

But the purpose of life, after food, clothing, shelter, good dinners, and bad habits, is to sometimes notice, wonder, ask, investigate, no matter what the consequences. If something stops us in our tracks, maybe that's where we belong.

Above is a familiar assortment of objects, though I suppose they're not really objects, only shapes. However, they do adorn familiar objects. It would be difficult to imagine anyone in this day and age who did not recognize them. Four symbols, red and black, on a field of white. Amie may still be putting her shoes on, but she would jump at the chance to tell you that red, black and white are the alchemical colors. So, there wasn't a long discussion the night before the first maker of standard cards scooped out gooey red ink to go with the standard black. Periwinkle and sage were never an option. Lavender, hot pink and raspberry were nowhere on the list. There was never anything in the works besides red, black and white. Of this we may be confident.

But, not certain. No one knows who that fictitious conversation the night before might have been between, because no one knows who designed them in the first place. They simply began to exist. We hear a great deal about masonic guilds, but never much about card makers guilds. Of course, most of us never stop to wonder. But this post isn't about card makers themselves, as interesting as that topic might be, but rather about the shapes they passed on to us.

Twenty years ago I was killing time playing solitaire with real cards the way they did in the olden days. It struck me that spades and hearts were almost the same. The spades had a foot to tell which way was down and were black instead of red. I'm sure I noticed that a thousand times before without pursuing it. But this particular day I was feeling invincible, not at solitaire, which is a stupid game — the results are decided in advance, so long as you remember to do things right. There's a large but finite number of games possible. Once you have cut the cards, your fate is basically sealed. Black Queen on red King… and so forth. I was feeling invincible in the sense that there was nothing I could not solve if I put my mind to it. I'm putting my mind to that same problem today without having completely solved it.

The problem is, what do these shapes mean, how did they come about, how do they relate to each other? I suppose we should call that a multiple question. It turns out that the questions themselves are multiple choice with none being absolutely right.


So, here's where we'll start. There's a V that appears several times, and some circles. Just so you'll know, I'm not going to discuss the feet, the little support under the spades and the clubs, sometimes called a stalk. I may be wrong, but I think they just tell us which way is down. I'm not sure they're supports either. The hearts and diamonds seem to rest on one point, while the spades and clubs could quite easily stand without help. So, maybe it's just a flourish. Something to keep things interesting. Leave it at that. The V appears as the bottom of the heart and as the top of the spade. It also appears twice on the diamond. In fact, the diamond is nothing else.

Here's where my invincibility came in handy. The three circles that form the clubs also appear in the hearts and spades. The top rounded portion of the heart, which you probably thought had something to do with the aorta, seems like it might have circles underneath. The V I've depicted is actually two sides of an equilateral triangle. If we complete the triangle in our imagination and place the center points of two circles on that imaginary line, we end up with something like the following.


You're probably ahead of me. With a little artistry, we can start from between the two circles, go up and over before gradually connecting with the V. Clicking another button or two, we end up with two symmetrical sides.


You know, hearts are like squiggled stars. No two are alike. Mine is far more perfect than I deserve. If I sketched this one on a Valentine — note the capital V in Valentine — you might say it was too elongated. Look, however, at the heart from a deck of Hoyle playing cards above. They're almost identical, except mine is orange and somewhat less precise. If I'm not mistaken, this is the basis for the heart: two circles, two sides of an equilateral triangle and a contoured line. Of course, the spade is a heart turned upside down.

I further realized that if the heart is part of the lower half of a diamond, then the spade is part of the other half, the upper half.


If that's the case, then the three fit together like parts of a puzzle. If you're clever you'll see a lemniscate, the symbol for infinity.


The three circles also snuggle up nicely inside an equilateral triangle — remember, there are two triangles in each diamond so, who knows, maybe the clubs are double thick.


The unpleasant truth of this process is that the club is too small and the diamond far too large. So, this isn't a method for placing the shapes on the cards, only a method for generating the shapes themselves. What we learn, we must learn from the shapes.


The people at Hoyle are not likely to feel threatened by my artistry, but I've given my clubs and spades feet, despite saying I wouldn't bother with them, and I think the likeness is somewhat striking. Here's what I've learned. The hearts and spades are alike but different. The diamonds and clubs are different. In a sense, diamonds and clubs are opposites, hearts and spades relatives. Diamonds represent fourness, clubs triplicity. Threes and fours have always been at odds. Hearts and spades represent something that goes up and down, one way and then the other. To keep things simple, something up followed by something down. My invincibility at once led me to the seasons.

There are two seasons that are alike but different — the equinoxes. One rises toward summer, the other falls toward winter. It made perfect sense to me that the spade should represent springtime. I won't quibble about word derivations here, but when do we turn the soil in anticipation of planting? And if the spade turns the soil and also drives upward like a shoot, the heart drives downward into the soil like a spike, turned over to become a cup. The heart is full and heavy with all that must now return. Which leaves summer and winter.

Through the years, I have waivered on which was which. My current view is that clubs represent summer. Returning to the discussion of Persephone and the Wheel of Fortune, or the Wheel of the Year, there are really three seasons above and one below. Each of the equinoctial seasons has a part in winter. One rises from it, putting on life as it does. The other descends into it clutching to life. Winter itself is neither dying nor growth, but death. My first theory was that hearts and spades fit nicely into diamonds, therefore they represent a triplicity of interlocking seasons. The club, having three parts, was a summation of the three. It made sense. It still makes sense. The three circles of the club are the three seasons inherent, we might say seed like, in winter. The diamond is in the crown of summer where it sparkles like victory.

Later on I found the passage in Numbers, prompted by several esoteric writers, that describes how the Levites were chosen for the priesthood — an important passage. A rod was gathered from all the tribes of Israel. Among them, from the tribe of Levi, was the rod of Aaron. They were placed in the tabernacle over night. "And it came to pass, that on the morrow Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds." As a result, the tribe of Levi became the tribe nearest to god, the priestly tribe. If we combine the symbolism of Numbers with our discussion of the seasons, several things become clear. A club is not merely a cudgel in this case. A rod is a staff, it is also a baton. Furthermore, it is a club. The suit club, however, looks nothing like a rod. It has become the fruit that buds and blooms and pours forth from the rod. There is nothing club like or rod like in three circles. While I suggest they represent the three seasons, they actually represent the apotheosis of them, the height of the annual cycle when the growth is so lush that dead wood itself seems to put forth fruit.

Which leaves diamonds. Is it any wonder that thieves call diamonds ice? We think of diamonds as glittery bits and bling. Ask the seven dwarves. Diamonds come from deep within the earth, the dark realm of Persephone — who seems never far from our thoughts. I thought at first that clubs summed up the other three. Now, it seems clear they preside over two and are themselves the third. Maybe those stems or stalks or feet seem less decorative now. Diamonds represent a totality of four. Think of them as the seeds that contain everything. They represent life, death, birth, and everything in between. They are the crystalline synthesis of our vast and tiny world.

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Saxon Henry added the following poems as comments to the previous post, The Circle, the Fall and Persephone. Daphne and Persephone are her favorite mythological figures. It seems unjust to leave them in the underworld of the comments section, so I raised them into the present post. Thank you, Saxon.

I was frozen at first, afraid to move.
Splinters fester, you know.
If one invaded my taut skin,
who would remove its dark heart?
So, from the start it was too late.
I was already thinking, lost,
as wooden as the bed frame we’d bought
the week before the wedding.


My marriage is hell. No, really.
A difficult address for a precocious girl
who once delighted in the profusion of hibiscus—
those yellow tongues protruding
toward the clamor of bees.

In early Spring, when Japonica pushes
her passion-tinted blooms from icy stems,
my husband puts on his dark mask of longing.
It’s always a fight. But I have no choice
but to rise like the one dry, restless leaf
made nervous by the wind.

He could never live like this: baffled
like the butterfly that stubbornly fidgets
outside the plate glass window,
confounded by the invisible wall
of unattainable sky.
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The theme of Persephone in Western Art has been a popular one. The Abduction or Rape of Persephone has always had the advantage of piquing one's curiosity. Hades (Pluto) on his way home to the underworld sees a beautiful Kore (a name that means simply girl) picking flowers in an idyllic meadow. He scoops her up and takes her home. A god whose taste is matched only by his decisiveness. Demeter, her mother — I'll call her Demeter rather than Ceres because I'm calling Kore Persephone — is beside herself with grief. She searches far an wide for her missing child. In the process, she neglects her function, which is to water and nurture vegetation. The rain stops, plants wither, the Earth becomes dry and lifeless. When Persephone is found and the truth finally known, Zeus renders a very interesting decision. We might call it the prototypical patriarchal decision. He finds no fault with Hades since, somewhat massaging the facts, Hades acted out of love. It remains that Persephone was carried off screaming into the underworld, but love is never having to say sorry. Anyway, as almost everyone already knows, by a complicated sequence of events requiring many pages, Zeus negotiates six months in the underworld followed by six months in the light of day. Persephone becomes the goddess of death and also the goddess of springtime.

Demeter is a vegetation goddess. She exists, essentially, because Eros pierced Gæa to produce vegetation in the first place. In other words, the corn grows because Demeter reigns. Also because Demeter is the rain that keeps things growing once they have begun. I don't have a dictionary that says so, but with all the commingling of vocabulary after the Norman conquest, it seems likely that "arouse" and "arrose" come from, if not the same, then a similar source. The first means to wake up. The second means to moisten or to water, as in arroser les fleurs. Watering the flowers, of course, makes them rise up. Demeter is a goddess, if you will, of turgidity. She has a peculiar effect on things. In a perfect world we would always expect a perfect amount of rain. Demeter is at the very heart of perpetual spring.

As with all good stories, this one takes an unhappy turn. A subplot develops. We find ourselves in the postwar period, the time after the terrible conflict that put Zeus on the Olympian throne. Demeter has a child, whether by Zeus or by parthenogenesis (i.e. virgin birth) is disputed. Most things in Greek Mythology are disputed. The fact that parthenogenesis was considered at all should tell us something. Her child Persephone, already mentioned, was also a vegetation goddess. She was a beautiful young girl, a virgin in the less technical sense, who frolicked in the fields and picked flowers with her delightful entourage. Demeter's daughter wasn't the trees or the wind or the wind in the trees, she was another vegetation goddess. That's where parthenogenesis comes in. Along comes Hades and the story takes its turn.

Wouldn't falling in love with Demeter have served just as well, or was it necessary to have two? I've never encountered this question. Of course, I'm not an expert in this field, but it's an interesting question nonetheless. And the answer is obvious once you get the hang of things.

Demeter is a woman, Persephone a young and innocent girl — not once upon a time a girl, a perpetual girl. I made a crack about Rosario Dawson in an earlier post. She played Persephone in the movie Percy Jackson… and as beautiful as she is — possibly the most worthwhile thing in the entire movie — she was completely inappropriate for the part. She was thirty, if I calculate correctly, a round, voluptuous thirty. Persephone is a young girl. You should think of a retiring Lolita when you think of Persephone, not Rosario Dawson.

Youth and femininity go hand in hand in describing spring. The gentle moisture that rekindles life, which is a function of Persephone, is not an entirely new force in the universe. It was always contained in Demeter. But, there was never a need for the return to life if the world was in perpetual springtime. The moisture of Persephone and the rains of Demeter are a question of degree and opportunity. Without death, there is no need for a return to life. Without cold, there is no need for warmth.

The emergence of Persephone is the first sign that something has gone terribly wrong. The perfect circle has become a wheel, and the wheel has begun to turn. Persephone is the goddess of death, the consort of Hades, and the goddess of springtime and renewal, because without death itself, there would be no spring. Persephone is the first enduring product of the end of the Golden Age.
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The possibility of perfection mentioned in More Or Less and Around and Around It Goes was not lost on the Greeks. Chaos and Nyx (Night) brought forth Erebus (Darkness), and Erebus dethroned Chaos to produce Æther (Light) and Hemera (Day) with his mother Nyx, and Æther and Hemera dethroned Erebus and Nyx and brought forth Eros (Love), and Æther and Hemera and Eros together formed Pontus (the Sea) and Gæa (the Earth), and then Eros pierced Gæa with his arrow to make her resplendent with plants and animals, and Gæa created Uranus (Heaven), and together they supplanted Æther and Hemera to bring forth — and then banish to Tartarus — the twelve Titans, including Cronus (Saturn), the three Cyclopes and the Centimanes, and Gæa, in grief over the banishment of her children, conspired with Cronus to castrate and overthrow Uranus with a scythe she brought to him. Afterwards, there followed a time of great peace and plenty, a time of perpetual spring.

The Greeks gave a very human dimension to things.

Perpetual springtime requires that the axis of the Earth be in perfect alignment with the axis of the Sun. (Any tilt would cause seasonal variations.) So, the days and nights would be equal, and the Earth's orbit, as Galileo insisted it must be, would be circular. And, as mentioned earlier this week, all things being perfect, the year would be 360 days long.

The Greeks saw in this possible perfection not how things might become, but how things had already been. Our tendency is to see the world as perpetually evolving toward perfection. Every latest electronic device offers us a kind of proof. The Greeks found in the obvious imperfections of the world a sign not that improvement or advancement was necessary, but that somewhere, something had gone fundamentally wrong. The Judeo-Christian tradition offers an idyllic Eden in which there is a man, a woman, a snake, an apple, some trees, and a god who walks around. By comparison to the lusty Greeks, it seems embarrassingly simplistic. Our story says that everything went wrong because… Well, because we were curious. Original guilt. Do as you're told, it says. It accounts for nothing of the actual world we see. Every detail of existence is ignorred except those featuring right and wrong. The Greeks called their perfection, in accordance with alchemical principles, golden. It was the Golden Age, a period symbolized by a magical three-dimensionalized circle though which our every want and need was provided — the cornucopia. We remember it, whether we realize it or not, every Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Obviously, it did not last.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and the price of Paradise is much the same. One by one Cronus swallowed his children, those with his wife/sister Rhea, to protect himself from the curse his father Uranus placed on him. All good stories have a curse. This one said that a child of Chronus would overthrow him. He swallowed all but one, and that one by a ruse. Rhea wrapped a stone in swaddling clothes in place of Zeus (or Jupiter) and offered it to Cronus with fake lament. Down the hatch. We get through the incest in Greek Mythology more easily, I think, than child swallowing. There were only so many women, after all. The Greeks would never invent a wife as the Bible does, east of Eden, just to keep the story going. They understood the urge to question. If you're going to cook, you have to have ingredients. But, surely, swallowing children is unduly graphic. Wasn't there a great chest or a dark and foreboding cave to choose from? Of course, it may have been essential to the plot — fathers internalizing their children. Or… Help me out here. Anyway, they were all safe and sound in their father's stomach — Poseiden, Hades, Hestia, Ceres, and Hera — when Zeus usurped the throne and sent Cronus packing.

In a nutshell, then.

A great war ensues. Not all the gods were content to have Zeus rule. The Titans, who represent great earthly forces, were released. Skip to an enormous clash in which mountains erupt from the earth, holes are ripped in the sky and Earth's axis is thrown off kilter. Nothing a few hundred million in CGI couldn't accomplish. The net result, except for global warming and the problem of over population, is a world that looks pretty much like the one we now inhabit.

No gradual evolution for the Greeks.

Another result was the emergence of springtime itself. Yes, it was already spring, but perpetual spring, an indefinite, unpunctuated period of perfection. Before there could be actual spring…

Ah, but that, as they say, is another story.
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The six day week mentioned in a previous post may seem absurd, but it's an actual fact this time of year. Lent is a forty day fast in preparation for Easter. Its forty days echo the forty days and nights of the Old Testament flood and the New Testament fast of Jesus in the desert, and yet Lent is not forty days long.

Easter calculations have always fascinated me. The average person has no idea how or why Easter falls on the day it does. I include large numbers of Catholics in this group. Most people know about Lent, but not exactly what it is. They may know about Ash Wednesday, the day people have smudges of ash on their foreheads. They certainly know about Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, without necessarily understanding how everything fits together.

Years ago, when I lived in a community in the hills east of Orange, one of the more colorful residents organized a Mardi Gras party the Friday after Mardi Gras on the grounds that "Mardi Gras isn't just on Tuesday anymore." His function consisted almost entirely of announcing the event. Other functions included barbecuing steaks, buying beer and providing the venue. On a very small scale, the party was a big success. No one had the least idea what Mardi Gras meant except good times.

I'm not advertising Catholicism, even Christianity per se, but there are parts of the Christian year that are deeply entrenched in our culture. Even Jews get behind Christmas as a seasonal event. When we lived in the Valley, my kids celebrated Chanukah with their friends. I asked if they knew what Chanukah was and they said, "It's when you spin the dradle." They also joined a Christian church and were baptized in a see-through plexiglass fount behind a retractable wall as a large choir sang. If nothing else, my kids were flexible. I've always tried to explain things, but explanations are sometimes superfluous.

Fixing Easter is the first problem. Easter is a coordination of the solar and lunar calendars. The Jews and others, for use in their religious observances, make use of a lunar calendar. Christians, followers of a solar deity, have relied on an increasingly accurate series of solar calendars. Sunday vs. the Sabbath, which falls on Saturday, is a contentious argument with a history all its own. It has nothing to do with football. The key point in the solar year is the first day of spring, the vernal equinox. It's not the only point of interest, but the seasons themselves are solar based, and the vernal equinox arrives at a time of new growth and returning warmth. It is the logical place to celebrate the new year and the return of life. The first day of spring is called the vernal equinox because the day and night are of equal length. A point of celestial balance.

But, the vernal equinox marks only the sun, it has nothing to do with the lunar calendar. It leaves the second luminary out of balance. So the Church worked out a formula. No. Not all churches agree on it. It has a history also all its own. What follows is the formula most commonly accepted. Easter falls on the first Sunday on or after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. First the sun, then the moon, then the feast day. Every so often, they all fall on the very same day. Because the days of the week shift from year to year for a given date, and because the phases of the moon are not tied to the seasons of the sun, the exact date of Easter changes from year to year. St. David's day, for example, the patron saint of Wales, is the 1st of March. His feast day is fixed. Easter comes when everything is right for it, when all the rules are met. Easter is a moveable feast.

It's an immensely rich tradition. I know only bits and pieces of it. Lent is a forty days fast ending the night before Easter, which is always a Saturday, since Easter is always a Sunday. But Lent is not a continuous forty days. All the Sundays in Lent continue to be feast days. In other words, the six full weeks of Lent preceding Easter are only six days long — six regular days of fasting plus one feast day. Counting backwards from Easter gives us thirty-six days of fasting, and forty minus thirty-six leaves us with four days unaccounted for. Skipping Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, we count Saturday, Friday, Thursday, Wednesday. Ash Wednesday, therefore, is the first day of Lent, and the day before that, the day everyone knows but seldom understands, is the last day to sow wild oats, to inject frivolity into one's otherwise dull existence, to do things not permitted, not entirely accounted for, before the grim period leading up to Easter.

It's like taking a deep breath before diving into the pool. The people of the northern Mediterranean, the people of Brazil, of New Orleans, and elsewhere, have been fortunate to avoid the shriveled dictates of the Victorian era. They love louder, feel more openly and accept with greater ease the fortunes and misfortunes of everyday life. Any stiffness they encounter is not in the upper lip. Their chaotic and boisterous existence is the inevitable effect of renewal, of balance, of the cycles of life met face to face, the very things of the Easter.

The boys and I used to put our names on the list every Thursday for a loaf of raisin challah at the bakery inside Gelson's. The frivolity of raisins on the Sabbath would be unthinkable. So the Jews' tiniest of reverential breaths before jumping in was raisins in their best loaf of bread. Springtime celebrations and remembrances — Beltane, Passover, Holi, May Day, Easter, even spring cleaning — speak to us about humankind and our place in the cosmos, about our fears and hopes, which as everyone knows aren't just on Tuesdays anymore.
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I was told that Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief helps kids learn about Greek Mythology. I'm not sure that's true. It may be. Percy (Perceus, get it?) is pretty much like us (the target audience) except he has super powers. You know, 'cause his dad was umm… You know… Umm… Neptune? (Very good.) For the sacrifice of two hours in a darkened room with pop corn, candy and coke, you receive the opportunity to learn that Uma Thermon has snakes instead of hair 'cause, like, this girl's mom got really pissed about something. She turns people into statues by taking off their… Wait. Umm… Her sunglasses? And you learn that someone named Luke — probably where Luke Skywalker came from — steals Zeus's thunder. Damn. I gave the plot away. I wasn't going to do that. He's, like, the son of this god with… Umm… Wings? On his shoes? But they never say how he stole the… Umm… Thunder thing? But, I think it's 'cause he's so good at video games. He has, like, three widescreen TVs and all this electronic shit. Un-be-lieve-able. And you learn, like, never eat candy that looks like flowers 'cause it makes you forget stuff and, big girls are the best at sword fighting, and… Wait. ADHD is like — Ready? — Greek God Syndrome. It's why lots of people probably can't read. I thought it was pretty cool. They steal this Maserati. I like Greek Mythology. But I wouldn't, like, miss Survivors for it.

Oh, yeah, Rosario Dawson was totally hot.
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There are 360° in a circle. We learn such things by rote, but seldom marvel at them. 360 can be factored into 2 · 2 · 2 · 3 · 3 · 5, which is 2³ · 3² · 5. While that seems less than remarkable, 360 is divisible by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 15, 18, 20, 24, 30, 36, 40, 45, 60, 72, 90, 120, 180, and 360, an unusually large number of divisors. Mathematicians call numbers like this highly composite, defined as a positive integer with more divisors than any smaller positive integer. A circle can be evenly divided into three hundred sixtieths, one hundred eightieths, one hundred twentieths, ninetieths, seventy-seconds, sixtieths, forty-fifths, fortieths, thirty-sixths, thirtieths, twenty-fourths, twentieths, eighteenths, fifteenths, twelfths, tenths, ninths, eighths, sixths, fifths, quarters, thirds, halves, and itself. Spelling these out was not really necessary, but I also marvel at how, given a sequence of numbers, the words follow so easily.

It's hard to know what we would do with many of these. If we divide a circle into eighteenths or thirty-sixths, what do we end up with exactly? But, to divide a circle not into 90° as we do when we cut one into quarters, but into ninetieths (1/90) would be like dividing a clock face into periods of two-thirds seconds each. Something about that made me wonder, and kept me wondering for days. If our clocks were adjusted to have second-and-a-half hands instead of second hands, or if we had forty minutes-and-half to the hour, would our lives be all that disrupted? Our clocks would chime at ten, twenty, thirty and on the hour. We could divide the day into almost any sequence of periods we liked. The day would still be the same span of time. It would be dressed up in different numbers, but we would still feel its inevitable, inexplicable progress.

There are sixty seconds in a minute and it takes the second hand one revolution to reach sixty. There are sixty minutes in an hour and it also takes the minute hand one revolution to reach sixty. There are twelve hours in a day, twelve in a night, and it takes the hour hand one revolution for each of them to reach twelve. It's hard to imagine the world being otherwise. But imagine, nonetheless, that our clocks were adjusted to have ninety seconds per revolution and ninety minutes to the hour. How many hours would we be left with in a day? If the hours in a day were more or less than a single revolution of the hour hand, we would be forced to calculate the time of noon each day, and midnight, and what time dinner was. There's a logic to clocks that normally escapes us.

Clocks start with the hour hand and move backwards. Although we think of the day as an accumulation of hours, minutes, seconds, the day is actually the thing itself, the hours, minutes, seconds merely divisions of it, not the things out of which it is made. If this seems like a meaningless distinction, just alter the duration of the second and follow the consequences. Increase the second by 50% and noon arrives at 8:00 AM. It's not seconds that determine how long the day is, it's the day that determines how long seconds are.

Of course, dividing the day into mechanical parts is entirely artificial. Time marches on whether we account for it or not. Still, there's a logic in clocks, as I said before, that normally escapes us.

If we return to the hands on the clock, the missing hand is the one that moves twelve times slower than the hour hand. In other words, the hand that would measure six days and six nights (12 · 12 = 144, 144 / 24 = 6) We might call it the six day week hand, or maybe just the days hand. Sixty of these would equal a year of 360 days, and sixty of those a great cycle of sixty years, the equivalent of our century. To those who say that ten is the natural way to count years, because we have ten fingers, I would ask, why then do we count the hours by twelve, the minutes and seconds by sixty, rather than ten?

The year, the actual year, divides rather awkwardly into 365¼ days… more or less. Close enough to remind us of 360, but also off enough to make us wonder. The year, of course, is based on earthly revolutions and rotations, not on numbers per se. The year is an enormous circle. It mirrors the circularity of our clocks, or else clocks seek to mirror the circularity of the year. It seems more than reasonable that the number of days in a year and the number of degrees in a circle should be the same. But, how could we ever make due with clocks that were divided into 365¼°… more or less? The number 360 is the nearest highly composite number to the rather imprecise number of days in an actual year. The next nearest are 240 and 720, neither of which brings us any closer.

In the end, it is a desire for perfection that gives us 360. Obviously, in a perfect world, in a world of perfect days and ways, there would be 360 days in an ordinary year. We would have no need for imprecision trailing behind, no need whatsoever for more or less. Everything would be exactly as it was meant to be.
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Many years ago I was standing at the Reference Librarian's Desk in the Pollak Library at California State University, Fullerton with a question that seemed very important at the time. Something about microfilm, I think. In memory, everything seems very clear except why I was there in the first place. The phone rang. She excused herself, talked in hushed librarial tones for a long time, taking very careful notes, and seemed rather distracted after she hung up. She too, apparently, had forgotten why I was there. A man who made frequent use of her skills, a writer of some repute whose name she was careful not to repeat, wanted to know what day of the week a particular date was. The date was something like March 23, 20,000 BC. "He's a stickler for detail," she said.

She found a bundle of keys in a desk drawer, moved to unlock a glass walled room not far behind. It held a large box, a table, a chair, and a typewriter. This was the very dawn of the Age of the Internet. She went through an elaborate login procedure before posting her question. The typewriter clacked out rows of meaningless code on a continuous roll of drab yellow paper before going silent. "Now we wait," she said.

I could understand double checking to make sure it was Sunday when Perl Harbor was attacked, even the day of the week John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence. Someone would always raise a stink if you got that wrong. But, 20,000 BC? "Just call him back and say Tuesday," I said. She looked at me horrorstruck. "It's a meaningless question." "There's a sentence," she said, grabbing for her notes. "He wants to know because a character wakes up and… looks out on a beautiful              morning. He has to know what day of the week it was."

"To begin with," I said in my most calming tone, "in 20,000 BC there was no March 23, because there was no calendar. And there were no days of the week. And even if there were, there's no possible way we could ever coordinate them with the ones we now use." She showed signs that allowing me to follow her into the Holy of Internet Holies was a mistake. "The question is meaningless. From a false premise," I recited, "all conclusions are possible." Now she was showing signs of anger. "I am not going to tell him his question is meaningless," she snapped. "Then tell him Tuesday," I repeated.

Just then the typewriter began clattering. She watched and read with enormous anticipation, tore off six or eight inches of paper and hurried back to her desk.

When William was a small boy he asked one morning, "If you never met mom and never got married, and if you never had children and I was never born, would you still love me as much?"

"Of course," I said, as if he'd just asked the silliest question in the whole world. "How could I not love you?" He smiled, we hugged, he went back to his toys. It was a Tuesday, I think.
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