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.

My own opportunity to play “Ask Me About 2012”

I got one of those rather heartbreaking emails that seem to be going around, were people (kids mostly) ask whether it is really true that the world is going to come to an end next Friday.  While some people like to troll the people who ask those questions, I think it’s worth taking them seriously.  I can only hope that these answers can get out there and even if they can’t keep up with the lies racing around, they can at least give people the kind of answers that can lead them to think more clearly about the claims so many liars and hoaxers are putting out.

So I thought I would reprint my answer here in it’s entirety and allow people to link or forward or whatever as they desire…

Hi, Caren, thanks for emailing me with your question.

I know that it seems like a real thing that the world will end on the 21st, because there are a lot of people out there trying to make money by scaring people, but it’s just not going to happen.  The thing you should pay attention to is that all of the “evidence” that people have for saying the world is going to come to an end is either made up (sometimes by some people who are kinda crazy) or it is based on real facts that are misunderstood or misinterpreted.

First, a lot of people focus on the date of 21 December because that was the end of what was called the Mayan long count calendar.  But the people who made that calendar didn’t think the world was going to end on that day, only that it would be like the 31st of December on our calendar, and the day after would just be January 1st of the new count.  The Maya called this count a baktun, and this coming new one starting on the 22nd will be the 13th.  The “end” of the calendar that is happening next Friday has already happened 12 times before, so there is no reason (none at all) to believe that anything is going to happen.

Even the Maya didn’t think that the world would end with the end of the 12th baktun, and in several murals they referred to events which would happen long after 21 December 2012.  See this article for some proof that the Maya were looking to dates beyond next Friday.

Some people are saying that there is a planet out there which will hit the earth like in the movie Melancholia, while others say it’s just an asteroid like the one that hit in the movie Deep Impact.  Neither is true.  NASA has been watching and counting all the objects that are in the sky around us for years and they know where all those objects are and they can use computers to find out where they will be at any moment in the future.  If there were a planet, or even an asteroid which was going to be a danger to us on the 21st, it would be the brightest thing in the sky right now and you could go out and look up and see it without a telescope even during the day.  There is nothing out there, and the pictures and videos that people have been posting are hoaxes.  You can see this with your own eyes just by going outside and looking up.

Some of the people who say that the planet or asteroid mentioned above is being hidden somehow – they say it is “behind the sun” (though if it were going to hit us when “they” say it would now be between us and the sun) or they say it is “below the earth” (there is no such place, as anything we couldn’t see in our hemisphere would still be visible to people in South America or Africa or Antarctica).  People also say that the 100,000 or more astronomers on earth have seen this mysterious planet or asteroid and are lying about it, or that NASA has told them that they aren’t allowed to reveal the “secret” of this object.  But as I said above, if there really were such an object, everyday folks would be able to see it, because it would be so big and so close that there would be no way to hide it.  If it were really there, people you could trust would see it: people on the real news (not just somebody who has a free website) and at universities all over the world, and average people would be able to see it even without telescopes.  No one can see anything because there is nothing out there to see.

Finally, lots of people are saying that the world will end like on the movie 2012 because of some weird, sorta scientific sounding thing.  But if you look into every one of these claims, you can see that in lots of cases, the things they are saying are even somewhat true, and they don’t matter at all.

Some people are concerned that the earth and the sun are going to line up with the center of the galaxy or a far off black hole or something like that.  And that is actually true, but we “line up” with other parts of the galaxy all the time and nothing happens, because these things are so far away that there is no way the effects of their gravity or any other force they could possibly exert can reach us.  The moon, for example, is pretty big and pretty close to us, but the best it can do is pull the oceans just enough to make tides.  The center of the galaxy and the black holes in the universe are much, MUCH farther away and we simply can’t feel any effects from that far away.

Lots of folks have been talking about something bad happening when the magnetic poles of the earth switch places, or because the geological poles would move.  Both of these things are happening, right now, and have been going on for the entire history of the planet.  The magnetic and physical poles of the Earth are moving all the time; 99% of us never even notice because we don’t have to make measurements or give directions that are precise enough to worry about it.  Over thousands of years the magnetic poles have sometimes shifted completely, but there is no evidence anywhere that this is going to happen in the near future or that, if it did, it would affect us beyond causing some difficulties for our orbital satellites and some electrical equipment.  It certainly wouldn’t be enough to drop Los Angeles into the Pacific ocean (no matter how much we may sometimes want it to!).

NASA’s Beyond 2012 site and it has a lot of good information for you to get more answers.   There is also a scientist at NASA who has been answering questions for a year or so now, and he has lots of in-depth answers there for you, too.   Finally, there is a really great site that keeps track of all the lies and hoaxes people are making up about 2012 and gives explanations of why you shouldn’t believe them.

The key fact to keep in mind is that a lot of people are trying to make money by telling lies and making people afraid so that they can get a lot of clicks on their websites, which make it possible for them to charge lots of money from their advertisers.  Some of these liars and hoaxers will even have a book or a video or something to sell you so that they can get some money from you, too!  Whenever you see some really scary claim that they make, don’t just go to Google, go directly to a site where there are experts who have spent a long time studying the science behind the claims and where you can get answers you can trust.

Next Friday, 21 December 2012 will be just like any other day, except that it will also be like New Year’s Eve for the Maya.  So instead of being afraid, you should be happy that this year you will have two opportunities to have a party and celebrate getting a new calendar.

A Mayan idea I can really get behind

And who knew?  Alexandra Petri over at The Washington Post has a great list of the 12 things folks can do in preparation for the Apocalypse on the 21st.  My favorite is definitely number 9:

9. Throw a human sacrifice to appease the Mayan gods. Start with Donald Trump.

I think this is an idea that could really bring the country together!  If nothing else, it would put that poor animal stapled to the top of his head out of its misery.