Thursday January 5, 2012
Making the leap into 2012
Along The Watchtower
By M. Veera Pandiyan
Political partisans are predicting dire scenarios against each other as the 13th general election looms.
LIKE the start of all years, 2012 began on a cheerful note, but don’t expect the goodwill to last for long, though. Unlike the usual 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds taken by the Earth to complete its orbit around the Sun, this one is a leap year with 366 days.
A leap year occurs every four years when an extra day is included at the end of February.
There are some interesting traditions linked to leap years. Apparently, according to the Irish, it is okay for a woman to propose marriage to a man on Feb 29.
The practice has been traced to the 5th century after St Bridget – the patron saint of blacksmiths, boatmen and chicken farmers among others – complained to St Patrick (patron saint of Ireland) about women having to wait too long for men ask for their hand.
The tradition spread to Scotland with Queen Margaret’s decree in 1288 that a woman could demand any man she fancied to wed her on Feb 29.
It seems the men were prevented by law from turning down such a proposal. Fortunately for the reluctant grooms, the penalty was not a custodial sentence – only a fine in the form of a forced kiss, a dress made of silk or a pair of gloves to the rejected woman.
An unpopular girl then might not have gotten hitched but at least she would have had the chance to stock up her wardrobe by proposing to as many disinterested suitors as she could corner.
Such stories are unlikely to amuse the millions of Doomsday theory believers today who are sure that the end of the world is finally nigh.
Yes, it is the anticipated year of the apocalypse for those caught up in the much-prophesised end of times.
The common date earmarked by the Doomsday believers citing the Mayan calendar – the anticipated alignment of planets, solar flares, super volcanoes and polar magnet shift – is this Dec 21.
Periodic predictions of apocalyptic scenarios are not necessarily new. They have been regularly foretold by religious preachers, pseudo-scientists, fiction writers and such. Time and again, all of them have been proven wrong.
Among the notable predictions was that by William Miller who in 1840 warned of the second coming of Jesus Christ and impending end of the world between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844.
About 100,000 of his followers sold their belongings and went up the mountains to wait for the end. Nothing happened. He changed the date to Oct 22 and this too passed without incident.
His loyal followers, however, went on to form yet another highly successful religious movement.
It has become a routine for evangelist Harold Camping, who predicted the end of the world twice last year - on May 21 and Oct 21.
In 1992, he wrote a book called 1994?, which proclaimed the close to be in mid-September 1994.
Isn’t it amazing that people continue to believe in such characters in spite of their continuous unfulfilled prophesies?
In Malaysia, it is more of a case of political partisans predicting doomsday scenarios against each other after the 13th general election, expected to be held within the first six months of the year.
The heat is already rising in the build-up to the much-awaited verdict in the sodomy trial of Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim Anwar, 64, on Monday.
The High Court will deliver its verdict on whether Anwar sodomised his former aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, 27, at a Desa Damansara condominium unit in Bukit Damansara on June 26, 2008.
The de facto PKR leader faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and whipping if found guilty under Section 377B of the Penal Code.
PKR deputy president Azmin Ali has since announced that Pakatan Rakyat would mobilise 100,000 people at the Jalan Duta Court Complex in Kuala Lumpur to show support for Anwar.
Another mass gathering is also being planned in Penang after the verdict.
The police have urged supporters to stay away from the gathering but it doesn’t look like the faithful will be deterred.
What can the non-partisans expect from such a gathering?
The Crowd: The Study of the Po-pular Mind by French physician Gustave Le Bon, who originated the theory of crowd psychology in the 19th century, provides some clues.
According to Le Bon, people usually change as they join a crowd because it fosters anonymity with individuals and become less conscious of their actions.
While he did not believe that members of an intense crowd were deranged, he nevertheless argued that the structure of assembly had a powerful influence on the behaviour of members.
He said when a crowd reached a critical level of arousal, individuals lost their power to resist suggestions from influential members, resulting in strong emotional reactions spreading with contagious results.
“The masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduces them,” he wrote.
“Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master, whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.”
Happy New Year? Hope so.
Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this note carved on an Assyrian tablet in 2800 BC: There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end: bribery and corruption are common. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.