Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Not that this will convince anyone who needs convincing, but...

Two awesome stories came out today about my favorite health intervention: vaccines. The first is the ruling that Andrew Wakefield, the guy who originated the bogus "vaccines -> autism" myth, is a lousy scientist:

The doctor who first suggested a link between MMR vaccinations and autism acted unethically, the official medical regulator has found.

Dr Andrew Wakefield's 1998 Lancet study caused vaccination rates to plummet, resulting in a rise in measles - but the findings were later discredited.

The General Medical Council ruled he had acted "dishonestly and irresponsibly" in doing his research.

...

The verdict, read out by panel chairman Dr Surendra Kumar, criticised Dr Wakefield for the invasive tests, such as spinal taps, that were carried out on children and which were found to be against their best clinical interests.

...

He also said Dr Wakefield should have disclosed the fact that he had been paid to advise solicitors acting for parents who believed their children had been harmed by the MMR.


So, in short, the guy who first argued that vaccines cause autism was in the pay of lawyers who were claiming that vaccines cause autism, and behaved in a horribly unethical manner in carrying out the research. Added to the fact that his research was fraudulent and that nobody has been able to replicate his findings and we have a real fail sandwich for the anti-vaxxers.

But if that's not enough, we have more exciting news because vaccines are about to get a real shot in the arm* courtesy of the Gates Foundation:

Endorsing vaccines as the world’s most cost-effective public health measure, Bill and Melinda Gates said Friday that their foundation would more than double its spending on them over the next decade, to at least $10 billion.

The change could save the lives of as many as eight million children by 2020, Mr. Gates calculated. He said he hoped his gift would inspire other charities and donor nations to do the same.

“Vaccines are a real success story,” Mr. Gates said in an interview before the announcement, which he made at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “The cost is tiny, and yet it saves more lives than any other component of a health care system.”

...

For starters, Mr. Gates wants to make sure that 90 percent of the world’s children get shots for routine childhood diseases like measles, diphtheria, whooping cough and polio. Right now, almost 80 percent do. But with 134 million children born each year, it is a constant struggle to keep up, and efforts can be interrupted by factors like war, natural disasters, bad roads and corrupt officials.


And this makes me want to dance in the streets because millions of children will have a chance to live because we were able to give them simple, highly effective, very safe, medical treatment. That's ten BILLION dollars that are going to vaccine programs and research.

I might be using an Apple computer, but I really have to salute the Gates right now.**



* Sorry, I just couldn't resist that joke.

** The fact that Bill Gates is an agnostic is just frosting on the cake.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 13, Part 2

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that makes one long for the thrill of watching paint dry. Last time Rayford had a fairly stupid conversation with Chloe and Buck kinda screwed around. What happens this week? Eh... not much, just a speech from the anti-christ.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to Ken for, more or less, raising a point that horrifies even me:

"So, basically, we're reading about Buck reading. It's like some kind of French post-modern cinema project, but with vastly less nudity."

Normally, I would consider that a pity. In this case, though, it's the first sign of mercy the authors have shown in over 200 pages.


And now I'm thinking about Buck and his airplane seat shaped ass walking around naked. Not good. Not good at all. I'd also like to extend an honorable mention to scripto, whose comment last week reminded me of a dark time years ago when I actually read both "Battlefield Earth" and the entire "Mission: Earth" trainwreck. And as lousy as Hubbard's writing is, it still beats the pants off of Left Behind. But now we're talking about Ken's idea again.

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

Who cares what order they're in?

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. Christian.

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. Blown up by an evil conspiracy car bomb.

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

Vernon Billings: Pastor at New Hope Village Church. Likes video tape. Raptured.

----------


Page 238- Line Barbecue:

No quote, but we return to Rayford and Chloe who are discussing Rayford's past lusts for Hattie and his plan to convert her, if possible. Chloe is a bit pissed about the whole thing but, along the way, raises an interesting point:


Page 238- Line 18-21:
"What if this strategy with Hattie just makes you all the more attractive to her? What's to keep you [Rayford] from being attracted to her, too? It's not like you're still married, if you're convinced Mom is in heaven." [Chloe asked]


Yeah. This is an interesting question that I figured we'd work around to sooner or later. Much like we're forced to wonder if humans are sterile following the rapture, since that would make the most sense, we might also ask whether remarrying is appropriate in Rayford's position. I mean, he pretty much knows at this point that Irene will be born again or whatever in seven years so, really, this is just an extended separation from Irene. So you'd think the answer to this would be, "No, Chloe, I know your mother is in heaven and I'll wait for her as god commands." That is not, however, the answer we get.*


Page 238- Line 22-28:
Rayford ordered dessert and laid his napkin on the table. "Maybe I'm being naive, but your mother being in heaven is just like losing her to sudden death. The last thing on my mind is another woman, and certainly not Hattie. She's too young and immature, and I'm too disgusted with myself for having been tempted by her in the first place."


I don't even know what warrants the facepalm more: his reference to Hattie as "too young and immature," as though he's f-ing Yoda, or his assertion that Irene's disappearance in the rapture is just like sudden death. Sure it's sudden, Rayford, but you now believe that you're going to see her again in seven years. Seems like that would be pretty good incentive to keep it zipped up until then. And if the incentive isn't enough, how about the awkwardness of introducing your new wife to your old wife? Sadly, if you were to keep reading this series (which I, frankly, haven't the courage to attempt) you would learn that Rayford does get married again- and in the very next damned book at that. So, hey, another chance for a logical response to theology blown out of the water. Regardless, Chloe relents since she clearly can't deter Rayford from his new plan- he clearly has a will of Steele- and just satisfies herself with setting her father up for a "witty" rejoinder.


Page 239- Line 13-16:
"I don't know, Dad. I think it's a little too soon to be pushing her toward God."

"How soon is too soon, Chloe? There are no guarantees, not now."


Bum-bum-BUM! How ominous! How threatening! How sick I am of being told to believe because otherwise I'm going to get fucked by the things I don't believe in! Gah! Why not just tell me that unless I ring my house in salt, unicorns will eat all the food in my pantry? It's the same thing! Anyway, following that dramatic line, we're suddenly back with Buck.


Page 239- Line 17-25:
Steve pulled from his breast pocket two sets of press credentials, permitting the bearers to attend Nicolae Carpathia's speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations that very afternoon. Buck's credentials were in the name of George Oreskovich.

"Do I take care of you, or what?" [Steve asked, grinning seductively]

"Unbelievable," Buck said. "How much time do we have?"

"A little over an hour," Steve said, rising to hail a cab.


They go on to discuss how they're going to get Carpathia to see Buck given that people think that Buck is currently a pale pink mist lightly smeared across a pub parking lot. They really never develop a plan on this point, though the authors desperately try to insert something ominous.


Page 240- Line 9-18:
"I [Steve] don't know. Maybe I'll tell him [Carpathia] that it's really you [Buck]. Then, while you're with him, I'll release the report that your obit was wrong and that right now you're doing a cover-story interview with Carpathia."

"A cover story? You've come a long way from calling him a low-level bureaucrat from a nonstrategic country."

"I was at the press conference, Buck. I met him. And I can at least gauge the competition. If we don't feature him prominently, we'll be the only national magazine that doesn't."


Cue the mysterious and unsettling music. Charismatic stranger rises from obscurity and low office to become the darling of the media? Who can it be? Why, it must surely be the anti-christ! And is it any wonder that, prepared by this book, certain segments of the population find Barack Obama to be terrifying? I mean, hell, he's got a funny name and doesn't want to bomb anybody! What more do you WANT? Frankly, right now, I'd settle for a shot of vodka, but that would only be to dull the pain. Anyway, Buck and Steve get into the U.N. General Assembly chamber and then Carpathia enters, stage left!


Page 241- Line 12-20:
Carpathia entered the assembly in a dignified yet inauspicious manner, though he had an entourage of a half dozen, including Chaim Rosenzweig and a financial wizard from the French government. Carpathia appeared an inch or two over six feet tall, broad shouldered, thick chested, trim, athletic, tanned, and blonde. His thick shock of hair was trimmed neatly around the ears, sideburns, and neck, and his navy-on-navy pin-stripe suit and matching tie were exquisitely conservative.


He's the very model of a modern major character. He knows information vegetable, animal and spiritual. He knows the UN delegates and he quotes the fights historical. From Jericho to Megiddo in order categorical.


Page 241- Line 21-26:
Even from a distance, the man seemed to carry himself with a sense of humility and purpose. His presence dominated the room, and yet he did not seem preoccupied or impressed with himself. His jewelry was understated. His jaw and nose were Roman and strong, his piercing blue eyes set deep under thick brows.


He's very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical. He understands equations, the simple, spiritual and quadratical. About binomial theorems he's teeming with a lot o' news. With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse!

(On a more serious note: "his jewelry was understated"? Do they mean his watch? Because I have a hard time picturing such an elegant man having the kind of accessories one normally expects from an extra on the Sopranos. Also, can I just point out that- so far- Carpathia is by far the best described character in this book? Just think about that for a bit and see if the authors tendency to fawn all over what they consider evil doesn't creep you out just a smidge.**)


Page 241- Line 27-30:
Buck was struck that Carpathia carried no notebook, and he assumed the man must have his speech notes in his breast pocket. Either that or they were being carried by an aide. Buck was wrong on both counts.


With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse!
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse!
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotepotenuse!

Ahem! In any case, Secretary-General "Mwangati Ngumo" (Page 242- Line 1) announces that Carpathia is going to speak and that he (Carpathia) would be introduced by Dr. Chaim Rosenzweig.


Page 242- Line 9-10:
The popular Israeli statesman and scholar said simply...


Wait, what? Rosenzweig is the guy who invented the Israeli uber-fertilizer. The one that Israel has refused to share with anyone. The one that Russia tried to nuke Israel into the Jurassic over. The one that Rosenzweig refused to give to anyone else, even when they begged. This is the same guy who has been hiding on an Israeli military base so that the rest of the world doesn't kidnap him. Since when is that guy either "popular" or a "statesman"? What. The. Fuck? In any case, Carpathia takes the stage, thanks Rosenzweig, and just starts talking off the cuff. I'd quote the description, but I'm tired of using lyrics from the Pirates of Penzance in this post. You'll love this bit, though...


Page 242- Line 23-27:
He [Carpathia] mentioned respectfully that he was aware that it had not been a full week yet since the disappearance of millions all over the world, including many who would have been 'in this very room.'


When I read that last bit I laughed so hard I think I peed myself a little. Sure, right, of course! The general assembly of the United f-ing Nations would be just packed with evangelicals. Moreover, exactly the kind of evangelicals who would qualify in the authors' view for that express ticket to heaven. Sure. And if you believe that, I have some ocean front property to sell you by the Mare Tranquillitatis. In any case, Carpathia goes on in glowing terms and then gets to a history lesson/conspiracy theory primer.


Page 243- Line 15-29:
"Our forebears were thinking globally long before I was born," Carpathia said. "In 1944, the year the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were established, this great host nation, the United States of America, along with the British Commonwealth and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, met at the famous Dunbarton Oaks Conference to propose the birth of this body."

Displaying his grasp of history and his photographic memory of dates and places, Carpathia intoned, "From its official birth on October 24, 1945, and that first meeting of your General Assembly in London, January 10, 1946, to this day, tribes and nations have come together to pledge their wholehearted commitment to peace, brotherhood, and the global community."


I don't even know what to do with that reference to the IMF and World Bank that got shoehorned into the first paragraph, except to observe that they're only there to help support wacky conspiracy theories. I also have to say that I'm distressed that the authors are basically implying that any attempt to reach peace among the nations of the Earth is clearly the work of the anti-christ. So remember kids, Jesus wants you to fuck your neighbor up. Wait, that can't be right... Regardless, Carpathia starts listing the nations of the U.N., which frankly sounds more like a particularly dull bar bet than a good rhetorical strategy. Alas, the authors disagree...


Page 244- Line 9-17:
A minute into his [Carpathia's] list, representatives noticed that with each name [of a country], someone from that country rose in dignity and stood erect, as if vowing anew for peace among nations. Carpathia smiled and nodded at each as they rose, and nearly every country was represented. Because of the cosmic trauma the world had endured, they had come looking for answers, for help, for support. Now they had been given the opportunity to take their stand once again.


If you can get through that without feeling sick to your stomach, you're stronger than I. And this shit goes on for another page or so with a loving description of how excited everyone is to be named by Carpathia. They even start a dramatic slow clap. Buck and the other journalists even join right in when their countries are named, a fact that doesn't bother Buck at all.


Page- Line 22-28:
Something had happened in the disappearances of loved ones all over the globe. Journalism might never be the same. Oh, there would be skeptics and those who worshiped objectivity. But what had happened to brotherly love? What had become of depending on one another? What had happened to the brotherhood of men and nations? [emphasis added]


So... wait. Brotherly love is a bad thing now? And we're still taking digs at skeptics even when that skepticism would help battle the f-ing anti-christ? The message in this book is just utterly incoherent, isn't it? Anyway, Carpathia rolls on with his civics lesson, managing to cram in the name of every Secretary-General ever as well as the functions, headquarters, and staff of every sub-part of the entire organization. And somehow this all remains interesting even though I have never, ever heard an org chart that I would want to deliver as a speech. But, hey, he's supernatural. What're you gonna do?


Page 247- Line 4-5:
After this, Buck knew, Nicolae Carpathia would be embraced by all of America. And then the world.


Cue the dramatic music. My margin notes at this point read, "A smart, gifted man who wants to end war and help mankind? Clearly he must be evil." And folks, it just doesn't get any more depressing than that.

Well, that brings us to the end of chapter 13. Come back next time when Buck's man-crush on Carpathia deepens and Chloe and Rayford... you know... just keep on being Chloe and Rayford.

At least I tell it like it is.


* For the record, I'm not making this assertion generally but, rather, specifically given Rayford's circumstances. It's not like Irene died young and he's facing forty years of occasional guilt-ridden self-pleasuring episodes. She was taken in the rapture which starts a seven year clock.

** Someone might- quite fairly- point out that I am spending an awful lot of time myself describing something I don't like, by which they would mean this book. Fair enough, but here's the thing: I'm providing my reactions after actually reading the literature promulgated by a group that would like to convert me. The authors, in contrast, are lavishing attention on a fictional character they claim to hate. I certainly don't think that the amount of energy an author puts into a character necessarily indicates how the author feels about that character- and if it does we desperately need to arrest Thomas Harris- I'm just saying that when the only character in the entire book that receives a passingly adequate description is the villain, it might suggest a few things.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I KNEW it!

Readers of the New York Times may have noticed a recent article reporting on something I've suspected for a long time: greater sexual equality is a good thing for married couples. Seriously:

EVER since Betty Friedan urged women to leave the house and pursue careers, people have argued over whether women’s marriages and romantic prospects would suffer for it. Was a financially successful woman a threat to her husband or a relief?

Last week, a report from the Pew Research Center about what it called “the rise of wives” revived the debate. Based on a study of Census data, Pew found that in nearly a third of marriages, the wife is better educated than her husband. And though men, over all, still earn more than women, wives are now the primary breadwinner in 22 percent of couples, up from 7 percent in 1970.

While the changing economic roles of husbands and wives may take some getting used to, the shift has had a surprising effect on marital stability. Over all, the evidence shows that the shifts within marriages — men taking on more housework and women earning more outside the home — have had a positive effect, contributing to lower divorce rates and happier unions.

...

While it’s widely believed that a woman’s financial independence increases her risk for divorce, divorce rates in the United States tell a different story: they have fallen as women have made economic gains. The rate peaked at 23 divorces per 1,000 couples in the late 1970s, but has since dropped to fewer than 17 divorces per 1,000 couples. Today, the statistics show that typically, the more economic independence and education a woman gains, the more likely she is to stay married. And in states where fewer wives have paid jobs, divorce rates tend to be higher, according to a 2009 report from the Center for American Progress.


Indeed, this reminds me of the empirical finding that as contraception is taught in schools teen pregnancy and abortion rates both decline, whereas the product of eight years of emphasis on "abstinence only" has been markedly less successful. In a twist that should surprise nobody, when women as well as men have sources of power we all tend to be a bit happier. Things are not completely easy, however, as some commentary later in the article made me think of my own wife:

Men, for instance, sometimes have a hard time adjusting to a woman’s equal or greater earning power. Women, meanwhile, struggle with giving up their power at home and controlling tasks like how to dress the children or load the dishwasher.

...

She added, “In many ways women are their own worst enemies — we want men to do it, but we want to tell them how they should do it.”

Men, meanwhile, can struggle with the social expectation that husbands should always be the breadwinner. The recession, among other things, has made that expectation less realistic.

...

And the blurring of traditional gender roles appears to have a positive effect. Lynn Prince Cooke, a sociology professor at the University of Kent in England, has found that American couples who share employment and housework responsibilities are less likely to divorce compared with couples where the man is the sole breadwinner.


See, honey? Now will you please stop trying to hog the dishwashing? I have science on my side and everything!

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Monday, January 25, 2010

See this? This is why.

As most of you realize I am something of an opponent of pseudo-science. My reasons for this are legion but the core of my opposition is this: good information helps lead to good decisions, bad information... not so much. And in perfect honesty I can be a little pointed about this kind of thing, which sometimes gets me in trouble. The reality, though, is that at the end of the day I have a hard time feeling bad about it because, frankly, the harm that can be caused by bullshit science is just amazing. And if you don't believe me, watch this video, describing a "highly advanced" method for identifying explosive devices in Iraq:



Yes, that's correct: they're finding explosives by dowsing. Actually, let me rephrase that: they're not finding explosives by dowsing because dowsing doesn't f-ing work. McCormick has since been arrested on suspicion of fraud, but the problem isn't with him so much as with attitudes that allow unsupported and, indeed, consistently invalidated nonsense to thrive. And while people have the right to make up their own minds- even about wacky shit like this- I just think it's a tragedy any time ignorance acquires a body count.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Okay, so what was awkward.

The Scene: Drek is riding the bus to work surrounded by fellow passengers. A somewhat strange man is sitting next to Drek while a young woman sits on the bench across the aisle.

Man: Hey, do I know you?

Woman: Um.... I don't think so.

Man: I could swear I know you... OH!

Woman: What?

Man: You look just like a neighbor I used to have!

Woman: Oh, really?

Man: Yeah, yeah! She had hair just like yours! You look just like her.

Woman: Wow.

Man: I used to look at her house when I'd walk past it, you know? She looked just like you.

Woman: Uh-huh.

Man: Once I looked in her window and saw her walking around naked.

Woman: ...

Drek: Okay, that's enough.

Man: Huh?

Drek: No. You're done. Just... that's it.


Rarely has a bus ride felt more awkward than that.


As a side note: No, I don't think he was completely okay mentally. And no, that didn't make the situation any less uncomfortable.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 13, Part 1

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that makes the dictionary look like a gripping read. Last time Rayford became a Christian and joined church leadership. What happens this week? Well, very little really, but along the way we almost get to meet the Anti-christ. Yay?

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to scripto who manages to really read between the lines:

"And I [Rayford] know how overwhelming this is for you because it has been for me, too. I've got a lot to talk to you about, actually."

And I'm going to convert the shit out of you all night long.


Indeed- from sex object to prayer object. Nothing ever changes for poor Hattie, does it? Great work scripto, and best of luck to everyone else!

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 order of their spending on Christian porn...

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. Christian.

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. Blown up by an evil conspiracy car bomb.

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

Vernon Billings: Pastor at New Hope Village Church. Likes video tape. Raptured.

----------


Chapter 13: In which we read a pointless obituary, have limp discussion between Chloe and Ray, insult learning and thinking, and introduce a man so gifted and well-intentioned that he just has to be evil.


Page 227- Line Tobogan:

No quote, but the chapter opens with Buck Williams who is... well... reading an obituary. So, basically, we're reading about Buck reading. It's like some kind of French post-modern cinema project, but with vastly less nudity. And to add to the effect, the obituary is produced verbatim. Because that's a good use of page space:


Page 227- Line 4-15:
Cameron Williams, 30, the youngest senior writer on the staff of any weekly newsmagazine, is feared dead after a mysterious car bombing outside a London pub on Saturday night that took the life of a Scotland Yard investigator.

Williams, a five-year employee of Global Weekly, had won a Pulitzer as a reporter for the Boston Globe before joining the magazine as a staff reporter at 25. He quickly rose to the position of senior writer and has since written more than three dozen cover stories, four times assigned the Weekly's Newsmaker of the Year story.


Okay, so, first off, it isn't really an obituary if he's only said to be "feared dead." It is instead what we like to call a "news report." Secondly, is there any point to this? Not really, but the story continues- again printed verbatim- for another 28 lines on page 228. I don't reproduce it here basically out of a sense of pity. And then, believe it or not, the "narrative" switches back to Rayford. But not to fear- the stoopid is only just beginning.


Page 228-229- Line 228: 26-27, 229: 1-5:
Rayford Steele had a plan. He had decided to be honest with Chloe about his attraction to Hattie Durham and how guilty he felt about it. He knew it would disappoint Chloe, even if it didn't shock her. He intended to talk about his new desire to share his faith with Hattie, hoping he could make some progress with Chloe without her feeling threatened.


See, this is why everyone winces whenever Rayford Steele has a plan: they're f-ing catastrophes. I absolutely love, as well, that he's all proud of himself for being honest with Chloe about Hattie even though he's really doing it as an under-handed ploy to try and preach. Anyway, they drive around for a while, he thinks about how Chloe went to the church meeting "for skeptics" even though she left part way through. She also watched Vernon Billings' craptacular little tape. Then, passing a bunch of burnt out houses, Rayford explains that he thinks the occupants were raptured away while the stove was on, leading eventually to a house fire. Then things get interesting... sort of.


Page 229- Line 18-30:
"And you [Rayford] think this was God's doing?" Chloe said, not disrespectfully.

"I do."

"I thought he was supposed to be a God of love and order," she said.

"I [Rayford] believe he is. This was his plan."

"There were plenty of tragedies and senseless deaths before this."

"I don't understand all that either," Rayford said. "But like Bruce said last night, we live in a fallen world. God left control of it pretty much to Satan."

"Oh, brother," she said. "Do you wonder why I walked out?"


Indeed, because we've just staggered drunkenly upon the problem of evil. If god is all-loving and all-powerful, why do bad things happen? The obvious answers are (a) god is not all-loving and (b) god is not all-powerful. Alas, neither answer is religiously acceptable so, instead, we get the always bizarre (c) it only looks evil from our perspective, but god has a plan. Right. Call me crazy, but I think the holocaust, rape, and so forth are pretty much bad from any perspective. Or, perhaps more accurately, I don't think I want to worship any god who considers genocide and sexual violence to be okay under certain circumstances. And don't even get me started on that whole "left the world to Satan" shit. How does that even begin to solve the problem? Does Rayford rise to the occasion? Yeah, not so much. Instead, he offers his own hypotheses as to why Chloe left Bruce's sermon early:


Page 230- Line 1-2:
"I figured it was because the questions and answers were hitting a little too close to home."


Seriously, Rayford? That's your answer? She left because she was afraid of the potency of your new faith, as opposed to- say- the fact that it's utterly looney? Gah. Thankfully, we start talking about sin and a whole new vista of weird opens up before us.


Page 230- Line 7-18:
"But I [Rayford] know I'm a sinner and that this world is full of them."

"And you consider me [Chloe] one."

"If you're part of everybody, then, yes, I do. Don't you?"

"Not on purpose."

"You're never selfish, greedy, jealous, perry, spiteful?"

"I try not to be, at least not at anyone else's expense."

"But you think you're exempt from what the Bible says about everybody being a sinner, about there not being one righteous person anywhere, 'No not one'?"

"I don't know, Daddy. I just have no idea."


This whole thing just makes me tired. First off, speaking as an atheist, I don't believe in sin. I don't actually believe in metaphysical evil, as in evil that exists outside of the ability of sentient beings to judge. I think there are pro- and anti-social behaviors, things that are and are not good in particular circumstances, but sin is an absurd concept that just doesn't make sense to me. So, really, I would have to answer the question "Are you a sinner?" with something akin to, "No, and neither am I a Leprechaun." Secondly, why is the bible supposed to be some kind of insurmountable authority? So what if the bible says we all suck, why should I even begin to care? Maybe I should pay more attention to the I Ching, or the Bhagavad Gita, or even Dianetics for crying out loud! You can't just babble, "But the bible says..." and expect to be taken seriously. Regardless, Rayford makes sure Chloe knows he's pushing the issue just because he doesn't want her to go to hell if she dies before converting- because nothing says loving like inventing things for your family to be afraid of.


Page 230-231- Line 230: 26-30, 231: 1-2:
"What did you [Chloe] think of the video? Did it make sense to you?"

"It made a lot of sense if you buy into all that. I mean, you have to start with that as a foundation. Then it all works neatly. But if you're not sure about God and the Bible and sin and heaven and hell, then you're still wondering what happened and why."


I don't actually agree with Chloe here for the simple reason that even if you accept God and sin and heaven and hell from the get-go, the bible is still a contradictory mess that clearly wasn't meant to be taken literally. Moreover, there are gigantic logical problems in the foundational concepts of evangelical Christianity as depicted in this book that cause real headaches to smart people. So, no, it doesn't all work neatly if you start with that as a foundation. That said, she is correct that the narrative he's selling is most compelling if you start with a Judeo-Christian background. So, for example, this works really well for people who are lapsed Christians. Somehow, though, I doubt that a lapsed Hindu would find this story nearly as attractive. One man's religion is, after all, another man's mythology.* Anyway, Rayford muses internally a bit more about how he wants so much to convert Chloe and then- after a scant two and a half pages of Rayford Steele and his plan- we're back with Buck. Specifically, Buck is meeting up with Steve Planck in JFK. And Steve asks one of the only intelligent questions of the entire book.


Page 231- Line 22-26:
"What makes you [Buck] think that Carpathia is going to help?" Planck asked later as they walked through a park. "If the Yard and the exchange are behind this, and you think Carpathia is linked to Todd-Cothran and Stonagal, you might be asking Carpathia to turn against his own angels."


Good lord, was that a question born of intelligent analysis? My heart is all aflutter! Sadly, Buck dismisses all this by remarking that he has a hunch about Carpathia. And then he pulls out the big justification.


Page 232- Line 9-10:
"Rosenzweig was impressed with him, and that's one insightful old scientist."


I don't know what I love more here: that a chemist is being touted as the ultimate judge of people or that a scientist is being used to vouch for the anti-christ. And for the authors, that last bit is actually a fairly subtle hint. In any case, they discuss Carpathia for a while longer including mentioning that he speaks nine languages fluently. Then Buck makes a sudden connection about which nine Carpathia talks pretty:


Page 233- Line 22-23:
"The six languages of the United Nations, plus the three languages of his own country." [Buck said]


Yeah, exactly, he has to be an evil genius to have spent so much time learning the languages useful in being an international diplomat. The cad! What really bothers me about this is that it will tend to make certain segments of the population automatically paranoid about talented, educated people who want to make the world a better place. And that just does not seem like a good thing to me. Once you add in the fact that we're not supposed to trust scientists or people who think too much and, really, this particular variant of Christianity sounds less like a religion of love and more like a religion of rampant paranoia. Regardless of your view on that, and with another mental screech of agony, the narrative twists once more to follow Rayford, who is busy trying to avoid choppy air while flying to Atlanta. He and Chloe arrive and head out of the airport for lunch. Along the way their cabbie a "young woman with a beautiful lilt to her voice" (Page 234- Line 12-13)** shows them an unbelievable sight. It's of people using cranes to remove cars that are jammed into and around a parking structure.


Page 235- Line 3-11:
"They were all in there after a late ballgame that night," she [the cabbie] said. "The police say it was bad anyway, long lines of cars trying to get out, people taking turns merging and lots of 'em not taking turns at all. So some people who got tired of waiting just tried to edge in and make other people let 'em in, you know."

"Yeah."

"And then, poof, they say more than a third of the cars ain't got drivers, just like that."


I'm from the south and, I gotta tell ya, I really doubt that a third of the people at a Braves game are going to qualify under the authors' definition of "true Christian." I'd frankly put the percentage at well under five, particularly given people like Bruce who talked the talk but evidently did not walk the walk.


Page 235- Line 26-30:
"How about you?" Rayford asked the driver. "Did you lose people?"

"Yes, sir. My mama and my grandmama and two baby sisters. But I know where they are. They're in heaven, just like my mama always said." [the cabbie replied]


First we hate cabbies, now cabbies are good people? Honestly, this book confuses me. Then again, maybe it's just that Buck hates cabbies? Eh. Who cares? Alas, it gets better.


Page 236- Line 3-10:
"Are you [Rayford] saved now?" the girl asked.

Rayford was shocked by her forthrightness, but he knew exactly what she meant. "I am," he said.

"I am, too. You got to be blind or somethin' to not see the light now."

Rayford wanted to peek at Chloe, but he did not. He tipped the young woman generously when they got to the restaurant.


Classy, eh? He's teaming up with random cabbies to harangue his daughter. Or is it god sending a sign? In either case, Rayford apparently pays for preaching so, hey, make of that what you will. I'm glad he "knew exactly what she meant" though, particularly given that she was speaking plain English. Regardless, after they leave the cabbie behind Rayford tells Chloe about his lusting after Hattie. She takes it in stride. He mentions that he never did anything, at least partly because of how obsessed Irene was with religion. Then we get this:


Page 236- Line 21-28:
"I [Chloe] know. Funny thing, though. That [Irene's craziness] kept me straighter at school than I might have been otherwise. I mean, I'm sure Mom would be disappointed to know a lot of the things I've said and done while I've been away- don't ask. But knowing how sincere and devout she was, and what high hopes and expectations she had for me, kept me from doing something really stupid. I knew she was praying for me. She told me every time she wrote."


My margin note at this point reads, "I wonder how often it has the opposite effect?" which is, I think, a valid question. Certainly knowing people care about you matters, but constantly having religion rammed down one's throat may provoke a degree of rebellion. I'm just sayin' is all. The really beautiful part of this too, though, is that it not only implies that prayer works- in an absurdly subtle fashion- but simultaneously implies that were it not for people praying, all of us college educated types would be total sluts by now. Much as I'd love to know what it is that Chloe has done that's so bad, I have to note that I've been in school a long time and don't drink, do drugs, or otherwise get up to no good. And as far as I know, no evangelicals are praying for me so apparently I have only myself to blame for that.


Page 237- Line 1-10:
"But you still don't buy it [Irene's faith]?" [Rayford asked]

"I want to, Dad. I really do. But I have to be intellectually honest with myself."

It was all Rayford could do to stay calm. Had he been this pseudosophisticated at that age? Of course he had. He had run everything through that maddening intellectual grid- until recently, when the supernatural came crashing through his academic pretense. But like the cabbie had said, you'd have to be blind not to see the light now, no matter how educated you thought you were.


So, just to sum up: thinking=bad, blind belief=good. Any questions? I hope not because questions are born of confusion, confusion implies thinking and- say it with me- thinking is BAD. Sometimes when reading this book I just feel so hopeless, you know?


Page 237- Line 11-19:
"I'm [Rayford] going to invite Hattie to dinner with us this week," he said.

Chloe narrowed her eyes. "What, you feel like you're available now?"

Rayford was stunned at his own reaction. He had to keep himself from slapping his own daughter, something he had never done. He gritted his teeth. "How can you say that after all I've just told you?" he said. "That's insulting."


Obviously Rayford has been reading his bible. His daughter gets uppity and he's immediately ready to smite the fuck out of her. Hey, Ray? Maybe you should focus a little more on the New Testament and a little less on the Old Testament, you know?


Page 237- Line 24-29:
"I'm [Rayford] going to make it clear what my intentions are, and they are totally honorable, more honorable than they ever could have been before, because I had nothing of worth to offer her"

"So, now you're going to switch from hitting on her to preaching at her."


And Chloe has hit on an important point: before Rayford only wanted her for her lovely- albeit emaciated- body. He didn't really care for her, he just wanted to gratify himself physically with her. Now, however, he only wants her for her lovely- albeit unclaimed- soul. He still doesn't really care for her- in point of fact he doesn't even seem to like her very much- he just wants to gratify himself with her spiritually. What has really changed here? The language, sure, but not the essence. I've heard it said before that Christianity is an other-directed religion and at its best that's absolutely true. But a lot of the time it seems like the preaching is for the benefit of the converted- to convince themselves of their own virtue and has nothing to do with me. And I really have no interest in being spiritually objectified.


Nor, as it happens, do I have any interest in moving on, because we're finished with part one. Even more exciting we are now half-way done with Left Behind! There are 25 chapters, so the end of this episode marks the halfway point. Moreover, the book is 470 pages long and we just finished page 237! Woo-hoo! It's all down hill from here, and I mean that in every possible sense!

It seems like this is a moment when we should stop and take stock and, indeed, that's what we're going to do. Let's tally the "Comment of the Week" wins to date, shall we? The ranking is as follows:

Scripto: 11
JLT: 5
Ken: 3
Mister Troll: 2
Jay: 1
Warbler: 1
Rybear: 1
FHR: 1

So why am I listing all this? Well, just to spur you on to even greater creative heights. I think there will be a special prize for whoever has the most at the end, and I'm as curious as anyone else who that will be. So keep at it! Also, frankly, scripto is kicking some ass and a little competition can't hurt.

And with that I say farewell until our next episode, when we return to Buck and finally- fucking finally- manage to get the anti-christ on stage. I, for one, cannot wait.



* I've probably told this story at some point before, but when I was a kid I was big into Greek mythology. I just loved all those stories about Apollo, Hermes, Argus, and so forth. I pretty much checked out every book I could find on this stuff from my school library and read them in a tree near my house. Very Huck Finn-ish. Anyway, one day I made the connection that the ancient Greeks didn't view that stuff as mythology- meaning fancy but incorrect stories- and instead viewed it as the truth. Similarly, I made the connection that we believed that Jesus and Christianity were real and, in my naive way, reasoned that there must be a reason why we knew the ancient Greeks were wrong and we were right. More precisely, I reasoned there must be a reason why we had all stopped believing in Zeus and started believing in Jehovah. So, I put this question to my mother: why did we know Jesus was true and the Greek myths were not? She explained that Greek mythology was just old stories, to which I answered that the bible was a lot of old stories. So how did we know it wasn't just mythology, too? Believe it or not I was entirely earnest in my question- I thought she'd respond with something like, "Oh, well, because of..." and give me some sort of logical explanation for why we knew our stories were true and the Greeks' were false. Instead her response was along the lines of, "Oh, Drek, give me a break." I left, frankly a bit hurt, and more than a bit bewildered. As is normal with children I got over the hurt quickly, but from then on whenever I thought about Greek myths I also felt the seed of doubt. Doubt because if there was a logical, compelling, reasonable answer, she would have given it to me. She hadn't, and it made me face a new and disquieting reality: Maybe there was no simple, compelling answer, and we had no way of knowing that our "truth" was anything more than someone else's "myth." I won't say that experience put me on the path to becoming an atheist, but I will say it sure as hell didn't slow me down.

** By "lilt" I think the authors are trying to say "southern accent." I have no idea why they don't just say so, however.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The goal posts, they are moving.

We atheists often get a bad rap. By and large is seems that people don't like us, despite the fact that we don't usually do anything all that wrong. But, you know, that's a small price to pay for your beliefs.

One of the more specific things that bugs the hell out of me is the claim that atheists aren't interested in helping others. This is, in a word, bullshit. I have been an atheist for most of my life and was a regular platelet donor in multiple cities.* I only stopped donating platelets because I finally accumulated enough "yes" answers to the pre-donation survey that I'm no longer allowed to donate.** More recently I've taken to giving money to charity and am involved in a program to provide education to underprivileged groups. I've never done this sort of thing specifically as an atheist- you know, jumping up and down proclaiming my religious affiliation- I've just done it because it's the right thing to do. Nevertheless, I've been more than slightly annoyed at claims that atheists are uncharitable.

And I'm not the only one. In hopes of responding to this claim, several groups have started organizing charitable giving under atheist, agnostic, and secular humanist banners. One such group- that I've mentioned before- is organized by the Center for Inquiry. Recently, Richard Dawkins launched another called Non-Believers Giving Aid. Both of these are currently involved in supporting efforts to help the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. And Dawkins' efforts netted over $150,000 in the first 24 hours. Not bad, considering how few of us there are.

So does this help convince some quarters that maybe we atheists aren't such bad folks after all? Yeah. Not so much:

I always get a kick out of evangelizing atheists and how they’re so desperate to prove that they’re as good (and usually better) than us religious types. Dawkins writes on the charity’s website: “When donating via Non-Believers Giving Aid, you are helping to counter the scandalous myth that only the religious care about their fellow-humans.” While we should all applaud Mr. Dawkins’ altruistic efforts to help his fellow man I’m just not sure he’s making the point he thinks he’s making.

If Dawkins is running this charity to show up religion and helping Haitians is only a secondary consequence then we could hardly claim that what he’s doing is good by most definitions. Because if that’s true then it would seem that the greatest value of Haitians lives to Dawkins is how they make Dawkins look.

But let’s give Dawkins the benefit of the doubt because us religious types like to do that. If he’s helping people because he wants to help people then I almost hate to tell him that he’s kind of supporting some of our arguments. While Dawkins argues that he can be good without God, I think he’s actually only proving that Richard Dawkins can be good while not acknowledging God.

I have to wonder from what philosophical grounding does Dawkins’ altruism emanate? Why is other human life worth anything if there is no God? From what philosophical groundwork is he basing his good works on? Dawkins, it would seem to me, hasn’t defined his terms and is only borrowing our definition of “good.” Because without our definitions he’d have to ask the question, “What is good without God?” And that’s something I haven’t seen answered yet.


Right. So. When we just do good for our fellow human beings- whom we wish to do good for because we atheists believe that we have to take care of each other because no invisible friend in the sky will do it for us- we're accused of being uncharitable because people don't see us screaming about how awesome we are. But when we go out of our way to make sure the charity we were already doing is properly acknowledged as coming from atheists, agnostics and free-thinkers, we're bad because we're "only giving to make ourselves look good." And even then, we're accused of co-opting religious notions of morality, which is flatly absurd since the things we do agree with- like being kind to neighbors- are universal while the truly, uniquely religiously-motivated morals- like not eating pork for example- we pretty much ignore entirely.

Fine. You know what? I give up. Believe whatever the hell you want about me. But no matter how much you think I suck, it won't stop me from giving to charity and helping others because I believe its the right thing to do.

I'm just sorry that you can't imagine that being enough without someone looking over your shoulder the whole time.





* If you're not afraid of needles, please allow me to encourage you to consider doing the same. It's not really all that unpleasant and it's a very necessary service!

** Specifically, I've spent too much time in specific European countries. I have not been deferred for having gay sex with rodeo clowns or whatever other bizarre conditions are on the UDHQ now.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How many do you need?

During a recent foray to Conservapedia I happened to run across a headline dealing with gun control. Now, I feel I should point out that I- an academic- do own a firearm. I own several firearms, in fact, and enjoy shooting on an infrequent basis. I further feel the need to point out that I do generally consider the private ownership of firearms to be an appropriate thing. That said, I do not think we all need assault rifles with two hundred round drum magazines for home defense. In point of fact, for home defense I would probably prefer a nice 9mm semi-automatic, but that's just me.

Regardless, this headline hit me because it's just so f-ing terrifying:



Or, in plain human speech:

New Jersey gun owners sue to get their rights back from outgoing Governor Jon Corzine, who limited their handgun purchases to one handgun per person per month. And the MSM organ that reported the lawsuit, gave credence to a "gun control organization" that is little more than an empty shell probably containing only one man. [emphasis original, amazingly enough]


And I'm just flabbergasted. Nobody was saying you couldn't own a gun. Indeed, nobody was even saying you couldn't own multiple guns. They were just saying you couldn't buy more than one gun per month. Do you need more than that? No, seriously, what's your deal? Do you just use a firearm for a week and then throw it away because you hate to clean it? Are you equipping some sort of mercenary organization? Because- and maybe this is just me- it seems like the kind of people who just wake up one day and decide to buy a shitload of guns are, perhaps, not the type of people whom we necessarily want to have a shitload of guns. And for crying out loud, the restriction was only on handguns! Want to buy three shotguns? Sure! How about a dozen rifles? No problem! It's just the little itty-bitty easily-concealed handguns whose sole purpose is to shoot people that we're regulating, and not even all that strongly.

Just... what do you even do with rhetoric like that?

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Monday, January 18, 2010

I think this is what my parents hear when I tell them about my research.



Seriously, I want this guy to write my next grant proposal.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

I actually should have known this was going to happen.

So, as most of you know a recent magnitude seven earthquake has devastated the nation of Haiti. The suffering there, so far as I can tell, is simply horrendous and they need as much help as they can get. If you're interested in giving to the relief efforts, allow me to suggest contributing via SHARE, the Skeptics and Humanist Aid and Relief Effort. All donations—100 percent with no operating costs retained—will be sent directly to the secular aid group Doctors Without Borders, which suffered the loss of all three of its medical facilities and is working against difficulties to provide the basics of first-aid care and stabilization. Why use SHARE instead of Doctors Without Borders directly? No reason, really, except to make sure people know that humanists give money too. There seems to be doubt about that in certain quarters.

Or, you know, you could give money via Pat Robertson, who thinks Haiti was hit with an earthquake, as well as poverty and political instability, because their ancestors made a pact with the devil. No, not kidding:



Or, in plain text:

And, you know, Kristi, something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, “We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.” True story. And so, the devil said, “OK, it’s a deal.”

And they kicked the French out. You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other. Desperately poor. That island of Hispaniola is one island. It’s cut down the middle. On the one side is Haiti; on the other side is the Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, et cetera. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island. They need to have and we need to pray for them a great turning to God. And out of this tragedy, I’m optimistic something good may come. But right now, we’re helping the suffering people, and the suffering is unimaginable.


Notice the woman next to him who seems to be struggling not to gape at his lunacy. Honestly, I don't know what amazes me more: that he wants to blame the victims for a natural disaster or that he's advocating donating to people he more or less claims are devil worshippers.

In the end, though, it matters less how you give and much more that you give. If you prefer to give via an organization that thinks the Haitians deserved what they got, hey, that's your deal.*


* Please note that I'm castigating Pat Robertson's charity specifically, not religious charities generally. Religious charities and, and do, provide a great deal of assistance. Some of them, anyway. Personally I prefer secular charities so that I know I'm not funding religious indoctrination, but that's my deal.

Hat-tip to unreasonable faith.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 12, Part 2

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that has nowhere to go but up and yet still manages to get worse. Last time Rayford watched a video tape. What happens this week? Well, we get to witness a conversion, and then a whole bunch of other pointless stuff happens. Yippee.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to scripto for his observation on when a disappearance would be most disconcerting:

"Paul's prophetic letter to the Corinthians said this would occur in the twinkling of an eye. You may have seen a loved one standing before you, and suddenly they were gone. I don't envy you that shock."

I can envision other situations with a loved one where their disappearance would turn out to be even more disconcerting.


Thus demonstrating once more that if you actually try to take this stuff seriously, it becomes way more absurd than I could ever hope to make it! I'd also like to give an honorable mention to one of the several anonymous commenters (I'm assuming it was several, rather than one person who just kept coming back) who made such a lovely comparison between Left Behind and Bonanza. I suspect the resemblance will only get stronger with time.

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 order determined by necromantic ritual...

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. Blown up by an evil conspiracy car bomb.

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

Vernon Billings: Pastor at New Hope Village Church. Likes video tape. Raptured.

----------


Page 215- Line Fiesta:

No quote, but we rejoin Rayford as he's watching the video tape featuring the preaching of Vernon Billings and deciding that he needs Jesus in his life. And this is, indeed, the moment we've all been waiting for- a conversion experience. If Left Behind is evangelical porn, this is the money shot. And like a money shot, you're more than likely going to feel dirty afterwards.


Page 215-216- Line 215: 27-30- 216: 1:
Rayford sat with his head in his hands, his heart pounding. There was no sound from upstairs where Chloe rested. He was alone with his thoughts, alone with God, and he felt God's presence. Rayford slid to his knees on the carpet.


Woah, woah, there Rayford! God's not really there physically and, even if he were, unless he's got a lot in common with Ted Haggard, I don't think that's gonna help!


Page 216- Line 1-5:
He [Rayford] had never knelt in worship before, but he sensed the seriousness and the reverence of the moment. He pushed the play button and tossed the remote control aside. He set his hands palms down before him and rested his forehead on them, his face on the floor.


Finally! The skills he learned pledging Pi-Kappa-Epsilon are paying off! Less flippantly, I think the words "he senses the seriousness and reverence of the moment" should probably never be followed by, "he pushed the play button and tossed the remote control aside." I'm just sayin is all. Finally, I love all the emphasis on position for praying- do intelligent people really think our physical posture matters for communing with the metaphysical? Well... yes and what's more, they have some pretty awesome visual aids, too.


Page 216- Line 5-12:
The pastor said, "Pray after me," and Rayford did. "Dear God, I admit that I'm a sinner. I am sorry for my sins. Please forgive me and save me. I ask this in the name of Jesus, who died for me. I trust in him right now. I believe that the sinless blood of Jesus is sufficient to pay the price for my salvation. Thank you for hearing me and receiving me. Thank you for saving my soul."


And this is our first magic spell. I refer to it as a magic spell because it is a specific set of phrases meant to invoke a supernatural power for a specific purpose, in this case a "spiritual transaction." Moreover, it's a spell that actually requires human sacrifice as a power source- that's what that whole "sinless blood of Jesus" thing is about. I'm assuming that the effect of this spell more or less boils down to a +5 to sin resistance. On a less humorous note, I feel I should point out that while I am a devout atheist I am also an empiricist. So, when I got to this point in the book, I actually went through the same rigamarole as Rayford. Think of it as an experiment- I would try what the authors wanted and see what, if anything, happened. What happened was I felt silly and developed some back pain for a few hours, which was more or less what I expected. Actually, I think that pretty much sums up my experience of religion in general. Then again, the next part of the tape may "explain" my failure to get results:


Page 216- Line 17-18:
As the tape finished the pastor said, "If you were genuine, you are saved, born again, a child of God."


Ah. Right. So you have to believe the magic spell will work before you cast it or else it won't work. If it doesn't work, then it's because you didn't believe enough. This reminds me of the excuses faith healers use to cover their inevitable failures. "What? I didn't really cure your cancer? Why, you must not have believed enough! Shun the unbeliever! Shuuuuuuunnnnn!" What almost makes this worse is that, since there's no way to verify whether you believe enough to make the spell run, this is just a guaranteed way to generate paranoia in the supplicant. Lovely.


Page 216- Line 19-24:
Rayford wanted to talk to God more. He wanted to be specific about his sin. He knew he was forgiven, but in a childlike way, he wanted God to know that he knew what kind of a person he'd been.

He confessed his pride. Pride in his intelligence. Pride in his looks. Pride in his abilities.


Pride in his new state of grace? Oh, whatever. I knew what I was getting myself into when I started reading this shit. I will observe once more that it must suck to belong to a faith that forces you to hate everything positive about yourself. I also find the whole "childlike way" bit revolting. The whole vibe of this theology is that humans are eternally infantalized by god. We never grow up, never mature, just remain helpless and dependent for all eternity. That is just not an appealing state of affairs to me and I fail to see how it would be appealing for god either.


Page 217- Line 1-3:
His [Rayford's] first prayer following that was for Chloe. He would worry about her and pray for her constantly until he was sure she had joined him in this new life.


Man, is it ever creepy when people insist on praying like that for you. Gah.


Page 217- Line 4:
Buck arrived at JFK and immediately called Steve Planck.


And we're back with Buck again. Maybe this will be a nice break from Rayford's incessant bitching? Anyway, Steve says that Chaim Rosenzweig was "singing Buck's praises" to Nicolae Carpathia, and now Carpathia wants to talk to Buck. As you might expect, Buck immediately develops a man-crush:*


Page 217- Line 17-21:
Buck hung up and clapped. This is too good to be true, he thought. If there's one guy who's above these international terrorists and bullies and even the dirt at the London Exchange and Scotland Yard, it will be this Carpathia. If Rosenzweig likes him, he's got to be all right. [emphasis original]


Oh, Buckykins, you're right: Carpathia is so dreamy! You should totally get your hair done before you meet him. OOOHHH! And wear that suit that emphasizes your ass! You know, the one that hides how your butt is shaped just like the cushion of an airline seat.


Page 217- Line 22-23:
Rayford couldn't wait to go to New Hope the next morning.


Oh, COME ON! Less than a page? We got less than a page worth of a break from Rayford and his creepy conversion before we're heading into a church service. How boring does this chapter have to be? For crying out loud. Regardless, Rayford goes back to New Hope Village and sits through Bruce's story again. At the end, Bruce extemps just a bit:


Page 220- Line 1-8:
He [Bruce] added, "I know many of you may still be skeptical. You may believe what happened was of God, but you still don't like it and you resent him for it. If you would like to come back and vent and ask questions this evening, I will be here. But I choose not to offer that opportunity this morning because so many here are brand-new in their faith and I don't want to confuse the issue. Rest assured we will be open to any honest question."


Ah, yes, indeed. Best keep the questions and concerns of the skeptics away from the credulous morons who have already jumped onboard. Very wise. I'm also not sure what to make of that "honest questions" caveat. I think it means that Bruce will entertain questions from people who already basically agree with him, but won't accept truly skeptical questions. Sounds about like normal, actually. Anyway, Bruce has people come down and witness about their conversions- in other words, literally preaching to the converted- and then brings this dog and pony show to a close:


Page 220- Line 24-29:
Bruce said, "I'm going to have to bring this to a close. One thing I wasn't going to do today was anything traditionally churchy, including singing. But I feel we need to praise the Lord for what has happened here today. Let me teach you a simple chorus of adoration.


"Our god is an insecure god" maybe? I've just never understood why such a powerful, perfect being would be interested in worship.


Page 221- Line 8-15:
People seemed reluctant to leave, even after Bruce closed in prayer. Many stayed to get acquainted, and it became obvious a new congregation had begun. The name of the church was more appropriate than ever. New Hope. Bruce shook hands with people as they left, and no one ducked him or hurried past. When Rayford shook his hand, Bruce asked, "Are you busy this afternoon? Would you be able to join me for a bite?"


Oooo! Looks like Buck isn't the only one with a man-date! What a naughty little preacher you are, Bruce! Anyway, Bruce and Rayford go to a restaurant, engage in some (very) small talk, and then Bruce pops the question:


Page 222- Line 22-30:
"I [Bruce] know this is very new to you, but I feel as if I should ask you to join our little core group. We will be at the church for the Sunday morning meeting, the occasional Sunday evening meeting, the Wednesday night Bible study, and we will meet at my home one other evening every week. That's where we will pray for each other, keep each other accountable, and study a little deeper to stay ahead of the new congregation. Are you willing?"


So, yeah, Bruce is asking Rayford- who converted the night before- to join the church leadership. Great plan. At the same time, that language about "I feel as if I should" is really interesting. Free will should be everything to these people since it determines their salvation or damnation, but the way they talk of it, it is hardly anything. This is kind of an issue. Anyway, Rayford screws around a bit and then comes to a decision.


Page 223- Line 15-17:
Rayford had the feeling this was the beginning of a relationship born out of tragedy and need. He just hoped it worked out.


I can't make this stuff up, folks. That's literally in the text. Still, I think these two will make a very cute couple.


Page 223- Line 17-24:
When Rayford finally arrived home, Chloe was eager to hear all about it. She was amazed at what her father told her and said she was embarrassed to say she had not watched the tape yet. "But I will now, Dad, before we go to Atlanta. You're really into this, aren't you? It sounds like something I want to check out, even if I don't do anything about it."


Well that's quite a change of mind from last chapter. Hell, from the beginning of this chapter. Seriously, given Chloe's earlier objections, I really don't think that Rayford's new-found fervor would be much of an inducement. But, then again, Chloe is an idiot, so what can you do? Anyway, after a while Chloe mentions to Rayford that Hattie called. Rayford calls her back and learns that Buck Williams was apparently blown up in the U.K. Not that there's any reason for them to be discussing Buck at this point in the book but, hell, that's hardly the biggest plot hole we've run across so far. Then Rayford gets all slimy again.


Page 225- Line 6-8:
"And I [Rayford] know how overwhelming this is for you because it has been for me, too. I've got a lot to talk to you about, actually."


Yes, he has a lot he wants to talk to her about. If you're thinking that means he wants to try to convert Hattie, then you're right. No idea why, though, given that even if he converts her, Hattie's faith could only be strong for someone her age. Not like wise old Rayford. Honestly, Rayford makes the Borg looks f-ing passive: "I am Rayford of New Hope. Resistance is futile, you will be evangelized. Your spiritual and cultural distinctiveness will be added to our own." Yikes.


And that, believe it or not, ends the chapter. So, where are we? Buck is "dead" and has a crush on Carpathia. Rayford is "saved" and is in a committed relationship with his pastor. Chloe is... well... stupid. And Hattie is cruising for a conversion. All in all, the cluster-fuck just keeps unfolding. Come back next time when we have some more half-assed discussions between Rayford and Chloe and finally manage to get the anti-christ on-stage. I, for one, can't wait.

See you soon!



* I should probably note that I am very much a supporter of homosexual rights. I just find all the "fellowship" in this book to be a little funny. I mean, seriously, I have never gotten off the phone in a public place and clapped my hands in glee. WTF?

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Total Drek One Sentence Movie Reviews: Part Five!

Once more it's time for another installment of this, my lamest series yet. Today we rate a set of movies for no better reason than that I have no idea what else to do for a post. Let's begin, shall we?


The Brothers Bloom

Run Time: 113 minutes.

Genre: Romantic comedy (?)

One sentence review: I never thought being a professional con man would be so boring.















The Mutant Chronicles

Run Time: 111 minutes.

Genre: Science fiction/horror

One sentence review: Plan ten from outer space!


















Avatar

Run Time: 162 minutes.

Genre: Science fiction epic.

One sentence review: Hell, I can do it in one word: Tatanka!*














* All kidding aside, Avatar is a pretty damned entertaining movie, and well worth seeing. Don't get sucked in by the whole "noble savage" thing, though. Really, the movie makes much more sense if you assume that the entire ecosystem was produced by a post-singularity intelligence as a sort of highly robust computational substrate. If you want to have a chat about why that's the case, I'm game, but you should really see the movie first.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The underground economy...

The Scene: Drek and his lovely wife are talking about their days on a Saturday evening.

Drek's Wife: So I went looking for that hair stuff I was telling you about while I was running errands earlier?

Drek: Oh, right, yeah. Did you find it?

Drek's Wife: Well, yeah, but I had to go into a Sally's Beauty Supply to find it.

Drek: Okay.

Drek's Wife: And it was really weird. I went in and there was nobody around- that place is always empty, I don't know how it stays in business- and then this woman just comes out of nowhere and asks me if she can help.

Drek: Did she sound... off?

Drek's Wife: Like an evil Harry Potter character.

Drek: Yikes.

Drek's Wife: Exactly. So I told her no and went looking around, but I think they decided I was going to steal something because some other freaky woman appeared and started following me around!

Drek: Well, that makes sense. I mean, you know that place is a front for prostitution, right?

Drek's Wife: What? How do you know?

Drek: Just think about the name: Sally's Beauty Supply?

Drek's Wife: ...

Drek's Wife: Well-played.

Drek: Thanks, I'm proud of how that one came out.



Even I wonder how she puts up with me some all of the time.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Tiger Woods

This is the only Tiger Woods joke I will ever make, despite the recent "scandal." I ran into the following advertisement while passing through an airport recently:



And immediately my brain supplied the closing phrase:

"But if there's grass on the field, play ball."


Zing!

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 12, Part 1

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that makes baby Jesus cry. Last time Rayford and Chloe heard about why Bruce Barnes was left behind. That's pretty much it, actually: we just sat around and listened to a guy talk. What happens this week? It gets even better: we get to sit around and hear about Rayford watching a video tape. Yay!

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" is a joint award to scripto and Ken. Scripto gets the nod for a very nice play on words that actually made me snort a bit (SOL?):



"The Bible says that if you believe in Christ you have eternal life, so I assumed I was covered."

He only had term life.


Silly Bruce! Trusting the invisible insurance salesman in the sky! Ken, in contrast, waxes longingly for certain characters that have been too long absent:

When does Hattie come back? I miss Hattie, especially since Chloe is as ballless as her father.


Ah, have no fear: the skeletal but big-boobed Ms. Durham will return, and sooner than you think, because she's required for what is- hands down- the single most revolting conversation in this entire book. And if it seems like after eleven chapters of this crap it can't get any more revolting, please believe me when I say that you should not underestimate these authors. Seriously.

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

If I were the Antichrist, I would execute the characters in the following order...

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. Blown up by an evil conspiracy car bomb.

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

----------


Chapter 12: In which Ray gets saved by a video tape, a tiny amount happens with Buck- in the process of which revealing how stupid he is, Ray sits through a church service, and Ray becomes a part of church leadership.


Page 205- Line Waterboarding:

No quote, but the chapter opens with Buck, who has checked into the Frankfurt Hilton. This does not fit my definition of "lying low," but then I'm not a secret agent/journalist like Cameron "Buck" Williams. Thank god. He then proceeds to call his father and lead with quite possibly the most awesome conversation starter in history.


Page 205- Line 7-10:
"I'm [Buck] really sorry about this, Dad, but you're going to hear that I was killed in some sort of a car bombing, terrorist attack, that kind of thing."

"What the devil is going on, Cameron?"


How's that for a way to scare the shit out of your remaining parent? I'm pretty sure if I started a phone call with my father that way I'd end up dialing 911 shortly thereafter. Moreover, Buck's dad is actually taking it well. Perhaps too well, actually...


Page 205- Line 11-16:
"I can't get into it now, Dad. I just want you to know I'm all right. I'm calling from overseas, but I'd rather not say where. I'll be back tomorrow, but I'm going to have to lay low for a while."

"Your sister-in-law and niece and nephew's memorial services are tomorrow evening," Mr. Williams said.


Hot damn! He's taking it so well, in fact, that he feels free to lay a guilt-trip on Buck for missing a funeral just so he (Buck) can avoid people who want to kill him. That sounds totally plausible! Then again, maybe Buck's dad is just suggesting that if Buck is going to get killed he should at least do so soon enough for the family to get a volume discount from the minister. I mean, hell, as Bruce reminded us (Page 196- Line 7-13) salvation don't come cheap!


Page 206- Line 8-9:
"Are you [Buck] going to be in danger when whoever thinks they killed you finds out [that Buck is alive]?"


Um... yes? Generally speaking, people don't try to blow you up with a car bomb on a whim. If they fail, they generally don't just give up.


Page 206- Line 13-21:
Buck switched to another phone and called the Global. Disguising his voice, he asked the receptionist to plug him into Steve Planck's after-hours voice mail. "Steve, you know who this is. No matter what you hear in the next twenty-four hours, I'm all right. I will call you tomorrow and we can meet. Let the others believe what they hear for now. I'm going to need to remain incognito until I can find someone who can really help. Talk to you soon, Steve." [emphasis original]


Yep, quite the covert operative that one- too bad he didn't mention "duck lips" to Steve. That would have been the clincher. Maybe next Buck will check his own voice mail and order in-room porn with his own credit card? Regardless, at this point the authors get bored of Buck and jump back to Rayford, who is driving home with Chloe.


Page 207- Line 1-3:
What had he [Rayford] done in his raising of Chloe that could make her so cautious, so careful, that she might look down her nose at what was so obvious to him?


And more importantly, how can I do the same thing for my children? Because heaven knows we can't have our children thinking for themselves or demanding evidence! That would be disastrous in a modern industrial state.


Page 207- Line 6-17:
The news was full of crime, looting, people taking advantage of the chaos. People were being shot, maimed, raped, killed. The roadways were more dangerous than ever. Emergency units were understaffed, fewer air- and ground-traffic controllers manned the airports, fewer qualified pilots and crews flew the planes.

People checked the graves of loved ones to see if their corpses had disappeared, and unscrupulous types pretended to do the same while looking for valuables that might have been buried with the wealthy. It had become an ugly world overnight, and Rayford was worried about his and Chloe's safety. [emphasis added]


My margin note at this point reads, "Yes, without evangelicals, the world sucks." I remain as skeptical now as I was then that the world would immediately collapse into chaos without someone around to oppose gay marriage and nationalized healthcare. At the same time, I find myself experiencing one of my rare moments of pity for evangelicals: it must be truly awful to believe that your own species is so hateful and cruel as a matter of habit. I don't think we're angels, don't get me wrong, but I rather think we're likable enough on the whole. In crises I think we pull together more than we fall apart, and I simply can't imagine how depressing it must be to be constantly taught to the contrary. In any case, Rayford tries to get Chloe to watch the tape with him, she refuses, he tries to get her to go to church with him the next day, and she... well...


Page 208- Line 1-4:
"Daddy, please. You're going to push me away if you keep bugging me about it. I'm not sure I even want to go to that. I heard his [Bruce's] pitch today and he said himself it's going to be the same thing tomorrow."


Okay, so that makes quite a bit of sense, but take a look at where our next quote comes from...


Page 208- Line 26-28:
Rayford gave up. He would deal with his own soul and pray for his daughter, but clearly there would be no badgering her into the faith.


Note that it took another 22 lines of badgering between this passage and the preceding for Rayford to decide to back off. Likewise, as stupid as Rayford is, how did he manage to figure out that coercion into faith doesn't work? I've seen folks spend years trying that tactic with me before they finally get it. Anyway, after Chloe goes to bed, Rayford sits down to watch the video tape he got from Bruce. And you thought you were done with thinly-veiled preaching! In any case, the video comes on to feature the former pastor of New Hope Village Church, one (totally not kidding here) Vernon Billings, explaining that if you're watching this tape, you've been left behind.


Page 209- Line 17-27:
"Let me [Vernon] show you from the Bible exactly what has happened. You won't need this proof by now, because you will have experienced the most shocking event of history. But as this tape was made beforehand and I am confident that I will be gone, ask yourself, how did he know? Here's how, from 1 Corinthians 15:51-57."

The screen began to scroll with the passage of Scripture. Rayford hit the pause button and ran to get Irene's Bible. It took him a while to find 1 Corinthians, and though it was slightly different in her translation, the meaning was the same. [link added, obviously]


Once more with the "most shocking event in history" nonsense. I am really, really tired of that refrain. You have no idea. Beyond that, however, consider that last sentence: the authors are careful to mention that in different translations the meaning is the same. This is a necessity for them, really, because if the meaning changed from translation to translation, we couldn't just pretend that the bible has all the answers, and that any old dumbass can get them from any old bible, now could we? Anyway, the pastor then reads the passage out loud. I reproduce it here more or less because the authors attempt to get an awful lot of blood from this particular turnip:


Page 210- Line 1-17:
"Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed- in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?' The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." [Vernon read]

Rayford was confused. He could follow some of that, but the rest was like gibberish to him.


Yes, well, that's because it's a two-thousand year-old allegory written in a different language and subsequently translated into your own. So, yes, the meaning is a shade obtuse. And if you're waiting for me to mock the bible itself... keep on waiting. Seriously, it doesn't need my help. Anyway, the pastor then explains that "sleep" means "death" for the slow ones in the audience and explains that the bit about incorruption means that people will be given an incorruptible body. Sure, why not? That's as good an explanation as any, even if I feel like we're trying to interpret the first century equivalent of "Yellow Submarine." Then it gets good and, coincidentally, answers a long-standing question for us.


Page 211- Line 5-13:
"I [Vernon] believe that all such people [true Christians] were literally taken from the earth, leaving everything material behind. If you have discovered that millions of people are missing and that babies and children have vanished, you know what I am saying is true. Up to a certain age, which is probably different for each individual, we believe God will not hold a child accountable for a decision that must be made with the heart and mind, fully cognizant of the ramifications."


Well, that answers one question, then. The "age of majority" for rapturing is calibrated to each individual child's level of maturity. Easy enough to do if you're god, I guess, but guaranteed to make parents absolutely paranoid. Think about it: if you're an evangelical of the authors' stripe, you have to continually work to convert and re-convert your kids to Christ since you have no idea when they will turn the corner and become vulnerable to hellfire. Keep this in mind for later.


Page 211- Line 13-17:
"You may also find that unborn children have disappeared from their mothers' wombs. I can only imagine the pain and heartache of a world without precious children, and the deep despair of parents who will miss them so."


My margin note here reads, "So are humans sterile now? Because we really should be." Indeed, if the point of rapturing the unborn is to save them from the hell of the tribulation, it wouldn't make any sense for people to be able to bring new children into the world, right? Sadly, no, later in the series children are indeed conceived, just demonstrating once more that this doesn't make any friggin sense. And honestly, that insults me more than anything else about this kind of theology: if god were real, theology and reality should make a deep kind of beautiful, logical sense. Yet, when we run into obvious, simple, but profound contradictions like these, the response is to just whistle and try to ignore it. Gah.


Page 211- Line 18-21:
"Paul's prophetic letter to the Corinthians said this would occur in the twinkling of an eye. You may have seen a loved one standing before you, and suddenly they were gone. I don't envy you that shock."


They're really wringing a lot from this passage. Given that the whole "eyes were twinkling" thing is, itself, a metaphor, it seems unwise to use it to determine precise timing. I mean, seriously, how long does it take for an eye to twinkle? A second? A half-second? Is it instantaneous? What? Eh. Whatever. What do I know? I'm damned to hell and such.


Page 212- Line 5-9:
"You may wonder why this has happened. Some believe this is the judgment of God on an ungodly world. Actually, that is to come later. Strange as this may sound to you, this is God's final effort to get the attention of every person who has ignored or rejected him."


Yep, you read that right: he's careful enough to protect those who can't make their own decisions from punishment, attending to their precise ages, but he can't be troubled to show equal courtesy in revealing himself to the rest of us. Instead, he goes out for the "rain down indiscriminate death and suffering" approach. What. The. Hell.


Page 212- Line 18-23:
"Let me encourage you that your loved ones, your children and infants, your friends, and your acquaintances have not been snatched away by some evil force or some invasion from outer space. That will likely be a common explanation. What sounded ludicrous to you before might sound logical now, but it is not." [emphasis added]


Dude, I couldn't agree with you more. What's funniest about this, though, is that alien invasion is repeated yet again as obviously silly, but invisible all-powerful, all-knowing superfriend in the sky? Oh yeah, totally different, totally plausible!


Page 212- Line 24-29:
"Also, Scripture indicates that there will be a great lie, announced with the help of the media and perpetrated by a self-styled world leader. Jesus himself prophesied about such a person. He said, 'I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.' "


Honestly, this doesn't sound so much like prophecy as a rhetorical point, but whatever. As a side note, doesn't this just help you understand why certain folks keep trying to say that Obama is the anti-christ? Gotta love it. Regardless, Vernon goes on for a bit about the seven years of shit god is about to rain onto mankind- otherwise known as the tribulation- and Rayford gets a bit anxious about the whole thing.


Page 214- Line 1-3:
Maybe he [Vernon] had taken this prophecy business too far. But this was no snake-oil salesman. This was a sincere, honest, trustworthy man- a man of God.


Ugh. You know, someone can be honest, sincere, and trustworthy, but nevertheless wrong. That's the issue here, folks. It isn't that we skeptics think you believers are deliberately lying to us, we believe that you're (more often than not) entirely sincere, we just don't believe you're correct. Why is the distinction so damned hard to grasp?


Page 214- Line 7-10:
It was time to move beyond being critic, an analyst never satisfied with the evidence. The proof was before him: the empty chairs, the lonely bed, the hole in his heart.


Yes, well, the evidence in fiction is often more compelling. Sadly, however, we do not live in a work of fiction and here in the real world the evidence for their god is far from convincing. Still, as evangelical fantasy goes, actually having evidence on your side for once must rank pretty near the top.


Page 214- Line 24-29:
"Nearly eight hundred years before Jesus came to earth the first time, Isaiah in the Old Testament prophesied that the kingdoms of nations will be in great conflict and their faces shall be as flames. To me [Vernon], this portends World War III, a thermonuclear war that will wipe out millions."


But this is the trick with prophecy- it's so damned vague. This could as easily be World War II as anything else. The only reason the authors don't say that is because the world obviously didn't end seven years after that particular global conflict. Also note the whole "to me, this portends," bit. So much for us not needing to interpret the bible.


Page 215- Line 13-26:
"If you accept God's message of salvation, his Holy Spirit will come in unto you and make you spiritually born anew. You don't need to understand all this theologically. You can become a child of God by praying to him right now as I lead you-"

Rayford paused the tape again and saw the concern on the pastor's face, the compassion in his eyes. He knew friends and acquaintances would think him crazy, perhaps even his own daughter would. But this rang true with him. Rayford didn't understand about the seven years of tribulation and this new leader, the liar who was supposed to emerge. But he knew he needed Christ in his life. He needed forgiveness of sin and the assurance that one day he would join his wife and son in heaven.


That's a lovely sentiment, no? Don't worry about thinking or understanding- just believe and everything will be fine. Because, really, faith is kinda like one of those magic eye paintings- if you try to focus on it, really see what's in front of you, the illusion just disappears.


So what happens next? Does Rayford come to Jesus? And if so, does he come quickly? Well, if you want to know the answer, you'll have to come back next time, when even more boring shit happens. Until then, boys and girls!

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