Holiday Humbug: A Cynic’s View and Another Do-It-Yourself Exercise For Making Christmas Ornaments

by Richard L. Howey, Wyoming, USA



Deck the halls with boughs of folly. ‘Tis the season, but with the economic disaster that has affected the vast majority of the world’s population–recession, my foot, this is a full scale financial catastrophe–we are going to have to severely restrict our spending and demonstrate a bit of ingenuity and creativity (and may all those Wall Street types all over the world, choke on their bonuses–Sorry, at this time of year, my Christmas spirit and charity just bubble over.)

So, for this project, the first thing we need to do is build a vitreous, high-resolution, spherical expander and transformer, so that our computer-generated ornaments can with the help of the Large Hadron Collider’s discovery of the Higgs boson be transformed into completely lovely 4 inch, 3-dimensional glass spheres to decorate our trees.

As some of you know–those who have had the kind patience to read some of my other scrawls and scribbles–I have a partiality for, among many other things, crystals of magnesium chloride mixed with other sometimes unorthodox substances and also for the shells of those extraordinary micro-architects–the radiolaria, which you will recall are small marine amoebae. So, this year, these are my two focal points for our project of creating artistically and visually interesting orbs that will forever be beyond the capacity of Muggles, for to achieve the results we desire, it may well be necessary to employ bits and pieces of magic. Clearly a taboo, from the point of view of traditional religions, which regard creative magic as evil, decadent, destructive, dangerous, and superstitious and they prefer to rely on doctrines such as Resurrection (which has always sounded to me like some ghastly Medieval surgical procedure), Reincarnation, the Eucharist, Papal Inphallability [sic], Immortality, and Just Wars, to mention only a few. However, since it’s the holidays, we’ll ignore such extreme orthodoxy and hope that in the spirit of a few days of goodwill, they’ll allow us a bit of harmless thaumaturgy to decorate our trees. I’m afraid that there will be no Harry Potter wands this year; it seems that the Goldman Sachs’ people bought them all up already.

In order to give you some idea of my bias for this year, I am going to present you with a series of images of both the crystals and the radiolaria and I’ll alternate to enhance the sense of variety and contrast.

With the crystals, I’ll give you a very brief description of the mixtures that compose them and I’ll remind you now that all of them were taken with polarized light. Regarding the radiolaria, I shall simply make irrelevant, outrageous, and cynical comments and also tell you why I like particular images, since I have no idea whatever regarding their genera, let alone their species. So, just think of what follows as a micro-art show to which Wall Street executives will be denied access. So, to gain entrance to this wonderful display, use the code word: WeWantOurMoneyBack and enjoy the images while imbibing on your favorite holiday beverage–make mine a double.

I have given it the title: No More Bonuses.

It is a mixture of magnesium chloride and generic Alka-Seltzer. Magnesium chloride is a challenge to work with because it is deliquescent, that is, it pulls water out of the atmosphere even in this dry, high altitude climate. I can’t imagine the frustration of working with it in a high humidity climate. I have made slides and let them dry for days hoping that they would crystalize definitively and behave properly by taking on a stable form only to discover that even weeks later, they were still pulling moisture out of the air and when I examined individual crystals carefully, I could see a small pool of liquid surrounding them and, on a few occasions, I was even able to observe them change form while I was watching. As a consequence, I have come to think of magnesium chloride crystals as “shape shifters.

Next up for your consideration is a “Rad” ornament. Sometimes, even scientists get tired of the long names they give to organisms and so the radiolaria specialists call them “rads” and my careful inquiries have not led to any evidence that this is intended as a designation for political extremism.

I titled this one: What Earth Will Look Like After Nuclear War.

I quite like this one because with a bit of computer legerdemain, the surrounding envelope has six points just as the radiolarian does. The icy-blue color is also the consequence of a bit of computer software wizardry. Every informed person has been worrying about global warming while our wise warlords are planning a strategy to counteract it with “nuclear winter” (remember this concept which seems to have been forgotten by the press) which is why they’re building submarines which can launch nuclear weapons from underwater at the enemies du jour.

Each of these bits of aquatic super-technology costs over 2.6 billion dollars and that doesn’t include cost overruns nor the missiles. So, we can all quit worrying about all of this climate nonsense–a good nuclear war will balance things out and have the added benefit of putting a check on exponential overpopulation and we won’t need as many Christmas ornaments. It might be unseemly to mention such things at this time of year; however when we are bombarded by songs and sermons extolling peace on earth, I think it would be remiss not to point out that there is a terrible danger of a kind of apathetic hypocrisy. President Eisenhower warned us decades ago about the military industrial complex and how it needs perpetual war to sustain itself and he wasn’t the first. If you want a real eye-opener read the little collection of Brigadier General Smedley Butler called: War Is A Racket. However, I should apologize; I am violating the protocols of festivity appropriate to the holidays since we all know that microscopists are by nature gentle sorts.

Title: Earth As Seen From Space During A Red Tide.

Again this is a mixture of magnesium chloride and generic Alka-Seltzer. Red tides are a fascinating phenomenon produced by sudden population explosions of tiny armored protists called flagellates.

Title: Being Spherical Is Happiness.

This is a radiolarian which I found in an old sample and at first I wasn’t even sure that it was a radiolarian. It is indeed spherical and has minute pointed projections all over the surface so, I thought perhaps it was some strange crystal formation or perhaps an unusual spicule. I found a fair number of them and so I decided to do a bit of micro-surgery (more like mashing mayhem, to be honest) and managed to break several open in such a manner that I could see internal support struts connecting to the outer shell and I know that there are indeed radiolaria which have this sort of form.

Title: My Fantasy Of How Earth Should Look From Space.

I’ve seen photographs of our planet taken from satellites and they are indeed impressive, but I’m one of those persons who’s never quite satisfied with the way things are–if there is a God, he or she won’t be very happy to meet me. I like this image as a depiction of the way Earth should look because of the rich range of colors.

Title: My Fantasy Of How The Moon Should Look From Earth

We all know that the moon is and has been constantly bombarded by other objects in space thus creating craters. Well, I’d like a bit more symmetry and consistency in the pitting, please, so I think this would make a nice replacement.

Title: The Sword ExxonCaliber

It floats awaiting the mighty hero who will have the strength and courage to free it from its sphere and use it to bring down the corporations and the body impolitic driven by greed to rape and pillage our planet. So, we’re waiting for you, King Arthur.

Title: The Harmony Of The Spheres

I quite like this one because here we can see spheres within spheres within spheres. The ancient Pythagoreans came up with this pleasing doctrine of the harmony of the spheres referring to the 10 (a sacred number) celestial bodies moving through space, each emitting a musical tone. Never mind the fact that they could only observe 9 such bodies, including the Earth, the Sun ,and the Moon–human ingenuity triumphed! They posited a counter-Earth that was the 10th body and which was always on the opposite side of the sun and so, we could never observe it.

Title: The Orb of Mondrian

This is yet once more magnesium chloride and generic Alka-Seltzer. Fascinating how one can get so many different crystals appearing on a single slide. This wonderfully abstract, geometric design has great mystical powers and led people to spend hundred of thousands of dollars purchasing replicas of itself. Mondrian was a 20th Century Dutch mystic who was a linoleum designer.

Title: A Zen Weapon For Martial Arts Films

Here we find encased a radical Rad which has a splendid symmetry and balance and which the Japanese need as a new addition to their already elaborate arsenal of spinning weapons. The Samurai warrior who liberates it will indeed be a hero who can walk with the gods if he follow the righteous Buddhist path to restore balance so that sanity and fulfilling basic human needs take priority over encouraging the unbridled growth of technological games and other diversions designed to make us forget our responsibilities to ourselves, other human beings and our precious home, planet Earth.

Title: Quiet Contemplation.

Certain pieces of music are quite calming and conducive to a quiet mental state and I think there is a visual equivalent and, for me, it has to do with a pleasing arrangement of forms in pastel colors as is manifest in this image.

Title: Departure From Earth

I really shouldn’t be showing you this one, since the government has classified it COSMIC TOP SECRET, but then I figured, what the hell, we’re part of the cosmos too. This is an image of the most advanced bit of hyper-technology we have yet achieved and is the design for the newest spaceship to transport the political elite of a new galaxy. However, every new bit of technology tends to have little flaws and here is what it looked like after the first test flight.

Below is an image for meteorological history buffs.

Title: Storm

This is an encapsulated satellite image of Hurricane Katrina–makes you remember FEMA and the Bush Administration fondly—“Heck of a job, Brownie!”

And finally, world leaders have come together in an extraordinary project of cooperation to bring in the New Year of 2010 and usher in a whole new direction for the future of humanity. All the politicians and scientists are tremendously excited. Every country with long-range missile capabilities has agreed to cooperate and use the rockets to rid Planet Earth of nuclear waste by shooting it into the sun to produce on New Year’s Eve the most spectacular fireworks display of all time. The most technologically advanced countries have combined resources to use their most powerful “war games”computers to map out the project’s scenario.

Image of Stage 1–After the first 2 major strikes have reached the Sun:

Image of Stage 2–After another hour, other major strikes will occur.

Image of Stage 3–And then at midnight:

OOPS! It doesn’t look like the Sun reacted too well to our barrage. However, we have to remember that this is merely a computer simulation. Besides all of this is just the fantasy and ravings of an old cynic, so you mustn’t take any of it seriously. I’m sure that the human species will soldier on and we will gradually transform ourselves into a species we can be proud of.

In the meantime, let us both as individuals and as societies, work to transform ourselves and our world in such a fashion that phrases like “Peace on Earth” and “For the Good of Mankind” are no longer merely empty rhetoric used hypocritically by politicians and corporate monsters. The greatest threat to mankind is mankind itself which out of ignorance, cowardice, apathy, and cravenness allows itself to be manipulated by the ruthless few who instill fear, hatred, and conflict. Again and again, I think of Thoreau’s remark: “As for the pyramids, there is nothing to wonder at in them so much as the fact that so many men could be found degraded enough to spend their lives constructing a tomb for some ambitious booby, whom it would have been wiser and manlier to have drowned in the Nile, and then given his body to the dogs.”

These holidays should remind us that the real challenge is to attempt to transform ourselves into beings worthy of being called humans. In the meantime, let’s make some ornaments.

All comments to the author Richard Howey are welcomed.

Editor's note: Visit Richard Howey's new website at where he plans to share aspects of his wide interests.


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