Best new ‘-pocalypse’ of the year

My vote has to go to New York University’s recent Replyallpocalypse, initiated when sophomore Max Wiseltier accidentally uncovered one of the flaws in NYU’s email system, and hilarity ensued.

My heart goes out to Mr. Wiseltier, because who hasn’t had one of those moments where you do something which seems perfectly innocent only to have it go horribly, terribly wrong (and in a mortifyingly public way)?  And my heart goes out equally to all the individuals on the NYU listserv, because (as you could have predicted) once the vulnerability was uncovered, it was only a matter of time before a bunch of chuckleheads took a minor annoyance and used it to blow up the inboxes of about 40,000 people.  Why?  For the lulz, of course.

I must admit that I like the word itself.  The term “replyallpocalypse” has a lovely sound, aided by it’s smooth rhythm, and is much more melodious than other words forced into connection with what I think must be the 2010s’ favorite suffix.  And too, the word reflects quite clearly the nature of apocalypticism in the current historical moment; it was a disruptive event on a (relatively) massive scale that came about specifically because a bunch of people let their better angels be drowned out by their inner three year old, turning a regrettable occurrence into an utter and complete mess.

Of course, being of a certain age and set of cultural touchstones, my mind went immediately to this.

NASA lunchtime apocalypse roundup

The most poignant thing about today’s Google+ NASA Beyond 2012 hangout, on the host of doomsday predictions which circle around the upcoming winter solstice, is the palpable sense of frustration they all seem to share at the need to revisit (yet again) all of the discredited and debunked theories about the supposed end of the world when there are so many important new discoveries and new insights about our world and the cosmos to discuss.  They all seem so exasperated about the need, once again, to trot out all the same old empty nonsense and show once more how very empty and nonsensical it is.

And they can’t have been very comforted by how those same theories were once again simply reiterated in the questions, and later in the comment section for the archived video, along with increasingly deranged assertions of NASA’s perpetration of massive coverups (like paying the world’s astronomers to lie about the approach of planet X, and continuing to deny our long term interaction with beings from outer space).

The most profound moment of the whole production, for me, comes at when the moderator asked the panel to consider, from the perspective of their own field, what kind of threats face the Earth in 2012 or in the near future.  Don Yeoman spoke about near earth asteroid approaches, while Paul Hertz highlighted the fundamentally non-spectacular nature of 2012 and 2013 from a cosmological perspective.  And then Andrew Fraknoi, significantly (as professor of astronomy at Foothill College) the only full time educator on the panel, hit the ball out of the park.

“So, if I can give you a slightly whimsical answer, but I think a relatively important one, I think one of the greatest threats to Earth in 2012 is the low level of science education and public knowledge, and I think this entire discussion and the fears that have been generated illustrates how much more NASA, the scientific community, and those of us in science education still need to do.  It’s really sad that so many people are worried and writing to David Morrison.  It’s really sad that our schools have not taught skeptical thinking, and not helped students to distinguish between the reality and the fantasy of what’s going on in these areas.  So I think if people are concerned about cosmic threats, part of that is a threat to our understanding of science that comes from insufficient science education, and I hope we can all redouble our efforts to help students understand the world better.”

Elegantly and beautifully stated.  It is in our nature as finite creatures to be concerned with the idea of endings, more so as we grow older and get a clearer sense our own end approaching, and it can be dramatic and exciting to envision the end of all things, but we need to be realistic about the catastrophes that actually face us, and the damage our own often thoughtless behavior can bring about.  Every minute that NASA must spend discussing imaginary planets is time taken away from spreading the word about discoveries on real planets like our own little blue marble, or our closest neighbor, or others very very far away.

Ask an astrobiologist

Dr David Morrison was featured on NPR’s Talk of the Nation Monday.  It’s worth a listen, for the usual answers, if not for any insight into why the question just keeps popping up again and again no matter how many times it is debunked.  As with the vaccine issue, it surprises me how many smart people seem to find these crackpot theories so compelling, despite all rational evidence to the contrary.

During the interview, Dr Morrison mentioned that NASA will be having a Google+ hangout to discuss the 2012 myths tomorrow, 28 November 2012 at 2pm EST/10am PST.  Bookmark that link and I’ll see you there (who knows, maybe they will let slip something about the upcoming “historic” Mars news)!

Vodkapocalyptophilia!

News about this came in over the transom this afternoon, causing much speculation and musing hereabouts.  Apparently these helpful kits are being sold for about $27 bucks, though no word on how you go about making substitutions (I’d prefer crackers and cheese or peanut butter to a can of fish).

I was actually quite surprised that no one has hopped onto the apocalypse kit bandwagon here in the U.S. (arguably the home of apocalyptic panic).  Oh, sure, you can find things from the people who take it absolutely seriously, but there are fewer people than I was expecting seem to be taking this in the appropriate spirit (as a way to fleece the rubes tongue in cheek way to gin up some revenue).  This is charming, and the folks at ThinkGeek always seem to come up with great stuff, but you’d think someone in the land where everything  becomes an opportunity for consumerism would have come up with this kind of thing first.

The apocalyptophiliac’s Black Friday guide

I sometimes think that if Black Friday isn’t an actual sign of impending apocalypse, it does at least give us the opportunity to catch a glimpse of what it could look like.  In other countries, they riot over government corruption and social injustice.  Here, we riot over cheap cell phones.  But don’t worry, even if you are like me, and have decided to avoid entering any retail establishment between now and Epiphany in order to preserve your health, safety and sanity, you can still get all your end of the world supplies delivered right to your door!

Amazon has got you covered if your apocalyptic fears center on the rise of the zombie hoards.  I appreciate that they begin by featuring protective headgear under the category of “brain protection,” but I would like to see them feature bite-resistant, as opposed to specifically fire resistant clothing.  Don’t get me wrong; I know you need to take care when burning the bodies to try to stem the spread of the pathogen/virus/alien ick causing the undead to run around with the munchies, but I’ve watched all the movies, and I know that the biggest danger the survivors face is not fire but instead that surprise nibble you get when you reach out to pull a door closed, or back up without looking behind you first.  You have to look a bit more, but they also have customer-generated Listmania posts featuring more general end of the world needs.

This is, of course, in addition to the simple 13-item guide produced by the helpful folks at REI.  There are lots of folks out there ready, willing and able to help you plan for the end of all things (for a fee, of course) and most of them will helpfully provide you links to the stuff you need.  Just make sure to get the expedited shipping; after all, we’ve got less than a month before M-Day.  Of course, the need to amass all of this gear can seem overwhelming, so start small.  A simple go bag and some helpful reference material will give you a good start.

Once you have all your stuff, you’ll need a way to lug it around with you.  Being on foot is no fun, especially with all that gear.  Of course, with all the mess on the roads (including random debris, the walking dead and other cars) you will want a truck, of course, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t travel about in style and comfort.  The amount of armor needed will, of course, depend on the precise nature of the end time scenario we face, though it might be best to just go all in and design the ultimate mobile bomb shelter on wheels.  Of course, if the end comes with a flood, those ultra-secure, heavily armored and fully stocked trucks will just sink.  Perhaps something like this would be more practical?

Finally, you will need the appropriate training and practice.  If you aren’t lucky enough to have training provided for you, the Center for Disease Control and FEMA have simple lists of supplies and suggestions, and there are lots of ways to meet others and practice survival skills.

But if you just need a last minute, all-purpose survival gift, suitable for stocking-stuffing, you can always go with this little kit, and have an all-purpose supernatural threat neutralizer.  Okay, the gun isn’t included, and you’ll need to get your own garlic necklace and bottle of holy water, but those are best when fresh anyway.

Happy shopping!

Only 28 days to go!

Cases in point

Almost as soon as I hit ‘publish’ on the last post, I had an opportunity to add two new permutations to my watch list, both related to the upcoming “fiscal cliff” (itself arguably a misnomer): debtpocalypse and taxpocalypse.

And of course, the word for Thursday will have to be turkeypocalypse, which immediately put me in mind of the Frost poem, “Fire and Ice” and of the two possible turkey day disasters: a bird which stubbornly refuses to thaw or one burned to a crisp…

Tracking fascination

One of the dubious pleasures of blogging is the availability of analytics.  I say ‘dubious’ here, because although Google and WordPress helpfully offer me a wide variety of data that I can sift and track according to any number of metrics, it isn’t altogether clear to me why such data is useful.  Of course, if I were offering advertisements on my site, or if I intended to approach someone for funding, being able to track my readership would be extremely useful.  But I don’t, and so I’m left with pages and pages of data that I mostly ignore, though sometimes I check my stats pages in much the same obsessive way that some of my friends check their Facebook walls or Twitter feeds.

Today, I got to thinking about my sense that the current fever of apocalyptophilia we find ourselves in is a relatively recent phenomena.  I’m not in any way arguing that human beings have not always had a kind of horrified fascination for imagining the end of (all) things, or that we’ve never before gone through such periods in our history, only that the contemporary moment feels somewhat unique.  Part of that feeling, I am sure, stems from the fact that I pay attention to any occurrences of apocalyptic rhetoric and therefore I see more of it than others would.  Once you are primed to look for something, you tend to see it.  Nothing controversial there.

But I do have a sense that there has been a measurable rise in ‘apocalyptomania’, a condition I liken to a kind of social hypochondria where every difficulty, every large-scale phenomena is suddenly elevated to the status of an extinction-level geophysical event.  In addition to the perennial interest in the apocalypse narrowly construed (anything related to a particular Christian eschatological preoccupation), we’ve also had stormpocalypses and snowpocalypses and in Los Angeles we even had a carpocalypse with the temporary closing of the 405 freeway for construction.  And so, as they say, I had a curious.

Tracking for the incidence of ‘apocalypse’ as a search term

Lucky for me, Google Trends was there to help.  It turns out that the last year or so has seen a distinct rise in curiosity about apocalypse, at least according to the prevalence of the term in Google search data.  That peak in September 2004 represents the high point of this interest (and is coincident – see point N in the graph above – with the release of the disappointing Resident Evil: Apocalypse), with a fairly steady drop off.  Interest in the apocalypse as a phenomenon began to climb again in October 2008 (coincident with the early days of the world financial crisis and just before the election of Barack Obama to the U.S. Presidency).  Not all of those high points are related to the particularly Christian understanding of apocalypse, though the highest points are.  Point E represents the spike in interest in May 2011 during the height of the hysteria stirred up by Harold Camping and the helpful folks at Family Radio Worldwide over the impending (and still delayed) end of the world, while the spike at point A represents the ‘zombie apocalypse‘ hysteria sparked by a series of gruesome news reports.

But there’s an even more interesting graph to be had here when you just search for instances of “pocalypse” as a suffix.

Tracking for the incidence of words with the suffix ‘pocalypse’

See that line?  Assuming that my methodology and search terms are valid (not always a safe assumption, mind you), the story here seems quite clear.  In September/October 2008 (See above Re: global financial crisis) there was a sudden bump in the suffix ‘pocalypse’ being added to more and more words.  The extreme spike again is May 2011, and is most likely related to the above mentioned Camping/Family Radio fizzle.  Since the calmdown after The End failed to materialize in May, we don’t seem to have reset to zero but to have established one of the many ‘new normals’ of contemporary life where everything begins to take on apocalyptic proportions.

Incidentally, in my research today, I noticed this little gem.  Neil deGrasse Tyson has a much better track record than Harold Camping at bringing an end to planets, so we’d best hope that this isn’t an omen.

Pic de Bugarach update

Sadly, it seems that millions will be denied salvation when the destruction ‘foretold’ by the Maya arrives on the 21st of December.  Officials in the département of Aude have decided to ban access to the Pic de Bugarach, and to limit access to the village on its slopes, fearing an influx of “New Age fanatics, sightseers and media crews” (I wonder which would be the most potentially destructive?).

So if you were planning to leave the planet via alien transport to avoid global cataclysm, you’ll need to check your tickets.

Since we’ll all be staying on the planet, you could head to Belize or Guatemala for your apocalypse vacation needs.