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Manny Francisco l Manila, The Philippines

Furthermore …


Today’s the dawn of a new – post-Mayan – day

Congratulations. The world didn’t end Friday.

“The end of all things is near.” (1st Peter 4:7)

Yes, the phrase “the end is near” – a ubiquitous presence in comics and cartoons for as long as most of us can remember – is at least as old as Christ’s birth, more than 2,000 years ago, as measured by the Gregorian calendar.

It is another calendar, the Mayan, that set off the idea that because that calendar supposedly ended on Dec. 21, 2012, there would be no Dec. 22, hence the end of the world.

While many Christians have awaited the rapture pretty much since Peter’s warning, the nuclear arms race and Cuban Missile Crisis of the late 1950s and 1960s sparked true, widespread fears that indeed the end was near.

Save me a place, surround me with friendly faces/All of us have gathered here to share the end/To watch the world go up in flames/Please, Lord, we’re not ready/Give us a day/Give us an hour (Carly Simon, 1971)

Simon’s somewhat bizarre “Share the End” was not really an anomaly, though, as the previous two decades had seen countless science fiction movies, books and TV shows that contemplated how a single person or small group of people survived the world’s end.

While we take quite seriously the power humans hold to literally destroy the planet, we tend to make light of the idea we’ll get a warning of the specific date. And there’s a “can’t do anything about it anyway” feeling, reflected by the sardonic jazz singer and pianist Mose Allison in the antithesis of Carly Simon’s song:

Ever since the world ended/I don’t go out as much/People that I once befriended/Just don’t bother to stay in touch.

Note that the Mayans ended the calendar on the day of the winter solstice – the day of the year with the fewest minutes of sunlight. So in addition to celebrating the world’s survival, take some pleasure in knowing that for the next six months, darkness will ebb a bit every day.

A farewell to junkets

Lame-duck congressman Dan Burton’s farewell tour didn’t cover the counties in his central Indiana district. Instead, the 30-year representative hit the road to visit 17 countries – most of them at taxpayers’ expense.

Burton, an Indianapolis Republican whose district included Wabash County, traveled to 14 countries as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The committee chairman took half as many trips.

The Indianapolis Star reported that Burton also used $43,000 in leftover campaign funds for travel-related expenses, including $1,673 for luxury hotels and resorts; $2,396 for dining expenses; $18,685 for airfare; $3,043 for his wife’s expenses; and $12,466 for reimbursements on lodging, airfare, travel, meetings and gifts.

Burton’s travel itinerary this past year also included trips, with his wife, to Taiwan, Bahrain and Qatar, paid for by private groups. The total cost of $32,978 was the fifth-highest for privately funded travel in Congress, according to a website that monitors disclosure forms submitted by members of Congress.

Burton, 74, did not seek re-election.

State workers receive a parting gift from outgoing governor

“Santa Mitch” might be a more fitting moniker for Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels this week. Friday, he handed out goodies to top-performing state workers – 8 percent raises to employees evaluated as outstanding; 5 percent raises to those who exceeded expectations; and 3 percent to those who met expectations.

Lumps of coal for those who did not meet expectations – no pay increase.

About 5 percent of state employees – roughly 1,300 workers – are in line for the generous 8 percent pay hike.

The pay increases will cost the state about $38 million a year. The pay-for-performance model was instituted in 2006.

The state surplus paid off for state workers. Last year, the top pay hike was 6 percent. Most workers received increases in December 2010 and 2011, following a two-year salary freeze.

Steroid-use needle pointing to college football

Steroid scandals have sullied Major League Baseball and professional bicycling, forever marring the achievements of several star athletes. Will college football be next?

An investigation by The Associated Press revealed that testing for steroids in college football is largely unregulated and wildly erratic, with some schools conducting reputable testing but others failing to test for steroids or warning players well in advance of a test.

On record, the percentage of positive tests is near zero.

But there are signs steroid use is plentiful in college football.

One measure the AP used found that numerous college football players experienced significant gains in weight and mass that experts say is beyond what mere diet, exercise and training can be expected to produce.

With the report coming on the eve of the college bowl season, look for lots of discussion.

But will the NCAA toughen its rules?