Thursday, December 22, 2005

In the Year 2038

Folk wisdom in the Unix world holds that the universe will end on January 19, 2038, when the time_t's roll over. Nobody's suggested a plausible way that this might happen, though, and I personally doubt we'll experience a universal, or even global catastrophe.

However, the evidence strongly indicates that Portland, Oregon, will be vaporized by an asteroid somewhere around that date. It's an article of faith among the locals here that the universe began somewhere around 1970, a belief they share with Unix boxes around the globe. There's an elaborate creation myth and everything. Ask anyone, they'll start reeling off names: Tom McCall, Golsch... er, the Once-Revered Mayor We Don't Talk About, the Beach Bill, the Bottle Bill, land use planning (if they say "SB100" you know they're a total politics geek), Waterfront Park, the downtown transit mall, MAX, Pioneer Courthouse Square, and on and on. Before that, the world was dark and without form, a vast wasteland ruled by ignorant loggers, bereft of the rudiments of culture, including silverware. Suddenly a miracle happened, and we became the utopia we are today.

Like all creation myths, it doesn't stand up to close scrutiny, which outrages the true believers. I mean, the downtown transit mall? Even apart from the crack dealers and empty storefronts, is it really a major achievement to run all your city buses along a couple of downtown streets, and then gussy the place up with some brick sidewalks (slippery when wet!) and groovy 70's bus shelters? I mean, so what? Big deal.

Meanwhile, the bottle bill hasn't aged well either. I realize raising the 5 cent deposit to a worthwhile sum would take a legislative act, and the legislature's been completely paralyzed for about 20 years now. But should they bother? The basic idea was that people wouldn't recycle anything unless they felt they were being paid to, somehow. Otherwise they'd just toss the empties out the car window or something. Fortunately this is no longer true. But we can't sunset the bottle bill no matter how obsolete it might be, because it's part of the creation myth. And if you say it's obsolete now due to changed circumstances, you're admitting that the locals here in the 70's were still the same "ignorant rubes" they supposedly were in the 50's and 60's. We absolutely must not do that, because it makes the story more complicated, and we can't have that. The one ongoing, concrete benefit of the law has been to provide a meager means of income for the homeless. Which was entirely unintentional, obviously, since our legislature rarely deliberately aids the less fortunate. And at 20 cans to the dollar, it's a hell of a way to make a living.

I was going to rant about the Beach Bill as well, but enough examples. If the universe began here around 1970, we can also be sure it'll end roughly 2038. That's around the time that most baby boomers will be "trading up" to the great Pottery Barn in the sky, and who can imagine a universe without boomers? They certainly can't, and who are the rest of us to argue?

And then there's the asteroid. The rock with our name on it has already been discovered, charted, and named. Perhaps you've heard of Apophis, which "might" hit the Earth in 2036. This is way too close to be a coincidence. Some might argue I'm making numerous unsupportable leaps of faulty logic, but the puzzle pieces fit together far too well, and I'm forced to conclude that we're all doomed. Unless the robots get us first, of course.

Besides, even if this is a bogus theory, spreading it around widely might dissuade Californians from moving here. Not because they'll believe it, of course; no, they'll realize we're still a bunch of ignorant, xenophobic loggers, and our school system is terrible. But hey, the ends justify the means, right?

1 comment :

Eric Durland said...

I think that the deposit has helped out your state in more ways then you might think. Have you done a comparison of roadside litter between Oregon and a none deposit state? Are your creeks and roadsides clogged with beverage containers?


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