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With the Mayan doomsday myth over, I’m sure there are at least a few people around the world blankly wondering what happened. The fact that anyone believed in this at all points to a deeper problem, so let’s take a quick look into the sociological reason that this became a thing at all.

After trawling the internet (unfortunately none of my peers were believers so I had to pull examples from online), I consider there to be two categories.

Category 1: People who genuinely believed it was going to happen.

This ranges from those who were so sure they blew their family funds and strained their relationships to “prepare” to those who were outwardly sceptical but inwardly nervous when the day came. Let me assure you, I literally felt nothing at all. I almost forgot it was the 21st/22nd because it was so obvious that nothing was going to happen. This particular category points to a lack of education and information transmission.

Depending on the severity of this “condition”, people in this category were either absolutely scientifically illiterate or never even bothered to double check. Although I campaign for the elimination of the former (scientific illiteracy), I would say the latter is the worse option. It just means you’re flat out dumb. If you’re scientifically illiterate, you could have done badly in science and never developed an interest in it. If you start making life decisions based on rumours without even double checking the validity of these rumours you’re just dumb.

The other factor influencing people of this category relates to information transmission. It’s not just a problem of correct information not reaching peoples’ ears, it’s a problem of incorrect information being transmitted more frequently than correct information. People might wonder why I prattle on about things like this in a “preachy” manner, but think about it. If the majority of society talks about incorrect things, then being wrong becomes a standard. People like Dawkins, Tyson and Sagan spend (and spent) their lives talking about truth. Without them, there would be at least millions less people interested in science and truth. I’m just here adding to the noise, contributing however limitedly I can. Take Christmas for example. People are so used to thinking Jesus was born on Christmas that it has become a standard. I see it even in media that specialises in mocking beliefs (South Park, Family Guy, etc.), but it’s wrong. Jesus has nothing to do with Christmas. So what’s the problem here? At some point, even the more rational (those that outwardly didn’t believe in the apocalypse but inwardly felt nervous) can question their thought processes and logic when enough people start transmitting incorrect information.

To fix scientific illiteracy and education is a big problem that includes an increase in funding. It’s not something that can be quickly done, nor something that many people will willingly embrace. I consider these people too far to reach, at least for the moment. But those of you on the border, who were pretty sure it wouldn’t happen but couldn’t help questioning your reasons when the day approached, I think I can reach you. I encourage you to keep reading academic analyses of everything. It can be my blog or anything else – though if you read a news article make sure you find the original source and read that instead; the news tends to sensationalise stuff, which can lead to wrong impressions. The deeper you get into science and logic, the more certain of yourself you’ll become. You’ll discover the universe around you is both more mystifying and less confusing at the same time. You will have become an intellectual.

Category 2: People who believed in it because they wanted it to be true.

This is the sadder category, though not something I usually talk about. Unfortunately, it’s undeniable that a noticeable portion of the internet falls into this category. There’s not much to say – if you want an apocalyptic event to happen it means your life is very unfulfilling. However, you are also vain enough not to want to die alone, so the best solution is if everyone is destroyed together. To these people I can only say: get your shit together. Find a hobby, get a job, do something that will make you see life as an opportunity not a burden. If we are all born to die then what is life? It is a period of time given to you where you can do things to make yourself happy. Some people choose to capitalise on their happiness early on, and live harder lives in the future. Others invest their early years well and reap the benefits later on. Gamers should understand this concept easily – you macro first, get your economy going, and then you do the fun stuff. Regardless, the fact that people like this exist means that you really need to find something that interests you – and you’re not going to do that by sitting in front of an internet hoping for an apocalypse. Try getting into science. I kid you not, it’s interesting stuff. Learning about science on your own is much different from learning it in class. Otherwise, find something else.

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To be honest, I was surprised when I found out that people were still taking this seriously. I’m not even kidding. This isn’t my sarcastic, mocking, borderline cynical humour. I really did have no idea that there were people out there who are so … under-informed, to put it nicely. Although, in hindsight, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Humans have a capacity for ignorance that seems boundless.

But let’s push away the nonplussed disbelief for a moment and look at this academically. Let’s pretend you’re not a scammer making money off the foolish; let’s just say you really do believe in the doomsday predictions. Here’s why you’d be wrong.

Stone of the Sun

 

Presenting the Mayan Calendar. Wait, no. That’s the Aztec Stone of the Sun! Hmm, so much for credibility. 

The Mayans never predicted a doomsday. So what is 2012 then? Well the Mayans used a few different calendars to mark different things; the “Calendar Round” was a 52 year calendar used to document the approximate lifetime of an individual, while the “Long Count” was a calendar for recording historical events over a long period of time. The Long Count has 5,126 years in it, and began in 3114 B.C. That makes 2012 the end of the first cycle of this particular calendar.

Cue unfounded doomsday predictions.

But what’s the end of a cycle? Think of it this way: our modern calendar consists of 12 months. At the end of our calendar, the 31st of December, we simply go back to January of the next cycle (the next year). Using the Long Count calendar to predict the end of the world is the equivalent of expecting Armageddon every 31st of December.

In fact, the Mayans continue to predict events far beyond 2012. They recorded time in cycles known as “baktuns”; new calendars were discovered recording a cycle of 17 baktuns, the equivalent of about 7,000 years (where 2012 is the end of the 13th baktun).

If that’s not enough to assuage your fears, let’s take a look at what exactly people think is going to happen.

Nibiru:

This doomsday hypothesis (and I say hypothesis instead of theory because there’s a big difference between the two) stipulates that a “Planet X” will collide with Earth. First of all, that’s just ridiculous because there’s no way a planet would be flying through space free of all gravitational pulls. Why do you think the Earth hasn’t floated out of our solar system and crashed into another planet? Because that’s not how gravity works.

Plus there are thousands of astronomers all over the world constantly watching the sky. At least one of them would have noticed a gigantic thing speeding towards us. The gravitational distortions of such a thing would have been sending warning signals for thousands of years.

Finally, what the hell are you doing believing in crap like this anyway? What possible reason could you have to believe something like this would happen? Let’s get something clear: the Nibiru  idea was first raised by Nancy Lieder, who describes herself as someone with the ability to receive messages from aliens via an implant in her brain. Does that sound like a reliable source? No. But there’s more; she predicted Nibiru would sweep through our solar system in 2003. Wrong. So why is it that people are bringing up this old garbage again?

Solar Flares:

This doomsday scenario claims that solar flares will erupt from the sun. Well, that’s true. But guess what? That’s completely normal and happens all the time. A solar storm hit on March 8th this year. Did you know that? Probably not because it doesn’t wipe out planets. It just messed with electronics on Earth.

Planetary Alignment:

So this scenario is the alignment of planets with the sun, causing catastrophic tidal effects. Well, unfortunately there is no alignment scheduled for December, and even if there were, there’d be practically no effect (Don Yeomans, 2012). The only two bodies in the solar system that can affect Earth’s tides are the moon (due to close proximity) and the sun (due to size and proximity). Incidentally, the moon and sun align quite frequently, yet we’re still here.

Magnetic Pole Shifts:

Again, a natural occurrence, though it takes around half a million years to happen and the process of actually shifting takes thousands of years. But even then, there’d be no problem if it happened, except that we’d have to recalibrate compasses and perhaps more beached whales, which would be sad. That’d be more a doomsday prediction that whales are worried about rather than humans though.

Conclusion:

If you’re one of the gullible that are fixated on the end of the world, don’t quit your jobs (if you have them) and definitely don’t start sending money to people that claim they’ll save you. You’ll just be falling prey to scammers. 21st Dec 2012 is just the end of one Mayan calendar. It’s their 31st of December. They predicted things far into the future and never made doomsday predictions.

All of the doomsday predictions put forth are false. They have absolutely no basis for existence.

That brings up an interesting point though; it’s probably the most disappointing one for me. Never mind the happy coincidence that the Mayan Long Count ends its first cycle this year, or that scammers are picking on those that don’t know any better. What really disappoints me is that this still demonstrates that people can’t grasp the concept that humans thousands of years ago did not know as much as we do today. You could apply this to a lot of things, including religion, but seriously, do you think the human race has been stagnant for two thousand years? That we’ve learned nothing during the transition from carving symbols into stone and having rockets that can send rovers to Mars?

The absolute scientific ignorance of society is shockingly highlighted every time some pseudoscience or garbage like this becomes widespread. I completely sympathise with people like Neil deGrasse Tyson whose life goals are to rekindle an interest in science, because without it, we just resemble a bunch of babbling idiots.

P.S. The Mayans didn’t know about timezones. Since I live in Australia, the 21st will come where I live before it gets to most of the rest of the world. I’ll be waiting at midnight to say “hah, told you so”.

So I have a few scrapes that turned to scabs recently and while absent-mindedly scratching them, I remembered the first time I found out why scabs itch.

There are actually a number of reasons theorised for the itching sensation. I’ll give the two most plausible ones.

First of all, there are tiny nerves in the upper layers of your skin that can send tickling sensations to your brain. When the skin is torn, the healing process may cause these nerves to send signals (like testing to see whether everything is working), which your brain misinterprets as itching. Also, as the wound heals, the scab pulls away from the skin gradually, further stimulating these nerves.

Second, scabs contain histamines which irritate the surrounding area of skin. It’s said that the histamines are there so to help the process – so that when the wound is fully healed, you’ll just scratch it off. Unfortunately, the itching begins long before it’s ready to remove the scab.

I’ve seen this topic come up quite often among amateur writers and people tend to give a confuse mix of advice. So should you use a prologue or not? Well, that depends.

The biggest problem here is that the majority of people don’t know how to use a prologue, so the first step for us is to determine a working definition to use. There’s a variety of literal and technical definitions floating around the internet but I stand by my own (as I consider it the best amalgamation of the technical and practical). Before I give my definition though, let’s go through some history (so we can understand the technical side).

 

The term is from the Greek prologos formed by pro, meaning “before,” and logos, meaning “speech.”

 

In ancient Greek tragedy, the prologue was the part of a play that set forth the subject of the drama before the chorus entered.

Why is this so important? A lot of amateur writers are using their prologue to start telling the story. That’s not a prologue, that’s your chapter one. The prologue has to “set forth the subject”. What does that mean? It needs to introduce   the context of the story and it has to be separate to your story (otherwise it’s chapter one).

So what is a prologue? It is a distinct and separate entity that introduces a story by providing information necessary for the reader to understand the text.

By nature, a prologue should be a little bit of an info dump. To “set forth the subject”, you must provide contextual information. Other information acceptable in a prologue would be back story/history and any particular quirks of your world that will clarify things to the reader (if I start writing about angels, the reader would be confused why the floors of this city are puffy white clouds). It should never connect with your chapter one smoothly, if it does then your prologue is your chapter one.

Now, why are prologues bad? Well, first of all, if you’re using it the wrong way you cast doubt on your credibility as a writer. Not a good first impression. Even if you do use it correctly, since prologues are generally info dumps by necessity, your first impression still ends up being somewhat boring. Admittedly, I’m a fan of diving into the heart of things but that doesn’t mean you have to start off with an action scene, it just means you need to open with a hook – your reader has a plethora of other books they could read, give them a reason to read yours.

Finally, I’ve been informed by a few authors and editors that prologues are generally skipped by literary agents. Other readers also tell me that they skip prologues too (though personally I read them). The general consensus of the writing world is that prologues can and should be avoided where possible. If you don’t believe me, Google “prologue bad” and you’ll find lists of published authors, writing sites and editors supporting my statement.

Perhaps the most cogent example I can give is an example from the Greek tragedy “Medea” by Euripides. As prologues were basically invented at this time for these plays, this is a fitting example. The prologue to Medea features one of the nurses talking to herself (technically, to the audience through the fourth wall) and summarising the past events leading up to this very moment (Jason’s quests and how Medea has helped him, only to be met with betrayal). This back story is necessary for the audience to understand Medea’s grief stricken state, and the psychological damage required for her to eventually commit infanticide as revenge. Without this prologue, the play would just be about a psychotic child-killing mother, but with the prologue, we understand the emotional complexity at play, adding layers and depth to the story, climaxing at the point where Medea snaps under the pressure. The fact that the nurse is relaying this information as a soliloquy instantly sets it apart from the rest of the play, so we know it is a distinct, separate entity. This is what a prologue should be – so please, use your prologues correctly.

This is for katlaire who requested I make this post. As promised, this will offend some die-hard fans so if you can’t stomach objective criticism, you’re better off not venturing down this dark alley.

I actually had a hard time coming up with a title for this post because I don’t want it to be just a rant on crappy books that get published. Ranting would imply a subjective opinion. I like to be a coldly logical person with an objective view, so instead of ranting I’m going to mention a few books (all of which were published by a proper publishing house) and analyse why they were successful and whether they deserved to be published. To keep things orderly, I’ll divide this post by book titles, but I’m only going to go in-depth with Twilight. The other books I’ll mention are just for comparison (some of them also suck).

Twilight:

This is, of course, borderline ranting about some of the junk that’s out there, and how could anyone do that without mentioning a crowd favourite? Now it’s Twilight’s turn to shine (or sparkle), something the writing in this book never did.

Honestly, I haven’t read any of the books cover to cover (it’s unbearable even to think about it). I have watched some of the movies though (not my choice) and have done some research into the matter so I don’t end up giving an uninformed analysis. Based on the examples I’ve seen and the common consensus of the writing world and my own opinion, this book is (by writing standards) absolutely atrocious. There is, however, a valid reason for why it became popular, which I will mention later. I’d just like to point out a famous quote that’s relevant here:

“Harry Potter is all about confronting fears, finding inner strength, and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.”

Many of you think Stephen King made this quote but he didn’t. This quote has never been sourced back to him and based on a quick Google search, it’s quite obvious the originator of this quote is Robin Browne (who was quoted by Andrew Futral in a tumblr post and later confirmed that he got the quote from Browne). However, despite not coming up with this quote, Stephen King is quite a vocal critic of Twilight. Here’s a quote he actually did say when asked to compare Harry Potter and Twilight (during an interview):

“The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephanie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good.”

I disagree slightly about Rowling being “terrific” but I’ll get to that in the Harry Potter section.

Anyway, let’s get to the point shall we? Why is Twilight such garbage? Well, for one it’s plagued with purple prose and a huge lack of pace and excitement. Twilight is something that you lose interest in the moment you gain a shred of maturity. In fact, the series would never have survived if it weren’t for the “hot guys” acting in the movies, because it’s a terrible book/movie series.

Not only is Bella a Mary Sue (more on this later), the plot is focused around the most mundane and ridiculous stuff that only a narcissistic pre-pubescent girl would find interesting. Ohhhh noooo, which of these two mythical hunks is Bella going to pick? Ohhhh noooo, should she become a vampire to be with Edward? Ohhh noooo, Bella has special smelling blood so there’s a sexy feeling of danger whenever she’s around vampires.

Wow, seriously? You have vampires and werewolves in an eternal conflict, living amongst regular humans whilst waging their silent war on each other and the only thing you can focus on is the most prosaic crap about Bella? That’s like Homer writing about two mud-crabs fighting over a rock whilst the Battle of Troy was raging in the background. In fact, this is a particularly apt analogy (that I came up with on the spot) because the Battle of Troy had a love triangle at its very heart too, except look at the difference; Homer’s work has gone down as one of the greatest love stories ever written and has convinced historians and archaeologists to spend their entire lives’ work dedicated to trying to prove the story true.

Now, back to Bella. I mentioned she was a Mary Sue. I can’t be bothered explaining what this is again, so I’m going to put an article on it in the English techniques section later – but I’m sure many people already know the definition. In this case, Bella is a normal girl (albeit with “special smelling blood”) who has the two hottest male characters in the book fighting over her for no apparent reason. Wait, let me recant that. She’s not normal, she’s boring. Not only is she a boring person, she has a horrible, depressive, suicidal, fickle, insecure, narcissistic personality that any real man in the real world would look at and tell both Edward and Jacob “don’t stick your d**k in crazy”. She has absolutely zero redeeming characteristics to make her a likeable person that is in any way deserving of any of the special treatment she is given.

What’s worst though, is that despite being a purple prose (another term I’ll define in English-techniques later on; Google it if you don’t know) infested text, there is a suspicious lack of description regarding Bella – the main character. Want to know why? Because Bella is not a real character – she’s an insertion of Stephanie Meyer’s own personality and is her own pathetic little “John Everyman” for insecure girls. She is basically a gaping white blank in the world of her writing so that any other teenage girl with the same insecurities and personality flaws can just insert themselves into Bella’s place and fantasise about being popular and special for no reason at all. And I can’t stress enough how much this series is focused on this “love triangle” – she even butchered the concept of vampires to “emphasise” how good looking Edward was so that it would be all the more desirable for any girl who inserted herself into Bella’s shoes. So much for Bram Stoker’s Dracula – a hunter of the night, manipulator of the human heart and a dark, gothic villain whose only weakness were the elements. Move over Dracula, we have good-looking, sparkly playboys to represent vampire-kind now. The only aspect of vampires that Meyer got right was the connection between vampires and female sexuality (as Stoker’s Dracula had a strong underlying message of forbidden sexual tension), but I’m almost certain this was purely by mistake and coincidence.

So why did this book become popular? Well, I’ve already mentioned the reason. The book is a tool for girls to insert themselves into this sexual fantasy of self-importance. Since your teenage years are a tough battle to find self-worth, identity and “love” (or what you think is love and will later learn was something stupid), the book really kicked off. In fact, based purely on the target market (insecure young girls), there was even a bit of a snowball effect in which non-readers were pressured into becoming readers so that they would “fit in”. Kind of sad how youths don’t realise that “fitting in” is the opposite of finding your identity, but that’s just something you’ll have to learn over time.

Because of the above reasons, I don’t blame the publishing company for publishing Twilight. They knew it would make money and they were right. I don’t even blame the readers for supporting such a crappy book. It’s natural to want an escape from reality, and when you’re young and immature, your idea of a perfect roleplay is when you get to be Bella. Don’t worry, as you mature your dreams become bigger and more meaningful.

Harry Potter and the Hunger Games:

                        

These two books are common comparisons with Twilight because they became popular during roughly the same period of time. I’m going to dispel a common misconception right off the bat here. Harry Potter is not the greatest series of books ever written. To be more specific, the first three books were mediocre.

I’m crazy right? I told you I’d offend people. Harry Potter has a huge fan-base of zealous supporters just like Twilight does. There’s a problem with books – usually only the mass marketed, viral books get read and people who don’t read regularly just assume that these are the best books out there. That’s way off the mark. There’s a treasure trove of good books that a lot of people have never heard before. Back to Harry Potter though – the overarching plot for the seven books was very creative and original and unlike Twilight, there were actually morals encouraged by the story. The characters were solid and the main cast was characterised very well.

Why then do I not worship the books? Well, as much of a fan as I am, I have to concede that the first three books are sort of mundane, unexciting and most of all, written poorly. The first book in particular is atrocious. The language and writing style that Rowling uses for The Philosopher’s Stone is something I would expect of a high school student who’s doing badly at English. If you don’t believe me go and read the first three pages of The Philosopher’s Stone and then go and read the first three pages of The Deathly Hallows. There’s a HUGE difference. That’s where I respect Rowling, as I read the Harry Potter series, I can feel her skill as a writer growing. The only other aspect I would have liked her to improve on was the world-building. There was a nice contrast between the Muggle world and the Magical world, but it was focused almost entirely on the same setting. It would have been nice to get more into the politics and the different countries and cities.

Harry Potter was popular for the setting and concept. The writing was not originally great (although it did become good), but the idea of a magical society living amongst us and their fear of a powerful evil wizard who could only be destroyed by an unremarkable young boy is a huge underdog story set in a very interesting world. Not only that, the school environment is a popular because it provides a realistic frame of reference for the audience and is a cultural meme that invokes a wide variety of emotions.

Similarly, the Hunger Games was quite average but was popular because the main character featured a strong female role where the majority of fiction books feature a male in the leading role. The story is not entirely original, being a twist on the ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur (I’ve said this before and someone didn’t believe me so you can go Google this yourself – the author said as much herself during an interview). I have nothing against unique twists on existing concepts (as I write high fantasy, I pretty much live by making my own twist on existing concepts), but the point is the strongest feature of the Hunger Games are the characters, and this is why the series became popular – though the plot isn’t bad either.

Sasha and some other book whose name I’ve forgotten:

I’m going to end with another two books that I found were terrible. The first is Sasha – A Trial of Blood and Steel. I saw this in book stores a long time ago and the title caught my attention, so when it became available at my library I borrowed it. Wow, what a disappointment. Sasha is a huge Mary Sue (in the opposite direction of Bella). She’s not only a princess but a master swordswoman too. She’s beautiful and far too strong. The few chapters I read were just her killing people with absolutely no effort and being widely respected and sought after because she’s basically perfect. Boring. Not only that, the pace was inappropriate (butchered by some purple prose at the wrong times) and the plot so mundane that I can’t remember much about it besides that it wasn’t interesting. Maybe the book got better (and come to think of it I may not have started reading from the beginning) but all I know is that this was one of the few fantasy books that I’ve picked up and haven’t finished. Usually, I’ll stick with it until the end.

The book that I forgot was a historical fiction where this girl went back in time to medieval England (I think) and changed history. She brought her taekwondo skills with her and beat down all these fully armed and trained knights, did the sideways monkey dance with the prince and turned out to be a Goddess. I don’t have to make it any clearer – she was a Mary Sue, and as a result I can’t even remember the title of that book. See what bad writing does? Admittedly, the book was a bit interesting at first (she became a Goddess later on), but it wasn’t very accurate for a historical fiction and the main character was ridiculously overpowered.

Anyway, that’s that. I gave a pretty objective analysis of why some popular books are popular, and why some of them are horrible books so this is slightly more informative that a simple rant. Hopefully nobody is too offended that I called out Harry Potter, I admit that I’m a huge fan and it’s one of the few books that I’ve read more than once – so the very fact that I pointed out its flaws should demonstrate that I’m giving impersonal, objective critiques.

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