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.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Spin

Recently, my observation of Conservapedia has been more pointed than usual because I've been waiting for something. Specifically, I've been waiting for them to notice a recent newspaper article that paints atheists in a rather poor light. And, indeed, I was not disappointed as the demented trolls on that website have, as always, delivered:



For those of you who don't want to expand the pic, I'm drawing your attention to a shitty graphic of the grim reaper with the following text beneath:

Atheist doctors are more likely to hasten death. Hello, I am your atheist doctor. Take two cyanide pills and call me in the morning.


And you might well respond by asking, "What?" Such would be a reasonable reaction, especially if you follow the link for Atheist doctor, thereby ending up with this:



Which includes this fictional* exchange:

Atheist doctor: I think it is time we ended your life now.

Patient: Doctor, I have no health insurance. If I die now, I will never be able to pay you back.

Atheist doctor: Well, upon further deliberation, I think you should fight this condition with every fibre of your being. And if I were you, I would also call my friends and family and ask if they would loan me some money.


And, indeed, we might ask about this degree of whatthefuckery yet again, only then noticing that at the bottom this "essay" is categorized under both "humor" and "satire". I'm fairly sure it actually contains neither, but if there's one thing we've all learned from Left Behind it's that uber-Christians do not necessarily grasp the concept of humor. But I digress... the question is, what the hell are these morons referring to?

Well, they're actually reacting, albeit nonsensically, to a recent article in the Guardian that claims that Atheist doctors are more likely to hasten death. No, really, that's the headline: "Atheist doctors 'more likely to hasten death'". Well that sounds pretty crappy, doesn't it? Yeah, well, the devil is, as always, in the details, and in this case one only has to read the subheading in order to catch their first glimpse of old scratch:



For those of you playing the home game, it reads:

Study finds medics' faith affects care of terminally ill, as hospital clinicians admit 'ethically controversial' decisions


And that's an interesting detail indeed for two reasons. First, it isn't just any patients who may find their deaths hastened, but specifically terminally ill patients. So, in other words, folks who were going to die anyway and quite possibly in horribly painful ways. Many of you can probably guess where this is going. Regardless, however Conservapedia- or even the main headline- might be spinning it, we're not talking about atheist doctors treating a broken leg by taking the patient out back and shooting them in the head.** Second, now the story has shifted somewhat to "ethically controversial" decisions, which is interesting because some people think that blood transfusions are ethically controversial.

In any case, as it turns out the article is based on a survey of more than 8,500 doctors, of whom less than 4,000 participated,*** examining the factors that may lead to different treatment outcomes for terminally ill patients. One of the findings from this study, as the headline suggests, is that religion, or lack thereof, matters:

...doctors who described themselves as "extremely" or "very non-religious" were almost twice as likely to report having taken these kinds of decisions [an ethically controversial decision expected or partly intended to end life] as those with a religious belief.


And all that sounds a bit scary and explains why the headline is screaming that atheist doctors will kill you. The thing is, the story itself contains some other little details that should be mentioned:



Detail one is contained in the third to last paragraph:

The chances of a doctor making an ethically controversial decision expected or partly intended to end life was largely unrelated to the doctor's ethnicity, but was strongly related to his or her specialisation. Specialised doctors in hospitals were almost 10 times as likely to report this than palliative care specialists. [emphasis added]


So, just to sum up: atheists and agnostics are twice as likely to make such decisions as the religious, and the headline screams "Atheist doctors will kill you". On the other hand, specialists in hospitals- regardless of religion- are TEN TIMES more likely to make such decisions as palliative care doctors, and that information is buried at the end of the article. We don't see a headline that reads, "Hospital physicians may hasten death," which would actually capture by far the stronger finding.

Detail two comes in the last paragraph, although I'll concede it's mentioned in passing earlier:

The most religious doctors were significantly less likely than other doctors to have discussed options at the end of life with their patient.


And this is equally interesting to me, because it seems that part of the issue isn't that atheist physicians are wandering around euthanizing patients left and right, but that they differ from their more religious colleagues in giving their patients a choice. The issue isn't that the atheists are going to kill you, but that they at least let you choose how you meet your end when you're terminally ill. And that's a very different kind of situation than we might have been led to believe. Again, the headline might as well have been, "Religious doctors may deny patients' choice" and it would have been equally justified.

Spin is an unavoidable part of modern media but is it too much to ask for just a touch of fairness?****


* You might ask how I know it's a fictional exchange. And to that I would simply respond, are you f-ing kidding me? Did you read that shit?

** Although, if I'm not mistaken, some HMOs do include that on their list of pre-approved treatments.

*** That would be a response rate of no better than about 47%, so we should be aware of the possibility of selection bias here.

**** I have, on occasion, heard religious folks complain that any time a priest of religious person is depicted on television they are almost invariably a serial killer or pedophile. I think this is actually a somewhat fair complaint, but I would also observe that this is probably because the juxtaposition of a generally positively-regarded trait with something negative (i.e. religion with violence) is gripping to the viewer. Or, to put things more simply, "dog bites man" is common, but "man bites dog" is news. Given that the Guardian is a paper based in the UK, where there are a LOT more atheists than there are here, I'm forced to wonder if the same process is at work- atheists are seen as good people, so the notion that they might hasten death seems interesting. I can only hope so, because here in the US that type of spin would only be part of the general "atheists suck" attitude we've cultivated so efficiently.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

I could not be more amused.

I see a lot of news that I realize will play into the evolution vs. crazy nonsensical bullshit "debate," and I'm somewhat immune to shock at this point. Nevertheless, there's just something awesome about seeing mother nature totally give creationists the finger:

Scientists observing a small group of Australian lizards very closely, believe they may be watching evolution happen right before their eyes.

A variety of Australian skink - like snake but with four tiny legs - is slowly starting abandon egg laying and beginning to give birth to live offspring like a mammal does.

Skinks in the mountainous region of New South Wales have almost entirely moved to live birth. But the same species living in the lowlands along the coast are far more likely to lay eggs containing their young.


Yes, you read that correctly: we are, right now, observing a speciation event in which on part of the species remains an egg laying reptile and the other shifts to live births. It is happening, right now. We are watching it, right now.

That is so crazy awesome, I can hardly believe it.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

You should not read this post unless you have a strong stomach.

As you all know by now, you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than Conservapedia,* but that doesn't mean that they aren't occasionally funny. The most recent proof of that humor comes to us courtesy of- believe it or not- the gulf oil spill. Yes, folks: a gigantic ecological catastrophe is, apparently, proof of God's love:



Or, in plain text:

God provides after mankind struck out: "New microbe discovered eating oil spill in Gulf."


Now, for those who are curious, they're referring to this story that describes the discovery of a previously unknown type of microbe that appears to be breaking down the oil in the gulf. Needless to say, I'm pleased as hell that this is happening, though I somehow doubt that it's going to be a magic bullet that instantly reverses all the damage. Yeah, the real world just doesn't work that way. What the article does not do, however, is give the credit to god, presumably both because that would be highly inappropriate for a scientist, and because that opens up all kinds of theological issues. Fortunately, we have Conservapedia to blunder into that one for us, and the discussion on the talk page is absolutely hysterical. I don't want to cover the whole thing, which is mostly dumb, but two selections should suffice to give you the flavor. Let's start with the genesis** of the discussion:



Or in plain text:

How can someone NOT see the hand of Divine Providence in this? How can such things be dismissed as "coincidence?" --Benp 11:57, 25 August 2010 (EDT)

Liberals will doubtless give their stock answer, "evolution did it," conveniently ignoring the powerful counterexample to evolution that this new microbe provides. DavidE 13:58, 25 August 2010 (EDT)

I suppose it makes up for what he did to Pakistan MickeyD 15:24, 25 August 2010 (EDT)

Your consistency argument is superficial and does not withstand scrutiny. Flooding is disorder, while the oil-eating bugs are highly ordered. The two examples are not similar, but opposite. Disorder is the absence of order, not similar to it.--Andy Schlafly 16:51, 25 August 2010 (EDT) [user signatures underlined for clarity]


Okay, I'll be honest, I included this partially because it just made me laugh. First, you have to love MickeyD for pointing out that god appears to be remarkably inconsistent in his actions and perhaps it's unwise to chalk up all good natural events to god and the rest as... you know... natural disasters.*** But then, hilariously, Schlafly attempts to respond by making some sort of weird "flooding is disorder, microbes are order" argument. Now, I know why he's doing this- it's because he's obsessed both by the notion that god is somehow perfectly ordered and by the weird intelligent design notion that life equals order- but it comes across as a non sequitur. Never mind, however, that what MickeyD actually means isn't that flooding and microbial action are similar (whatever the hell that means) but that attributing one to god opens the way to attribute the other. But, really, I suppose we have to award points to Schlafly here since, really, if there's one thing he definitely believes, it's that god would never, ever flood something. Way too much disorder for Jehovah.

Believe it or not, though, it gets funnier:



Or, in regular text:

"I suppose it makes up for what he did to Pakistan".

Interesting that you take the same illogical tact as most liberals and atheists, MickeyD. Instead of looking at it that way, would it take any extra effort on your part to ask what is the more pertinent question, "What has man (or the Pakistanis) not done to prevent such wide-spread devastation"? Imagine what the damage would have been like if instead of wasting billions of dollars on nuclear weapons and maintaining them, and giving millions to the Taliban and terrorists, they had invested in their own people, invested in flood control projects!

God gave man free will. Put the blame where it belongs. --ṬK/Admin/Talk 17:34, 25 August 2010 (EDT)

I want to thank Lucy for her insight above: arguments that presume the motive or methods of an infinitely greater intellect (God) -- rather than simply observing the designer's results -- are logically suspect. I don't know how Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa, but I can marvel at its intelligent design.--Andy Schlafly 17:45, 25 August 2010 (EDT) [bolding original, underlining added to user signatures for clarity]


Oh, where to start? We have TK basically blaming the Pakistanis for a flood. Let me say that again: he's blaming the victims of a natural disaster for the natural disaster. Now, you might say that he's not so much saying that they caused the disaster, as that their suffering is their own fault since they didn't prepare for it. I suppose you could advance that argument, but by the same token if I go out and shoot someone in the chest, can I then blame them for their pain since they didn't bother to wear a bullet proof vest? I'm guessing no. And then we have Schlafly, who suggests that we can't know the motives or methods of god, but can marvel at how well he designed everything. Okay, let's go down that road:

This is the Guinea Worm:



It's a parasitic worm that lives underneath the skin, can grow to a substantial length, and has to be removed by gradually winding it around a sick. I'm told the process is excruciatingly painful. Then there's Ascaris Lumbricoides:



Which may infect up to 25% of the human population and can cause malnutrition and death, among other things. And, if you're interested in non-human welfare, how about Cymothoa Exigua:



This helpful little guy eats the host fish's tongue and replaces it with himself, thereafter deriving nutrition either from the food the fish eats, or directly from the fish's blood.

I could go on, but there's no real need. It's theologically dangerous to invoke the argument Schlafly does for the simple reason that if all life on Earth is intelligently designed, then a rather horrific proportion of that life is little more than terrifyingly ingenious engines of pain and misery. Sure, we can set aside our notions of god's motives and methods, but Schlafly's own beloved bible**** states in Matthew 7:16 "Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?"

Maybe we can't know the motives of Schlafly's god but, if his alleged works are any indication, we're in deep trouble.


* I don't care what that Ben Kenobi says! He's just a crazy old wizard, anyway.

** You bet your ass the pun was intended.

*** Ironically, the insurance industry refers to these negative happenings as "acts of god." Make of that what you will, but I'm pretty sure insurance companies are NOT run exclusively by atheists. And if they are, why the hell aren't I getting better rates?

**** Actually, his most beloved bible is probably his own absurd Conservative Bible. If we check Matthew Chapter 7 in it, however, the verse is pretty similar: "You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles?"

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Left Behind: The Index

Looking for every episode of Drek's mildly interesting series on Left Behind? Then you've come to the right place! Below, find links to every episode, organized chronologically, as well as by chapter and page number. Enjoy!

Oh, and scripto? Dude, e-mail me your address so I can send you your book. You've earned it, man.


Left Behind

The Challenge

Prelude

Chapter 1:
Part 1- Pages 1-10
Part 2- Pages 10-19

Chapter 2:
Part 1- Pages 21-31
Part 2- Pages 32-37

Chapter 3:
Part 1- Pages 41-50
Part 2- Pages 50-58

Chapter 4:
Part 1- Pages 59-68
Part 2- Pages 68-76

Chapter 5:
Part 1- Pages 77-87
Part 2- Pages 87-96

Chapter 6:
Part 1- Pages 97-104
Part 2- Pages 106-114

Chapter 7:
Part 1- Pages 115-125
Part 2- Pages 126-133

Chapter 8:
Part 1- Pages 135-140
Part 2- Pages 142-149

Intermissions:
Thanksgiving Intermission

Chapter 9:
Part 1- Pages 151-158
Part 2- Pages 159-169

Chapter 10:
Part 1- Pages 171-178
Part 2- Pages 179-186

Chapter 11:
Part 1- Pages 187-195
Part 2- Pages 195-203

Chapter 12:
Part 1- Pages 205-215
Part 2- Pages 215-225

Chapter 13:
Part 1- Pages 227-237
Part 2- Pages 238-247

Chapter 14:
Part 1- Pages 249-255
Part 2- Pages 256-261

Chapter 15:
Part 1- Pages 263-269
Part 2- Pages 268-281

Intermissions:
Another Intermission

Chapter 16:
Part 1- Pages 283-292
Part 2- Pages 292-300

Chapter 17:
Part 1- Pages 301-311
part 2- Pages 312-320

Chapter 18:
Part 1- Pages 321-331
Part 2- Pages 332-341

Chapter 19:
Part 1- Pages 343-351
Part 2- Pages 352-357

Chapter 20:
Part 1- Pages 361-368
Part 2- Pages 369-377

Chapter 21:
Part 1- Pages 379-385
Part 2- Pages 386-391

Chapter 22:
Part 1- Pages 393-400
Part 2- Pages 401-408

Intermissions:
Another Intermission
The Future!
Helpful Visual Aids

Chapter 23:
Part 1- Pages 411-420
Part 2- Pages 421-430

Chapter 24:
Part 1- Pages 431-438
Part 2- Pages 438-448

Chapter 25:
Part 1- Pages 449-458
Part 2- Pages 459-468

Epilogue

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Oh, hell YES!

Great googa-mooga! This series is actually going to happen!



It's like Jericho meets awesome!

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Half full, half empty.

Some of you may have heard about the recent Rasmussen report regarding vaccines. No, this is not a report from a scientific organization indicating that vaccines are or are not unsafe. Rather, this is a report from a polling firm about how Americans feel about vaccines, and such feelings have nothing to do with the actual safety or efficacy of the treatment.* It does, however, speak to the likelihood that people will adopt vaccines and, by extension, the safety of herd immunity. So what's the story? Well, the punch line I've seen getting press so far, is the bad news:

Vaccinations are common requirements for children all over the country in order to attend public school and college. However, half of American adults (52%) say they are concerned about the safety of vaccinations for children, including 27% who are Very Concerned.

...

Nearly one-out-of-three adults with children under 18 (32%) is Very Concerned about vaccine safety.


Yowsa! At first glance, this looks like a Big Deal. Over half of American adults are concerned about vaccine safety and about a third who have minor children are Very Concerned. Clearly, this shows a dramatic loss of faith in the vaccination program. Obviously, the sky is about to fall, civilization is going to collapse, dogs and cats will be living together- mass hysteria! Yeah, not so much and, as a sociologist, I'm not surprised. You see, there's a bit of a difference between questions about attitudes and questions about behaviors:

Still, 92% of those with children under 18 say their child has received all the vaccinations he or she is supposed to have.

...

While they are concerned about the safety of the vaccines themselves, adults are more worried about the consequences of not vaccinating children. Seventy-six percent (76%) say they are concerned that unvaccinated children will cause health problems for other children.


So, things aren't as bad as they might seem at first. Sure, people are asking questions about vaccines- due in no small part to the sort of crazy nonsense that is polluting bookshelves lately- but the fact is that most people still trust vaccines more than the nonsense, and most people are still getting them. That's good news. Obviously, effort needs to be made to reassure parents and the public in general that they're doing the right thing by sticking with vaccines but, by and large, this report is more good news than bad.


* Wisdom of the crowds devotes might respond that if a lot of people question vaccines then it's likely that vaccines should be questioned. Sadly, Heiko Rauhut is doing some interesting work that suggests that crowds are only "wise" under a limited subset of conditions, and are utter morons otherwise.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

I guess Snoop Dogg lost a bet?

During my recent visit to the ASA Annual Meetings, someone was "nice" enough to show me this... thing:



I honestly have no idea what to say about that. The best I can do is that I think it likely that Katy Perry is hoaxing music videos in a manner reminiscent of the legendary Sokal affair. Any day now she will issue a press release chiding the music industry as well as the public for being taken in by such a bizarre and transparently awful simulacrum of a song.*

Please?



* Yeah, actually, they made that movie already. It starred Rachel Leigh Cook and was actually pretty good.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Hard to know if I should be excited or not.

One the one hand, I loved (Hell, "love"!) the original game. On the other hand, it's hard to get excited when the company uses voice acting that would make "sub-par" sound like an improvement:




I mean, damn.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Left Behind: Epilogue

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that finally ended. Last time Buck "escaped" the antichrist and went back to Chicago to join the Tribulation Force. Also the book came to a shambling, impotent conclusion. What happens this week? An accounting of what we've learned, a tabulation of the comment of the week awards, and a final presentation of the dramatis personae (not in that order). And with that, let's begin! As usual you can navigate the whole series with the provided tag.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to scripto for his concluding remarks:

A-fucking-men. Let me know next week if God wins.


An interesting thought, but it doesn't matter if god wins because everyone in this book is a loser. Thanks for the great concluding remark, scripto! As for the rest of you, if you want to win again, you'll have to wait for the next edition in Drek's Book Club.

Now that we've added the final comment of the week, where does the score stand? Well, the breakdown, including the handful of ties, is as follows:

Scripto: 25
Ken Houghton: 13
JLT: 5
Mister Troll: 3
Jay: 2
Warbler: 1
Rybear: 1
FHR: 1
Anonymous Spambot: 1

And so, by quite a margin, Scripto comes out in the lead with the most comments of the week! Congratulations, Scripto! You're either really dedicated, or as much of a loser as I am- take your pick! In honor of your victory, you've earned the right to my annotated copy of Left Behind or another prize (within reason) of your choosing. Likewise, Ken, for your second place you get a post on a topic of your request, or a guest slot on Total Drek. Just let me know, you guys! And for everyone else who tried, thank you very much. All the comments, even the ones that didn't win in a week, really helped to keep me going during this excruciating process.

At this point, we should take a final look at the dramatis personae, the inventory of "characters" that we've racked up over the course of the book:

----------

Dramatis Personae

In an order determined by when they appeared and/or when I noticed them...

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. Christian.

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. Personal assistant to Nicolae Carpathia.

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. Murderer.

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." Killed by Nicolae Carpathia.

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

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.

Scott M. Otterness: Random U.N. guard. Carries a .38 police special loaded with hollow-point rounds. Kinda feeble minded.

Billy Cenni: Allegedly a Detective Seargeant in the NYPD. Possibly an undercover agent for the antichrist. Or... somebody.

----------

If you were counting, that's a total of 31 named characters in the first book alone. Given that Left Behind is 468 pages long, that's a new character every 15 pages or so, and that mean doesn't even begin to capture the fact that two of those characters appear for the first time in the final chapter. Granted, the authors clearly intended this book to be the first of a series and so may have been setting the stage but, just as clearly, they don't have the discipline to wait for opportune times to introduce characters. It's also worth noting that six of the characters above- that's just shy of 1 in 5- didn't survive the book. And that's amazing because, with all that bloodshed, you'd think there'd be some shred of suspense or even action to be found but, alas, not so much. Odds are, that's because pretty much all of the characters who died were very peripheral and, as often as not, died immediately after being introduced. Whatever purpose such a "literary" choice might have served, the authors' decision did dilute the impact of all those fatalities rather a bit.

Now, I've been referring to our mysterious authors for some time, but who are they exactly? Well, now that we're at the end, allow me to enlighten you with the aid of the "About the Authors" section...

Page 469- Line Booger:

Our first author is Jerry B. Jenkins, who insists on placing a link to his website right there in the text. He also mentions that he's the former vice president for publishing at the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. And then we have this...


Page 469- Line 5-7:
His writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including Reader's Digest, Parade, in-flight magazines, and many Christian periodicals. [emphasis original]


Yikes. In-flight magazines? Because those are typically fascinating. Then again, maybe that's how Left Behind managed to simulate the trapped-on-a-plane boredom so effectively? Anyway, he wanders on for a bit talking about how he's written all these other books in the Left Behind series. And then he lets this drop:


Page 469- Line 19-21:
Left Behind was nominated for Novel of the Year by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association in both 1997 and 1998. [emphasis original]


And I find this interesting for two reasons: (1) there are few enough Evangelical Christian novels published in a year that something as awful as Left Behind could be nominated for "best novel" twice in a row and, (2) even with that relative lack of competition, it still didn't win. I like to think that means that even the other evangelicals- perhaps especially the other evangelicals- privately know it sucks, even if they won't say it in public. Anyway, after a bit more rambling, Jenkins decides to wrap up in a classy way:


Page 469- Line 30-31:
Speaking engagement bookings available through speaking@jerryjenkins.com.


And that's interesting because it mind-bogglingly implies that he considers Left Behind to comprise a good advertisement for his services as a speaker. Right. Sure.


Page 470- Line 1-3:
Dr. Tim LaHaye is a noted author, minister, counselor, television commentator, and nationally recognized speaker on family life and Bible prophecy. [emphasis original]


Ah. Right, so, the theological nightmare that was this book is his fault then. Good to know.


Page 470- Line 9-11:
Dr. LaHaye is a graduate of Bob Jones University and holds M.A. and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Western Conservative Theological Seminary.


Good to see he's been educated in a philosophically diverse environment.


Page 470- Line 11-16:
For twenty-five years he pastored one of the nation's outstanding churches in San Diego, which grew to three locations. It was during that time he founded two accredited Christian high schools, a Christian school system of ten schools, and Christian Heritage College.


Which is all somewhat ironic to me in that he sure loves the word "Christian," despite the fact that it is manifestly apparent that he has no idea what it means. Anyway, he goes on about the books he's written and some family details I won't reproduce, and then we're into the last few pages which are all used to try to sell more Left Behind merchandise. This merchandise includes- I shit thee not- a video titled "Have You Been Left Behind?" which is described as, "Based on the video that New Hope Village Church's pastor Rev. Billings created for those left behind after the Rapture. This video explains what happened and what the viewer can do now." It's a book, it's a multimedia experience, it's a money-making extravaganza! And that, ladies and gentlemen, brings us to the back cover of Left Behind. There is, really and truly, no more book to be read.

Now, this has been a loooong trip and at this point I have studied this book in great, excessive details. As such, I think that I have learned a few lessons, and I'd like to share these lessons with you now as a sort of wrap-up.

Lesson One: The focal figure in the authors' religion seems to be the anti-christ, or the devil

This may sound harsh at first, but I want you to stick with me for a moment. Consider, for example, the dramatis persona. Over the course of the book we are never given a description of Buck, or Rayford, or Chloe, or Bruce, or pretty much any of the other key characters. We do learn that a character is left handed, but only in passing as a way to cast suspicion on his death. The thing is, there are two characters about whom we do have good descriptions: Hattie and Nicolae Carpathia. In Hattie's case I'm prepared to chalk the comparative extensiveness of the description to simple wish-fulfillment: maybe one or both of the authors wish they'd had a chance with someone like Hattie when they were single. I don't really know that, however, and won't speculate further on the matter. In the case of Carpathia, however, we know a LOT. We know who he resembles, how he speaks, how he dresses, how he moves, what kind of jewelry he wears, and so forth. More than anyone else, he is the focus of this book. And that's really significant, because of who is not the focus, and by that I mean Jesus.

I mean, think about it for a second: the authors are extravagant in their use of "Christian," the book is "Christian fiction," the characters are obsessively wondering if they should become "Christian," and that word constantly harks back to the figure of Jesus Christ. Now, without arguing over whether Christ was the son of god or just a guy with some interesting notions,* one would expect that knowing what Christ said, what he taught, and how he lived his life would be key to someone becoming, and living as, a Christian. One might expect that at the end of a book of "Christian fiction" we would have a fairly good idea who Christ was and what he wanted us to do. Yet, this is not the case. We hear endless, loving descriptions of all the terror and torment that awaits us in the tribulation and, indeed, in the afterlife if we refuse "Christ," but we don't ever really get a description of what Christ is. Certainly there are half-hearted allusions to how much happier we'll be once we accept Jesus, but we're never given a reason why. It's as though the focus of the authors' religion isn't on Christ, from whom they take its name, but on the anti-christ, who supposedly embodies all the things that Jesus is not. In a bizarre twist, the authors define christianity as the absence of the anti-christ in much the same way that we define darkness as the absence of light. And this brings us to the next lesson:


Lesson Two: The motivation of this faith isn't the attainment of grace but the fear of punishment

If one defines a religion in terms of an absence, as in the absence of evil, rather than a positive, such as the presence on some kind of grace or set of beliefs, then one runs the risk of focusing on fear rather than love. In other words, the authors' faith is based on avoidance- of death, of sin, of evil- but doesn't point us in any particular direction. This may sound a bit odd coming from an atheist, whose religious persuasion is defined at a terminological level by an absence rather than a presence, but that doesn't make it less true.** Yet, even if my "faith" is rooted in an absence, it nevertheless directs attention back to real people. If this world is all that exists, then it matters a whole lot how I treat people and what I do, because this is my only shot and there are no second chances. My awareness of my mortality, and of the passage of time, only makes my wife and other loved ones all the more precious. The authors, however, condemn this type of thinking and admonish us to turn our attention obsessively to the absence in their hearts, the absence that the undescribed and unknown Jesus will supposedly fill just because you ask him to, and without the need to actually have any idea who or what he is. At heart, this means that the only thing the authors can use to motivate belief is fear and, ultimately, it is a fear of hell and tribulation that they introduce and cure with the same theology. In the words of Bree Sharp, this religion is "venom and vaccine swirled."*** But if the religion is focused on absence, and seems to be lacking Jesus himself, then what is it that Christians are supposed to do? This brings us to our next lesson...


Lesson Three: This religion is basically a pyramid scheme

Consider for a moment how our characters behave in this book. Upon becoming Christians, their immediate interest isn't to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and tend to the sick, but to convert more people. Indeed, one of our more significant, albeit peripheral, characters, Bruce Barnes, is left behind in part because he didn't work hard enough to convert others. And while we don't get to it in this book, the reality is that's all anybody ever does. In the last two books of the series, when the anti-christ is defeated and Christ returns to reign for a thousand years, Buck suddenly realizes that the children born during the tribulation have to be led to Christ before the end of the thousand years or they will go to hell. And so he and Chloe start a ministry. Let me say that again: even once Jesus has finally won and is standing before us in the flesh, the only thing Buck can figure out to do with his time is to tell people about Jesus. And that isn't an accident, but rather artifice, because at heart that's all this brand of faith has to offer. It's all about spreading, all about "preaching," and utterly vacant of any purpose or payoff beyond that. And if such an emphasis seems to be purposeful, it is only because preaching can have meaning in a world of diversity. But in a world where LaHaye's bible prophecy has literally come to pass, where Jesus is literally on a throne in Jerusalem, the idea of devoting one's life to preaching the word of Jesus makes about as much sense as spending your life preaching the reality of gravity. If even after Jesus wins the authors can't justify the point of their type of Christianity with something more meaningful than to create more Christians, one is forced to wonder why we should bother with Christianity at all. But, hey, that's why they have the lash of fear ready at hand, because the only thing worse than spending eternity constantly telling each other how awesome Jesus is, would be getting ceaselessly tormented for failing to constantly tell each other how awesome Jesus is. How inspiring. Regardless of its inspirational value, however, that brings us to our next lesson...


Lesson Four: The authors hate humanity

It may sound as though I'm suggesting that the authors hate people on an individual or group level but that isn't really what I mean. For the record, I do not think that the authors are any more misanthropic than the typical Christian.**** No, what I mean is that the authors hate humanity- the quality of being human. Their story makes it clear that they do not approve of dedication to one's work, pride in one's performance, learning, or most of the other aspects of being a member of homo sapiens that most of us would agree are good. In point of fact about the only thing they do seem to approve of is a decidedly inhuman denial of everything except the commitment to god. A person is only good, in their view, to the extent that their every action is dedicated to furthering god's wishes. I suppose this makes sense because, really, the only way to justify the authors' simultaneous contentions that god is good but, nevertheless, will condemn you to hell for all eternity for not casting the right magic spell, is to assume that from the get-go all humans deserve hell. This is what we call "original sin," and it's arguably the only way to satisfy the authors' basic claims and remain internally consistent. Yet, the authors take this to an even more absurd extreme than most denominations- not just taking the perspective that humans can do good but that this good is overwhelmed by the extent of our initial burden of sin,***** but actually arguing that we are incapable of doing good on our own in the first place. And this is, frankly, a very difficult perspective to sell in a novel because we, as the readers, want to identify with the characters, but that's awfully difficult to do when the authors are falling all over themselves to make it clear how crappy we all are. And that brings us to our next lesson...


Lesson Five: When writing a novel to present the virtues of your religion, make certain that your religion's virtues- if indeed it possesses any- make it into the novel

Please understand, at the moment I am not arguing that the authors' religion is entirely devoid of virtues. It may indeed provide a cornucopia of benefits for many of its adherents. Likewise, it's abstractly possible that if I were to convert to it I would find myself to be enormously happier.****** Yet, however possible these things are, it's nevertheless the case that no virtues actually make it into Left Behind. Think about it for a moment: before he converts Rayford is an asshole who ignores his wife and children and mistreats his coworkers (i.e. Hattie). After he converts, Rayford is a self-righteous asshole who continually pesters others and often finds himself crying in misery because the rest of the world doesn't agree with him. Before she converted, Chloe was a vaguely spunky, fleetingly intelligent young woman. After she was an overly emotional appendage of her father. I'm not saying that converting made them worse, but it surely didn't make them any better. In fact, based on a reading of Left Behind, a naive observer would be forced to conclude that the sole reason to become Christian is to avoid going to hell, which does not seem to be the message the authors want to give. And that's what's so pathetic about the whole situation. This book is non-stop uncontradicted propaganda. It's like a Chick Tract for the literate and indulges in about as much subtlety. The authors have the freedom to stack the deck and give us a whirlwind tour of what makes their religion so awesome. And they utterly and completely fail. I really cannot stress enough what a severe error this is- having read this book I am, if you can believe it, even less likely to convert than I was before. This is damned near the sort of book I would write if I wanted to secretly smear Christianity.******* Basically, if your own propaganda doesn't even reflect positively on you, your image problems are not something you can blame on the opposition. And this brings us to the next lesson...


Lesson Six: The christianity of this book is very unlike typical christianity

It's very easy to fall into the authors' trap by coming to think of christianity in their terms, but this would be an error. Most christians and, indeed, most forms of christianity are not as mind-numbingly, soul-crushingly, pointless or stupid. This is not to say that I approve of mainstream christianity, but by and large most christians are good people and most strains of christianity do not run into logical contradiction quite so immediately or so thoroughly. Hell, around chapter 23 of this series I discovered that someone else has done an equally thorough analysis of Left Behind, save his effort is more thoughtful and less snarky. You can find his effort indexed here but the really interesting thing is that he both identifies as an evangelical christian, and thinks that this book sucks. Whenever I have been critical of christianity in this series, it has always been aimed at the authors' version, because real christianity- while not in my view true- is immensely more loving of its adherents and humanity in general. And this brings us to our last lesson...


Lesson Seven: If you write a novel to extol your religion's virtues, make sure that said novel is at least entertaining.

I said it when we started this project and, having gone through the book with you, I renew my comment. The primary flaw of Left Behind isn't its poor theology or even disagreeable message. No, the primary flaw is that it is boring. Quite aside from whether you agree with its message or not, ignoring whether you are a Christian, a christian, or a heathen of some stripe, this is simply a godawful clusterfuck of a novel. Its characters are unsympathetic and irritating. The events are strained and disconnected from any sort of logical stream or necessity. Its conspiracies are poorly drawn and its heroes not very heroic. Frankly even its language and copy-editing are almost indescribably poor. We've probably all heard the expression, "If the ladies don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy." Well, in this case, we might paraphrase it as, "If the readers can't find your book inspiring, they should at least find it interesting." And sadly Left Behind fails at even this modest goal. And folks, let's face it: I've read all of Battlefield: Earth- I am not that difficult to entertain. Now, one might argue that I have never written a book that sold a million copies, and so it's a bit presumptuous of me to criticize. Fair enough, but I would respond that I have also never written a book that tells the majority of mankind that everything they believe is a lie and that they're totally evil. When you presume to lecture the entire planet on why they're wrong about everything, you should be prepared for a bit of a response. I may not be a successful fiction writer, but I know a bad book when I read it, and they don't come much worse than this one without entirely abandoning basic syntax.


And that about says it all. For better or worse, I have read Left Behind, I have provided my reaction to it, and y'all have come along for the ride. I would like to simultaneously thank you, and extend my deepest sympathies. So, where to from here? Well, next week I will post an index for the series so that it's a bit easier to navigate, particularly given the failure of the "Left Behind" tag to really work for a series this f-ing long. And then, some weeks after that we will start the next volume in Drek's Book Club, which looks to be "The Overton Window," provided through the generosity of Jonas Wisser. Regardless of whether you stick around for the next effort or take this opportunity to break away, let me just say that if y'all are any indication, I will be in great company in the unlikely event that I am ever Left Behind.

See you next time.


* You know my take on this one.

** I should note that atheism, at heart, is a religion in much the same sense that aunicornism is a religion.

*** It's a nice lyric, but I should note that venom is treated with anti-venom, not with a vaccine.

**** And you can interpret that however you want.

***** Essentially the "god as loan shark" model of sin.

****** I can hardly write that without laughing, given that such a conversion would essentially mean sacrificing my intellectual and personal integrity, as well as likely ending my marriage, none of which I have even the slightest intention of doing.

******* Of course, I would never do such a thing. It's dishonest, for one, and for another, judging from Left Behind, they don't need my help.

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Leaving on a jet plane...

Well, folks, it's that time again- time for me to go to the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting.* It's a time of fun, festivities, and frolicking in a conference center and it usually precludes most blogging until I return. It's also a time of trying to find affordable coffee between sessions, which usually means mugging someone who just exited that Starbucks line. For the first timers, be sure to check out my handy Conference-English phrase book. For everyone else who is going, you know what you're doing, and I'll see you there. And for those of my readers who have never been to the ASAs and aren't going this year... well, that's too bad. I like to imagine that it's a little like this, only with fewer empire-waist dresses and more objections to unusual sampling procedures:




See you soon!


* Conference theme: "Toward a Sociology of Citizenship". Seriously? Is that a thing now? What's next, the Sociology of my Left Shoe?

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 25, Part 2

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that will make you doubt the virtues of literacy. Yesterday we all enjoyed a surprise Left Behind bonus post that enlightened us about firearms and the anti-christ. Last time, however, Buck watched as the antichrist killed two people because he (the antichrist) felt like it. What happens this week? A silly plot twist, and then the horrid wrap-up of this even more horrid book.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to scripto for telling it like it is:

Only Lahaye could make a double murder committed by the antichrist himself as compelling as a trip to the grocery store. Not only did he telegraph what was going to happen before hand, he lead us step by step through the whole leaden process. Never mind Stonagal, shoot me in the head so I can be more like the typical Left Behind reader and enjoy this more.


Indeed, they're following the classic anti-advice from writing coaches everywhere: tell, don't show! One can only imagine the sheer number of English teachers at bible "colleges" that have been driven to madness by these two nitwits. Thanks, scripto, and everyone break out your A-material, because there's only one comment of the week 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.


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Dramatis Personae

In an order that frankly hasn't changed in months...

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. Christian.

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. Murderer.

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." Killed by Nicolae Carpathia.

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

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.

Scott M. Otterness: Random U.N. guard. Carries a .38 police special loaded with hollow-point rounds. Kinda feeble minded.

----------


Page 459- Line Triumph:

No quote, but we reopen with Carpathia continuing to calmly explain to his inner circle that they did not just witness him kill two men with a really ridiculous trick shot. No, instead, he convinces them that they watched an old financier kill two men- including himself- with a really ridiculous trick shot.


Page 459- Line 16-18:
"Thank you, gentlemen. While Ms. Durham phones security, I will be polling you for your version of what happened here."


Oh, right, I've heard about this: according to scripture, after the antichrist does something evil, there's always a pop-quiz. This, however, resolves the question of why security isn't here already: apparently a door-shaking kaboom isn't a good enough reason to come running, they also need a call from Hattie. This also suggests that Carpathia's mojo isn't perfect, and he knows that, but never mind wondering about its limits as they certainly don't get explored in this book. I also wouldn't waste any time wondering why he has Hattie summon security before he makes sure everyone is properly brainwashed. Anyway, Carpathia goes around the table and each man pretty much parrots back the line Carpathia fed them, with suitable embellishments of course. Buck, meanwhile, is wigging out trying to figure out what to do.


Page 460- Line 9-13:
He [Buck] prayed desperately as Carpathia moved from man to man, making certain they had all seen what he wanted them to see and that they were sincerely convinced of it.

Silence, God seemed to impress upon Buck's heart. Not a word! [emphasis original]


And, believe it or not, this is perhaps the most subtle example of foreshadowing in the book. Remember way back (Page 97- Line 12-15) when Irene explained that being totally truthful is compatible with lying by omission? She said, "Telling the whole truth doesn't always mean telling everything you know." Okay! So, what Buck is going to do is tell Carpathia something that sounds like a confirmation but, in fact, never quite goes all the way! That's what the voices in Buck's head must be telling him, not a word about what he really saw. Get ready for some slick word-play, folks, from one of the most talented writers of his generation!


Page 460- Line 16-23:
When Carpathia got to him Buck's cheeks were wet and he could not speak. He shook his head and held up a hand. "Awful, was it not, Cameron? The suicide that took Mr. Todd-Cothran with it?"

Buck could not speak and wouldn't have if he could. "You cared for and respected them both, Cameron, because you were unaware that they tried to have you killed in London." And Carpathia moved on to the guard.


Right. Or the authors are going to forget that Buck has a way with words, even if they don't, and have him remain silent like a jackass. I f-ing hate these authors. At this point the security rushes in. Great timing, morons.


Page 461- Line 4-8:
A plainsclothesman asked questions. Buck headed him off. "You have enough eyewitnesses here. Let me leave you my card and you can call if you need me, hm?" The cop traded cards with him and Buck was permitted to leave.


Wait, what? A cop rushes into a scene where two important, powerful men are dead, things are confused, tempers are running high, and he just immediately allows the only guy who seems in a hurry to leave... leave. I dunno, folks, does that seem odd to anyone else? Seriously, in this book even the bit characters suck at their jobs.


Page 461- Line 9-17:
Buck grabbed his bag and sprinted for a cab, rushing back to the office. He shut and locked his office door and began furiously banging out every detail of the story. He had produced several pages when he received a call from Stanton Bailey. The old man could hardly catch his breath between his demanding questions, not allowing Buck to answer.

"Where have you been? Why weren't you at the press conference?" [Stanton asked]


Wait... "...between his demanding questions"? Are the authors trying to say that Bailey's questions were difficult (i.e. demanding) or did they, and the copy editor, just completely and utterly fail to notice that he should have been demanding answers? Hell, the way it's written, it feels like Buck should be answering, "What's the circumference of the Earth? Who shot Abraham Lincoln? What was Marilyn Monroe's cup size?" and so forth. And what's this confusion about Buck's whereabouts? Well, just hang onto your own confusion because all is about to be revealed obscured. Buck calls Steve Plank to find out if he (Buck) still has an exclusive with Carpathia, and shit gets weird.


Page 462- Line 16-30:
"Well, if you [Buck] were here, then you probably know what happened before the press conference."

"Steve! I saw it with my own eyes."

"You're not following me, Buck. I'm saying if you were here for the press conference, you heard about the Stonagal suicide in the preliminary meeting, the one you were supposed to come to."

Buck didn't know what to say. "You saw me there, Steve."

"I didn't even see you at the press conference."

"I wasn't at the press conference, Steve, but I was in the room when Stonagal and Todd-Cothran died."

"I don't have time for this, Buck. It's not funny. You were supposed to be there, you weren't there. I resent it, Carpathia is offended, and no, no exclusive." [emphasis original]


And exactly what brand of whatthefuckery is this, pray tell? Carpathia has... what? Erased everyone's memory that Buck was present? Does that make sense? Only if Carpathia wanted to discredit Buck, but that implies he knew his mojo hadn't worked. In which case, why does Buck still have a pulse at this point? Regardless, Bailey calls back and indicates that he's checked with numerous people, checked the list of press credentials, and is convinced Buck was not in the room. He then says he's on his way and threatens to fire Buck if he's not there to be yelled at when Bailey arrives. Buck digs out the card the cop gave him and calls the number. The phone rings through to a precinct, but the police there deny any knowledge of the officer Buck met, one Detective Seargeant Billy Cenni. Really, authors? Really? Another f-ing named character in the last half of the last chapter? Honestly, what the hell is wrong with you people? Anyway, Buck realizes he's screwed and settles down to await Bailey's arrival and his (Buck's) inevitable, if bewilderingly stupid, ass-stomping. And then we're back with Rayford, Chloe, and Bruce Barnes, who are following events via the television news.


Page 465- Line 22-25:
"Maybe Buck took my advice and didn't go," Bruce said. "I sure hope so."

"That doesn't sound like him," Chloe said.

"No, it doesn't," Rayford said.


Oh? That doesn't sound like him? Why? Because he's always bucking tradition and authority? Bah. Whatever. And then we jump back to Buck.


Page 466- Line 6-8:
By the time Stanton Bailey stormed into Buck's office an hour later, Buck realized he was up against a force with which he could not compete.


Well, that's not saying a whole lot.


Page 466- Line 13-17:
If Buck had needed any proof that God was now in his life, he had it. Had he not received Christ before entering that room, he was convinced he would be just another of Carpathia's puppets.


So, again, to recap: if you don't believe in god, your claims cannot be trusted because you're an unwitting tool of the devil. I can almost hear the authors taunting, "Ha! Take that dispassionate science!" Anyway, Bailey gives Buck hell and decides to break him down to random reporter in the Chicago bureau, a demotion that Buck would probably hate more if it didn't position him strategically for his final assault on Chloe's... um... virtue.


Page 467- Line 20-25:
Buck couldn't wait to talk to his new friends in Illinois, but he didn't want to call from his office, or his apartment, and he didn't know for sure whether his cellular phone was safe. He packed his stuff and took a cab to the airport, asking the cabbie to stop at a pay phone a mile outside the terminal.


Buck, I hate to tell you this, but if the newly elected emperor of the world, who has mind control powers, has decided you're a threat, you're going to have to try a LOT harder than that. Try moving to someplace out of the way- like Mars for example- and then go from there.


Page 467-468- Line 467: 26-30, 468: 1-8:
Not getting an answer at the Steeles', he dialed the church. Bruce answered and told him Chloe and Rayford were there. "Put them on speakerphone," he said. "I'm taking the three o'clock American flight to O'Hare. But let me tell you this: Carpathia is your man, no question. He fills the bill to the last detail. I felt your prayers in the meeting. God protected me. I'm moving to Chicago, and I want to be a member of, what did you call it, Bruce?"

"The Tribulation Force?"

"That's it!"

"Does this mean-?" Chloe began.

"You know exactly what it means," Buck said.


I wouldn't count on that Buck, given that since her conversion all signs of intelligence have fled young Chloe. Anyway, they ask for details but he plays coy and says that he'll only tell them once he arrives. Personally, I think he's just fishing for a ride from the airport since his demotion presumably includes a reduction in the old expense account.


Page 468- Line 14-16:
When his plane finally touched down, Buck hurried up the jet way and through the gate where he was joyously greeted by Chloe, Bruce, and Rayford Steele.


Shit, it worked! Score! That's one cab fare he won't have to pay! Tribulation Farce Force HO!


Page 468- Line 16-18:
They all embraced him, even the staid captain. As they huddled in a corner, Bruce prayed, thanking God for their new brother and for protecting him.


I'm guessing this is setting a precedent for the rest of the series: we will not be able to do anything- go to the bathroom, brush our teeth, decide what kind of pizza to order- without consulting god and/or thanking him for making us do the right thing. And note that god is credited with bringing Buck into the fold even though the existence of free will is what hypothetically makes hell fair. Some books are a paradox inside a riddle wrapped in an enigma. This book is a disaster, inside a clusterfuck, wrapped in a shit burger.


Page 468- Line 19-21:
They moved through the terminal toward the parking garage, striding four abreast, arms around each other's shoulders, knit with a common purpose.


"We're off to see the wizard Jehovah, the wonderful wizard Jehovah of Oz Judea! Because, because, because, because, becaaaaaaauuuuusssssseeee... because of the wonderful terrible things he does!" Maybe when they get there, he'll give Rayford a heart, Bruce a brain, Buck some courage, and send Chloe to some much, much better book. Like a harlequin romance, for example.


Page 468- Line 25-28:
The task of the Tribulation Force was clear and their goal nothing less than to stand and fight the enemies of God during the seven most chaotic years the planet would ever see.


Wow, that sounds exciting! I can't wait! Shit, what am I saying? Of course I can! And what's with this, "fight the enemies of god" stuff? You know what? God's a big, powerful dude. He can fight his own damn battles. Asking us to do it for him is like strapping a knife to a toddler's hand and sending her into a street fight.

And that, believe it or not, is the end of chapter 25. Hell, that's the end of the book. We have, really and truly, finally reached the end. Honestly I... I don't know quite how to feel. Glad? Yes, glad I think. Also, rather numb. This disaster of a novel has been my weekly companion and tormentor for over a year now and today, at last, we're done.

Almost.

Come back next week when I tell you about the back matter (including the "about the authors" blurbs) and wrap the whole series up. Indeed, we will reflect on the past year- where we've been and what we've learned, both about theology and about the art of writing. But what we will not do is read any more about Buck, Rayford and company's further "adventures," because we are f-ing DONE with this book! I am now going to go quietly weep in relief. Feel free to celebrate in your own unique way.

See you next week.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Left Behind: Bonus Post!

Welcome back, everyone, to a very special bonus episode of our series on Left Behind, the book that can't even get its facts straight about things conservatives like! Last week we got to witness some rather amazing trick shooting on the part of Nicolae Carpathia. Specifically, he shot through one man's head, killing a second man with the same bullet. Wow!

But the question remains: would that have worked? I speculated that it probably would not have, but that Stonagal's head would have been destroyed by the shock waves from a point-blank discharge. Ken, in contrast, argued that Stonagal would have been killed, but would retain an intact head, and Todd-Cothran would be unharmed. And the authors, obviously, argued that you could shoot through one guy's head with a .38 hollow-point round and kill a second dude with the same bullet. So who was right? The authors,* Ken,** or me?***

To provide an answer, I decided to consult with my friendly neighborhood gun expert. In addition to being a good friend, he's an ex-marine as well as a federally licensed gun dealer. His remarks, on being given the scenario depicted in last week's episode, are as follows:

"Assuming we're talking about a reasonably modern pistol and cartridge (there are many interpretations of what "38" and "long barrelled" can mean depending on time period mostly) loaded with a pretty recent (post 1985 or so) police duty and/or self defense bullet design and powder charge:

Assuming a line-of-sight trajectory entering one ear and through the other ear, the bullet would most likely not exit the skull. These kinds of loads are designed to transfer most (ideally all) their energy to the target. If the projectile reaches the far side of the target with any velocity greater that 0, then that energy is wasted. Indeed, 38 special self defense loads with over standard pressure design propellant and modern hollow point designs have relatively low penetration because 38spl is such a low energy cartridge to begin with. The skull area in question is pretty tough stuff, and would most likely mangle the bullet in unpredictable ways.

If it did exit, it would likely be through a much softer part of the head. The most likely directions I can think of are through the mouth cavity in a variety of directions. This is very sharp turn for a bullet to make. The attempt would likely disintegrate the projectile, dissipating the energy and, again, reducing the probability that it would exit.

Assuming a bullet stayed together and reached its full design expansion without fragmenting (which is bad if the goal is penetration) it would not be crazy amounts larger. Given the mass necessary for adequate energy retention and continued penetration, the ideal expansion is no more than double. For a 38spl that's around 2/3 of an inch, so you would expect an exit wound of that size, since we're talking about the skull, however, consideration must be given to skull fragmentation. It's possible that the bullet only makes a hole smaller than an inch, but the skull shatters and pieces scatter about. I would expect this to be in the golf ball size more than the baseball size.

Hollow points expand under hydrostatic force; the "mostly water" parts of the human body fill the cavity and force the sides outward as the bullet travels forward. If "water" does not fill the cavity, no expansion occurs. In fact, some hollow point designs are completely defeated by thick denim jackets, because the material fills the void and keeps the "water" out. Similarly, if the hollow point is deformed by striking a hard surface (like the skull) without being filled first, then it is unlikely to expand properly, if at all.

The victim would definitley still have a head, in the sense that it would be mostly attached to the body. The kind of dramatic "explosion" you see when fruit (watermellon are popular for this) are shot does not happen with animals the size of humans. Even if a shot were to sever the spinal column, the energy dispersal would have to cross-section the entire neck. That kind of action requires more than what any reasonable person would term as a handgun.

If would be highly unlikely that the bullet would continue on its original trajectory. Any force that changes medium at any angle other than 90 will deflect some amount dependent on the relative travel velocity though both mediums. Light refracting as it enters water is an easy example. The skull is not a relatively flat surface, especially the bits around the ear canal.

In the highly unlikely event that an appreciable mass leaves the first target, it would be very difficult to consider it lethal. Yes, almost anything could kill you; a pellet gun to the juggular with no access to a trauma center could kill you. Any severed artery would lead to exsanguination without medical care. However, firearm lethality is measured in the ability to cause massive trauma to the target that extends beyond the penetration column of the bullet. If the bullet is going fast enough to enter the body but not to cause the shock necessary for that kind of trauma, it's more like being impaled on a steel rod. Sure, that can kill you also, but again it's the blood loss that does it, not the destruction of your internal organs."


And so, in short: Stonagal would still have a head, Todd-Cothran would still have a pulse, and the anti-christ would be a bit embarrassed. And, in terms of score: the authors were the most wrong, followed by me, and then followed by Ken, who was entirely right. Go Ken!

And I'll see the rest of you tomorrow for the next, exciting marginally tolerable episode of Left Behind!


* Yeah, right, like that's going to happen.

** Probably. I mean, Ken tends to be right.

*** Shit, when have I ever been right about anything?

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

They know not what they do.

So recently Conservapedia posted a fairly interesting headline that hits close to home for me. No, the headline wasn't about atheism- those headlines rarely hit close to home because Conservapedia has no idea who or what atheists are- but, rather, about higher education:



Or, to quote directly:

$800 or more a year ... just to buy the overpriced textbooks for college courses. Some clever students rely on using the same books from their college library to avoid this outrageous expense.


For anyone who is curious, they link to an article that asserts that some college students rely on copies of their books they get at the library. Well, duh. That's "news" in the same sense that it's "news" that the sun rises in the East. At the same time, the article is somewhat less positive about that experience that Conservapedia seems to be:

On Friday afternoons between work and rugby practice, Brittany Wolfe would rush to the campus library hoping copies of her advanced algebra textbook had not all been checked out by like-minded classmates.

It was part of the math major's routine last quarter at the University of California, Los Angeles: Stand in line at the reserve desk in the library's closing hours with the goal of borrowing a copy for the weekend.

The alternative was to buy a $120 book and sell it back for far less. If she could sell it back at all.

"It's like this terrible game of catch your books when you can," said Wolfe, a new graduate who estimates she saved $800 a year using books on reserve and who now shares textbook tips as a counselor to incoming UCLA students. "It's frustrating when you're already stressed about school. Being stressed about textbooks doesn't seem right."


The rest of the article is worth reading, as is the recent post and discussion over on Scatterplot, but my point today isn't to address the textbook issue directly. Frankly, I agree that college textbook prices are high and getting higher. Moreover, it's a bit difficult for me to see why the prices of the textbooks I use continue to rise to such an extent without there being major changes to the content. Indeed, it seems like I can't go more than a year or two anymore without a new edition coming out.* But that isn't my point right now.

My point is that Conservapedia is praising some faceless students for using library copies instead of buying their own. It is calling them "clever" because these students can avoid spending their own, personal money on their own textbook and, instead, use a textbook that's provided by an institution. In other words, the Conservapeons are praising college students for avoiding the free market solution and using what amounts to a public option instead.

Now, if we could just get them to see healthcare the same way.


* For anyone who is curious, I actually try to keep to old editions as much as possible so students can take advantage of used copies.

I should note, in all of this, that I have mixed feelings about the students involved. On the one hand, clearly every student cannot rely on desk copies in every class. There just aren't enough copies to go around. On the other hand, I have frequently had students who are the first members of their family to ever go to college and really can't afford more books than absolutely necessary, so I don't blame the students at all. But, as usual, Conservapedia couldn't be bothered with trying to understand all the fiscal and practical aspects of this situation and instead just praises students for falling back on a last-ditch option.

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Monday, August 09, 2010

Man, don't be that guy.

So quite a while back I wrote a post discussing Andy Schlafly's "Conservative Bible Project." Needless to say I was less than complimentary, and as such I earned a comment from someone calling himseld "The Dude" who, among other things, called me a "jew fag, nigger fucker," which, I suppose, might be insulting if I though being Jewish, of African descent, homosexual, or some combination thereof were something to be ashamed of. In any case, I dealt with this comment by making it the focus of another post, which I think was sufficient reply. Alas, it appears that not everyone agrees, as the original comment has now received a reply from an anonymous reader, and that reply is, sadly, just as special as the dude's original remarks:

Hey Dude, sit the fuck down and eat some dip before I take a fucking shotgun to your ass packing buddy Jesus. You and your Christian cronies don't have the balls to actually take a stand for anything on your own so keep on sucking your pastor's big bulbous gorilla headed cock and singing the praises of your defunct religion.


Right. So, let's go through this comment using our handy dumbass internet troll checklist:*

-Immediate use of profanity? Check!
-Threats of violence involving massive overkill? Check!
-Threats of violence against religious figures; bonus points if the threats involve sexual penetration? Check and check!
-Challenge to the target's masculinity? Check!
-Snide implication of target's homosexuality? Check!
-Unsupported claim of philosophy/religion's status as a failure? Check!

Based on that, folks, I think we can well and truly conclude that I've managed to attract yet another dumbass internet troll! Man, I am like f-ing honey to those guys! Now, there are several things I want to point out at this juncture.

First, anonymous commenter, I really don't need that kind of help. I've been around the block a few times in the six freaking years that I've been blogging. I can handle comments from trolls. Frankly, most of the time, I don't even need to handle them as the vitriol of an angry troll is as much support for my arguments as I could possibly want. The thing is, when I get "defended" by folks who are just as irrational as the original troll it kind of messes with my kung fu. Seriously, even if you're mad, just keep that kinda crazy to yourself.

Second, anonymous commenter, given the tenor of your comments I am somewhat afraid that you're going to be pegged as one of my fellow atheists. This is not something that we atheists need. There's ample evidence that those of my religious persuasion are not well thought of in the U.S. and promulgating a view of us as aggressive internet trolls does not help. Or, to put it more simply: don't be that guy. It's certainly the case that I run into theist trolls vastly more often than atheist or agnostic trolls, but given both the relative prevalence of those groups in the population, and that fact that my content is more likely to provoke ire from theists, I hardly think that's a valid data source. Nevertheless, again, please try to act in a way that doesn't embarrass the snot out of the rest of us.


* I SO need to design Dumbass Internet Troll Bingo cards!

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