It’s All So Fragile

I just read something very exciting on the National Geographic website. It seems that the Mayan city of Tikal and its environs in Guatemala were much, much, MUCH larger than we previously thought. All this time, we were thinking the area was home to about 5 million people during the Maya classic period between 250 and 900 AD, when in fact it was more likely that this civilization’s population was about 10-15 million. That’s much more densely populated than medieval England was.

How did we reach this conclusion? Scholars used LiDAR, which is a sort of penetrating radar that can look through the vegetation to see previously undiscovered structures. (Check out the photos in that NatGeo article. They’re really quite fascinating.) They were able to find the ruins of more than 60,000 houses, palaces, and elevated highways.

Holy cow, talk about a booming metropolis. To put that in context, cities about that size today include Bangkok, Thailand; Los Angeles, USA; Cairo, Egypt; Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India. Clearly there was a lot more going on in the Tikal area than we previously imagined.

And how exciting for archeologists! It will take decades to sort through all this LiDAR data, and even longer to clear the growth off the buildings of interest. This is quite a breakthrough. We have so much more to learn about this ancient culture! There are some pyramids in there that are 7 stories high that you can’t see even when you are standing right in front of them. Now, they just look like jungle-y hills, lost in the underbrush.

That, to me, is mind-blowing. Imagine. If we abandoned Los Angeles for a thousand years, it would be so overgrown that no one would even know it was there!

That’s sobering. I mean, we walk around thinking that we are living in the realm of permanence, that we’ve made our mark and staked our claim on the earth, that our skyscrapers will last forever. In fact, from a cosmic perspective, all this stuff is fleeting. It’s here, but not for long. Not really. Someday it will be unrecognizable. The dry cleaner’s across the street will not even be there in 50 years, let alone 500 years. This moment in time won’t  be remembered, eventually.

It’s all so fragile. That makes the now seem all the more precious. I don’t know about you, but it has me looking at things with fresh eyes. Who wants to go to Tikal with me?

Tikal

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Doomsday Postponed: The Antidote for All This Holiday Cheer

Well we survived the Mayan Apocalypse. Whew! What a load off the shoulders of all those doomsday preppers out there. Or is it? I mean, once you get past the feeling of being a total fool, what do you do for fun?

Here’s the thing, people: the end of the world has apparently been coming for a long, long time. The first prediction I can find through my lazy Google search was for 634 BC. Apparently a lot of Romans thought that 12 eagles had revealed some mystical number that was supposed to represent the lifetime of Rome, and people arbitrarily decided that that each eagle represented 10 years, so Rome was supposed to be destroyed 120 years after its founding. I wonder how you prepare for the end of the world in an era when you don’t have canned goods?

There were many predictions that the world would end on December 31, 1999, but this kind of millennium prediction is, apparently, old hat, because the same thing happened 1000 years previously. Even the Pope at the time was in on that prediction, causing riots throughout Europe. Boy, I bet Pope Sylvester II felt awfully sheepish the next day. Doomsday predictions based on calendars that are made up, often quite arbitrarily, by humans make me laugh. (See more about that in my previous blog entry entitled “I’ve Got Your Number. Right here. https://theviewfromadrawbridge.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/ive-got-your-number-right-here/ )

Oh these pesky, impetuous popes! The ironically named Pope Innocent III predicted that the world would end 666 years after the beginning of Islam. So we should have been toast in the year 1284. Honestly? Is this responsible behavior for God’s Representative on Earth? I don’t think so!

But the funniest predictions, if you ask me, are from the people or groups whom I call “revisers”. These are people who have the audacity to push the date further out into the future when their previous predictions don’t come to pass. Case in point, the Bible Student Movement, the group responsible for originating those delightful Watch Tower tracts that get stuffed under your windshield wipers at strip malls to this day, has predicted that the world would end in 1874, and then (oops!) 1878, and then (our bad) 1881, and then (we mean it this time, really we do) 1908, and then (seriously) 1914, 1916, 1918, 1920, and 1925. For crying out loud, people! What’s it going to take for you to stop getting sucked in to this stuff?

The Jehovah’s Witnesses branched off from the Bible Student Movement, and jumped right on the doomsday bandwagon. They have predicted our ruin would occur in the years 1941, 1975, 1984, and then they wised up and got more vague and said it would all be over “sometime” before 2000. Well, so much for that. And yet I still get these people knocking on my door. When is THAT going to end? That’s what *I* want to know.

Another one I find amusing is Elizabeth Claire Prophet. She was the leader of the Church Universal and Triumphant. She became convinced that the Russians would start a nuclear attack and had her followers spend millions building an enormous fallout shelter. But we all know that construction projects are rarely, if ever, completed on time, so when the bunker wasn’t done by the predicted date of the nuclear attack, she simply revised the date. You’d think that would have been a bit of a red flag, but no. When the structure was finally completed, everyone took shelter and waited for the explosions, which, of course, never came. Not surprisingly, the movement lost a lot of followers after that, including her own son. Search her on youtube and you’ll see a lot of interesting footage of her in full military garb, or speaking in tongues. She came by her flair for languages honestly, though, as she claimed to have been previously incarnated as Nefertiti, Queen Guinevere of Camelot (apparently she was real after all), St. Theresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Sienna and Marie Antoinette. She died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2009, leaving behind a big ol’ honkin’ fallout shelter in Montana, in case you and a couple thousand of your friends should ever need one.

Okay, so I have been poking fun at all these doomsday chumps, but sadly, these predictions can have a very negative and sometimes tragic fallout, if you’ll excuse the pun. People often spend a great deal of time and money preparing for an end that never comes. They also warp their children into living a life of fear and anxiety and paranoia. And even worse are the predictions that lead to death. On March 26, 1997, Marshall Applewhite and 38 of his followers in the Heaven’s Gate Cult committed mass suicide so that they could be picked up by a space ship and live lives at “a level of existence above human”.

Of course, I have no answers for all of this, and I’m certainly not going to make any predictions. I just know that there are a lot of people with anxiety disorders in the world, and there are even more people who are so desperate for answers that they’re willing to follow those people. I prefer not knowing the date of my demise. If the bombs are going to fall, I’d rather have them drop right on my head while I’m living my life to the fullest.

Jacksonville, Florida: America’s Best Kept Secret

Since we all seem to have survived the Mayan Apocalypse, it’s time to climb out of our bomb shelters and live a little. Get on the road. See the sights. For those of you who are in the mood for a road trip, Jacksonville is that big city that you drive through on Interstate 95 on your way to Disney World. Very few people bother stopping here. It’s like we’re the world’s biggest small town.

In fact, the greater Jacksonville area is home to well over a million people, and yet it seems like no one has ever heard of it, unless they follow the Jacksonville Jaguars. Over 800 square miles, It’s also the largest city in land mass in the United States. When you land at the Jacksonville airport you don’t even SEE our skyscrapers, because the runways are so far north of downtown. That has to be disconcerting if you’re a first time visitor.

Some fun facts about Jacksonville:

  • Elvis Presley did his first indoor performance here, at the Florida Theater. The show was monitored by a judge to make sure his hips didn’t get out of hand, so to speak.
  • Florida Theater also used to show movies, and it was the first theater in the world to serve popcorn.
  • Jacksonville used to have a huge movie industry. There were more than 30 studios here. The Creature from the Black Lagoon was filmed here. Which tells you all you need to know about the health of our waterways.
  • We have contributed to the world of music in many ways. Pat Boone was from Jacksonville, as were the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, .38 Special and Limp Bizkit (are you getting the impression that we have issues with spelling?) and the disk Jockey Rick Dees. We also host the second largest jazz festival in the country, and one of the oldest and largest blues festivals.
  • In fact, Lynyrd Skynyrd took its name from a teacher who gave them a hard time, the late Leonard Skinner. He was a teacher at Lee High School, and was also, briefly, a bridgetender at one of the bridges that I work on.
  • We were put on the map briefly in 1988 due to the Morning Glory Funeral Home scandal. 36 decomposing bodies were discovered in the funeral home, most of which were stuffed in a closet, and some had been there for over 10 years. Later they found multiple bodies buried in single caskets in the local paupers cemetery. The funeral director was convicted for taking money for funerals that were never performed, and the regulations on Florida funeral homes became much stricter after that.
  • For 11 years, Jacksonville was the murder capital of Florida, but crime has gone down of late, probably due in part to the closing of one Navy base, and the fact that the other two are practically ghost towns now, due to wars overseas.
  • The first Burger King was located in Jacksonville.
  • The St. Johns River cuts through town and empties into the Atlantic Ocean here. The river runs north, just like the Nile.
  • We are home to the largest concrete cable-supported bridge in the world.
  • Professional golfers Mark McCumber, Fred Funk, Vijay Singh, and David Duval are from here.
  • The list of NFL players from Jacksonville is so long that naming them here would be tedious.

There are plenty of things to see and do in Jacksonville, but if you’re reading this blog then I’m sure you know how to Google, too, so we won’t get into that here. Just know that if you drive through on the way to Disney, it might be worth stopping after all.

I’ve Got Your Number. Right Here.

Well, everyone, I’ve got sad news. Today is 12/12/12, and it’s the last day any of us will see a triple date like that in our lifetimes. How sad. I’m sure to some people it’s even very significant, perhaps life-threatening. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there is a doomsday cult out there somewhere huddled in a bunker, waiting for the rest of us to be charred to a crisp so they can take over.

Here’s the thing about dates, though: they’re created by humans. And there’s more than one calendar out there, some still in use, some not. There’s the Julian calendar, the Gregorian calendar, the Chinese calendar, the Hebrew calendar, the Hindu calendar, the Islamic calendar, the Roman calendar, several different Egyptian calendars, the Unix calendar, the Ethiopian calendar, the Thai Solar calendar, Buddhist calendar, and the Baha’i calendar, and heaven help us all, the Mayan calendar. Many cultures rely on more than one calendar at the same time.

To further complicate things, some cultures start the week with Sunday, others with Monday. And in some countries, people write their dates day/month/year, and in others it’s month/day/year. And don’t even get me started on holidays. Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. Before President Lincoln straightened us all out here in America, Thanksgiving was celebrated on any one of a variety of dates, depending upon the state in which you lived.

In most Western cultures, our year is based on the date of Jesus’ birth. The problem with that is no one knows precisely when he was born. We could very well be as much as 7 years off. And in ancient times, it was speculated that his birth month was January, March, April, May or November. We finally settled on December 25th as it coincides with the southern solstice.

The starting year in Japan is based on when the current emperor began his rule. So 2012, for them, is the 24th year of the Emperor Akihito. Although rarely used in these modern times, this year in China could be either 4649, 4709 or 4710.

And no system is perfect. We make leap year adjustments, and there’s even a leap second on the atomic clock. When we adjusted to the Gregorian Calendar in England and America in 1752, we lost 11 whole days, and there was actually rioting in the streets.

So next time someone panics like it’s Y2K, or if you’ve cancelled your manicure appointment because the Mayan calendar is coming to an end in 9 days, remember: it’s all relative. Personally, I don’t worry about it much, because I’m a Capricorn.

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