The big picture

101 Things You Should Know About 2012

<i>101 Things You Should Know About 2012</i>, ISBN No. 1440511136, is available at the usual online booksellers. Sundance Bookstore, 1155 W. Fourth St., 786-1188, can order it.

101 Things You Should Know About 2012, ISBN No. 1440511136, is available at the usual online booksellers. Sundance Bookstore, 1155 W. Fourth St., 786-1188, can order it.

I don’t know anyone who isn’t talking, generally in a joking way, about the date Dec. 21, 2012. It’s more than just the winter solstice that year, at 11:12 a.m., if astronomers are to be believed. It’s the date the Mayan calendar shows as the end of an age. Some conspiracy theorists believe it portends Armageddon. Some spiritualists believe it’s the beginning of a new age of higher consciousness for inhabitants of the planet Earth.

Me, I just believe it’s the winter solstice for that year, and I’ll probably be watching the clock for the days to get longer and the approach of the 2012 gardening season. We’ve had a couple of dates in recent memory that were supposed to spell the end of civilization. Remember the millennium? Remember Y2K, when all computers were supposed to break because of a two-digit code glitch? I was fool enough to stock up on food and water—just in case, you know, not because I believed it, but the hype was such it seemed better to be safe than sorry. I had friends who actually went out to the desert with guns, food and shelter.

If you have any questions, Mark Heley’s book, 101 Things You Should Know About 2012: Countdown to Armageddon … or a Better World? will answer them. Calling it “comprehensive” is a bit of an understatement. Five chapters beginning with “Who are the Maya?” look at the myths and theories to a level that took me from curiosity to befuddlement to boredom. I mean, this is an in-depth examination.

The book, for all its scientific and cultural depth, is written in a way that gets the reader through it easily. It’s formatted, as the title suggests, as a series of “factoids,” numbered 1 to 101, followed by a glossary and resource guide that gives people who want more information a reading list longer than their arm. And since Heley, a journalist and documentarian, has been researching this stuff for more than a decade, I’d be surprised if anyone could read all this stuff before the last trumpet blows for the Rapture.

Some of the most fascinating information is very early on in the book, when Heley discusses who the Maya were and their ideas of counting (base 20 system) and time. It seemed this culture was peculiarly interested in time and its passage.

The Maya, who existed from about 300 to 900 A.D., saw each moment as part of a larger cycle, analogous to our seconds, minutes, days, weeks, months, years, millennia, eons, but each moment was also a discrete thing, with each moment having an aspect depending on which god controlled it.

Basically, if the pattern could be identified, the future could be told, and everyone’s actions for a particular day could be most advantageous. So their calendar(s) were very specific and could be charted out for the long haul. Their system basically went 20-day months, 18-month years, with a separate calendar to track the Earth’s trip around the sun. Within these calendars were smaller cycles, and an annual five-day leap year period to keep the calendars consistent with the solar system. And then, these were combined into the calendar in which the time calendar and the seasonal calendar were merged into an 18,980-day cycle.

After reading that paragraph, I can feel my own eyes glaze over. At any rate, the final cycle combined those factors and others to create a 1,872,000-day cycle. And it is from this 5,125-year cycle that the date, Dec. 21, 2012 is derived—all these calendars end and begin a new cycle on that date. Fun stuff for those who see the wheels within wheels in which we live.

But also, the various theories and predictions for changes on the Earth raised my interest, and in some cases, my concern. Sunspots, superluminal gravitational waves, magnetic pole shift—again, there’s much in this book I’d never heard anything about. Kind of makes climate change seem small—except of course, that’s factored in, too.