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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 11, Part 2

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that will convince you that literacy isn't always a blessing. Last time Rayford and Chloe visited the visitation pastor at New Hope Village Church and got to hear about his rapture experience. What happens this week? Well, more or less we learn why said pastor isn't in heaven with all his peeps. Sadly, however, it's not much of a story, so don't get your hopes up for hookers and drugs. For that kind of craziness, you'll need to talk to Ted Haggard.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to scripto, who narrowly beat out Ken with his heartfelt apology for the horror that is Left Behind. Or, more accurately, for encouraging me to read the thing in the first place:

I'm sorry but I'm afraid my high point commentary was "Left in the Behind - Part One: The Titillation". All my good material is long gone and now I'm just sad. But I feel so very bad for you and somehow responsible. I voted for this.


Oh, scripto, it's okay. Honestly, my natural curiosity probably would have led me to read the thing whether you had encouraged me to or not. On the other hand, without your encouragement I wouldn't have taken notes on it, or had to revisit it in this much detail, so there's still that to answer for. Regardless, hopefully the series remains at least slightly amusing. In any case, keep at it folks, the best comments may yet be to come.


And with that, let's begin! As always, page/line numbers are in bold, quotes from the book are in block quotes, my commentary is in regular print, and you can navigate the whole series with the provided tag.


----------

Dramatis Personae

Listed in order of frequent flyer number...

Rayford Steele: Airline captain. Husband of Irene Steele. Possible former gay porn star. Ditherer. No longer attracted to Hattie. Bad father. Cries a lot. Lying hypocrite.

Irene Steele: Wife of Rayford Steele. Born-again Christian. Not perfect, just forgiven. Reader of marriage books. Cleans obsessively. Likes egg in her coffee. Bakes really silly cookies. Likes butter churns.

Cameron "Buck" Williams: Reporter. Known for "bucking tradition and authority." Terrible Excellent writer. Spiritually attuned. Electronics wiz. Fast typist. Clumsy on slides. Travels a lot. Graduated from Princeton. Human alarm clock. Expert in Romanian politics.

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type. Girl power devotee. Unhealthily thin. Twenty-seven years old. Blonde. Claims no moral or religious code.

Chris Smith: Airline co-pilot. Worked with Rayford Steele. Father of two. Husband. Killed himself.

Chloe Steele: Daughter of Rayford Steele. Student at Stanford.

Chaim Rosenzweig: Israeli chemist. Kinda freaky. Friend of Buck's.

Steve Plank: Buck's boss at Global Weekly. Not the sharpest tool in the shed.

Nicolae Carpathia: Businessman. Romanian Senator. Romanian President. Antichrist. Favors arms reductions.

Raymie Steele: Son of Rayford Steele. Taken in the rapture.

Dirk Burton: English guy Buck knows. Graduated from Princeton. Kinda gullible. Killed himself Murdered. Left handed.

Joshua Todd-Cothran: English finance guy.

Jonathon Stonagal: American ultra-rich dude. Involved in international monetary cabal. Has ties to duck lips.

Marge Potter: Steve Planck's secretary. Matronly.

Lucinda Washington: Fiftyish black woman. Raptured.

Ken Ritz: Pilot. Profiteering on the rapture. Actually quite polite. Fired for being too careful. Believes in aliens.

Juan Ortiz: Global Weekly international events editor.

Jimmy Borland: Global Weekly religion editor.

Barbara Donahue: Global Weekly financial editor.

Nigel Leonard: Employee of the London exchange.

Alan Tompkins: Investigator at Scotland Yard. Friend of Buck. Kind of a chickenshit. Blown up by an evil conspiracy car bomb.

Bruce Barnes: Visitation Pastor at New Hope Village Church. Likes to be mysterious. Bad husband.

----------


Page 195- Line Whooping Crane:

No quote, but when we left off Rayford had just asked Bruce how he, a pastor, had managed to be left behind. Bruce promises to tell us- and he makes good on said promise- but the story is nothing if not a disappointment. Much like this book, come to think of it.


Page 195- Line 11-15:
"I'm ashamed of myself, and if I never really had the desire or the motivation to tell others about Christ before, I sure have it now. I just feel awful that it took the most cataclysmic event in history to reach me." [Bruce said]


So, two points from this: first, we're back on that "most horrible event in history" nonsense again. Never mind the Fall from Grace, never mind the Noachian Flood, never mind the War in Heaven... all of that shit pales into insignificance beside The Rapture. Because a civil war among demi-gods is clearly not that big of a deal. Seriously, the melodrama is too much for me. Second, I love how they slip in that nudge that we should all be witnessing for Christ. See, it isn't enough fun for this book to be packed with brain-melting horribleness- the reader has to go and inflict similar torment on others. Yay?


Page 195- Line 17-28:
"I loved church. It was my life, my culture. I thought I believed everything there was to believe in the Bible. The Bible says that if you believe in Christ you have eternal life, so I assumed I was covered." [Bruce said]

[Bruce continued, starting a new paragraph for no apparent reason] "I especially liked the parts about God being forgiving. I was a sinner, and I never changed. I just kept getting forgiveness because I thought God was bound to do that. He had to. Verses that said if we confessed our sins he was faithful and just had to forgive us and to cleanse us. I knew other verses said you had to believe and receive, to trust and to abide, but to me that was sort of theological mumbo jumbo." [emphasis original]


I love all this for a couple of reasons. First, it brings us square up against the classic conflict between salvation by faith alone and salvation by faith coupled with good works. Bruce is clearly saying the he believes the salvation by faith alone bit- as is standard for many evangelical congregations- but, as we're going to see, there's a bit of a catch. This is, as a side note, the sort of catch that usually goes along with, "Come hear our sales pitch and get a free weekend in Hawaii" mailings. Second, I love the reference to "theological mumbo jumbo". Treasure this moment, kids, because we have two evangelicals (i.e. the authors) admitting that some parts of the bible just don't make any damned sense on their own. So much for literalism. Finally, my comment in the margins at this point reads, "He's taking the long way to explaining why god owns your ass," which seems to be pretty much on the money.


Page 196- Line 1-5:
"I [Bruce] thought I had a great life. I even went to Bible college. In church and at school, I said the right things and prayed in public and even encouraged people in their Christian lives. But I was still a sinner. I even said that. I told people I wasn't perfect; I was forgiven."


Ahoy there, loosely connected sentences! Regardless, keep this message in mind, folks, because it explains why even if you THINK you're happy and a good Christian you probably aren't. In fact, if you're not constantly bending every fiber of your being to following the teachings of this one, specific, narrow version of Christianity then you're not a "true Christian" and are probably going to hell. Lovely philosophy, no? Unending, unavoidable terror at damnation with a side of prayer. Stuff like this is also one reason why way back at the beginning of this series I commented that I thought this book was aimed at other Christians rather than people like me.* It's basically telling all the mainstream Christians, and even other evangelicals who may be slightly less crazy than the authors, that they suck and are bound for hellfire.


Page 196- Line 6-13:
"My wife said that," Rayford said.

"The difference is," Bruce said, "she was sincere. I lied. I told my wife that we tithed to the church, you know, that we gave ten percent of our income. I hardly ever gave any, except when the plate was passed I might drop in a few bills to make it look good. Every week I would confess that to God, promising to do better next time."


It's like a spiritual protection racket: "Wow, that's a mighty nice soul yous gots dere. It'd be a shame if anythin was to happen to it. Now, if yous was to give us ten percent of your income, like? Then everythin would be allright. Otherwise, well, see there's dis thing called 'hell'..." On a related note, my wife reminded me that when she was a fundamentalist she used to tithe from her babysitting money. Let me say that again: my wife, when she was an adolescent, would give 10% of her proceeds from babysitting so that she wouldn't go to eternal torment. It's like god is a pimp, only with fewer felt hats and more sandals and togas. That's a classy religion you got there, Bruce!


Page 196- Line 21-24:
"I [Bruce] was lazy. I cut corners. When people thought I was out calling [i.e. bugging people at home with Chick tracts] , I might be at a movie in another town. I was also lustful. I read things I shouldn't have read, looked at magazines that fed my lusts."


I know what the authors mean above, but I can't help but imagine that Bruce was actually reading "Scientific American." Gotta love that tense shift in the third sentence as well.


Page 196- Line 28-30:
"I [Bruce] knew that true Christians were known by what their lives produced and that I was producing nothing."


Aaaaand we're back to the good works thing. See, the way it gradually unfolds in Left Behind is that one is saved by faith alone but, if you have that faith, then you just naturally follow all the rules and do everything you're supposed to. If you don't, then you didn't really have the faith. It's a theological version of the No True Scotsman fallacy! It also reminds me of an abusive spouse who says things like, "If you really loved me, you'd let me pound you in the butt." Because nothing says loving like anal tearing.


Page 197- Line 3-5:
"I [Bruce] wasn't a rapist or a child molester or an adulterer, though many times I felt unfaithful to my wife because of my lusts."


I'm not sure what to do with this. Do the authors mean to imply that "reading things you shouldn't" makes you like a rapist? Do they mean that the main issue with being a rapist would be that Bruce would thereby have been unfaithful to his wife? What? Regardless, Bruce explains that he tried to make sure people didn't think he was a religious freak, and then we get to this:


Page 197- Line 16-19:
"I [Bruce] see now, of course, that God is a sin-forgiving God, because we're human and we need that. But we are to receive his gift, abide in Christ, and allow him to live through us." [emphasis original]


Please tell me someone else finds this creepy. It sounds like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" for crying out loud.


Page 197- Line 22-23:
"And as miserable as I [Bruce] was most of the time..."


What, did he have to read Left Behind too? As a side note: can I just point out that he was constantly at church, went to bible college, etc, and was miserable so, hey, clearly the problem is not enough religion! Huzzah! Regardless, Burce prattles on in this vein for a while and eventually kinda stumbles to a halt. Note that I did not say, "reaches a conclusion," because there's no argument here to conclude. Just a long, rambling confession that does not address any questions whatsoever.


Page 198- Line 27-28:
Chloe stood and paced, her arms folded across her chest. "That's a pretty interesting story," she said.


What the f-ing crap? Were you even listening to his story? I've read cereal boxes with a more compelling narrative! Regardless, after some bullshit about how Loretta was left behind, Bruce promises to explain how Rayford and Chloe can be saved as well.


Page 200- Line 16-20:
"It's really quite simple. God made it easy. That doesn't mean it's not a supernatural transaction or that we can pick and choose the good parts- as I tried to do. But if we see the truth and act on it, God won't withhold salvation from us." [Bruce said]


Get used to that "supernatural transaction" language as it appears over and over again. Note, however, that this cloaks the whole thing in free market rhetoric and one of the assumptions of the free market is that actors are... you know... free. The current situation is rife with coercion.


Page 200- Line 21-23:
"First, we have to see ourselves as God sees us. The Bible says all have sinned, that there is none righteous, no not one. It also says we can't save ourselves." [Bruce continued]


So, first, learn to hate yourself. If you ever start to think you're not so bad, then you must immediately beg god for forgiveness. Um... thank you Jesus, may I have another? *thwack* It's this sort of thing that makes me roll my eyes when Christians ask me how I can feel anything but hopeless and empty as an atheist. Honestly, I wonder the same thing about them.


Page 200-201- Line 200: 23-30- 201: 1-5:
"Lots of people thought they could earn their way to God or to heaven by doing good things, but that's probably the biggest misconception ever. Ask anyone on the street what they think the Bible or the church says about getting to heaven, and nine out of ten would say it has something to do with doing good and living right." [Bruce said, feeling the need suddenly to start a new paragraph]

"We're to do that, of course, but not so we can earn our salvation. We're to do that in response to our salvation. The Bible says that it's not by works of righteousness that we have done, but by his mercy God saved us. It also says that we are saved by grace through Christ, not of ourselves, so we can't brag about our goodness." [emphasis original]


I included this passage mostly because it's a fairly clear statement of the book's theology, and therefore is worth mention. Additionally, however, it's pretty funny that Bruce is now insisting that good works aren't what matters to god after spending so much time talking about how he needed to do more good works. Riiiight. As for the bragging: I guess the authors are up shit creek then, judging from this book.


Page 201- Line 6-11:
"Jesus took our sins and paid the penalty for them so we wouldn't have to. The payment is death, and he died in our place because he loved us. When we tell Christ that we acknowledge ourselves as sinners and lost, and receive his gift of salvation, he saves us. A transaction takes place." [Bruce droned on]


My margin note here reads, "All this talk of 'spiritual transactions' makes it sound like god himself is somehow limited." I stand by that- the explanation seems to imply that the market is imposed on god and he has to work within it. Mankind sinned, the penalty for sin is death, so god has to come up with some way to pay if he's going to save us. This is not the way an omnipotent being would do business. Such an account is pretty hard to reconcile with everything else in this book, though.


Page 201- Line 26-30:
"I have to ask you," Bruce said, "something I never wanted to ask people before. I want to know if you're ready to receive Christ right now. I would be happy to pray with you and lead you in how to talk to God about this."


Oh, no. Oh, HELL no! You don't seriously think that just talking about your unsupported beliefs and shitty life will convince anyone, do you? Well, actually, you do. Awesome. Additionally, did you catch that "lead you in how to talk to God" bit? Congratulations, folks! Pretty soon now we're going to learn our first spell! I vote for Magic Missile! In any case, Chloe declines and Rayford ponders why he will also decline, but in his case it's really stupid:


Page 202- Line 19-29:
Rayford could feel Bruce's eyes burning into him as if the young man knew Rayford was ready to make a commitment. But he [Rayford] had never rushed into anything in his life. And while he didn't put this on the same scale as dealing with a salesman, he needed time to think, a cooling-off period. He was analytical, and while this suddenly made a world of sense to him and he didn't doubt Bruce's theory of the disappearances, he would not act immediately. "I'd appreciate the tape, and I can guarantee you, I will be back tomorrow [on Sunday for church]."


Ah, yes, famously analytical Rayford. I'll entertain guesses as to how long he'll make it before he converts. Anyone? Additionally, if you're absolutely convinced of what Bruce had to say... seems kinda silly not to just go for it, no? Regardless, Bruce explains that they shouldn't delay because they could die at any time, thus playing the fear card upon which so much religion is based,** and we get this:


Page 203- Line 10-13:
"I'm [Bruce] not going to push you into something you're not ready for, but just let me encourage you that if God impresses upon you that this is true, don't put it off."


And this is very weird because, as my margin comment reads, "If we need god to convince us that this is true, and we die before he does so, then we go to hell. Isn't that a tad arbitrary?" Indeed, yes, it is. Granted, the usual explanation I get on this point is that we have free will or that god always shows himself to everyone in some fashion, but that makes it sound like we need a damned secret decoder ring to figure out all the messages. Frankly, this all just comes back to Left Behind's confusing and incoherent theology. We have free will except when we don't, we're saved by faith alone except when we don't do any works. It just contradicts itself constantly, wanting to have its cake and eat it too, and we're just supposed to accept it all because we're sinners. Maybe so, but that doesn't mean we're stupid.

What it does mean, however, is that we've reached the end of Chapter 11. Come back next time when- I swear I'm not kidding- we get to read about Rayford watching a damned video tape. We also muck around with Buck a bit, and see that Rayford is destined for "great" things.

Until then!



* Well, Christians and people who hate the English language.

** "Okay, yous don't have ta start wit the tithin right now. But don't wait too long, else somethin bad might happen, you know? Bad thins have been known ta happen, from time to time, like."

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 11, Part 1

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that will make you curse the development of movable type. Last time Buck managed to evade some nebulous and apparently badly organized conspiracy. What happens this week? Not much- just enough preaching to choke a sperm whale.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to Ken, for taking the time to analyze the physics of Alan Tompkins unfortunate demise outside of a pub:

Let us see: The door of the Pub (secured, reasonable weight) "was blown into the room" but "A leg and part of a torso [weight between 30 and 50 pounds; 5 stone at most] lay on the sidewalk- the remains of Alan Tompkins."

An explosion that blows a door off its hinges from X feet leaves body parts from Y feet, where Y>X??

Either Alan drank in cheaply-constructed "pubs" (think Elephant and Castle) or the author's are thinking with his head. Which, by the physics displayed here, is presumably on the other side of the street, hanging from a lamppost like a crucified thief.


No question about it: the authors hate and fear the devil, science, and the English language. Lovely. Thanks, Ken, and best of luck to everyone this week!

And with that, let's begin! As always, page/line numbers are in bold, quotes from the book are in block quotes, my commentary is in regular print, and you can navigate the whole series with the provided tag.


----------

Dramatis Personae

Listed in descending order of tendency to engage in autoerotic asphyxiation...

Rayford Steele: Airline captain. Husband of Irene Steele. Possible former gay porn star. Ditherer. No longer attracted to Hattie. Bad father. Cries a lot. Lying hypocrite.

Irene Steele: Wife of Rayford Steele. Born-again Christian. Not perfect, just forgiven. Reader of marriage books. Cleans obsessively. Likes egg in her coffee. Bakes really silly cookies. Likes butter churns.

Cameron "Buck" Williams: Reporter. Known for "bucking tradition and authority." Terrible Excellent writer. Spiritually attuned. Electronics wiz. Fast typist. Clumsy on slides. Travels a lot. Graduated from Princeton. Human alarm clock. Expert in Romanian politics.

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type. Girl power devotee. Unhealthily thin. Twenty-seven years old. Blonde. Claims no moral or religious code.

Chris Smith: Airline co-pilot. Worked with Rayford Steele. Father of two. Husband. Killed himself.

Chloe Steele: Daughter of Rayford Steele. Student at Stanford.

Chaim Rosenzweig: Israeli chemist. Kinda freaky. Friend of Buck's.

Steve Plank: Buck's boss at Global Weekly. Not the sharpest tool in the shed.

Nicolae Carpathia: Businessman. Romanian Senator. Romanian President. Antichrist. Favors arms reductions.

Raymie Steele: Son of Rayford Steele. Taken in the rapture.

Dirk Burton: English guy Buck knows. Graduated from Princeton. Kinda gullible. Killed himself Murdered. Left handed.

Joshua Todd-Cothran: English finance guy.

Jonathon Stonagal: American ultra-rich dude. Involved in international monetary cabal. Has ties to duck lips.

Marge Potter: Steve Planck's secretary. Matronly.

Lucinda Washington: Fiftyish black woman. Raptured.

Ken Ritz: Pilot. Profiteering on the rapture. Actually quite polite. Fired for being too careful. Believes in aliens.

Juan Ortiz: Global Weekly international events editor.

Jimmy Borland: Global Weekly religion editor.

Barbara Donahue: Global Weekly financial editor.

Nigel Leonard: Employee of the London exchange.

Alan Tompkins: Investigator at Scotland Yard. Friend of Buck. Kind of a chickenshit. Blown up by an evil conspiracy car bomb.

Bruce Barnes: Visitation Pastor at New Hope Village Church. Likes to be mysterious.

----------


Chapter 11: In which Ray and Chloe sit through a really boring, unconvincing testimony.


Page 187- Line Potato:

No quotation, but the chapter opens with Rayford going for a drive (authors' phrasing) with Chloe. Of course, this isn't so much "going for a drive" as "driving to Irene's church" but, hey, since when are the authors careful with their terminology?


Page 187- Line 5-9:
Chloe had been sleepy and quiet all day. She had mentioned the idea of dropping out of the university for a semester and taking some classes locally. Rayford liked it. He was thinking of her. Then he realized she was thinking of him, and he was touched.


Leaving aside the writing, which can only be described as "shameful," there's the content itself. I will admit I do not have children yet, and I imagine that if my wife and son were to die in some unanticipated accident I might be reluctant to see my daughter fly to the other side of the country, but I think I would also be reluctant to see her drop out of fucking Stanford. Just sayin is all. Anyway, they talk a little bit and Rayford admits he still treats Chloe like a little girl sometimes. She says he can make it up to her, and he tries to guess how...


Page 188- Line 5-9:
"You're [Chloe] going to say I [Rayford] can make it up for treating you like a little girl by letting you have your own mind today, by not trying to talk you into anything."

"That goes without saying, I hope. But you're wrong, smart guy." [Chloe answered]


Yes, indeed, a prince among men. I don't know what's funnier: that he thinks he's being a nice guy by "letting her" have her own mind, or the idea that he can actually prevent her from thinking for herself if she's so inclined. Then again, it's pretty hysterical that she thinks Rayford is smart or that he has any intention of dealing fairly with her. This is the man, you will recall, who two chapters ago lied to her face (Page 169- Line 1-8) about considering alternative "theories." So, yeah, this is a heartbreaking little comedy act.


Page 188- Line 18-19:
Rayford let that comment hang in the air as he turned the corner and the tasteful little church came into view.


At this point in the margins I scrawled, "To them we ascribe every virtue." That pretty much sums things up, too. It's a "tasteful little church" that Irene went to. Not a gigantic megachurch with three multimedia screens and a satellite linkup from Ted Haggard. Neither, you'll notice, is it one of the dime-a-dozen tacky little stripmall churches I see all over. No, this is a nice, safe, middle-class "tasteful little church." But remember, folks: saved people aren't better, just forgiven. And, you know, tasteful. There is a very creepy sort of middle-class myopia going on in this book and, I gotta tell ya, it doesn't make it seem like the authors have any concern with the poor whatsoever. Anyway, they arrive and meet Bruce Barnes, who is basically the interim pastor at New Hope Village Church. They also meet Loretta, who is effectively Barnes' secretary. Well, it's good to know that even the rapture can't disrupt traditional gender roles. Then we get to the sticky part.


Page 190- Line 1-14:
"Folks, Loretta there looks like I [Bruce] feel. We're shell-shocked and we're devastated, because we know exactly what happened."

"Or you think you do," Chloe said. Rayford tried to catch her eye to encourage her to back off, but she seemed unwilling to look at him. "There's every kind of theory you want on every TV show in the country."

"I know that," Barnes said.

"And each is self-serving," she added. "The tabloids say it was space invaders, which would prove the stupid stories they've been running for years. The government says it's some sort of enemy, so we can spend more on high-tech defense. You're going to say it was God so you can start rebuilding your church."


And, of course, Chloe is right on this point. Barnes and company DO believe that they know what happened, but the exact same is true of a whole lot of people with a whole lot of different theories. One's own belief in one's theory is not, in and of itself, evidence of anything except that one is convinced of one's own theory. And let's face it: that guy on the streetcorner wearing a tinfoil hat is as convinced of his "CIA mind control" theory as Bruce is of his "goddidit" hypothesis, so we shouldn't be too taken by personal conviction. That said, Chloe is being a smidge rude given that she's in this guy's place of worship and she might want to think about holding her tongue just a tad.* And, apparently, Bruce agrees on that point.


Page 190- Line 15-26:
Bruce Barnes sat back and looked at Chloe, then at her father. "I'm going to ask you something," he said, turning to her again. "Could you let me tell you my story briefly, without interrupting or saying anything, unless there's something you don't understand?"

Chloe stared at him without responding.

"I don't want to be rude, but I don't want you to be either. I asked for a few moments of your time. If I still have it, I want to make use of it. Then I'll leave you alone. You can do anything you want with what I tell you. Tell me I'm crazy, tell me I'm self-serving. Leave and never come back. That's up to you. But can I have the floor for a few minutes?"


Now, as I indicated above, I do actually think that Chloe was being a bit rude, but mostly because she was in Barnes' church when she advanced her arguments. The thing is, I don't think the authors are including this bit because they want to draw attention to Chloe's rudeness in this particular situation. I think, instead, they're sketching a way to deal with skeptical people in general. And, as I scrawled in the margins at this point, I would be more sympathetic if I didn't have to give evangelicals the floor so damned much. A handful of days ago my wife and I returned from walking our dog to find two men waiting in our driveway to preach to us. A few weeks ago as I was walking my dog I was stopped on the street by two men who wished to do the same thing. When I drive around I am constantly running into billboards and other advertising, much of it hateful and mean-spirited. And don't even get me started on how seriously we as a nation take an incredibly narrow perspective that seems to just hate the hell out of every group that doesn't agree with them.** I get it that Chloe was being rude but, that said, if the evangelicals who salivate over the Left Behind books think they never have the floor, they're so stupid it's amazing they don't forget to breathe.


Page 190- Line 27-30:
Rayford thought Barnes was brilliant. He had put Chloe in her place, leaving her no smart remark. She merely waved a hand of permission, for which Barnes thanked her, and he began.


Yes, well, Rayford is an asshole who likes watching strangers verbally slap his daughter. And Chloe does still have a smart retort- something along the lines of, "Fine, I'll listen to your account, but then will you be prepared to discuss the logical implications and inconsistencies thereof?" Alas, this book never throws anything more deadly than a strawman at faith, so this opportunity is lost entire. Regardless, Barnes launches into his story, in the process mentioning that he was in bed with his wife when the rapture struck. Don't get excited, though- she was sleeping, he was reading, and their three children were in their own beds.


Page 191-192- Line 191: 22-30- 192: 1:
"She [Barnes' wife] worked so hard with the kids and a part-time job that she was always knocked out by nine or so."

"I [Bruce] was reading a sports magazine, trying to turn the pages quietly, and every once in a while she would sigh. Once she even asked how much longer I would be. I knew I should go in the other room or just turn the light off and try to sleep myself. But I told her, 'Not long,' hoping she'd fall asleep and I could just read the whole magazine."


While the narrative goes on in this vein for a while, you're getting the point: Bruce was a shitty husband and Bruce was also left behind. So, he has lots in common with Rayford. And as often as I find the way that the authors talk about women objectionable, at least they do seem to be pretty into that whole "treating your partner with respect" thing. Sort of. In their own special way. In any case, Bruce notices that his wife is missing all of a sudden, then goes and finds that his kids are missing, too. He rushes back to bed where he finds the confirmation that he needed:


Page 193- Line 21-24:
"I [Bruce] didn't want to, but I tore the cover back from my wife's side of the bed and there was her nightgown, her rings, and even her hair clips on the pillow."


At this point in the book my margin note reads, "I wonder about pace makers and other implanted artifacts," and, indeed, that's a good question. Many of us have artificial objects permanently in our bodies. For some it's a filling or a crown, for others its a pacemaker, and in my case it's several pieces of paladium in my chest cavity.*** Regardless of the specifics, however, there should be a whole mess o' crap left behind by these folks that just isn't getting described. Perhaps that's because- and this is pure speculation you understand- the idea of people disappearing out of their clothes seems mysterious and possibly wondrous, but the idea they might leave their artificial knee behind when they do it is really creepy and weird. That said, when your religion prominently features symbolic cannibalism, I wouldn't think that creepy and weird would be a problem. But hey, there you go. And we're off again with this continuing train wreck of a personal account. He starts phoning around using the church membership list but keeps getting answering machines. The implication is that it's because everyone has been raptured, but I wonder if people just don't like talking to Bruce Barnes. He eventually just goes to the church and discovers Loretta as well as a handful of other members who were left behind. Then they remember the pastor's "rapture tape."


Page 194- Line 16-20:
"Our senior pastor loved to preach about the coming of Christ to rapture his church, to take believers, dead and alive, to heaven before a period of tribulation on the earth. He was particularly inspired once a couple of years ago." [Bruce said]


Well, it's good to know Jesus will rescue the dead believers before the tribulation, too. Because being on earth through the tribulation would... um... not matter in the slightest to them because they're dead and all. Anyway, Chloe and Rayford mention that they remember Irene saying something or other about this before but don't remember what the "rapture tape" is.


Page 194-195- Line 194: 24-30- 195: 1-5:
"Well," Barnes said, "the pastor used that sermon and had himself videotaped in this office speaking directly to people who were left behind. He put it in the church library with instructions to get it out and play it if most everyone seemed to have disappeared. We all watched it a couple of times the other night. A few people wanted to argue with God, trying to tell us that they really had been believers and should have been taken with the others, but we all knew the truth. We had been phony. There wasn't a one of us who didn't know what it meant to be a true Christian. We knew we weren't and that we had been left behind."


Okay, several points. First, I once more hope y'all are taking notes, because the authors are giving you f-ing instructions. Go make your wacky "in case of rapture" tapes right now! Second, as I read this passage again I was once more struck by the mind-numbing weirdness of this entire situation. I am actually commenting at length on a book whose authors think that the disappearances it describes are not merely possible, but inevitable. Moreover, this whole tape thing is- in their eyes- a sensible precaution. Let me say that again: there are people who think that a videotape full of magic incantations**** is a sensible response to the hypothetical possibility that millions of humans could suddenly disappear, and these same people are considered to be sensible adults who can vote and drive cars. This just boggles my mind. Third, in response to that "true Christian" line my margin comment reads, "I love that sort of buffoonery," and indeed, I do. It isn't enough that people be Christian, but they have to be true Christians in order to be saved. That's some serious whatthefuckery right there. Finally, I'm terribly amused by the fact that in this one instance the evangelicals are actually willing to rely on empirical evidence. Bruce and his merry band of morons were left behind, therefore they must not have been true Christians. QED, bitches! But when it comes to things like the age of the Earth and evolution? Oh, yeah, screw evidence, we have the bible! Bah.


Page 195- Line 6-9:
Rayford had trouble speaking, but he had to ask. "Mr. Barnes, you were on the staff here."

"Right."

"How did you miss it?"


My margin comment reads, "Here we go..." because, yes, we're about to learn the answer to our burning question: how did this doofus we just met get left behind? Well, there's an answer, and I promise all of you that it's utterly absurd. But, sadly, you're just going to have to wait until next time to find out the answer, because we're at the end of this episode. I'd say this is a cliffhanger, but that presumes anyone gives a shit how Bruce got left behind, and I sincerely hope that isn't the case. Regardless, tune back in next time when Bruce reveals his dark secret and the authors attempt to tell a convincing conversion story. It's about as exciting as you'd expect, and Chloe loses whatever intelligence she may have appeared to have in favor of becoming a horrid caricature of a thinking human being. So, hey, I guess she takes after Rayford!

See you then!


* As an only somewhat related side note: I think there's something very wrong with rules of politeness that allow people to spout errant nonsense without anyone else having the right to contradict them. Here's a tip: if you want to assert that something is true, be able to back it up. If you can't, keep it to yourself.

** For my scant handful of evangelical readers: I'm not saying you do hate the hell out of everyone else, but as a member of that "everyone else" it sure seems that way. And Pat Robertson is just a case in point. If you are all love and gumdrops for the unbelievers, please be advised that your PR on that point is really lousy.

*** Trust me: it's a long and not particularly awesome story.

**** I am not exaggerating- just wait til we get to that chapter.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

So this is neat...



On the one hand, this is neat to think about. On the other, it would be really unlikely that a sufficiently large object would just gently sidle up to our Roche limit so the most likely way we'd gain rings would be via a catastrophic impact.

Oops.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Coming soon on Total Drek!

So, today I just wanted to give y'all an update on what's going to happen with the blog over the next few weeks. Given the impending holiday season I will be doing some traveling and, otherwise, facing a disordered schedule. This will make keeping my usual blogging schedule rather difficult. As such, starting next week there will be a hiatus in posting. This hiatus will last for as long as it does, depending on how the travel works out and how whimsy strikes me. I will, however, be back in due time, so don't worry. The exception to this rule will be my ongoing series on Left Behind, which should update on the normal day during this period. If you're wondering why Left Behind is so special, consider this: every week of that series I skip is another week the whole process gets drug out. Seriously, I gotta get this shit done. There may be additional other posts on an unpredictable basis depending on my time and inclination.

In any case, adieu until later, and have a great holiday season!

And if you're still looking for a gift for the gamer* in your life, consider this:



Buh-bye!



* I should note for my wife that this is not a hint for her specifically. Although if the price comes down enough by my birthday, I wouldn't say no...

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 10, Part 2

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that uses an airline pilot as a main character, but somehow still never manages to go anywhere. Last time Rayford and Chloe left the house to visit Irene's church, and Buck got to London so he could investigate the death of Dirk Burton. What happens this week? Buck finishes a conversation and... well... someone dies. I can sense your anticipation already!

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to scripto, less because his comment was hysterical, and more because the notion of Buck displaying some sort of personality is, frankly, really funny:

Buck pranks Alan:

"Alan sounded suddenly serious. "How can I help you, sir? What does that have to do with Scotland Yard?"

"I'm having trouble locating my interview subject, and I suspect foul play."

"And your subject?"

"His name is Hurtin. Dick Hurtin. He works at the exchange."

"Let me do some checking and call you back."

hee hee


And the truly sad thing is it's not even a dirty joke, really. Well, unless you're a crazy Left Behind writer, in which case even an oblique reference to underpants is foul and perverted. Congratulations, scripto, and hang in there everyone! Only 15 more chapters to go! Oh... fuck.

And with that, let's begin! As always, page/line numbers are in bold, quotes from the book are in block quotes, my commentary is in regular print, and you can navigate the whole series with the provided tag.


----------

Dramatis Personae

In terms of their nearness to hellfire...

Rayford Steele: Airline captain. Husband of Irene Steele. Possible former gay porn star. Ditherer. No longer attracted to Hattie. Bad father. Cries a lot. Lying hypocrite.

Irene Steele: Wife of Rayford Steele. Born-again Christian. Not perfect, just forgiven. Reader of marriage books. Cleans obsessively. Likes egg in her coffee. Bakes really silly cookies. Likes butter churns.

Cameron "Buck" Williams: Reporter. Known for "bucking tradition and authority." Terrible Excellent writer. Spiritually attuned. Electronics wiz. Fast typist. Clumsy on slides. Travels a lot. Graduated from Princeton. Human alarm clock. Expert in Romanian politics.

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type. Girl power devotee. Unhealthily thin. Twenty-seven years old. Blonde. Claims no moral or religious code.

Chris Smith: Airline co-pilot. Worked with Rayford Steele. Father of two. Husband. Killed himself.

Chloe Steele: Daughter of Rayford Steele. Student at Stanford. Religiously unaffiliated. Kinda stupid.

Chaim Rosenzweig: Israeli chemist. Kinda freaky. Friend of Buck's.

Steve Plank: Buck's boss at Global Weekly. Not the sharpest tool in the shed.

Nicolae Carpathia: Businessman. Romanian Senator. Romanian President. Antichrist. Favors arms reductions.

Raymie Steele: Son of Rayford Steele. Taken in the rapture.

Dirk Burton: English guy Buck knows. Graduated from Princeton. Kinda gullible. Killed himself Murdered. Left handed.

Joshua Todd-Cothran: English finance guy.

Jonathon Stonagal: American ultra-rich dude. Involved in international monetary cabal. Has ties to duck lips.

Marge Potter: Steve Planck's secretary. Matronly.

Lucinda Washington: Fiftyish black woman. Raptured.

Ken Ritz: Pilot. Profiteering on the rapture. Actually quite polite. Fired for being too careful. Believes in aliens.

Juan Ortiz: Global Weekly international events editor.

Jimmy Borland: Global Weekly religion editor.

Barbara Donahue: Global Weekly financial editor.

Nigel Leonard: Employee of the London exchange.

Alan Tompkins: Investigator at Scotland Yard. Friend of Buck. Kind of a chickenshit.

Bruce Barnes: Visitation Pastor at New Hope Village Church. Likes to be mysterious.

----------


Page 179- Line Macarena:

No quote but, to refresh your memories, Alan and Buck are talking about the alleged conspiracy that killed their buddy, Dirk. Buck is amazed that Alan isn't more gung-ho about finding Dirk's killer. However, it turns out that he has his reasons, and they all stem from a visitation by a thug telling him to back off and a subsequent meeting with Joshua Todd-Cothran. If you don't recall who Joshua Todd-Cothran is, then check the dramatis personae. That's what it's for, you know?


Page 179- Line 19-20:
"His [Todd-Cothran's] very office is intimidating. All mahogany and dark green draperies."


Okay, so the sinister finance guy decorates his office like a Steak & Ale. Woooo, scary.


Page 179- Line 21-25:
"I [Alan] tell him, 'Sir, I believe you've had an employee murdered.' And just as calm as you like, he says, 'Tell you what, governor'- which is a term cockneys use on each other, not something people of his station usually call people of mine."


So, what? We're in Upstairs, Downstairs now? This book is like some sort of horrible pastiche of every stereotype about... well... everyone that you could possibly imagine. Crappy western talk? Check. Shitty Dickens-esque writting? Check. Knock-off BBC drama? Check. Believe it or not, however, we haven't gotten to the real threat yet.


Page 180-181- Line 180: 20-30, 181: 1-5:
"But that's not the half of it. As if he [Todd-Cothran] needs to drive the point home, he called my [Alan's] captain on his speakerphone. He said to him, 'Sullivan, if one of your men was to come to my office and harass me about anything, what should I do?' And Sullivan, one of my idols, sounded like a little baby. He said, 'Mr. Todd-Cothran, sir, you do whatever you need to do.' And Todd-Cothran said, 'What if I was to kill him where he sits?' And Sullivan said, 'Sir, I'm sure it would be justifiable homicide.' Now get this. Todd-Cothran said, right over the phone to Scotland Yard, where you know they tape every incoming call, and Todd-Cothran knows it just as well, 'What if his name happened to be Alan Tompkins?' Just like that, plain as day. And Sullivan said, 'I'd come over there and dispose of the body myself.' Well, I got the picture."


Honestly, I do not know what I find most troubling about the preceding: that the authors think it's good writing, or that they think it's a plausible account. I mean, seriously, this is how they think a vast secret conspiracy would actually operate? For crying out loud, it's like a criminal syndicate run by a retarded Bond villain. I'm just waiting for the sharks with frickin lasers on their heads. And on an unrelated note, am I the only one who interprets "sounded like a little baby" as meaning, "communicates only with incoherent babble and occasional screaming"? Because that doesn't seem to be what the authors are describing. Regardless, Alan explains to Buck that he (Buck) has to go home without investigating Dirk's death or he (Buck) will probably be harmed. Buck says he's not the sort to run. Alan replies that Buck can't fight these guys because they have anyone who can hurt them on their payroll. Then it gets really fun when the dynamic duo talk about a classic film...


Page 181- Line 28-30:
"No one could touch them [i.e. mobsters]." [Alan said]

Buck nodded. "No one could touch them except the ones who couldn't be bought."


Ah, yes, indeed, what a subtle message from the authors. Indeed, as an atheist my price is so low it's absurd. I'll just roll over for anyone who waves a couple of bucks in my face- not like those religious folk. In any case, Buck concedes that he doesn't know what he'd do in Alan's position and a "barmaid" comes around asking after anyone who arrived in a green sedan. She wants to know because the light inside is apparently on. Alan heads out to switch off the dome light and then returns to the bar- and ironically Alan turning off a light is described more fully than Rayford reuniting with Chloe, but I digress. My notes in the margin, however, do actually read: "A riveting description of turning out a light." After that, Buck says he's going to get a flight to Frankfurt that night and then return to the U.S. in the morning, deciding it would seem that getting the hell out is the better part of valor. Alan goes out to get the car ready while Buck makes airline reservations under the name "George Oreskovich", which is apparently the name used on Buck's fake credentials. And then, it happens...


Page 184- Line 22-30:
As Buck hung up, the door of the pub was blown into the room and a blinding flash and deafening crash sent patrons screaming to the floor. As people crept to the door to see what happened, Buck stared in horror at the frame and melted tires of what had been Alan's Scotland Yard-issue sedan. Windows had been blown out all up and down the street and a siren was already sounding. A leg and part of a torso lay on the sidewalk- the remains of Alan Tompkins.


So, first off, the authors actually manage to make a car bombing sound boring. Second, it is becoming painfully obvious that just being Buck's friend is rather dangerous. I mean, seriously, one of his two best friends was shot in the head and the other was just blown up. What's going to happen to his third best friend? Torn apart by two bears? Oh, wait, sorry, that's what happens when children make fun of god's prophet. Never mind. Finally, my margin notes here read, "This is just dumb- why bomb the car, rather than do something quieter?" Indeed, seems to me that if they wanted Buck dead, they should have left Alan alone, let Buck appear, and then sent a nice man with a silenced 9mm to introduce Buck to the inferno all nice and quiet like. Instead we have a fucking car bombing of a fucking Scotland Yard employee in broad daylight outside a crowded pub. Worst. Conspiracy. Ever.


Page 185- Line 1-7:
As the patrons surged out to get a look at the burning wreckage, Buck elbowed his way through them, pulling his real passport and identification from his wallet. In the confusion he flipped the documents near what was left of the car and hoped they wouldn't get burned beyond readability. Whoever wanted him dead could assume him dead.


Of course, the lack of a second body will make it pretty f-ing obvious you're not dead, Buck. So, basically, you just gave them evidence to use to tie you to a dead cop for no benefit. Brilliant. Buck then proceeds to get a cab and try to return to his hotel, which, as it happens, is playing host to a bunch of squad cars. Not, as you might think, discretely dressed nefarious men from the conspiracy, but squad cars with sirens and such. Given that Buck has at least a meager amount of intelligence, he decides to forget the hotel, as well as his luggage and precious laptop, and get the cabbie to take him directly to the airport. But how to get past the patrols that he sees inside? Fortunately, Cameron "Buck" Williams, secret agent/journalist has a cunning plan!


Page 185- Line 27-30:
"You wouldn't know where a fellow could get a hat like yours, would you?" Buck asked the cabbie as he paid.

"This old thing? I might be persuaded to part with it. I've got more than one other just like it. A souvenir, eh?" [the cabbie answered]


Ah, yes, the old "put on a hat and walk right past security" ploy! Why can't police or airline security find some way to get around the total appearance-change that comes with a hat. On another note: is this a common practice of which I am unaware? Do tourists usually buy hats off of random strangers for that extra-special memento of a trip to a foreign land? Because it sounds a bit skeezy to me. Regardless, Buck gives the cabbie money, the cabbie retrieves his "official London cabbie pin" (Page 186- Line 4) and then Buck is ready to face the enemy. No doubt we're about to see pages and pages describing Buck's harrowing efforts to escape from the jaws of an evil conspiracy!


Page 186- Line 6-11:
Buck pressed the too-large fisherman's style hat down over his ears and hurried into the terminal. He paid cash for his tickets in the name of George Oreskovich, a naturalized Englishman from Poland on his way to a holiday in the States, via Frankfurt. He was in the air before the authorities knew he was gone.


Then again, maybe the authors will decide to skip over the exciting cat-and-mouse game in a major airport in favor of a single paragraph and an end to the chapter. Never mind. Also, pay no attention to the fact that a hurried, anxious guy in a too-big hat paying cash for a flight to Frankfurt THAT DAY is more than a little bit suspicious. Also pay no attention to the fact that Buck is traveling as a British citizen who is originally from Poland. Think that one through: who here thinks that Buck can successfully impersonate a person speaking British English with a Polish accent? Now who thinks he could do it given that he's originally from TEXAS? I don't think Lawrence-friggin-Olivier could have pulled that one off. So, just to sum up: weird anxious dude in a transparently horrendous disguise manages to escape the authorities at Heathrow. I say it again for everyone here. Worst. Conspiracy. EVER!


But not, I think, worst chapter ever, if only because this chapter is at an end. So what's up next? Well, I don't want to give it away but in the next chapter we get to experience our very first "testimony," which is sort of like a scared straight program for delinquents, except much more boring. I know I can't wait!

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Coruscating madness

Since his recent appearance on The Colbert Report, Andy Schlafly of Conservapedia has achieved new levels of wackiness that surprise even me. For example, he's recently begun insisting that if you choose to spend less than 5% of your time reading the bible then you are censoring it. Likewise, he now expects everyone to give "equal time" to the bible which is, in his view, the "most logical book ever written." It's somewhat mysterious to me what "equal time" actually means in this context. Equal time to everything else you read? Equal time to... you know... everything else you do? Please, Andy, if you're going to be a lunatic, at least be a lunatic with clarity!

Regardless, however, there's another issue buried in his insane ranting that I want to draw out, like venom from a wound. As y'all know by now (if only because I mentioned it in the last paragraph) Schlafly likes to assert that the bible is the most logical book ever written. It's not really clear to me what this would mean, even if true, given that logic is an approach to reasoning. As such, one can be logical or illogical, and one can be illogical in varying degrees, but once one is using logic properly, I'm not sure it's possible to be even more logical. It's sort of like following traffic laws, either you are or you aren't, and there are varying degrees of "aren't" but really only one level of "are." Nevertheless, fascinating as measurement issues are to me, that's not the point. I could also observe that to say that a book is "logical" is not the same thing as to say that it is "correct." Logic is a way of reasoning from point A to point B but produces correct answers more or less in proportion to the validity of your starting assumptions and data. If one has sufficiently screwy assumptions, a perfectly logical chain of reasoning will still produce a wacky result. Again, however, this isn't the point. The point you should be attentive to is that Schlafly is going to great lengths to assert- repeatedly and hilariously- that his particular religious book of choice is the most logical one ever written. And this is interesting because logic is, if nothing else, a very orderly and consistent approach to thinking, and Schlafly views this property as good.*

Next, consider Schlafly's recent masterpiece on quantifying order, which begins thusly:



Or in plain human speech:

“In the beginning was perfect order, and this perfection was with God, and this perfection was God.”

This is a tantalizing translation of John 1:1,[1] and it suggests that insight into the universe may be best understood by examining order, and its converse of disorder (entropy). Interestingly, the etymological meaning of the word "Devil" is synonymous with disorder.

Viewing science in terms of ordering and disordering provides unifying insights into otherwise disparate phenomenon. Aging, for example, ostensibly seems unrelated to the Second Law of Thermodynamics as biology and physics are currently taught. Yet both can be understood clearly and simply as an action of disorder.

Focusing on order and disorder as the defining principles for nature has additional benefits. It provides a way for looking at the world that is helpful rather than hurtful. Daily, or even hourly, disorder causes frustration and anger, which can then be turned against others or even God. But recognizing disorder as being caused by the Devil and easily overcome with faith is helpful. Moreover, some activities by their very nature enhance order, such as marriage.

New Testament miracles that ostensibly appear to be an unrelated collection of violations of physical laws, can be more easily understood as natural signs when viewed as a triumph of order over disorder.


I should note before we go any further that the "tantalizing translation" derives from Schlafly's own Conservative Bible Project. So, yeah, that's reputable. I should also note that some of the "implications" of his thesis are absolutely mind-meltingly insane:



Again, in plain text:

No one has ever quantified order, and it is a difficult challenge. It helps to make some initial observations:

-precise locations are more ordered than imprecise ones; spatial proximity to other objects is more ordered than distant proximity

-fast, predictable motion is more ordered than slow or unpredictable motion

-sharp delineation is more ordered than diffusion

-transmission of information is more ordered if there is less error

-the human eye is more ordered than other human organs

-in thinking, faith is more ordered than mental instability or disease

Query: is it a mistake to quantify order based on position or motion? Are spatial considerations even relevant to relative amounts of ordering?


Just... wow. It's difficult to even know what to do with that kind of thing. Regardless, however, I think it clear that Schlafly is arguing that order characterizes the divine and disorder characterizes the devil. Likewise, god is apparently very logical whereas things that are ungodly are, presumably, illogical. We're all clear on that? Good!

So, given the above, you can understand my bewilderment when I discover Schlafly's latest defense of poor design in the context of the intelligent design approach to biology:



Or, to quote the entire conversation with the critical passage in bold:

I have an open mind about this. But it's obvious from the Scienceline article that people exaggerate their need for a second kidney. All evidence is that the second kidney is superfluous in most people. So why do people exaggerate the need for a second kidney? Because evolution teaches that everything has a utilitarian purpose, and it misleads people into this false perception. The result is made clear by the article: 75,000 people need a donation of that extra kidney that most people don't need, but don't donate it due to being misled by the theory of evolution into thinking they do need it. That's a heavy cost caused by a politically motivated falsehood.

Design explains the extra kidney: symmetry, or even to have an extra one to give another person in need. It could even be there as a test for us. That's a challenging thought.

Evolution cannot plausibly explain the superfluous kidney, and hence its inclusion in this list. The theory claims that populations evolve, but there is no reason for an entire organ to develop which most of the population does not need. Pre-obesity, when evolution supposedly occurred, at most a tiny percentage of people would have had a need for a second kidney, far too few to just an entire population developing it.--Andy Schlafly 23:07, 2 November 2009 (EST)

Following your logic, why didn't God give humans two hearts as well? I agree with you in your belief of creationism, and I respect your opinion, but I disagree with your belief that just because you say it, it becomes a fact.Ssmith12 17:21, 12 December 2009 (EST)

Typical liberal response. The reason God didn't make humans with two hearts because humans don't need two hearts. Also, your liberal dissent and vandalism is very obvious. Next time, be more logical and read the Bible, the most logical book in the world.Biblekid17:56, 12 December 2009 (EST)

Andy Schlafly already admitted that the extra kidney is, well, extra, and that a human doesn't need two kidneys. I don't want to appear as a vandal on this site, I just wanted to make sure Mr. Schlafly shows a bit of humility, and perhaps quote a bible verse rather than just go on with his musing.Ssmith12 18:44, 12 December 2009 (EST)

There's no logic in your objection. An intelligent designer is not constrained by an idiotic straight-jacket of consistency.--Andy Schlafly 18:56, 12 December 2009 (EST)


Okay, so, to sum up: god and the bible are intrinsically the most logical things around. Likewise, god is the epitome of order while the devil is the epitome of disorder (or, alternatively, chaos). These assertions might lead one to believe that god's behavior should be... you know... consistent. Indeed, this seems to be effectively inevitable for a being that is omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly logical and perfectly ordered. In other words, if you know everything and can do anything, then- if you're logical- everything you do should represent the best way to do the thing you're trying to do. This is the case because if you're omniscient you know what the best way is, if you're omnipotent you have the power to implement that best way, and because you're logical you will always take the most effective route to your goal. As such, your behavior should be very consistent. Obviously, the world does not really support this notion. Now, one could respond by saying that we simply don't understand god's goals- in other words, his behavior IS logical and IS consistent when seen from his perspective. Fair enough, that's the standard "god works in mysterious ways" argument which is logical if, in my view, still a rather silly cop-out. Yet, that isn't what Schlafly does- instead, when it's convenient, he simply tosses off the "god is free to be inconsistent" line, and that's the end of it. And this is a problem because, if it's true, then we have to consider the possibility that god isn't logical, isn't ordered, isn't omniscient, isn't omnipotent, or some combination thereof, unless we are willing to accept that our own thinking is inconsistent.

But hey, if inconsistency is good enough for god...


* It's also interesting because Schlafly is Catholic and the Roman Catholic Church doesn't accept the doctrine of sola scriptura, which really seems to be what Andy is pushing. Way to be heretical, buddy!

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Monday, December 14, 2009

The exams cometh...

Hey kids! I'm busy grading exams right now and am therefore both too busy and too grumpy to blog. In the case of the former, it's because I have to grade on a schedule at my university. In the case of the latter, it's because you can only read so many exams before you want to start drinking. This is doubly so when you get answers like, "I think the answer to this question is X, but I guess the answer could also be Y". Um... yeah, you wanna pick one for me? Because it isn't fair to the other students if they had to settle on ONE answer but you get to scatter-shot me with TWO.

Anyway, for any of you who are also mired in grading hell, please enjoy this uplifting music video that combines an awesome tune with really, really absurd visuals.



Ninja stars? Head banging? Gigantic hair? It's like I'm in middle school again!

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Friday, December 11, 2009

For the astronomy buffs in the group...

This is just too awesome not to share. Seriously:



How can you not just love something like that? I sometimes find myself hoping Ray Kurzweil is right about the future because I would so love to visit these places. But then I remember that Ray Kurzweil is semi-insane. Oh well.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 10, Part 1

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that puts the "feh" in "catastrophe". And, yes, I know that was a shitty joke, but you know what? It was still better than krazo! Last time we got to watch Rayford and Chloe have an "argument". Needless to say, this was the sort of argument that would have driven my high school debate coach to drink, but that's not the point. The point is that they're forming a father-daughter team to investigate god! Yay! What happens this week? Well, I don't want to spoil it, but we're back with Buckykins and it's all very stupid. So, you know, the usual. Nevertheless, today is a special day because we've finally broken into the double-digits in chapter numbers. This both makes me want to cheer and do as many shots of vodka as my liver can take.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to scripto for the sort of basic observation that nevertheless rings all too true:

"I believe they are in heaven." [Rayford said]

We're not. Hell is an eternity parsing Left Behind.


To which the only answer is: no shit. This book is just spectacularly bad on every possible level and, just when you think it can't get any worse, it does. Special props to Ken, as well, for a reference that I did actually catch. Way to bust out the classics there, Ken!

And with that, let's begin! As always, page/line numbers are in bold, quotes from the book are in block quotes, my commentary is in regular print, and you can navigate the whole series with the provided tag.


----------

Dramatis Personae

In an order given to me by my neighbor's schnauzer...

Rayford Steele: Airline captain. Husband of Irene Steele. Possible former gay porn star. Ditherer. No longer attracted to Hattie. Bad father. Cries a lot. Lying hypocrite.

Irene Steele: Wife of Rayford Steele. Born-again Christian. Not perfect, just forgiven. Reader of marriage books. Cleans obsessively. Likes egg in her coffee. Bakes really silly cookies. Likes butter churns.

Cameron "Buck" Williams: Reporter. Known for "bucking tradition and authority." Terrible Excellent writer. Spiritually attuned. Electronics wiz. Fast typist. Clumsy on slides. Travels a lot. Graduated from Princeton. Human alarm clock. Expert in Romanian politics.

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type. Girl power devotee. Unhealthily thin. Twenty-seven years old. Blonde. Claims no moral or religious code.

Chris Smith: Airline co-pilot. Worked with Rayford Steele. Father of two. Husband. Killed himself.

Chloe Steele: Daughter of Rayford Steele. Student at Stanford. Religiously unaffiliated. Kinda stupid.

Chaim Rosenzweig: Israeli chemist. Kinda freaky. Friend of Buck's.

Steve Plank: Buck's boss at Global Weekly. Not the sharpest tool in the shed.

Nicolae Carpathia: Businessman. Romanian Senator. Romanian President. Antichrist. Favors arms reductions.

Raymie Steele: Son of Rayford Steele. Taken in the rapture.

Dirk Burton: English guy Buck knows. Graduated from Princeton. Kinda gullible. Killed himself.

Joshua Todd-Cothran: English finance guy.

Jonathon Stonagal: American ultra-rich dude. Involved in international monetary cabal. Has ties to duck lips.

Marge Potter: Steve Planck's secretary. Matronly.

Lucinda Washington: Fiftyish black woman. Raptured.

Ken Ritz: Pilot. Profiteering on the rapture. Actually quite polite. Fired for being too careful. Believes in aliens.

Juan Ortiz: Global Weekly international events editor.

Jimmy Borland: Global Weekly religion editor.

Barbara Donahue: Global Weekly financial editor.

Nigel Leonard: Employee of the London exchange.

----------


Chapter 10: In which we learn that the conspiracy is totally inept, forget that English civilians usually don't have pistols, and get our first taste (sort of) of dramatic tension. Finally.


Page 171- Line Fuggetaboudit:

No quote, but we start with Buck debating whether or not to call his Scotland Yard contact before leaving for the U.K. He eventually decides not to for reasons that are actually a bit amusing.


Page 171- Line 6-7:
The last thing he [Buck] wanted was to compromise his Scotland Yard contact's integrity.


Well, then I guess you shouldn't have shown him how to "check your inventory" the last time you were in the U.K., eh? Crude jokes aside, Buck seems convinced this guy's phone might be tapped, but his explanation is a bit silly since arguably the man's integrity could be compromised whether his employers knew about it or not. If you're not supposed to talk to the press, doing so probably compromises your integrity whether others know about it or not. Then again, my morality isn't based on constant monitoring by a supervisor in the sky, so perhaps my views on the subject are just a tad off from the authors'. Eh. Whatever.


Page 171- Line 8-9:
Buck took both his real and his phony passport and visa- a customary safety precaution...


Cameron "Bucky" Williams: Secret agent, human alarm clock, journalist! Seriously, is this standard practice for journalists? Because consistently going through customs with false documents seems, I dunno, slightly illegal to me. Regardless, before we hit the end of the page Buck is in the U.K., which is hella impressive considering that in the previous nine chapters Buck only barely managed to get from Chicago to New York. But, hey, the disruptions to global transportation are dragging the narrative down so, voila! No more problems! Yay! Maybe I'm being unfair, though, because Buck is very good at traveling.


Page 171- Line 14-15:
He started by calling Scotland Yard and asking for his friend Alan Tompkins, a midlevel operative.


A "midlevel operative"? So, what? He's in accounting or something? This promises to be f-ing exciting. Regardless, it turns out that Buck, Dirk and Alan are "old friends".


Page 172- Line 6-9:
Now, by phone, he [Buck] tried to communicate to Tompkins in such a way that Alan would catch on quickly and not give away that they were friends- in case the line was tapped.


Ah, is nothing beyond the reach of Buck Williams: Secret Agent? Seriously, though, this reminds me of that time years ago when a buddy of mine called to talk about his fear that he'd gotten a girl pregnant but couldn't just say that. He ended up developing an entire metaphor for the situation that involved references to cable and satellite t.v. providers. That I had no idea what he was talking about at first just made the whole thing much more difficult. What does this have to do with Buck? Hardly anything but, honestly, wasn't that story more entertaining than the book? You're welcome! Anyway, Buck calls and starts in on Alan pretending like they don't know each other, explaining that he's just doing this story about a conference to be held at the United Nations. Now, I could be an asshole and point out that if they didn't know each other, why is Buck calling Alan's office number directly as opposed to, say, the Scotland Yard inquiries desk, but I won't be an asshole that way. Instead, I'll be an asshole by observing that Buck is calling from a payphone, which the conspiracy can't tap (if only because they can't monitor them all). So if the call is being monitored it's because Alan's phone is tapped, meaning they're expecting Buck to call this guy specifically. If they're expecting Buck to call this guy specifically, it's because they already know he and Buck are pals and therefore by pulling the "hey, you don't know me routine," he's going to look even more suspicious. Smooth move, Williams. Anyway, since Alan is marginally more intelligent than Buck (but then so is a vending machine) he clues in very quickly...


Page 172- Line 15-22:
Alan sounded suddenly serious. "How can I help you, sir? What does that have to do with Scotland Yard?"

"I'm having trouble locating my interview subject, and I suspect foul play."

"And your subject?"

"His name is Burton. Dirk Burton. He works at the exchange."

"Let me do some checking and call you back."


Wow! The excitement is just so... so... absent! I hardly care about any of these guys and they're, like, totally engaged in sneaky stuff. More seriously, the sad thing is that this wouldn't work for a second if Alan's line IS tapped because Buck has already been called and told that Burton is f-ing dead. So, hey, great job asshole! You fingered your friend (NOT that way, scripto!) and managed to signal that you're not buying the suicide angle all at the same time. Bravo!


Page 172- Line 26-27:
Early on Sunday morning in Mount Prospect, Illinois, Rayford Steele phoned the-


Wait, what the fuck? We're back with Rayford again? Jesus. This plot volleys more than a ping-pong match between Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi. In any case, he's phoning the poorly named New Hope Village Church that Irene attended and ends up speaking with Bruce Barnes, the "visitation pastor." I'll be honest here and admit I have no idea what the hell a "visitation pastor" is. For that matter my wife, who was evangelical for a number of years, is similarly baffled. Maybe it means he's really a reptile? No, wait, that would be a Visitor pastor. Never mind. In any case, Bruce observes that "Nearly every member and regular attender of this church is gone," (Page 173- Line 20-21) thus proving the evangelicals are totally awesome. One is forced to wonder why Bruce is still around but- don't worry- we'll find out soon enough. Regardless, Bruce invites Rayford to come in to a service and Rayford asks why Bruce is still around...


Page 174- Line 5-8:
"Mr. Steele, there is only one explanation for that, and I would prefer to discuss it with you in person. If I know when you might come by for the tape, I'll be sure to be here." [Barnes answered]


My remark in the margins at this is, "Ah, tension. Finally. It only took 174 pages." I stand by that as well given that it's the first time I've been even vaguely curious about something (i.e. why Barnes was left behind) given that the authors have just told us everything straight out so far. Nice work, boys.


Page 174- Line 11--14:
Alan Tompkins waited just inside the vestibule at Scotland Yard. When Buck arrived, Alan formally shook his hand and led him to a rundown compact, which he drove quickly to a dark pub a few miles away.


Thwack! And we've been volleyed back to Buck. Anyway, Alan behaves all paranoid-like and tells Buck to stay far away from this "nasty business" (Page 174- Line 25-26). Buck says he just wants to know more, Alan admits he doesn't believe it was suicide and, instead, thinks the conspiracy killed him. Buck says that's nonsense.


Page 175- Line 20-22:
"Dirk thought Todd-Cothran and Stonagal were part of something he called the Council of Ten or the Council of Wise Men. So what? It's harmless." [Buck scoffed]


So, hey, we apparently now have a name for the crazy conspiracy group. That's... nice? Sure, why not, nice! Whatever. Alan then starts explaining that Dirk couldn't have killed himself and asks Buck to think about where Dirk would have been sitting if he were with them right then.


Page 176- Line 21-23:
It suddenly dawned on Buck what Alan was driving at. "He [Dirk] would be sitting to one of our lefts, and he was such a klutz because he was left-handed." [Buck exclaimed]


Um... maybe I'm ignorant, but the southpaws I've met in my life haven't been unusually clumsy. Anyone noticed anything different, or have we just added a new group to the list of folks the authors don't like so much?


Page 176- Line 24-25:
"He was shot through the right temple and the so-called suicide weapon was found in his right hand." [Alan observed]


Oddly, I don't find this to be a totally convincing reason to suspect murder rather than suicide. The reason is that most firearms are made for right-handed shooters. Not such a big deal as the grip and trigger frequently still work if used left-handed, but if the weapon is a semi-automatic the spent casing usually ejects to the right. So, if you hold the weapon in your left hand, you may end up with hot brass in the face. This is particularly an issue with rifles that you have to shoot from the shoulder, and god help you if you're using a bolt-action since most of those are right-handed.* As a consequence, it's not exactly unusual for lefties to learn to shoot right-handed. So, in short, this kind of "evidence" doesn't really tell us much. Personally I'm wondering where an English stockbroker living in London got his hands on a pistol. Um, authors? Yeah. The U.K. doesn't have our lax attitude towards firearms. And don't tell me he didn't use a pistol. If Dirk had blown his head off with a shotgun, we wouldn't be talking about handedness at all, you know? Regardless, Alan starts explaining that he doesn't want to speak out about the situation because he has a family that he doesn't want to be harmed and... um... some other reasons...


Page 177- Line 1-4:
"I have a former wife I'm still fond of. I wouldn't mind snuffing her myself, but I certainly wouldn't want anyone else harming her." [Alan said]


Apparently gallantry really is dead. Now, I've never been divorced so I guess maybe I don't understand but I wasn't really of the opinion that divorce necessarily implied homicide. Or are the authors just suggesting that non-Christians who divorce are amoral? I just don't get this book sometimes, you know? Regardless, Alan explains to Buck that he isn't going to touch this whole "mystery" thing and that he thinks Buck should drop it, too.


Page 178- Line 9-10:
"I have been told to tell you to go home and forget you ever heard about this suicide." [Alan said]


Well, shit, shame they called him overseas specifically to tell him about it then, eh? What's next? An announcement on t.v: "Now hear this! Nicolae Carpathia is definitely NOT evil! Pay no attention to the rumors!" Seriously, worst conspiracy evar.


Page 178- Line 11-12:
Buck squinted in disbelief. "Nobody knew I was coming."


Yeah, yeah, but did you come quickly, Buck? C'mon, Jesus wants to know! Regardless, however, if nobody knows, then you're doing it wrong!


Page 178- Line 13-14:
"I think that's true, but somebody assumed you might show up. I wasn't surprised you came." [Alan observed]


Guess he knows about Buck and his "inventory" then, eh? Crappy jokes aside, however, as I suspected, Alan seems to be implying that Buck's "I'm just inquiring after a contact" routine was worse than useless. Bravo, moron.


Page 178- Line 21-25:
"I [Buck] wonder if I know you [Alan] at all! I thought we were kindred spirits. We were justice freaks, Alan. Seekers of truth. I'm a journalist, you're an investigator. We're skeptics. What is this running from the truth, especially when it concerns our friend?" [Buck ranted]


Ha. Yes. "Skeptics." This from mister "nothing is beyond belief" (Chapter 1, Page 15, Line 5-10). Still, it's a shame to see a breakup go down like this, even if long-distance relationships never really seem to work.


But, on the other hand, it's not a shame to see an episode of Left Behind come to an end! And, indeed, at the end we are! Come back next time when we- you guessed it- continue this riveting conversation between Alan and Buck. And I don't want to give away the surprise but in the next installment, just if you're very, very good, someone will actually die! Yay! I vote for Rayford!

See you then!


* One of my rifles is an amusing exception to this general rule in that the action expels spent casings almost straight up so that they pass over your head and land behind you. That's the theory, anyway. In practice whenever I take it to the range I always wear a hat to catch the occasional casing that lands square on top of my noggin. This is, however, how I have come to have a deep respect for the need to avoid getting smacked on exposed skin with recently ejected brass.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

"Jesus loves you."

So every now and then I get comments on this blog and, of those numerous comments, a handful turn out to not be Russians trying to sell me porn or herbal compounds that will make my penis and/or breasts bigger. Yes, clearly free enterprise has not treated Russia well.

Regardless, I recently received a comment in response to a post I wrote about Andy Schlafly's conservative bible project. This comment, provided by "The Dude," is so utterly wonderful that I have no choice but to reproduce it here for all of you:

You are a butt fucking, jew fag, nigger fucker. I hope you enjoy funding terrorism with all your liberal pot smoking you faggot. You are so to the left it makes my intellectual brain want to seize up.

If you want to get on the right side of Jesus you'd better jump on the soul train because right now you are going straight to hell.

"Jesus Loves You"


And it's hard to know how to respond to that. On the one hand this guy hates me enough that he apparently chooses to hurl incomprehensible racial slurs at me. On the other hand, he decides to follow this up by indicating his concern for my immortal soul and assures me that Jesus loves me. Which is, I suppose, a good thing since "The Dude" evidently does not particularly care for me. I guess I shouldn't be surprised by this, given that I'm rather accustomed to being publicly reminded that I am going to hell and/or should be shot for treason:





Likewise, I'm effectively beyond wonder that the above billboards are apparently okay while the atheist billboards that have been going up recently are "controversial." You know, billboards with controversial messages like these:





In fact the atheist billboards are so controversial that they have to be vandalized by good Christians:







And so, again, I really wonder about The Dude. Is he trying to shock me into changing my ways by calling me names? Because folks, let's face it: I'm an atheist living in the United States. Moreover, I'm an atheist who grew up in the south and has been an atheist for close to twenty years. This is not the first time I've been called nasty things because of my beliefs, nor the second or even third. Folks, getting called names is like f-ing communion for atheists: it doesn't taste good, and you don't like it, but it's just one of those things that comes with the territory. And however unpleasant it may be, after you swallow that stale little cracker, you do feel just a little more fulfilled. So thanks, The Dude, for reaffirming once more why I'm glad I'm a "butt fucking, jew fag, nigger fucker" and not a "good Christian" like you.

But I hope to hell you think about your behavior the next time you're inclined to bitch about what Dawkins says.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Good news from NASA...

Some of you may remember way back in 1996 when scientists announced that a martian meteorite, ALH84001, contained signs of ancient life. These signs, it was argued, suggested that Mars at some point in the past was- and perhaps still is- life-bearing. Of course, the news was exciting but that excitement was tempered by scientific concerns that the evidence in the meteor could have been produced by either non-biological causes, or by biological agents acting after the meteorite arrived on Earth. So, aside from a brief stir and nipping my pen-pal experience in the bud* ALH84001 didn't have much of an impact. No pun intended.

Well, that was then and this is now. Work has continued on the meteorite and NASA recently announced that the new conclusions are... well... pretty much the same as the old ones, only better:

The new research focused on investigating alternate proposals for the creation of materials thought to be signs of ancient life found in the meteorite. The new study argues that ancient life remains the most plausible explanation for the materials and structures found in the meteorite.

In 1996, a group of scientists led by David McKay, Everett Gibson and Kathie Thomas-Keprta of NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston published an article in Science announcing the discovery of biogenic evidence in the ALH84001 meteorite. A newly published paper revisits that original hypothesis with new analyses. The paper, “Origin of Magnetite Nanocrystals in Martian Meteorite ALH84001,” by Thomas-Keprta and coauthors Simon Clemett, McKay, Gibson and Susan Wentworth, all scientists in the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Directorate at JSC, is in the November issue of the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta of The Geochemical Society and The Meteoritical Society.

Magnetite crystals in ALH84001 have been a focus of debate about the possibility of life on Mars. Magnetite is an iron-bearing, magnetic mineral. On Earth, some water and soil bacteria secrete the mineral within their cells. The 1996 study suggested that some magnetite crystals associated with carbonate globules in ALH84001 are biogenic because they share many characteristics with those found in bacteria on Earth. Other scientists have argued instead that the magnetite in ALH84001 was likely caused by inorganic processes, and that those same processes can be recreated artificially in the laboratory by heating carbonates in a process known as thermal decomposition, forming magnetite identical to that found in the Mars meteorite.

In this new study, the JSC research team reassessed the leading alternative non-biologic hypothesis that heating or shock decomposition produced the magnetites. The authors argue that their new results do not support the heating hypothesis for the formation of the magnetites. They conclude that the biogenic explanation is a more viable hypothesis for the origin of the magnetites.

...

“The evidence supporting the possibility of past life on Mars has been slowly building up during the past decade,” said McKay, NASA chief scientist for exploration and astrobiology, JSC. “This evidence includes signs of past surface water including remains of rivers, lakes and possibly oceans, signs of current water near or at the surface, water-derived deposits of clay minerals and carbonates in old terrain, and the recent release of methane into the Martian atmosphere, a finding that may have several explanations, including the presence of microbial life, the main source of methane on Earth."


You can get all the juicy details on the NASA site, but the thrust of the finding is clear: the evidence for life on Mars in the past and possibly in the present is strengthening. Now, it should be noted that this does not necessarily mean that life emerged independently on Mars. Material from Mars has ended up on Earth through natural processes and the reverse could have taken place.** So, it may well be that any Martian life we discover may have originated on Earth or, you know, vice versa. Nevertheless, this is exciting stuff and I can't wait to see what's coming next!


* I've mentioned all that previously.

** Granted, the Earth is more massive and therefore possesses a deeper gravity well, making it more difficult for lifeforms to survive the sorts of events that could transport them to Mars in the first place.

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