I have a confession to make

Even though I am a confirmed apocalyptoholic (I even watched The Divide all the way through to the end), I admit that I had only caught snippets of Doomsday Preppers until very recently, when I finally decided I had to sit down and watch all the episodes I could get my hands on.  I only made it part way through the first season of the series: even taking into consideration the ominous implications of the name (let’s face it, if you are planning a thorough and non-sensationalized look at ways for people to be better prepared for negative eventualities, you aren’t going to be using the term “doomsday”) and the sad fall of the National Geographic Channel into near-reality television status (though it’s still not quite so bad as The “History” Channel…  yet), I wasn’t quite prepared for how bad it would turn out to be.  I’m not talking bad in the “gee, that’s not such good advice” kind of way, or even in the sense of inadequate production values.  I’m referring to the soul-killing, civilization destroying tendency to exploit the confusion and neurosis of terminally (and illogically) frightened people for fun and profit that contemporary television has seemingly fallen into.

I remember the writer’s strike.  Honestly, if I thought that this is what we would come to when the networks realized that they could get all kinds of cheap programming by moving to “reality” based shows, I would have gone to each and every picket line and begged the writers to take whatever deal they could get so long as they just went back to work.

But I digress…

I’ll have to devote more time and attention to the show in the future.  I think it’s worth talking about why the show is so abysmally, crushingly awful, and what consequences that might have for the rest of us, especially in this dawning age of more frequent and more extreme storms.  I think a real focus on what can make individuals and communities more prepared for disaster and more resilient in general is long overdue.  Unfortunately, the kind of spectacle presented by Doomsday Preppers is not only not going to help with that focus, it will actually make it much more difficult (if not impossible) for us to have the kind of conversation about preparedness and resiliency that we desperately need to have.  The parade of wingnuttery and frequent misanthropy on parade in any given episode of DP, along with the not-so-subtle mockery embedded in the framing of the individual stories makes it more likely that the average person to dismiss the whole idea of ‘preparedness’ as unnecessary and unproductive at best (not to mention complicated, expensive and extreme) and perhaps even a little unhinged.

The average person who watches Doomsday Preppers is not going to come away thinking, “you know, I should make sure I have a few cases of bottled water in the pantry and extra batteries for all my flashlights” and take some reasonable steps to make sure they are better prepared for the kind of likely emergency we all might face in the near future (fires, blizzards, hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, tornados, etc…).  That person is going to look at the people featured on the show and think, “wow, those people are completely crazy!  I’m never going to do anything like that!”  It’s Hoarders for the paranoid, conspiracy theory set.

And this comes from someone who does maintain a bug-out bag (because I’ve been evacuated to emergency shelters for both hurricanes and wildfires) as well as a deep pantry of emergency supplies (because more often than that, I’ve needed to hunker down in place to wait out a big snowstorm).

So, I’m disheartened, and a bit disgusted.  Imagine my delight when The Simpsons decided to take on the subject and nail it in perfectly.

Baconpocalypse

…or burgergeddon, or a cheesetastrophe, which is certainly what your primary care doctor will call it when you go in for your next blood draw.  Your cholesterol after one of these would be truly catastrophic!

Of course those of us who know and love In-N-Out burger know that you can get lots of stuff off the secret menu, including extensions of the DoubleDouble (two burgers with two slices of cheese) by ordering, for example, a 4×4 (you get 4 meat patties with 4 slices of cheese).  People have ordered heart-stoppingly massive extensions of the cheeseburger, right on up to a 100×100, though I can’t imagine for the life of me why you would want to.  I imagine that anyone could have gone into an In-N-Out and order a 12×12 , though strangely enough it didn’t occur to me to do so.  But then again, I’m more Harto than Harley myself.

12/12/12

Today is supposedly the luckiest day we’ll have for about another century (until 01 January 2101, which is the next time we’ll have a date which repeats sequentially).

It’s no surprise that so many people ascribe luck to the number 12, as it’s a particularly notable number.  It can be divided by 1 (of course), 2, 3, 4 and 6 to produce a whole number.  There are any number (and far more than a dozen) of interesting facts to charm and annoy folks with today, check them out!

Today is also the (twelfth, of course) birthday of Kiam Moriya who, though he lives now in Birmingham Alabama, was born twelve years ago in Bronxville, New York at 12 minutes after 12pm.

The upcoming rollover of the Mayan calendar, in addition to our own end of the year festivities this year, have me thinking about numbers and the significance we attach to particular numbers because of the mathematical or ideographical games we can play with them (we like eights too, for example, because they look like the symbol for infinity and signify longevity and constancy).  I’ll admit that, up until a few months ago, I was skeptical that there were all that many people who were taking the whole “Mayan Apocalypse” thing seriously.  It seemed almost charming that the accretion of so many simple numbers would be enough to cause consternation or panic for no discernible reason.

True, when you ask someone who professes to be worried about this year’s winter solstice, they will come up with a range of fears that they have attached to the date, from wandering planets and mystical celestial alignments to magnetic disturbances and mass ejections (whether a solar storm or supervolcano).  But at it’s core what the fear and panic around these dates amounts to is a fear of numerical associations.  Of stories, in other words.  We tell each other stories and sometimes, because we are a species that lives on narrative, we believe that our stories have meaning and reality that extends beyond our social structures and into the universe.  So what makes next Friday meaningful is that confluence of 12s, with a the numerical palindrome of the 21st thrown in to add gravitas.  Sure, it’s just another winter solstice, and it’s just the end of another baktun, but it’s also the 2012 winter solstice, and the end of the 12th baktun.  Surely, we think, SURELY that must mean something.  And it does, but we sometimes lose sight of the fact that the meaning is not out there but that it lies within us.  We create the intellectual framework which ascribes meaning to images, words and numbers, and then we create larger complex narratives out of those individual elements.  Our error lies in assuming that the universe at large conforms to the fuzzy, incomplete picture we hold in our minds.

Ultimately, in the scope of the universe, we are so small as to be completely insignificant.  But we don’t live our lives on that scope; within each of our own lives we are everything, we are the universe.  And so when we tell ourselves stories, it is pretty much inevitable that our stories will take on the same monumental importance.  This is a feature, not a bug: we live in stories.  But we have to recognize that those stories don’t live outside of us.  The universe is not sending a rogue planet or “energy waves” or massive gravity pulses from the core of the galaxy to ruin our holidays.

In recognition of the massive non catastrophe headed our way in 9 days, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific has declared today Anti-Doomsday Day.

Personally, I prefer to create my own holiday and call it the cookiepocalypse.  I’ll be celebrating today by making cookies. Each batch of my famous snickerdoodle recipe makes about 72 cookies, so two batches should give me 144 cookies or (drumroll, please) 12 dozen.  Maybe, if enough of us make cookies today, we can surround the planet in a protective blanket of warm cookie-scented air, which will calm the fears of those viewing the approaching solstice with anxiety and dread.

And hey, if nothing else, cookies for dinner.  Pick up fresh milk on your way home from work!

The Apocalyptophiliac’s Supermayan Snickerdoodles

1 cup butter, softened 2 tsp cream of tartar
1½ cups white sugar 1 tsp baking soda
2 eggs ¼ tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract 2 tbsp white sugar
2¾ cups all-purpose flour 2 tsp ground cinnamon

Heat oven to 400˚F.  Cream together butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla.  Blend in flour, cream of tartar, soda and salt.  Shape dough by rounded spoonfuls into balls of about 1/2 ounce each (about the size of a hazelnut or a big marble, they will bake up to about the size of an Oreo).   Mix 2 tbsp of sugar and cinnamon.  Roll balls of dough in mixture.  Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.   Bake 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until set but not too hard.  Remove immediately from baking sheets.

Funny how the brain works.  In pulling together the above, I remembered this, which I now can’t get out of my head.  I’m gonna build a mountain of my own, composed of cookies, because I hate making pie crust.