Monday, December 12, 2011

Lunar Scientist Explains Impossible Congressional Sight Following Saturday's Eclipse

SAN NARCISO, Calif. (Bennington Vale Evening Transcript) -- Saturday's lunar eclipse offered spectators the chance to witness a strange sight traditionally thought impossible. The unusual effect is known by astronomers as a "selenelion" and occurs when both the sun and eclipsed moon can be observed at the same time. However, celestial geometry dictates that this can't happen. The unique spectacle wowed people across the planet, although it paled in comparison to the even stranger but equally improbable announcement the next day by Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who told "Fox News Sunday" that Congress will somehow reach a bi-partisan agreement to renew the popular payroll tax cuts set to expire at the end of this month. As puzzled political analysts struggled to make sense of McConnell's statement, astronomer Parke Kunkle stepped in to explain how the same forces behind the selenelion were at play in Congress.

During a lunar eclipse, the sun, moon and Earth align directly, with the Earth in the middle. Therefore, with the sun above the horizon and the moon below, one of these entities should remain invisible. "It's really not happening," explained Kunkle. "It's an optical illusion. But to the naked eye, it appears just as real. If you keep following that train of thought, the same celestial principles apply to what just took place in government, despite the Congressional geometry that dictates the impossibility of bi-partisanship."

Last year, President Obama championed a measure to cut payroll taxes for millions of working Americans to help stimulate the economy. Republicans fought to prevent the program's passage, citing the need to further reduce taxes for the nation's wealthiest. Without excusing corporations from their tax burdens, Republicans argued, no incentives to create new jobs or hire the unemployed could exist. Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist said: "Tax payers have a role to play in the maintenance of the country, but those individuals should not be the job creators or the wealth generators. They should be the people who most rely on government services: the poor and middle classes. If they're the ones taking from the system, they should be the ones paying back into it."

With GOP opposition to all Democratic proposals intensifying, analysts expected the payroll tax cuts to expire. McConnell's bizarre alignment with the Democrats has left the nation scratching its head.

"That isn't going to happen," McConnell said of the tax cut expiration. "Obviously we're going to reach an agreement."

But how is this physically possible? Parke Kunkle claims the same underlying science behind the selenelion applies.

Kunkle said: "During a lunar eclipse, the sun and moon are exactly 180 degrees apart in the sky; so in a perfect alignment like this -- what we call a 'syzygy' -- such an observation would seem impossible. And this is what we have going on between the two political parties in Congress. They're exactly 180 degrees apart, making a perfect alignment impossible. But like the selenelion, it's not actually happening. It merely seems to be."

Atmospheric Refraction makes the illusion possible during a lunar eclipse, causing astronomical objects to appear higher than the are in the sky. According to Kunkle, a similar rhetorical phenomenon known as Demagogic Refraction allows politicians to seem higher than they are in principles.

"When you see the sun sitting on the horizon, it's not there really," Kunkle continued. "It's actually below the edge of the horizon, but our atmosphere acts as a lens to bend the sun's image, allowing us to view it. Therefore, for a few minutes every morning and evening, we perceive the sun before it's risen and after it's already set. The same holds true with the moon...and the promises of politicians in the pockets of big corporations."

The more terrestrial concept of demagogic refraction, Kunkle says, creates the same illusion.

"When you hear a politician like Mitch McConnell pledge to support the working class or collaborate with his peers across the ideological aisle, it's not really happening. His loyalties sit far below the edge of that horizon, but the carefully crafted talking points he echoes and specific words he chooses -- those that polls suggest desperate voters want to hear -- act as filters to bend their perceptions, allowing them to see McConnell as representing their needs. Thus, for a few minutes before and after a crucial vote, many Americans perceive that a richly financed public figure such as McConnell will follow through with his promises. In reality, though, it's already too late."

Kunkle also cautioned that the effects of selenelions can linger, lending additional credence to the reality of the illusion in the minds of observers.

He said: "You can't argue with those people. No logic or reason can get them to admit that what they saw was nothing more than a mirage. Similarly, when the tax cuts do expire, the filter that caused voters to support McConnell will also energize them to continue rallying behind his cause, even as the initiative fails. Demagogic refraction convinces McConnell's base that the same party responsible for creating the payroll tax cuts -- the Democrats -- have become the very villains who destroyed them. More fascinating is that these voters, in their anger, will probably remain loyal to McConnell. For them, the atmospheric illusion is the reality."

Kunkle clarified that selenelions are observable to only a small number of regions ideally situated to perceive them. In North America, those areas included the Rocky Mountain and prairie states, the Ohio valley, Texas, Oklahoma and the bulk of the south to central Gulf Coast -- the same places, Kunkle noted, that witnessed the fullest effects of the lunar eclipse this weekend.

(c) 2011. See disclaimers.