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Gail Collins: World ‘highly unlikely’ to end Friday

  • New York Times
  • Published Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, at 5:23 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, at 5:23 p.m.

It appears that a lot of people believe the world will come to an end Friday, possibly during a zombie apocalypse.

Now that I have your attention, let’s proceed with a discussion of how various accounting principles are influencing congressional negotiations over the “fiscal cliff.”

Just kidding. We are going to talk about the end of the world and the zombie apocalypse. Honestly, this is a big deal. The Web, which always knows what is really important, is full of it. Panic buying has popped up in Russia. At an antiterrorism summit meeting in San Diego this year, law enforcement officials got to see a demonstration on what to do in the event that Southern California is taken over by zombies.

Also, there have been quite a few recent developments that might well be interpreted as a sign of the end of days:

•  The 5,125-year-long Mayan calendar stops on Dec. 21.

•  Scientists report the discovery of an elephant that speaks Korean.

•  Texas Gov. Rick Perry says he might be considering another run for president.

All right, the elephant has a very limited vocabulary. But ever since the world failed to come to an end in 2000, apocalypse aficionados have been looking at December 2012 because of the Mayan calendar thing. I believe the zombies were added on simply because right now zombies are really popular, with a high-rated zombie TV series, “The Walking Dead”; a whole bunch of best-selling zombie graphic novels; and an upcoming Brad Pitt movie, “World War Z.”

The movie isn’t being released until June, which suggests that Pitt doesn’t have much faith in the Mayans.

What is it about zombies that everybody likes so much? As villains, they aren’t particularly well-rounded. They don’t plan, so the plot options are pretty limited. You can’t develop a forbidden relationship with one.

Yet these days if you want to sell something, you add zombies. If you’ve got a supply of pup tents you can’t get rid of, relabel them “zombie survival shelters” and they’ll fly out the door. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been trying to get people interested in emergency readiness by repositioning the advice as “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.” Organizers of that counterterrorism summit meeting in San Diego said they featured a section on zombie fighting to brighten up an otherwise pretty grim five days of meetings on homeland security.

Zombies. Always the life of the party.

Scientists at NASA have taken the whole end-of-the-world thing seriously enough to post answers to a list of frequently asked questions, beginning with the biggie. (“The world will not end in 2012.”) The Mayan calendar, NASA says, just ends like the one on your desk. Also, as long as they have your attention, they want you to know that there is no planet named Nibiru hurtling to Earth and that “a reversal in the rotation of Earth is impossible.” Just in case you were worrying. Toward the end of its Q-and-A, NASA takes up the issue of whether Earth will be hit by a meteor in 2012, assuring readers: “We have already determined that there are no threatening asteroids as large as the one that killed the dinosaurs.”

My bar for comfort on the threatening-asteroid issue is way lower than the dinosaur-extinction level. NASA is sounding a little like Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, who told his nation that he didn’t believe in the whole end-of-the-world scare, then added: “At least, not this year.”

Scientists: If the topic is potential cosmic calamities, think about your bedside manner. When discussing life-extinguishing meteors or planet-eating black holes, never say “highly unlikely.” Remember, you are talking to a nation of people who kept buying Powerball tickets even after the odds passed 1 in 175 million.

Gail Collins writes for the New York Times.

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