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.

Monday, August 31, 2009

This will surprise nobody.

So as most of you know Senator Ted Kennedy recently died. I, of course, do not need to elaborate upon the various mourning activities that are occurring. I thought, however, that I should briefly share with y'all the very "classy" sendoff that Conservapedia has been giving him:

Or, in plain text with the order reversed relative to the picture to reflect the chronology of entries:

Edward M. Kennedy, the longtime Senator from Massachusetts who was the leader of the liberal agenda for nearly five decades, has died at his home in Hyannis Port from a brain tumor. He was 77.

The Untold Legacy of Edward M. Kennedy : Watergate. What were the Watergate burglars after? Information on the Chappaquiddick coverup. Who was on Nixon's Enemies list? Harvard liberals who insisted on Alger Hiss's innocence.

The late Edward Kennedy did indeed have a profound affect on millions of Americans:
-Millions who were aborted, and their mothers hurt, due to Kennedy's pro-abortion policies
-Millions who cannot read, due to Kennedy's excluding real choice from No Child Left Behind
-Millions who lack health insurance, due to Kennedy's gutting MSAs by limiting insurance deduction levels
-Millions who depend on government programs to survive, due to Kennedy's tax-and-spend socialism
May the Lord be merciful with his soul.

Ted Kennedy said, in voting against saving the life of Terri Schiavo, "I'm not sure what Mr. DeLay meant when he said, 'The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.'" We trust Ted Kennedy understands now.

So, just to sum up: Kennedy is dead, roasting in hell, and it's his fault Nixon was a corrupt bastard. Right.

I know some people say, "Love the sinner, hate the sin," but I think Conservapedia has taken that to the next level of, "Hate the sin, dislike everybody, hate your opposition."

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Sometimes it's about how you answer more than what you answer

So the fall semester is starting and, like many grad students, I'm preparing to teach. Specifically, I'm responsible for a discussion section this semester (among other things) and one of my students e-mailed me recently to ask:

Are we meeting on the first assigned discussion section day? Because the first lecture section doesn't meet until the following week.

The question was no surprise to me since the discussion section in question meets in the morning and a lot of undergrads won't roll out of bed before eleven unless there's a specific reason to do so. So, in other words, the question was really, "Do I have to get up early, or can I sleep?" Now being a responsible kind of guy I responded to this e-mail:

Hi! No, we won't be having discussion section until after the first lecture section. Syllabi will be handed out to anyone who comes to the discussion section, but there will be no coursework.

However, you should note that I said "responsible" rather than "nice" because I sent the aforementioned e-mail at about 8:00 AM the day of the discussion section. Mean? Heartless? Evil?

That's just the way I roll, baby.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 3, Part 1

Welcome back, boys and girls, for another exciting episode of Left Behind, the book that puts the simple in simpleton. Last time, as you may recall, we continued flying around in an airplane and... well... that basically sums it up. This time we're going to really branch out, which is to say, we might make it into the airport. I know I'm excited!

As always, I have a comment of the week from last episode. This time around the winner is JLT who asked:

What happens to embryos and fetuses? Raptured or not?

Up until two weeks after implantation they don't even HAVE a blood pumping organ (not to mention a brain) Mini-Jesus could live in.

I chose JLT both because he started an interesting discussion on the afterlife, and because the image of a travel-size Jesus is just too funny not to love. Just remember: you can't carry more Jesus onboard than will fit in a three ounce container! Congratulations, JLT! I'd also like to honor runner-up Scripto for his observations to Hattie on the difference between watercraft and aircraft. Keep those comments coming, folks, as I'm fueled by your participation.

And now, on with the show. 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.

On with the show!


Dramatis Personae

In the customary order because I'm a customary guy...

Rayford Steele: Airline captain. Husband of Irene Steele. Possible former gay porn star. Ditherer.

Irene Steele: Wife of Rayford Steele. Born-again Christian. Not perfect, just forgiven.

Cameron "Buck" Williams: Reporter. Known for "bucking tradition and authority." Terrible Excellent writer. Spiritually attuned. Electronics wiz. Fast typist.

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type.


Chapter Three: In which we arrive, grow emotional over the issue of babies/children, and indulge in what will become a familiar degree of absurd paranoia.

Page 41- Line 1-10:
Hattie Durham and what was left of her cabin crew encouraged passengers to study the safety cards in their seat pockets. Many feared they would be unable to jump and slide down the chutes, especially with their carry-on luggage. They were instructed to remove their shoes and to jump seatfirst onto the chute. Then crew members would toss their shoes and bags. They were advised not to wait in the terminal for their checked baggage. That, they were promised, would eventually be delivered to their homes. No guarantees when.

To start with the minor issue: "seatfirst"? Seriously, who talks narrates that way? Especially since it makes the whole scene more comical: I would think feetfirst would imply that they jump and slide down in an upright posture. "Seatfirst" makes it sound like they exit the plane ass-first which is, if nothing else, weird. On a larger note, I want you to really study that paragraph. Bask in its dullness. Revel in its unnecessary degree of specificity. Consider how it makes sure we know what happens to random hand luggage. This, in a nutshell, is the entire book: dull, dull, dull with an extra helping of boring.

Page 41- Line 14-16:
"You're with 'Global Weekly'?" She [Hattie] said. "I had no idea."

"And you were going to send me to my room for tampering with a phone." [Buck responded]

Am I the only one who is forced to observe that being a reporter is not the same thing as being an electrician, much less an MCSE? In any case, this is just another example of how it's a bad idea to give women authority over men; they try and stop random dudes from fiddling with equipment that they (the random dudes) are not even slightly qualified to work with.

Page 41-43- Line 42:30-43:3:
The buggy-whip centripetal force slammed his [Buck's] stockinged feet to the ground and brought his torso up and over in a somersault that barely missed planting his face on the concrete.

"Buggy-whip"? Seriously? That's the analogy the authors chose to make centripetal force MORE understandable to a general audience? A device for motivating horses that most of their audience have probably never seen in use? And what's with the "stockinged feet"? Given that Buck doesn't appear to be a cross-dresser, they seem to be referring to socks. Are the authors writing this book by channeling Charles Dickens' semi-literate cousin, or what? I should probably also note that during the lengthy description of Buck's trip down the evacuation slide, most of which I have omitted in order to safeguard your sanity, he managed to scrape/cut his scalp open. My scrawled comment in the margins simply reads, "Good lord, they are telling me everything."

Page 44- Line 16-19:
"Well, do me a favor and consider me [Hattie] part of your [Rayford's] crew, too. Just because I can't fly the thing [the 747] doesn't mean I don't feel some ownership. And don't treat me like a little woman."

And this is what the authors think "feminism" is. Leaving the girl power moment aside, however, I should mention that Chris, Rayford's co-pilot, surprised Rayford by demanding to ride to the terminal ahead of the passengers. Our heroic protagonist, on the other hand, insisted on walking since that's what his passengers have to do. Rayford thinks Chris is an asshole as a result of this contrast. Chris has his reasons, as we'll see before too long.

Page 45- Line 19-21:
O'Hare was like a massive prison with resources dwindling and gridlock growing.

As analogies go that one was... murky, at best. In any case, Rayford and Hattie have managed to walk their way to the airport terminal and are trying to figure out what to do next. Rayford, of course, wants to go see if his wife has been disapparated raptured. No idea about Hattie. Maybe she wants a cookie? In any case, Ray heads to the crew lounge, gets into a line for the phones, and starts watching a TV that's showing CNN. Which leads us to this next bit...

Page 46- Line 27-30:
Most shocking to Rayford was a woman in labor, about to go into the delivery room, who was suddenly barren. Doctors delivered the placenta. Her husband had caught the disappearance of the fetus on tape.

My comment in the margin just about says it all: "That is fucked up." Given later descriptions of her stomach going from very pregnant to "nearly flat," I'm forced to assume that god took most of the amniotic fluid, too. So here's a question: what would a fetus even do in heaven? Be a baby forever? Yay?

Page 47- Line 26-28:
A funeral home in Australia reported that nearly every mourner disappeared from one memorial service, including the corpse...

So... yeah. Including the corpse. Heaven is apparently populated by naked people, fetuses, and corpses. Sounds fun, really. Like a party at Jeff Dahmer's place. In any case, Rayford continues watching and hears about a soccer game being played at a "Christian high school" where all the players but one suddenly disappeared. Keep this in mind when you read the following...

Page 48- Line 10-17:
The CNN reporter announced that, in his remorse, the surviving player took his own life.

But it was more than remorse, Rayford knew. Of all people, that player, a student at a Christian school, would have known the truth immediately. The Rapture had taken place. Jesus Christ had returned for his people, and that boy was not one of them.

Okay, first, I agree that the right term isn't remorse, but only when applied to the CNN anchor. See, remorse means "Deep regret or guilt for a wrong committed," which is fine for Rayford to use, but for the CNN anchor, "surprise" or "shock" are more likely since, really, what the fuck does he think the kid has to feel remorseful about? Survivor guilt doesn't usually set in instantaneously. The second issue is that, really, my understanding is that according to most Christian denominations, god doesn't like suicide all that much. So, if you suddenly realize that god was too pissed with you to save you from tribulation, why exactly would you go and piss him off more by committing suicide? Is this a subtle message from the authors that even they think evangelicals make weird decisions? I'm going with "no." I think this is just another part of their general disdain for humanity. Anyway, Rayford eventually gets to the phone and calls his answering machine at home, where he hears a message from his daughter, Chloe. Note, of course, that this means that Chloe was not taken in the rapture.

Page 48- Line 29-30:
We've lost at least ten students and two profs, and all the married students' kids disappeared. [Chloe said]

This bit puzzles me. So far, all children have disappeared regardless of their parentage. Now, Chloe is being all specific about the "married students' kids" disappearing. Does this mean bastard children don't go to heaven? I have to admit, I find that implication more than a bit shallow. Likewise, I find the authors' decision to ignore the possibility of unmarried student parents irritating. I teach college students, I have taught unmarried student parents of many ages (e.g. single-mothers, divorcees who are returning to school), and I think the authors can at least acknowledge their existence, even if they're going to judge them at the same time.

Page 49- Line 10-11:
Rayford nodded and quickly dialed his daughter's dorm room at Stanford.

Notice two points here: first, Chloe is apparently smart because she goes out-of-state to Stanford. Treasure this moment, as it is the first and last time you will ever regard Chloe as smart. Second, I love the subtle lesson: send your kids to obtain a higher education at a secular university and they are totally going to hell. Remember, folks: ignorance is strength!

Page 49- Line 13-17:
Rayford gathered his belongings and checked his mail slot. Besides a pile of the usual junk, he found a padded manila envelope from his home address. Irene had taken to mailing him little surprises lately, the result of a marriage book she had been urging him to read.

Believe me when I tell you that the contents of the envelope, which will be revealed in a chapter or two, are not as exciting as the above might lead you to believe. Not even close.

Page 50- Line Any:

So, I'm not going to transcribe this but Rayford manages to find a helicopter that is leaving to take people to his part of Chicago and he asks it to wait so he can find Hattie. She eventually gets back to him and they go running for the chopper. She attempts to commiserate about Chris, the co-pilot, but Rayford starts to get annoyed... but that's a story for next week!

This brings us more or less to the halfway point for Chapter 3. What comes up next? Eh. Rayford has a bit of a sudden series of changes of heart and we return to following Buck who is, as always, bland.

I'll see you then!


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A cautionary message for collegiate instructors.

Many of us are preparing to begin teaching classes this semester. Many of us have done this before, while others will be embarking on this endeavor for the first time.* Regardless, I just want to remind you that, for many of our students, the following is a roughly accurate representation of the approach to generating knowledge:

Seriously, best of luck everybody! It should be a fun year.

* My good wishes are yours in particular if this is your first time. Teaching a class for the first time is like having sex for the first time. You build it up into this big thing beforehand, find yourself sweaty and awkward while you're doing it, and then find yourself wondering what the hell just happened afterwards. On the plus side, after you teach your first class you probably won't end up with a burning sensation when you pee.

Hat-tip to the excellent graphjam for this little gem.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In the beginning was the Prompt, and the Prompt was with DOS, and the Prompt was DOS.

As many of you know, I've been a gamer for a long, long time. I played the old Atari classics like pong and breakout. I recorded data onto audio cassettes and popped them into a tape player so I could hear what programs sound like. I futzed around with himem, partitioned drives using the command line, and recall being introduced to mice long after I was familiar with computers. I've played Zork, and Moria. I can remember getting a new game and then spending hours, sometimes days, reading through the extensive manual because no two programs used the same control system. I remember thinking that mouselook was a damned cool innovation.

I learned to type on a DOS shareware program called "friendly writer."

I can recall when a 486 computer was inexpressibly awesome. My fondness for games has spanned data storage media including audio cassettes, 5 1/4" floppies, 3 1/2" floppies, CD-ROMs, DVDs, and online content delivery.* I played Tradewars on the old WWIV BBS systems. There are games I wish I could still play that are only compatible with operating systems that are too primitive to run on modern hardware.

The first computer I ever owned did not originally have a harddisk.

Things have changed over the years. Computer games have, in large part, gone mainstream. They're big business now, showing up in clean, respectable stores. Well-known people now admit to enjoying games.** There are television commercials for games and I see muscular freshmen wandering around with t-shirts that reference Halo or Half-Life 2. There are even music videos about gaming:***

I'm happy that my obsession hobby has become more accepted. I'm happy that new generations are being introduced to an engaging passtime and, particularly, that it's maturing into both a medium for storytelling and a way to interact with other people.

But I have to admit, every now and then I miss my old scout marauder.

* I should point out that, aside from a brief flirtation, console games have never been a part of my repertoire.

** My wife, for example, recently mentioned to me that Matthew Perry apparently plays Fallout 3. Who knew?

*** Hat-tip to Backstage.

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Monday, August 24, 2009


I don't really watch t.v. anymore, since my wife and I don't have a t.v. capable of pulling in digital signals, and for the most part don't miss it. I do, however, sometimes find myself looking at movie trailers online since I have a peculiar weakness for good* film. Recently, during my occasional forays in search of movie trailers I ran across something that set me to thinking:

So basically this movie is the story of the Christian god getting ready to go all old testament on us... again. I say again because the Christian god is, among other things, a genocidal freak who has bombed entire cities into the ground for sinning and, indeed, wiped out nearly the entire world in a great flood. On the plus side, after the flood god promised never to wipe out mankind again... using water. Seriously, he leaves himself a loophole:

Genesis 9:11: I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.

Obviously, then, this upcoming movie is taking god at his word and assuming that the next time god tries to exterminate us to the last man, woman, and child he'll use something else. And it really seems like he's not fucking around this time since he's sending an army of supernatural creatures to fuck us up but good.

Now, I am intrigued by this movie for a number of reasons. First, for the simple reason that it places god in the role of antagonist, which is pretty rare in movies. To the extent that god is even a "character" in films he's generally on our side and it's the devil or other evil forces that are being fought. So this represents an interesting twist. Secondly, I think the theological conundrum of this movie is, to say the least, amusing. God decides to destroy mankind so he sends his angels to kill the woman who is going to be the mother of Jesus who is, among other things, God. Another angel defies God to go protect God from the angels sent by God. So, basically, God is fighting himself and, really, the whole thing just seems like a terrible waste of manangelpower. Third, I think it's kinda amusing that a godman cartoon** pretty much got it spot-on:

Finally, however, I am just really looking forward to seeing how the wider Christian community reacts to this film. On the one hand, it certainly paints god in a light that is unforgiving and unloving. On the other hand, that's pretty much entirely consistent with his past behavior and- depending on your interpretation of revelations- with his stated future intentions as well. It's one thing to recognize intellectually the murderous tantrums that the god of the bible goes on from time to time, but it's a little jarring to see one depicted in a more modern setting. And, so, the rhetoric should be interesting.

As for me, I'm just trying to figure out how it makes sense that mankind, having been cursed for being sinful, gets to try to save itself through the use of a whole lot of firearms and explosives. God works in mysterious ways, I guess.

* Note, of course, that I don't mean "good" in the sense of subtitled Cannes award winners. Seriously, people, Evil Dead 2 is one of my favorite films- you do the math.

** Via tom the dancing bug. Go read it!

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Just rub some dirt on it. You'll be alright.

Perhaps it's just me and my snobbishness about education and expertise but, somehow, this just sounds like a terrible idea:

Some people just can’t get rid of their acne, or chronic pain, or psoriasis, no matter what treatment their doctor recommends. Now, just like looking for a hotel recommendation, they can turn to strangers with the same ailments for advice at an online community called CureTogether.

The website is much like Yelp, but its members review remedies, instead of restaurants and barber shops. It allows anyone who is facing a tough medical decision to draw upon the experience of crowds.

“People with acne report treatments they have tried and rank how well they worked,” said Alexandra Carmichael, co-founder of the website. “Everyone else with acne can then see the community stats.”

My concern is not, of course, to imply that common wisdom about medical ailments is often stupid but... well... uh... common wisdom about medical ailments is often stupid. And given how many people think magnetic bracelets can improve their health,* it's less the "wisdom of crowds" and more the "dumbassery** of crowds."

And the truly scary part of this comes later:

Every bit of that user data is also available to researchers, so it could potentially cut the cost of evidence-based medicine research, studies that aim to evaluate the effectiveness of medical treatments.

Lovely. Because if there's one thing we've learned over the years in biomedical research, it's that people totally know when a treatment is working and when it isn't. So a bunch of reports of varying thoroughness and accuracy from a self-selected pool of people who may or may not have the stated disorders and who may or may not have tried the remedies in question? Oh yeah. That's classic scientific data.


* If you're one such fan of magnetic bracelets, consider this: if that tiny, weak magnet on your wrist exerts enough force on the iron in your blood to improve circulation, why the hell doesn't the massively more powerful magnetic field in an MRI machine basically cause the human body to explode? Something to ponder.

** I feel like a true sociologist, because I'm pretty sure I just made up the word "dumbassery." Now, if only I could figure a way to smuggle it into ASR...

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 2, Part 2

Welcome, girls and boys, to another thrilling installment of Left Behind, the book that will leave you feeling like God would be the least interesting houseguest ever.

Last time, as you may recall, we continued to get hot and bothered about the rapture, discovered that Rayford has quite the way with a radio, and that Buck is apparently so good with microelectronics that he can effectively do the impossible. What will happen this week? Who knows? More importantly, who cares?

As always, I'm picking someone from the last installment as my favorite comment. This "lucky" winner is Rybear, who remarked:

How come Rayford never entertains the idea that he is dead?

I mean, being stuck on a sausage-fest of a 747 and fighting over one woman for all eternity sounds like hell to me.

You say hell, I say the next "reality" dating show. In any case, a distinction without a difference. Congratulations, Rybear, and good luck to all of you! Keep those commenting fingers limber!

And now, on with the show. As always, page and line numbers are in bold, quotes from the book are in block quotes, and my commentary is in plain print. And you can navigate around the series using the handy tag.


Dramatis Personae

In the same order as the last two times, because I'm crushingly lazy...

Rayford Steele: Airline captain. Husband of Irene Steele. Possible former gay porn star. Ditherer.

Irene Steele: Wife of Rayford Steele. Born-again Christian. Not perfect, just forgiven.

Cameron "Buck" Williams: Reporter. Known for "bucking tradition and authority." Terrible Excellent writer. Spiritually attuned. Electronics wiz.

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type.


Page 32- Line Pick Whichever:

I'm not going to transcribe most of it because it's so long and insipid, but on this page Hattie discovers Buck attempting to rewire printed circuits with pliers and becomes properly upset about the whole thing. You know how airlines are, always getting sticky when random passengers decide to work on the plane's electronics in mid-air. Never mind that trying to modify printed circuits with pliers is a bit like trying to cut a diamond with a battering ram. Regardless, Buck knows exactly how to placate her...

Page 32- Line 10-12:
He [Buck] glanced at her name tag. "Listen, beautiful Hattie, are we or are we not looking at the end of the world as we know it?"

"Don't patronize me, sir. I can't let you sit here and vandalize airline proprty." [Hattie replied]

"I'm not vandalizing it. I'm adapting it in an emergency. With this I can hopefully make a connection where nothing else will work." [Buck argued]

Okay, first, note that while he denied vandalizing the phone, he didn't deny patronizing her. This is more or less how women are usually treated in this book. It should seem familiar since it's more or less how the authors treat the readers. So, hey, Hattie should just get out of the way and let Buck do the impossible. He is a man, after all. Second, I admit I'm very divided on Buck's claim that his approach might be the best way to get through. In radio it is true that you can often get a message through only if you don't use voice communication (e.g. morse code, packet radio). This is simply because voice sucks up a lot of bandwidth relative to the alternatives, so you can punch through a message in a more efficient format even when atmospheric conditions make voice impossible. This isn't the problem here, though. The problem is that too many people are trying to make calls at once and that is jamming the switches. Now, if Buck means that once he gets messages into the internet, they'll route around downed areas and be more likely to make it all the way to their destination, he's probably right. On the other hand, the authors seem to be implying that there's something about a modem that makes it more likely to get a phone line in the first place. This is not right. In any case, this conversation drags on for another page, during which Buck bribes Hattie with the promise of news about her family if he can get his connection working. Also, at the bottom of page 32 I scrawled the note, "Man, this dialogue is terrible." I have a gift for understatement.

Page 34- Line 2-8:
"Hattie, you're doing the right thing," he [Buck] said. "It's OK in a situation like this to think of yourself a little. That's what I'm doing."

"But everybody's in the same boat, sir. And I have responsibilities."

"You have to admit, when people disappear, some rules go out the window."

I'm not sure how to feel about this bit. On the one hand, Buck is technically correct- it is acceptable to think of yourself to a degree and, indeed, unexpected changes may require that we be flexible about customs and rules. On the other hand, Hattie is correct about the inherent unfairness of her allowing Buck to continue so that she, but not everyone else, can learn about her own family. And on the gripping hand, I'm all too aware that the authors are probably trying to send a message about how selfish non-Christians are with their situational ethics. Never mind that non-Christian does not equal amoral or unethical in any sense. I'm not going to get bogged down in a discussion about absolute morality, but I do wonder if the authors, when writing this book, were wearing clothing made from mixed fibers. I'm just sayin' is all.

Page 34- Line 13-16:
He [Rayford] complimented everyone on remaining calm and avoiding hysterics, although he had received reports of doctors on board who handed out Valium like candy.

Is it common for doctors to travel with large supplies of valium? Why? And, yeah, we're back with Rayford now. He muses, following the above, about how many of his passengers who hadn't had family disappear might still come home to discover loved ones who were killed in the ensuing chaos. Picture a giant ass SUV driven by a Quiverfull mother who was taken in the rapture. That now driverless SUV could do a lot of damage to that little Prius coming the other way, you know? Stupid liberals- trying to save the Earth! I also have a scrawled note in the margin reading, "Keep in mind that anyone who died as a result of the rapture is going straight to hell." Sounds perfectly merciful to me!

Page 35- Line 13-14:
It was not Rayford's practice to communicate with ground control until after he landed...

This sounds more frightening than it is as ground control usually isn't responsible for the runways, but only for the rest of the tarmac. So, in other words, you could get away with not talking to GC until air-traffic control lands your ass. That said, it still makes Rayford sound like an arrogant prick.

Page 36- 13-19:
With an acumen he didn't realize he possessed, Buck speed-tapped the keys that retrieved and filed all his messages, downloaded them, and backed him out of the linkup in seconds. Just when his machine might have interfered with flight communications, he was off-line and would have to wait to search his files for news from friends, coworkers, relatives, anyone.

What a man! He can hit that little "Send/Receive Mail" button in Outlook! I feel a swoon coming on. Yes, folks, that's right: the authors are treating retrieving e-mail like it's an exciting event. Shit, if they like that, I bet a spreadsheet is like porn to them. "Ooh, baby, yeah! Recalculate those totals! Nobody amortizes like you do!"

Page 37- Line 7-10:
"Sir, we lost every child and baby on this plane." [Hattie sobbed]

"How many were there?" [Buck asked]

"More than a dozen. But all of them! Not one was left."

Ahoy there, sentence fragments! Leaving that aside, this is the first part of the authors' attempt to deal with a nasty theological issue: what happens to children when the rapture hits? Well, as it turns out, they all get zapped away to heaven so that they can be with Jesus instead of suffering through the upcoming shit-storm. This raises the obvious question of how old you have to be before you're responsible for accepting Jesus into your blood pumping organ. Eh, that will be addressed later but, ironically, will introduce more difficult theological issues than the answer solves. Interestingly enough, it also raises the issue of human fertility. So during the rapture god zaps away all the infants and small kids because they're innocent and shouldn't have to suffer. Fair enough, but the thing is, wouldn't it also make sense to render humans infertile so that we wouldn't then just have more infants and small kids who would then suffer? Why, of course it would! Is that what god does? Oh, fuck no! As it turns out, people can and do have kids after the rapture. Have fun trying to make that make sense, I've given up.

Page 37- Line Orange:

We're at the end of the chapter and I'd like to take a moment to comment on something: why a plane? See, what I mean is, with all the chaos that is supposedly occurring around the world, why did the authors choose to open the book- and spend multiple chapters dwelling on- an environment that is so orderly and antiseptic that it effectively vacuums the excitement out of almost any scenario? I mean, we could have had the book open with a pedestrian who suddenly has to dodge now-driverless out-of-control cars. We could have opened in an emergency room, where doctors and/or nurses suddenly vanished in the middle of procedures and the survivors had to struggle to hang onto things. Hell, if the authors had really wanted to have a pilot as a main character, we could have had Rayford Steele, hotshot airline pilot, dodging runaway cars on the freeway while driving to work. But no. Instead, we get an absurdly dull setting and have to suffer through chapters of characters telling us about horrible chaos, but without any horrible chaos actually appearing on stage. It's a little like having your friend describe a disaster movie to you via instant messenger. As it turns out, I do know why the authors chose to do things this way. See, it's all because of a personal experience had by author Tim LaHaye:

As LaHaye tells the story, one day, about 1994, he was sitting on an airplane, watching a married pilot flirting with a flight attendant, and it hit him: What would befall the sinful pilot if the Rapture happened now? What if, as LaHaye believes the Bible foretells, God suddenly snatches up to heaven all of the believers in Jesus? And that is how Left Behind starts.

So, Left Behind starts on an airliner because LaHaye basically decided that the best way to start his epic was by fictionalizing an anecdote. And this is a problem, because while the anecdote might have been the inspiration for the book series it is, nevertheless, the sort of random musing that pops into your head when you're bored on a jetliner. That it was used at all suggests to me that the authors lack the discipline required to produce a convincing narrative. Well, that and the text of the rest of the book.

And that basically concludes this episode of Left Behind. Yes, I know it seemed short, but that takes us to the end of the chapter and, in any case, I'm trying to prepare for the resumption of the academic year. Give a guy a break.

Tune in next time when Rayford and the others go on an exciting journey to the airport terminal. Remember: The red zone is for loading and unloading only!


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I am, apparently, ahead of my time.

Some of you who share my fondness for all things zombie may be excited to know that your interests are no longer- technically speaking- purely a hobby. Instead, it's now possible to regard the study of zombies as an intellectual contribution. Am I kidding? Not at all, because I recently became aware of a new book titled, "Infectious Disease Modelling Research Progress." What does that have to do with zombies? Seemingly nothing, until you notice that chapter four is titled, "When Zombies Attack!: Mathematical Modelling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection." Seriously.

There's a great little article on the chapter at Wired, but the essence is that the authors adapted the classic SIR model from epidemiology for zombies. For those who don't know, "S" stands for susceptible, "I" stands for infectious, and "R" stands for recovered- where recovered can mean either "recovered from the illness and now immune" or "dead." In any case, the authors of this chapter converted SIR into SZR- Susceptible, Zombie, and Recovered. And as we all know, there isn't any "recovering" from zombification, so that R stands for "Really big bullet to the brain."

So what's the prognosis for a potential zombie uprising? Eh. Not good:

“Only sufficiently frequent attacks, with increasing force, will result in eradication, assuming the available resources can be mustered in time,” they concluded.


“If the timescale of the outbreak increases, then the result is the doomsday scenario: an outbreak of zombies will result in the collapse of civilization, with every human infected, or dead,” they wrote. “This is because human births and deaths will provide the undead with a limitless supply of new bodies to infect, resurrect and convert.”

How fast do we need to deal with the outbreak? If an infection breaks out in a city of 500,000 people, the zombies will outnumber the susceptibles in about three days.

All I can say is, between the threat of a zombie apocalypse and the new respectability of zombie studies, it's a good thing I keep the Zombie Survival Guide in the methods section of my office bookshelf. Nevertheless, this makes me wonder: how long until we have a "Zombies and Society" section-in-formation at the ASAs?

Best. Paper. Sessions. EVAR!

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The failure of literalism.

So, despite my recent banning I have not completely given up on my surveillance of Conservapedia, though I concede that it has become less detailed. Nevertheless, I do keep an eye on Andrew Schlafly and his coterie of whackjobs and giggle along with their lunatic ravings. Few of their ravings, however, are more lunatic than this gem, which has of late grabbed Schlafly's attention like a facehugger. And like a facehugger, this obsession is laying an egg deep within Schlafly's abdomen that may, someday, emerge amidst a fountaining eruption of gore to reveal itself as a slime-dripping monstrosity that is inimical to all life. I refer, of course, to Schlafly's new Conservative Bible Project.

So what is the Conservative Bible Project? Well, to understand, you first need to grasp the essence of the "problem" as explained by Schlafly:

As of 2009 there is no fully conservative translation of the Bible which satisfies the following 12 conditions:

1. Full use of conservative terms as they develop; modern English translations use the word "comrade" three times as often as "volunteer."

2. Conveying evil with its proper liberal language, such as using the term "gamble" rather than "cast lots."

3. Excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story.

4. Avoiding unisex, "gender inclusive" language.

5. Not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the English translation that supplanted the KJV in popularity is written at only the 7th grade level.

6. Explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning.

7. Including notes that credit the young ages and open-mindedness of the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels.

8. Use modern political terminology, such as "register" for a census rather than "enroll."

9. Not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell.

10. Dealing with liberal or random dilution of the meaning of biblical terms, like the term "word" in the first verse of the Gospel of John.

11. Use a concise and dignifying style, such as use of "who" rather than "that" when referring to people and also use glorifying language for the remarkable achievements.

12. Recognizing that Christianity introduced powerful new concepts that even the Greek and Hebrew were inadequate to express, but modern conservative language can express well. [some changes made in order to conform at least half-heartedly to English punctuation]

In other words, the bible contains (in Schlafly's view) stuff that is supportive of non-conservative viewpoints. This is obviously wrong, since anything non-conservative is evil, and the bible can't be evil, so therefore we have to "fix" the bible. No, I'm not kidding in the slightest, and don't even get me started on point twelve where we basically get the argument that the bible was originally written in languages that couldn't express the concepts in the bible itself. I am forced to wonder, if that's true, how the hell we'd ever know? Direct revelation to Saint Schlafly, I guess. In any case, Schlafly actually proposes a number of "approaches" for carrying out a conservative mauling retranslation of the bible:

Or, in plain text:

Here are possible approaches to creating a conservative Bible translation:

Identify pro-liberal terms used in existing Bible translations, such as "government", and suggest more accurate substitutes.

Identify the omission of liberal terms for vices, such as "gambling", and identify where they should be used.

Identify conservative terms that are omitted from existing translations, and propose where they could improve the translation.

Identify terms that have lost their original meaning, such as "word" in the beginning of the Gospel of John, and suggest replacements, such as "truth."

An existing translation might license its version for improvement by the above approaches, much as several modern translations today are built on prior translations. Alternatively, a more ambitious approach would be to start anew from the best available ancient transcripts.

In stage one, the translation could focus on word improvement and thereby be described as a "conservative word-for-word" translation. If greater freedom in interpretation is then desired, then a "conservative thought-for-thought" version could be generated as a second stage. [Once more, some punctuation and capitalization was corrected]

So, in other words, Schlafly wants to go through an existing English bible, line by line, and excise and replace all words he thinks give the wrong impression. If a parable seems to suggest that conservative philosophy is wrong, well, then it should be removed or reworded to give it the "full free-market meaning." If that isn't good enough, he thinks we can just go through and paraphrase the book to produce a "thought-for-thought" translation, which is problematic both because it implies that Schlafly has cognition in the first place, and because it implies that he has a telepathic link with Jesus. Technically, I suppose, a lot of people claim to have a sort of telepathic link with Jesus, but most of them don't claim to be able to take dictation through it.

Probably my favorite part of this festering bucket of spit is his list of advantages to a conservative bible online:

Or, to quote Schlafly with my commentary mixed in:

There are several striking advantages to a conservative approach to translating the Bible online:

Participants learn enormously from the process.

Specifically, they learn not to have anything to do with Conservapedia.

Liberal bias - and lack of authenticity - become easier to recognize and address.

How, exactly, since you're just planning on rewording an existing translation?

By translating online, this utilizes the growing online resources that improve accuracy.

I think I heard that excuse before when I busted a student for downloading his term paper.

Supported by conservative principles, the project can be bolder in uprooting and excluding liberal distortions.

In other words, it can just make shit up.

The project can adapt quickly to future threats from liberals to biblical integrity.

By doing what, exactly? Banning them from the project website?

Access is free and immediate to the growing internet audience, for their benefit.

Because it's so damn hard to find a free bible these days.

The ensuing debate would flesh out -- and stop -- the infiltration of churches by liberals pretending to be Christian, much as a vote by legislators exposes the liberals.

You heard it here first, kids: you cannot be Christian and be liberal. I expect all the liberal Christians in the audience to turn in your Jesus and become, I don't know, whatever?

This would bring the Bible to a new audience of political types, for their benefit; Bible courses in college Politics Departments would be welcome.

As long as that Politics Department was at Bob Jones University.

This would debunk the pervasive and hurtful myth that Jesus would be a political liberal today.

Indeed! Jesus would never say anything hurtful to the conservative cause like, say, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Also: Schlafly and I are clearly not using the same definition of "debunk."

Okay, so, laughs aside, is there any particular reason why I bring this up? Well, yeah, actually. See, the thing is if you were to ask Schlafly he would say he is preserving or recovering the "true" meaning of the bible with his nonsensical retranslation. Yet, I think most of us agree that he isn't at all concerned about retranslating faithfully, and is really just interested in placing the most conservative spin on the bible that he can. It isn't about what the apostles meant to say, it's about what they should have said if they were trying to support Schlafly's case. And in the event that Schlafly were to complete, and publish, this drivel, doubtless most people who happened upon it would not realize that they were reading a jaundiced text. And for children brought up using such a bible... well, it would just by The Bible, now wouldn't it? I frankly doubt that Schlafly will succeed in this since the bible is very long and he will no doubt soon be distracted by a shiny object. Nonetheless, I think the very proposal of this effort is an example in miniature of the failure of biblical literalism.

The bible is a book that was written over a period of centuries by multiple authors and then was transcribed, translated, retranscribed and retranslated throughout even more centuries. Throughout that period, how many of those translations and transcriptions included little tweaks made to advance a specific viewpoint? In other words, how much of the modern text is in effect an accumulation of numerous small retranslations of the type suggested by Schlafly? I doubt we could ever know, and yet the likelihood that the texts we have today are, indeed, perfectly faithful translations of the originals is so small that it beggars the imagination. Unless you're prepared to assume that god preserves the correct meaning with each translation,* there is no alternative but to assume that the bible has been so deeply changed through the centuries that its literal words today are to its literal words then as a sentence is at the end of a game of "telephone" to the same sentence at the beginning.

If people want to read and try to follow the "wisdom" of the bible, that's fine with me.** At the same time, though, I think incidents like that should provide a caution that knowing the words of the bible is no substitute for using your judgment.

* Admittedly some people do claim this, although they then have to deal with the existence of numerous different and presumably incorrect translations coexisting. Much as the correct answer to Pascal's Wager is "Which god?" the correct answer to a supposedly incorruptible bible is "Which bible?"

** I put wisdom in quotation marks because, while the bible does contain wisdom, it also contains an awful lot of nonsense that has in the past and continues to produce suffering in the world. Unfortunately, however, we don't all agree on which parts are which.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

I'd rather be named 'Sue.'

If I were employed as a dictionary editor, I like to think I might one day be responsible for an entry like this:

Merkin- noun
1. A pitcher for the San Francisco Giants.
2. An unusual type of wig.

And the most amazing thing? I'm not even the one who made that connection at the game!

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Observations on childrearing while riding an airplane.

On my recent flight to the ASAs, I found myself sitting next to a little girl and her mother. Nothing all that unusual, or so I thought until I noticed the entertainment that they had brought.

Specifically, this girl of perhaps seven entertained herself by reading her mother's fashion and celebrity gossip magazines. Who knew that Ed had betrayed Jillian? This little girl, apparently.

Once she ran out of magazines, her mother pulled out a laptop so she (the girl) could watch "Confessions of a Shopaholic".

Now, I am not a parent yet and don't think I can really comment on how someone raises their children. But I will say that, over the course of this flight, I developed a nearly irresistible urge to teach this little girl some math.

And that's all I have to say about that.

As a side note, yes, I'm aware this may be some kind of special ritual between this mother and daughter. I don't think so, based on my observations but, hey, people are funny. Likewise, I do not think that parents are necessarily serving their children by engaging with them every second of the day and it is very easy for a stranger to think things from the outside. I really am not condemning the mother. I just have to admit that this was, genuinely, my reaction. I literally wanted to teach this girl some math.

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Hey, Baby, you lookin to party?

Well then look no further! The Scatterparty is tonight at 6:00 PM at the ASAs in San Francisco. Come on down and meet your favorite bloggers, get smashed, and generally have a great time.

Hey, don't say I never invite you to anything!

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 2, Part 1

Welcome back, boys and girls, for another thrilling episode of Left Behind, the book that will convince you that if there is a god, he hates the English language. Last time, you will recall, we got to the actual rapture and learned that women get all scared and stuff under pressure. What will happen this time? Who knows? Read and find out.

As usual, I want to recognize my favorite comment to the last episode. This time I have to choose the observation left by my Former Hypothetical Roommate, who commented:

Dude, you totally should have seen the movie, rather than try to get through the book.

I mean the movie is awful, but as I recall, it was at least faster paced than the book.

Indeed, it would have been faster but- judging from the previews- they compensate for less length by adding additional pain. Congratulations, FHR, and for the rest of you- hang in there and bring the funny. Specifically, bring it to the comments section.

While the FHR did win this week's best comment, I would like to offer a belated runner-up prize to krulayar whose comment to Chapter 1, Part 1 implores us to turn to Allah. Because the appropriate response to an atheist commenting at length on the horrid writing of a work of Evangelical Christian fiction is to post a link to a shitty youtube video praising a slightly different flavor of god. Bravo.

Anyway, as always, page and line numbers are in bold, quotations from the book are in block quotes, and my commentary is in plain text. And you can see the whole series using the handy provided tag. Enjoy!


Dramatis Personae

In no particular order, because it's fun to watch you squirm...

Rayford Steele: Airline captain. Husband of Irene Steele. Possible former gay porn star. Ditherer.

Irene Steele: Wife of Rayford Steele. Born-again Christian. Not perfect, just forgiven.

Cameron "Buck" Williams: Reporter. Known for "bucking tradition and authority." Terrible Excellent writer. Spiritually attuned.

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type.


Chapter Two: In which we discover the full extent of the problem, learn that the authors are startlingly ignorant, and are bored to tears by terrible dialogue.

Page 21- Line Who cares:

To set the scene: we begin the chapter focusing on Buck, who is waking up. He discovers that the old lady in the seat in front of him is alarmed because she believes that her husband is running around (ironically enough) buck naked on a jetliner. We, of course, know that Jesus raptured him away in the nude (the old guy I mean. I have no idea how Jesus dresses while rapturing people. Perhaps he has a special rapture-robe?), but Buck is quite oblivious.

Page 21- Line 7-9:
Buck had helped the old man put his herringbone wool jacket and felt hat in the overhead bin when they boarded.

I hate to say it, but this book is so exciting that my reaction at this point was: "What idiot puts a hat in an overhead?" Yes, folks: I'm more interested in people's stowage choices than in the "plot."

Page 22- Line 10-12:
He [Buck] climbed over the sleeping executive on the aisle, who had far exceeded his limit of free drinks...

Shit, seriously? Do they give free alcohol in First Class or something? Damn. On another note: poor drunks! No heaven for you!

Page 23- Line 7-8:
"I'm looking for-" [Buck started]

"Everybody is looking for someone," she [Hattie] said,"

This is the first instance of something you should get used to: we're constantly told in passing about how many people are missing. I find this intriguing. Clearly, the authors want to create this sense that everyone is evangelical and you don't want to be left behind out. But in the event of the rapture would all that many people actually be missing? I'm a little doubtful. In the context of this particular plane it seems only a little bit iffy since the U.S. does actually have a lot of evangelicals and the flight departed from the United States. When the authors talk about other countries, though, it gets a little silly. How many evangelicals do you think are in Qatar, for example? Never mind. The other thing that's funny is that I frankly think the authors vastly over-estimate the percentage of self-proclaimed born again Christians who would meet with god's approval. Just read the old testament: that dude is hard to please.

Page 23- Line 22-29:
As he [Buck] hurried back to his seat, his mind searched its memory banks for anything he had ever read, seen, or heard of any technology that could remove people from their clothes and make them disappear from a decidedly secure environment. Whoever did this, were they on the plane? Would they make demands? Would another wave of disappearances be next? Would he become a victim? Where would he find himself?

Would he ever stop asking questions? Will the Batman escape from the Penguin? Why am I reading this shit? Okay, seriously, Buck is actually having a fairly sensible reaction here. Well, sort of. The most parsimonious conclusion is that he, Buck, has lost his mind. The second most parsimonious conclusion is that he, Buck, is in some kind of simulated reality. You know, wired into a computer or something. Think Descartes in the Matrix here, people. The third most parsimonious conclusion is that someone has a technology that can do what appears to have happened (i.e. teleport naked people). God is a distant fourth in the hierarchy. I base those conclusions on the fact that we (a) know insanity and delusions happen, (b) are already able to input and extract information directly to and from the brain, and (c) teleporting naked people is only slightly less crazy than (d) believing an invisible friend stole people. So, basically, we can order the possible options according to how closely they agree with existing knowledge of the world. And actually, out of kindness to the authors I omitted the very most likely explanation which is simply that Buck is dreaming the whole damn thing. You might point out that this can't be the case since Rayford is having the same experiences. True enough, but Buck has no way of knowing that and, likewise, neither does Rayford. They could both be stuck in some personal nightmare world rather than experiencing something real. And don't tell me they could just pinch themselves to see if they're dreaming- that doesn't work. In any case, I don't bother extensively with the dreaming possibility mostly just to be nice to the authors. Nevertheless, give up on a serious discussion of the various options for explaining this situation as the authors have no interest in epistemology. In an ironic twist, the guys who want us to believe in all sorts of undetectable uber-critters (e.g. angels, demons) seem to have a childishly uncomplicated faith in the accuracy of the senses.

Page 24- Line 19-22:

Rayford is explaining over the intercom that he's trying to figure out what's going on but that their location makes it hard to communicate with the ground without long delays. He then adds, "Even in this satellite age, we're in a pretty remote area." I'm not sure what to make of this, actually. On the one hand, sure, I can believe that the average 747 doesn't have a SatCom. I can even believe that this was even more the case when the book was written. On the other hand, I actually have an amateur radio license (Yes, really. Why are you surprised? Don't you remember the saga of the IceBox?) and a rig capable of talking across the Atlantic is not that hard to acquire. I think it likely that with the HF antenna setup on a 747 it would be possible to contact someone on the ground at any point during an Atlantic crossing but I can't say for sure. HF radio has an effectively intercontinental range, but a lot depends on the state of the ionosphere. I suspect the authors never bothered to check on these issues since they seem singularly uninterested in the works of mankind except to condemn them as evil, but given that I can't determine the plane's communications capabilities for certain I'm not going to worry about it. I will observe that, even if they're wrong on this detail, their claims about how much chaos the rapture produced would more or less mean that even if they did have a useable radio there wouldn't be anyone to talk to. Bummer.

Page 26- Line Morose Sigh:

And we're back with Rayford, who is trying to get a West-bound Concorde to give him some news. Specifically, he's making the attempt as though he's never used a goddamn radio before in his life...

Page 26- Line 8:
"What's happening, Concorde?" [Rayford asked]

And this is another example of the authors not knowing, or caring, how things actually work. See, during this conversation with the Concorde the characters randomly use words like "over" in some communications and not others. I know it's supposed to be atmospheric and shit, but the random usage is just distracting. Second, one would not refer to the Concorde as "Concorde." See, there are these things called "call-signs," as in, "U.S Air one-niner" or "Continental four-one" that are used to identify aircraft the same way that radio stations have call letters and amateur radio operators have assigned call signs. You don't just say, "Hey, Bob!" because over the radio a lot of the time voices get distorted and you can't tell who you're talking to. So, basically, this conversation drives me nuts because the authors don't seem to know, or care, anything about the scenario they've constructed. They're just adding a sprinkling of "radio jargon" as learned from watching television. Thankfully, the Concorde has a genius theory about the disappearances to make all this worthwhile:

Page 26- Line 18-19:
"First thing I [Concorde] thought of was spontaneous combustion, but there would have been smoke, residue."

See folks? Logic. Don't get your hopes up for better attempts to understand what happened- the authors assume we're all stupid children. Get used to it. In fact, when we eventually do encounter the secular explanation for the disappearances, it's so mind-bogglingly stupid that you'll feel patronized without even having to read the book. Good times.

Page 27- Line 3-8:
"So this was a spontaneous thing?" [asked Rayford]
"Everywhere at once, just a little under an hour ago." [answered the Concorde]
"I was hoping it was something on this plane. Some gas, some malfunction." [Rayford replied]
"That it was selective you mean, over?"
Rayford caught the sarcasm.
"I see what you mean, Concorde. Gotta admit this is somewhere we've never been before."

Okay, I think I must be dense because the above exchange completely baffles me. The guy in the concorde is reacting as though Rayford is some kinda dumbass for hoping the effect was limited just to his own plane. Why? I mean, Rayford gets it, obviously the authors get it, but I'm lost. Why the hell is that bad or in any way crazier than any of the other wacky shit being thrown around in this book? Wouldn't it be a good thing to hope that misfortune isn't spread any more widely than it absolutely has to be?

Page 27- Line 20-24:
"You know what some people are saying, over?" [asked the Concorde]
"Roger," Rayford said, "Better it's people gone to heaven than some world power doing this with fancy rays."

Fancy rays? What is this- a Tom Swift serial?

Page 28- Line 21-22:
When the Pan Continental 747 was finally within satellite communications range of the United States...

So... on Earth, then?

Page 29- Line Something-or-other:

There's some general exposition going on here to the effect that chaos reigns around the globe because so many people just up and disappeared. Rayford pipes panicked radio broadcasts into the cabin (Darned liberal media! No heaven for you!) and is ordered by ground control into a holding pattern. Much like the narrative.

Page 29- Line 24-28:
One report said that so many cabbies had disappeared from the cab corral at O'Hare that volunteers were being brought in to move the cars that had been left running with the former drivers' clothes still on the seats.

You know, given how often cabbies are immigrants, and given that we're talking Chicago, I would have expected most of the cabbies to be Catholics or Muslims rather than Born-Again Christians. But, hey, I'm not the guy writing the book so don't mind me...

Page 30- Line 16-18:
The in-flight phone embedded in the back of the seat in front of Buck Williams was not assembled with external modular connections the way most phones were.

I think they mean "modem connections" not "modular" because I've never heard anyone use that term in conversation. Technically, though, it's correct and he could be referring to either a modem hookup or an ethernet hookup. Later passages make it sound like they're thinking about a modem, so that's what I'll assume. Oh, yeah, and we're back with Buck now. Lucky us. You're gonna love what happens next.

Page 31- Line 9-11:
He removed from his computer bag a tiny tool kit he had never expected to use, and went to work on the phone.

Yes, you read that right: He's f-ing MacGyver all of a sudden. Cameron "Buck" "MacGyver" Williams. The most useful useless sod you'll ever meet.

Page 31- Line 15-17:
These phone lines always have the same color wires, he decided, so he opened his computer and cut the wire leading to the female connector.

If you're anything like me, the above made you facepalm fairly violently. The reason, for those people who haven't just slapped themselves in the face, has to do with what the authors are claiming. What Buck is described as doing is opening his laptop computer and cutting/stripping the wires leading to the socket for his modem. Specifically, the female socket for an RJ-11 connection, not to be confused with the RJ-45 used in most ethernet cables. This would be perfectly fine, though impressive, were it not for two words: printed circuits. See, most computers- even when this book was written- are made using printed circuit boards. This makes them faster and cheapter to build but, coincidentally, means that there are almost no wires inside whatsoever. In all likelihood Buck's modem is either an on-board modem, meaning it's built into the mainboard and therefore has no wires, or it's an add-on PCMCIA card which... well... has no wires. So, for all intents and purposes, Buck is accomplishing something that's physically impossible. The authors may as well have written, "Buck got out his toolkit and set to work hot-wiring the tomato," and would have made as much sense. As a second, and less critical point: there are many different color and pattern codes used for wires. It's more than a little iffy to assume that any two devices use the same system.

And with that, gentle readers, we come to the end of another episode of Left Behind. Join us next time for the second half of Chapter Two and watch Buck be rude to a woman who is only trying to do her job.

I'll be at the ASAs (in fact, I only just barely had time this morning to post this before I leave) so blogging tomorrow and into next week will be spotty. But have no fear, I will return!


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

It would be surprising if, you know, it were surprising.

Some of you may be aware of the current stir going on about Scientology. If you're not, a number a high-ranking scientologists have begun coming forward with stories of routine abuse that are more than a little distubing:

They are stepping forward — from Dallas and Denver, Portland, Las Vegas, Montana — talking about what happened, to them and their friends, during their years in the Church of Scientology.

Jackie Wolff wept as she recalled the chaotic night she was ordered to stand at a microphone in the mess hall and confess her "crimes" in front of 300 fellow workers, many jeering and heckling her.

Gary Morehead dredged up his recollection of Scientology leader David Miscavige punishing venerable church leaders by forcing them to live out of tents for days, wash with a garden hose and use an open latrine.

Steve Hall replayed his memory of a meeting when Miscavige grabbed the heads of two church executives and knocked them together. One came away with a bloody ear.

Mark Fisher remembered precisely what he told Miscavige after the punches stopped and Fisher touched his head, looked at his palm and saw blood.

These and other former Scientology staffers are talking now, inspired and emboldened by the raw revelations of four defectors from the church's executive ranks who broke years of silence in stories published recently by the St. Petersburg Times.

Read the whole article if you're interested- and it is pretty interesting- but for all its willingness to point to Scientology's faults, it seems to do a rather poor job of mentioning certain other... issues. Like, for example, Jon Atack's "A Piece of Blue Sky," which more or less documents how wacky punishments, physical abuse, and fraud were a part of Scientology from the time of L. Ron Hubbard himself. Likewise, the article delicately comments:

The founder gave his young aide one important assignment after another. Miscavige delivered, building a reputation as a problem solver. He persuaded Hubbard's wife to resign as head of the church's troubled intelligence unit, known as the Guardian's Office. [emphasis added]

But neglects to note why the Guardian's Office, and Mary Sue Hubbard, were so "troubled." If you're curious, it's because the GO was running an espionage program against the United States government known as Operation Snow White. Moreover, the 1977 FBI raid against Scientology that resulted from the government's discovery of this espionage effort resulted in the discovery of the GO's Operation Freakout, an effort to frame a journalist for serious crimes in order to silence her criticism of scientology. So, yes, I think you'd have to say that the Guardian's Office was "troubled."

Oh well. I don't have anything to say about this that I haven't said before at greater length. Still, it bothers me every time this sort of thing comes up.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

In which Drek remarks on religion and then wanders off in a different direction entirely

It gives me no joy to comment on this, but a pair of trials are now ongoing for two parents who allowed their daughter to die while waiting for god to save her:

A father charged with killing his daughter by praying instead of taking her to a doctor read from the Bible while testifying Thursday that he couldn't seek medical help without disobeying God.

Dale Neumann told the jury he didn't seek medical help for his child because "I can't do that because Biblically, I cannot find that is the way people are healed."

He added: "If I go to the doctor, I am putting the doctor before God. I am not believing what he said he would do."

Neumann, 47, is charged with second-degree reckless homicide in the March 23, 2003, death of his 11-year-old daughter, Madeline, from undiagnosed diabetes. Prosecutors say he should have taken the girl to a hospital because she couldn't walk, talk, eat or speak.

Instead, Madeline died on the floor of the family's rural Weston home as people surrounded her and prayed.

This is not, of course, the only time this has happened, or even the first time I've mentioned it. As with every other time, however, it makes me sad. There are those who believe- and insist to me- that religion is a force for good in this world. There are also those- like Richard Dawkins- who insist equally firmly that it is a force for evil. Dawkins, for example, has gone so far as to refer to religion as a "mind virus," a sort of parasitic meme that harms mankind more than it helps. I don't know if I agree with him on that or not, but I often find myself thinking that religion is not unlike the bacteria that live in our intestines. Often they help us by performing useful functions but if allowed to get out of control can kill their host. Perhaps religion can be modeled as though it is a virus but, even so, maybe it is only religious extremism that constitutes the disease.

And on a mostly unrelated note- at the bottom of the article I quote above I noticed something curious:

Neumann's wife, Leilani, testified earlier that she noticed her daughter had been weaker and drank a lot of water — some early symptoms of diabetes — about two weeks before she died. Leilani Neumann was convicted of second-degree reckless homicide this spring and faces up to 25 years in prison when sentenced Oct. 6.

The prosecutions of the mother and father were separated so that each could be called upon to testify in the case against the other. [emphasis added]

So, my understanding is that since these two people are married, they cannot be compelled to testify against each other because of spousal privilege. Or is it acceptable in this case since other people- who were outside of that relationship- were present and, therefore, certain things are not covered? Anyone have an idea?

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Monday, August 03, 2009

You were advised that from time to time this might transpire Vol III

Hard to beat They Might Be Giants telling us about Triops:

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