Tuesday, February 12, 2013

East of no North

Winter has latched on to the northern hemisphere and apparently isn't going anywhere.  Groundhog's Day, an annual event promoted by a town of total morons in rural Pennsylvania, turned out this year to be inconclusive. The groundhog emerged from his lair right on schedule, but did so armed with a semi-automatic weapon and several high capacity ammo clips. According to one eyewitness, he saw his shadow and just opened fire. No warning, no demands, no liberal-inspired animal rights rhetoric, no nothing.
Porky Patterson, local pig farmer, who had wheedled his way to the front of the crowd, was overheard shouting, "Who gave the damn beaver a goddam loaded rifle?"
Who indeed!
Mayor Reggie Stubs, speaking off the record, admitted that numerous death threats against the groundhog had prompted the town council to authorize arming the over-sized rodent,  but no one in his wildest dreams imagined that the critter would actually figure out how to use the darn thing.
A local newspaper summed it up best with the front page headline:
Groundhog instigates latest U.S. mass shooting, six more weeks of winter likely.

Things aren't much better in northeast Asia, where a combination of unrelenting blasts of arctic wind and incalculable amounts of Chinese air pollution have turned winter into a sticky, murky, oozing grey, frozen fun fest. There are apparently places in China where one can step outside and simultaneously experience the burning up and freezing over of one's eyeballs. People are literally throwing away their eyeglasses because a) the rapid accumulation of grimy soot makes it impossible to see, and b) it's so cold that the lenses instantly crack. This perhaps explains recent video footage coming from northern China, in which thousands of blurry people appear to be walking haphazardly, reminiscent of somnambulists or zombies, through falling black snow, bumping into things, occasionally into each other, prompting vague fistfights akin to shadow boxing.  
Meanwhile, during this week's New Year's celebrations an estimated 500 million Chinese are on the move, traveling to their hometowns in over-crowed, under-heated trains, in below zero temperatures and zero visibility. Try to imagine something worse than being in the middle of that. I dare you. Where any of them might actually end up is a matter of pure speculation. One Chinese official dismissed the possibility of mass panic, claiming that if enough of these people end up in the same place, the government will simply construct a prefabricated city around them and put them all to work shoveling soot.

Note: the average daytime high temperature over the past two weeks in Ulaanbaatar has been negative forty-five degrees Centigrade. That's right, -45C.

Of course no visit to winterized Asia would be complete without a stopover on the northwest coast of Japan, officially known as the Yuki Guni, or snow country, which gets more of the white stuff each year than any other civilized area on Earth. The problem, aside from the snow, is that the majority of the population in this area is elderly, i.e. really really old, which unfortunately is not a deterrent to them attempting snow removal. Hence a significant number die from heart attacks each year while shoveling snow. A comparable number also die from falling off roofs (also while shoveling snow), many of them disappearing into deep snowdrifts, where they tend to remain until the first spring melt.

In an effort to forestall this alarming seasonal increase in mortality, one local government came up with the idea of supplying portable snow blowing machines to residents, announcing that, "If you can push a walker, you can push one of our snow blowers ."
Turns out pushing them isn't the problem, slipping on the snow and being sucked into the rotating blades is. The solution: make an instructional video, complete with human facsimile dummy, demonstrating what not to do while removing snow. In one sequence the dummy gets an arm stuck in the blades, body thrashing around on the ground; in the next a leg is being devoured, arms flailing, followed by both legs, and finally the dummy somehow manages to get its entire head wedged inside the machine. It's hilarious in a macabre sort of way, and according to officials snow-related deaths among the elderly have decreased, although there have been reports of people having heart attacks while watching the video.

Alas, winter. I think of it more as a redundant aberration than an actual season. Still, you run across people who tell you straight-faced that winter is their favorite time of year.

"I love winter!"
"Really? Are you by any chance mentally ill? Or is someone paying you to say that?"

Sure you'd like to smack them, but you restrain yourself, and besides it's too cold to take your hand out of your pocket.

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