Happy Solstice

Welcome to the shortest day of the year. I am in Tucson until Tuesday. Just moving that far south in latitude from northern Minnesota means an extra hour per day of sunlight, perhaps a little more. Yesterday was a pristine Arizona day, if a bit cooler than natives are accustomed to. I drove to Phoenix to visit Cousin Tina. 

I took I-10, the main artery from Miami to Los Angeles. It is always packed with trucks. And, it seems, there is always a major accident. Yesterday was no exception. In the oncoming lanes, a three-car mess with one car on its side. I am convinced that the corridor from Tucson to Phoenix on I-10 is one of the most deadly stretches of highway in the USA. Despite the danger, the heavy traffic moves along at a steady 80 mph. Until an accident causes a fifteen-mile standstill. 

So, one of the downsides of moving towards the warmth is that the millions got here first. 

And yet, when you go to the grocery store, the clerks, as they always do in Tucson, greet you with authentic friendliness and cheer. Saturdays are a big day as from early in the morning on, Latino families are out and about with their families. You want family values? The Latinos value togetherness like we Nordics do not. Packed cars. Happy faces. Lots of chatter. And busy Saturdays in the park and on the roads. 

At the gas station, I helped a couple of Mexican guys with plates from Sonora, Mexico figure out the pump. They spoke no English and I speak no Spanish, yet we joked and had a happy exchange. They were part of a three-car entourage heading somewhere for the weekend. Yes, there are thousands of Mexican nationals who come north legally for the weekend to shop. 

Meanwhile, somewhere in the northland, some disgruntled Nordic is forwarding an email (one of which I just received) about how nice it would be if all Mexicans (they think they are all illegals) were shipped south so the white people wouldn't have to press 1 for English, oh the indignity. And those Mexican children? Don't be deceived by their cuteness. They bring in ebola! And cooties. Yes, one story claimed that border patrol agents get lice from the filthy children. Send them home! 

Legal or illegal, and policy considerations aside, their attitudes are completely ugly––but in keeping with the tenor of the times. 

Proximity doesn't guarantee better attitudes; some of the most ardent anti-immigrant, anti-Latino activists are in Arizona. Segregation is real, yet never blatantly official. South Phoenix and South Tucson are Latino enclaves and avoided by whites. Retirement communities are lily white. I have played at about a dozen of them in previous years and have yet to see a black person or a Latino. Not one, unless you count those carrying a broom. 

Right-wing types are flying high right now, but dippy white liberals have plenty of opportunities to fly their colors as well. Some want to rush to Cuba to see it in its pristine state of utter poverty, with the 1950s Studebakers and crumbling buildings, before the island is ruined by Starbucks and McDonalds. Ruined? I'll bet twenty minutes after they arrive they'll be longing for a non-fat soy latte. It is easy to romanticize the poverty of others as some sort of purity. I mean, these people don't have all the distractions of technology! Look how happy they are in their natural state! 

They are right about one thing, without knowing it: The most effective vehicle for American world dominance is cultural, not military. Cultural dominance might seem harmless, but introducing cheap high fructose corn syrup to an impoverished country isn't exactly an act of charity. Let's make their poor people as fat and diabetes-prone as our poor people! Soon they'll need our anti-depressants as well! And cholosterol medicine. 

The charitable thing would be to bring our medical expertise (eyeglasses, dental care, vaccinations, pre-natal care and delivery of babies) without dragging along our junk food and grasping lifestyle. 

The happiness of southern peoples, rich or poor, is well-documented. It is both cultural and a matter of climate. Sunshine makes people cheerful. More sunshine, more cheerfulness, less penury, less scrambling to line the nest before winter. Cold climates cause humans to think longer term and hoard food, treasure and belongings at a greater rate than cultures closer to the equator. We see preparation as a virtue, but the quest can make us grumpy and grasping, unhappy even as our pile of belongings grows high and our houses add thousands of square feet after the children are grown. 

I am part of the northern culture. I enjoy putting up wood for the winter. I enjoy stoking the stove. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment. A nice pile of firewood makes me feel morally superior. I think to myself that warmer climates lack hustle. Bring me my food now! I have no desire to sit over a meal all afternoon, or all evening, or late into the night as the Spanish do nightly. I can't stand the nightly gatherings of clan and neighbors that characterize equatorial cultures from Brazil to Thailand. Give me some solitude! 

We are products of our culture, and our cultures are governed by our climate. At the equator, they have twelve hours of sunlight every day of the year. Solstice has little significance.