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…

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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.

Definitely *NOT* Nibiru

So, apparently a group of astronomers using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope and the  European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope recently published a paper announcing the identification of a free-floating object of planetary mass in the AB Doradus Moving Group, a loose assemblage of relatively young stars moving together through the galaxy.  Did you miss it in there?  The casual reference to the possibility of a planet floating loose out there in the black, and one of the closest we’ve ever discovered at that!!  It gives us the opportunity to learn a great deal about the nature and composition of planets in other solar systems and clusters, and this one potentially offers the opportunity to develop a standard against which all future planetary discoveries will be judged and provides an incredibly valuable peek into the characteristics of stars, planets and systems much younger than our own (a mere 50 to 120 million years as opposed to the 4.6 billion of our own solar system).

Unfortunately it also provides the opportunity for rampant, mindless panic and ill informed fearmongering.  I’ve been surprised how many of the news sites which have mentioned the new planet have connected it, however tenuously, to the Nibiru hoax, presumably to draw more traffic to their site, though in at least one case, the Nibiru fantasists have definitively rejected any connection.

My favorite take on the news is provided by Hank Green at SciShow.  Incidentally, I completely agree that it needs a new name.  And I have a humble proposition, to name it for David Morrison, in honor of his heroic struggle against the Nibiru hoax hysteria.  Seriously.

Conflicting accounts

I have several friends who moved to Texas a few years ago.  One set of them settled near by Rice University and are quite happy with their lives, while another set stayed less than a year before moving back, and ever since they’ve regaled all of us with hilarious stories of their interactions with what seemed like stereotypical ‘crazy locals’ of the religious variety.  I always assumed that they were using poetic license to make the behavior more extreme and, therefore, to make the stories more funny.

Of course, there is the outlier.  Admittedly, he’s a friend of a friend, and we weren’t close before he moved, but since then it often seems as if he has become one of those stereotypical crazy locals (and likes it that way).

So I pay more attention than I really should to news from Texas.  I say “more than I should” because I often end up with a less than flattering impression of what’s going on there in the Lone Star State.  On the one hand, there is always someone willing to opine at length about which new threat currently spells the downfall of western civilization, or is hastening the arrival of the End Times (always a favorite subject of mine).  Other friends assure me that Texas has no more than the usual share of those with, ahem, ‘fringe’ ideas, just that in Texas everything starts to seem bigger.  On the other hand, the bizarre seems to percolate much farther up the scale.

But I really don’t know what to make of the sudden momentum behind the secession petition craze, in which Texas seems to be leading the nation, though now that so many people seem to have thrown in for the idea, Governor Perry seems to be taking a much more pro-union stance and arguing that the U.S. needs Texan leadership.

It reminded me that the question of Texas succession has been a perennial fascination for some.  Like obsession with the idea of apocalypse, it just suits some people to think about (and in many cases to wish for) an end to things as they are.  Practical or not, many people find pleasure in the idea, and let’s be honest that imagining such a massive undertaking could be engaging, even if only as an intellectual exercise.

Oh, and it’s been eight days now, and so far no fire, brimstone or odd stars in the sky!  More and more people are taking note…

We made it…

or did we?

While some people went to bed a week ago noting that, despite the reelection of the President, their guns did not magically disappear (nor did concentration camps magically spring into life), others (lots and lots and lots and lots and LOTS of others) seem, shall we say, less than sanguine?

As the election drew closer I found myself drawn into a vortex of political news, fascinated and unable to look away from any of it; the polls, the overheated coverage of “Mittmentum”, the endless rounds of fact-checking and counter fact-checking, the last-minute ads saturated with flop sweat, and above all the rancid slime of unhinged rage that floated over everything thanks to unmediated comment sections and the proliferation of conspiracy-obsessed fringe websites.  Through it all I held to a moratorium I established for myself: since I could not guarantee that I would not hop into my waders and take to the swamp, I wouldn’t post anything for a week before or a week after the election.

Though many are still angry or at least agitated, I find myself energized but blessedly calm and ready to get back to (finally get to?) regular posting on more topical issues.  I can’t promise that this space will remain clear of explicitly political material, I think I’ll find it easier to keep my eyes on the target and keep myself from making too many snarky asides.  Maybe.  Hopefully.