Monday, 16 February 2009

Life Begins At 50

If you're reading this you may be unwittingly taking part in a little bit of history. Because dear reader (Gee Note: Yeah I'm all kinds of Charlotte Bronte today. I'm about to go and lock my wife in the attic and start a flirtatious affair with the nanny) you are currently viewing the 50th post on "I Saw Elvis In The Woods". I know, I'm amazed we've got this far as well. Feel free to send me presents as a way of expressing your congratulations.

Knowing that this historic milestone was coming up, one would have thought I'd have put some time in to turning this post in to a special event. You know, bells, whistles, fireworks, trained elephants doing the rumba, a ticker-tape parade, that kind of thing. Sadly my technical knowledge comes a close second to my inability to record the correct programme on my DVR on the list of "Things I don't do all that well" (Gee Note: This morning's highlight - a Jim Belushi movie where he's a cop blackmailed in to committing the perfect murder instead of a documentary on The Jersey Devil that I had planned to tape. Mind I guess it's not all bad, as it did answer the burning question of what "Teen Wolf Too" star Jason Bateman is up to these days. The answer of course being "appearing in bad Jim Belushi films"), so unless someone wants to email me in simple, idiot proof language on how to make this blog all shiny shiny, I guess the regular format will have to do.

So I suppose on the spectacular level we're left with the actual content of the post itself. Which means that we've lost before we've even begun. Because unless I can somehow channel the spirit of both Ivan T. Sanderson and Hunter. S. Thompson (Gee Note: And possibly James T. Kirk, just in case I need to fill out some space. "My… God… Spock! What… have… you done?". By the way, William Shatner has blatantly ignored my friendship request on Facebook for the past two weeks now. I admit that I've never actually met the man, but this obvious lack of respect for the time and effort it took to type "William Shatner" in to a search engine is seriously testing our relationship) then the writing quality will be as poor as always. In other words, we're boned.

And so to combat the lack of fanfare and razzmatazz deserving of a 50th post, I've decided to tackle the mother of all subjects. So lock up your pets and put the kids to bed folks, I Saw Elvis is gonna talk about the End of the World.

If you read the same stuff on-line as I do then there's a certain number of things that you'll see continuously popping up time and time again. Some of these are pretty obvious, such as Roswell, Area 51, and dinosaurs in the Congo (Gee Note: Possibly drinking Um Bongo. Man I miss those adverts. Anyone here remember the ones for Kia-Ora? "I'll be your dog! Woof woof!". See that was when television ads at least attempted to make sense. I've been watching that Gorilla playing the drums for six months now wondering how the hell it's supposed to inspire me to buy a bar of chocolate). Occasionally however a topic does the rounds that stays under the radar for a bit, confined to shady websites like this one and "alternative" discussion forums. Topics like 2012 for example.

Ten years ago the world's media went a bit silly for a couple of months talking about Nostradamus. It turns out the universe's least successful fortune teller had been at it again, this time with a little ditty that goes something like this:

The year 1999, seventh month,
From the sky will come a great King of Terror.
To bring back to life the great King of the Mongols,
Before and after Mars to reign by good luck.

Ah good ol' Nosty, as detailed as ever. Seriously reading through his predictions is like playing "Pin the tail on the donkey". I mean that honestly could mean anything. "King of Terror" could be a meteorite, a nuclear warhead or a pterodactyl for all we know. And unless Genghis Kahn decided to drag his zombie bones out of the dust and make the greatest comeback since Britney Spears then the last two lines make no sense what so ever.

However people who really should know better started doing the rounds on talk shows and the like telling us how this is obviously a prediction about "Doomsday" and that Armageddon would indeed be upon us (Gee Note: Despite the fact that even Nostradamus's own predictions go as far in to the future as, er, 3037). Everyday leading up to the month of July, tabloid newspapers would publish "news" stories about "Nostradamus' deadly prediction" talking about how we should "be prepared" for life as we know it coming to an end.

Now I've spent the last ten minutes racking my brains trying to work out what I was up to in July 1999. As far as I can remember I was working in a video rental store (Gee Note: Which really was like a dream come true. Seriously for two glorious years I was a living breathing Randal Graves) and miserable because I was stuck in a doomed relationship.

What I wasn't doing was running terrified out of my mind away from a bunch of re-animated, blood thirsty Mongolians. In fact considering the amount of hours I spent sitting on my well rounded derrière eating bags of skittles and watching the latest Bruce Willis flick in that little video store, an invasion of slavering undead barbarians would probably have kept me in better shape.

Unsurprisingly, and despite the bleatings of a few misguided souls, the world didn't end in 1999. Nor did it end in 2008, much to the chagrin of the Lord's Witnesses. The Lord's Witnesses are a Christian Church Based right here in the UK. Unlike regular churches the LW's believe that the bible is written in a code that has to be unravelled (Gee Note: Kind of like the way international rap superstar Snoop Doggy Dogg speaks. You know "Fo' shizzle" and all that. Hey maybe that makes Snoopy the second coming of Jesus Christ? He's certainly had his fair share of dealings with "hos" if the lyrics to his chart topping records are to be believed. On second thoughts, perhaps not).

Anyway somehow the LW's applied what I'm sure was a complex method of decoding the bible and came up with the idea that the world was going to end on March 21st 2008. When that didn't happen the church's governing body, led by one Gordon Ritchie, hastily came up with another interpretation. March 21st they said was when Satan's rule over Earth ended, and now it's in a transitional period until Jesus steps up to the plate. I just hope they haven't left the college kids in charge in the meantime. Remember that one guy who did that sportscast for Bell State University? No? Really? You don't remember that? Well I guess it's lucky I'm here then.

(Gee Note: OK I realise that has absolutely nothing to do anything but it makes me laugh none the less. It really is the start of a heart warming story as the poor guy featured here is called Brian Collins. Amazingly, despite the very worst of bad starts, he did make it as a news reporter and is now gainfully employed by KXXV television in Waco, Texas. See? Dreams can come true). So with neither Nostradamus nor the bible's hidden code being particularly useful as far as predicting the future is concerned, folks have started looking to other sources. Specifically the ancient race of the Maya.

Pre-dating both the Inca and the Aztec, Mayan civilization came to prominence approximately between 250 AD and 900 AD. Amazingly advanced for the time they were the only society that developed a written language in the pre-Columbian Americas, and even developed their own numeracy system. I mean these cats were clever. Not clever enough to invent a steam powered espresso maker I grant you, but considering their contemporaries were communicating by pointing at fruit and saying the word “Ooog!” then, you know, these folks really should be given a lot of credit. So when it was discovered that the Maya predicted the world's end on December 21 2012 a lot of people took notice.

Except, and this is the thing, the Maya didn't actually say the world was going to end on that date.

Bare with me on this because it might take a little bit of explaining (Gee Note: And considering I'm still recovering from spending the afternoon yesterday sinking a beer every ten minutes while watching my national rugby team defeat their English counterparts then you may want to look it up for yourself). Mayan religion and their concept of time are pretty much one and the same thing. Using the position of the sun and the stars at night, the Maya came up with a system where the cyclical nature of celestial bodies would not only represent the date, but also the work of the Gods. A Mayan priest's job was to interpret these cycles. Kinda like a modern day astrologer. Except without the awful dress sense.

Anyway, according to the Mayan calender a really big cycle comes to an end on December 21 2012. Somehow this has been forecast as being of great significance by new agers and paranoid dillussionists a like. For some 2012 is seen as a time where human beings will attain a higher level of conciousness and transcend whatever it is modern day hippies think we need to transcend. People like this guy for example:

Is it just me or is he totally channelling the spirit of Ultimate Thor? Also for an advanced alien, you would think he'd want to show off a bit. I mean just standing in a field talking is boring dude. You want people to listen, bring some flashy lights or something. Fireworks man, fireworks.

The flip side of this coin is that some folks think the end of the cycle represents Doomsday. For, as far as I can see, no real reason either. I mean it's not as if the Maya put an asterisk on the end of the calender with a footnote at the bottom saying “RUNNNN!!!”. However enlightened chaps like Michael Drosnin, author of the “The Bible Code”, believe that very thing.

(Gee Note: Oh good, more bible decoding. You know Dan Brown has a lot to answer for. Before the "Da Vinci Code" nobody would give this kind of stuff the time of day. Since then however crackpot books about hidden messages in texts ranging from the Qur'an to the works of Dr. Seuss are ten a penny. I came up with an idea for a story once where someone discovers a hidden message in the novel Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens which would tell them how to perfect the ancient and mystical art of flower pressing. I even came up with a brilliant title for it, "The Daisy Chain". For some reason though no publisher would touch it, and yet they constantly churn out things like "The Bible Code" every day. That Michael Drosnin thinks he's so smart. We'll see who has the last laugh Drosnin. We'll see.)

In the book Drosnin claims to found a hidden message in the first five books of the bible. The message predicts that a comet will crash in to the Earth in 2012, annihilating all life in the process. Obviously, like myself until my last post, Drosnin has never heard of Tardigrades. Tardigrades, also rather sweetly known as Water Bears, grow to about 1mm in length. Despite their small stature these hardy wee beasts are unbelievably adept at surviving. They can withstand temperatures of above 150 degrees centigrade, temperatures close to absolute zero, 2000 times more radiation that any other animal, and can even survive in space, yes space, for at least ten minutes. Also they kind of look like a bean bag modelled on the late great Ray Charles.

Seriously if I was a betting man I'd put my money those guys over something as trifling as a comet.

Another example is Dutch author Patrik Geryl. Geryl predicts that in 2012 the North and South pole's will reverse causing the Earth to rotate in the opposite direction. Although how this would cause anything other than warm winters and cold summers is anyone's guess, as Geryl doesn't let unnecessary details like that bog him down. Instead, Geryl is convinced that this will bring about the end of the world and has set up a "survival group" as a result. Which I guess is one way to pick up women. "Hey baby, you know the world's about to end right? Well, it is anyway. You wouldn't want to be caught in the apocalypse unprepared now would you? Of course you wouldn't. So why don't you join my group and we'll take care of you? You will? Seriously? That's great! OK well I guess we better get you a uniform. Now after a ton of research we've discovered that the best way to avert doomsday is by wearing this bikini… Hey baby, where you going?"

(Gee Note: By the way one of the countless number of issues with this theory is if the Earth's rotation were to change then presumably it would have to slow down or stop at some point. Thing is, if this were to happen then anything on the surface of the Earth would be flung in to space at approximately 500'000 miles per hour. Now you can wear all the bikinis you want to but unless you happen to have been born on the planet Krypton you're going to struggle to survive that.)

There's a couple more wild predictions doing the rounds. Kev Peacock, an Australian ham radio enthusiast, claims that the Sun's magnetic field will reverse, causing all sorts of environmental disasters. Peacock's rationalisation for this is that he's picked up some weird radio signals coming from the Sun (Gee Note: Although why you would want to pick up a signal from the Sun in the first place is anyone's guess. It's not as if anything is broadcast from there. Although, maybe there's a hole in the market for something like that. "You're listening to Sun radio. It's a chilly 6 billion degrees outside, with a slight solar wind chill…"). Peacock has gone the whole hog with this theory, producing graphs of radio frequencies and diagrams all of which are fabulously complicated. So far no bona fide scientist has expressed an interest in anything Peacock has had to say.

Yet another bonkers idea comes from Vijay Kumar, or "The man who realised God in 1993" according to the blurb on his website (Gee Note: No, I have no idea what that means either). Kumar believes that rather than heading towards the end of the world however mankind is on it's way to a "golden age". Alas this golden age starts off rather nastily, as Kumar is predicting a nuclear war between "Christians" and the "Islamic" that is going to wipe out 1/5 of the world's population. After this all of mankind will realise just how silly we've been in trying to nuke each other off the planet and all join hands and sing songs together. Probably. The interesting thing about this theory is that it's based on, er, nothing. While folks like Peacock, Geryl and Drosnin have actually applied a method to their forecasts, Kumar has simply made it up. Well OK, not quite. Kumar has somehow come up with his theory by using the law of Karma, which is ridiculously open to interpretation. Seriously it makes Nostradamus quatrains look like an instruction manual for putting together a Swedish coffee table.

But then I guess that's kind of the point of 2012 predictions. Because when all is said and done, there's no basis to suspect that anything out of the ordinary will happen. The Maya simply wrote a calender that ended on a specific date, probably thinking that by the time the 21st December 2012 rolled around they'd have had plenty of opportunity to, you know, write a new one. So on the surface it's pretty unbelievable that a lot of people are talking about a potential "Doomsday", some of them quite seriously.

Except, and here's the thing, it's not really that unbelievable. Us humans are fascinated by the end of the world, you only need to look at the fuss that media caused in 1999 or the recent talk of the Large Hadron Collider creating a black hole that would tear the Earth apart to view evidence of this (Gee Note: To the point where the project leader for the LHC Dr. Lyn Evans, who gets mad props for attending my local university, was woken up in the middle of the night by a phone call from someone in hysterics asking him not to turn the machine on). Why this would be I have no idea. It would take a smarter person than myself, probably one with about six or seven University degrees, to come up with a theory that due to our basic instinct to fight for survival our lack of natural predators have been replaced in our collective unconscious minds with a big unseen evil.

We also have a tendency to romanticise previous cultures, with statements such as "Oh those Egyptians. Weren't they wise?". Well, yeah I guess they were, but like any other ancient civilization they were never as scientifically or socially advanced as we are. And in 3000 years time people will be inevitably looking back at us and saying “Gosh they came up with the microwave oven all by themselves. Weren't they clever?”. To which my response is come back when we've cured cancer and then tell us how clever we are. Until that point we don't know jack. By that same reckoning neither did the Egyptians, the Maya, the Greeks, or anyone else.

So should we take anything about the 2012 armageddon seriously? Well no, not really. Because the truth is humanity is neither going to rise to a higher state of understanding about the universe around us, nor will we be wiped out by some kind of disaster. Instead we'll carry on just as we are. Vicious, selfish, mean, brilliant, wonderful, generous, infuriating, complex, simple people just going about their daily business.

Unless of course we do cure cancer. In which case I'll be the first one celebrating the dawn of a new age.


Rob said...

You never know; perhaps 2012 will be the Singularity. You know, The Singularity. This one:

Amusingly, I typed 'Singularity' into Wikipedia and couldn't find the page. But type 'The Singularity' in and boom, instant infinitely-improving artificial intelligencey science goodness.

Naveed said...

For some reason, I think that 12-21-2012 is just the day the Mayan calendar resets and goes back to the beginning...