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, February 26, 2010

You wanna know how big a geek I am?

I'm such an enormous geek, that I think this solar system simulator may be the best online game I've ever played.

Have fun!

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 15, Part 2

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that always finds new ways to horrify and sicken. Last time we were treated to a really, really irritating chat between Rayford and Hattie. What happens this week? Well, some stuff with Buck, the anti-christ, and a television. So... yay?

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to Ken for really putting things in perspective:

For this one, I have realized the world in which the authors live: it is a world in which Hattie's only two options for sex are named Rayford and Buck, but it's not a porn movie.


Unfortunately, that's not quite true, Ken. Hattie does have some other options, though they are so absurd that it'll make you giggle hysterically. I'd also like to extend my hopes to scripto that he feel better soon. Seriously, I rely on all of you guys to keep me company on this little hell-ride, so don't go anywhere!

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


----------

Dramatis Personae

In an order determined by an arcane rite...

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. An inch or two over six feet tall. Broad shouldered. Thick chested. Trim. Athletic. Tanned. Blonde. Blue eyes. Thick eyebrows. Roman nose and jaw. Carries self with a sense of humility and purpose. Wears understated jewelry. Excellent memory.

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. May have the nickname "duck lips."

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.

Mwangati Ngumo: Secretary-General of the United Nations. Botswanan national.

----------


Page 268- Line Mongoose:

No quote, but we open with Buck and Steve, who are contemplating how to get Buck to his promised interview with Carpathia given that (a) the cops and Interpol are looking for him and, (b) his George Oreskovitch cover has been blown. They fail to solve the problem and decide to just forget about it by going to watch Carpathia's appearance on Nightline at Marge Potter's house. Not much of a plan, I'll admit, but what do you expect from Buck and Steve? Anyway, they head over and annoy Marge's husband by taking over the t.v. And then we're reading about two guys watching television, thereby coninuing the grand tradition of Left Behind. Honestly, this shit makes me wonder if the authors are closet voyeurs who find it sexually arousing to be intensely bored.


Page 270- Line 5-12:
Carpathia smiled. "Like anyone from Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, I am amazed at your technology. I-"

"But isn't it true, sir, that your roots are actually in Western Europe? Though you were born in Romania, are you not by heritage actually Italian?" [Wallace Theodore, the interviewer, asked]

"That is true, as it is true of many native Romanians. Thus the name of our country."


And this is is supposed to be an example of hard-nosed journalism? Maybe in bizarro world. It's just a lame excuse for the authors to hammer their own read of theology home once more. And I don't know what to say about that whole claim that anyone from Europe would be impressed at U.S. technology. We have some neat shit but it's not like France and Germany are backwaters, you know?


Page 270- Line 17-21:
"But is it not true that you [Carpathia] just came from a photo session with People magazine?" [Theodore asked]

"Yes, but I-"

"And is it not also true that they have already named you their new Sexiest Man Alive?" [emphasis original]


This is- hands down- the dumbest fictional interview I have ever seen. It's what would happen if Sarah Palin were asking the questions instead of desperately trying to answer them. No, scratch that, it's like one of those infomercials we see that mimic an interview, "Doctor Fortunado, isn't it true that your new wang-master 5000 can make a penis grow five full inches?" Fortunately, we're going to gently transition from the fluff into some hard questions.


Page 271- Line 13-17:
"I do not consider myself sexy. I am on a crusade to see the peoples of the world come together. I do not seek a position of power or authority. I simply ask to be heard. I hope my message comes through in the article in the magazine as well." [Carpathia explained]


Leaving aside his potential self-esteem issues, I think we're meant to find all this very threatening. Charismatic leader implores us to stop killing each other and recognize our common humanity... yeah. Clearly a bad dude. The softballs are about to come to an abrupt end, however.


Page 271- Line 22-30:
"How do you [Carpathia] respond to those who say you skirted protocol and that your elevation to the presidency in Romania was partially effected by strong-arm tactics?"

"I [Carpathia] would say that that is the perfect way to attack a pacifist, one who is committed to disarmament not only in Romania and the rest of Europe but also globally."

"So you deny having a business rival murdered seven years ago and using intimidation and powerful friends in America to usurp the president's authority in Romania?"


Is this even serious? It's like an interrogation on Perry Mason or something. Dude, if he did do it, I don't think you're going to trip him up with your clever tactic of just asking the question outright. He's too sly to fall for that, mister interviewer man! Needless to say, the anti-christ denies the whole thing.


Page 272- Line 16-20:
Marge's husband growled, "This Roman kid is light on his feet."

"Romanian," Marge corrected.

"I heard him say he's a full-blood Eye-talian," her husband said. Marge winked at Steve and Buck.


Okay, yes, fine, we get it- the anti-christ is Roman. This is at least the third time the authors have gone out of their way to hammer this point home and I'm frankly sick of it. We know you have a wacky conspiracy theory. We know you believe that the anti-christ will be Roman and, so, have to come up with some way to make the character fit. Fine. Just shut up about it already. On an unrelated note: I know she's supposed to be reacting to what her husband said, but I really prefer to interpret that last line as a come-on to Steve and Buck. Oh, Marge! You naughty thing, you! Anyway, Carpathia talks a bit about how he was never seeking political leverage and the interviewer gives him a perfect chance to climb up on the campaign stump.


Page 273- Line 4-11:
"I [Carpathia] did not feel it was my place to suggest such changes [to the U.N.] when I was a guest; however, I have no hesitation in this context. I am a proponent of disarmament. That is no secret. While I am impressed with the wide-ranging capabilities, plans, and programs of the United Nations, I do believe, with a few minor adjustments and the cooperation of its members, it can be all it was meant to be. We can truly become a global community."


I know that "global community" language is meant to be ominous and threatening but, honestly? I think it's kinda inevitable that we either unite as a species or make ourselves extinct. And given that I do not belong to a religion that looks forward to the apocalypse with gleeful anticipation, you can probably guess my preferences. At the same time, though, I'm forced to wonder: how much U.N. history does Carpathia (and, by extension, the authors) really grasp? Because it was never really designed to be a world-government- more like a mutual defense treaty with a negotiating element added on. Anyway, the host then asks Carpathia to describe his planned changes to the U.N., and since I had to sit through it, so do you. He starts by reminding us all that the security council consists of five permanent members and ten temporary members. Then it gets weird.


Page 273- Line 20-29:
"I respect the proprietary nature of the original five [permanent members]. I propose choosing another five, just one each from the five different regions of the world. Drop the temporary members. Then you would have ten permanent members of the Security Council, but the rest of my plan is revolutionary. Currently the five permanent members have veto power. Votes on procedure require a nine-vote majority; including all five permanent members. I propose a tougher system. I propose unanimity."


Okay, so, first off, this is just a weird way for the authors to- once more- fit their plot to wacky interpretations of the bible. They're damned determined to make sure there are ten guys in charge of some or other big important shit so, hey, we get this new insane system that actually gives the current permanent members even more power! Bravo. Second- the "five different regions of the world"? What the fuck does that mean? Last time I checked there were seven continents of which six could be said to have noteworthy populations.* I suppose he could be lumping Europe in with Asia- a not totally unreasonable move- but based on modern cartographic conventions, just randomly mentioning the "five different regions of the world" is far from obviously meaningful. And last, but not least: oh, shit, really? He wants to make an international deliberative body only able to function if it has unanimity? Is he- in a word- stoopid? You think the U.N. is gridlocked now? Just wait until it's run like a Unitarian Universalist** committee- then we'll REALLY see gridlock!


Page 274- Line 4-13:
"It [Carpathia's plan] sounds like a nightmare." [the reporter observed]

"But it would work, and here is why. A nightmare is what happened to us last week. The time is right for the peoples of the world to rise up and insist that their governments disarm and destroy all but ten percent of their weapons. That ten percent would be, in effect, donated to the United Nations so it could return to its rightful place as a global peacekeeping body, with the authority and the power and the equipment to do the job." [Carpathia replied]


And that's the dumbest thing I've heard in at least a dozen paragraphs. You know what's actually more important than guns for making an army? Logistics. That is to say, food, water, fuel, medical supplies, and ammunition. I'm sure ten percent of the global weapons stockpile is a lot of f-ing weapons, but it's a fixed supply of ammunition. In order to become an effective global peacekeeping body, the U.N. would have to tax the world, develop its own supra-national army, secure a manufacturing base, and so forth. This is why in the original U.N. charter, the major powers were supposed to essentially supply the U.N. with its military forces, but the soldiers and equipment in question would still belong, in effect, to their sponsoring nations. What Carpathia is describing would require such a massive reworking of what the U.N. is, or was ever intended to be, that it's not even funny.


Page 274- Line 16-19:
He [Carpathia] said that the original veto power of the permanent members had hampered military peace efforts, such as in Korea and during the Cold War. [emphasis added]


That's quite the turn of phrase, no? I honestly don't know what to say to the concept of a "military peace effort." This is not, of course, to denigrate soldiers or to imply that peace isn't somewhat encouraged by a judicious degree of firepower, but more to suggest that by the time the military is substantially involved, peace is not really what's going on anymore. And he's right that the veto power caused some problems but (a) arguably the whole point of a veto is to do just that by preventing rash action and (b) isn't this the nitwit who just proposed upgrading the system to require unanimity?


Page 274- Line 20-21:
"Sir, where did you get your encyclopedic knowledge of the U.N. and world affairs?" [the reporter asked]


I'm guessing wikipedia. Jesus titty-fucking Christ, people! So he can apparently READ! Oh, wow, he MUST be the anti-christ.


Page 274- Line 24-30:
"What is your [Carpathia's] personal goal? A leadership role in the European Common Market?" [the reporter asked]

"Romania is not even a member, as you know. But no, I have no personal goal of leadership, except as a voice. We must disarm, we must empower the United Nations, we must move to one currency, and we must become a global village."


We must resist the urge to vomit when confronted with this crap. And as long as we're talking about vomit, I should mention that the narrative suddenly jumps back to good old Rayford who is watching this hideous telecast with Chloe. And, believe it or not, he really likes Carpathia, and says so.


Page 275- Line 9-16:
Chloe smiled. "So you're not going to start comparing him with the liar the pastor's tape warned us of, somebody from Europe who tries to take over the world?"

"Hardly," Rayford said. "There's nothing evil or self-seeking about this guy. Something tells me the deceiver the pastor talked about would be a little more obvious."

"But," Chloe said, "if he's a deceiver, maybe he's a good one."


One point to Chloe for stating the obvious. And if you didn't think any of the earlier stuff was a sure recipe for paranoia, this sure is. I can just see the thought processes now: "Hmmmm... this politician wants to do good things. HE MUST BE THE ANTI-CHRIST!!!" Sigh. Anyway, at that point Hattie just happens to call, excited as all hell about Carpathia. She asks to get on Rayford's next flight to New York, apparently because she wants to look up Buck and have her introduce her to Carpathia. Rayford's reaction is... weird.


Page 276- Line 10-18:
That was a relief to Rayford. So Hattie wasn't afraid to talk about two younger guys she was clearly interested in seeing, or at least meeting. He was sure she wasn't just saying it to test his level of interest. Surely she knew he wasn't interested in anyone with his wife so recently gone. Rayford wondered whether he should follow through on his plan to be honest with her about his past feelings for her. Maybe he should just jump right into urging that she watch the pastor's videotape.


So, apparently Rayford hasn't really upgraded his knowledge of women or dating since he was in middle school. Awesome. Regardless, he tries to weasel out of letting her on his flight and she starts to grill him about why he's been avoiding her. My margin note observes, "Snap! She's on to you, sport." Ah, eloquence worthy of the bard, that.


Page 278- Line 1-9:
"Hattie, what are you saying?" [Rayford asked]

"Only that you enjoyed running around with me in private, pretending like something was going on."

"I'll admit that."

"And I do feel bad about your wife, Rayford, I really do. You're probably feeling guilty, even though we never did anything to feel guilty about. But don't cast me aside before you have a chance to get over your loss and start living again."


This actually confuses me. They had something together, but they didn't? Cast her aside? What? The advice about not making rash decisions while grieving, however, is actually quite good.


Page 278- Line 22-26:
"If I [Hattie] had ever thought there was really a chance with you, I'd have pursued it, believe me."

Rayford was taken aback. His fears and assumptions were correct, but now he felt defensive. "You never thought there was a chance?"


Okay, so, to sum up: Hattie is a tramp, and fears and assumptions are reliable sources of knowledge about the world. Lovely.


Page 278- Line 27-30:
"You hardly gave me any indication. For all I knew, you thought I was a cute kid, way too young, fun to be with, but don't touch." [Hattie answered]

"There's some truth to that." [Rayford said]


"But mostly I just think you're only fun and pretty for your age. I really hate young people." Okay, seriously, they argue for another page or so, during which Hattie says she didn't expect to be ignored- whatever the hell that means- and then says she doesn't want to come to dinner. Rayford lets slip that there's something he wants to talk to her about and she demands to know what it is. Rayford is reluctant to just come right out, though, and admit that he wants to totally make sweet, sweet chaste love to her immortal soul.


Page 281- Line 1-8:
"Well, I [Rayford] know what the disappearances were all about, all right? I know what they meant, and I want to help you find the truth."

Hattie was dead silent for a long moment. "You haven't become some kind of fanatic, have you?"

Rayford had to think about that one. The answer was yes, he most certainly had, but he wasn't going to say that. "You know me better than that."


Ah, yes. Lie your way into people's time. How delightful! Hattie, unfortunately, doesn't agree that deception in the name of Jesus is just a wonderful thing, and declares that she won't come unless Rayford tells her over the phone. He refuses- for some inexplicable reason- and she hangs up the phone. In fact, she hangs up the phone so hard, it ends the chapter. I wish I knew how to do that!

And so we close another chapter of Left Behind. At this point, I can only share with you the closing remark that I scrawled at the bottom of the page, which reads: "It becomes more and more apparent just how much the authors hate humanity. They're falling all over themselves to show how we suck." I stand by that. Oh, I don't know that the authors hate mankind, but their entire worldview is built on the notion that we're just terrible little pissant creatures. I find that very, very sad. I know we're not perfect, but we are also quite beautiful in our own way, and our nobility comes from the striving to become moreso. But, alas, none of that striving appears in the next chapter, when we return to the love affair between Buck and Carpathia, and once more stress over Chloe's soul.

See you then!


* The seventh, Antarctica, is inhabited pretty much year-round, but isn't really what I'd call populated. The others- for the geographically pathetic- are North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. All of those have substantial populaces.

** I should point out that my wife was/is a U.U. and, as such, I know of what I speak. I got nothin but love for U.U.'s, they're the only denominations that kinda has my back as an atheist, but their committee system is a tad troubled.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

It's a religion of love, all right.

Coming hot on the heels of yesterday's oh-so inspiring post comes the news that Virginia State Delegate Bob Marshall believes that disabled children are god's punishment for having an abortion.* No, I am not kidding:

He made that statement Thursday at a press conference to oppose state funding for Planned Parenthood.

"The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children," said Marshall, a Republican.

"In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There's a special punishment Christians would suggest."

...

"Looking at it from a cultural, historical perspective, this organization should be called 'Planned Barrenhood' because they have nothing to do with families, they have nothing to do with responsibility," Marshall said.


It's hard to know how to respond to anyone who says such a thing, much less someone who says it while cloaked in the legitimacy of public office. I guess, really, I could just say that, in my opinion, being a religious man doesn't excuse behaving like a prejudiced asshole.

And as though timed just to help combat the absurd and hateful nonsense that Marshall is spewing, is this guest post over on the Friendly Atheist. The guest poster, Angie the Anti-Theist is doing something that you don't see that often: explaining why she chose to get an abortion. I highly recommend you take a look. I won't tell her story, the many reasons why having a child would be hard for her, but I will mention her best points:

I believe in a woman’s right to choose, in general for others and in this case for me. Abortion doesn’t have to be justified and it doesn’t have to fit your neighbor’s or coworker’s opinions of a “good enough reason.”

I think “I don’t want to be pregnant” is one of the best reasons there is for having an abortion (along with “I don’t want to be a parent” and “I’ll probably die”).

...

The doctors and nurses I’ve met have all been incredible. Every other woman in the lobby was either there for an abortion or there with a friend getting one. And not one of us was crying. I think that’s the lie I’d heard most often — that I would feel horrible about this decision.

I am helping dozens, if not more, girls and women (and boys and men) realize that abortion is an acceptable choice. It is not shameful and it need not be a secret.


Life comes with choices, some hard and some easy. I'm glad Angie had the chance to make the choice that was right for her and her family. And if your god wants to punish her for that, then to hell with you and your god.


A hat-tip to Skepchick for turning me on to these stories.

* I should note that Marshall claims that his remarks were taken out of context, and you can read his rebuttal here. Having said that, if you read the transcript, I don't think you'll be too convinced by his linguistic hair-splitting.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It's deja vu all over again!

So in the last few years we've seen a lot of slimy tactics meant to impair a woman's legal right to choose. There was, for example, the attempted South Dakota abortion ban that had an exemption so absurd and, frankly, offensive that I have difficulty expressing my loathing in words. There was the refusal to dispense birth control by pharmacists, thereby infringing even more dramatically on a woman's freedom. There was that time when a woman was arrested following a rape and denied the morning after pill because her jailer had moral objections to it. And how could we ever forget the nurse practitioner who removed a woman's IUD without permission and then refused to replace it because it was against her (the nurse practitioner's) moral code? Indeed, a detestable little rogues gallery there.

Well, unfortunately, we can now add Nebraska to the list with its new effort to ban abortions:

Nebraska could reshape national abortion policy if lawmakers embrace a proposal to ban almost all abortions after a fetus reaches 20 weeks.

...

“I think National Right to Life wants to see something go to the Supreme Court that would provide more protection to the unborn child,” said Mary Spaulding Balch, a lobbyist for the organization.

A new Nebraska legislative proposal could provide that opportunity.

Legislative Bill 1103 would ban abortions after 20 weeks unless the procedure would save a woman's life or “avert serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.”


So, this is a big deal because at this point abortions are legal until somewhere between 24 and 27 weeks. So, restricting it to before 20 weeks is reducing the available span by a full month. Not a trivial change at all. But, you know, it gets even better:

She contends, and some experts agree, that a fetus can experience pain at 20 weeks.

“What I would like to bring to the attention of the court is, there is another line,” Balch said. “This new knowledge is something the court has not looked at before and should look at.”

Considerable disagreement remains, however, about when a fetus can sense pain.

In a review of fetal pain literature in 2005, University of California-San Francisco physicians reported that “fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” or about 27 weeks into the pregnancy.

...

Even if the court changed course and accepted the 20-week standard, the bill could be doomed by a second major matter, said Laurel Marsh, executive director of ACLU Nebraska.

“Our contention is that it still is unconstitutional because it has no mental health exception,” she said.

LB 1103 would set the most narrow health exception in the country by allowing abortions only for threats of “physical” impairment to a woman.

The definition seeks to close what many abortion opponents consider a major loophole in existing law. The court made it clear in 1973 and again in 1992 that the health of a woman includes psychological factors.


Right, so, the new law is based on shaky research arguing about when a fetus can feel pain. And in our interest to shield fetuses from possible pain, Nebraska is closing the "loophole" that allows an abortion in cases where carrying the child to term might fuck the mother up for life- you know, like in cases of rape or incest. Lovely. Even our old pal Bill Napoli of South Dakota did better than that! Sort of. I guess Nebraska is just taking a page from North Dakota in legislating biological reality.

I really don't know what to say about all this except to ask a simple question: maybe the fetus feels pain, maybe it doesn't, but we know for damned sure that the mother will probably feel a whole lot of mental and emotional pain if forced to carry the child to term. Where, I wonder, does her pain factor into this?

The silence is deafening.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Mobile goal posts.

In my many years of blogging I have- from time to time- had an argument or two with people trying to convince me that evolution is bogus. Needless to say they have not been successful, but the arguments have nevertheless been soul-sucking exercises in mental torture.

A common theme that has emerged in these discussions has been a sort of challenge. That challenge boils down to: "If your science is so awesome, then make life in a laboratory! And if you can't then evolution must be wrong because god did it! QED, bitches!" I probably don't have to point out that the logic underlying this challenge is absolutely stoopid. We don't have to be able to manufacture something in order to be able to fairly claim to understand it- we understand the tides, for example, and yet to the best of my knowledge have yet to manufacture a planet and a moon of a sufficient size to produce similar phenomena. Yet, still, we know how they work. Regardless however, this continues to be thrown into the teeth of pro-science folks everywhere as a valid argument. I suppose it seemed like a safe tactic, given that producing life in the laboratory must be a very, very difficult thing. And, indeed, it is.

But we're getting closer.

Very, very, much closer, in fact.

I am referring to recent news that researchers at the Scripps Research Institute have managed to synthetically produce self-replicating molecules that undergo Darwinian evolution:

“There’s nothing in biology in this system: no proteins, no cells, no biological matter. We just provide them with the building blocks,” said molecular biologist Gerald Joyce of the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego.

“They’re just molecules, so they do what they do until they run out of substrate. And this will go for ever – it’s an immortal molecule, if you like,” he told a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego.

Since he and colleague Tracey Lincoln first succeeded in creating this artificial genetic system that can undergo self-sustained replication and evolution last year, the molecules have changed dramatically as they evolve better and better solutions.

The researchers began with ribozymes known to occur naturally, and put these in a growth medium, heated them and allowed the ribozymes to replicate until they had exhausted their fuel – usually within an hour.

The team then extracted a random subset, and put them in a new medium: ribozymes then competed with each other to consume as much of the medium as possible.

Eventually more successful ribozymes came to dominate the culture, and as the process continued, the ribozymes – undergoing evolution - grew in complexity, blindly finding solutions that made them more successful.

“The key thing is it replicates itself, and passes information from parent to progeny down the line,” Joyce told Cosmos Online.


Now, the researchers in question are not claiming to have produced life yet, and indeed that's a fair point, but what they have done is produced- in the lab- the precursor to modern life. Indeed, they have produced something that probably looks very much like what eventually gave rise to DNA. It reproduces, it evolves, and it's entirely synthetic. And that's pretty awesome news.

So will we stop hearing challenges now to make life in the lab? Nah. I doubt it. The goal posts will just move. Once we have life, they'll say make a cell. When we do that, they'll say make a multicellular life form. When we do that, they'll say make a big animal. And when we do that, they'll say make a smart animal. And if we ever manage that- grappling with the serious ethical issues it will entail- they'll probably still claim that we couldn't make a soul. Which is fine, since souls don't exist anyway.

The funny thing about moving the goal posts is that after a while you end up with nowhere else to go and no room for your god. Maybe it would be better to just make peace with science a little sooner, eh?

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

The last 40 years.

A friend held a “60s party” last night on the occasion of his birthday. Throughout the week, my wife and I had been looking around for period costume pieces to wear, and this got me looking through some of my grandpa’s old memorabilia. The major find was a campaign button: Nixon/Agnew. So, we decided, rather than tie-dye anything or taking any acid, we’d go as establishment 40-year olds from 1968. Which, incidentally is the year I was born. I think we pulled it off.

So being this guy from 1968 (let’s call him “Herb”) got me thinking how much the world has changed in just my lifetime. And being who I am I couldn’t shake the idea. So, here’s my ongoing list of the stuff that makes up my life today that Herb never saw and would probably have relegated to the world of science fiction:

• Personal computers
--- o Mice
--- o flash drives
--- o laptops
--- o DVD-roms
--- o Modems
--- o Wi-fi
--- o SPSS
--- o Word, Excel & PowerPoint
--- o computer viruses, trojans, SPAM and Phishing scams
• The Internet
--- o Email
--- o Google
--- o Wikipedia
--- o Blogs
--- o YouTube
--- o Facebook
• cell phones, pdas
• GPS
• ipods, walkmans
• Cable/satellite TV
--- o CNN & Fox News
--- o MTV&VH1
--- o ESPN
--- o QVC
--- o Food Network
--- o Comedy Central
• Tivo
• Image scanners
• Digital cameras
• Video games, from Pong to WOW and Wii (*WOWWEEE!)
• “wired” classrooms and smart boards
• VHS, CD, DVD, and MP3 media and the very idea of owning a movie
• Flat panel, LCD and plasma tvs.
• PIXAR and cg
• Absolutely anything sold at Best Buy
• Airbags
• A black president
• Microbrews
• Hello Kitty
• 78 oz drinks
• Laser pointers
• Boom boxes
• The space shuttle
• Snooze buttons
• Cloning
• Granola bars
• Biggy-sizing
• The end of the cold war
• Oprah
• Bottled water
• Starbucks
• Graphic novels
• 3 and 4 blade plastic disposable razors
• Gel pens
• Asbestosis
• Big-box stores
• Viagra
• Pictures from robots on Mars
• Wite-out
• Debit cards
• Star Wars figures
• Anti-bacterial hand soap dispensers
• The ubiquitous plastic bags
• “diet” soda
• Spandex, Gore-Tex
• The cubicle
• The resignation of a president
• Commercials for erectile dysfunction
• Olympic curling
• SUVs
• Sports drinks
• Toner cartridges
• The war on terror
• Al Qaeda
• Halogen lamps
• “Low-fat” foods
• AIDS
• ATMs
• Crack, meth, and E
• Right-wing radio
• Prozac
• Heavy metal, disco, new-wave, grunge, & hip-hop
• Infotainment
• Crips and Bloods
• Women with tattoos
• California Roll
• Virtual reality
• Ronco
• Touch screens
• Battlefield drones, piloted half a world away from their targets.
• Claratin
• Reaganomics
• Smoothies
• The sequencing of the human (or any) genome

I welcome your additions to this obviously incomplete list.

I don’t really have any point to make about all this. It’s just fascinating to me how recently our cultural content has developed. Some of these come under “how did they ever live without it?” and some under “how will we ever survive it”. Maybe I’m just getting old (all right, that’s a given), and engaging in the ancient practice of nostalgia... but I think the pace of change we’ve encountered makes this lifetime pretty unique. Who else has ever felt this old at 40?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Never thought I'd say this, but here goes...

Today I'd just like to extend my sympathies to the IRS, who recently suffered a serious attack:

A pilot on Thursday crashed his small plane into a building in Austin that houses Internal Revenue Service offices, igniting a huge fire that seriously injured at least two federal employees and sent dozens of others fleeing for their lives.

...

Federal authorities and public records identified the pilot as A. Joseph Stack, 53, the owner of a Piper Cherokee that took off from an airport in Georgetown, Tex., at 9:40 a.m. Central time and crashed into the building in nearby Austin shortly afterward. (Initial reports from federal and local authorities identified him as Joseph Andrew Stack.)

A purported suicide note left on a Web site registered to software engineer Joe Stack of San Marcos, Tex., spoke of a "storm raging in my head" and said that "desperate times call for desperate measures."

In the self-described "rant," the writer railed about financial failures over two decades and run-ins with the IRS and his tax accountant. "I am finally ready to stop this insanity," he wrote near the end of the message. "Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let's try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well." The posting, dated Thursday, was signed: "Joe Stack (1956-2010)."


You know, I expect working for the IRS isn't an easy thing. Nobody likes the IRS, nobody likes taxes, even though both are arguably necessary. But it has to be much, much worse when people start trying to crash aircraft into your work place.


As a side note: The apparent perpetrator's alleged suicide note is, perhaps, not what you might expect.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 15, Part 1

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that would make even Prometheus hope desperately for the distraction that only the eagle can provide. Last time Rayford and Chloe got robbed, narrowly avoiding a situation wherein we might actually be interested in the plot. What happens this week? Yeah. Um... Rayford has a phone conversation. And it ain't a good thing, either.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to scripto who was, let's face it, the only one to comment:

"...and said she could come three nights later, on Thursday."

And only if she brought two vibrators - one for Rayford.


And if the notion of Rayford using a fleshlight doesn't scar you for life, you're a stronger person than I!

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


----------

Dramatis Personae

In an order provided by a Wicca high priestess...

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. An inch or two over six feet tall. Broad shouldered. Thick chested. Trim. Athletic. Tanned. Blonde. Blue eyes. Thick eyebrows. Roman nose and jaw. Carries self with a sense of humility and purpose. Wears understated jewelry. Excellent memory.

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. May have the nickname "duck lips."

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.

Mwangati Ngumo: Secretary-General of the United Nations. Botswanan national.

----------


Chapter 15: In which we learn more about the anti-christ's plan (it involves living in peace), have a truly horrifying caricature of a talk about a moral issue, and Rayford alienates Hattie who, as it turns out, had a crush on him.


Page 263- Line Hippopotomus:

No quote, because I f-ing hate this chapter, but we open with Buck in his apartment. He listens to his answering machine and finds a message from Hattie Durham, who basically just wants to get together for a drink or something sometime. Fortunately, it provides an opportunity for some witty conversation between Steve and Buck.


Page 263- Line 10-16:
"So who's that?" Steve called out as Buck hesitated near the bathroom door, wanting to hear all the messages before getting into the shower.

"Just a girl," he said.

"Nice?"

"Better than nice. Gorgeous."

"Better call her back."


Ha! Yes! Because that's what men do: they chase women. God, this book is just a slice of life, you know? In any case, Buck keeps listening to the old answering machine and runs across a message from Scotland Yard. Then he gets another message from Interpol who also, it would seem, want to talk to him. My margin note reads, "Ah, Scotland Yard and Interpol now want to talk to Buck. But are they already tools of the anti-christ? Who cares?" Indeed, that is the problem, because the scene has all the dramatic tension of paint drying. Regardless, Buck's lightning-fast wit goes right to the core of matters.


Page 264- Line 28-30:
"These messages aren't binding, are they? I don't have to act on them just because I heard them, do I?" [Buck asked]


Um... no. Dude, seriously? You're a secret agent/journalist who can evade cops in foreign airports, manage physically impossible feats of engineering on a moving airplane, and have an encyclopedic knowledge of Romanian politics, but you're not even vaguely familiar with basic aspects of jurisprudence? Good lord. Regardless, Steve answers that he won't tell anyone and they share a brief flash of concern that someone might try to link Buck to the death of his buddy in London. Then the narrative jumps back to Rayford, thus once more demonstrating the authors' allergy to anything even resembling an interesting scene. As it turns out, Chloe decided to accompany Rayford to church that evening because she was afraid of being alone. Hard to blame her, but what a choice.


Page 265- Line 8-11:
He [Bruce Barnes] shook his head when he heard about the break-in. "It's becoming epidemic," he said. "It's as if the inner city has moved to the suburbs. We're no safer here anymore."


I'm not at all sure what to say to that except that there's still a very interesting class story going on in this book. All good, decent evangelicals appear to be white and/or middle class. It's mostly "and" too, since the scant handful of people of color in this book who have been evengalical have also- to the last one- been relatively well off. So much for Jesus' social ministry. Regardless, Rayford nearly bursts at the seams wanting to tell Bruce that it was Chloe who wanted to replace the crazy video tape. And then we get lost in Rayford's fevered dreams.


Page 265- Line 14-19:
He [Rayford] wanted to tell Bruce to keep praying, that she must still be thinking about things. Maybe the invasion of the house had made her feel vulnerable. Maybe she was getting the point that the world was much more dangerous now, that there were no guarantees, that her own time could be short.


And once again I'm forced to ask: why is this brand of religion always sold with fear? Seriously, throughout the entirety of this book, the pitch is always, "Believe in god or you'll be screwed for all eternity." That's it. I know people like to claim that atheism is a depressing, nihilistic philosophy but who are these folks to judge? I mean damn. Anyway, they wrap up with Bruce and head on home, with a stop along the way.


Page 265- Line 26-27:
While they [Rayford and Chloe] were out, Rayford bought items that needed to be replaced right away, including a TV...


Yeah, you read that right: they couldn't live without a TV for even a single night. In their defense, I'm fairly sure Rayford wanted a new TV immediately so that Chloe could watch the preachy video tape again... and again... and again... until her brain melts. Stay classy, Rayford.


Page 266- Line 2-3:
Most important, he [Rayford] armed the security system.


Yeah, uh, Rayford? I hate to break this to you but as per Page 255, Line 20-25 not only was your front door kicked in, the door frame was "obliterated." That's a direct quote, dude- the remains of said frame were lying "in pieces on the floor of the entry way." How, exactly, are you going to arm the security system for a house whose front door frame has been so completely destroyed? Alas, I have forgotten again that little details like this can't get in the way when the authors want to "advance" the "narrative." Never mind.*


Page 266- Line Glower:

No quote, folks, because we need to sit down and have us a little chat. Here's the thing- Rayford is about to receive a phone call from Hattie. He will, believe it or not, actually take that call and then we're going to witness a fairly extended conversation between these two. The thing is, this conversation is pretty much without question the most upsetting thing in the entire book. It is the most insidiously hate-filled, vomitous passage in the entire bloody volume, and when I read it the first time I actually literally threw said volume across the room. I'm not telling you not to keep reading, and I'm not telling you to keep reading, but I am telling you not to say that I didn't warn you. This conversation, more than anything else in the book, makes me want to scream at the authors. That is all. And here we go...


Page 266- Line 11-17:
"Things are getting so strange," she [Hattie] said. "You know I have a sister who works in a pregnancy clinic."

"Uh-huh," Rayford said. "You've mentioned it."

"They do family planning and counseling and referrals for terminating pregnancies."

"Right."

"And they're set up to do abortions there."


My margin comment here reads, "Oh man. Are we seriously doing this shit?" Indeed, if by this point in the conversation you don't already feel uneasy about the direction of things, you just aren't paying attention.


Page 266- Line 18-29:
Hattie seemed to be waiting for some signal of affirmation or acknowledgment that he was listening. Rayford grew impatient and remained silent.

"Anyway," she said, "I won't keep you. But my sister told me they have zero business."

"Well, that would make sense, given the disappearances of unborn babies." [Rayford replied]

"My sister didn't sound too happy about that."

"Hattie, I imagine everyone's horrified by that. Parents are grieving all over the world."

"But the women my sister and her people were counseling wanted abortions." [emphasis original]


Yeah, this is starting to get very, very creepy. And don't worry, it just keeps getting "better." On a related note: wow is Rayford an asshole. He thinks he has the right to force his kooky religious views on Hattie, but he won't even show her common decency in a phone conversation? Damn.


Page 266-267- Line 266: 30- 267:1-13:
Rayford groped for a pertinent response. "Yes, so maybe those women are grateful they didn't have to go through with the abortion itself."

"Maybe, but my sister and her bosses and the rest of the staff are out of work now until people start getting pregnant again."

"I get it. It's a money thing."

"They have to work. They have expenses and families."

"And aside from abortion counseling and abortions, they have nothing to do?"

"Nothing. Isn't that awful? I mean, whatever happened put my sister and a lot of people like her out of business, and nobody really knows yet whether anyone will be able to get pregnant again."


And, believe it or not, we're not even to the most offensive part yet. This is, of course, despite the fact that Hattie just indicated that she's only worried about the potential for species-wide infertility because it might hurt her sister's career opportunities. And don't even get me started on that "and aside from abortions they have nothing to do" crap. On the very last page she indicated that her sister works at a clinic that does "family planning and counseling" (Page 266- Line 14) which, in the real universe, means a whole constellation of things other than abortion. Contraceptive education, for example, or counseling about STDs. Hell, given the reality of STDs, even if we were looking at species-wide infertility, people would still need counseling about condoms and whatnot. Never mind that what Hattie is describing sounds a lot like Planned Parenthood, which is quite a bit more than an abortion mill. Nevertheless, the bullshit keeps coming.


Page 267- Line 14- 26:
Rayford had to admit he had never found Hattie guilty of brilliance, but now he wished he could look into her eyes. "Hattie, um, I don't know how to ask this. But are you saying your sister is hoping women can get pregnant again so they'll need abortions and she can keep working?"

"Well, sure. What is she going to do otherwise? Counseling jobs in other fields are pretty hard to come by, you know."

He nodded, feeling stupid, knowing she couldn't see him. What kind of lunacy was this? He shouldn't waste his energy arguing with someone who clearly didn't have a clue, but he couldn't help himself.


So, in the preceding we have Rayford calling Hattie stupid, Rayford (quite rightly) feeling stupid, and a general disaster of an argument. And I don't even know what to do with the notion that counseling jobs would be hard to find given that the authors are so fond of commenting that the rapture was the worst trauma in the world's history. Seems like a trauma that big would create a lot of job openings for trained counselors, you know? Frankly, right at the moment Rayford reminds me of nobody so much as Andrew Schlafly, and I do not mean that as a compliment. But, amazingly, this still isn't the worst part of the conversation. That's what we get to next.


Page 267-268- Line 267: 27- 268: 1-3:
"I [Rayford] guess I always thought clinics like the one where your sister works considered these unwanted pregnancies a nuisance. Shouldn't they be glad if such problems disappear, and even happier- except for the small complication that the human race will eventually cease to exist- if pregnancies never happen again?"

The irony was lost on her. [emphasis added]


So, WOW! Just... wow. The authors are basically saying that people who work in abortion clinics and, presumably, who support a woman's right to choose, hate babies. Yes. Of course. Surely that must be the case! If all pregnancies ceased all us pro-choice folks would just go dance in the streets. It's just so unbelievably despicable, I hardly know how to deal with it. And "the irony was lost on her"? Are you kidding? It's lost on her because it wasn't even the least bit ironic. It's like that bloody Alanis Morissette song! And on top of it all, and as my margin notes add: "Good lord. The authors think this is witty don't they?" I just don't know what to say.


Page 269- Line 8-12:
"They need unwanted pregnancies because that's their business." [Hattie added]

"Sort of like doctors wanting people to be sick or injured so they have something to do?"

"Now you've got it, Rayford."


Those horrible people! Abortion clinics MUST want people to have unprotected sex so that they'll need abortions! And doctors MUST go around hoping for multi-car accidents to they don't get bored in the ER! And soldiers MUST hope for wars so that they can justify their jobs! And evangelists MUST want people to be terrified of things that don't exist so that they'll have worshippers! It all makes so much sense! The entire world is a conspiracy! Burn the world! Burn this f-ing world! It's all so POINTLESS! OH, GOD, make it STOP! I can't handle this nihilism! Wait... wait... no, sorry false alarm. What I meant was, I can't handle the hateful, venomous stoopid. But, I said I would blog this book, so along we go. Cheerio, then!


Alas, while this is not the end of the chapter- or even halfway through this chapter- I think that the preceding insanity is more than you had any right to expect from me. And so, I bid you a fond farwell until next time, when we return to Buck, Steve, and the anti-christ.

So, yeah, it's gonna be boring.


* Not to harp on the subject but, given the sheer number and size of the plot holes in this book, perhaps I should be less baffled by biblical literalism. I mean, hell, if the authors can't see the inconsistencies in writing that is this elementary, how the hell would they see it in something as flowery and metaphorical as the bible?

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Oh, Canada: Land of Moose, Mounties, and Mexican Sex Wrestling?

So I recently became aware of a flash game promoted by the Middlesex-London Health Unit in Ontario, Canada. This game- playable here- is titled "Adventures in Sex City," and is more or less what Sin City would look like if it were a flash game produced by a health department. No, really:



For those who are curious, the text reads:

In the Dark of the Night, Sex City is in panic because of the terrible SPERMINATOR whose sole mission is to infect all citizens with various sexually transmitted infections.

Who do you call? THE SEX SQUAD! An elite team of superheroes dedicated to keeping the citizens of Sex City safe from STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections). It's up to you to help the Sex Squad stop The Sperminator and save Sex City. [emphasis original]


Right, so, the lead-in to this game basically sounds like a summary of the plot to Orgazmo 2, with the exception that the villain is "The Speriminator" rather than "Jizzmaster Zero". But what about the "Sex Squad"? What are they like? Well, they're a bizarre little multicultural band that appears on the next screen:



From left to right, we have:

-"Wonder Vag," who is a virgin, believes in true love, and promotes abstinence until marriage. Her "power" is that she can tell when people are lying.

-"Willy the Kid," who was bullied as a child for his diminutive stature and joined the sex squad to show that size doesn't matter. His "power" is "massive rock hard strength."

-"Power Pap," who is sexually active, has had an STI, and now dedicates her life to testing and pap tests. Her "power" is x-ray vision to spot infections.

-"Captain Condom," who was a scientist developing better condoms but, due to a freak accident, is now half man, half condom. His "power" is to stretch to any size and, when used correctly, he is 98% effective.

So, a couple of points. First, I think the designers might have meant "Wonder Vag" sarcastically. And I think that because "Wonder Vag" sounds like a type of sex toy I do not want anything to do with. Two, not only does "Willy the Kid" look like a seventies pimp, but why is it that the only black character is also the one implied to have massive...um... equipment? Third, would any kicky latina superheroine really want to go by the moniker "Power Pap"? I mean wow. And finally, "half man, half condom"? Folks, mixing a human with any old household object does not a superhero make. Just ask "Captain Doorknob."

In any case, I decided to play as "Captain Condom," because who wouldn't want to be half condom? I was then presented with my evil foe, the sperminator:



Now, there are a couple of things to notice about this scene, which I've helpfully labeled below. First, notice that The Sperminator has giant veiny penises as his forearms. Aside from looking absurd, I really have to wonder about his quality of life. I mean, this may be TMI, but I think I'd be very unhappy if I had to go through life manipulating the world using my penis(es). Hell, typing alone would be a really unpleasant chore, much less doing yard work, shoveling snow, sanding a deck, etc. So, basically, I just think The Sperminator is less of a villain and more a man suffering from a terrible affliction. Second, apparently in Canada "villain" is synonymous with "Mexican Wrestler". Aside from the penis-limbs, that's really all The Sperminator is. I feel deeply insulted, given my oft asserted intention of becoming a Mexican wrestler once I fail at this whole sociology thing.



Now, when you fight The Sperminator he attacks you with what appears to be a half sperm, half shark hybrid.* And, really, if this is what I thought sperm looked like, I'd be terrified of my own groin:



You, the player, answer a series of questions about STIs and for each one you get right, reflect one of the shark-sperm back to hit The Sperminator. Answer enough correctly and you defeat The Sperminator, converting him from a giant Mexican wrestler with penis hands into a smaller Mexican wrestler with normal hands. So... yay?



I'm not writing about this because I think there's anything wrong with it, other than the basically limp** gameplay mechanic. Mostly, I just want to point out that Canada is, in its own way, totally f-ing awesome. Have fun playing the game!

And I know you will!


* It took some effort to get a picture of this, too, because they're not on screen very long.

** Not a joke I could resist, folks. Sorry.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Presented without further comment...

Because, let's face it, if you need me to provide further commentary on this, you really like my writing style far, far too much:

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Ask a silly question...

Every now and then I like to use the blog as a forum for a little bit of Q&A. Recently, for example, a gentleman named Ralph* responded to one of my posts dealing with the defacing of a Wicca prayer circle at the U.S. Air Force Academy, with the following question:

WHY IS IT AUTOMATICALLY ASSUMED THAT CHRISTIANS WERE INVOLVED IN THIS?!??!

ROMAN CATHOLICS ALSO USE THE CROSS AS A SYMBOL!!!!
[emphasis original]


And to this I can only respond: Ralph, I think you just answered your own question. Now, like VorJack, I have to admit that I find lots of the internal spats between subtle variations of the same faith to be supremely uninteresting. As far as I'm concerned Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Protestants, and Mormons are all Christians. Christians with different doctrines, yes, but part of the same family. Nevertheless, Ralph, I do have to observe that your vehement eagerness to reject Roman Catholicism probably helps explain- if only a little- why in this case folks are looking in your general direction.**

I'm just sayin' is all.


* I should probably note that Ralph's blog is such an eye searing nightmare that it's either a really, really involved work of parody, or he's on roughly the same level as Greg Buell or Gene Ray. I'm more or less going to assume the former because I prefer not to be terrified of my neighbors.

** It's probably also that the Air Force Academy previously got in trouble for reports that evangelical Christianity was being pushed on cadets so, you know, it's fairly natural- though not necessarily fair- for people to suspect that group in this case.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 14, Part 2

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that pus the "impotent" in "impotent rage." Last time we hung around with Rayford and Chloe for a moment or two and then witnessed a press conference featuring the anti-christ. What happens this week? Absolutely nothing. I mean it- just nothing. We talk about things that could happen, or will happen, or almost happened, but nothing actually just happens.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to Ken for a little subtle innuendo:

"then return to Rayford and Chloe, who have gotten into all sorts of trouble since we last checked in."

Really don't want think about that. This is what happens when you let your daughter drive stick.


Ah yes, Chloe and her loose morals, only barely restrained by the fervent prayers of Irene, who is no longer in the picture to do any praying. We can only assume that the debauchery will commence any moment now. I said, ANY MOMENT NOW! Ah hell. In any case, congratulations Ken, and keep at it everyone! The suffering has only just begun!

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


----------

Dramatis Personae

In an order determined by a dog and a ouija board...

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. An inch or two over six feet tall. Broad shouldered. Thick chested. Trim. Athletic. Tanned. Blonde. Blue eyes. Thick eyebrows. Roman nose and jaw. Carries self with a sense of humility and purpose. Wears understated jewelry. Excellent memory.

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.

Mwangati Ngumo: Secretary-General of the United Nations. Botswanan national.

----------


Page 256- Line Chocolate:

When we left off Buck was in a press conference featuring Carpathia. And that's where we still are, believe it or not. There are a few more questions, revealing that Carpathia may be in New York for a while. Then we get this...


Page 256- Line 9-11:
By the time of the evening network news, a new international star had been born. He even had a nickname: Saint Nick.


Right. Yes. The anti-christ shares a name with Santa Claus. Subtle, guys. I don't even know what to do with the whole nicknaming thing. That isn't exactly common in my experience but, hey, if it worked for Norman 'Stormin' Schwarzkopf maybe it can work here? Regardless, we next get to a really sinister set of remarks...


Page 256- Line 16-19:
He [Carpathia] had carefully avoided specific talk of global disarmament. His was a message of love and peace and understanding and brotherhood, and to quit fighting seemed to go without saying.


Wow. That's scary. I can certainly see why good Christians like the authors would be terrified of someone who wants us to stop killing each other.* Anyway, the press conference ends, Rosenzweig tells Buck that he (Buck) has an interview with Carpathia that evening, and Buck goes back to his apartment with Steve to prepare for the interview. Steve raises the issue- once more- of whether Buck should trust Carpathia given that Carpathia has ties to Stonagal who has ties to Joshua Todd-Cothran** who apparently has ties to nasty people who blow up cars outside London pubs. Buck's response is fairly typical.


Page 258- Line 21-28:
"Until he proves otherwise, I'm [Buck] just going to trust Nicolae Carpathia."

"Hmph," Steve said.

"What?"

"It's just that usually you work the other way around. You distrust someone until they prove otherwise."

"Well, it's a new world, Steve. Nothing's the same as it was last week, is it?"


Indeed, nothing is the same since you witnessed that craziness in Israel and decided that nothing is beyond belief (Page 15- Line 5-10). I'm suddenly forced to wonder what else Buck considers plausible. Unicorns? Leprechauns? The Loch Ness Monster? Seriously, folks, where does the stupid end? Alas, we don't get to find out because the narrative suddenly shifts back to Rayford, who is about to make a shocking discovery!


Page 259- Line 1-6:
Rayford pulled into his driveway with a sack of groceries on the seat beside him. He had gotten hold of Hattie Durham, who wanted to keep him on the phone talking until he begged off. She was delighted with the dinner invitation and said she could come three nights later, on Thursday.


Which makes this... what? Monday? Should we care about that? I mean, the authors are being specific. Is this a plot point? Eh. Probably not. I'm just glad they didn't describe Rayford's deep spiritual crisis in the produce aisle. I mean, cucumbers look so much like penises that they just have to be sinful, am I right?


Page 259- Line 7-11:
Rayford guessed he was half an hour behind Chloe, and he was impressed that she had left the garage door open for him. When he found the door locked between the garage and the house, however, he was concerned. He knocked. No answer.


And this is weird. See, Chloe knew Rayford was stopping for groceries so it seems to me that it wouldn't make sense to just leave the garage door sitting open. And if you were going to do that, seems like locking the door to the rest of the house would just be good sense. Apparently, though, Rayford really expected his sole remaining daughter, who was alone in the house, to just leave all the doors open for anyone who happened past. Right. In any case, he opens the garage door so he can go around to the front of the house to let himself in- revealing to our collective astonishment that he doesn't have a key to his own back door- and then notices something amiss!


Page 259- Line 17-19:
Rayford walked around the Jeep at the end. Raymie's stuff was missing! His bike. His four-wheeler. What was this?


Oh no! Raymie's four-wheeler was raptured! But why not the Jeep? Was it too proud? Too proud of its capitalized proper brand name when the four-wheeler just went by the modest title of four-wheeler? Alas! Does sin taint even our personal recreational vehicles?


Page 259- Line 20-25:
Rayford jogged to the front door. The window of the storm door was broken and the door hung on one hinge. The main door had been kicked in. No small feat, as the door was huge and heavy with a dead bolt. The entire frame had been obliterated and lay in pieces on the floor of the entryway. Rayford rushed in, calling for Chloe.


Or... while they were out a SWAT team broke in looking for a meth lab? I mean, what the hell? As it turns out, what we're seeing aren't signs of a rapture of personal property that has received Christ as its savior, but signs of a robbery. Indeed, the authors flatly state that "everything of immediate material value" was gone (Page 259- Line 27-28). Rayford calls the cops, but then proceeds to put them on hold so he can get the call waiting, which proves to be Chloe, who gives a hurried account of what happened to her.


Page 260- Line 6-11:
"Oh, Daddy!" she said, crying. "Are you all right? I came in through the garage and saw all that stuff missing. I thought maybe they'd come back, so I locked the door to the garage and was going to lock the front, but I saw the glass and wood and everything, so I ran out the back. I'm three doors down now."


And we are reminded once again that Chloe is a moron. She comes into a house that has clearly been broken into. Does she immediately leave and call the police? No. She locks herself in. Then, when she discovers more signs of criminal activity, she freaks out and runs into as-yet unexplored portions of the house, rather than retreating to a part of the house where she knows the criminals aren't. Brilliant. Was she failing out of Stanford, or what? Anyway, Chloe returns from the neighbors' house and Rayford calls the cops. There's a conversation in which Rayford admits that they don't use their burglar alarm because, in their neighborhood, they never expected to need it.


Page 260- Line 27-30:
"This kind of crime is up two hundred percent here in the last week alone," the officer said. "The bad guys know we don't have the time or manpower to do a blessed thing about it."


I truly have no idea what the authors mean here. Do they mean that a large plurality, even a majority, of police are born again Christian who would be gone following the rapture? Do they mean that the cops are still really busy with emergency work? I really couldn't say. Maybe it's just terrible writing and pointless dialogue? Parsimony is king, you know.


Page 261- Line 22-26:
Rayford embraced Chloe, who was still shaking. "Can you do me a favor, Dad?" she said.

"Anything."

"I want another copy of that video, the one from the pastor."

"I'll call Bruce, and we'll pick one up tonight."


My margin note at this point reads, "Oh my. Seriously?" It's a fair point since this is quite a change of heart for Chloe. I mean, personally nothing reassures me after a traumatic experience like a creepy videotape of preaching, but I didn't expect my proclivities to extend to Chloe. In retrospect, though, I'm just trying to figure out what the hell they think they're going to do with a new videotape when their T.V. and VCR have been stolen. It's magnetic tape- you can't just hold it up to a lamp, you know? Regardless, let's all notice how the authors are once more trying to use fear to sell religion. Whoops! Look out! You coulda gotten in trouble there! Better believe in this stuff I tell you about so you won't go to this bad place that you never knew about until I told you about it! Seriously, the world has more than enough genuinely frightening things- I don't need people to invent new ones for me to be afraid of. Nor do I need to base my entire worldview on fear of punishment.


Page 261- Line 27:
Suddenly Chloe laughed.


Because she was just fucking with Rayford about that whole tape thing?


Page 261- Line 28-30:
"Now this is funny?" Rayford said.

"I just had a thought," she said, smiling through her tears. "What if the burglars watch that tape?"


I dunno. They laugh at it? That's usually what happens to me if I watch TBN for a few minutes. Either that or I feel very, very frightened of my neighbors.


Regardless, however, that wraps up chapter fourteen. And yes, if it seemed short, that's because it was! Come back next time when we learn more about the anti-christ, have a truly disturbing conversation, and Rayford tries to put the moves on Hattie. Trust me: you're gonna want to see this one.


* Actually, that's a lie. I don't have any particular affection for Christianity, but I have to say that an admonishment against killing people seems to be a core part of its theological message. Most centuries, anyway.

** You know, it just occurred to me that in the dramatis personae for months I've been indicating that Stonagal has ties to duck lips. Could it be that "Duck Lips" is just Joshua Todd-Cothran's nickname? Woah, man. That's deep.

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Monday, February 08, 2010

Well, that could have gone better.

A while back the Air Force Academy became the subject of an investigation meant to determine if there was a serious and persistent religious bias favoring conservative forms of Christianity. I've mentioned this before as a part of my ongoing concern for religious persecution in the U.S. armed forces. Indeed, thel indications that our armed forces sometimes function as little more than recruiting organizations for one branch of Christianity are more than slightly disquieting. In any case, the investigation of the Air Force Academy concluded that there was no systematic or institutional harassment of non-Christians, but that mistakes were made. So, efforts have been made to get the situation under control.

One of these efforts has been to be more accomodating and accepting of smaller faiths, including Wicca. Wicca, of course, is non-Christian, relatively small in the U.S., and a fairly recent invention as far as religions go. This is not to say that Wicca isn't based on earlier nature-centered belief systems, but only to point out that Wicca- as we know it- is pretty much an invention of the twentieth century.* A manifestation of these efforts to be more accepting has been the creation of a new place of worship for Wiccans attending the air force academy. And it sounds pretty nice:

Wiccan cadets and officers on the Colorado Springs base have been convening for over a decade, but the school will officially dedicate a newly built circle of stones on about March 10, putting the outdoor sanctuary on an equal footing with the Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Buddhist chapels on the base.

"When I first arrived here, Earth-centered cadets didn't have anywhere to call home," said Sgt. Robert Longcrier, the lay leader of the neo-pagan groups on base.

"Now, they meet every Monday night, they get to go on retreats, and they have a stone circle."


And that's just as it should be. There's interest in a Wicca place of worship, a community that will use it, and we live in a religiously pluralistic society. Honestly, when I found out about this I felt like I should commend the Air Force Academy for making genuine progress. Well, the academy may have made some progress, but clearly problems remain:

The Air Force Academy, stung several years ago by accusations of Christian bias, has built a new outdoor worship area for pagans and other practitioners of Earth-based religions.

But its opening, heralded as a sign of a more tolerant religious climate at the academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., was marred by the discovery two weeks ago of a large wooden cross placed there.

...

In 2004, an academy survey found that many cadets felt that evangelical Christians were imposing their views and harassing non-Christians at the school.

The following year, an Air Force task force determined that there was no overt discrimination but the academy had failed to accommodate the religious needs of some cadets. Since then, the academy has worked to change that, Van Winkle said.


And by "large wooden cross" what they mean is "cross built from railroad ties." So, you know, it took some work to put it together and move it. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't find Wicca any more plausible than Christianity. That said, I do think that our men and women in uniform have the right to worship as they see fit- much like those they protect- and, as such, religious bigotry is just unacceptable.** We live in an allegedly secular state, we have a religiously plural society, and for that to work we have to protect minorities. At the very least our religious minorities should be able to trust that members of other faiths won't come into their places of worship and leave what amounts to propaganda laying about. And, as one person mentioned in the above story observes, if the same cross had been left in the facility for Jewish students, I somehow do not think we'd view this as anything less than seriously offensive.

The Air Force Academy seems to be on the right road but, clearly, the problems are a long way from solved.


* I should probably note that I don't consider Wicca's relative youth to have any particular importance for its status as a religion. The presumption that a religion isn't "real" unless it is old is just absurd. If you prefer, just view Wicca as akin to a denomination of some larger nature-centered faith and, while that faith may be truly ancient, my comments pertain only to this most recent branch of it. Please note as well that I decline to use the common term "pagan" when referring to Wicca as I think it has connotations that unfairly advantage "mainstream" faiths like Christianity. Put bluntly: everyone is a Pagan to someone.

** For those who are curious, I don't have a problem with tax dollars supporting religious infrastructure for soldiers for much the same reason that I don't object to campus ministries at public universities: in either case we're talking about semi-totalizing institutions. As such, some public assistance to provide the resources for individual worship seems reasonable to me. Granted, I sure prefer it when religious groups go out for humble places of worship but, hey, I'm just an atheist. Pay me no mind.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Today's post will be random to a frightening degree.

You really have to love David Foley for this, if nothing else:



And in other amusing news, our old pals at the Westboro Baptist Church tried to protest Twitter recently. Fortunately, another band of "activists" were waiting for them:



You can see some still images of the counter-protest here but, honestly, it's nothing short of brilliant.

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 14, 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 we met the anti-christ and discovered that he's got a real sense for the theatrical. What happens this week? Buck continues his budding romance and Rayford and Chloe are victimized by criminals. So, hey, it almost kinda flirts with excitement.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to scripto for taking one of my own jokes and making it so much funnier:

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...


Oh, c'mon.


Yeah. I really can't add anything to that. I'd also like to make a note that Ken has requested that I sub-divide the dramatis personae into persons living and dead. Technically, I suppose I should really split it into "living," "eternally damned," and "destined for hell," but that sounds like a lot of work.* Additionally, that would really degrade the current system of organization, which is to say no organization at all. My current system is an intentional feature recreating the sensation of having to keep track of all of these moronic minor characters that pop into the conversation once every fifty pages or so. Nevertheless, are people sufficiently interested in such a change for me to bother making it? Because, really, I live to serve.

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. An inch or two over six feet tall. Broad shouldered. Thick chested. Trim. Athletic. Tanned. Blonde. Blue eyes. Thick eyebrows. Roman nose and jaw. Carries self with a sense of humility and purpose. Wears understated jewelry. Excellent memory.

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.

Mwangati Ngumo: Secretary-General of the United Nations. Botswanan national.

----------


Chapter 14: In which Ray and Chloe return from Atlanta, Buck is "wowed" by the anti-christ, and Ray and Chloe discover that they have been robbed.


Page 249- Line Maple:

No quote because the first page is so boring it makes me want to cry, but Rayford and Chloe return from Atlanta without problems. Rayford immediately pulls out the olde cell phone so he can see if Hattie is coming to dinner, while Chloe observes dryly from his knowledge that Hattie likes Chinese food that he must really know her. Clearly she doesn't get out much. She also reminds Rayford of his promise to let her drive his fancy car back from the airport, which generates some banter that might be called "witty" if you were the sort of person who thinks Ziggy ranks up there with Oscar Wilde. Regardless, Rayford- who is driving a different car back- observes that he's going to stop on the way back for groceries. And then Chloe shows her soft, feminine side...


Page 250- Line 12-16:
Chloe hesitated. "It's eerie in there when you're by yourself isn't it?" she said.

"A little. But we've got to get used to it."

"You're right," she said quickly. "They're gone. And I don't believe in ghosts. I'll be fine. But don't be too long."


I don't know whether to laugh or cry at that "I don't believe in ghosts" bit. That's mainly because I can't tell what purpose the authors have in dropping it. Do they believe in ghosts? Because ghosts are pretty much souls that are still hanging around, and the authors obviously believe in souls. On the other hand, ghosts and such seem to be out of vogue in Christian theology of late so, hey, there you go. On a different subject: I wonder if even Rayford is surprised to hear someone say he's right. Bet that doesn't happen often. Regardless, we then switch to Buck because, apparently, even the authors can't take Rayford's overwhelming stench of fail except in small doses.


Page 250- Line 17-20:
At the post-U.N.-appearance press conference for Nicolae Carpathia of Romania, Buck briefly found himself the center of attention. Someone recognized him and expressed surprise and pleasure that he was alive.


Because Buck owed him money? Aside from that, really, I can't see why anyone would care. This is not because as an atheist I don't care whether people live or die. No, what I mean is, Buck is frankly so irritating that I don't think anyone would miss him were he to be blown up in a car outside a London pub.


Page 252- Line 7-11:
Carpathia spoke in the same impassioned and articulate tones he had used in his speech. Buck wondered if this was always the same, in public or private. Whatever else he brought to the world scene, he had a mastery of spoken communication second to none.


And suddenly I understand why the religious right loved Bush and Palin so much: they have a mastery of spoken communication second to damned near everybody. So, hey, clearly not the anti-christ! On a different note, I love the idea that Carpathia is just as "impassioned and articulate" whether he's in public or in private. Just imagine him at home with his wife/domestic partner: "In the affairs of men it is sometime necessary for a stand to be taken. That stand may not be easy, it may not be simple, but nevertheless history cries out for decisive action. I stand before you today and ask- nay demand- that you pass the ketchup!" It would be like a sitcom featuring Sam the Eagle.


Page 253- Line 1-4:
Carpathia went on to discuss the various peacekeeping military actions the U.N. had taken since the Korean conflict of the 1950s. "As you know," he said, speaking again of things long before he was born,


And what the hell does that mean? Am I supposed to find it odd that he's well-versed in U.N. history when speaking at the U.N.? Why do the authors hate young people so much? I can only imagine they assume that everyone under sixty would say, "Total snoozer, grandpa! You can keep your U.N.! I just want my video game machine!" Come to think of it... the authors remind me of the Onion's political cartoonist. Ha. I love that bitchy little bastard. Regardless, a reporter asks Carpathia what he thinks about the disappearances, to which he (Carpathia) unfortunately responds. As it turns out, not unlike Rayford Steele, Carpathia has a plan.


Page 253- Line 20-24:
"I [Carpathia] have asked Dr. Chaim Rosenzweig of Israel to work with a team to try to make sense of this great tragedy and allow us to take steps toward preventing anything similar from ever happening again."


Really, dude? Lots of people disappear into thin air from all over the globe and the leader of your blue ribbon panel is... a guy who makes fertilizer? Don't get me wrong, I'm sure he's a brilliant chemist, but it seems like maybe a physicist would be the go-to guy for this one, you know? Don't worry about that, though, because Rosenzweig is already on the case!


Page 254- Line 3-6:
"Dr. Rosenzweig and his team of renowned scholars is close to the discovery of an atmospheric phenomenon that may have caused the vanishing of so many people instantaneously."


At the risk of nitpicking, we don't actually know that it was instantaneous. That is to say, the disappearance may have taken a finite amount of time rather than zero time. Still, for a speech to reporters, the use of the term is fine. So what is Rosenzweig's brilliant idea? Well, don't get your hopes up...


Page 254- Line 15-22:
"Dr. Rosenzweig believes that some confluence of electromagnetism in the atmosphere, combined with an as yet unknown or unexplained atomic ionization from the nuclear power and weaponry throughout the world, could have been ignited or triggered- perhaps by a natural cause like lightning, or even by an intelligent life-form that discovered this possibility before we did- and caused this instant action throughout the world." [Carpathia added]


I think I speak for all of us when I say, "Huh?" That doesn't mean anything. I mean- seriously- it's polysyllabic word salad, and what makes it better is there are so many conditionals in the sentence that it really just boils down to, "Rosenzweig doesn't have a goddamn clue." Still, that the authors think that this is representative of scientific explanations generally jibes with their apparent grasp of science. And I don't mean that nicely, either. In any case, a reporter then asks a stupid question that yields an interesting answer.


Page 254- Line 26-30:
"How is that different from the idea of aliens from outer space zapping everybody?" [a reporter asked]

"It is not wholly different," Carpathia conceded, "but I am more inclined to believe in the natural theory, that lightning reacted with some subatomic field."


So, what to do with this? The first issue is that however stupid Carpathia's suggested "explanation' sounds it is actually simpler than an explanation that involves intelligence. Bear with me: the natural explanation requires that there be some mechanism that would produce the disappearances whereas the intelligent agency version requires both an undiscovered intelligent entity AND a mechanism that could produce the disappearances. By way of analogy, if you want to argue that aliens cause lightning, you have to both premise that those aliens exist and that there is a physical mechanism through which lightning can be generated. As such, it's simpler to start with the assumption that lightning is probably natural and work out from there. Needless to say, this goes double for explanations involving "god," which is an even more implausible critter than intelligent aliens. Regardless, not only is parsimony essentially depicted as a tool of the anti-christ but the authors manage to equate natural and supernatural explanations along the way. A complex mechanism requiring intelligent agency is not pretty much the same as a natural explanation relying purely on physical law, and a preference for the latter over the former is not just a matter of personal taste. Rather than call him on this idiocy, however, a reporter just asks why the purported effect was so apparently random, taking some people and not others.


Page 255- Line 5-10:
"At this point they [Rosenzweig's team] are postulating that certain people's electricity made them more likely to be affected. That would account for all the children and babies and even fetal material that vanished. Their electromagnetism was not developed to the point where it could resist whatever happened." [Carpathia answered]


To quote my magin note: "What. The. Fuck?" To expand somewhat on that remark, without breaking from its essential wisdom, humans do not have much of what you'd call an electric or magnetic field. This is, actually, a critical issue because our nervous system is electrochemical in nature. Specifically, while neuron firing is typically initiated chemically (by neurotransmitters activating receptor sites) the intermediate phase between the initiation of firing and neurotransmitter release at the end is electrical. It's sort of like a chain of firecrackers where the explosion of one lights the fuse on the next, only the explosions and fuses are electrical in nature. The important point, though, is that the intermediate part of the process is triggered not by chemicals but by electric potential. This is why administering an electric shock can cause convulsions- it essentially short-circuits the nervous system. Were our nervous systems entirely chemical in nature, electric shocks would still be dangerous, but wouldn't have that kind of effect. This is also why humans can't have much, if any, electric charge: because an ambient charge would short-circuit our own nervous systems. As for an electromagnetic field, allow me to point out that an MRI machine essentially uses a whole bunch of power to make your body faintly magnetic- if you had a magnetic field before hand, we wouldn't need to do that. So, basically, this explanation is obviously absurd, and frankly I think it reflects the authors' generally troubled knowledge of science more than anything else. So, in conclusion: what the fuck?


Page 255- Line 11-16:
"What do you say to people who believe this was the work of God, that he raptured his church?" [a reporter asked]

Carpathia smiled compassionately. "Let me be careful to say that I do not and will not criticize any sincere person's belief system. That is the basis for true harmony and brotherhood, peace and respect among people."


You heard it here first, folks: tolerance, brotherly love, and humility are the signs of the anti-christ.


Page 255- Line 16-22:
"I [Carpathia] do not accept that theory because I know many, many more people who should be gone if the righteous were taken to heaven. If there is a God, I respectfully submit that this is not the capricious way in which he would operate. By the same token, you will not hear me express any disrespect for those who disagree."


Ah, yes, but by now we've been clubbed over the head with that, "There are none righteous, no, not one," line enough that we know where Carpathia's "error" lies. Yes, the error of assuming that god would behave in a sensible way. Silly us. Anyway, it turns out that Carpathia isn't done dabbling in theology because he's been invited to the upcoming "ecumenical religious confab" (Page 255- Line 24-25) where he will speak about eschatology, the end times, and the second coming of Christ. Sure. Why not? The man can do everything, he may as well have a fault, like a perverse interest in crazy interpretations of religious scripture.

And, as a matter of fact, that brings us to the end of Part 1. What, you ask? How can that be after only six pages? Simple: the authors included a twelve page chapter. Hey, I don't make the rules, I just operate within them in a helpless and defeated manner. Regardless, come back next week when we finish up with Buck and his amazement at Carpathia, and then return to Rayford and Chloe, who have gotten into all sorts of trouble since we last checked in.

Then again, it's going to be boring as hell, so maybe just skip it. Your call.


* No, that's not a typo: I did mean to include both "eternally damned" and "destined for hell." Given that heaven sounds like an excruciatingly boring place, I leave it to you to assign terms to destinations as you see fit.

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