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The world's gonna end -- I blame Beatle wigs

MyView: Is the Mayan calendar right about Dec. 21? Maybe the joke's on us


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Carl Wolfson, formerly of KPOJ, says his mother predicted the end of the world long before the Mayan calendar. It was the Beatle wigs that tipped her off.There have been countless predictions of the end of the world.

In 1964, my mother claimed The Beatles’ long hair would be the finish of Western civilization, upon which I flushed my Beatles wig down the toilet. Considering what I paid for Rogaine in the 1990s, this was a big mistake.

2012’s apocalypse-to-be comes via concern about the Mayan Long Count Calendar, which ends on Dec. 21.

Here’s the setup:

The Maya (Central America, 2000 B.C. to 950 A.D.) were high achievers in writing, architecture, mathematics and astronomy. In college, I was in awe of their accomplishments; however, I have grown increasingly reluctant to embrace any civilization that did not produce duct tape, “Downton Abbey” or bacon-topped donuts.

Cycles of time were central to Mayan spiritual beliefs. The three most important time-trackers were the Haab’ (the year-long solar calendar), the Tzolk’in (a 260-day count which synchronized with the Haab’ to create a cycle of 52 years — the average Mayan lifespan) and the Long Count Calendar.

Only the Haab’ was available in holiday box sets.

But for doomsayers, another difference is critical: While the first two calendars repeat, the Long Count does not. Its start date was Aug. 11, 3144 B.C., and its end date has been interpreted to be Dec. 21.

Most scholars dismiss the chatter. Citing the Mayan reverence for cycles, they claim the Long Count was intended to repeat, and that a new cycle will begin on Dec. 22.

But why was nothing to this effect written down? There are two possible explanations. The first is obvious. The Maya’s staple crop was maize. How long before high-fructose corn syrup rendered the scribes’ fingers too chubby for use?

Second, perhaps the Maya were messing with us.

The Maya had a highly developed sense of humor. According to a Wikipedia entry I just made, archeologists have unearthed what is thought to be the oldest cabaret in the Western Hemisphere, a Mayan comedy club called The Yuckatan.

“Prophet!” a Mayan at the Yuckatan might say, “We’ve got to get in on this end times tomfoolery. Why should papists and gypsies have all the fun?”

“I foresee no year that is not the sign of the apocalypse.”

“What about 1964?”

“Carl’s mother and The Beatles.”

“2016?”

“Another Bush is elected.”

“2050?”

“Cubs.”

“3000?”

“Y3K.”

“Damn!”

“Yes. There is even a year when Oregon passes a sales tax.”

“Alas. We will leave great temples and stone sculptures and literature for the ages. Yet no man hence will hear the prediction of Maya and pee his pants.”

“Wait! In 2011, a Christian radio broadcaster shall predict the Rapture. And in 2013, there is The Fiscal Cliff.”

“And in 2012?”

“Nothing.”

“Praise to the Corn God! Call the scribes!”

Reaction to all this has run the gamut from fun to annoyance to exploitation.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has posted a hilarious video in which she says, “I will always fight for you to the very end.” USA.gov protests, “Unfortunately, these rumors have many people frightened, especially children.”

In Chile, a Trabajando.com poll reports that 24 percent of those surveyed say they’ll ask their employer for the day off on Dec. 21.

What I hear in Portland is a renewed mission to confront the real measurements that are most likely to cause disaster — number of nuclear weapons, amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and declining biodiversity.

I agree. But, like the prime minister, I’m also up for some fun. If I’m invited to an end-of-the-world party, I might even go on eBay and buy back my Beatles wig.

But what if the doomsayers are right? What if an ancient Mayan priest was the Nate Silver of his day? Then we should party even harder.

I just wish I could be here on Dec. 22 for one final joke: all of Portland gone, but the Sellwood Bridge still standing.

Now, that would be hilarious.

Carl Wolfson is a stand-up comedian and former host of KPOJ’s “Carl in the Morning.” His favorite author is Maya Angelou.