This week in the End of the World

This week in the End of the World February 17, 2013

This week we had a large meteor ripping across the sky over Chelyabinsk, Russia, which is just exactly the sort of spectacular event that gets people talking about the End of the World.

But then people don’t really need anything so spectacular to get them talking about the End of the World — it’s a popular topic, and an obsessive one, for millions even on days when we don’t have multiple dash-cam videos of terror from the skies. Since Phil Plait literally wrote the book on Death From the Skies, I’ll let him explain what you’re seeing in those videos and how it relates to Friday’s other close-encounter with an extraterrestrial visitor.

The fact that this occurred over Russia reminded many of us of Russia’s earlier, more devastating encounter with a meteor — the Tunguska event of 1908. John McKay wrote about that on its 100th anniversary and he reposted that essay Friday.

This explosion in the skies above Russia also prompted a daunting reminder from BooMan that the End of the World is far less likely to come from a meteor or asteroid than from ourselves:

We’re lucky that people have cameras and that Russia has sophisticated radar and the ability to quickly test radiation levels. Because fifty years ago, a meteorite like the one that hit in the Ural Mountains today might have caused World War Three and ended all our lives. Forever.

Joe Hanson notes that events like the Chelyabinsk meteor “are not rare in Earth’s atmosphere, happening at least once per decade.” That makes them almost routine compared to the resignation of a pope — the other big event that had people talking about signs of The End this week.

Here are a few other recent items related, one way or another, to the End of the World:

• John R. Coats at The Huffington Post on “What’s Real About the Rapture?

• “20 Actual Facts About Kirk Cameron That Sound Like April Fool’s Jokes” (both of those via AZspot)

• This came up in my Google reader this week: “Nicolas Cage Ž confirmado em remake de Deixados para Tr‡s, confira p™ster

O primeiro cartaz do remake de Deixados para Tr‡s (“Left Behind”) foi divulgado e confirma o astro Nicolas Cage no papel principal. O filme Ž uma refilmagem do longa-metragem hom™nimo de 2001, que por sua vez Ž uma adapta‹o da sŽrie de livros da dupla Jerry B. Jenkins e Tim LaHaye.

I never realized until just now that I could read Portugese.

Or SpanishOr French.

• Libby Anne on “Growing Up Evangelical at the End of the World

“Dad, when do you think the rapture will happen?”

“Oh, probably in the next five or ten years.”

I was eleven. Eleven.

• Doktor Zoom of Wonkette continues a tour of the textbooks used by fundamentalist Christian homeschoolers, finishing up the A Beka Book publication, World History and Cultures in Christian Perspective.

And what do youngsters learn from their Beka Book history lesson? That the UN is a menace dragging us toward an Antichrist-led one world government that will rule until Jesus comes back:

The movement toward world government and the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East have great significance to those who study world history and cultures in Christian perspective. We are reminded that this tiny region where history began will also be the scene of history’s final events, when Christ returns in triumph to defeat the forces of Satan and to establish Jerusalem as the center of the kingdom of God on Earth. The Scriptures assure us that Christ will bring lasting peace to this troubled area and will personally rule the entire world in righteousness for a thousand years before crushing the final rebellion and ending world history. Knowing this, and knowing the earth-shaking events that will precede the reign of Christ, Christians can view current events with confidence, thrilling at the fulfillment of prophecy and continually endeavoring to be salt and light to a needy world until Christ, the Center of all history returns for His own.

• If you think those last two items just reflect fringe views that don’t affect the rest of America, then please read Andrew Sullivan’s post on how End Times, “Bible prophecy” ideas have shaped the debate over our next Secretary of Defense. Sullivan quotes from Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe:

I believe very strongly that we ought to support Israel; that it has a right to the land. This is the most important reason: Because God said so. … That is God talking. … This is not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true.

• Is it a sign that the end is near when the Holy Land brings in the closer?




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  • Yeah, it’s true – she was/is a looker.
    I always get her mixed up with the actress who married Scott Bakula.
    Chelsea…Noble, maybe?
    The one who played Teela in the live-action Masters of the Universe movie.
    Edit: See? I continue to get them confused. Is it Chelsea Field?
    Edit 2: Yep, Field.

  • Turcano

    Why didn’t someone point out to Cameron that they could swap him out for Willie Aames and no one would notice?

    Well, except for a possible uptick in acting talent.

  • hidden_urchin

    They were probably worried that he would sue for religious discrimination or something. That’s the only thing I can think of because, in addition to your point, I always heard producers outranked actors when it came to creative decisions.

  • caryjamesbond

    With such people, it is often helpful to point them towards the blobfish as the triumph of evolution it is.

    Any organism, from a virus to a bluewhale to a human to a blobfish, has one inherent purpose- pass on its genes.  That is it.  The mechanisms for doing so are incredibly complex and often strange, but boil down to the same thing.*

    So the blobfish- it lives in extremely deep waters. It’s environment is about as unchanging as you can get. Freezing cold, intense pressure, no light, barely any nutrients. So it drifts, eats whatever it bumps into, stores virtually no nutrients in its body (making it not worth chasing) and is almost the consistency of water (reducing its energy expenditure and probably making it harder to hunt.)  In any other environment- terrible adaptation. In incredibly deep water- a magnificent example of evolution.  It is perfectly adapted to the exact stresses of its environment.  Stresses which are not likely to change.  deep oceans are deep oceans- I seriously doubt that the deep oceans of 100 million years ago had significantly different conditions than those of today. 

    We live in extremely varied environments that change much more rapidly, so the ability to adapt is most useful to us- and thats what we do, adapt.  We live happily everywhere from arctic wastes to Amazonian tree-villages. That means we’re one of the most successful species at passing down genes. I look at glasses and other such aids  as essentially, removing a stress from the habitat. Glasses have made bad eyesight neutral where evolution is concerned. 

  • Carstonio

     Yes. I don’t see much difference in evolutionary terms between beavers’ ability to bring down trees to build homes and humans’ ability to build civilizations. Both are adaptations. “Breaking” evolution is a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept. The claims you criticize are really Social Darwinist.

  • No, not by mundane ‘contact’.  But the universe would collapse if the pope had sex with an antipope. 

    This is actually a bigger danger  than you’d think, since every new Pope must access the Vatican Time machine and make love to his  immediate predessesor, Innocent III, and Simon Peter himself before being formally crowned.  So there are actually four or five living Popes walking around in most time loops and it’s only a matter of when before one of them gets fatally confused. 

    A lot of good men had to die for me to learn this information. 

  • arcseconds

     I think this sort of thinking is connected with the idea that evolution is about ‘improving’ creatures —  making them harder, better, faster, stronger.

    (and caryjamesbond’s example of the blobfish is indeed a remedy for that, but there’s plenty of others! take any sessile animal, for example. sometimes evolution makes you slow, soft and squishy.)

    The view pretends to be based on science, but commits the naturalistic fallacy and projects values onto us and nature all over the place.  Evolution *betters* things, we *should* be *bettering* ourselves as a species, we *should* be trying to make the environment in which we grow and live (i.e. civilization) more like the environment which shaped us, harshness is *good*, soft easy lives are *bad*.  

    (It’s obviously got a lot of values in common with social darwinism, as Castenio points out, but it’s not actually social darwinism.  This perspective has eugenics as an obvious solution, and it’s possible to be both a eugenicist and a socialist: give breeding rights to ‘the best stock’, but keep everyone happy even if infertile)

    To really ‘break’ evolution would mean that there is no selection whatsoever happening on us, and I don’t even know what that would look like.   You can see selection happening all the time.  Lots of people don’t breed for any one of a number of reasons.   People with genetic disorders often don’t breed, sometimes by choice, sometimes because they can’t, sometimes because they don’t get an opportunity.  A world without selection would require that neither survival nor breeding are at all statistically correlated with ones genes.  As selection happens even prior to conception, at minimum this would require the process from meiosis onwards be carried out as a careful laboratory procedure.   We’d also have to allow every sperm/ova pair that’s randomly selected to produce a new human to itself be able to produce offspring — no matter how unviable the resulting embryo.

  • Wasn’t Alan Thicke on Growing Pains ?  Wasn’t he kind of popular?  Couldn’t he or someone else step forward to stop Cameron’s reign of terror?

    At the very least, Thicke needs to come on back and ground that boy. “Go to your room! And don’t come out until you’re 50! …Give me that cell phone.” swipe! “And don’t you let me catch you posting to the Internet while you’re up there, either.” mutters “‘Way of the Master’…? Of all the nonsense–Hey! Quit stomping or I’ll come up there and stomp YOU!”

  • I think if someone had sat Kirk Cameron down the day he started insistently pushing around his religion like Rayford does in the LB books, and told him that his behavior was plainly unacceptable and would not be indulged, he would have learned a valuable lesson: That being a pushy asshat to get what one wants is just not on.

    It would definitely have taught a lesson one generally learns: that social graces include being able to ask nicely for things and be able to take “no” for an answer.

    I think being laughed at over that ‘proposal’ for some kind of wayward trio helped deflate Kirk’s ego a bit, but it doesn’t seem to have set him sufficiently in the direction of non-asshattiness and compassion for others (as witness his ignorant remarks about QUILTBAG people).

  • P J Evans

     It must have been fun, the year that there were three popes.

  • AnonymousSam

    Indeed. You couldn’t predict their trajectory after more than a few units of time.

  • Jenny Islander

    Glasses were hailed as the best thing to happen to humankind since something or other (the invention of steel?) within a few decades of their invention.  Seriously, somebody preached a sermon on this exact topic.  It’s been hypothesized that without eyeglasses the Renaissance would not have been so vigorous.  Their market grew rapidly, considering the infrastructure, because everybody who saw them in use could grasp their usefulness instantly.  People didn’t have to retire as their eyes changed in their old age, so they could keep on working, inventing, teaching, creating.  It’s been hypothesized that the Renaissance would not have been so vigorous, or have begun when it did, without eyeglasses–it is often dated to about the time when they became available throughout Europe.

    As for the superiority of being out in nature–people who are “out in nature” today are only out there because they have technology!  Take an African hunter-gatherer who can survive with a bow and arrows and a toolkit small enough to carry on his belt.  Take away his bow and arrows and his toolkit.  What happens? He is forced into a miserable scavenging existence until he can make more weapons and tools, and if he can’t find the materials to make more weapons  and tools, he dies.  We don’t even think about the technological advances that were required for us to be able to colonize parts of our planet at all.  Without a complex, painstakingly maintained, and meticulously taught technological package, pre-industrial Eskimos would have died within minutes in their own ancestral homeland.

    Technology has been used to trump physiology for as long as we have been human, and any Social Darwinist who fantasizes about surviving in the raw wilderness with nothing but his bare hands and his mighty brain is stupid.

  • Jenny Islander

    Hit Post before done editing, my apologies.

  • Rae

    That Russian meteor totally made me want to invest in a dash cam, or at least a dashboard mount for a cheap flip cam. Not that it’s likely that it’ll catch any other meteors, but there’s been enough times driving in LA that I’ve seen something awesome and hilarious and wished I could film or photograph it…

    And those Christian history textbooks… I used a slightly earlier edition of that exact textbook and the science textbooks by the same publisher. How in the world did I end up a well-adjusted adult, with a real science degree?

  • flat

    people like kirk Cameron and justin Bieber were the reason when I was young I never wanted to be a celebrity.

  • All through the middle ages, there were sworn legions of knight-priests roving the countrysides of Europe to prevent the pope and the antipope from every running into one another.

    OK, I’m saving that to use in a D&D campaign someday.

    Also, I’ve got a line in an Avengers fanfic where Natasha can’t go undercover anymore because, as Tony puts it, “Every New Yorker with a smart phone posted something to YouTube – can’t say much for their survival instincts.”

  • Emilyoren1

    The most important thing for a certain very large group of Christians in the U.S. to do is slut-shame. The only thing that approaches the centrality of slut-shaming in their belief system is homophobia. Standing on street corners shouting at female college students that they’re whore-sluts who are going to hell; getting co-workers fired for showing their bodies, if those co-workers are women; claiming that female virginity before marriage is the only important thing about women before marriage, and rests in the hymen, while male virginity isn’t even a thing; claiming that a married woman exists to service her husband, period; rape cheerleading; hating any woman who shows any sign of sexuality.

    I would have been shocked if I found out a vocal celebrity Christian in this country opposed firing any woman who had posed in Playboy. Or who had talked favorably of masturbation for women. Or who said she did not want children. Or who had had sex with people she was not married to, and did not pretend to regret it.

  • christopher_y

    It must have been fun, the year that there were three popes.

    What, 1978? Oh. You mean three at the same time?

  • Sure, they even made a film about it, well, sort of, just check out the link:

  • BaseDeltaZero

    How on Earth did acting lead to Kirk Cameron thinking this was in any way divine providence?

    For Kirk Cameron, acting might as well be an act of divine intervention.

    He ties Darwin’s theory to Nazi eugenics.

    FUCK YOU Kirk Cameron, you contemptible jackass!

    To be fair, eugenics, Nazi or otherwise, is somewhat based on ‘Darwin’s Theory’… it’s just that it’s what happens when you apply an utter lack of morality to an incomplete understanding of evolution.  (And you’re totally right in saying Darwin would have disapproved)

    If a Pope and an Antipope come into contact, do they annihilate each other in an explosion of grace?

    If by ‘grace’ you mean Alpha and Omega radiation, then yes.

    “And, for the record, natural selection and evolution seem to have been pretty kind to those who tell them to go fuck themselves.  It got us here, after all,”

    ‘Them’ being natural selection and evolution, rather than ‘the weak’, I take it?

    To really ‘break’ evolution would mean that there is no selection whatsoever happening on us, and I don’t even know what that would look like.

    Complete transhumanist self-selection, either genetic or mechanical?  If you have that kind of level of control over one’s ‘genetics’, then…
    A: You lose the connection of ‘fitness’ to ‘ancestry’.
    B: It’s not a ‘natural’ mechanism in any event.

  • eugenics, Nazi or otherwise, is somewhat based on ‘Darwin’s Theory’.

    Can you expand on this further? Animal breeders existed for a long time before Darwin, and it seems to me that eugenics can easily be based on the knowledge underlying animal breeding.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    Partially, yes.  But the modern ‘science’ of Eugenics is explicitly based on evolutionary theory (according to its own founder).  The fact that it’s not precisely what one would call moral, and based on a drastic underestimation of how difficult it is to accurately predict the effects of its ‘interventions’, is irrelevant to that fact.

    Just like the Westboro Baptist Church is ‘based on’ the Gospel.

  •  Ah, so when you talk about eugenics you’re referring specifically to Galton and his followers? Fair enough.


    To be fair, eugenics, Nazi or otherwise, is somewhat based on
    ‘Darwin’s Theory’… it’s just that it’s what happens when you apply an
    utter lack of morality to an incomplete understanding of evolution.
     (And you’re totally right in saying Darwin would have disapproved)

    Yes. Nazi eugenics is part of a long tradition of radically misunderstanding and misapplying evolutionary theory.

    The same tradition that leads to the ridiculous pronouncements of folks like Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort.

    (I need to save this as a response. The next time someone pulls out “You know who else believed in evolution? The Nazis,” I can respond, “You know who else radically misunderstood and misrepresented how evolution worked in order to score cheap political points?”)

  • The most important thing for a certain very large group of Christians in the U.S. to do is slut-shame.

    You know what we need to do?  We need to start a culture of slut-shaming-shaming.  If people start mouthing off about other people being sexual degenerates who are tearing the moral fabric of the nation apart  then we need to start booing them and calling them judgmental assholes who ought to know better.  For shame, shame!

  • Lori

    I always thought the harsh fact about Hollywood was that there were
    always hundreds of equally good-looking actors out there just hoping for
    a break; ready to step into someone else’s shoes at a moment’s notice (e.g. Willie
    Aames, who looks to me to be a Cameron clone).

    This is true when you’re getting started, but doesn’t really apply once you’re a phenom. Hollywood likes a bird in the hand. Once CamCam got on the cover of Tiger Beat there was very little chance that he would fired, no matter how terrible his behavior. Spoiled brats of all ages are thick on the ground in the business.

      I’ll bet there were
    other actors out there.  Too bad the show didn’t have the courage to
    call his bluff. 

    They didn’t need Willie Aames or some unknown, they had Leonardo DiCaprio. He had actual talent, even then, and from what I’ve heard he’s never been a PITA. What they should have done was fired Cameron, writen Mike off the show and focused on DiCaprio’s character. In retrospect I bet the writers and producers really wish that’s what they’d done.

  • Lori

    Wow, Chelsea Field and Scott Bakula are still married. That’s so sweet. Hollywood marriage years are like dog years, so 17 for them is the equivalent of about 50 for normal people. Go them.

  • Mark Z.

    For all his teen-heartthrob self-contained-punchline-ness, Justin Bieber seems to be a pretty decent guy. He doesn’t belong in the same sentence with Kirk “I demand that you fire this slut that I somehow know appeared in Playboy, not that I read it or anything” Cameron.

  • KevinC

    Is it just me, or does that poster at the top express the spirit of Left Behind perfectly?  The plane has crashed, the city behind it is burning.  People are dead and dying and bleeding and crying–but hey, would you look at that?  High Status White Man in a Suit is just fine, thank you very much.  And feast your eyes on how dramatically he’s posed in front of the mass misery and suffering of others while doing absolutely nothing to help!  Whew!  That’s a relief!  I was worried the End of the World might be depressing.  I sure hope his cell phone still works.  ‘Cause if it was broke, or not getting any bars, that would be a tragedy!

  • That said, Bieber has availed himself of problematic statements about abortion.

  • His suit looks pretty rumpled and he looks a bit shell-shocked.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     I have to ask… if this guy is the Third Eagle of the Apocalypse, what happened to the First and Second?

  • Mark Z.

    Ah, “problematic”. The prized white ermine of weasel words.

    “Problematic” is a great word for passive-aggressive scolding, because it has no factual content. If you said “wrong”, then you’d have to show how his statements don’t line up with reality. If you said “harmful”, the obvious question is “what harm did he do?” If you said “ignorant”, you’d need to show how he’s displaying a lack of understanding.

    But “problematic” can’t be argued with. It’s a naked assertion of social power: I declare that you are a problem. And you don’t have to be wrong, or harmful, or ignorant, or foolish, or hateful, to be a problem. It’s just a way of whipping up the mob against someone.

    When one of the monkeys does something we don’t like, we throw shit at him. “Problematic” is flying shit in a four-syllable word.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Justin Bieber’s statement about abortion, quoted in full as presented in the article linked in the comment you reply to:

    “I really don’t believe in abortion,” Bieber says. “It’s like killing a baby?”

    That statement is problematic because women have the right to do as they like with their bodies, in particular making sure nothing is in their bodies that is not welcome, and also fetuses are by definition not babies. Bieber is welcome to think that killing a fetus is like killing a baby, provided he understands that ‘is like’ is not ‘is’ and that he does not have the right to say that anyone other than himself is forbidden from evicting a fetus from inside them (an experience he will not, of course, ever have). I doubt he understands that.

    There, laid out at least some of the reasons why Bieber’s statement about abortion is problematic. Am I still throwing meaningless shit by saying ‘problematic’?

  • Mark Z.

    Yes. You haven’t disputed any factual claims he made, because he didn’t make any; you haven’t criticized any action he’s taking or proposing to take, because, again, he didn’t. You have expressed doubt that he understands something. I suppose, on some level, you’re accusing him of ignorance. But the word you use is not “ignorant”, but, perversely, stupidly, like some kind of Turing-test chatbot written by a USC undergrad and trained on the comments section at Shakesville, “problematic”.

    (And he certainly does have the right to say that anyone other than himself is forbidden from having an abortion. He just doesn’t have the right to try to stop them. I can’t say I follow the life of Justin Bieber in great detail, but if he had chained himself to the doors of a women’s health clinic I probably would have heard about that.)

  • Trixie_Belden

    Thank you for that link.  I still remember the joy of discovering SCTV one day while I was idly flipping channels.

  •  Now, I’ve had some very liberal women defend Bieber based on the notion that he’s young and his statement was pretty mild and that hopefully he’ll wise up in time.

    But me, I just can’t get past the idea that, somewhere, there’s a very frightened fifteen year old girl who thinks that Justin Bieber just called her a murderer.

  • vsm

    So do you always do this when someone utters the word problematic, or…?

  • EllieMurasaki

    The word I used is ‘problematic’ because his opinion poses a problem. I went on to explain exactly why his opinion poses a problem, which I thought addressed your objection to the use of ‘problematic’ without explaining what the problem is. I suppose I skipped the bit where Bieber is old enough to vote for pro-forced-birth politicians who make pro-forced-birth laws, but silly me thought that was fucking obvious.

    And if actions and factual claims are the only things that count, what exactly do you object to about ‘problematic’? I haven’t heard anything from you about actions you plan to take and I sure as hell haven’t heard any factual claims. Just a whole bunch of bullshit.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I just wanna know what’s actually problematic about ‘problematic’. Far’s I can tell, the word doesn’t hurt anyone, he just doesn’t want it used on account of it describes too broad a concept. Well, yeah. It describes a broad concept we don’t otherwise have a word for. It’s not wrong, for example, to have a piece of media that focuses on heterocis white men to the near exclusion of everyone else, but it’s problematic, especially in context of a thousand pieces of similar media and only a handful that are different. It’s problematic, to narrow the focus some more, that most of Supernatural’s black male characters are antagonists and every one of them is dead, but I find it hard to argue that it’s wrong.

    We need a word for the concept of ‘poses a problem but isn’t inherently wrong’. ‘Problematic’ suits. What’s wrong with the word?

  • > But “problematic” can’t be argued with.

    Certainly it can. Many things in the world aren’t in the least bit problematic, and to claim that they are is to make a false claim, and therefore one which can be argued.

    But, sure, I agree that “problematic” is a weaker claim than “wrong” or “harmful”, and therefore more difficult to disprove or challenge.

    And I guess if it’s very important to you to be able to disprove or challenge people’s claims, I can understand why you consider that… um… suboptimal.

  • I assume that the piss in their Cheerios derives from the fact that stronger claims like wrong are easier to challenge, and they prefer conversational styles that make it easier to challenge people.

  • vsm

    I meant to reply to Mark Z. I don’t find problematic problematic at all. Well, I suppose it’s annoying if someone just says a given work is problematic without explaining further (which is not what Invisible Neutrino did, because the link makes it clear enough), but that applies to any negative label. Here it’s just a bit more pronounced because of how vague the word is. Say, if I called Psycho queerphobic, readers would probably guess I was talking about Norman’s portrayal, but if I just called it problematic, I might be referring to anything from the whole sex=murder thing to its depiction of Arizona.

    However, I’ve found that most people who regularly use the word tend to love a bit of media analysis, and are thus usually happy to explain their problem without prodding.

  • I did rather think the link explained all I needed to say on the matter.

    Anyway, as an addendum, yes, Bieber is young, and hopefully with some age he’ll understand more about the troubles that face young women and come to grasp that his initial views on abortion were hurtful.