When Prophecy Fails, 2022 Edition
It's that time of year again: time to reflect back on what happened in the last 365 days, and count ourselves lucky that Nostradamus was wrong once again1. As bad as the year was, it could have been worse―a lot worse. Here is what happened this year according to Nostradamus, or more accurately, "Nostradamus", that is, someone passing off his or her predictions as those of the famed "seer". Let's start with some of the more reasonable predictions:
- A new Pope was installed and turned out to be the Antichrist2: I wasn't aware that there was a new Pope this year, but then I'm not a Catholic so I don't really follow these things. Also, how exactly is it decided whether he's the Antichrist; does black smoke come out of the chimney?
- Bombs exploded in London2: There were a few bomb scares in the news from London this year, but no actual bombs as far as I've been able to find out3.
- The European Union fell: This was supposed to have been predicted by the first two lines of quatrain II.viii, as half-translated into English:
Sacred temples prime Roman style
Will reject the goffes foundations4.
I don't know what this means, but I can't see anything about the EU in it. The word "goffes" is untranslated from the original French, which doesn't help. Edgar Leoni, who remarked in a footnote that the word "goffes" is difficult to translate, rendered the lines as:
Temples consecrated in the original Roman manner,
They will reject the excess foundations5.
This is a clearer translation, but I still don't see what it has to do with the EU. The quotes from quatrains of Nostradamus occasionally offered in these articles often appear to have been chosen at random for all that they have to do with the events supposedly predicted. In any case, I don't live in the EU, so I didn't notice it falling.
- A "disastrous" earthquake hit Japan4: As I've remarked elsewhere6, earthquakes happen every year, especially in Japan. So, it's fairly safe to predict an earthquake in Japan, but a "disastrous" one is another matter. I can find nothing in the news for this year about an especially damaging earthquake in Japan, let alone a "disastrous" one. Again, though, I don't live in Japan, so maybe I missed it.
Now, let's move on to the more colorful and risky predictions2:
- A robot army destroyed humanity: This, too, escaped my notice.
- The clone wars, begun they have: I'm not sure how this squares with the previous event, but I guess it must have happened before the robots destroyed us. I think "Nostradamus" must have been watching Star Wars in his crystal ball.
- The human vs. vampire war: How did we fit this in between fighting the clones and being destroyed by the robots? I think there was a movie like this, though, so it's more evidence that "Nostradamus" has Disney+.
- Aliens invaded: How dare aliens take advantage of the destruction wreaked by robots, clones, vampires, and the Antichrist Pope to invade?
- Kim Jong-Un died: And he was replaced by a clone, or an alien, or maybe a robot.
- World War III: Now, this is just piling on. WW3 is predicted every year7, and one of these years it may actually happen.
- The Earth was swallowed by a black hole: Looking at the bright side, there can't possibly be any predictions for next year, or can there?8
As is usual for such prophecies, not only did the predicted events fail to occur, but the interesting and surprising events of the year make no appearance. Where is the Russian invasion of the Ukraine? The end of the pandemic? Elon Musk buying Twitter? The overturning of Roe v. Wade? The Red Wave that turned into a ripple? The Big Freeze of December? Donald Trump selling superhero trading cards of himself9? Well, that last one's a little implausible, so I can see why "Nostradamus" went with the robot war.
One reason why I write about these silly predictions is that the tabloids that publish them never look back at the failures of their prophets. However, in an article published just a few days ago, the British tabloid newspaper Mirror claims that three prophecies of Nostradamus came true this year10:
- Inflation: First of all, why wasn't this alleged prediction mentioned last year, instead of after it was fulfilled? It's pretty easy to predict something if you wait until after it has already happened. The "prediction" was based on the following:
No abbots, monks, no novices to learn;
Honey shall cost far more than candle-wax
So high the price of wheat, that man is stirred
His fellow man to eat in his despair.
This is not a single quatrain but halves of two put together. The first two lines are from I.xliv and the remainder from II.lxxv. Neither quatrain has a date attached to it, so it's an open-ended, unfalsifiable prediction11 which can be expected to come true many times. There's no reason to think it predicts this year's inflation as opposed to any other period of high prices in the last half a millennium. In fact, as even the tabloid writer remarks: "…[T]he prediction of cannibalism due to extortionate living costs is one that is yet to come true." Well, there's always next year12.
- Global Warming: The author of this article claims that droughts and heat waves this year were due to global warming, and that Nostradamus predicted them. Putting aside the notion that specific weather events can be attributed to climate change, the allegedly correct prediction is based on the quatrain II.iii:
Like the sun the head shall sear the shining sea:
The Black Sea’s living fish shall all but boil.
When Rhodes and Genoa half-starved shall be
The local folk to cut them up shall toil.
This is a creative translation of the same quatrain that supposedly predicts either a comet or a nuclear bomb exploding over the Mediterranean Sea13. The word that is here translated as "Black Sea" is "Negroponte", which is a name for the Greek island of Euboea14, which is not in the Black Sea. I suppose that the translator saw "Negro-", which does mean "black", and jumped to the conclusion that "Negroponte" referred to the Black Sea. Be that as it may, if global warming ever gets so bad that it half-boils fish in the sea, we're in big trouble.
- The Death of the Queen: A fellow named Mario Reading published a book on Nostradamus in 2006 which supposedly predicted that Queen Elizabeth II would die "circa 2022"―I write "supposedly" because I do not have this book and so am in no position to check it. Not that I doubt that he did make such a prediction, because it was a pretty safe bet given her advanced age. Moreover, the use of the word "circa" added a degree of vagueness to the prediction: if he had meant to predict that she would die this year, and only this year, then he would have written "in 2022". As it is, if she had died last year, or next year, he still could have claimed to have gotten the prediction right, as those years are "circa" 2022. So, at the very least, the prediction covered the years 2021-2023. While that's not quite a sure thing, if the prediction had failed we would simply have heard nothing about it. Sadly, Reading died in 2017, so he can't enjoy his fifteen minutes or the money from the spike in sales of his book15.
That's all for this year. For next year, prepare for more droughts, floods, riots, a new new Pope, and the promised cannibalism. After this year, it sounds positively restful.
- Previous weblog entries on Nostradamus:
- "Chilling Nostradamus Predictions 2022", Wise Horoscope, archived: 10/19/2021. This is from the Internet Archive as the original page is no longer available.
- Here are the scares:
- Benjamin Jackson, "Breaking: Police lock down London bridges due to bomb threat", EuroWeekly News, 2/15/2022
- Harry Taylor, "Police evacuate Trafalgar Square and carry out controlled explosion", The Guardian, 6/4/2022
- Matthew Roscoe, "‘Explosion’ in London: Mystery over Hackney loud bang solved as Londoners dial 999 for police and fire brigade", London World, 11/29/2022
- Patrick Knox, "Bad New Year: Nostradamus’ seven chilling 2022 predictions: From death of Kim Jong-un to war in Europe and collapse of EU", The Sun, 12/27/2021.
- Edgar Leoni, Nostradamus and His Prophecies (1982).
- See Rule 10 in: How to be a prophet for fun and profit, 6/26/2022.
- See: Did Nostradamus predict the Russian invasion of Ukraine?, 3/6/2022.
- "Nostradamus predictions 2023: World War III, Mars landing, celestial fire and much more", Times Now, 9/16/2022.
- Alex Kasprak, "Is Trump Selling Digital Trading Cards Featuring Himself in Superhero Garb?", Snopes, 12/15/2022.
- Charlotte Hawes, "Nostradamus' prophecies that came true this year―from 2022 inflation to Queen's death", Mirror, 12/27/2022.
- See Rule 1 in: How to be a prophet for fun and profit, 6/26/2022.
- Charlotte Hawes, "Nostradamus' chilling predictions for 2023―from cannibals to a disaster on Mars", Mirror, 12/27/2022.
- See: Through the Looking Glass, Darkly, 2/7/2009
- Jeff Wallenfeldt, et al., "Euboea", Encyclopaedia Britannica, accessed: 12/31/2022.
- Kieren Williams, "Nostradamus tops charts with book of prophecies after predicting Queen's death", Mirror, 9/16/2022.
Santa Claus and the Evil Elf
Every Christmas, Santa Claus gives special gifts to the best children on his "Nice" list. This year the special gift for good little boys and girls was a toy reindeer made from a troy ounce of solid gold. However, it was rumored that an elf in Santa's workshop was shorting the toys and keeping the unused gold for himself!
Santa did not know whether the rumor was true, but he was determined to find out. Moreover, if there was a bad elf in his workshop, he intended to discover the miscreant. Ten elves were working to make the small but valuable toys. How could he find out whether one of the elves was shorting the toys? Santa refused to believe that more than one bad elf worked for him, and in this he was right. However, he kept his knowledge secret so that the thieving elf, if there was one, would continue making the lighter toys.
Also in his workshop was a large scale that could weigh items precisely to the gram. The scale was large enough that it could weigh as many as sixty of the small toys at one time. How could Santa use the scale to determine whether there was a thieving elf, and which of the elves was the culprit?
Extra Credit: What was the minimum number of weighings that Santa needed to determine if gold was missing and to identify the thief?
First, Santa numbered the elves making the toys from one to ten; then he took one toy from elf #1, two toys from elf #2, three from elf #3, and so on, up to ten from elf #10. He put as many of these toys as would fit in the scale and, by counting the number of toys in the scale, he knew how much they should weigh. How much they weighed less depended on how many of the lighter toys were included in the weighing, and how many were included would reveal which elf was the thief. For instance, if the toys weighed six grams less than they should, that would mean elf #6 was the guilty party. Luckily, it turned out that the toys weighed exactly what they should and that there was no evil elf.
Extra Credit Solution: Since the scale could weigh up to sixty toys at a time, Santa was able to solve the mystery with only one weighing, because the total number of toys he weighed was 55.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: This puzzle is a work of fiction. The puzzle is based on a traditional one usually involving the weighing of gold coins.
Speaking of what's new:
Lee Zeldin passes on run for RNC chair, urges Ronna McDaniel to step aside for new new leadership*
What was wrong with the old new leadership? If the new new leadership doesn't work out, will the RNC need new new new leadership?
* Kerry Picket, "Lee Zeldin passes on run for RNC chair, urges Ronna McDaniel to step aside for new new leadership", The Washington Times, 12/7/2022. This is a link to a copy of the page from the Internet Archive. The Times subsequently edited one of the "new"s from the headline.
It's not completely new, but I've extensively revised the old article "How to Read a Poll", adding new sections on sub-samples and the closeness of many elections, as well as an appendix on the distinction between percentages and percentage points. Check it out:
While writing an entry last month1, I had an experience that I thought I should share in this series on easily confusible words. Initially, I wrote the following sentence: "Given that so few years are involved, it would be just as well to forgo a graph and simply compare the rates among the years." Reading over the sentence, I had the vague feeling that "forgo" was misspelled, so I added an "e" to get "forego". At that point, I went on writing the rest of the entry, but later as I was reviewing what I had written, I once again had that nagging feeling that "forego" was misspelled. So, finally, I decided that I might as well consult a dictionary.
To my surprise, I discovered that neither word was misspelled; instead, they are two distinct words with two different meanings. "To forgo" is a verb meaning to do without something2, which is what I originally wrote and intended. In other words, I meant that under the circumstances discussed in the entry, it would be just as well to do without a graph. "To forego" is also a verb, but it means to go before something3, which would make little sense in the context in which I wrote it.
The "for(e)go" distinction is one that a spell-checking program will not notice, since both are English words. Moreover, both words are verbs, so a grammar-checking program is unlikely to catch the substitution of one for the other. I tried several online checkers, none of which found anything wrong with the example sentence, with or without the "e".
As if that isn't bad enough, some dictionaries give "forego" as an alternative spelling of "forgo"! Given the already considerable danger of confusing these two homophones, I suggest forgoing "forego" for the "do without" meaning by remembering to do without the "e". Also, remember that "to forego" is to go before.
- Charts & Graphs: The Case of the Missing Murders, 11/10/2022
- "Forgo", Merriam-Webster, accessed: 12/1/2022
- "Forego", Merriam-Webster, accessed: 12/1/2022
- "'Forego' vs. 'Forgo': The E Is Important", Merriam-Webster, accessed: 12/1/2022