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Towards apocalypse now

We interrupt this regularly scheduled column to bring you this special message: The world's expiry date is next Friday. Anirudh Bhattacharyya writes.

columns Updated: Dec 14, 2012 22:03 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya

We interrupt this regularly scheduled column to bring you this special message: The world's expiry date is next Friday. Or so conspiracy buffs prophecy, based on the end of the Mayan calendar, when they believe the Earth's geomagnetic field will reverse, the mysterious planet Nibiru will appear and cause havoc, and Mitt Romney will be elected Secretary General of the United Nations (UN).

Until recently I would have argued that the chances of the Earth going into apocalyptic mode that day were equal to that of a rhesus macaque named Darwin wandering around at an Ikea store, adorned in a form-fitting shearling coat. But since that just occurred this week in Toronto, that analogy will require updating.

Meanwhile, an Opposition MP in Ottawa, the Canadian capital, accused the Stephen Harper government of being "as lost as a monkey in an Ikea". In going ape, that honourable member ignored the fact of the country possessing the most stable economy among OECD nations. That's a canard that cannot be leveled at the administration across the border.

As America thrills to the fiscal cliffhanger, there's little agreement between Washington's Democrats and Republicans whether to proffer prudence or profligacy. However the current crisis is resolved, the Mayan long count calendar that spans over 5,125 years, isn't long enough for the Obama Administration and the Republican House of Representatives to arrive at a long-term agreement. As the world watches and those like International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde seek a "comprehensive fix", America's lawmakers could argue they have already created a fix.

Talking of fixes, the Obama administration also has to wrestle with the prospect of replacing Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, as she prepares to launch her 2016 presidential campaign and is smart enough to realise that remaining in the Obama cabinet will earn her no points. Among the president's favourites was the US Permanent Representative to the UN, Susan Rice.

Rice, though, faced fierce opposition given her appearance on multiple talk shows blaming the Benghazi debacle on a film, and withdrew her name from consideration. Unfortunately, her decision separated Rice from the chaff. Other possible candidates include Senator John Kerry. Rice probably has more backbone that John Kerry could find in a closet full of skeletons.

Kerry ran for president in 2004 as the original flip-flop man. Commenting on his position on a 2003 funding bill for US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it." Since Americans have this peculiar habit of using diminutive versions of the famous like LiLo (Lindsay Lohan) or KiKa (Kim Kardashian), does the Obama administration truly want to send out a subliminal message that it has a JoKer as its top diplomat?

Republicans, led by John McCain, like Kerry (jokers do emerge from a pack) threatened to nix Rice's nomination. Her exit undermines that wise old Chinese saying 'talk does not cook rice' Her confirmation would not have meant the end of the world.

For now, though, the doomsayers in Washington and beyond are well into the bunker mentality. Survivalists are stocking up on provisions ahead of December 21. Or recycling those leftover grosses of Granola bars from the heady Y2K frights. They could be fresher for the adherents of the ministry of Harold Camping, who predicted mass demise in 1994, revised his calculations to May 2011, blamed a mathematical error for not identifying the correct date as October 21, and is currently replacing the batteries in his abacus. The paranoia has spread to China and Russia. Everywhere, it appears, except Guatemala, the heart of Mayan civilisation, where they are joyfully preparing traditional tamales for their Christmas feast, which Camping's calculator may indicate, falls four days after we've all been eliminated.

Meanwhile, the use of marijuana has been legalised in the American states of Washington and Colorado. If the doomsdayers are right, at least they can go out on a high.

Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years

The views expressed by the author are personal