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.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 1, Part 1

Well, as promised and as implied by the title, today we begin with our new regular series on Left Behind. As always, page and line numbers are in bold, quotes from the text are in block quotes, and my commentary is in regular print. And you can navigate around the series with the helpful "Left Behind" tag at the bottom of each and every post. And as a special treat for everyone, in italics, right next to the chapter name, I'll give you a little summary so you're prepared for every "twist" and "turn."

Last time, as you'll recall, nothing had happened yet and I was just bitching about how boring the book is. Today, well, there will be words on a page, but I wouldn't be expecting action or adventure. What you're getting instead is a trans-Atlantic flight, and we know how dull those are. The only thing more boring would be reading about someone else on a trans-Atlantic flight and, as luck would have it, that's what we're about to do!

Chapter One: In which characters are introduced, flashbacks occur with disorienting frequency, and the authors display an atrocious grasp of effectively every field of knowledge.

Page 1- Line 1-2:
Rayford Steele's mind was on a woman he had never touched.

You know it's gonna suck when a main character is named "Steel." What's next? Jim Goodsoul? Also: do the authors find it odd that a man might be thinking about a woman he has never "touched"? Don't they remember junior high?

Page 1- Line 12-15:
Rayford used to look forward to getting home to his wife. Irene was attractive and vivacious enough, even at forty. But lately he had found himself repelled by her obsession with religion. It was all she could talk about.

Ah, yes. Another marriage torn asunder by religion. As a side note, however, it's page one and we already have a man wanting to stray from his wife. A wife who has found god. This is gonna be a loooong book.

Page 2- Line 4-6:
Hers was not a church where people gave you the benefit of the doubt, assumed the best about you, and let you be.

Well, that is about the size of it. This passage makes one wonder, however, if her church has baskets of rocks sitting out so that they're equipped should an adultress happen past.

Page 2- Line 11-13:
Rayford tried to tell himself it was his wife's devotion to a divine suitor that caused his mind to wander. But he knew the real reason was his own libido.

Hell, it worked for Mary, so why not Irene? Seriously, though, as we will see later in the book, there are clearly no reasons why her new religious obsession might be a little repellent to Rayford. Nope, none at all. I mean, she IS attractive and vivacious enough for a forty year old.

Page 2- Line 14-17:
Besides, Hattie Durham was drop-dead gorgeous. No one could argue that. What he enjoyed most was that she was a toucher. Noting inappropriate, nothing showy.

I like short declarative sentences. Short declarative sentences are awesome. I should write an entire book this way. It would be so nice. It would make Drek cry.

Page 3- Line 5-6:
He was no prude, but Rayford had never been unfaithful to Irene.

What the fuck? Being faithful to your spouse makes you a prude now? Oh, wait, shit! I'm sorry, this is how the authors believe non-evangelicals think. Oh, wow! What morons! More seriously, this introduces us to a central issue as we go through the book: given that the authors are telling the story of those left behind following the rapture it's difficult to tell in some places if they're offering a moral lesson or simply illustrating the manifest character flaws they believe to be emblematic of the unsaved. More often than not, I think it's the latter, but you can make up your own mind as we go. Regardless, however, this book has essentially convinced me that if many of us academic types don't understand evangelicals terribly well, they sure as hell don't understand us either. More on that later.

Page 3- Line 12-21: No quote this time. Ray is just thinking about how he necked with a girl while half drunk at a party. Lest we think he's really terrible, though, he then remembers a time when he had a few drinks in an airport bar while snowed in and then- after it unexpectedly cleared- voluntarily grounded himself as he was not fit to fly. The first time through, I thought the authors were just trying to keep Rayford likable. Now, I suspect it's part of their "God doesn't give a shit about good works" stance.

Page 4- Line 12-17:
"Can you imagine, Rafe," she [Irene] exulted, "Jesus coming back to get us before we die?"

"Yeah, boy," he said, peeking over the top of his newspaper, "that would kill me."

She was not amused. "If I didn't know what would happen to me," she said, "I wouldn't be glib about it."

Except you would, Irene, because it just sounds so darned stupid. Seriously, though, this is a common theme in the book: the misguided notion that those of us who don't believe are simply theologically ignorant. Okay, seriously, evangelical folks? Your theology is not so obviously awesome that if you just tell us about it, we're going to jump right aboard. Seriously.

Page 4- Line 27-29:
She [Irene] had pulled away in tears. "I've told you and told you. Saved people aren't good people, they're-"

"Just forgiven, yeah, I know," he [Rayford] said...

This bit is interesting to me for a couple of reasons. When I first read the chapter, it was because it reveals how nihilistic this religion is. It doesn't matter what you do- how good you are- just so long as you say the right spells and get saved. Having read the entire book through, I'm now amused at how often the authors are going to contradict this basic assertion. You bet your ass they make "saved" people better people.

Page 5- Line 10-13:
He didn't want to articulate it, but the fact was, he was brighter- yes, more intelligent. He believed in rules, systems, laws, patterns, things you could see and feel and touch.

Poor, stupid Rayford! He actually thinks the world is supposed to make logical sense and be consistent! Of course not! The world is supposed to be self-contradictory and utterly fucking nutty! How else would we feel god's presence? And I mean, hell, he wants to believe in things he can actually detect as opposed to invisible, insubstantial make-believe friends. What a dumbass!

Page 6- Line 1:

There's no text quotation because we're being introduced to a new character. This character, it's claimed, is the most hotshot-est reporter you could ever hope to meet. We're initially told his name is "Cameron Williams" I say initially because of what we're going to read right about... now.

Page 6- Line 7-9:
Both admirers and detractors at the magazine called him Buck, because they said he was always bucking tradition and authority.

I give you the exact words I scrawled in the margins at this line: "Oh, barf!"

Page 6- Line 25-27:

At this point we're in a flashback where Buck is musing about an editorial meeting where they decided to do a story on Chaim Rosenzweig, the nobel prizewinner in Chemistry. Chaim will be important enough shortly, but right now he affords us a way to date the events being depicted. See, Nobel prizes in science are usually only awarded after a delay. The delay is usually on the order of twenty years. So, if we assume Chaim did his work the same year this book was published, 1995, then the events of Left Behind itself can't be dated earlier than 2015. I more or less reject the "alternate history" explanation (i.e. the timeline of Left Behind deviated from our own at some point in the past) because the authors clearly want to imply that these sorts of things WILL happen in the future. Alternatively, the authors are incompetent jackasses who can't be trusted to check basic facts. As we'll see soon enough, the latter seems fairly likely.

Page 6-7- Line 6:29 7:1-4:
"Put the chairs on the wagon, the meetin' is over," Buck said.


"Not so fast, Cowboy," a rival said...

Why are we in a western all of a sudden? Shootout at the Pearly Gates!

Page 8- Line 3-6:

It's being explained that Chaim developed a fertilizer that allows the desert soil of Israel to bloom. And I mean, bloom like a motherfucker. I should also note that this is being explained in what I believe is a flashback within a flashback. Actually, no, sorry its a flashforward from the original flashback that still leaves us in a flashback relative to the original narrative. Okay, hang on, imagine a timeline with all three events moving from the oldest on the left to the most recent on the right. Events would go:

"Cowboy meeting" -------> "Interview with Chaim" ---------> "Buck on a plane"

Alternatively, Buck may be flashing back to the meeting, then flashing back to the events that made Chaim look so good for the meeting, then flashing forward to the interview, which is still itself a flashback. So we get a flashback, then a flashback within a flashback, then a flashforward to a point that is still a flashback from the perspective of the original narrative:

"Israel is teh awesome" ------> "Cowboy meeting" -------> "Interview with Chaim" ------> "Buck on a plane"

Okay, do you have all that? Great. Can you explain it to me, now?

Page 8- Line 11-17:
Rosenzweig's formula was fast making Israel the richest nation on earth, far more profitable than its oil-laden neighbors. Every inch of ground blossomed with flowers and grains, including produce never before conceivable in Israel. The Holy Land became an export capital, the envy of the world, with virtually zero unemployment. Everyone prospered.

And this, of course, makes perfect sense. Because, as we all know, agricultural producers are totally the rich countries. Fuck manufacturing, fuck industry, just give a country dirt and some seeds and it's totally rich. I mean, hell, Saudi Arabia is all like, "Sure, we got oil, but if we could just grow mangos in decent quantities? That's where the money is!" Yes, folks, these guys not only don't understand the Nobel Prize, they fail to grasp basic international trade principles. Also, I feel compelled to point out that they capitalize Holy Land but fail to capitalize "Earth." Because, you know, our only goddamn planet is clearly not worth the same respect as a tiny f-ing fragment of same that people have been fighting over for way too long.

Page 8- Line 19-20:
Flush with cash and resources, Israel made peace with her neighbors.

So, what? The PLO takes checks? I'm pretty sure that isn't really what all the killing is about, you know?

Page 9- Line 12-16:

Here Buck is musing on how the miracle fertilizer formula could make a huge difference to Russia if only it could be adapted for frozen wastelands. Seriously, there are references to land blooming, "...though snow covered most of the year". Not to be an asshole, but I think all that snow is going to impose a pretty hard upper limit on agricultural production, you know?

Page 9- Line 20-27:

And here we're informed that the world has switched to three currencies, instead of the myriad we have now. These currencies are dollars, yen, and marks. Yes, marks. Not euros, the actual currency of Europe, but marks. We probably shouldn't give the authors too hard a time as the official adoption of the euro was in December of 1995 but, nonetheless, it sounds bizarre at this point in time.

Page 9-10- Line 9:30-10:9:
Frustrated at their inability to profit from Israel's fortune and determined to dominate and occupy the Holy Land, the Russians had launched an attack against Israel in the middle of the night. The assault became known as the Russian Pearl Harbor, and because of his interview with Rosenzweig, Buck Williams was in Haifa when it happened. The Russians sent intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear-equipped MiG fighter-bombers into the region. The number of aircraft and warheads made it clear their mission was annihilation.

So much to talk about. First, can't you just hear the Russian premier screaming, "If ve can't have eet, no-vone vill!" Moreover, can't you just see him twirling his mustache and flourishing his cape at the same time? Absurd melodrama, ho! Second, it seems weird to call it the "Russian Pearl Harbor" when Russia is the aggressor. Maybe it's just because I'm an American but, seriously, isn't "Pearl Harbor" pretty much synonymous with "getting your ass kicked by surprise"? Seems like it should be the Israeli Pearl Harbor but, hey, seeing as how the Israelis might like their own damn metaphors, maybe they'd go with Yom Kippur War II? Third, leaving aside the fact that Israel and Russia do not share a border and, therefore, Russian planes would either have to cross intermediate airspace to attack in the first place or come in by carrier, there's the whole intercontinental ballistic missile thing. Seriously? They used ICBMs? Because, guys, Israel is well within Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile range and those things are faster and more accurate. For folks who are curious, the missiles we got all hot and bothered about during the Cuban Missile Crisis were essentially IRBMs. Perhaps this seems like a niggling criticism. In fact it is but, that said, as we will see they routinely fuck up technical details through sheer incompetence. This is just the beginning. Finally, fourth, it really doesn't sound like the Russians wanted to "dominate and occupy the Holy Land," so much as they wanted to turn it into a black-glass parking lot that would glow in the dark. So for all intents and purposes the authors contradict themselves within about ten lines. Classy.

Page 10- Line 10-12: [Before you read the following passage from the book, please keep in mind that Buck Williams is supposed to be the leading journalistic talent of his day. Think the second coming of H.L. Mencken here:]
To say the Israelis were caught off guard, Cameron Williams had written, was like saying the Great Wall of China was long.

I honestly don't know what annoys me more: that the writing is generally so poor or that when they attempt to mimic good writing, it still comes out as trite crap. Yes, indeed, "like saying the Great Wall of China was long". Great work, Buck. Best clear space on the mantle for your Pulitzer.

And at this point, boys and girls, I'm afraid I must draw this installment to a close. We are not, I'm sorry to say, finished with Chapter One but I am very busy right now and producing this episode has been taking longer than anticipated. I was therefore faced with a choice: either post only a partial chapter one, or delay this installment until the chapter was complete. Given the heckling I have already received from my Former Hypothetical Roommate over this series, I decided to do the former. This may well become policy since, if I'm not mistaken, later chapters are longer, and I'm not liable to get less busy in coming months. Lucky for you.

So, tune in next week when we continue Chapter One and learn that the authors consider the Israeli military to be totally incompetent, Rayford has an epiphany of sorts, and Buck sort of just sits around like the inaction hero he is.



Blogger Unknown said...

"Okay, seriously, evangelical folks? Your theology is not so obviously awesome that if you just tell us about it, we're going to jump right aboard. Seriously."

Thank you. If only I could type the sound of applause.

Thursday, July 23, 2009 9:30:00 AM  
Blogger scripto said...

Rayford Steele? Why'd they give the hero a gay porn name? Something tells me he's not going to be touching the woman he's thinking about.

Thursday, July 23, 2009 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger JLT said...

"Rosenzweig's formula was fast making Israel the richest nation on earth, far more profitable than its oil-laden neighbors."

Rosenzweig developed a formula that lets deserts bloom and Israel is becoming the richest nation on earth because of it. But why?

There are other countries with much more desert to cultivate, e. g. in the oil-laden neighboring countries or in Africa.
So, either Israel kept the formula for itself and is getting rich because it sells food to countries that can pay for it (the rest can starve to death) or they wouldn't get rich because there's no one to sell their products to - they can all grow their own.

I don't believe that Israel or any other country would keep a formula for itself that could end famines world-wide. And if a country did that I don't believe that the scientist who developed it would be awarded a Nobel prize for it.

But if they shared the formula with others (and it was even tried to adjust it to Russian climate), why would Russia want to obliterate Israel?

That doesn't make any sense at all.

Thursday, July 23, 2009 1:35:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

Hey JLT:

Well, you put your finger on it. In the book, Israel most certainly does not share the formula, although this is treated as being totally normal and okay. I also find it doubtful that this is the way it would go down, especially since they could make a lot of money by licensing it and, in the process, earn some international goodwill. I also doubt that Israel would be able to keep that kind of secret even if they wanted to. I mean, a fertilizer has to be used in order to be effective and the realities of agriculture make it unlikely that other countries would be unable to obtain a sample from the fields. Nuclear weapons you can lock up in a box and hide but a super fertilizer has to be put into the world or it's useless.

In defense of the authors, however, even with some new uber fertilizer hunger would probably not become a thing of the past. We're technically able to grow enough food now to feed everybody; the problem are the economics of doing so. A new fertilizer- unless so cheap and easily made as to be ridiculous- wouldn't solve that problem.

This whole bit, however, really starts to showcase the deep ambivalence the authors seem to feel for Jews and Israel. On the one hand, their theology identifies Israel as the "Holy Land" and Jews as the chosen people. On the other hand, Jews are not evangelical Christians and, therefore, are going to hell. So there's this confusing back-and-forth in the book that more or less settles into a dynamic equilibrium where Jews are bad, but god loves them more than anyone else anyway. It's all very creepy and, were I Jewish or Israeli, I doubt I would appreciate it all that much.

Friday, July 24, 2009 6:36:00 AM  
Blogger JLT said...

"In defense of the authors, however, even with some new uber fertilizer hunger would probably not become a thing of the past."

You're right, of course, but only because you're being unfairly rational. In reality, the whole thing wouldn't work anyway, because without water no fertilizer is going to make a difference - unless you use enough fertilizer that at the same time you water the ground with it.
So, I basically took it that it is a MAGIC fertilizer. Some drops and this looks like this. IMO, that wouldn't be more fantastic than a part of humanity suddenly disappearing...

Anyway, thanks for the clarification. It's interesting that they don't see anything wrong with the Israeli keeping the formula for themselves (and that the authors think they wouldn't share it).
And thank you for doing this. Your commitment to your readers is commendable :)

Friday, July 24, 2009 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger Drek said...


Actually, again in fairness, I should observe that the authors did address the water issue. It was, however, with a throwaway remark about "We've always been able to deliver enough water..." or something to that effect. I didn't even begin to want to tackle the inanity of that one given the history of water conflicts in the area and the expense of desalinization equipment. So, really, I think you're spot-on in viewing it as a magic fertilizer since that's about the only way to get the described effects.

You call it commitment, I call it insanity, but either one results in someone being commited.

Friday, July 24, 2009 1:55:00 PM  
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