Countdown to Mayan apocalypse on December 21

Harold Camping’s end of the world prediction did not take place, but now we are approaching the New Age equivalent.  The calendar of the ancient Mayans has time running out on our December 21, 2012.  A range of New Agers, including flying saucer cultists, have picked up the theme.  And in those secularist bastions of Europe, Russia, and China, panic is spreading.  From the London Telegraph:

Ahead of December 21, which marks the conclusion of the 5,125-year “Long Count” Mayan calendar, panic buying of candles and essentials has been reported in China and Russia, along with an explosion in sales of survival shelters in America. In France believers were preparing to converge on a mountain where they believe aliens will rescue them.

The precise manner of Armageddon remains vague, ranging from a catastrophic celestial collision between Earth and the mythical planet Nibiru, also known as Planet X, a disastrous crash with a comet, or the annihilation of civilisation by a giant solar storm.

In America Ron Hubbard, a manufacturer of hi-tech underground survival shelters, has seen his business explode.”We’ve gone from one a month to one a day,” he said. “I don’t have an opinion on the Mayan calendar but, when astrophysicists come to me, buy my shelters and tell me to be prepared for solar flares, radiation, EMPs electromagnetic pulses … I’m going underground on the 19th and coming out on the 23rd. It’s just in case anybody’s right.”

In the French Pyrenees the mayor of Bugarach, population 179, has attempted to prevent pandemonium by banning UFO watchers and light aircraft from the flat topped mount Pic de Bugarach.

According to New Age lore it as an “alien garage” where extraterrestrials are waiting to abandon Earth, taking a lucky few humans with them.

Russia saw people in Omutninsk, in Kirov region, rushing to buy kerosene and supplies after a newspaper article, supposedly written by a Tibetan monk, confirmed the end of the world.

The city of Novokuznetsk faced a run on salt. In Barnaul, close to the Altai Mountains, panic-buyers snapped up all the torches and Thermos flasks.Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian prime minister, even addressed the situation.”I don’t believe in the end of the world,” before adding somewhat disconcertingly: “At least, not this year.”

In China, which has no history of preoccupation with the end of the world, a wave of paranoia about the apocalypse can be traced to the 2009 Hollywood blockbuster “2012”.

The film, starring John Cusack, was a smash hit in China, as viewers were seduced by a plot that saw the Chinese military building arks to save humanity.

Some in China are taking the prospect of Armageddon seriously with panic buying of candles reported in Sichuan province.The source of the panic was traced to a post on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, predicting that there will be three days of darkness when the apocalypse arrives.One grocery store owner said: “At first, we had no idea why. But then we heard someone muttering about the continuous darkness.”  Shanghai police said scam artists had been convincing pensioners to hand over savings in a last act of charity.

Meanwhile in Mexico, where the ancient Mayan civilisation flourished, the end time has been seen as an opportunity. The country has organised hundreds of Maya-themed events, and tourism is expected to have doubled this year.

via Mayan apocalypse: panic spreads as December 21 nears – Telegraph.

What I want to know is, how are the Mayans supposed to know when the world will end?  What inside information are they thought to have?  At any rate, it is remarkable that people and societies that consider themselves too sophisticated for Christianity can nevertheless embrace New Age irrationalism.

So will there even be a Christmas this year?  Some people will presumably wait to do their shopping, or perhaps max out their credit cards because they won’t have to make the payments once the world ends.

We have to worry not only about the country going over the fiscal cliff but about the whole world and maybe the whole universe going over an existential cliff into the void.

But, in the words of the great Merle Travis, if we can make it through December we’ll be fine.

How to interpret “kill Americans”

The South Korean rapper Psy–whose “Gangnam Style” goofy dance moves have become the top YouTube video of all time–was once virulently anti-American.  In 2004 at an anti-Iraq war concert, he rapped these lyrics written by a South Korean metal group:

“Kill those f—— Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captive / Kill those f——- Yankees who ordered them to torture / Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law, and fathers / Kill them all slowly and painfully.”

Now he is apologizing:

“While I’m grateful for the freedom to express one’s self, I’ve learned there are limits to what language is appropriate and I’m deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted. I will forever be sorry for any pain I have caused by those words.”

My interest is not in Psy’s anti-Americanism or his violent lyrics.  I’m sure his apology is sincere.  But what gets me is his reference to “how these lyrics could be interpreted.”  He says to kill Yankees and the girls and women in their families.  In what sense is that statement in need of interpretation?  How else could those words be interpreted, other than as an exhortation to kill Americans and their families?

The notion that all language statements and assertions stand in need of interpretation and may be interpreted in many different ways–including those that contradict the explicit meaning–is wreaking all kinds of havoc.  Especially  when treating the Bible.  Theology has often become an exercise in interpreting away Biblical statements that the theologian does not agree with.

To be sure, some language calls for interpretation, but other language is clear on its face.  Some of the controversies involve questions about which is which. But even interpretation is supposed to help us understand what has been said, rather than undoing what has been said.

via Heat is on South Korean rapper Psy for anti-American rap – The Washington Post.

Short sellers’ fiscal cliff

The Bush tax cuts aren’t the only measures that expire on New Year’s Day.  So will the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007.  Without that law, homeowners who have negotiated a short sale–that is, have part of their mortgages forgiven by the lender because they are so far underwater when they sell their home–will have to count the amount chopped off their mortgage as income for tax purposes.

Say a person owes $200,000 on his house but it’s only worth in today’s market for $100,000.  If the mortgage is held by the federally regulated lender Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, there is a federal program that makes it possible for the underwater amount to be forgiven when the home is sold at market value.  So in a short sale, the person might be able to sell the home for $100,000 but be clear of the mortgage.  But after New Year’s Day, he will have to declare the $100,000 that Fannie Mae wrote off as if it were money that he actually received.  And then pay taxes on it!

Various bipartisan bills have been proposed to extend the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act, but no votes are scheduled, and it isn’t part of the package that either side is proposing in the fiscal cliff negotiations.

 

via Short sellers may be hit with big income tax bills if Washington doesn’t act – The Washington Post.

Supreme Court to rule on gay marriage

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases that may settle the legal status of gay marriage in this country.  The court will rule on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage in federal law as being between one man and one woman.  It will also rule on Proposition 8, the referendum in which California voters rejected gay marriage, only to have the vote stricken down by a federal court.

Supreme Court to hear same-sex marriage cases – The Washington Post.

What do you predict will happen?

Our legal system has long been tinkering with what marriage is supposed to be.  For example, the definition of marriage as a permanent, for-better-or-worse estate was changed by no-fault divorce laws, but I don’t recall anyone complaining much.

Gutting literature from the curriculum

Educational reform efforts in the public schools are generally well-intentioned, but once they are taken over by the educational bureaucrats they often achieve the opposite of what was intended.  A commendable concern to ensure that students have learned something from the classes they take, that they achieve certain “learning outcomes,” gave us the dumbing down of “Outcome based education.”  The “No Child Left Behind” program left behind whole schools.

The latest reform program being foisted on all public schools is “The Common Core.”  That derives from a great idea, having students learn a basic foundation of material, including reading key books.  In practice, though, the Common Core is resulting in literature being gutted from the English curriculum.

The Common Core State Standards in English, which have been adopted in 46 states and the District, call for public schools to ramp up nonfiction so that by 12th grade students will be reading mostly “informational text” instead of fictional literature. But as teachers excise poetry and classic works of fiction from their classrooms, those who designed the guidelines say it appears that educators have misunderstood them

Proponents of the new standards, including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, say U.S. students have suffered from a diet of easy reading and lack the ability to digest complex nonfiction, including studies, reports and primary documents. That has left too many students unprepared for the rigors of college and demands of the workplace, experts say.

The new standards, which are slowly rolling out now and will be in place by 2014, require that nonfiction texts represent 50 percent of reading assignments in elementary schools, and the requirement grows to 70 percent by grade 12.

Among the suggested non­fiction pieces for high school juniors and seniors are Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” “FedViews,” by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (2009) and “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management,” published by the General Services Administration. . . .

“There’s a disproportionate amount of anxiety,” said David Coleman, who led the effort to write the standards with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Coleman said educators are misinterpreting the directives.

Yes, the standards do require increasing amounts of nonfiction from kindergarten through grade 12, Coleman said. But that refers to reading across all subjects, not just in English class, he said. Teachers in social studies, science and math should require more reading, which would allow English teachers to continue to assign literature, he said. . . .

In practice, the burden of teaching the nonfiction texts is falling to English teachers, said Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University: “You have chemistry teachers, history teachers saying, ‘We’re not going to teach reading and writing, we have to teach our subject matter. That’s what you English teachers do.’ ”

Sheridan Blau, a professor at Teachers College at Columbia University, said teachers across the country have told him their principals are insisting that English teachers make 70 percent of their readings nonfiction. “The effect of the new standards is to drive literature out of the English classroom,” he said.

Timothy Shanahan, who chairs the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said school administrators apparently have flunked reading comprehension when it comes to the standards.

via Common Core State Standards in English spark war over words – The Washington Post.

So the idea is that science and other subjects would include reading in those areas.  Great idea.  But because the administrators also are not very good readers and because no one but English teachers want to require reading, the burden of requiring 70% “informational” reading is falling on English teachers,who must make room for it by cutting out literature.  So instead of reading Old Man and the Sea, students have to read “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management.”

A prank turned grim

You have probably heard about those two Australian radio hosts who called the hospital where Kate Middleton, pregnant with a future monarch of England, was being treated for severe morning sickness.  They imitated the voice of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, the grandparents, and managed to get their call transferred to the hospital room.  Very funny.  But now the nurse who took the call and was bamboozled felt so humiliated and ashamed that she has apparently committed suicide.

Anger at Australian radio station over royal hoax – Houston Chronicle.


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