Saturday, December 31, 2011

Y2011/Happy New Years!

Happy New Years Eve/Day to all of my readers and your families. Where I'm sitting, it's roughly 10 hours away from midnight, meaning that there are roughly 10 hours left in 2011. Good riddance, I say - this year has been nothing but crap for a lot of people. It's been a halfway decent year for me - I managed to get a decent paying job, and I bought a car, and I'm making headway into getting out on my own. I've accomplished more this year than I have in most years past. I also started this blog back in June, and come February, I'll have held down my job for a full year. This is called "making progress," I think. I'm hoping this progress will help carry me right out of this State to greener pastures, but that's for the future.

In the meantime, I'm not going to use this post as a means to repeat everything that happened this year. It was a bad year for women's rights, it was a bad year for human rights, and it was a bad year for democracy and freedom. Every year since 2001 has been a bad year for it, and it's been progressively getting worse - in part due to a strong self-fulfilling prophecy that I see Americans, and indeed, the rest of the world inching towards.

Instead, I'm going to use this as a means to talk about prophecies - in particular, the this 2012 business. You can probably guess where I stand on it, but I've got some thoughts on the issue that might surprise you, dear reader.

What kind of a year will 2012 be? 2012 will be a year not much different from this year. Kepler will discover more extra solar planets, there will be a continued push for economic reform and the little people will strive to close the gap. Republicans and their ilk will only continue to get more extreme as they see the vise of reality closing in on them, and realize that their ideologies aren't welcome in this or any world anymore; attendance in churches will continue to fall in the United States as more people are driven out by the continually increasing extremist stances being taken by those already there. Perhaps a cure for HIV will be discovered, but I'm hedging my bents on 2014 for that. iPods will continue to get smaller and processors will continue to get faster, headway will be made for the development of solid-state drives and perhaps by 2020 we'll have reduced the cost and parts necessary so that old hard-drives will be a thing of the past and new, solid-state drives will be increasing. NRAM and holographic memory research will continue, and we'll discover that the Graviton/Higgs-Boson particle likely doesn't exist, meaning that particle physics will have to undergo a grand scale remodeling from the ground up, which may ultimately lead to a GUTs anyway.

A grand total of nothing will continue to be done about global warming/climate change, there will be more lip service paid towards alternative energy while the United States okays the Keystone XL pipeline to feed it's crack oil addiction. North Korea will like collapse and, with any luck, it's collapse won't take South Korea along for the ride and drag the entirety of East Asia into a local war. Research into supermaterials will continue to make headway, and areas that are deprived will only become more deprived, as the weather only becomes more extreme and unpredictable due to global warming/climate change. Obama will be reelected President of the United States, continuing the tradition of 2-term presidents, and with any luck, the Republicans will be thrown out of the House and Senate. If Germany keeps stamping it's feet like it's doing with the Eurozone Crisis, and keeps pretending that it's somehow related to American Republicans, then the EU isn't likely to make it through the next two or three years in the current state it's in. Any attempts for "austerity" cuts - that is, attempts to screw the little guy - will be met with ever increasing escalations of hostility. Perhaps the EU can pull together, but it has a lot it needs to actually agree on before it can make it much further - for instance, it needs more than a unified form of currency, so to speak. Back in the United States, the police will continue to be militarized, and the War on Drugs will likely continue in, and be the eventual death of, this country. In short, it will be a year of minor successes, but nothing that will stand out in the annuals of history (unless we do discover the cure for HIV, or Kepler discovers an extra solar planet that's identical to our own, or the Higgs Boson is disproved, or North Korea/the EU collapses. Then we have something for the books).

So, when I look and attempt to project the future trends of modern technology and society into the future, I'm not seeing a singularity. I'm not seeing a big, vacant spot where things should be at around December 21st, 2012. In fact, I can see right beyond that and make guesses at some of the things I think will come to pass in 2013, and I'm willing to take it up 2020, if not further into the future.

Which is why I find this 2012 nonsense all rather amusing. Like all prophecies, it's based on numerous misconceptions about reality, and about the basic elements of "the prophecies."

At the heart of the 2012 doomsday prophecy is three, possibly four major proponents. One of them, and the elephant in the room, is the Mayan long-count calender. The Mayan long-count calender has a length of some 5,000 years between cycles, and we're coming up on the end of one of those cycles - that's what happens, roughly, on December 21st-24th, 2012. I've got a number of problems with the way that the Maya are portrayed in popular culture today, the most common one being that they're not dead. The Maya are a living people. They have large populations in Belize, Guatemala, and in southern Mexico. Their language is very much alive. The old Mayan faiths, while not followed by large populations anymore, are part of a syncretist faith with Roman Catholicism and thus, some of the gods and goddesses do survive to this day.  So when someone brings up the Mayan calender like they're an expert on it, it's not the same like someone bringing up Neanderthal cave paintings or relics. You don't have free right to determine what it means or what it says, because the people who made it are still alive, and they should have the final say of what it means and what it doesn't. Anything else comes across as cultural 'splaining and posturing. We can help them reclaim their heritage - a lot of them don't speak the old Mayan languages anymore, but there are dialects, and we can help them take back what's rightfully theirs. But we can't stand here and pretend, without their permission, what their calender means. I find if funny that every single one of these so-called "Mayan prophecy experts" isn't Mayan, and the whole notion of "Mayanism" reeks of von Daniken's "Chariot of the Gods"/"There's no fucking way brown people did that" hypothesis.

Aside from this, prophecy experts often point to the fact that, also happening at this time, is the sun aligning with the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Okay? And? You don't think the Maya realized that? These are people who, with their naked eyes from atop beautiful and awe-inspiring pyramids, observed and charted the phase of Venus. Europeans needed telescopes for that. You don't think they observed, or were able to guess based off of what they knew and their mathematical and astronomical knowledge, that roughly around this time the sun would intersect with this great void in the galaxy? And you don't think that they would've found that significant enough to base a new age on? Let me ask you a question - our calender, the Georgian calender, beings 0 A.D. What happened in 0 A.D.? When was 0 A.D./C.E.? It was after -1 B.C.E. and before 1 C.E.. What's that mean? What significant event happened in 0 C.E.? Some people will say Jesus was born, but how do we know that for sure?

We selected a specific year and said "here, this is the year Jesus was born". The Maya long count is almost the same, but rather than guess at when some man who may or may not have even existed was born and base their calender around that, they likely based it around significant astronomical events. Something that happens every 5,000 years or so is pretty damn significant, don't you think? For a group of people as oriented and meticulous about keeping track of time and astronomical phenomena as the Maya were, it's probably one of the most significant things to happen for them. So naturally they'd based their long-count calendar with that as the beginning and the ending day.

See my edit below - I stand corrected.

Now, I'm not a scholar, nor have I studied the calender in depth. I've read a lot of texts on the Ancient Maya, and I'm pretty familiar with their culture (to the point of being able to read a handful of Ancient Mayan inscriptions, although with nowhere near the fluency of Old English, Gothic, and Ancient Greek - I do teach myself all the useful languages, don't I?) as far as it's been deciphered.This is my take on it, and being a non-Maya, I don't have any insight at all beyond knowing that they were a) really smart about astronomy and time and b) very meticulous in keeping track of both. Keeping this in mind, and knowing that this date comes around once ever few thousand years or so, it makes sense to me, but that doesn't necessarily make it the same case, to assume that this was the reason why they ended the long-count calendar on this day.

And that's another thing - the long-count doesn't end. It's carved onto a wheel, folks. Wheels don't end. They don't begin either. This is another place where the Mayan notion of time butts heads with the modern notion of it - as far as my studies have lead me to conclude, to the Maya, time wasn't linear. It was a cyclical. To modern folks in the West, time is linear. Both people are wrong, because time is a hell of lot weirder than either of those, but to assume that the calender "ends" is silly. Now, modern Maya may take the Western view of time; that is, it's linear. Or they may not. That's why I can only assume that the ancient Maya, based off of my readings and readings along, likely had a cyclic notion of time. This wasn't uncommon amongst the Native American tribes, and yes, the Maya were a Native American tribe, in much the same way that Ancient Egyptians were an African civilization. I think this gets overlooked far too much.

The next big thing that I hear a lot about is the I-Ching. If you thought what these "prophecy experts" did to the Maya was egregious, you just wait. The I-Ching is part of Chinese tradition, and unlike the Maya with their calender and their languages, there are Chinese folks alive today who can tell us what the I-Ching means. So there's some serious appropriation happening here. Now, the I-Ching is a prophecy tool - in much the same way that P.T. Barnum was a psychic. If you leave your descriptions just broad and undetermined enough, the human mind will latch on to certain words and, because of the way our memory works, will either see them happen ("the prophecy said that I would be moving really fast and therefore, and now that I've got this computer, it's been proven right!" Why not a new car? A new bike? a new jet? Why not not a new set of legs or a better metabolism? Why a new computer?) or will have a random, coincidental event that fits the already vague notion of what was said "I predict that you will be moving very fast next year." Beautiful. That's not a prediction. A prediction is "You will have a new Dell XPS with 450TB of RAM and the best graphics card that money can buy" or some crap like that. Now we're talking predictions - it's something I can actively prove wrong, as opposed to something that you end up in a battle of semantics with your cousin over, because they thought "moving very fast" meant that they were predicted as breaking the land-speed record in what amounts to a STS-Space Shuttle with wheels. This is what the I-Ching is like; vague, like all so-called prophecy tools, so that you can derive your own meaning from it. Anyone claiming to use this as a tool to predict the future beyond parlor games is sorely mistaken. It's still a facet of some aspects of Chinese culture, though, and any White man taking it and saying, "hey, if I fuck with it enough, I can make it predict the end of the world. *Is awesome*" deserves to be mocked - because that's exactly what happened with Terrance McKenna. Likely with the aid of copious amounts of hallucinogenic drugs. I'll respect the I-Ching as part of tradition, but as a tool to forecast the future? Nuh uh.

All prophecies work like that, when they're not just flat out published ex post facto. This is a very real problem with most prophecies; they have the benefit of hindsight. By far the largest victim of this ex post facto words shoved in their mouth is Nostradamus. This is the very first time that I've mentioned Nostradamus on this blog, and, all things providing, it'll be the last. See, my own personal opinion on Nostradamus is that he was a political commentator from an era when political commentary wasn't allowed. Therefore, he veiled his commentary in cryptic symbolism of the period, that would be understood by the people living then but left just enough room so that he could hold his hands up and say "Whoa now. I never said that" when the authorities came knocking. The use of cryptic, symbolism-laden messages to speak to only certain groups of people is almost as old as writing and language itself, and is very well known in the modern world, going by names like "allegories" and "metaphors" and "synecdoches", among other literary terms. And just like Nostradamus, some of these political writings that are laden with cryptic symbolism are prone to being misunderstood, or their meanings redetermined, after the fact. In fact, the whole process should be sounding really familiar to you right about now.

Nostradamus is very vulnerable to this, because his quatrains are so vague, and because they have to be translated from French to English, which means there's room for translation errors, and certain figures of speech get lost in translation. This is further compounded by the fact that he comes from a bygone era where things didn't meant he same that they did now. Really; attempting to transcribe his quatrains as "prophecies" that impact the modern world is a joke. What little you get are mangled and stretched to fit the definition of what happened; why so cryptic? Why not just come out and say "John F. Kennedy will be assassinated?" It's not like the king/local baron is going to even know who that is. Saying "Lightning will fall from the sky and strike down a young leader" - this is so remarkably vague that it's not worth the time or effort to attempt to understand it, much less attempts to transcribe it to the modern era.

Now, while I have a bone to pick with all this 2012 nonsense, that's not to say I don't think the world can end. Oh heavens no; there's plenty of ways that the world can end. That's not even to say it won't end this year. 2012 might very well be the year that war is sparked in the Middle East and nuclear weapons are exchanged. I very much doubt it, even countries following Realpolitik know better than that, but hey - you never know. However, if the world does end in 2012, it won't be because the Mayans "predicted it", or because the I-Ching showed it, or because Nostradamus wrote something about fountains of fire from space burning the holy turtles. It'll be by coincidence and, failing all but the most spectacular ways of ending the world (sudden vacuum collapse, GRB, or others), we'll at least have some heads up and forewarning.

So, what do I think the future holds? It's going to get darker before it gets brighter, that's for sure, but just because things are getting harder doesn't mean we can stop pushing forward and claw for a yesterday that didn't happen. It'll get brighter - we just have to keep trying. 2012 will be an extension of the events that happened in 2011, just as 2011 was an extension of 2010, and 2010 an extension of 2009. And 2013 will be more of the same. So, happy New Years everyone. Let's work together to make 2012 a better year, so 2013 will be brighter still. And let's not hear anymore about this 2012 nonsense, alright? (Yeah, as if...)

Edit: I stand corrected about the galactic alignment. This is what I get for assuming even something so basic as this could be understood by the conspiracy theorists.

Turns out that the last galactic alignment happened some million years ago, and currently, the sun is actually moving above the galactic plain, making such an alignment impossible:

11. When most of the planets align in 2012 and planet Earth is in the center of the Milky Way, what will the effects of this be on planet Earth? Could it cause a pole shift, and if so what could we expect?

There is no planet alignment in 2012 or any other time in the next several decades. As to the Earth being in the center of the Milky Way, I don’t know what this phrase means. If you are referring to the Milky Way Galaxy, we are rather far toward the edge of this spiral galaxy, some 30,000 light years from the center. We circle the galactic center in a period of 225-250 million years, always keeping approximately the same distance. Concerning a pole shift, I also don’t know what this means. If it means some sudden change in the position of the pole (that is, the rotation axis of the Earth), then that is impossible, as noted in the answer to Question 10. What many websites do discuss is the alignment of the Earth and Sun with the center of the Milky Way in the constellation of Sagittarius. This happens every December, with no bad consequences, and there is no reason to expect 2012 to be different from any other year.

12. When the sun and the Earth line up on the galactic plane at the same time with the black whole being in the center couldn’t that cause something to happen, due to the fact that the black hole has such a strong gravitational pull.

There is a giant black hole in the center of our Milky Way galaxy, and like any concentration of mass it exerts gravitational force on the rest of the Galaxy. However, the galactic center is very far away, approximately 30,000 light years, so it has negligible effects on the solar system or the Earth. There are no special forces from the galactic plane or the galactic center. The only important force that acts on the Earth is the gravitation of the Sun and Moon. As far as the influence of the galactic plane, there is nothing special about this location. The last time the Earth was in the galactic plane was several million years ago. Claims that we are about to cross the galactic plane are untrue.

13. I am scared about the fact that the Earth will enter the Dark Rift in the Milky Way. What will this do? Will the Earth be swallowed up?

The “dark rift” is a popular name for the broad and diffuse dust clouds in the
inner arm of the Milky Way Galaxy, which block our view of the galactic
center. The entire “galactic alignment” scare is pretty crazy. Late in
December the Sun is always approximately in the direction of the center of
the Galaxy as seen from the Earth, but so what? Apparently the con-men who are trying to scare you have decided to use these meaningless phrases about “alignments” and the “dark rift” and “photon belt” precisely because they are not understood by the public. It is too bad, but there is no law against lying on the Internet or anywhere else except in a court of law. As far as the safety of the Earth is concerned, the important threats are from global warming and loss of biological diversity, and perhaps someday from collision with an asteroid or comet, not the pseudoscientific claims about 2012.
And from here:
Have you heard anyone mention that the Sun is supposed to be crossing the galactic plane in 2012? Yeah, that’s a myth. Here’s the thing. The Sun does bob up and down in the galactic plane. Sometimes we’re above the plane, and then other times we’re below the plane. But that cycle takes 64 million years to complete! It’s impossible to define the exact moment of when the Solar System will pass exactly through the galactic plane.
And astronomers don’t think that anything special will happen when the Solar System does pass through the galactic plane. In fact, it’s the times when the Earth is above or below the galactic plane when we might be at risk. A recent scientific study correlated those times with large extinction events in the Earth’s history. It’s possible that the Milky Way’s magnetic field protects the Earth from intergalactic radiation and cosmic rays, and when we’re significantly above or below the galactic plane, life on Earth suffers more damage from space radiation.
So in the future, I will know to take nothing I hear from these people at face value (a lesson I should already know, but hey...)

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