Categories: Signs of the Apocalypse
Observations by and for the vaguely disenchanted.
Risking the wrath of the whatever
from high atop the thing.
In light of the Edward Snowden/NSA scandal, CBS' science fiction series Person of Interest now more closely resembles a reality show:
While not quite as memorable as "Space... the final frontier," the series' opening voice over provides a pretty good summary of the premise:
"You are being watched. The government has a secret system: a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything... violent crimes involving ordinary people. The government considers these people 'irrelevant'. We don't. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You'll never find us, but victim or perpetrator, if your number's up... we'll find you".
From the Wikipedia article on the show:
John Reese (Jim Caviezel), a former Green Beret and CIA field officer, is living as a derelict in New York City after the death of the woman he loves, and is presumed dead. He is approached by Harold Finch (Michael Emerson), a reclusive billionaire computer genius who is living under an assumed identity. Finch explains that after September 11, 2001, he built a computer system for the government that uses information gleaned from omnipresent surveillance to predict future terrorist attacks. However, Finch discovered that the computer was predicting ordinary crimes as well. The government is not interested in these results, but Finch is determined to stop the predicted crimes. He hires Reese to conduct surveillance and intervene as needed, using his repertoire of skills gained in the military and the CIA. Through a back door built into the system, Finch receives the Social Security number of someone who will be involved in an imminent crime, at which point he contacts Reese. Without knowing what the crime will be, when it will occur, or even if the person they were alerted to is a victim or perpetrator, Reese and Finch must try to stop the crime from occurring.
They are helped by NYPD Detectives Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman), a corrupt officer whom Reese coerces into helping them, and Joss Carter (Taraji P. Henson), who in early episodes investigates Reese for his vigilante activities. Although Reese arranges for Carter and Fusco to be partners in the NYPD early in the first season, neither learns that the other is also working with Finch and Reese until season two.
Periodically, the team also enlists the aid of Zoe Morgan (Paige Turco), a professional "fixer" who applies her skills to particularly difficult tasks. The series features several subplots. One significant story arc involves "HR", an organization of corrupt NYPD officers in league with budding mob boss Carl Elias (Enrico Colantoni); in the course of this arc Fusco is forced to go undercover. Another important storyline revolves around Root (Amy Acker), a psychopathic female hacker who is determined to gain access to the Machine; she asserts the device is actually God, and that she has been summoned by "her."
Ah, The Machine...
The Machine is a mass surveillance computer system programmed to monitor and analyze data from surveillance cameras, electronic communications, and audio input throughout the world. From this data, the Machine accurately predicts violent acts. Under control of the U.S. Government, its stated purpose is the identification of terrorist and their planned assaults. However, the Machine detects future violent acts of all kinds, not just terrorism. Unknown to Finch, his partner, Nathan Ingram, installed a routine called "Contingency" prior to delivering the system to the government. The covert software causes the machine to also act on non-terrorist crime. Finch is appalled that Ingram has the data sent directly to him. After Finch fails to prevent Ingram's computer-predicted murder, he further modifies the system so that "irrelevant" non-terrorism data is transmitted to him in the form of social security numbers, via coded messages over a public telephone.
Over the course of each episode, the viewer periodically sees events as a Machine-generated on-screen display of data about a character or characters: identification, activities, records, and more may be displayed. The viewer also sees a Machine-generated perspective as it monitors New York. Commercial flights are outlined by green triangles, red concentric circles indicate no-fly zones around tall buildings, and dashed boxes mark individual people. The Machine classifies the people it watches by color-coding the boxes: white for no threat or an irrelevant threat; red for perceived threats to the Machine, red-and-white for individuals predicted to be violent; and yellow for people who know about the machine, including Finch, Reese, Ingram, Corwin and Root. The white-boxed "irrelevant threat" targets include the Persons of Interest that Reese and Finch assist.
As the series progressed, a wider governmental conspiracy emerged. Known as "The Program", it revolves around the development and utilization of the Machine. Apparently led by a mysterious figure known only as "Control", an unnamed official (Jay O. Sanders) from the Office of Special Counsel begins eliminating key personnel who are aware of the Machine's existence by deploying teams of Intelligence Support Activity (ISA) operatives who believe they are acting to eliminate perceived terrorist threats on the recommendation of a department known as "Research". The members of the elimination teams are classified by the Machine using a blue box.
Person's producers have hinted the third season of the hit series, which moves to a new day and slot (Tuesdays at 10 pm, premiering on September 24) will attempt to be more, er, science fiction-y. Like all television shows, Person does have some reality-bending elements, but the suspension of disbelief level required is remarkably low. The bad guys are still lousy shots, and the key characters make miraculous recoveries from concussions, lethal injections and various forms of physical trauma, often before the show's end credits roll. But hey, it's episodic broadcast television, right?
Where the show excels is in production values and technical accuracy. While Mr. Finch's technology boasts features which are a couple software releases in the future, the indulgences can be forgiven. The show's cellular phone networks, computers, and other devices work at blinding speed. But when you have to shoehorn a rich narrative into 40 minutes of actual episode time, you really don't want to watch systems execute communication protocol negotiations in real time; trust me.
Particularly impressive is the effort the show puts into elements that have perhaps a second or two of screen time. Thanks to high definition and digital video recording, I've been able to freeze frame some of the monitor shots- and it's obvious these guys have some real-world Unix and TCP/IP knowledge. A one-second blip of a phony newspaper article reveals someone actually wrote a faux news story and, apparently, follows The AP Stylebook.
Other one-hour drama series spend eight days or less to film an episode. Person of Interest spends nine and a half, with more camera coverage, extensive location shooting, and substantial post-production work.
They spend money on this show, and it's all up on the screen. The episodes have a decided theatrical motion picture feel.
So... when planning your television viewing for the upcoming season, give Person a shot. Like certain other Warner Brothers shows, the studio hasn't made it available for free, on-demand viewing- you have to buy the DVDs or download the show from iTunes.
Just type CBS Person of Interest into Google and you'll find hundreds of useful fan sites and video clips from key episodes.
One caveat- the series is produced by J.J. Abrams of Lost fame, which means there's a chance that at some point the whole thing could take a sharp turn into stupidity. But, based on the first two seasons, it's worth the risk.
And, the regular cast includes a dog:
Categories: Amy Acker, CBS, Computers, Dogs, Edward Snowden, Enrico Colantoni, George Orwell, Google, Internet, James Clapper, Jay O. Sanders, Jim Caviezel, Kevin Chapman, Michael Emerson, NSA, Paige Turco, Peggy Noonan, Person of Interest, PRISM, Ron Wyden, Science Fiction, Signs of the Apocalypse, Taraji P. Henson, Technology, Terrorism, The Machine, TV, Video, YouTube
In case you missed it- which you probably did, since no broadcast or cable "news" organization carried it- a real-life episode of The West Wing took place in Austin, Texas yesterday and early this morning.
Texas Governor Rick Perry (R-No Kidding) had unexpectedly added to a special session of the state legislature a major anti-abortion bill that called for- among other misogynistic actions- closing all but five of the huge state's 42 clinics.
Texas state senator Wendy Davis responded with a 13-hour filibuster, a wondrous effort that simultaneously demonstrated the inherent virtue of American government and the hideous manner in which it can be distorted and abused.
When it appeared the Republicans had managed to silence her by citing a series of disingenuous "rules" violations, the legislature was stopped dead in its tracks when enraged citizens in the gallery howled, sang, and shouted the proceedings to a halt. It was sheer pandemonium. And a thing of beauty.
You can find the sordid details in assorted places- here, for one- but unless you were following on Twitter or a live stream on YouTube or some other site, you wouldn't have known the senate of one of the largest states in the union was violating its own constitution and doing so while hundreds of enraged citizens in the gallery screamed in protest.
For while the very principles of a sovereign constitutional republic were being mocked and circumvented by scheming, reprehensible ideologues, CNN- The Network For News, mind you- was airing this:
To quote my sainted grandfather, "I shit you not."
Pardon my French.
I didn't expect Fox News to carry anything, of course- and they didn't. But even liberal-tilted MSNBC was airing reruns of the evening's earlier commentary shows.
In the meantime, things got even more bizarre in Texas. Their constitution requires votes on bills to be completed before special sessions expire. The Texas senate's website originally noted the bill was passed on 6/26/2013, after the midnight deadline.
No problem. They just changed the date of the vote on the website back to 6/25/2013. Texas not only strictly controls female bodies, they also can warp the space-time continuum.
And the print media? With datelines up to an hour before the actual vote took place, USA Today and others reported the filibuster failed and the legislation passed.
Note I used the past tense. So did they.
The conspiracy-minded will probably claim the conservative-leaning owners of mainstream media outlets knew the outcome well in advance, and just got sloppy. I like to take the more optimistic view that journalists today are lazy, intellectually dishonest hacks whose irredeemable cynicism and proximity to power have reduced their usefulness to nil.
It may require more effort on my part for vetting and verification, but I think from now on my primary sources of information will be live feeds and social media.
Postscript- at 4:15 am, when the websites for CNN, Fox, NBC, CBS, ABC and Reuters were still saying the outcome of the vote was in doubt, a live stream available through Twitter- nearly an hour earlier- showed Senator Davis announcing that the lieutenant governor of Texas had reversed his previous ruling and declared the vote invalid. The AP story broke at 4:01 am.
Motorola shows off tattoo and swallowable password hardware
Mobe manufacturer playing long game for end times
By Iain Thomson in San Francisco
Motorola has shown off an electronic authentication tattoo and an FDA-approved pill that uses the body to transmit passwords, and says it wants to see a new generation of smartphones geared towards such wearable- or edible- technology.
One marketing problem Motorola may not have anticipated is the reaction of biblical literalists to its wearable authentication systems
A surprising number of people in the US still adhere to an apparent literal translation of the current version of the Bible. These include Jehovah's Witnesses, who refuse blood transfusions and shun those who take them, to those who look to the finale of the New Testament: The Book of Revelation- or, for you believers of the Catholic persuasion, The Apocalypse.
The text, thought to be written about 60 years after the biblical death of Christ, is regarded as either a description of the end times of humanity, a satirical pastiche on the increasingly subverted tenants of Christian bureaucracy, or a really bad mushroom trip on a Greek island. Nevertheless it contains the following warning:
"It causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666."
Be reassured that the majority of people of faith in the US and elsewhere aren't quite so inflexible. Those that aren't may be shrill, particularly in the US, but do not form a representative sample of Christianity.
While everyone's preoccupied with Asteroid 2012 DA14, the cosmos lets loose with a Deep Impact-ish fireball over Russia that blew out windows and provoked general mayhem.
The one that gets us, folks, is the one we won't see coming...
Forget 12/21. The end of the world as we know it may begin today at 7:12 pm Eastern Standard Time.
That's when December 12, 2012, 12:12:12 arrives in American Samoa on the International Date Line.
Those with a less than altruistic streak are hoping the world's computer systems will implode in the great cascading failure Y2K was supposed to have been.
Enhancing the absurdity of the situation is the knowledge the potential disruption will be due not to obscure defects in the design of mind-numbingly complex hardware and software. Blame for the collapse can instead be squarely pinned to the banal bleatings of billions of blithering idiots.
They will be simultaneously e-mailing, posting, tweeting and blogging in a frenetic attempt to have their pointless communications endowed with that rarest of time stamps, 12/12/12 12:12:12. The load to computer and communications systems could be overwhelming.
While the chaos could proceed in an orderly, domino-like fashion as the earth spins through each time zone, it's more likely the most notable disturbance in the Force will be felt tomorrow morning at 7:12:12 am Eastern Standard Time.
That corresponds to 12/12/12 12:12:12 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). All systems containing intrinsic timekeeping functions are synchronized to UTC and display local time as an offset from the UTC base time. Nerds know this, and to make certain their messages are precisely timestamped, they'll post using the non-offset UTC, the planet's "official" time.
To paraphrase Padmé Amidala:
So this is how civilization dies... with your crazy Aunt Betty posting a cat picture to her Timeline.
(Thanks to Dave Dustin, whose musings on Twitter reminded me of the 12/12 business)
It's the 21st century, and a major party Presidential nominee doesn't understand why airplane windows don't open.
Letters to the Editor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 25, 2011:
You know we're in trouble when I attempt to be the voice of reason against additional legislative regulation...
(You Tube video)
Vietnam Vet with a cardboard sign
Sitting there by the left turn line
Flag on the wheelchair flapping in the breeze
One leg missing, both hands free
No one's paying much mind to him
The V.A. budget's stretched so thin
And there's more comin' home from the Mideast war
We can't make it here anymore
That big ol' building was the textile mill
It fed our kids and it paid our bills
But they turned us out and they closed the doors
We can't make it here anymore
See all those pallets piled up on the loading dock?
They're just gonna sit there till they rot
'Cause there's nothing to ship, nothing to pack
Just busted concrete and rusted tracks
Empty storefronts around the square
There's a needle in the gutter and glass everywhere
You don't come down here 'less you're looking to score
We can't make it here anymore
The bar's still open but man it's slow
The tip jar's light and the register's low
The bartender don't have much to say
The regular crowd gets thinner each day
Some have maxed out all their credit cards
Some are working two jobs and living in cars
Minimum wage won't pay for a roof, won't pay for a drink
If you gotta have proof just try it yourself Mr. CEO
See how far five fifteen an hour will go
Take a part time job at one of your stores
Bet you can't make it here anymore
High school girl with a bourgeois dream
Just like the pictures in the magazine
She found on the floor of the laundromat
A woman with kids can forget all that
If she comes up pregnant what'll she do?
Forget the career, forget about school
Can she live on faith? live on hope?
High on Jesus or hooked on dope
When it's way too late to just say no
You can't make it here anymore
Now I'm stocking shirts in the Wal-Mart store
Just like the ones we made before
'Cept this one came from Singapore
I guess we can't make it here anymore
Should I hate a people for the shade of their skin
Or the shape of their eyes or the shape I'm in?
Should I hate 'em for having our jobs today?
No I hate the men sent the jobs away
I can see them all now, they haunt my dreams
All lily white and squeaky clean
They've never known want, they'll never know need
Their shit don't stink and their kids won't bleed
Their kids won't bleed in the damn little war
And we can't make it here anymore
Will work for food
Will die for oil
Will kill for power and to us the spoils
The billionaires get to pay less tax
The working poor get to fall through the cracks
Let 'em eat jellybeans let 'em eat cake
Let 'em eat shit, whatever it takes
They can join the Air Force, or join the Corps
If they can't make it here anymore
And that's how it is
That's what we got
If the president wants to admit it or not
You can read it in the paper
Read it on the wall
Hear it on the wind
If you're listening at all
Get out of that limo
Look us in the eye
Call us on the cell phone
Tell us all why
In Dayton, Ohio
Or Portland, Maine
Or a cotton gin out on the great high plains
That's done closed down along with the school
And the hospital and the swimming pool
Dust devils dance in the noonday heat
There's rats in the alley
And trash in the street
Gang graffiti on a boxcar door
We can't make it here anymore
Music and lyrics © 2004 by James McMurtry
From the James Randi Educational Foundation's Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural:
Divine prophecies being of the nature of their Author, with whom a
thousand years are but as one day, are not therefore fulfilled
punctually at once, but have springing and germinant accomplishment,
though the heightfulness of them may refer to some one age.
-Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
A favorite subject of prophets has always been the end of mankind and/or the demise of our planet and/or the collapse of the entire universe. Part of the technique, for some, is to place the date far enough ahead that when The End fails to arrive, the oracle is no longer around to have to explain why. Others, often to encourage the surrender of property and other worldly chattels by the Believers, prepare excuses well in advance and manage to survive the great disappointment that often follows a failed prediction. In any case, the resilient fans never discredit the notion; they merely redesign the details and settle back once more to confidently await doom. Here is a short list of some rather interesting end-of-the-world prognostications, beginning with biblical references and ending with some contemporary seers and their doomsayings. Judging from the record earned by the soothsayers in this matter, we may safely assume that our planet will continue very much the same as it is for some considerable period into the future.
B.C.-A.D.: According to the New Testament, The End should have occurred before the death of the last Apostle. In Matthew 16:28, it says: Verily, I say unto you, there be some standing here which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. One by one, all the apostles died. And the world rolled on for everyone else...
A.D. 992: In the year 960, scholar Bernard of Thuringia caused great alarm in Europe when he confidently announced that his calculations gave the world only thirty-two more years before The End. His own end, fortunately for him, occurred before that event was to have taken place.
December 31, A.D. 999: The biblical Apocrypha says that the Last Judgment (and therefore, one supposes, the end of the world) would occur one thousand years after the birth of Jesus Christ. When the day arrived, though it is doubtful that there was all the panic that was reported by later accounts, a certain degree of apprehension was probably experienced. It was said that land was left uncultivated in that final year, since there would obviously be no need for crops. According to the Encyclopedia of Superstitions, public documents of that era began, "As the world is now drawing to a close..." Modern authorities suspect that historians Voltaire and Gibbon may have created or at least embellished this tale to prove the credulous nature of medieval Christians. Significantly, Pope Sylvester II and Emperor Otto III momentarily mended their considerable political differences in anticipation of a certain leveling of those matters.
A.D. 1033: Theorists pressed to explain the A.D. 999 bust decided that the 1,000 years should have been figured from the death of Christ rather than from his birth. Bust number two followed.
September 1186: An astrologer known as John of Toledo in 1179 circulated pamphlets advertising the world's end when all the (known) planets were in Libra. (If the sun was included in this requirement, this should have occurred on September 23 at 16:15 GMT, or at that same hour on October 3 in the new calendar.) In Constantinople, the Byzantine Emperor walled up his windows, and in England the Archbishop of Canterbury called for a day of atonement. Though the alignment of planets took place, The End did not.
A.D. 1260: Joaquim of Flore worked out a splendid calculation that definitely pinpointed A.D. 1260 as The Date. Joaquim had a bent pin.
February 1, 1524: This was one of the most pervasive Doomsday-by-Flood expectations ever recorded. In June of 1523, astrologers in London predicted that The End would begin in London with a deluge. Some 20,000 persons left their homes, and the Prior of St. Bartholomew's built a fortress in which he stocked enough food and water for a two-month wait. When the dreaded date failed to provide even a rain shower in a city where precipitation is very much to be expected, the astrologers recalculated and discovered they'd been a mere one hundred years off. (On the same day in 1624, astrologers were again disappointed to discover that they were still dry and alive.) The year 1524 was full of predicted disaster. Belief in this date was very strong throughout Europe. An astrologer impressively named Nicolaus Peranzonus de Monte Sancte Marie, found that a coming conjunction of major planets would occur in Pisces (a water sign) that year, and this strengthened the general belief in a universal final deluge. George Tannstetter, another astrologer/mathematician at the University of Vienna, was one of very few at that time who denied The End would occur as predicted. He drew up his own horoscope, discovered that he would live beyond 1524, and denied the other calculations were correct. But George was considered a spoilsport, and was ignored. A "giant flood" was prophesied for February 20 (some say February 2) of 1524 by astrologer Johannes Stoeffler, who employed his skill to establish that date in 1499. Such was the belief in his ability that more than one hundred pamphlets were written and published on his prediction. The planets involved in this dire conjunction were Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, along with the sun. Neptune, unknown then, was also in the sign Pisces. Other major influences, Uranus and the moon, were not. Nor was Pluto, also unknown then. But the date of this conjunction was February 23 (old calendar), not the twentieth. In response to the 1524 prophecies, in Germany, people set about building boats, while one Count von Iggleheim, obviously a devout believer in Stoeffler's ability, built a three-story ark. In Toulouse, French President Aurial also built himself a huge ark. In some European port cities, the populace took refuge on boats at anchor. When it only rained lightly on the predicted date where von Iggleheim had his ark, the crowd awaiting the deluge ran amok and, with little better to do, stoned the count to death. Hundreds were killed in the resultant stampede. Stoeffler, who had survived the angry mob, re-examined his data and came up with a new date of 1528. This time there was no reaction to his declaration. Sometimes people actually get smart. Incidentally, the 1878 Encyclopaedia Britannica described 1524 as "a year, as it turned out, distinguished for drought."
1532.: A bishop of Vienna, Frederick Nausea, decided a major disaster was "near" when various strange events were reported to him. He was told that bloody crosses had been seen in the skies along with a comet, that black bread had fallen from midair, and that three suns and a flaming castle had been discerned in the heavens. The story of an eight-year-old girl of Rome whose breasts, he was told, spouted warm water, finally convinced this scholar that the world was due to end, and he so declared to the faithful.
October 3, 1533, at Eight A.M.: Mathematician and Bible student Michael Stifel (known as Stifelius) had calculated an exact date and time for Doomsday from scholarly perusal of the Book of Revelation. When they did not vaporize, the curiously ungrateful citizens of the German town of Lochau, where Stifel had announced the dreaded day, rewarded him with a thorough flogging. He also lost his ecclesiastical living as a result of his prophetic failure.
1533: Anabaptist Melchior Hoffmann announced in Strasbourg, France, a city which had been chosen by him as the New Jerusalem, that the world would be consumed by flames in 1533. He believed that in New Jerusalem exactly 144,000 persons would live on while two characters named Enoch and Elias would blast flames from their mouths over the rest of the world. The rich and pious who hoped to be included in that number saved destroyed their rent records, forgave their debtors, and gave away their money and goods to the poor. How those commodities were to be used among the flames was not explained, nor did anyone point out that such sacrifices so near The End were hardly meritorious. The time of cataclysm by fire came and went, and a new apostle named Matthysz arose to encourage those who now expressed slight doubts, telling them it had been slightly postponed. Thus, in February 1534, more than one hundred persons were baptized in Amsterdam in anticipation of the still-expected event. As it turned out, the years 1533 and 1534 were noted for their lack of conflagrations, a fact that might be explained by the public's suddenly increased awareness of danger from fire.
1537 (And also in 1544, 1801, and 1814): In Dijon, France, a list of prophecies by astrologer Pierre Turrel was published posthumously. His predictions of The End were spread over a period of 277 years, but all were fortunately wrong. He had used four different methods of computation to arrive at the four dates, while assuring his readers that he had strictly orthodox religious beliefs- a very wise move in his day.
1544: See 1537.
1572: In Britain, a total solar eclipse and a few impressive novas seemed to signal something important. Considerable panic ensued, to no avail.
1584: Astrologer Cyprian Leowitz, who had the distinction in 1559 of being included in the official Index of prohibited writers by Pope Paul IV, predicted the end of the world for 1584. Taking no chances, however, he then issued a set of astronomical tables covering celestial events all the way to the year 1614, in the unlikely event that the world would survive. It did.
1588: The sage Regiomontanus (Johann Müller, 1436-1476), posthumously a victim of enthusiastic crackpots who delighted in attributing occult and magical powers to him, was said to have predicted The End for the year 1588 in an obscure quatrain, but in 1587 Norfolk physician John Harvey reassured his readers that the calculations ascribed to the master were faulty, and the resulting prophecy false. Harvey was right.
1624: See 1524.
1648: Rabbi Sabbati Zevi, in Smyrna, interpreted the kabala to show that he was the promised Messiah and that his advent, accompanied by spectacular miracles, was due in 1648. By 1665, regardless of the failure of the wonders to appear, Zevi had a huge following, and his date was now changed to 1666. Citizens of Smyrna abandoned their work and prepared to return to Jerusalem, all on the strength of reported miracles by Zevi. Meeting a sharp reversal when arrested by the Sultan for an attempted coup and brought in fetters to Constantinople, the new Messiah sat in prison while followers as far away as Holland, Germany and Hungary began packing up in anticipation of Armageddon. Unfortunately for these faithful, the Sultan converted the capricious Zevi to Islam, and the movement ended.
1654: Consulting his ephemeris and considering the nova of 1572, physician Helisaeus Roeslin of Alsace decided in 1578 that the world would surely terminate in flames in another seventy-six years. He did not survive to see his prophecy fail. That should have been an evil year indeed. An eclipse of the sun was predicted for August 12 (it actually occurred on the 11th) and that was also widely believed to bring about The End. Many conversions to the True Faith took place, physicians prescribed staying indoors, and the churches were filled.
1665: With the Black Plague in full force, Quaker Solomon Eccles terrorized the citizens of London yet further with his declaration that the resident pestilence was merely the beginning of The End. He was arrested and jailed when the plague began to abate rather than increasing. Eccles fled to the West Indies upon his release from prison, whereupon he once again exercised his zeal for agitation by inciting the slaves there to revolt. The Crown fetched him back home as a troublemaker, and he died shortly thereafter.
1666: See 1648.
1704: Cardinal Nicholas de Cusa, without Vatican endorsement, declared The End was to arrive in 1704.
May 19, 1719: Jacques (also Jakob I) Bernoulli, the first of a famous line of Swiss mathematicians who made their home in Berne, predicted the return of the comet of 1680 and earth-rending results therefrom. The comet did not come back, perhaps for astronomical reasons, but Bernoulli went on to discover a mathematical series now called the Bernoulli Numbers. He is renowned for this and for the eight exceptional mathematicians his line produced in three generations, but not for Doomsday nor for his astronomical calculations.
October 13, 1736: London was once again targeted for the "beginning of the end," this time by William Whiston. The Thames filled with waiting boatloads of citizens, but it didn't even rain. Another setback.
1757: Mystic/theologian/spiritist and supreme egocentric Emmanuel Swedenborg, ever willing to be a center of attention for one reason or another, decided after one of his frequent consultations with angels that 1757 was the terminating date of the world. To his chagrin, he was not taken too seriously by anyone, including the angels.
April 5, 1761: When religious fanatic and soldier William Bell noticed that exactly twenty-eight days had elapsed between a February 8 and a March 8 earthquake in 1761, he naturally concluded that the entire world would crumble in another twenty-eight days, that is, on April 5th. Most suggested that the date should have been four days earlier, in tune with the probability, but many credulous Londoners believed him and snapped up every available boat, taking to the Thames or scurrying out of town as if those actions would save them. History records nothing more of Bell after April 6, when he was tossed into London's madhouse, Bedlam, by a disappointed public.
1774: English sect leader Joanna Southcott (1750-1814) had the notion that she was pregnant with the New Messiah, whom she proposed to name Shiloh. History records that her pregnancy "came to nothing," nor did the world end as she had prophesied. She left behind a box of mystical notes that were to be opened only after her death with twenty-four bishops present. Perhaps because of a failure to interest that many ecclesiastics of high rank to attend the occasion, the box was not opened and vanished somewhere. She was succeeded by several minor would-be prophets, all of whom tried other End-of-the-World predictions, with the same result. One successor, John Turner, we will meet up ahead.
1801: Astrologer Pierre Turrel (see 1537) chose this date, along with three others, for The End. His first two had already failed by this time. Again, no luck.
1814: Astrologer Pierre Turrel (remember him?) chose this last date for The End. His three others had already failed, and, again no luck! As author Charles Mackay wryly noted, "the world wagged as merrily as before."
October 14, 1820: Prophet John Turner was leader of the Southcottian movement in Bradford, England. The specialty of this sect was End-of-the-World prophecies, the first one having been made by the founder of the group, Joanna Southcott, whom we have already met back in 1774. His failed prediction turned his congregation against him, and John Wroe (see 1977, up ahead) took over the movement.
April 3, 1843 (And also July 7, 1843, March 21 and October 22, 1844): William Miller, founder of the Millerite church, spent fifteen years in careful study of the scriptures and determined that the world would conclude sometime in 1843. He announced this discovery of what he called "the midnight cry" in 1831. When there was a spectacular meteor shower in 1833, it seemed to his followers that his prediction was close to being fulfilled, and they celebrated their imminent demise. Then, as each date he named failed to produce Armageddon, Miller moved it up a bit. The faithful continued to gather by the thousands on hilltops all over America each time one of the new dates would dawn. Finally, on October 22, 1844, the last day that Miller had calculated for The End, the Millerites relaxed their vigils. Five years later, Miller died, still revered and not at all concerned at his failed prophecies. The movement eventually changed its name and broke up into a number of modern-day churches, among them the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, which today has over three million members.
1874: A date calculated by Charles Taze Russell of the Jehovah's Witnesses, (which see) for The End.
1881: Those who delighted in measuring the various passages of the Great Pyramid of Giza, presumed to be the tomb of Cheops, calculated that all would be over in 1881. Careful remeasuring and some imagination gave a better (but not much better) date of 1936. That was improved upon by other students who decided upon 1953 as the terminal year. Further refinements and improvements of technique are still being made. If we get a new date, we'll let you know.
Shipton is supposed to have written:
The world to an end will come
In eighteen hundred and eighty-one.
The prediction, as well as the rhyme, are faulted. A book titled, The Life and Death of Mother Shipton, written in 1684 by Richard Head, was reprinted in a garbled and freely "improved" version in 1862 by Charles Hindley. In 1873 Hindley admitted having forged that rhyme and many others, but his confession caused no lessening of the great alarm in rural England when 1881 arrived. The world not having ended in that year, the above spurious verse has since been published in a refreshed version which substitutes "nineteen" for "eighteen" and "ninety" for "eighty." The world, according to most authorities, did not end then, either.
1936: One set of Great Pyramid measurers came up with this date.
1914: One of three dates the Jehovah's Witnesses promised The End. The others were 1874 and 1975.
1947: In 1889, "America's Greatest Prophet," John Ballou Newbrough, said that for sure in 1947: all the present governments, religions and all monied monopolies are to be overthrown and go out of existence... Our present form of so-called Christian religion will overrun America, tear down the American flag, and trample it underfoot. In Europe the disaster will be even more terrible... Hundreds of thousands of people will be killed... All nations will be demolished and the earth be thrown open to all people to go and come as they please. It wasn't a great year, but it wasn't all that bad.
1953: Again, a group of Great Pyramid nuts with their tape-measures figured out this year as the last. Back to the King's Chamber, guys.
1974: Interestingly enough, the conjunction of heavenly bodies that occurred back in 1524 was far, far more powerful than the more recent one described in a silly book titled The Jupiter Effect, written by two otherwise sensible astronomers who, in 1974, predicted dreadful effects on our planet as a result of a March 10, 1982, "alignment" of planets. Other astronomers denied that any effect would be felt, and when the date came and went, as you may have noticed, no one noticed. One of the authors reported that some earthquakes which had occurred in 1980 had been the "premature result of The Jupiter Effect," and the public yawned in amazement.
1975: One of the several dates promised by the Jehovah's Witnesses as The Date. Wrong.
1977: John Wroe, who is described by the kindliest historian we can find as a "foul-mouthed, ugly, dirty lecher," in 1823 inherited the leadership of the Southcottian sect in England when an End-of-the-World prophecy by John Turner failed. Learning from the example, Wroe took no chances. He made his Armageddon prophecy for 1977. A 1971 book, Prophets Without Honor, says of Wroe: At a time when thermo-nuclear powers face each other across the Iron and Bamboo Curtains, it is well to remember that- as far as can be judged from the scanty records- John Wroe, indeed, was a true prophet!
1980: A very old Arabic astrological presage of doom specified that when the planets Saturn and Jupiter would be in conjunction in the sign Libra at 9 degrees, 29 minutes of that sign, we could kiss a big bye-bye to everything- camels, sand, mosques, the whole bag. That astronomical configuration almost took place at midnight of December 31 (new calendar), 1980, a date calculated by astrologers many years ago as the one spoken of. Jupiter was at 9 degrees, 24 minutes, and Saturn was at 9 degrees, 42 minutes, so the calculation was close to correct. However, nary a camel blinked an eye.
1980s: The unsinkable Jeane Dixon, ever optimistic and daring, predicted in 1970 that a comet would strike the earth in the "mid-80's" at a place that she knew, but did not deign to tell. That information was to be held until a "future date." Perhaps she is now prepared to tell us? She said of this event that it "may well become known as one of the worst disasters of the 20th century." But then Jeane also said that, "I feel it will surely be in the 1980's that [an un-named person] will become the first woman president in the United States." Back to that ephemeris, Jeane.
1996: It has been reasoned by biblical scholars that since one day with God equals one thousand years for Man, and that God labored at the creation of the universe for six days, Man should labor for six thousand years and then take a rest. Thus, using other scripturally derived numbers, the world should end sometime in 1996. It didn't.
July 1999: In Quatrain X-72, Nostradamus
L'an mil neuf cens nonante neuf sept mois
Du ciel viendra grand Roy deffraieur
Resusciter le grand Roy d'Angolmois.
Auant apres Mars regner par bon heur.
The year 1999, seven months,
From the sky will come a great King of Terror:
To bring back to life the great King of the Mongols,
Before and after Mars to reign by good luck.
Categories: Signs of the Apocalypse
(from the New York Times)
by Lawrence J. Joseph
Despite warnings that New Orleans was unprepared for a severe hit by a hurricane, America was blindsided by Hurricane Katrina, a once-in-a-lifetime storm that made landfall five years ago this month. We are similarly unready for another potential natural disaster: solar storms, bursts of gas on the sun’s surface that release tremendous energy pulses.
Occasionally, a large solar storm can rain energy down on the earth, overpowering electrical grids. About once a century, a giant pulse can knock out worldwide power systems for months or even years. It’s been 90 years since the last super storm, but scientists say we are on the verge of another period of high solar activity.
This isn’t science fiction. Though less frequent than large hurricanes, significant storms have hit earth several times over the last 150 years, most notably in 1859 and 1921. Those occurred before the development of the modern power grid; recovering from a storm that size today would cost up to $2 trillion a year for several years.
Storms don’t have to be big to do damage. In March 1989 two smaller solar blasts shut down most of the grid in Quebec, leaving millions of customers without power for nine hours. Another storm, in 2003, caused a blackout in Sweden and fried 14 high-voltage transformers in South Africa.
The South African experience was particularly telling — the storm was relatively weak, but by damaging transformers it put parts of the country off-line for months. That’s because high-voltage transformers, which handle enormous amounts of electricity, are the most sensitive part of a grid; a strong electromagnetic pulse can easily fuse their copper wiring, damaging them beyond repair.
Even worse, transformers are hard to replace. They weigh up to 100 tons, so they can’t be easily moved from the factories in Europe and Asia where most of them are made; right now, there’s already a three-year waiting list for new ones.
Without aggressive preparation, we run the risk of a disaster magnitudes greater than Hurricane Katrina. Little or no electricity means little or no telecommunications, refrigeration, clean water or fuel. Basic law enforcement and national security could be compromised.
Fortunately, there are several defenses against solar storms. The most important are grid-level surge suppressors, which are essentially giant versions of the devices we use at home to protect computers. There are some 5,000 vulnerable transformers in North America; at $50,000 for each suppressor, we could protect the grid for about $250 million.
Earlier this year the House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow the White House to require utilities to put grid-protection measures in place, then recoup the costs from customers. Unfortunately, the companion bill in the Senate contains no such provision.
It’s not a lost cause, though; lawmakers can still insert the grid-protection language during conference. If they don’t, there could be trouble soon: the next period of heavy solar activity will be in late 2012. Having gone unprepared for one recent natural disaster, we would make a grave mistake not to get ready for the next.
(Remember the power outages from last winter's major storm? Multiply that by a factor of ten. If you need me, I'll be in a fetal position under my desk.)