The full moon before the winter solstice

Monday, November 30, 2020 | 14 Kislev 5781 | Phoenix, Arizona

The winter solstice — the shortest day of the year — is three weeks away. Winter starts in earnest.

In the meantime, the moon is full today.

The moon is peering through wispy clouds. The three lights at the bottom illuminate a sidewalk. About 6 AM Mountain Standard Time.

A little later.

At 6:50 AM. Sunrise would be at 7:16 AM.

Instead of drinking hot tea with sugar this morning, I had hot cocoa with almond milk and a touch of sugar.

It’s actually unseasonably warm for an early Phoenix morning — 60 degrees. Still, it was chilly compared to this past summer when the high was in the hundred teens.

Autumn colors in Phoenix I

A friend of mine in Virginia sent me a birthday card (I turned 69 about four weeks ago) with a picture of autumn colors. That had me thinking, what sort of autumn colors do we have here in Phoenix, Arizona? I don’t remember what I saw last fall, my first in Phoenix. Then again, I wasn’t looking for fall colors.

I started to keep my eyes open.

In a wash where I was walking, I spotted a plant with yellow leaves and green seed pods. I returned a while later, and the leaves had browned out as had the seed pods.

That’s the closest I’ve come to seeing fall colors. I’ll keep you posted.

As first spotted

Note the prickly seed pods

A week or so later

The fallen leaves on the ground come from a nearby cottonwood tree. It sheds some leaves but its leaves remain green.

What caught my eye while walking down a local street:

From the street

Most of the grass browned out over the summer. The young tree in the right foreground has tiny, green leaves. You see how everything else is fully green.

Desert Milkweed

Late November 2020 | Phoenix, Arizona

Ants have found the flowers of this Desert Milkweed.

Seed pods are opening. Note how cotton is attached to the seeds. The wind picks up the seeds by the cotton. Some are dropped in a favorable place and start new plants. The Milkweed that I remember from the Chicago area was prolific. The stand in our backyard that I allowed to grow were seeded from a field a half-mile away in a Forest Preserve.

The entire clump from a distance.

Ducks and birds of a feather

The ducks mucking about in this puddle are Gadwalls. Water has collected in the lawn because of some malfunction of the irrigation system. Grass wouldn’t grow here in Phoenix without an elaborate sprinkler system.

There’s a Great-tailed Grackle in the lower right of the picture. They are year-round residents of this park.

This next picture shows a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds. They showed up in this park at about the same time as ducks and coots:

What I didn’t know about Republican voters until recently

Republican voters (U.S.) are generally susceptible to, look for, and vote for authoritarian leaders like Donald Trump.

They score higher on a checklist of authoritarian susceptible personality characteristics than self-identified Democrats do.

1) Their thinking is highly compartmentalized. They can easily flip-flop between conflicting thoughts and opinions.
2) They use a lot of double standards.
3) They believe many conflicting and even contradictory things.
4) They have a lot of trouble deciding what is sound evidence and what is not. They have poor critical thinking skills.
5) Their thinking is highly ethnocentric.
6) They are decidedly prejudiced in what they believe about others.
7) For all the difficulties they have getting their thinking cap on right, they are very dogmatic about what they believe.

These people constitute America’s Right Wing. Americans who identify as Democrats and independents who lean Democratic tend to score low on the checklist.

Which groups vote Democratic?

American Blacks consistently vote Democratic. They are the descendants of slaves who were subjected to the authority of slave owners and slave masters. They understandably want no part of authoritarianism.

American Jews consistently vote Democratic. Traditional Jewish culture is rather egalitarian. Jews who have moved away from tradition still tend to feel egalitarian. Certainly, Jewish life in the U.S. today has no hierarchy, even in worship. There’s no room in Jewish culture for an authoritarian leader.

The founders of the United States generally subscribed to a humanistic tradition. And they led a rebellion against a heavy-handed British king. They had no authoritarian tendencies and composed the Constitution accordingly.

American humanists follow this European, enlightenment tradition. Also, they tend not to have trouble deciding what is sound evidence and what is not, for instance. (My criticism of them is that sometimes science for them has become something like a religion, what I call “scientism,” but this has nothing to do with authoritarianism.)

I’m not familiar with the society of liberal Christians. From what I know from the media, they seem to to be socially liberal. The Social Gospel seems to be anything but dogmatic, judgemental, or ethnocentric.

At the same time, some Americans who are not susceptible to authoritarianism “vote their pocketbooks” if they feel that Republican policies are good for their personal economy. According to Dean and Altemeyer (my source), these Republican voters make up about 30% of the Republican electorate. This mostly corresponds to Dean and Altemeyer’s measurements that indicate that this number of Republican voters are not susceptible to authoritarian leaders like Donald Trump.

I recently posted that, “Today’s Right and Left are not symmetrical” — Right corresponding to Republicans and Left corresponding to Democrats (“Zombie Apocalypse”). We see from all this the lack of symmetry. Republicans are mostly susceptible to authoritarian leaders while most Democrats are not. The general characterization of liberal versus conservative doesn’t tell the whole story.

For me, the whole story is that another authoritarian president could be elected. Every indication is that Donald Trump will run again. He doesn’t accept defeat. It depends more on which way the wind blows. In four years, what will be the verdict on the Biden administration? Will a Biden victory today pave the way for Vice-President elect Kamala Harris to gain the presidency in 2024? (Right now, Joe Biden insists that he won’t run again for the presidency.)

I’m going to sit back and enjoy cups of hot tea with sugar for the next couple of years while we have no authoritarian in the White House. If I’m smart, I won’t pay attention to politics until the next election.


See: John W. Dean and Bob (Robert A.) Altemeyer. Authoritarian Nightmare: Trump and His Followers. Brooklyn and London: Melville House Publishing, 2020.

Ducks and geese and birds of a feather

Coots alongside a man-made lake – Phoenix, Arizona, mid October 2020

Coots are duck-like but in a different family just as geese are in a different family from ducks.

Flocks of ducks and coots spent last winter by this lake, and they’re back again.

A flock of geese passed through this lake about the same time that the coots and ducks arrived, but the geese have since moved on to destinations unknown.

The Yiddish language

Yiddish derives from the German language as spoken in the upper Rhine River valley about one thousand years ago. Its speakers have fused Hebrew and Aramaic as well as a few Romance words into the German of the time. Yiddish is now incomprehensible to German speakers.

The grammar and syntax, however, is strictly Germanic.

From the Rhine valley, Jews migrated eastward reaching Poland and the part of the Russian Empire where Jews were allowed to live, bringing Yiddish with them.

Yiddish speakers adopted Hebrew words to exist side by side with their German counterpart. For example, buch is German for book. Sayf’r, from Hebrew, means ‘book’ in Yiddish, but it was embedded into the language to refer to a holy book. Buch remains in Yiddish as an ordinary, secular book.

Some words were repurposed. Talmud Torah, Hebrew for ‘Torah study’, became an elementary school for boys, while schul became a study hall for men to pour over holy texts. You wouldn’t find a buch in a schul, for instance. You would find only s’forim, the Hebrew plural of sayf’r.

You see here that the Hebrew plural was ported over, and sayf’r never acquired a Germanic plural.

Some words came from the Romance languages, particularly Old French. The Yiddish word bentsh’n means to bless. It comes ultimately from the Latin benedicere by way of people from the nearby Meuse and Moselle valleys. I have my own theory, though, that this word might have been brought north over the Alps by rabbis from Rome. One particular family came northward to elevate the piety of Jews in German lands, and they are the distinguished scholars of the era. The patriarch of the family came northward about 800 years ago.

Some Hebrew words have replaced the German words to the extent that the German word has been entirely eclipsed. Ganven’n means ‘stealing’ and comes from the Hebrew word ganav. Perhaps you’ve heard English speakers call someone a ‘goniff’. This comes to English from Yiddish. It is more inclusive than the word ‘thief’. It refers to someone who can’t be trusted with money. He’s liable to be an embezzler or at least a chiseler.

There are several dialects of Yiddish. The most prestigious is the dialect that was spoken in Lithuania and in what is today’s Belarus. Most of my ancestors came from this region to the United States in the late 1800s. I speak Yiddish as a second language but at an elementary level.

Another dialect was spoken in Poland. Another was spoken in Hungary. The Jews of the Kingdom of Galicia spoke a fourth dialect and brought it into southwestern Ukraine. Meanwhile it merged with the Yiddish of Jews who came down the Dnieper (Dnipro) River into southeastern Ukraine.

I say “was spoken” because most European Jews outside the Soviet Union were murdered by Nazis during the Second World War. At the same time, the Soviets suppressed Jewish life and the Yiddish language in their Empire. The descendants of Jewish refugees from Europe still speak Yiddish in communities in Israel, in Brooklyn and the region, as well as in Antwerp and London.

The oldest Yiddish text that is still in print is Tseno Ureno, a digest of the Bible’s Five Books of Moses, written by Jacob ben Isaac Ashkenazi (1550–1625) in Poland. It was first published around 1590. It’s no more quaint than the King James Bible is to English speakers. However, the language is too sophisticated for me to read without a dictionary.

This is a baby’s sized thumbnail sketch. Academics might be appalled by this post, but I wrote for the non-academic person, for any ordinary reader of my blog.

Mercury rising

Friday, November 13, 2020 | Phoenix, Arizona

The sky was clear this pre-dawn morning, and I spotted Mercury just above the horizon at 6 AM Mountain Standard Time. I judge that it was Mercury based on a post by Bruce McClure on the website

Besides seeing the constellation Orion and the star Sirius, I was able to identify the stars Spica and Arcturus based on McClure’s illustration. I’ve easily recognized the Big Dipper and the North Star since I was young.

Having lived most of my life in the Midwest (I just turned 69), I’m not used to having a clear sky all night. The clearest skies in the Midwest tend to be on frigid winter nights when the atmosphere holds little moisture. Even then, the best viewing was from the rare wide open space. In Kansas City, I would go out to the parking lot of my apartment complex to watch the night sky.

I’ve been a night owl most of my life, so I would watch the sky through midnight or even somewhat later. Since I moved to Phoenix about a year and a half ago, I’ve changed my sleep patterns drastically. I regularly wake up before sunrise to take advantage of the cool (relatively) first hour of the day. But now, the average high temperature is 76 and the average low is 53. Even so, I’m usually awake by 4 AM. Believe me that 53 feels cold when that’s fifty degrees cooler than the daytime high of a month ago.

This stargazing brings to mind the verse in Psalms, “The sky tells of the honor of G-d …” (Psalms 19:2).

Now it’s time for a cup of hot tea with sugar.

I’ll let you in on a secret. I often add lemon juice to my tea.

Javalinas were here

Javalinas — peccaries — have learned to coexist with humans so long as they have places to nest. Undeveloped washes (dry river beds) are their natural habitat. Abundant shrubbery and trees grow along these washes — great places to seclude themselves.

This part of town was developed around the natural topography. The washes here are tributaries of the Verde River which in turn feeds into the Salt River. Phoenix, Arizona, is laid out along the north bank of the Salt River.

Javalinas are nocturnal, so they rarely encounter humans and their dog companions.

Javalinas have learned to knock over garbage cans to dig through the trash for food. The photo shows inedible items scattered around, suggesting that javalinas were here.