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, July 30, 2010

It's a common joke, but...

Is anyone aware of someone who, upon receiving tenure, experienced this kind of... degeneration:




And no, this is not how I plan to react in the unlikely event that I ever receive tenure anywhere.


Special thanks to Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal for the awesome comic.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 24, Part 2

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that makes eternal damnation seem like more of the same. Last time Buck had really confusing conversation with Steve and then had a chat with Hattie. What happens this week? Uh... well... basically nothing. Oh, except Buck converts, but that's basically nothing, right?

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to scripto for, perhaps, explaining why Buck is so enamored of Chloe:

""So now it's Nick, is it? Well, he and I [Buck] are not close enough for that familiarity, and I don't provide female companionship even to my friends."

I can't even provide female companionship for myself. They won't talk to me and keep asking to change seats on the airline. I think they're playing hard to get.


See? Her first mistake was not changing seats when he appeared on the plane. Well, okay, her first mistake was returning from Stanford, but you get my meaning here. Still, if we were to accentuate the positive, at least we know Buck has the potential to be a truly awesome wingman for Rayford!

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 my fellow Mexican wrestlers...

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. Fast runner. Hot for Chloe.

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. Possibly hot for Buck. Christian.

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. Press secretary for Nicolae Carpathia.

Nicolae Carpathia: Businessman. Romanian Senator. Romanian President. Secretary-General of the United Nations. 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. President of Botswana. Botswanan national.

Eric Miller: Reporter. Rival of Buck's. Able to climb stairs really fast, but not as fast a runner as Buck. Kinda a douche. Died Murdered by falling being pushed off of the Staten Island ferry. A strong swimmer.

Gerald Fitzhugh: President of the United States. Talks like a moron.

Stanton Bailey: Publisher of the Global Weekly.

Carolyn Miller: Wife of Eric Miller.

Alex Phonecompany: Friend of Buck's. Works at the phone company.

----------


Page 438- Line Ooga-Booga:

No quote, but we pick the "story" back up with Rayford and Chloe, who are in church. Makes sense. I mean, where the hell else would they be? It's not like either of them have lives or a purpose or supernatural evil to fight or anything like that.


Page 438- Line 21-27:
Rayford and Chloe watched for Buck until the last minute the next morning, but they could no longer save a seat for him when the sanctuary and the balcony filled. When Bruce gave his message, Chloe nudged her father and pointed out the window, down onto the walk before the front door. There, in a small crowd listening to an external speaker, was Buck.


This is like evangelical porn when you think about it. Not only is the church full to overflowing, but people are actually willing to hang around outside- standing no less- just so they can hear the "real preaching and teaching" (Page 125- Line 5-8) via a crappy external speaker. I bet Tim LaHaye got wood just thinking about this bit. Moving on, given Rayford's recent decision to stop being polite, I'm sure he immediately rebuked Chloe for gazing idly out the window rather than eagerly taking notes on Bruce's "message".


Page 438-439- 438: 27, 439: 1-2:
Rayford raised a celebratory fist and whispered to Chloe, "Wonder what you're going to pray for this morning?"


Right. OR he could playfully tease his daughter in church about how her loins are warm for a creepy older reporter. Family values, folks, you read about 'em here first. Anyway, Bruce's sermon consisted of playing the previous pastor's videotape, telling his own half-assed story, inviting people to believe, and then defaulting to open mic night at New Hope Village Church. Chloe went down to tell her own boring damn story, by which time both she and Rayford had lost sight of Buck. And indeed, they couldn't even find him after the service. They did, however, find a note from him pinned to their front door when they returned home. No word on whether there was also a box containing a dead chipmunk with a note that read, "Unlike this chipmunk, my love for you will never die," but I like to assume the authors meant for us to read between the lines. Anyway, Chloe- or Rayford, it's not really clear from the text- waste no time in reading the note for us verbatim, which is, let's face it, an improvement from the old days when Buck would basically read us his to-do lists (Page 87- Line 8-12).


Page 439- Line 21-22:
It isn't that I [Buck] didn't want to say good-bye. But I don't.


I think we can all agree that is a really inauspicious way to begin a note to someone. That's doubly the case when you're hoping that they'll be jumping your bones within another book or two.


Page 439- Line 22-23:
I'll be back for bureau business and maybe just to see you, if you'll allow it.


Does that even matter? Now that she's converted she may as well have "Property of Rayford Steele" stamped on her forehead. Unless maybe this letter is meant for Rayford? Oh, how awesome would that be? Alas, he's about to spoil that pleasant dream by using Chloe's name. Oh, tosh.


Page 439- Line 26-27:
You are a lovely person, Chloe, and I was moved to tears by your story.


Thus demonstrating once again that nobody in this book has appropriate emotional responses to anything. On the other hand, is it just me, or does it sound like he's breaking up with her? Without even dating her? Classy. Regardless, he then moves on to the big request.


Page 440- Line 1-2:
Would you [Chloe] do something I [Buck] have never asked anyone to do for me before?


Don't get excited, folks- he's not talking about a threesome with Hattie.


Page 440- Line 2-3:
Would you pray for me? I will call you soon. I promise. Buck.


Wow. Creepiest love note ever. Alas, we don't get to find out how Chloe reacted to this steaming pile of rancid affection because the narrative suddenly jumps back to Buck, who is very much in his happy place.


Page 440- Line 4-5:
Buck felt more alone than ever on the flight home. He was in coach on a full plane, but he knew no one.


Excellent. Another scene with Buck on a plane doing nothing. Hell, if this dude spent any more time on passenger aircraft they'd use him as a model for the emergency instruction placards. I'm guessing he'd be, "Man running away from burning airplane." Except that would imply a certain proactive tendency that Buck lacks- how about, "man injuring himself on evacuation slide"? I think we can all- even the authors- agree that sounds more like Buck (roughly Page 41-43).


Page 440- Line 5-8:
He [Buck] read several sections from the Bible Bruce had gien him and had marked for him, prompting the woman next to him to ask questions.


I know the authors are trying to subtly imply that a good way to get people to invite you to evangelize is by reading a bible in public. I get that. But somehow, this bit doesn't ring true to me because more often than not I think that realizing your seatmate is reading a bible is a signal that you're better off leaving them alone. Hell, I think it's a sign you should avoid eye contact for as long as possible. Anyway, the flight ends- apparently uneventfully since the authors fail to remark on it- and we're suddenly in bed with Buck (Ewww!) while he ponders his fate.


Page 440- Line 15-18:
Bruce Barnes had sounded convinced that if Nicolae Carpathia were the Antichrist, Buck ran the danger of being mentally overcome, brainwashed, hypnotized, or worse.


At this point if the next line read, "Buck only hoped that he would remember to cry out 'expecto patronum' when it came time to face the antichrist," my surprise would only extend to wondering why it had taken them so long to admit that this book's religion is the most simple-minded version of sorcery imaginable. So far, the only real distinguishing characteristic between Jesus and the Antichrist (aside from the fact that the Antichrist is here helping whereas Jesus is taking a breather) is that Jesus' magic is supposed to be stronger. Jesus is basically the Dumbledore to Carpathia's Voldemort, but without the charm or useful moral lessons. Anyway, Buck wakes up, thinks to himself about how he's already covinced that either Carpathia or Stonagal is the antichrist, and then things get weird.


Page 441- Line 7-9:
He slung his bag over his shoulder, tempted to take the gun from his bedside table but knowing he would never get it through the metal detectors.


Wait, what? Buck has a gun? When the hell did Buck get a gun? Given that he was being chased by an evil conspiracy not that many chapters ago, why on Earth are we only hearing about the gun now? Bloody hell. Just for fun, though: the authors clearly mean us to assume that Buck has a pistol, but they don't really say. So, for my own amusement, I'm going to assume Buck has a musket. That he keeps by his bedside table. And considers appropriate for self defense. Now, isn't that more amusing than anything else in this book? Buck decides not to take said musket, and then wonders whether he should just go ahead and convert already.


Page 441- Line 17-20:
He decided that becoming a believer could not be for the purpose of having a good luck charm. That would cheapen it. Surely God didn't work that way.


And I might have said the same thing about this book's entire theology. The one and only reason we're ever given for accepting Jesus in this book is for protection: from the Antichrist, from hell, and frankly from god himself. So, no, "good luck charm" is not an unfair characterization.


Page 441- Line 26-28:
There was only one reason to make the transaction, he decided- if he truly believed he could be forgiven and become one of God's people.


One of god's people? He's going to become... Jewish? And didn't you just miss that "transaction" language? I don't know how you can complain about your faith being cheapened when you consistently refer to it in the same terms you'd use for buying a pack of gum.


Page 441-442- Line 441: 30- 442: 1-2:
It only made sense that if God made people, he would want to communicate with them, to connect with them.


Why? No, really, why? You're an omnipotent, omniscient being- you hold dominion over the entire universe. Would you want to have a pleasant chat with humans? It's roughly akin to my inviting a sundial over for milk and cookies. Hell, the Book of Job makes it pretty clear that we're just not that important in the great scheme of things and god only sorta cares about us individually. This is a logic fail of epic proportions. Bah. Whatever. Buck arrives at the U.N., runs into Bailey who, as it turns out, is coming along too, and then we jump back to Chloe and Rayford. They have a pointless conversation for about a page about how Chloe is going to try and have lunch with Hattie because... um... yeah, who knows? And then we're suddenly back with Buck. Buck is on his way to the conference room but, the closer he gets, the more frightened he feels. Yet, he realizes his fear isn't of physical peril.


Page 444- Line 21-28:
No, what he [Buck] feared, he knew, was not mortal danger. At least not now, not here. The closer he got to the conference room, the more he was repelled by a sense of evil, as if personified in that place. Almost without thinking, Buck found himself silently praying, God, be with me. Protect me.

He felt no sense of relief. If anything, his thoughts of God made his recognition of evil more intense. [emphasis original]


And here the authors made a point for me, however inadvertently. Thanks to Rayford's preaching and his new belief in god, Buck has discovered new things to be afraid of. Not only is Jesus the solution to fear, he's part of the problem. Buck wavers for a while about entering the room- along the way noticing that Hattie is seated next to Carpathia as his personal assistant- and then, at the last moment, he heroically flees to the men's room. He sticks a janitor's bucket outside, locks the door, and then falls to his knees to cast his magic spell of protection. So, just to recap, so far in this book we've had three conversion scenes: one in a living room via VCR, one on an airplane in flight, and one in an f-ing men's room. Inspiring, this book is not, although I daresay this isn't the first time Buck has found himself on his knees in a men's room. And let's all keep in mind that when Rayford converted he insisted on laying his forehead on the floor (roughly Page 215-217)- if this is like any men's room I've ever seen, Buck's probably got face herpes by now. Regardless, following his mystical experience, he cleans himself up, and heads back to the conference room.


Page 447- Line 21-30:
While no special feeling had come with Buck's decision, he had a heightened sensitivity that something was happening here. There wasn't a doubt in his mind that the Antichrist of the Bible was in this room. And despite all he knew about Stonagal and what the man had engineered in England and despite the ill feeling that came over him as he obserbed his smugness, Buck sensed the truest, deepest, darkest spirit of evil as he watched Carpathia take his place. Nicolae waited till everyone was seated, then rose with pseudodignity.


And, again, this is a critical point, because the authors are pointing out that if you don't accept Jesus, your perceptions will themselves be flawed. This is a deeply, deeply dangerous sentiment because it denies not just the correctness of others' views, but indeed their very ability to be correct. It asserts that everyone who disagrees with me is delusional, and that's a scary thing to believe. I have pretty strong opinions, and voice them, but I don't even come close to believing that. And if that's what you believe about your critics, what possible hope is there of a respectful compromise?


Page 448- Line 1-7:
"Gentlemen... and lady," he [Carpathia] began, "this is an important moment. In a few minutes we will greet the press and introduce those of you who shall be entrusted to lead the new world order into a golden era. The global village has become united, and we face the greatest task and the greatest opportunity ever bestowed upon humankind."


But, dear friends, we do not face that task this week, because we've reached the end of the chapter. Come back next week when we start the twenty-fifth and final (!) chapter of Left Behind. What will happen? Well, Buck will not spend any significant amount more time in the bathroom, but we will witness a murder, some mind-control mojo, and then the sort of ending that you should have come to expect after this book's existing mass of jack-assery.

I know I can't wait.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Even my rather extreme proficiency with profanity is insufficient for the task.

Yeah, so, you remember that heartbreaking story from last Monday? The one about the little girl whose parents were relying on faith healing to save her from an easily treatable, but rapidly expanding, growth on her face? Yeah. Turns out the whole situation is much worse than I thought and has been going on for much, much longer:

The two small graves lie in the southeastern section of the old cemetery, near a stand of pine. They are surrounded by the resting places of other infants, many of whom never received first names: here is a placard denoting Baby Girl White, and another for Baby Boy Morris. Only a few life spans are commemorated, and many of these are shockingly short: weeks, days and even hours. Russ Briggs comes here often; he cannot stay away. "Those two, right there, those are my boys," he says, his voice cracking. "I could have saved them, but I let them die."

Briggs doesn't know for sure what killed his sons, but he believes that "if there had been an incubator, or modern medicine, I know they would have made it." So might many of the children surrounding them. Recently the Portland exurb of Oregon City has been shaken by what appears to be an ongoing horror in its midst. In June, Oregon state medical examiner Larry Lewman stated suspicions about the cemetery's owners, the 1,200-member Followers of Christ church. Over 10 years, he alleges, the faith-healing congregation's avoidance of doctors and hospitals may have cost the lives of 25 children, some under excruciating circumstances. A series by the Oregonian newspaper announced that of 78 minors buried in the graveyard over 35 years, 21 "probably would have lived with medical intervention, often as simple as antibiotics." If so, the cemetery may represent one of the largest concentrations of faith-healing-related fatalities in decades. [emphasis added]


Just... goddamn. And if that isn't enough to make you think, try this:

A report in the April issue of the professional journal Pediatrics documented 140 child deaths "from religion-motivated medical neglect" between 1975 and 1995, attributed to 23 religious denominations in 34 states. Its co-author, Texas critical-care pediatrician Seth Asser, believes there are hundreds of similar, unreported fatalities. "Kids die from accidental deployment of air bags, and you get hearings in Congress," says Asser. "But this goes on, and dozens die, and people think there's no problem because the deaths happen one at a time. Yet the kids who die suffer horribly. This is Jonestown in slow motion."

...

He [Larry Lewman, Oregon State Medical Examiner] says one shocking case was that of Alex Dale Morris, a four-year-old who complained of fever in February 1989. Fellow Followers laid hands on Alex, anointed him with oil and prayed over him for 46 days. On Day 44, a police officer acting on a tip paid a call but left after the boy himself claimed good health. Alex died two days later; his autopsy revealed an infection had filled one entire side of his chest with pus. Basic antibiotics, says Lewman, could have saved him.

The death Gustafson considered prosecuting was of Bo Phillips, 11, last February. Bo suffered a diabetic crisis and was treated with liquids, prayer and anointings. County sheriff's detective Jeff Green recalls arriving at the Phillips house to find 200 or more church members. Bo's body "was lying in bed, covered with a sheet. His eyes were sunk into his head, and his face was completely yellow. The suffering that boy must have endured..." Bo's parents, says Green, were devastated, but "I kept asking the father why he let the boy die, and the answer boiled down to what he told me flat out: 'It was my choice.'"


I support religious freedom rather strongly, but I admit this bothers the hell out of me. It's one thing to refuse treatment for yourself, as an adult, but to refuse it on behalf of your child? I don't think even the selfish, egotistical god of the old testament would ask for that kind of sacrifice.*


* Okay, so, he totally would, but give me a break here, okay? For once I'm cutting the guy some slack.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Shadow of the slut.

Gender roles and attitudes towards sexuality are interesting things. On the one hand, most of us are prepared to accept the claim that men and women are equal and should have equal protection under the law.* On the other hand, our culture carries a heavy freight of preconceptions about men, women, and the proper comportment thereof that can impact our reasoning. I've been thinking about this because of the recent law suit filed by a woman who was filmed for one of those Girls Gone Wild videos that you often see advertised on late night t.v. Specifically, she sued the company for damages because she did not consent to be filmed and, subsequently, has been embarrassed by the video:

The woman, identified in court files as Jane Doe, was 20 when she went to the former Rum Jungle bar in May 2004 and was filmed by a "Girls Gone Wild" video photographer. Now married, the mother of two girls and living in the St. Charles area, Doe sued in 2008 after a friend of her husband's reported that she was in one of the videos.


Okay, so that would be a pretty awkward conversation for damned near everyone. How do you even broach that subject? "Hey Bob, did I mention I saw your wife's boobies on the t.v. last night?" Now, the interesting thing about this case is exactly how consent enters into things:

Stephen Evans of St. Louis, her lawyer, argued Thursday that Doe never gave consent — and even could be heard in original footage saying "no" when asked to show her breasts shortly before another woman suddenly pulled Doe's top down. Evans said the company usually gets women to sign consent forms or give verbal consent with cameras rolling.

"Other girls said it was OK. Not one other one said, 'No, no,'" Evans said. "She is entitled to go out with friends and have a good time and not have her top pulled down and get that in a video."


So, not only did she not give positive consent, but she apparently indicated that she was expressly not giving consent to be filmed. And clearly another party yanking her top down did not constitute the plaintiff consenting. Granted, I might have been prepared to argue that since the event occurred in a public setting, most privacy restrictions do not apply.** And yet, Girls Gone Wild normally obtains consent that does not rely on such a shaky interpretation of the law. Thus, in this case, it seems to be a fairly clear-cut case of Girls Gone Wild being dishonest.***

The jury, however, disagreed:

A St. Louis Circuit Court jury deliberated 90 minutes before ruling against the woman, 26, on the third day of the trial. Lawyers on both sides argued the key issue was consent, with her side saying she absolutely refused to give it and the defense claiming she silently approved by taking part in the party.

...

But Patrick O'Brien, the jury foreman, told a reporter later that an 11-member majority decided that Doe had in effect consented by being in the bar and dancing for the photographer. In a trial such as this one, agreement by nine of 12 jurors is enough for a verdict.

"Through her actions, she gave implied consent," O'Brien said. "She was really playing to the camera. She knew what she was doing."


Now, I haven't seen the video, and don't know what aspects the jury found most compelling. Maybe there is something not described in the above story that tilts the balance of evidence the other way. But as it stands it sounds like a lack of explicit consent, and even an explicit indication that consent has expressly not been given, can be overruled by a subjective judgment that she was "playing to the camera".

And this is why I wonder about how gender roles and attitudes towards sexuality influence us. That she was dancing- clothed- in a bar does not mean she has less right to give, or withhold, consent. Hell, if she were dancing unclothed in a bar, her right to give or withhold consent would likewise remain intact. But perhaps, just a little, the fact that she was dancing at all makes her seem just a little less worthy. And maybe because her breasts did end up on film, it's just a little easier to see her as some kind of slut who deserves her humiliation, instead of a fellow citizen who has been taken advantage of.

It seems that however far we've come, the notion of the slut still casts a long shadow.


* Of course, there are dissenting opinions.

** Which, of course, does not mean that basic principles of common decency also do not apply, but then again the Girls Gone Wild folks have never seemed to be in possession of those, anyway.

*** Par for the course for them, really.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Just wait for it...

Out of Oregon comes more news that I'm sure you'll all be depressed to hear:

A Beavercreek couple who left their infant daughter's fate to God rather than seek medical treatment for a mass that grew over her left eye will face charges of first-degree criminal mistreatment.

Prosecutors revealed Thursday during a custody hearing that a grand jury has indicted Timothy and Rebecca Wyland, members of Oregon City's Followers of Christ church.

The Wylands' 7-month-old daughter, Alayna, was placed in state custody earlier this month after child-welfare workers received a tip about the untreated and ballooning growth. Doctors said that the condition could cause permanent damage or loss of vision.

...

The Wylands and their church reject medical care in favor of faith-healing -- anointing with oil, laying on of hands, prayer and fasting. The parents testified at a juvenile court hearing last week that they never considered getting medical attention for Alayna.

According to court documents, Rebecca Wyland anointed Alayna with oil each time she changed the girl's diaper and wiped away the yellow discharge that seeped daily from the baby's left eye.


Yeah, okay, it's a growth. Is that a big deal? Well, you can see for yourself via a photograph (not terribly pleasant to look at), or just read a description:

Alayna had a small mark over her left eye at birth.

The area started swelling, and the fast-growing mass of blood vessels, known as a hemangioma, eventually caused her eye to swell shut and pushed the eyeball down and outward and started eroding the eye socket bone around the eye.

It's rare to see a child with an advanced hemangioma because the condition typically is treated as soon as it's detected, said a doctor who testified at a hearing before Van Dyk last week.


Right. So, that sounds pretty damn serious. That sounds like something that modern medicine should really be called in to treat since, you know, it can treat the condition effectively. Still, it's not like the parents involved have ever experienced the failure of faith healing before:

Wyland's first wife, Monique, died of breast cancer in 2006. She had not sought or received medical treatment for the condition, said Dr. Christopher Young, a deputy state medical examiner who signed the death certificate.


Well shit. I am honestly at a loss for words here.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

So that looks cool.

Oh, man. Looks like I'm gonna have to get cable:



For those who don't know, that's Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy. Consider yourself advised.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 24, Part 1

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that puts the "litter" in "literature". Last time Buck had an agonizingly horrid conversation with Bruce, and Chloe got all weepy. What happens this week? More Bullshit with Buck and... well... that's pretty much it.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to scripto for managing to crack on the most recent episode while simultaneously agitating for still more Left Behind:

Yeah, What Mr. Troll said. Who's been with you through thick and thin, even posting with a 104 degree fever?(did it show?) Who else would submit such timeless gems as:

"He had a sense of destiny tinged with fear."
Marinated in the bilious sauce of his tortured soul.

or

"We don't know how much pondering time we have."
Because it's pandering time.

Who? Nobody, that's who. I don't come here just because it's the only place on the net where I haven't been banned. I should get like 12 votes. Maybe 13.

Anxiously awaiting your reply,

Your friend scripto

(Although if the rest of the series is like this I think we get the picture - something by Beck, Palin or even Ayn Rand might be fun. As long as it was equally retarded in its own special way)


Indeed, that was a fairly convincing argument, although I thought my oblique response was fairly effective as well. But more on that later. Congratulations, scripto, and keep at it folks! Only a few episodes to go.


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 Kirk Cameron...

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. Fast runner. Hot for Chloe.

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. Possibly hot for Buck. Christian.

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. Press secretary for Nicolae Carpathia.

Nicolae Carpathia: Businessman. Romanian Senator. Romanian President. Secretary-General of the United Nations. 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. President of Botswana. Botswanan national.

Eric Miller: Reporter. Rival of Buck's. Able to climb stairs really fast, but not as fast a runner as Buck. Kinda a douche. Died Murdered by falling being pushed off of the Staten Island ferry. A strong swimmer.

Gerald Fitzhugh: President of the United States. Talks like a moron.

Stanton Bailey: Publisher of the Global Weekly.

Carolyn Miller: Wife of Eric Miller.

Alex Phonecompany: Friend of Buck's. Works at the phone company.

----------


Chapter 24: In which Steve warns Buck very circuitously, Chloe joins the church, Buck converts, and the antichrist starts a meeting.


Page 431- Line 1-3:
Buck spent Saturday holed up in the otherwise empty Chicago bureau office, getting a head start on his article on the theory behind the disappearances.


Yes, a "head start" on the article that he was assigned in chapter 3 (Page 55 to the end of the chapter). Way to set an example, there. Regardless, he's soon interrupted by a call from Steve Plank, who is wondering if Buck is going to set Hattie up with the antichrist. And along the way Steve explains that Buck and Carpathia are now on a first name basis.


Page 431- Line 14-16:
"So now it's Nick, is it? Well, he and I [Buck] are not close enough for that familiarity, and I don't provide female companionship even to my friends."


Oh, yes, such a hero! Refusing to pimp out a woman he hardly knows. Hell, how low an opinion of us do the authors have if they think this will impress us with Buck's virtue? Anyway, after dicking around a bit more, Buck finally gets to the sort of hard-hitting journalism that made him a star.


Page 432- Line 18-19:
"Have you [Steve] run into any schools of thought that link him [Carpathia] to end-times events in the Bible?"


Which is exactly the sort of question that, in the real world, would get you labeled as an f-ing nutter. Fortunately, Steve Plank, the hot new Press Secretary for Carpathia, has a smooth response.


Page 432- Line 20-25:
Steve Plank did not respond.

"Steve?"

"I'm here."

"Well, have you? Anybody that thinks he might fill the bill for one of the villains of the book of Revelation?"

Steve said nothing.


Holy shit. Is nobody good at their job in this book? Well, I suppose Rayford hasn't actually crashed yet, so he's at least tolerable, but Steve and Buck both suck so hard that it boggles the mind (Cue the slash fan fiction after that remark). This goes on for another half-page before Steve finally provides a semi-substantive response.


Page 433- Line 11-17:
"Buck, I have a two-word answer for you. Are you ready?"

"I'm ready."

"Staten Island."

"Are you tellin' me that-?"

"Don't say the name, Buck! You never know who's listening."


And this is where we're told that good old Eric Miller was murdered- which would be a lot more shocking if his widow hadn't basically told us that already (Chapter 18- Page 337-339). But, hell, telling us the same thing over and over and over again saves the authors work because they can fill up the same number of pages with less "plot". Yay? Whatever. Steve warns Buck to be careful what he says, which is Buck's excuse to play spy.


Page 434- Line 3-10:
"What I [Buck] want to know is this: If you think I should stay off the ferry, is it because of the guy behind the wheel, or because of the guy who supplies the fuel?"

"The latter," Steve said without hesitation.

Buck circled Stonagal. "Then you don't think the guy behind the wheel is even aware of what the fuel distributor does in his behalf."

"Correct."


Ah, yes, the old, "Disguise what I'm talking about with transparent metaphors," trick. This will surely keep absolutely nobody safe at all. But wait! There's more!


Page 434- Line 18-23:
"Can you [Steve] tell me who you really work for?"

"I work for who it appears to you I work for."

What in the world did that mean? Carpathia or Stonagal? How could he get Steve to say on a phone from within the Plaza that might be bugged?

"You work for the Romanian businessman?"


This is a total facepalm moment here. His super secret solution is to ask using a brief, entirely blunt descriptor? It's like avoiding using the name "Obama" by saying, "The current President of the United States." Oh, fuck, whoever could he mean? And yes, amazingly, after Steve answers "of course," Buck still isn't sure.


Page 434- Line 25-29:
Buck nearly kicked himself. That could be either Carpathia or Stonagal. "You do?" he said, hoping for more.

"My boss moves mountains, doesn't he?" Steve said.

"He sure does," Buck said, circling Carpathia this time.


You know what? I am honestly surprised that Buck didn't try to buy an f-ing vowel here. I mean, what was going to be next? "So, Steve, does that mean you work for Micholae Darpathia?" Seriously, if Buck gets any dumber he's going to circle all the way around to brilliant. And on a related note, how the hell can Steve's earlier response be viewed as pointing to anything other than Carpathia, since Stonagal is an American businessman? Ah, well. Whatever.


Page 435- Line 3-12:
"And you're [Steve] telling me straight up that the other issue I raised is dangerous but also hogwash."

"Total roll in the muck."

"And I shouldn't even broach the subject with him, in spite of the fact that I'm a writer who covers all the bases and asks the tough questions?"

"If I thought you would consider mentioning it, I could not encourage the interview or the story."

"Boy, it didn't take long for you to become a company man."


An incompetent company man, granted, but whatever. And what the hell does Buck mean about the "tough questions"? How is that a tough question? To paraphrase Ghostbusters, "If someone asks you if you're the antichrist, the answer is NO!" Would anyone have to think about that for even a moment? Just... wow. Thankfully, the authors choose this moment to jump back over to Rayford and Bruce, who are truly pondering questions for the ages.


Page 435- Line 15-20:
"I can't discuss the private matters [from his conversation with Buck]," Bruce said, "but only one thing stands in the way of my being convinced that this Carpathia guy is the Antichrist. I can't make it compute geographically. Almost every end-times writer I respect believes the Antichrist will come out of Western Europe, or maybe Greece or Italy or Turkey."


Notice here that we're not referring to the bible as a source, but rather to end-times writers and, for that matter, only the subset that Bruce respects. Wow. That's some goddamn authority right there. And, as an aside, all of a sudden we're concerned with logical coherence? Whatever happened to the constant derogatory references to running things through a grid of logic? Fortunately, Buck gave Bruce his number, so Rayford and Bruce can call him for help.


Page 436- Line 7-18:
"I [Bruce] guess I thought he [Carpathia] was from a mountainous region, you know, because of his name."

"His name?" Buck repeated, doodling it on his legal pad.

"You know, being named after the Carpathian Mountains and all. Or does that name mean something else over there?"

Buck sat up straight and it hit him! Steve had been trying to tell him he worked for Stonagal and not Carpathia. And of course all the new U.N. delegates would feel beholden to Stonagal because he had introduced them to Carpathia. Maybe Stonagal was the Antichrist! Where had his lineage begun?


I fucking give up. This damn book doesn't make any sense at all. Stonagal is apparently a Romanian businessman, not American, and... just... hell. Moving on, note the sudden obsession with ancestry. Very Old Testament, no?


Page 436- Line 19-22:
"Well," Buck said, trying to concentrate, "maybe he was named after the mountains, but he was born in Cluj and his ancestry, way back, is Roman. That accounts for the blonde hair and blue eyes."


Well, shit. If that's your standard for fulfilling prophecy, you can safely assume that no prophecy will ever be shown to be false. I mean, damn. And what's this shit about being "named after the mountains"? It's his surname for crying out loud! We pretty much inherit those even when they're monstrously inaccurate. I mean, how many "Millers" do you know who make flour? Eh. Anyway, Bruce and Rayford ask Buck if he's coming to church, Buck says he doesn't know, the call ends, and we jump back to Buck. Buck proceeds to call Hattie to try and warn her off of Carpathia. She's already been called and he tells her to turn down a date with the "most powerful man in the world." His reason, and what comes next, is awesome.


Page 437- Line 20-23:
"Because you [Hattie] don't strike me [Buck] as that kind of girl."

"First, I'm not a girl. I'm almost as old as you are, and I don't need a parent or a legal guardian."

"I'm talking as a friend."


No, Buck. No you're not. You have never been a friend to Hattie. She's just some hot flight attendant you wanted to bang and, when it became evident that wasn't going to happen, a nobody to brush aside. Second, don't you love how they paint her as a tramp using the language of feminism? She's not a "girl," after all, and only feminists object to being labeled with belittling names. Honestly, this book does not have a great deal of respect for women unless they're properly submissive Christian women. And even then the "respect" part is debatable. After a bit more arguing Hattie hangs up on him and Buck leans back in his chair to ponder.


Page 438- Line 10-16:
My [Buck's] boss moves mountains, Steve had said. Carpathia is a mountain. Stonagal is the mover and shaker behind him. Steve thinks he's really wired in deep. He's not only press secretary to the man Hattie Durham correctly called the most powerful man on earth, but Steve is also actually in league with the man behind the man. [emphasis original]


"The man behind the man"? Honest to god, even in his thoughts Buck is a lousy writer. If this is how investigative reporters actually operate, I honestly don't know how any scandals get uncovered. For that matter, if this is how investigative reporters operate, I don't know how they manage to get their pants on in the morning.


Page 438- Line 17-20:
Buck wondered what Rayford or Chloe would do it they knew Hattie had been invited to New York to be Carpathia's companion for a few days. In the end, he decided it was none of his, or their, business.


Wow! That's pretty much a mature decision. Don't worry, though- it won't last for long, since if there's one overriding moral in this book, it's that people you disagree with cannot be left to live their lives in peace.


But that can await a future episode, because we're about through with the first half of the chapter. Come back next time when Chloe gets a love note from Buck, and god loosens Buck's bowels. For Jesus.

Before we close, however, I want to give you the final decision about the future of Left Behind. After taking your votes into account, considering the pros and cons, noticing scripto's sort-of change of heart, and generally talking things over with my wife, I've decided that the next thing we tackle in Drek's book club will NOT be Left Behind 2. Sorry, folks, but I just can't handle it right now. I think it probable that after an intervening book I'll feel up to the next volume in this hellish series, but right now I need some distance. So, where does that leave us? Well, Jonas offered to acquire a copy of "The Overton Window," which gives all indications of being suitably bad/funny but I'm open to other submissions. You should send me your candidate book in one of two ways: e-mail or physical post. If you have an electronic copy, simply e-mail it to me at my usual address. If it's a physical copy, however, the lovely Tina Fetner has agreed to relay materials to me. She can be reached at:

Tina Fetner
Sociology Department
McMaster University
1280 Main St West
Hamilton, ON L8S 4M4
Canada

Be sure to indicate somewhere, preferably inside the package, that the contents are to be forwarded to Drek. Assuming people send her/me something, we'll get started sometime after the ASA conference or after a break from book clubbing for me following the end of Left Behind, whichever comes latest. And if nobody sends me anything... well... then we're probably looking at a reboot of Turner Tuesdays, which is unlikely to be as amusing to anyone. I apologize if you're disappointed by this but, hey, sometimes you just gotta make the hard choices.

See y'all next time!

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Math from the Schlaf!

Some of you may remember a couple years ago when I spent some time thinking about Andrew Schlafly's plan to quantify an individual's degree of open-mindedness. Okay, that's not entirely true- Schlafly's plan was actually to come up with a seemingly rigorous way to deride his ideological opponents and he did so with his usual hilarious lack of subtlety. I, in contrast, attempted to take an interesting idea with an admittedly poor execution and make something worth-while out of it. And I even had the unique pleasure of receiving a comment from the Schlaf himself on my efforts, although said comment failed completely to address my points. I'm reminded of that whole affair by something I've recently discovered on Conservapedia, and I think y'all deserve to know about it, too.

You see, the other day I ran across the product of Schlafly's most recent psychotic break brain storm and was intrigued, albeit briefly. The article in question is on Censorability. What is Censorability, you ask? Well, let's see what the article says:



Or, in merely human language:

The censorability of a concept, movement or ideology is its vulnerability of being censored by its opponents.


A bit crude, I'll grant, but it's a superficially interesting speculation: that there is some intrinsic character of an idea, ideology, or social movement that makes it easier or harder to censor. Of course, "censor" is taken as a primitive term (i.e. not defined), which is probably unwise given the diversity of views on what constitutes censorship, but nonetheless the underlying notion is at least vaguely interesting. Rather than take the time to carefully analyze this concept and develop it, however, the Schlaf decides to dive right into producing a statistic to measure censorability.* And this is where the wheels come off the wagon:



To sum up: Schlafly defines the censorability of an entity (which I will refer to as Y for clarity, though Schlafly doesn't use this notation) to be equal to x and indicates that this is depdendent on both the environment in which Y is lodged, E, and the time interval we are examining, (t). So, in other words, the term Ex(t) means, "The censorability of Y in context E and time frame (t)". Clearly, we're talking about some sort of estimator here, and it's an estimator that is geographically, socially, and temporally bounded. He further defines c as the number of of times that entity Y has been censored in E and (t) and o as the number of times that Y has occurred without being censored in E and (t). He then combines all this as follows:

Ex(t) = (c/(c+o))*100%

We can safely ignore the left side of the equation because it just defines what we're looking for. That leaves the right side, which is effectively just a probability. A probability is defined mathematically as the number of occurrences of an event divided by the number of opportunities for the event to occur. So, for example, if a coin is flipped 100 times and 50 times it comes up heads, the probability of a heads is 50/100=0.50. Often probabilities are expressed as percentages, attainable by multiplying the probability by 100%, but while this aids explanation it has fairly undesirable mathematical properties. Returning to Schlafly's equation, he's dividing the number of times Y was censored (c) by the sum of c and the number of times Y was not censored (o). Obviously, the sum of c and o constitutes the full number of occurrences of Y, and thus his equation is simply the probability of censorship multiplied by 100% to make it pretty.

Now, it's clear that this approach doesn't capture anything about the characteristics of entity Y that make it more prone to being censored for the simple reason that characteristics of Y don't appear in the equation. Instead, this approach simply estimates the probability that a particular occurrence of Y would be censored, regardless of cause, given a particular context and time frame. This is roughly equivalent to estimating the likelihood of dying in a given year as being the number of deaths in that year divided by the sum of the number of people who died and the number who did not. That's an estimate, but clearly a poor one as the likelihood of dying if one is an eighty year old cancer patient is somewhat greater than if one is a healthy eleven year old. So, this approach just doesn't make good logical sense.**

More troubling to me, however, is the fact that this approach fails at a pragmatic level. Let's say we want to calculate the value of c, the number of occurrences of entity Y that have been censored: how would we do that? Well, in order to calculate c we have to know that there was an occurrence of Y and that this occurrence was somehow suppressed or omitted. The problem, however, is that if knowledge of the occurrence of Y was suppressed, how would we know that Y had occurred in the first place? We might as well try to calculate the percentage of facts we accept that are actually wrong- since we don't know that they're wrong, how do we find the percentage? So, obviously c is not a simple quantity but is, instead, the result of another estimator. That said, I have a difficult time imagining how to calibrate such an estimator- if we were to use the number of documented instances in which Y was known to have been censored (i.e. failed censorships) then we still have to make some sort of assumption about the distribution from which those censorship events were drawn, and there's no clear way to do that.

Still, predictably oblivious to the gaping logical flaws in his concept, Schlafly nevertheless proceeds to supply censorability scores*** for various things, including the Bible (20%), "Freedom"**** (10%), and classroom prayer (100%). And then, as if to mock me, he lists some factors he thinks should influence censorability. Why these factors didn't make it into his quantification of same I don't know, though I would speculate that actually constructing a decent model would have required too much effort. Finally, he ends by summarizing some ways to reduce censorability, which basically focus on repeating the message over and over and rote learning.

And honestly, I'm just amazed by all this. Does it take special training for Schlafly to be this unbelievably incompetent at social science, or does he just have a truly remarkable gift?


* I should note that some commenters on the talk pages seem to be laboring under the misconception that Schlafly has produced some kind of mathematical model- he has not. What he has produced is basically a statistic for estimating a quantity, and a poor statistic at that. For anyone who reads the talk page, this is why no time function is specified- because the (t) term only indicates that the data used to estimate the value of Ex derive from a specific interval of time.

** Or, to be more accurate, is conceptually half-assed and sloppy.

*** He neglects to indicate from whence his data derive, so I'm assuming these figures were obtained via rectal extraction.

**** Whatever the hell that means, given how nebulous the concept of "freedom" is.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The good fight.

I'm pretty busy today so, in lieu of my usual foolery, please enjoy this article about the Military Religious Freedom Foundation:

In his fight against British imperialism, Mahatma Gandhi described the life cycle of successful civil disobedience: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Mikey Weinstein, the 55-year-old founder of the Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), likes to quote it, knowing full well he's crossed the line into a bloody-knuckle brawl. Over the past year, Weinstein and his organization have recorded a tremendous string of victories in the fight against Christian supremacists inside the armed forces.

In January, the MRFF broke the story on the Pentagon's Jesus Rifles, where rifle scopes used in Afghanistan and Iraq were embossed with New Testament verses. In April, he got the military to rescind its invitation to the Reverend Franklin Graham to speak at May's National Prayer Day because of Islamophobic remarks. Most shockingly, MRFF received its second nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in late October. These high-profile victories have earned him the enmity of the hardcore Christian Right and the mentally unstable. And the crazies are getting crazier. Weinstein and his family are bombarded with hate mail, from the grammatically incorrect and easy to dismiss - "I hope all your kids turn out gay as hell, take it in the ass, and get aids and die!!!!" - to the kind of threats that immediately make you leap out of your chair and double-check that the doors and windows are locked. (MRFF has referred multiple death threats on Mikey, his family, and MRFF employees to the FBI.)


It's a very interesting article, if perhaps slanted a bit too much in the MRFF's favor,* and manages to explain quite succinctly why religious freedom in the military is imperiled, and why it is important:

Case in point: On May 25, the 5th floor of the Dallas County Courthouse was cleared so Mikey's lawyer, Randy Mathis, could take the deposition of Rev. Jim Ammerman while six deputy sheriffs stood guard, rotating in and out of the jury room. In his 30 years of practicing law, Mathis never saw this type of security for a deposition unless the person being deposed was already a prisoner of the state. Spokeswoman Kim Leach for the Dallas County Sheriff's Department confirmed extra security was provided, but could not provide details except to say the judge had requested it because of a "security issue." One possible reason for the extra security is that Ammerman is batshit crazy, a man who holds so many wild and dangerous beliefs he can be seen as the grandfather of the craziest fringes of the Tea Party movement. To be clear, Ammerman, who will turn 85 in late July, is not the threat. It's those who listen to his conspiratorial screeds, according to Mikey and Bonnie.

A former Navy pilot, Green Beret, and Army chaplain who rose to the rank of full colonel, Ammerman is an early purveyor of the One World Government ideology that believes foreign troops are knowingly stationed in U.S. national parks, and that former President Bill Clinton and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are members of the Illuminati - a secret society determined to install a one-world government. As he stated in his deposition, he also believes there are 125 FEMA-built concentration camps inside the United States with more in construction right now.

What's striking about all this is that Ammerman's organization is currently one of the U.S. military's largest ecclesiastical endorsing agencies for chaplains. As President and Director of the Chaplaincy of the Full Gospel Churches, he currently endorses 270 Pentecostal chaplains across all branches of the military. Ammerman's tinfoil-hat beliefs, however, have brought scrutiny before - from the Pentagon, itself. In September 1997, Lt. Gen. Normand G. Lezy of the USAF ordered an investigation of Ammerman and his endorsing organization for using military chaplains "as agents to collect and convey military intelligence information for Mr. Ammerman's political purposes." The two other reasons Lezy gave for opening an investigation were no less inflammatory: Rev. Ammerman's encouragement of groups with "supremacist viewpoints" and his repeated suggestions that a military coup of the United States was imminent.

...

MRFF receives multitudes of thank you's from veterans and service members serving across the globe. One thank you came from a U.S. Navy veteran, a self described "religious Jew," who described extreme religious coercion during hospital stays at the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 2007. "During two hospitalizations, despite my written and verbal instructions to the contrary, the hospital staff was not content to just refuse to contact my rabbi," wrote Akiva David Miller, now the director veterans affairs for MRFF, "they sent a proselytizing Protestant chaplain in to see me - while I was bedridden and wired to a heart monitor - to tell me that Jesus was the Messiah of the Jews too, and that my only hope was salvation through Jesus Christ." Miller and his rabbi protested and the medical center retaliated by discontinuing Miller's care. When they cut of his pain medication, Miller asked his doctor why. His response: "You're a religious Jew. Why don't you try prayer or meditation?" Miller contacted MRFF. Mikey flew out to Des Moines and held a press conference that launched a full investigation that confirmed Miller's discrimination. And with the help of his old boss Ross Perot, Mikey got Miller care at the Dallas V.A. Medical Center.


It's lengthy, but well worth your time.



* Keeping in mind, of course, that I am completely on the MRFF's side but, when the first sentence begins a comparison between a modern figure and Ghandi... yeah, there just might be a slant.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Over their heads.

As a happy way to start my week I thought I would glance at what the wacky trolls over at Conservapedia were up to. And, even given my experience with Conservapedia, I was still surprised to run into this rather bizarre headline:



Or, in plain text:

Atheist hypocrisy, or file under "You-gotta-be-kiddin-me?" So they DO believe in God after all...at least to the point where they think a hairdryer - yes, a hairdryer - can "de-baptize" someone. [emphasis original]


Now, I'll admit, my first reaction here was a bewildered, "...what?" but then I clicked their provided link and was at least somewhat enlightened:

American atheists lined up to be "de-baptized" in a ritual using a hair dryer, according to a report Friday on U.S. late-night news program "Nightline."

Leading atheist Edwin Kagin blasted his fellow non-believers with the hair dryer to symbolically dry up the holy water sprinkled on their heads in days past. The styling tool was emblazoned with a label reading "Reason and Truth."

Kagin believes parents are wrong to baptize their children before they are able to make their own choices, even slamming some religious education as "child abuse." He said the blast of hot air was a way for adults to undo what their parents had done. [emphasis added]


And this makes things somewhat clearer: the hair drying was at least a joke and at most a symbolic way for atheists, agnostics and free thinkers to assert their independence from whatever wacky religious tradition they may have been brought up in. Symbols are important to human beings even when we do not believe they have any particular mystic power (consider the debates over flag burning for example) and wanting some sort of "I'm an atheist now" ritual is hardly that difficult to understand. Indeed, the article itself goes so far as to point out that the whole thing is symbolism. It's not literal magic, but a symbolic gesture, and the atheists involved seem to get that, as does Fox News. And yet, when we check Conservapedia, suddenly it's atheist hypocrisy and evidence that we really do believe in god. Not to mention the scoffing at the notion that a hair dryer could undo what a dude in a dress with a bowl of water had done. Right. This isn't just a humor fail, but a basic reading comprehension fail. And what makes this all the more awesome is that, if you recall, Andrew Schlafly has some rather specific notions about humor. If you take a look at his essay on "Greatest Mysteries of World History"* you find this little entry:



Or, to quote:

Did genuine humor exist prior to Christianity?


As you might guess, this little "mystery" earned quite a bit of discussion on the talk page, which I will reproduce here in part just for your edification:



Or, in simple English:

Perhaps this entry could be clarified: is there a particular form of humor that the author had in mind? There are examples of jokes, riddles, puns, comic figurines/images, anthropoligical notes of humorous conversations, etc. from both pre-Christian times and from post-Christian 'first contacts' with cultures that had had no previous exposure to Christianity.--Brossa 09:37, 8 February 2009 (EST)

Brossa: Can you provide some? --AbnerY 21:51, 8 February 2009 (EST)

I'd like to see Brossa's alleged examples also.--Andy Schlafly 23:49, 8 February 2009 (EST)

How about Greek and Roman comedy? that way predated Christianity. Andy, what kind of claim are you making here? on what basis would you allege that humor does not predate Christianity? it seems pretty far-fetched. I'd like to see some evidence. --DaveClark

You misunderstand what a Greek "comedy" was. It was not a humorous performance as meant by the term today (after the onset of Christianity).--Andy Schlafly 08:32, 9 February 2009 (EST)

Yes. It was. The intention was to make people laugh. Otherwise, what on earth do you mean by "humor"? Also.. news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7536918.stm KimSell 09:02, 9 February 2009 (EST)

Aschlafly is right in saying that the term "comedy" did not mean exactly what it does today, but KimSell is right that the works of playwrights such as Aristophanes certainly included humorous elements such as wordplay, farce and grotesque exaggeration (often surprisingly coarse by our standards). I'd also cite the episode where the children mocked Elisha in 2 Kings 2:23-24 as an example, albeit fairly base, of pre-Christian humor.--CPalmer 09:10, 9 February 2009 (EST)

As a side-note, in the past there have been bitter disputes where people have taken the polar opposite position to Mr Schlafly, ie that all humor is un-Christian. This is touched on in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, which I recommend.--CPalmer 09:21, 9 February 2009 (EST)

The pre-Christian examples don't withstand scrutiny. Mockery or crude comments are not quality humor, and may not be humor at all.--Andy Schlafly 09:23, 9 February 2009 (EST)


I'll leave it to you to follow the remainder of the discussion if you so choose, but I think it clear that Schlafly is arguing precisely what it sounds like he's arguing: pre-Christian peoples did not have humor.** Whether humor existed before Christianity or not, I think we can all agree that the Conservapeons have apparently lost the knack.


* For those who are curious, entries 9, 12, 30 and 32 are f-ing awesome.

** Whatever it is that "humor" means for Schlafly, and he's not telling.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

A rather drastic approach to staffing issues.

Over the years I've sometimes attempted to dilute my responsibility for this blog by adding co-bloggers. Indeed, you can see a list of some of those who have been added- and who retain publishing privileges- at the top of the page:



This effort has met with poor success as, despite all my efforts, I write the majority of posts and have done so for years. I do not blame my co-bloggers, who after all have better things to do with their time, and there have been periods when they have labored mightily on the blog's behalf, but it is nevertheless the case that I have largely been carrying this electronic bitch around all by myself. I have often wondered if there might be some way to recruit a co-blogger who would stick with it, who would relieve me of responsibility for this thing on a more or less consistent basis, and have never managed to quite come up with a viable option. Until now, that is. Some of you may recall that recently, on my sixth blogiversary, I mentioned that there would be a surprise or two in store for you, my gentle readers, in the coming year. And this is so, because I am announcing today that in the near future we will be joined by a new personality here at Total Drek! Specifically, we will be joined by a personality that I feel confident will be able to carry on in the grand half-assed traditions of this blog and, with a little luck, perhaps even improve upon them. Who is this person, you ask? Who is joining us at Total Drek? Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to introduce:

My daughter.



Yep, I'm pleased to announce that my wife and I are expecting our first child, Jezebel Lillith the Uninteresting. Now, you might wonder how it is that I can know that little Jezlil will be able to make a valuable contribution to the blog. And in answer, I ask you to take a closer look at that picture of her. Her body is on the left, her head is on the right, and if you look carefully you can see her little arm and hand. It's not quite there, but you can already see her trying to make a facepalm. Here, I'll help you out:



See? It's as though she already knows about Conservapedia! And if she can sense the stoopid even from the womb, I think we can all agree that she may well become the mightiest blogger ever. Or, you know, a really fun little girl.

Either way, though, the next few years promise to be pretty awesome.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 23, Part 2

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that's more or less the theological equivalent of "Blood on the Highway," only without the useful moral. Last time we enjoyed a clutch of youtube videos demonstrating, albeit poorly, what the rapture might be like. And the time before that I called a vote over the future of my book report series, a vote that we will discuss at the end of this post. The time before that, however, Buck complained like crazy and Rayford and Chloe decided to join the spiritual special forces. What happens this week? Not much- just a lot of jaw-wagging between Bruce and Buck.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to Mister Troll for giving the authors their due:

What struck me most about this episode was that the authors used the word "effect" correctly. I don't know what that struck me, but it did.


The thing about that observation is that it really emphasizes how much of a failure this book really is. On one level, it's a failure because we're all surprised when they use a word properly. And on another level it's a failure because it's so damn dull that we're more interested in critiquing their grammar than in reading their story. It's a bit like the literary equivalent of Showgirls, a movie that's so terrible that heterosexual male viewers find themselves contemplating the set design even when there are topless women on screen. Nice work, Mister Troll, and hang in there everyone! We're coming down to the wire.

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.


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Dramatis Personae

In an order determined by your mom...

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. Fast runner. Hot for Chloe.

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. Possibly hot for Buck. Christian.

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. Press secretary for Nicolae Carpathia.

Nicolae Carpathia: Businessman. Romanian Senator. Romanian President. Secretary-General of the United Nations. 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. President of Botswana. Botswanan national.

Eric Miller: Reporter. Rival of Buck's. Able to climb stairs really fast, but not as fast a runner as Buck. Kinda a douche. Died Murdered by falling being pushed off of the Staten Island ferry. A strong swimmer.

Gerald Fitzhugh: President of the United States. Talks like a moron.

Stanton Bailey: Publisher of the Global Weekly.

Carolyn Miller: Wife of Eric Miller.

Alex Phonecompany: Friend of Buck's. Works at the phone company.

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Page 421- Line 12-15:
Two hours after the Steeles had left, Buck Williams parked his rental car in front of New Hope Village Church in Mount Prospect, Illinois. He had a sense of destiny tinged with fear.


I hate to say it, but that may be the single most competent setting of the scene in the entire book. I mean, we know where he is, how he feels, and where this event falls into the book's chronology. And yet, even with all those advantages, it still sucks. It makes Buck sound like a melodramatic loser, which, I suppose, is fitting since that's what he is.


Page 421- Line 15-17:
Who would this Bruce Barnes be? What would he look like? And would he be able to detect a non-Christian at a glance?


Okay, so, let's answer these in order: (1) Bruce Barnes, silly! (2) No idea, but if you find out, would you please tell the readers? (3) I'm betting, "no," since Buck is presently unhappy, thereby eliminating the main difference between Left Behind's Christians and the rest of us heathens.


Page 421- Line 18:
Buck sat in the car, his head in his hands.


Yeah, Left Behind will do that to you, although I usually find a facepalm to feel more natural. Anyway, Buck starts worrying about how he feels out of control and for the first time in years his life is effectively "unplanned".


Page 422- Line 1-3:
He had always liked the serendipity of life, but he processed it through a grid of logic, attacked it from a perspective of order.


Once more: "Thinking bad! Fire bad! Rarrrrr!" Seriously, I think I missed an opportunity when I didn't introduce a drinking game to go along with this book- every time the authors denigrate thinking or education you do a shot. By chapter 15 we would have been suffering from alcohol poisoning, guaranteed.


Page 422- Line 9-10:
But nothing had prepared him for the disappearances or for the violent deaths of his friends.


Wait... Buck has had friends? What the hell? When did that happen? Are the authors referring to Alan Tompkins and... uh... what's his name? Dick? Dirk? Yeah, Dirk. Do they mean Alan and Dirk, who Buck hasn't thought about in chapters and chapters, even though he's been obsessing over banging Chloe? Oh, whatever. Consistency went out the window a loooong time ago. Anyway, Buck finally gets the stones to get out of the car, which is kind of a triumph for him. The seat in a mode of conveyance is, like, his happy place, you know?


Page 422- Line 25-28:
It had been a long time since Buck had been in a church. This one seemed innocuous enough, fairly new and modern, neat and efficient. He and the young pastor met in a modest office.


As I said before a loooong time ago: To them we ascribe every virtue. The church is "modern, neat and efficient" and the office is "modest." Of course. What else would it be?


Page 422-423- Line 422: 29-30, 423: 1-6:
"Your friends, the Steeles, told me you might call," Barnes said.

Buck was struck by his honesty. In the world in which Buck moved, he might have kept that information to himself, that edge. But he realized that the pastor had no interest in an edge. There was nothing to hide here. In essence, Buck was looking for information and Bruce was interested in providing it.


Ho-kay. Apparently in the "world in which Buck moved" small talk and polite chit-chat are unheard of. Right. And is Buck, an f-ing reporter, really this unused to dealing with a source? Well, nobody ever said he was a good reporter. Except maybe the authors, but they hardly count.


Page 423- Line 7-15:
"I want to tell you right off," Bruce said, "that I am aware of your work and respect your talent. But to be frank, I no longer have time for the pleasantries and small talk that used to characterize my work. We live in perilous times. I have a message and an answer for people genuinely seeking. I tell everyone in advance that I have quit apologizing for what I'm going to say. If that's a ground rule you can live with, I have all the time you need."


Well, fuck you very much, too, Bruce! Basically, this just means that Bruce has been studying at the Rayford Steele school of gentle persuasion. Or vice versa. Either way, the authors are making it clear that they don't give a tinker's damn about all of our bellyaching. Awesome. I'm forced to wonder if by book four we'll get a rousing depiction of "Waterboarding for Christ".


Page 423- Line 25-28:
"Not that long ago I [Buck] would never have set foot in a place like this or dreamed anything intellectually worthwhile could come out of here.


Other than observing that Buck's interest in Bruce is far from intellectual, I think I'll limit myself to noting that so far nothing intellectual has come out of this book so, hey, prediction validated. Anyway, Bruce tells Buck his life story, emphasizing how much of a fuckup he was. Buck, of course, is hanging on every word because he's stupid. And, once again, we're reminded that the authors view this boring recitation as an effective strategy. Then again, god only commands them to preach, not to be good at it, so hell, mission accomplished.


Page 424-425- Line 424: 29-30- 425: 1-2:
"Nobody can force you or badger you into this, Mr. Williams, but I must also say again that we live in perilous times. We don't know how much pondering time we have."


"Woah! Woah! Hey now! I ain't makin' no threats, you understand. I'm just sayin' that you got a real nice soul here and, you know, it'd be a shame if sumthin was ta' HAPPEN to it, you know? That'd be a real shame. Now, if you was to pay me and my boys to, I dunno, keep an eye on it... well... I'm sure everythin would be fine." You have to love that he says, "Nobody can threaten you into this" and then he proceeds to try to threaten Buck into this. This is an important point because, as depicted in Left Behind, it's fairly clear that this brand of Christianity has nothing else going for it. There's no discussion of how much better anyone's life is after converting, nor a discussion of the actual teachings of Jesus, just constant monotonous threats about hellfire and damnation. One might as well sum up this type of faith by saying, "The beatings will continue until piety improves." And outside of Rayford, Buck, Chloe, and the like, that sounds like a pretty shitty deal.


Page 425- Line 3-4:
"You [Bruce] sound like Chloe Steele."

"And she sounds like her father," Bruce said, smiling.


Believe me when I tell you that my reaction to discovering that anyone sounds like Rayford Steele would not be to smile. Not even close. Anyway, Bruce and Buck talk about- I swear to god- whether or not they're going to keep talking, and then we get to the most unintentionally hilarious exchange of the chapter.


Page 425- Line 25-27:
"But I [Bruce] have enough energy to go to midnight if you do."

"I'm all yours." [Buck replied]


Yeah, yeah, tell it to Ted Haggard, you two.


Page 425- Line 28=29:
Bruce spent the next several hours giving Buck a crash course in prophecy and the end times.


Sadly, I'm pretty sure that's not a euphemism for anything. Although, to be frank, I think from here on in I might start referring to it that way. You know, as in, "Wow, I'm really tired this morning. I was up for hours last night giving the wife a crash course in prophecy and the end times, if you know what I mean."


Page 426- Line 2-6:
But when Bruce got to the parts about the great one-world religion that would spring up, the lying, so-called peacemaker who would bring bloodshed through war, the Antichrist who would divide the world into ten kingdoms, Buck's blood ran cold.


I can only assume this bit is for the particularly slow members of the audience who hadn't put all this together themselves. But, hey, a continuation of Left Behind's grand tradition of telling us shit we already know. Anyway, Buck acts amazed that all this is in the bible (it's not, actually), and then we discover something significant about Bruce.


Page 426-427- Line 426: 27-30- 427: 1-4:
Buck told him what had happened at the U.N. Bruce paled. "That's why we've been hearing all those clicking sounds on my answering machine," Bruce said. "I turned the ringer off on the phone, so the only way you can tell when a call comes in is by the clicking on the answering machine. People are calling to let me know. They do that a lot."


Okay, now just for a moment, let's forget the implication that biblical prophecy is fulfilled all the time.* Likewise, forget that we have literally just read a description of the mechanics of an f-ing answering machine. Instead, notice that Bruce Barnes- a man who believes he was left behind in part because he was shirking his duties as a visitation pastor- is not only screening calls from his congregation, he's actually turned his ringer off so he doesn't even have to be bothered by the sound of the phone. This man is a failure of almost Rayfordian proportions. Anyway, they talk about whether Carpathia is the antichrist and Buck then argues that he really believed in the guy. But Bruce has an answer for that...


Page 427- Line 9-11:
"Why not? Most of us did. Self-effacing, interested in the welfare of the people, humble, not looking for power or leadership."


My original comment here reads, "Sounds like Jesus to me," but upon reflection I think that's incorrect. Jesus claimed to be the son of god and rightful ruler of mankind so, really, the label "humble" is at least somewhat debatable. Anyway, Buck tells Bruce about the big meeting he's been invited to and Bruce urges him not to go because the antichrist has to solidify his authority with a show of strength. Buck claims that he already has, and then things get weird.


Page 427- Line 23-25:
"Yes, but it appears that all these long-range agreements he has been conceded will take months or years to effect. Now he has to show some potency."


"Show some potency"? Are we in a bloody cialis** commercial all of a sudden? And what about that months or years crap? Hmmm, let's see, he only has to craft a one-world religion, move the U.N. to Babylon, and take over all military force on the planet. Decades would be a short timescale for an operation like that. But the authors have never let facts stand in the way of a good truly awful story before, so why start worrying now? Regardless, Bruce now starts applying the hard sell.


Page 428- Line 8-9:
"But if Carpathia is the Antichrist, do you [Buck] want to face him without God?"


Act now and he'll throw in both oven mitts AND the Showtime Rotisserie Oven absolutely FREE!


Page 428- Line 16-19:
"Mr. Williams, you have to do what you have to do, but I'm pleading with you. If you go into that meeting without God in your life, you will be in mortal and spiritual danger."


With all due respect to Bruce, it's evident from his own theology that god is going to be indiscriminately killing the hell out of all mankind for the next seven years, so I don't think that casting a magic spell is going to protect Buck physically. I won't comment on that spiritual business since I don't believe in a soul but, hell, whatever.


Page 428- Line 20-23:
He told Buck about his conversation with the Steeles and how they had collectively come up with the idea of a Tribulation Force. "It's a band of serious-minded people who will boldly oppose the Antichrist."


Yeah, call me crazy, but I seriously doubt that anything that Rayford is involved in could fairly be described as "bold." And as long as we're on the subject, isn't opposing the antichrist- boldly or not- rather stupid since you can't actually succeed? It's like King Canute commanding the tides.


Page 428- Line 26-28:
The Tribulation Force stirred something deep within Buck. It took him back to his earliest days as a writer, when he believed he had the power to change the world.


And this demonstrates that Buck hasn't actually been listening to Bruce for the past several hours. The whole point of the authors' theology, which Bruce shares, is that nothing we do matters EVER. We can't change the ultimate fate of the world, we can't even change the sequence of events that leads up to that fate. All we can do is basically fuck around on the fringes while everything goes down according to a master plan that we don't control. As I said before, it's like we're on a roller coaster and our only choice is whether we laugh or cry at all the twists and turns. And if that sounds noble or majestic to you, we honestly have nothing in common. Anyway, Buck and Bruce chat a bit more and then Bruce gives Buck a bible and sends him on his way. Sadly, though, we have just a bit more left in this chapter.


Page 430- Line 1-5:
The next day the core group enthusiastically and emotionally welcomed its newest member, Chloe Steele. They spent much of the day studying the news and trying to determine the likelihood of Nicolae Carpathia's being the Antichrist. No one could argue otherwise.


I'm guessing that "no one could argue otherwise" because pretty much everyone in this book is godawful stupid. And it's good to see that the selection process for the "core group" is either entirely random or nepotistic given Chloe's sudden elevation.


Page 430- Line 6-9:
Bruce told the story of Buck Williams, without using his name or mentioning his connection with Rayford and Chloe. Chloe cried silently as the group prayed for his safety and for his soul.


If that's "boldly opposing the antichrist," I rather doubt the antichrist has much of anything to worry about. Seriously, that shit isn't even boldy opposing a PTA meeting.

But, effective or not, it is the end of the chapter. Come back next time when we have a couple of phone conversations and Buck basically makes an ass of himself. Oh, and be sure to bring coffee, because the next chapter is really lacking the sort of action and adventure that made the last two chapters so exciting. And I am absolutely, positively not kidding there. It really is an agony of boredom.

How could you not come, eh?

Before we end, however, we should discuss the outcome of the vote over the future of this feature. A total of seven people voted and, keeping in mind that some people phrased their votes in rather ambiguous ways, the tally is as follows:

More Left Behind: 3
New book: 4

Based on that system, a new book wins. That said, this treats all votes as equal, which doesn't seem completely fair since some folks have been contributing more to the series by leaving comments and whatnot, so we're going to weight the votes. This may seem unfair, but I like to think that we here at Total Drek put the "crazy" in "democrazy."*** The weights work as follows:

-Scripto and Mister Troll both get two votes based on their dedication to leaving comments on this crap.
-socygirl gets two votes because, let's face it, she's calling in a chit here.
-Jonas gets two votes because he actually volunteered to get me the next book.

So, recalculating the votes we get:

More Left Behind: 6
New book: 5

And so, depending on how we look at it, opinion is fairly evenly divided either with a slight lean towards more Left Behind or a slight lean away from more Left Behind. Of course, the most important vote- the one to be cast by my wife- hasn't yet been turned in, although she and I have been discussing the progress of the voting. Her last statement to me on the subject is that she was considering drafting a letter to all of y'all, which promises to be entertaining, and that she was considering possible compromise positions. So, basically, we may be able to work something out, but no promises as of yet.

So, stay tuned: more news as it comes available, I guess!


* In truth, I rather expect that it is, but more because it's so vague and subject to interpretation that apparently fitting events occur with great frequency.

** Just picture Bruce and Buck holding hands in side-by-side bathtubs on a mountain side, with a voiceover saying: "When the time is right, when you want to show some potency, Cialis will be ready."

*** Which is, I think, a more apt spelling.

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