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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Today you get a filmstrip.

I'm busy today with this and that so, in place of my usual commentary, please enjoy this much better thought out discussion of the problems with trying to logically demonstrate the divine:


Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Oh, great, they're taking it on the road.

Followers of this blog are well aware that I keep an eye on that cesspool of human illogic known as Conservapedia. Normally, I find them to be depressing and annoying but relatively harmless. Occasionally, I've managed to provoke them into action- including my recent banning and one exciting day when I managed to lure Andrew Schlafly himself out of the bat cave- but by and large they seem content to languish in their self-imposed ghetto. Sadly, this no longer appears to be the case.

I recently became aware of a gathering with the unpretentious title, How to Take Back America Conference 09, apparently organized by (among others) Phyllis Schlafly. It's hard to know what to think of this, really, since the last time I checked the U.S. wasn't so much occupied by a hostile power as engaged in legitimate democratic debate. But what the hell do I know? Certainly not as much as the organizers of this conference, who have a fantastic slate of panels lined up. Just for fun, let's take a closer look with a few remarks added:

Gary Palmer, Brooklyn Roberts Chairman: Eunie Smith

Well, first off, they don't believe in global warming, so that's easy. As for the second one... hell, I dunno, move the whole damn company to China?

Matt Barber, Brian Camenker Chairman: Jayne Schindler

Ah yes, "homosexual extremists." They want crazy, extreme things, like to be able to marry their lifetime partners and to not be stoned while tied to barbed wire. Indeed, truly threats we all need to counter. Right.

Bloggers: Dana Loesch, Kevin Jackson, Jim Hoft Chairman: Ruth Carlson

"Okay, first, this is a computer. Say it with me: com-pu-ter! Despite what you may have heard, it's perfectly safe to operate."

Football Star Riki Ellison, 7-minute video Chairman: Colleen Parro

"Okay, first, get a really big bat. Then just think of the warhead as a fastball and swing for the stands!" On an unrelated note: what the hell does a Football Star know about missile defense? Totally different kinds of "interception", people.

Kris Kobach, Esq. Chairman: Char Bredemeier

I love that they don't specify what the illegal aliens and drugs are entering. Given the story of Ted Haggard, I don't think they mean "entry into the United States."

Phillip Jauregui, Esq., Virginia Armstrong Chairman: Andy Schlafly, Esq.

What now? What kind of supremacist? White supremacist? Judicial supremacists? Or do they mean just really, really awesome judges?

Sen. Nancy Schaefer, Sen. Pam Roach Chairman: Gayle Ruzicka

Note they aren't concerned with the rights of the child. Congratulations, kids! You're property until you're eighteen!

HOW TO COPE WITH FEMINIST ATTACKS ON MARRIAGE AND MOTHERHOOD: Phyllis Schlafly, Suzanne Venker Chairman: Violet Vestevich

Right, yes, because feminists are never, ever mothers. I knew that.

Larry Huntoon M.D., Frank Rosenbloom M.D., Allen Unruh, M.D. Chairman: Andy Schlafly, Esq.

"Step one: Become president. Step two: Stop socialism in health care. Step three: Clear brush from your ranch."

Frank Gaffney Chairman: Cathie Adams

Um... what? Opposition to a purely theoretical entity? Hell, can we have a panel on how to defeat attacks by the Death Star next?

Colleen Holmes, Suzanne Bibby, Colleen Parro Chairman: Bonnie Nugent

I'm guessing this boils down to, "Hang out on the capital steps and scream 'what about the children' over and over again until CNN shows up."

Cherilyn Eagar Chairman: Ruth Carlson

Does this have anything to do with the Diebold corporation?

Kris Kobach Esq., Ed Martin Chairman: Helen Blackwell

I'm guessing the term "poll tax" is gonna come up...

DVD: Maafa 21, Janet Porter, Rep. Trent Franks Chairman: Penny Pullen

Don't wanna know. Really, I don't. Between the harassment, threats, and outright killings, I can't imagine what the new approach might be. Unless, you know, they go with honest, reasoned discussion, which would be pretty new for them.

Janine Hansen, Bobbie Patray, Gayle Ruzicka, Sue Ella Deadwyler Chairman: Carole Griffin

With guest speaker: Michael Duvall!

Gary Bosley, Andy Schlafly, Karin Agness Chairman: Orlean Koehle

Because just having lots and lots of babies doesn't seem to be working?

Mat Staver, Esq. Chairman: John Schlafly, Esq.

Maybe try realizing that letting homosexuals get married doesn't in any way impact your own commitment to your spouse? Just a thought.

Frank Gaffney, Bill Federer, Walid Shoebat Chairman: Janet Porter

Does anyone think these folks are at all interested in understanding Islam? I didn't think so.

Woody Woodrum, Pastor Paul Blair Chairman: Donna Hearne

How to activate your church? What is it, Voltron?

Vic Eliason, Jim Schneider Chairman: Joan Langenberg

We're talking about Fox News right now, right?

Penny Pullen, Sandy McDade, Vicky Hartzler Chairman: Bunny Chambers

Please let the approach not include Sarah Palin.

Janine Hansen, Elise Bouc Chairman: Cindy Honcoop

Worst. Name. Ever.

Elaine Donnelly Chairman: Pat Schneider

Really seems like the military should be able to defend itself, you know? Otherwise, what the hell are they doing with all the tanks?

Kitty Werthmann Chairman: Betsy Hagan

I can't imagine how anyone could attend this panel without laughing. Seriously. "Question One: Are you ruled by a man named Stalin? Question Two: Does your leader make constant references to needing lebensraum? Question Three: ..."

And you know what the best part of all this is? The Schlafly family is represented six times among the speakers/panelists, and Andy is up there three times. Well, at least we know the traditional value of nepotism is alive and well!

The convention is over so you can't go (sorry!) but you can get a DVD of the entire conference for the low low price* of only $150.00! Wow!

Operators are standing by, just as soon as they convince themselves that their telephones don't contain evil gay feminist demons.

* Technically, they ask for a "suggested donation" of $150.00. My guess is that the suggestion is pretty firm if you get my meaning.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, September 28, 2009

I admit, I'm baffled.

So, I know who Glenn Beck is. He's the guy who said that President Obama hates white culture and, when asked about it, offered a reply* that makes Michael Scott look coherent:

He's the guy who pretended to boil a frog on live t.v. to make a point about what a live frog would do:

So, yes, I understand that Glenn Beck is a no talent ass-clown who makes his living by spewing damned near incoherent nonsense at a gullible public. Fine. I understand this. But here's the thing: can anyone tell me why on the cover of his new book he's dressed like... well... a Nazi?**

Or, if not a Nazi, then at least a border guard or- at the bare minimum- a ticket agent from a totalitarian state? I mean, seriously, what the f-ing crap is going on with this guy's public image? Also, why is the R in "Arguing" backwards? Is he an illiterate Nazi? Because I've seen that movie and Kate Winslet does a way better job.

Seriously, I'm confused.

* If you're curious, here's where he said it.

** This is not technically an instance of Godwin's Law because I'm not comparing him to a Nazi, I'm merely asking why he's dressed like a Nazi.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, September 25, 2009

So, yeah, not what I was expecting to see on television.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 5, Part 1

Come one, come all, for the next installment of our regular series on Left Behind, the book that stretches the very definition of the term "novel." Last time, as you may recall, Rayford broke down and cried because his wife was gone, his son was gone, and he had only a limited remaining supply of home baked cookies. What will happen this week? Well, I don't want to ruin it for you, but it includes a plethora of annoying names.

As always, we have a comment of the week. This time it goes to Mister Troll for finally realizing the full horror of this book:

For crying out loud, this is only page 68? Please tell me this book is under 100 pages long. (Page 74 plus "two dozen" = The End?)

I still think that this Roman (Romulan?) dude sounds more like he might be Santa Claus than the devil, but maybe that's just me.

And, um, Buck is going to go somewhere "slowly"? More slowly than that plane ride we were treated to?

Oh, my poor abused readers! This book has not yet begun to suck! Soon you will realize the full truth- that Left Behind advances its plot at a rate that rivals continental drift! Prepare yourselves with caffeine!

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


Dramatis Personae

In ascending order by social security number...

Rayford Steele: Airline captain. Husband of Irene Steele. Possible former gay porn star. Ditherer. No longer attracted to Hattie. Bad father. Cries a lot.

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.

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type. Girl power devotee. Unhealthily thin.

Chris Smith: Airline co-pilot. Worked with Rayford Steele. Father of two. Husband. Killed himself.

Chloe Steele: Daughter of Rayford Steele. Student at Stanford.

Chaim Rosenzweig: Israeli chemist. Kinda freaky. Friend of Buck's.

Steve Plank: Buck's boss at Global Weekly. Not the sharpest tool in the shed.

Nicolae Carpathia: Businessman. Romanian Senator. Romanian President. Antichrist. Favors arms reductions.

Raymie Steele: Son of Rayford Steele. Taken in the rapture.


Chapter 5: In which we learn of global monetary cabals, discover a child left behind, nearly fix god's age of majority, and generally fart around.

Page 77- Line 1-5:
Buck Williams ducked into a stall in the Pan-Con Club men's room to double-check his inventory. Tucked in a special pouch inside his jeans, he carried thousands of dollars' worth of traveler's checks, redeemable in dollars, marks, or yen.

Wouldn't "double checking his inventory" be an awesome new euphemism? I think there's potential. I will also point out that my comment in the margins in regards to his traveler's checks was, "Please let them be for hookers." No such luck, sadly, as this is the continuation of Left Behind's penchant for trying to make Buck into a secret agent/journalist. Things get sillier and sillier as time goes by, so be prepared. I also find myself fascinated by these supposed traveler's checks. They're redeemable in any of the three currencies, but that sort of ignores the fact that they have to be denominated in one of them. Otherwise, how the hell would you tell what they're worth at a future time? Unless these are magic traveler's checks, I guess, which seems stupid until you remember what the rest of the book is like.

Page 77- Line 9-11:
He [Buck] had packed for a ten-day trip to Britain when he left New York three days before the apocalyptic disappearances.

"Apocalyptic disappearances," eh? Subtle! On an unrelated note: the above sounds like the lead-in for an Evangelical SAT question. "Buck is going to London but has been delayed due to a storm. He originally packed for ten days, but has been delayed in Chicago for three days. If he boards an eastbound flight today, leaving Chicago at 10:00 AM, how many days worth of clothes will he have left when God rains fire and plagues upon the unbelievers?"

Page 77- Line 11-14:
His [Buck's] practice overseas was to do his own laundry in the sink and let it dry a whole day while wearing one outfit and having one more in reserve.

Okay, here I really have to give the authors some credit. I often find when reading novels that I am just on the edge of my seat wondering how the characters manage to do laundry. I think it's just fantastic that in Left Behind, the authors aren't afraid to throw convention to the wind and describe minutiae that couldn't possibly matter to anyone ever. Bravo!

Page 78- Line Teal:

No quotation, we've just moved into a flashback conversation between Buck and Lucinda Washington, the Global Weekly's bureau chief for Chicago. Washington is described (Page 78- Line 2) as "a fiftyish black woman" which actually makes her the second best described character in the book after Hattie. In any case, she tries to come down all heavy on Buck for scooping her on a story, he acts like a cocky asshole, and I scribble "Ahoy there, awful dialog!" in the margin. The fun, however, comes near the end of page 79.

Page 79- Line 22-30:
"You creep," she [Lucinda] had said. "Anybody else I'd be throwing out of here on his can."

"But you love me. You can't help yourself." [Buck replied]

"That wasn't even Christian," she had said.

"Don't start with that again."

"Come on, Cameron. You know you got your mind right when you saw what God did for Israel." [Lucinda insisted]

"Granted, but don't start calling me a Christian. Deist is as much as I'll cop to."

Aaaaaand that chorus of agonized groans you just heard is from every person reading who actually knows what a "deist" is. See a deist is, generally speaking, someone who believes in god, but views said god as a sort of watchmaker or architect who set up the universe, but is presently allowing it to run without interference. Specifically, deists do not- as a general rule- place much stock in the notion of divine intervention. Yet, here we are with Buck referring to himself as this most rare of theological critters (rare, that is, unless you count many of the founding fathers. You know- the ones who weren't atheists or agnostics) when waaaaay back on page 14, line 23-25 we learned that Buck began to believe in god because he witnessed god intervene on Israel's behalf. So, in effect, he became a person who believes in a god that does NOT intervene in human affairs because he witnessed something he believed had to be divine intervention. Either Buck is an idiot or the authors are catastrophically ignorant. I'm betting the answer is "yes."

Page 80- Line 3-5:
"He's [God] already got me [Buck], Lucinda. But Jesus is another thing. The Israelis hate Jesus, but look what God did for them." [emphasis added]

Yes, you read that correctly: the authors actually wrote, "The Israelis hate Jesus." Feel free to be creeped out. Getting past the rather unsavory language and vague hints of anti-semitism, Buck is actually making a good point in an admittedly muddled way- just because he witnessed something he believes to be divine intervention, there's no reason to assume that the divine is named Jehovah, Yaweh, Jesus, Allah or even Ganesh. For all we know, it was Shiva warming up for the end of days. This is a logical fallacy known as a false dichotomy and is most often observed in the wild in its classic, "Evolution doesn't explain everything, therefore Jesus is LORD!" form. Thus, in this book it's like a tiny caterpillar of foolishness that, in time, will emerge into a lovely butterfly of stupid.

Page 81- Line Banana:

I'm not going to quote it because it's so stupid, but Buck is now remembering a phone conversation with former Princeton classmate Dirk Burton,* who insists that there's a huge secret group that sets global monetary policy. And he knows this because he heard it from a friend of his who is related to a girl who works for the secretary of the British member of the group. That's not a joke, that's what it actually says in the text (Page 81- Line 26-28). He goes on to explain that this cabal wants to switch to a single global currency. The reason is a little... odd.

Page 82- Line 3-6:
You know half our time is spent on exchange rates and all that. Takes computers forever to constantly readjust every day, based on the whims of the markets. [Dirk said]

Well, maybe so, but it's important to keep in mind that to a computer, "forever" means "one second." This is not, to put it mildly, a good reason. Let's not forget as well that the world only has three currencies now, which you'd think would make calculating exchange rates less of an ordeal overall. Anyway, Buck rejects the whole notion, calls a single world currency "impractical" and observes that the metric system was only ever really necessary for world trade. Right. Science didn't find the metric system useful in the slightest. And we babble on incoherently about this conspiracy for a while and then get into "man behind the curtain" time.

Page 84- Line 14-15:
I'm [Dirk] also going to tell you [Buck] that the real power behind the power is an American.

The "power behind the power"? Just... wow. That's some excellent writing, that is.

Page 84- Line 16:
What do you mean, the power behind the power? [Buck asked]

And see? Buck found that a little confusing, too. On second thought, I must be off of my game if Buck and I are both confused at the same time. He's not that bright, you know.

Page 84- Line 20-22:
He's [powerful mystery man] the one who shot down sterling as one of the currencies and has dollars in mind for the one world commodity in the end.

This may just be a copy editing failure, but I feel compelled to point out that a currency is not the same thing as a commodity. I'm just sayin' is all. In any case, the mystery man in question is identified as "Jonathon Stonagal," which aside from being an absurdly annoying name, is supposedly one of the richest men evar. In any case, Buck spends some more time pumping Dirk, and then eventually asks how many people are in this alleged secret cabal.

Page 85- Line 16-18:
"That's easy," Dirk had said, "There are at least ten, though more than that sometimes come to the meetings, including some heads of state."

And this is supposed to be crucial because "ten" is an important number in revelations. What it means really depends on the interpreter since revelations may as well include references to yellow submarines for all the sense it makes, but that's not the point. Good to see the authors thinking ahead, I guess.

Page 85- Line 28-30:
Our guy in the group, Joshua Todd-Cothran, may just not be quite as buttoned down as the rest. [Dirk said]

Yikes! First we get "Rayford," then "Raymie," now "Joshua Todd-Cothran"? Do the authors have a fetish for awkward names, or what?

Page 86- Line 5-8:
"Plus, who ever heard of a Brit who was not buttoned-down?" [Buck asked]

"It happens." [Dirk replied]

"Good night, Dirk."

Just for the record: I think that was supposed to be a joke. Clearly, the authors are unfamiliar with what we humans know as "humor." Sadly, they do not seem to figure it out by the end of the book. Damn if they don't "try" though.

Page 87- Line 8-12:
Call Ken Ritz, charter pilot

Call Dad and Jeff

Call Hattie Durham with news of family

Call Lucinda Washington about local hotel

Call Dirk Burton

Okay, so, you know in some novels how a character's diary entry or note will sometimes be represented by a cursive typeface? Well, the above is included in Left Behind in exactly that font. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that's right: the authors included Buck's f-ing to-do list verbatim right there in the text. My scrawled comment in the margin reads, "Oh, c'mon! Do I need to read his damn to-do list? Fuck, fuck, fuck." There is simply nothing to add to that.

And with that, dear readers, we come to the end of part one. Come back next week when we venture deeper into Left Behind, among other things catching back up with Rayford and all of his... um... doings. I, for one, can hardly wait.

* FYI: For some reason I keep wanting to call "Dirk" by the name "Dick" instead. This urge is so powerful I keep typing "Dick" by mistake and have been correcting it after the fact during a read-through. In the event I miss an instance, however, I wanted you to know what's going on. Not sure why I'm having this issue, but can only speculate it's because on some level I think Buck and Dirk had a gay encounter in college that neither one has ever completely gotten over. Maybe that's what Buck was thinking about when he had to go "double check his inventory"?


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Wednesday Two-fer!

Those who have read the blog for any real length of time are aware that I am deeply skeptical. This doesn't mean that I don't believe anything, but rather that I have a hard time believing in things without a certain amount of evidence. Or, lacking convincing evidence, at least a compelling argument that doesn't fly in the face of known facts and logic. In any case, an ironic part of my skepticism is that I am often doubtful about the findings claimed for publicized research. This is partly, of course, because journalists seem completely unable to resist the urge to put words in scientists' mouths, but largely because cutting edge research hasn't been replicated yet and therefore may turn out to be cutting edge horse shit. Rarely, however, have I seen a more beautiful example of why we should remain skeptical of individual research papers, and insist on seeing the methods, than this:

Neuroscientist Craig Bennett purchased a whole Atlantic salmon, took it to a lab at Dartmouth, and put it into an fMRI machine used to study the brain. The beautiful fish was to be the lab’s test object as they worked out some new methods.

So, as the fish sat in the scanner, they showed it “a series of photographs depicting human individuals in social situations.” To maintain the rigor of the protocol (and perhaps because it was hilarious), the salmon, just like a human test subject, “was asked to determine what emotion the individual in the photo must have been experiencing.”


If that were all that had occurred, the salmon scanning would simply live on in Dartmouth lore as a “crowning achievement in terms of ridiculous objects to scan.” But the fish had a surprise in store. When they got around to analyzing the voxel (think: 3-D or “volumetric” pixel) data, the voxels representing the area where the salmon’s tiny brain sat showed evidence of activity. In the fMRI scan, it looked like the dead salmon was actually thinking about the pictures it had been shown.

“By complete, random chance, we found some voxels that were significant that just happened to be in the fish’s brain,” Bennett said. “And if I were a ridiculous researcher, I’d say, ‘A dead salmon perceiving humans can tell their emotional state.’”

The result is completely nuts — but that’s actually exactly the point. Bennett, who is now a post-doc at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his adviser, George Wolford, wrote up the work as a warning about the dangers of false positives in fMRI data. They wanted to call attention to ways the field could improve its statistical methods.

The article as a whole is a fabulous example of alpha-error and really makes a good case for understanding the logic behind our statistics as well as how to pull the shiny lever on Stata and get results.

And if that isn't enough joy for one day, I have another beauty for you. You know how religious conservatives are always bitching and moaning about how atheists, agnostics, humanists and free thinkers can't be moral because we don't pretend to hear an invisible friend in the sky? You know how they love to talk about how awesome their abstinence-only sex education is? You know how those two things just make you want to scream? Well, now you have a better option! Instead of worrying about the virginity pledge, how about you consider the Secular Principles Pinky Swear?

Tired of seeing the Religious Right claim the moral high ground through abstinence pledges that don't work? As a humanist, you know that ancient creeds are no basis for morality, and that attempts to control teens through fear, intimidation, and outdated doctrines and institutions are futile. Statistics show that teens who take abstinence pledges (such as the infamous "Silver Ring Thing") are no less likely to engage in premarital sex, and in fact are more likely to engage in irresponsible, unprotected sex.

Still, society has a hard time understanding that secular people, especially nonreligious kids, can have strong morals and values. But thanks to a group of young humanist activists from Georgia, the Silver Ring Thing has now clearly met its match. Please take a moment to view the link below, which contains the humanist community's answer to abstinence pledges - the Secular Principles Pinky Swear!

The pledge itself is pretty awesome and, aside from some minor .html errors, pretty neat. So check it out and revel in the joy of asserting your own ability to be moral while subtly mocking those who would tell you otherwise.

It just doesn't get any better than that.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Five (plus) years of Drek!

So something occurred to me the other day: I started writing this blog way back on June 28, 2004. It began with a post with the rather prescient title, This blog sucks. Indeed, this blog does suck, and it has been sucking for quite some time. Now, normally I recognize each blogiversary when Total Drek gets another year older and that fetid stink gets a bit stronger, but I missed it this year. This year, my last post in June fell on the 23rd and led to my ongoing series on Left Behind. So, there has been no celebration of the fact that this blog is now OVER five years old.

Let's think about that for a moment: this absurd excuse for intelligent commentary has been around for half of a decade. Given my typical posting schedule, which has been five days a week since the beginning, that suggests that there have been in the area of 1,300 posts to date. And, believe it or not, according to blogger, we've racked up 1,463 posts so far. There is enough writing on this blog to put together several books by now. Enough random pointless drivel to supply Glenn Beck for a week. This nightmare has been in my life for half of a decade and my series on Left Behind virtually guarantees we're going to get to year six. Holy. Fucking. Shit.

So what is in store in the coming year? Eh. We'll see. Probably less Conservapedia, lots of Left Behind, and the usual smattering of political news and boobs. So, basically, all the usual crap with no sign of improvement.

But hey, if I can't have quality, at least I have quantity, right?

Labels: , ,

Monday, September 21, 2009

There are no words for something this perfect.

I give you They Might Be Giants:

Labels: , , ,

Friday, September 18, 2009

This one is for you, Ken.

Regular readers of the blog may be familiar with Ken Houghton who has, of late, been a frequent commenter on my series about Left Behind. In any case, Ken and I have been bumping into each other for several years on the old intertubes and over time I have come to know that his partner, Shira, is among other things a writer of science fiction.* Given these facts, I thought both Ken and Shira might be interested in one of my latest finds.

Many of you are probably already familiar with Answers in Genesis, the "ministry" of Ken Ham that claims that everything we need to know about life is contained in the bible. Of late, AiG** has been getting attention for its propaganda showpiece, the Creation Museum, but before ground was even broken for that trainwreck, there was Answers magazine. It's difficult to describe Answers concisely, so I'll fall back on dramatic oversimplification and say it's like the glitz of Scientific American with the journalistic integrity of the Weekly World News.

Anyway, way back in 2001 Answers magazine ran an article that is, in a word, hilarious. This article purports to provide a biblical perspective on... wait for it... science fiction. No, I'm not kidding at all:

Interest in science fiction has grown dramatically in recent decades. While science fiction has predicted many beneficial technologies, the genre is permeated with unrealism, humanism, occultism, New Age philosophy and Eastern mysticism. Furthermore, science fiction is firmly rooted in Darwinism and presents a distorted view of reality.

The Creation Museum presents humans as living at the same time as dinosaurs, and they accuse sci-fi of having a "distorted view of reality"? I have never seen a pot make such claims about the blackness of a kettle. In fairness they do observe that sci-fi can have a prophetic quality to it*** and in this role isn't such a bad thing. Otherwise, however, they generally hate science fiction for a number of amusing reasons.

Regrettably, however, too much of science fiction depicts phenomena or technologies that could never exist. Franz Rottensteiner acknowledges that ‘the “science” of science fiction is often indistinguishable from magic. For example, animals becoming half-human (or vice versa), contradicts everything scientists know about the limits of genetic variation. The creation of mass/energy from nothing, or its annihilation (e.g. by a mere laser blast), violates the First Law of Thermodynamics, one of the best proven laws of science. And the notion that dead matter can transform itself into a living organism (spontaneous generation) has never been observed and flatly contradicts the Laws of Biogenesis (that life always comes from life).

Ah, yes, AiG is a bastion of scientific credibility. How could I ever forget? Oddly, I wonder what sci-fi they're reading, because I never thought "laser blasts" annihilated matter, I just thought it converted a solid into a gaseous form. And that "Law of Biogenesis" thing is a bit of an over statement since most scientists view it as meaning that modern organisms can't emerge from non-living materials. It says nothing about earlier, more primitive life. Nevertheless, AiG will grasp at whatever straws it has to in order to fight off the dreaded evolution.

In any case, if you want to nitpick the article, help yourself. I'm not going to indulge simply because it's so damned childish. It whines incessantly about how science fiction pushes an unrealistic viewpoint while simultaneously claiming that T-Rex lived happily with a man created by an invisible super-being and a woman fashioned out of a rib six thousand years ago. My irony meter can only take so much before it completely overloads, and I fear this article is just too much for it.

No, what I want to do is make a point. AiG spends a lot of time and energy denigrating sci-fi as a genre, which appears surprising at first. Why not use this medium as another way to push your viewpoint? Indeed, C.S. Lewis would be surprised by AiG's position given that his Space Trilogy is often regarded as science fiction.**** Yet, I think I understand AiG's position here, and it has nothing to do with unrealistic fiction and everything to do with the future. See, if there's one unifying theme to most sci-fi, it's that mankind has a future of some sort and that our actions help to determine what it will be. That seems a little trite, but I think it's a profound element: science fiction is a genre of ideas, of wondering. It's about speculating on the types of worlds we could build, about the type of world we have built, and using these speculations as a mirror for viewing ourselves. Moreover, even the darkest sci-fi dystopia almost always carries a message of hope: just because the future could be this way, doesn't mean the future has to be this way. At its heart, sci-fi is a celebration of possibility.

And you see, this is very threatening to AiG because their entire view of the world centers around there being no possibilities or future for mankind. In their view our future is already written in the bible. Our fate is known. The only choices we have that matter are our individual choices to either be saved or be damned. Our collective decisions- for example to explore space or combat global warming- are irrelevant because, in the end, we'll never get the chance to do either. The apocalypse will come before then and those of us who are saved will spend all eternity doing... well... nothing, really. And this is an issue that even extant evangelical sci-fi has a difficult time evading. In Shane Johnson's novel Ice, for example, astronauts discover an ancient complex on the moon. Yet, this story ends up as a retelling of the story of Noah's Ark, with one astronaut somehow experiencing this ancient set of events through the use of ancient technology. In the end, the ancient complex was built by pre-flood (and very wicked) humans, and the sci-fi setup is nothing more than a frame. And while you can call this story sci-fi, the simple truth is that it only drives home the point that from the evangelical perspective all the important stories have already been told.

People sometimes ask me how I can be happy as an atheist, and I think the answer has something to do with science fiction. In sci-fi, many things are possible and the future is, as Shakespeare said, an undiscovered country. Thus, from my view, I am living in the middle, or hopefully first few, chapters of the story of humanity. I like to think that our future is open, our story is not written, and have hope that what I do now will help in some small way to assure that we achieve greatness in the future. From an evangelical perspective, however, all the important events have already taken place save one, and its outcome is known. From that view, when it comes to the story of humanity we are living in the epilogue.

And that's why AiG hates sci-fi: because sci-fi offers hope and a future, whereas AiG's brand of Christianity***** offers neither.

* Correct me if I'm wrong on any of the details, Ken. I'm not exactly stalking you and my memory is less than perfect.

** I enjoy that Answers in Genesis shares an acronym with another disastrous failure.

*** Because if there's one thing AiG f-ing loves, it's prophecy.

**** Personally, I think the fantasy label more applicable, but that's just me.

***** Note that I am not making these claims about Christianity in general, but rather about AiG's strain in particular.

As a concluding note: Yes, this whole post is a dramatic over simplication. What can I say? It's friday.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 4, Part 2

It's that time, boys and girls: time for another installment of our regular series on Left Behind, the book that will make you happy to be a heathen. Last time, as you may recall, Rayford managed to get home and realize what a lousy father he was. What happens this week? My guess is more of the same!

As always, we have a comment of the week. This time it goes to JLT for his extended observations on Rayford's curiosity, culminating in an amusing hypothesis:

maybe he is so happy that he doesn't have to listen to that christian station anymore, that he forgets about everything else for the moment.

A plausible hypothesis indeed! Scripto also deserves a nod for his humorous speculation on the connotations of "sepulchral." Keep those comments coming and maybe next time YOU will have the comment of the week!

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


Dramatis Personae

In order of appearance except when it's not...

Rayford Steele: Airline captain. Husband of Irene Steele. Possible former gay porn star. Ditherer. No longer attracted to Hattie. Bad father.

Irene Steele: Wife of Rayford Steele. Born-again Christian. Not perfect, just forgiven. Reader of marriage books. Cleans obsessively. Likes egg in her coffee?

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

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type. Girl power devotee. Unhealthily thin.

Chris Smith: Airline co-pilot. Worked with Rayford Steele. Father of two. Husband. Killed himself.

Chloe Steele: Daughter of Rayford Steele. Student at Stanford.

Chaim Rosenzweig: Israeli chemist. Kinda freaky. Friend of Buck's.

Steve Plank: Buck's boss at Global Weekly. Not the sharpest tool in the shed.

Nicolae Carpathia: Businessman. Romanian Senator. Romanian President. Antichrist.


Page 68- Line Something:

No quotation, I just wanted to let you know that we're back with Buck. It begins with Buck looking over his notes from his interview with Chaim Rosenzweig. Initially, we're treated to a story about how a number of world dignitaries visited Rosenzweig, trying to charm him into revealing the formula for his super-fertilizer. He turned them all down, of course, and laughs at their attempts. Honestly, it makes the guy sound like the sort of asshole who finds the homeless hilarious. He then goes on to gush about how much he loves Carpathia (aka the antichrist), who honestly over the next few pages comes off like a pretty nice guy. Notably, Carpathia is in favor of arms reductions. Yes, clearly Jesus would not have approved of beating swords into plowshares. Then we get to this bit of weirdness...

Page 70- Line 19-22:
This man [Carpathia] is about your [Buck's] age, by the way. Blonde and blue eyed, like the original Romanians, who came from Rome, before the Mongols affected their race.

Leaving aside the vaguely disturbing reference to the Mongols "affecting their race" this is a key bit because in many readings of revelations, the antichrist comes from eastern Europe and is "Roman." Now, some scholars would take this as a sign that revelations was, at best, meant as a coded message about the politics of the time or, at worst, utterly fucking loony. The authors, however, assume this means that the antichrist is genetically "Roman" but comes from somewhere else. And, you'll recall, was fathered by two gay men. If all this doesn't confuse you, you just aren't paying attention. Alas, it often seems as though absurdly confusing plans are exactly what evangelicals think indicates the hand of god, which basically makes Rube Goldberg the messiah.

Page 71- Line 19-27:
Suddenly it was Buck's turn at the counter. He gathered up his extension cord and thanked the young woman for bearing with him. "Sorry about that," he said, pausing briefly for forgiveness that was not forthcoming. "It's just that today, of all days, well, you understand."

Apparently she did not understand. She'd had a rough day, too. She looked at him tolerantly and said, "What can I not do for you?"

See? Silly woman! The Man apologizes, and is she grateful? Oh no! She has to be all snarky about it. Seriously, though, she claims that it's her little joke because she can't actually help anyone at the moment. Right. For what it's worth, however, in about two pages she actually does help by getting Buck in contact with some transportation. This will allow him- ever so slowly- to make his way to New York. So that's nice. In any case, shortly after the above exchange she asks Buck if he's a Pan Con Club member. And if you liked how manly Buck was with the e-mail, you're gonna love this...

Page 72- Line 12-16:
"Lady, I'm, like, a kryptonite member."

He flashed his card, showing that he was among the top 3 percent of air travelers in the world. If any flight had one seat in the cheapest section, it had to be given to him and upgraded to first class at no charge.

My comment in the margins reads, "Golly!" which more or less sums it up. If you want more commentary than that... well... I dunno what "top 3 percent of air travelers" means. That he travels a lot? That he's just, you know, really good at it? I think it mostly means he's great at eating honey roasted peanuts while keeping his fat ass in an uncomfortable chair, which isn't the sort of thing I would brag about. In any case, it's time for us to get back to Rayford, who is busy drowning in guilt. The first two sentences of his section, however, are just mind boggling...

Page 73- Line 18-20:
Hearing it [the rapture] on the radio or seeing it on television was one thing. Encountering it for yourself was something else again.

GAH! Rayford, you encountered it yourself on your own f-ing plane! You encountered it just a few hours ago, moments after it happened! You were encountering it the entire time you were trying to get home! For crying out loud, that guy from Memento had a stronger grasp of the past-tense than you do!

Page 74- Line 7-10:
How grateful he [Rayford] was that Chloe was still here and that somehow he would connect with her! But what did that say about the two of them? They were lost.

So, yeah, get used to this sort of thing from Rayford. See, this book is basically evangelical porn.* And like all porn it has ages and ages of boring bits which are then punctuated by the "action" and then eventually the money shot. In porn the action is, as Robin Williams put it, "like an industrial film covered in fur", and the money shot is... uh... the money shot. In Left Behind, the action is ferociously grating remorse with associated brow beating and the money shot is a conversion to Jesus. Certainly after each and every conversion in this book you'll feel vaguely dirty so, yeah, I think the comparison is apt. In any case, in a few lines Rayford notices a picture of himself in his son's room that he (Rayford) autographed.

Page 74- Line 6-27:
He [Rayford] shook his head. What kind of a dad autographs a picture for his own son?

Oh, wait, shit, this was on Jeopardy just the other night...

Page 75- Line 4-7:
What a beautiful, frilly place Irene had made it [his house], decorated with needlepoint and country knickknacks. Had he ever told her he appreciated it? Had he ever appreciated it? [emphasis original]

I can't say about Rayford but I, for one, am really, really happy that my wife doesn't insist on decorating the house with "needlepoint and country knickknacks." I mean, what the fuck does that even mean? A butter churn for an end table? And how many "Bless this Mess!" needlepoint decorations does one house need? We're not living in the set from Little House on the Prairie for crying out loud!

Page 75- Line 11-13:
He [Rayford] did not deserve her [Irene]. He deserved this, he knew, to be mocked by his own self-centeredness and to be stripped of the most important person in his life.

Ironically, his belief that he deserves to be mocked for being self-centered is, basically, a way of interpreting a widespread event (i.e. the rapture) as being somehow specifically about him. Yes, folks, that's right: recursive egotism! You saw it here first! On another note: I hope you're enjoying this little guilt hurricane, because we're going to be slogging through it for a couple of chapters yet.

Page 75- Line 27-30:
He [Rayford] put the ring in his jacket pocket and noticed the package she [Irene] had mailed. Tearing it open, he found two of his favorite homemade cookies with hearts drawn on the top in chocolate.

Yeah. Her marriage is waning, she reads marriage books for answers and she picks... sending him cookies through the mail. Frankly, I'm almost sorry he didn't bang Hattie. It is also increasingly apparent that he was married to June Cleaver, but without the sex appeal.

Page 76- Line 8
And Rayford cried himself to sleep.

Which is more or less how I felt when reading this for the first time. Before we end for the day, I feel I should mention something my wife pointed out. I commented to her on how Rayford was hating himself for working so hard to earn money, and about how Irene apparently spent all day keeping house, doing needlepoint, studying the bible, baking cookies, finding antique spinning wheels, and whatnot. In any case, my own wife observed in response, "So, wait, they're criticizing him for doing the things that he had to do so that they could afford to have her stay home full time with the kids? Even when one kid was out of the home at college?" Indeed, this is a good point. Apparently the good woman is a homemaker- and Irene is the only woman who has been depicted favorably thus far- but her husband is supposed to support her, comfortably, without actually working. What the hell? What makes it even sillier is so far in the book Rayford is devoid of any hobby interests and never actually had an affair with anyone, much less Hattie. Rest assured, in the next chapter we learn that he did have at least one hobby: drinking. Still, it doesn't appear that he had a drinking problem and, in any case, if I was married to Irene I might start hitting the bottle too. It thus appears that whenever he wasn't at work, he was probably at home. One can only imagine what the authors think of parents who rarely get to see their children because they have to work. Are they bad parents? Within the context of this book, I'd have to say yes, even though my personal opinion is substantially different. There's a weird kind of class story embedded in this book that is frankly oppressive, not to mention unrealistic for the vast majority of Americans.

And with that, dear readers, we come to the end of Chapter Four. See you next time when we basically fart around for two dozen pages and experience little or no plot development. So, you know, the usual.

* Hat-tip to plain(s)feminist who predicted this analogy from the very beginning. I actually came to this conclusion on my own during the reading, but was touched (pardon the expression) to know someone else had concluded the same thing.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009


So like many universities around the country, mine is presently freaking out about H1N1. I'm mostly okay with this since I figure anything that helps keep us from getting sick with every single bacterial and viral passenger our students acquired during the summer has to be a good thing. I'll admit though that the constant mass e-mails telling us that we don't have anything to worry about from the Swine Flu are starting to have the opposite effect. Pardon me for having an Othello moment, but methinks they doth protest too much!

The most entertaining part, however, are the perhaps unintentional messages that certain public service announcements are sending.

See, I have reason to visit the psychology department from time to time as well as the sociology department and I've noticed that the public service flyers posted on the various bulletin boards are different.

-In the sociology department, the flyers are urging people to cover their mouths when they cough or yawn, and to cough or yawn into their elbows rather than into their hands.*

-In the psychology department the flyers are urging people to wash their hands frequently, to refrain from unnecessary interpersonal contact, and to use hand sanitizer after touching things like door handles.

All of these are great suggestions, but I can't help wondering if the administration isn't sending a subtle message. They apparently want the sociologists to just keep their mouths shut- which isn't a surprise when you think about it. As for the psychologists, apparently the admin just wants them to keep their hands to themselves.

And all of this just has me wondering: What the heck do they think is going on in the Psych department?

* Actually, I picked up that little habit years ago when teaching preschool. It's a great idea when you think about it, but you feel a smidge silly at first.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Love in the time of H1N1: Part Two*

The Scene: Drek is hanging out in his kitchen reading when his wife enters the room, fresh from a telephone conversation with her mother.

Drek: Hey! How's your mom?

Drek's Wife: Okay... I guess.

Drek: What does that mean?

Drek's Wife: Well, she told me she's really glad we're not trying to get pregnant right now.

Drek: ...

Drek: Um... okay?

Drek's Wife: Apparently the group most at risk during the 1918 Pandemic Flu were pregnant women.

Drek: Ah. So she's glad you're not going to be pregnant because she's worried about swine flu?

Drek's Wife: Right. She said she'd be really upset if I got swine flu.

Drek: I can certainly understand that.

Drek's Wife: Then she said that if I died from swine flu, she doesn't know what she would do.

Drek: I know she probably didn't mean it this way, but did it sound the way that I think it-

Drek's Wife: Yes.

Drek: So, basically, your mom has entered into a unilateral suicide pact with you?

Drek's Wife: Pretty much.

Drek: No pressure.

* For anyone who is curious, part one (which was not penned by me) is available here.

As a side note: No, I don't think my mother-in-law really meant it that way. Nevertheless, the whole conversation struck my wife (and myself for that matter) as just ever so slighly creepy.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, September 14, 2009

It's all relative...

Last night I happened to stumble upon this rather interesting video clip about the difficulties faced by an atheist high school student:

The show is old, so you shouldn't get up in arms about things. The legal case has been settled already so, yeah, old news. All the same, I found that I was much more impressed by young Nicole than by her father, who was somewhat less than articulate. This upset me a bit since, I like to see good arguments made for atheism on the rare occasions when we have the chance to make them.* Fortunately for me, I then remembered what the opposition is like:

As it turns out, it isn't necessary that one be articulate so much as just that one not make as much of an ass of oneself as the opposition. And on that basis, I think we're doing just fine.

* Someone will surely read this and want to tell me about how atheists are jamming their views down everybody else's throats. Sure, right, and how many times have atheists knocked on your door to ask you to accept science? I'm guessing none.

For those who are curious, yes this post is lame, and yes that's because I don't have a lot of time today. Just the way it does sometimes, kids.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, September 11, 2009

The hard sell.

Every now and then I run across a news account of something that is just so wrong, on so many levels, that it effectively boggles the mind. This is one of those times:

When Dannie Ammons' 16-year-old son, Robert, left on a school bus bound for a neighbouring Kentucky county two weeks ago, he thought his son's high-school football team was off to hear a motivational speaker and enjoy a steak dinner.

Instead, Robert was baptized and, along with eight other members of the Fighting Tigers football team, accepted Christ as his saviour.

Mr. Ammons, who is Catholic, said his son received the religious sacrament without his knowledge or consent.


"I believe the faith was pushed on my son," Mr. Ammons said, adding that he and his wife, who is a Baptist, hoped his son would wait until he was older to decide his faith.

"I think the coach used his faith as a weapon, and my son followed along. We feel like he was brainwashed.... I asked my son if he even knows what it means to be baptized as a Baptist, and he has no clue."

Okay, so, let's start: a football team from a public school went on a field trip (that, as a side note, did NOT include parental permission slips) to receive a religious rite. Moreover, the presence of the religious rite was not made public to some of the parents. We've already scored pretty high on the "fucked up" meter. But wait, if you can believe it, it gets even more bizarre:

Superintendent Janet Meeks, who is also a member of the church and who witnessed the ceremony, said she thought parents were aware the event included a church service and said participation was voluntary. "The coach requested the use of a school bus," she said in a statement released last night. "The cost of the fuel was donated, and the driver volunteered."

Although Mr. Ammons said most parents were "kept in the dark," a handful of parents knew their sons were heading to the revival service. In fact, some parents travelled the 40 kilometres to the Baptist church to attend the event.

So not only is all the earlier stuff true, but a school Superintendent was actually aware of, and present for, this little event. Granted, she may be correct that the effort was made to make parents aware of the church service, and that participation was voluntary, but on what planet is this an appropriate thing to do for a public school football team? Hell, do we even think most teenagers who are immersed in the sort of culture that emerges in sporting teams could say "no" to something like this? Do we even think most adults could manage the trick? But wait, folks, it gets more bizarre still:

Although Rev. Davis typically seeks parental consent for baptisms involving minors, he said the boys were "bulked up" and looked older than their 16 years.

"I didn't check their IDs," he said, adding that Mr. Mooney -- who has brought players to church services in the past -- did not pre-arrange for the boys to accept the sacrament.

And that's the real kicker- the religious professional in question uses a defense that has become a virtual cliche: "I thought she was eighteen, officer, I swear!" Then again, maybe we shouldn't be surprised given that 1 in 33 women who regularly attend religious services report being hit on by their religious leader. And two thirds of those religious leaders were already married. So, hey, more of the usual I guess.

I know I'm just a damned dirty atheist and, as such, am closed off to Christ or some nonsense like that. Nevertheless, it really seems to me that if you have to sell your faith las though it's a used car, you don't have much to offer.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 4, Part 1

Welcome back, humans and semi-humans, for another installment of our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that will make you thank god that you're an atheist. Last time we began to learn about the totally implausible conspiracy that is developing to rule the world. What happens this week? Well, whatever it is, you can bet it'll teach us a lesson. I'm sure the authors mean the lesson to be about Jesus, but for me it usually just boils down to, "I should really start drinking."

Our comment of the week from the last installment goes to Ken Houghton for his creative solution to the healthcare debate:

If it were that easy to initiate The Rapture, my wife would be actively pointing out potential adulterees so that we could get rid of the Raptured and have national health care.

I had never thought about that particular silver lining before, but I love it. Congratulations as well to runner-up FHR for his prescient questions about the antichrist's Romanian origins. Rest assured, FHR, the reason for this will come clear and it will be every bit as stupid as you think.

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


Dramatis Personae

In order of appearance except when it's not...

Rayford Steele: Airline captain. Husband of Irene Steele. Possible former gay porn star. Ditherer. No longer attracted to Hattie.

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

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

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type. Girl power devotee. Unhealthily thin.

Chris Smith: Airline co-pilot. Worked with Rayford Steele. Father of two. Husband. Killed himself.

Chloe Steele: Daughter of Rayford Steele. Student at Stanford.

Chaim Rosenzweig: Israeli chemist. Kinda freaky. Friend of Buck's.

Steve Plank: Buck's boss at Global Weekly. Not the sharpest tool in the shed.

Nicolae Carpathia: Businessman. Romanian Senator. Romanian President. Antichrist.


Chapter 4: In which the preaching sets in, Rayford gets home, and we discover the authors' dislike for women and non-christians.

Page 59- Line 8-10:
"Just let me do this, pal. I'm going crazy here with nothing to do, and I have my bag. I'm workin' free today. Call it a Rapture Special."

If you're curious, the preceding is what a random doctor said to Buck as he (the doctor) started to work on his (Buck's) head wound. You know, the one Buck acquired on the evacuation slide? You know, the rubbery inflatable evacuation slide that's designed to keep you from hurting yourself. Anyway, I point out the above so that you realize that Buck heard a reference to the rapture as early as chapter four. This will be important when we evaluate his investigative skills later in the book.

Page 60-61- Line 60:16-30 61:1-3:
A club attendant came by and asked if they [Buck and the doctor] could move the operation into one of the washrooms.

"I promise to clean up, hon," the doctor said. "Almost done here."

"Well, this can't be sanitary, and we do have other members to think about." [the attendant said]

"Why don't you just give them their drinks and nuts, all right? You'll find this just isn't going to upset them that much on a day like this." [the doctor replied]

"I don't much appreciate being spoken to that way." [she retorted]

The doctor sighed as he worked. "You're right. What's your name?"


"Listen, Suzie, I've been rude and I apologize. OK? Now let me finish this, and I promise not to perform any more surgery right out here in public." Suzie left, shaking her head.

Stupid woman! Questioning a man who was busy working! Kidding aside, compare this to the Buck/Hattie discussion from the last chapter. Invariably in this book whenever a woman questions a man it turns out she's being unreasonable. Unless, that is, she's trying to bring him to Jesus. And even then she's supposed to be all subtle about it.

Page 61- Line 13-15:
...while he [Buck] looked at the message from Steve Plank's secretary, the matronly Marge Potter.

Matronly, eh? So that means her BMI is above starvation level, right?

Page 62- Line 1-2:
Everybody from the senior staff is accounted for, now that we've heard from you. [Marge wrote]

Note that not one of the senior editors at a major news magazine was taken in the rapture. Hmmmm... what could the authors possibly be implying about the news industry? Take your time- it's a toughie.

Page 62- Line 4-5:
Everyone we know who's gone is either a child or a very nice person.

Yeah, you read that right: the authors are basically implying that that everyone who is a born again christian is nice. Remember in Chapter 1 (Page 4- Line 27-29) when Irene said that "Saved people aren't good people, they're just forgiven"? Yeah, you totally didn't think the authors were going to stick with that line, did you? Hang on, as the book goes on it becomes more and more evident that the unsaved have no real virtues to speak of. On a related note: does this mean the authors don't think that I'm nice? I'm hurt.

Page 62- Line 23-25:
Steve had pooh-poohed space aliens. But how could you rule out anything at this point?

I'm torn about this line. On the one hand, yes, when something extreme happens you may want to reserve judgment and consider unusual possibilities. On the other hand, for all the authors' ragging on the subject, the "space aliens" hypothesis is actually less of a leap than "Goddidit." I guess mostly I'm just glad for this faint glimmering of logical thought from Buck, which will of course be surpassed by his customary idiocy soon enough.

Page 63- Line 17-25:
"Watch the cord," he [Buck] called out occasionally as people passed. One of the women behind the counter hollered at him that he'd have to unplug.

He smiled at her. "And if I don't, are you going to have me thrown out? Arrested? Cut me some slack today, of all days!" Hardly anyone took note of the crazy man yelling at the counter woman. Such rarely happened in the Pan-Con Club, but nothing surprised anyone today.

Yes, indeed, another example of a male character yelling randomly at a woman who is getting in his way. Awesome. Again, no idea if the authors are advocating this, or just implying that non-saved men are assholes. On another note: crazy men rarely yell at counter women in the Pan-Con Club? You mean it happens at all? Frankly, I'm interested in that!

Page 65- Line 28-30:
"I'm not much for praying," Rayford admitted.

"You will be," she [random woman Rayford got a ride with] said. "I never was before either, but I am now."

Repent, sinners! The end is at hand! already happened? Yeah, and we're back with Rayford, which helps to explain the overwhelming stench of failure.

Page 66- Line 4-6:
The yard and the walk were spotless as usual, and the huge home, his trophy house, was sepulchral.

Ah, stupid Rayford! Making money instead of praising Jesus. At least this tiny sliver of the book has a firm foundation in the bible. I mean the part about money being incompatible with salvation. Oddly, that part of the bible doesn't seem to get as much play among Republicans as the whole "stone gay people" bit.

Page 66- Line 11-13:
Irene was a fastidious housekeeper. Her morning routine included the coffeepot timer kicking on at six, percolating her special blend of decaf with an egg.

Ah, yes, Saint Irene: loves Jesus and keeps the home spick and span for her husband. If you were hoping Irene would have some sort of job... yeah, well, just give up. On another note: she puts an egg in with the coffee in the pot? What the hell? Ewwww? Actually, this apparently is a way to make coffee but is mostly for when you don't have a modern coffee maker with a filter and so forth. Near as I can tell, you mix the egg (shell and all) in with the grounds and put the whole thing in boiling water. Mix it all up, then let it sit. The egg will sequester the grounds into the bottom of the pot, and then if you're careful you can pour the clean coffee off of the top. So, Irene isn't a total freak. On the other hand, Rayford's house is really fancy and the coffee maker is fancy enough to include a timer. So, given that, why then is the coffee maker so sucky that she has to use an egg to brew the coffee? For that matter, presumably she sets it up the night before, in which case not only is she brewing coffee with an egg in it, she's brewing coffee with an egg that's been at room temperature for hours. Gah. So why does Irene go through all this foolishness? Your guess is as good as mine, but I'm betting it's because the authors can't be bothered to make sense.

Page 66- Line 13-15:
The radio was set to come on at 6:30, tuned to the local Christian station.

Beat that dead horse! Beat it, I say!

Page 67- Line 7-10:
He [Rayford] flicked off the radio, which was piping the Christian station's network news hookup into the air, droning on about the tragedy and mayhem that had resulted from the dissapearances.

You might be wondering at this point why the Christian station is still on the air post-rapture. Eh. The answer basically is that some Christians suck at being Christians. Don't worry- details will follow soon enough.

Page 68- Line 9-10:
Rayford hated himself for his broken promises to spend more time with Raymie.

He particularly hated himself for not only giving his son a stupid name like "Rayford," but for having the nerve to make it even worse by referring to the poor kid as "Raymie." Also, yes, the unsaved man is a terrible, self-absorbed father. The authors are truly beating that horse corpse into a thin red paste.

And with that, folks, we reach the end of another disappointing episode of Left Behind. Tune in next week when Buck spends a little time describing the antichrist, argues with women more, and Rayford sinks deeper into self-loathing and despair. Don't worry, though: the second half of the chapter isn't half as interesting as that makes it sound.

See you then!


Wednesday, September 09, 2009


I'm busy today, I'm afraid, and won't have time to post anything of real value. So, hey, business as usual!

Just so you don't go without your Drek-ish fix, however, I suggest you head on over and read Practicing Idealist's post on why she is no longer a fundamentalist Christian. It's an interesting and well done post and deserves some consideration.

Toodles til tomorrow!

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Conservapedia: For laughs or facepalms.

Our favorite collection of wingnuts, Conservapedia, recently posted a news item that I think some of y'all might find interesting. As part of their ongoing coverage* of the economic crisis, they have chosen to relay information on a new strategy for dealing with joblessness:

Or, in plain human speech:

Rather than searching for decent jobs that are very hard to find, some Americans are deciding to become self-employed. Robert P. Murphy, an economist at the Mises Institute, recommends that one of the best measures to protect against a future economic depression is to develop multiple streams of income rather than risk depending on one or two income sources which may disappear in a depression. In the present economic crises, Americans are using creative ways to launch a wide variety of low cost businesses.

For those who aren't familiar with the Mises Institute, it's a Libertarian think-tank in Alabama that, among other things, is supportive of the Confederacy. So, yeah, great source. Leaving that aside, however, you have to love the way they're talking about this: private individuals should "develop multiple streams of income." This means... what, exactly? Not only should my spouse and I both be working, but we should both be working multiple jobs? No, of course not! Just look at the links Conservapedia included! We're supposed to start new businesses, like we see in this article about an out-of-work biologist starting a business building custom jellyfish tanks.** Of course, they're only starting these businesses as "forced entrepreneurs" because they suck at job hunting. No, really, that's what the article says:

Many forced entrepreneurs would be happier if they could only get another job in their field after a layoff. But most of them use poor methods for finding a job so they conclude they have no choice but to start a business.

But what if you know nothing about jellyfish? Well, the Wall Street Journal has some suggestions, like start an internet business or, even better, a health retreat. Just listen to this heroic business person starting on the cheap:

Yafa Sakkejha made a deal with her father that’s enabling her to get House of Verona, a summer health-retreat business, off the ground. He agreed to “incubate” her fledgling company by giving her rent-free use of Blue View Chalets, his winter ski-resort property in Canada’s Blue Mountains, for the first year and by fronting some of her larger initial expenses.

Ms. Sakkejha is using her savings to repay Blue View half of the expenses it incurs for her and hire health experts, a fitness trainer and caterers. If her business takes off, both parties win. She begins to build her own business, and her father gains a summertime revenue stream from the property.

But what if your father doesn't already own a mountain ski resort? What then? Well, uh, can you sell your skills as a freelancer? No? You're unskilled? Uh, well, you could buy this book and follow its advice. Don't have one thousand dollars and/or a spouse who supports you while you stay at home? Well, then you're pretty much fucked!

And this is, I think, what bothers me most about Conservapedia's "silver lining" that people are starting businesses. These aren't heroic entrepreneurs, they're desperate people who are just trying to survive any way that they can and, unfortunately, for every one of these folks who succeed, there will likely be dozens who don't. It reminds me of nothing so much as that scene in Roger & Me where a woman is selling rabbits for pets or meat in order to stay afloat.

I just never watched that movie before and thought that she was living the American dream.

* Keep in mind that their "coverage" consists of vitriolic efforts to blame Obama for the economic downturn.

** Hell, and I thought my expertise was niche.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, September 07, 2009

I have never felt more reassured by a Republican sex scandal.

Some of you may have heard of Kristin Maguire, the former Chairwoman of South Carolina's Board of Education. She was popular with right wingers in the state because she was a homeschooler mother who ended up in charge of education. Well, that's overstating things, but you get the point. She has been a vocal supporter of things like school voucher programs and abstinence-only sex education. Recently, she resigned from her position citing family needs. Maybe so, but the alleged actual reason is nothing if not interesting:

...according to the admittedly biased FITSNews, that's precisely the case with Maguire. They claim that the mother of four home-schooled children vacated her seat because of her super-secret hobby: writing erotic fiction.

Yes, apparently there are some similarities between Maguire and a virtual alter ego, Bridget Keeney. Like what? Well, like age, number of children and their background in engineering. That's not much to go on, of course, but FITS claims to have seen documents proving Maguire discussed the matter with Sanford ahead of her resignation and that his administration helped her cover her trail. This wouldn't be a big deal, of course, except for the fact that — surprise! — Maguire was thick as thieves with the "family values" set. She even donated $1,300 to failed presidential candidate and rabid bigot Mike Huckabee last year.

Ah, yes. A homeschooling, abstinence-only, conservative mom who just, apparently, likes the pron a little bit. But, hey, maybe it's low-key porn? You know, nothing that right wingers could object to?

It would be hard for those groups to ignore Maguire's alleged prose, like a tale entitled "Continental Cuisine," which features a woman blowing a man while his pal wanks one off. (Sample line: "The rhythmic sway of the train car added to the bobbing of my head as I sucked deeply.")

Another tale goes by the name, "Lauren's Masturbatory Musings." You can only imagine what that one concerns.

Then again... maybe not.

Now, am I pointing this out in order to mock a Republican woman? No. Actually, I'm not. As a matter of fact, I'd actually just like to express my agreement with P.Z. Myers: she's resigning for all the wrong reasons. Do we really think that men or women who are interested in sex cannot make good decisions about education? For that matter, do we think that men and women who are interested in sex can't make good childcare workers? Because- and this is a hypothesis- I'm guessing that most people who have or take care of kids remain interested in sex. That, if nothing else, explains where second children come from. So, unfortunately enough, this resignation does little more than show just how terrified Republicans are of sex, even when it emerges in a completely non-threatening and arguably healthy way.* And when it comes right down to it, this has to at least be a little better than that whole Mark Foley thing, right?

This is only a scandal because her party is so gosh-darned afraid of sex that a heterosexual woman writing about mildly kinky sex is enough to make them freak out. Maybe it's just me, but I don't understand how that makes Republicans- at a broad level- mature enough to actually govern well.

I'm just sayin' is all.

* I am not going to comment on the literary value of her writing. I'm already suffering through Left Behind- that has to be enough.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, September 04, 2009

But it works just as often as random chance!

I don't know if I've ever remarked upon this,* but for the last few years Kentucky has had a law on its books requiring that its Department of Homeland Security stress, "dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the commonwealth." No, this is not a joke. I bring it up because, recently, this law was struck down:

Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled that the law violated the First Amendment’s protection against the establishment of a state religion. Homeland Security officials have been required for three years to credit “Almighty God” in their official reports and post a plaque with similar language at the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Frankfort.

“Even assuming that most of this nation’s citizens have historically depended upon God by choice for their protection, this does not give the General Assembly the right to force citizens to do so now,” Wingate wrote.

“This is the very reason the Establishment Clause was created: to protect the minority from the oppression of the majority,” he wrote. “The commonwealth’s history does not exclude God from the statutes, but it had never permitted the General Assembly to demand that its citizens depend on Almighty God.”

I agree more or less with the judge's position on the subject, thought I think I would add that the citizens of this nation do not appear to have ever depended upon god for their protection. And if you don't believe me, just check out our military expenditures. U.S. expenditures alone make up about 43.3% of the estimated total global spending on the military. So, really, I'd say that however much Americans like to praise the lord, we sure as hell ain't relying on him to do diddly-squat when it comes to protection. This, I would say, is a sound policy, even if I don't necessarily think we need to be quite as well armed as we are. Still, as you might guess, not everyone agrees with me:

State Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, a Southern Baptist minister, placed the “Almighty God” language into a homeland security bill without much notice.

Riner said Wednesday that he is unhappy with the judge’s ruling. The way he wrote the law, he said, it did not mandate that Kentuckians depend on God for their safety, it simply acknowledged that government without God cannot protect its citizens.


Attorney General Jack Conway defended the law in court, arguing that striking down such laws risked creating a secular society that is wholly separated from religion. A Conway spokeswoman said the attorney general’s office is reviewing the ruling and will decide whether to appeal.

Yes. A "secular society that is wholly separated from religion." I don't think there's any reason we should worry about that happening. On the other hand, if what Conway meant was "a secular government that is wholly separated from religion," well, shit, that's what we're supposed to have.

Now if only we could get the military to stop forcibly indoctrinating its members...

* That is to say I feel like I have, but can't seem to find the post in question. Not that surprising given the number of posts this blog contains over the period that I've been blogging. Gold star to anyone who can find a post where I mention this subject.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 3, Part 2

Welcome back, boys and girls, to the next exciting marginally tolerable installment of Left Behind. Last time, as you may recall, we reached the terminal, watched some news, and thrilled as Rayford waited in lines and made a phone call. What will happen this week? Hard to say, but you can rest assured that it will move at an excruciatingly slow pace.

As always, it's time to award the comment of the week prize for the last installment. This time around it goes to Scripto for his vivid observations on the quality of writing in Left Behind:

Wow. I write like I'm retarded but even I couldn't improve upon the disjointed incoherence of this sentence. Well, maybe I would use "...feet, stockingedly clad, to the ground... instead. But it isn't even clear if his torso is still attached to his face during all these acrobatics. Beautiful.

Congratulations, Scripto!

And with that, let's get this dog and pony show on the road. As always, page/line numbers are in bold, quotes from the book are in block quotes, my commentary is in regular print, and you can navigate the whole series with the provided tag.


Dramatis Personae

The same as before because it's just so easy to cut and paste...

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. Reader of marriage books.

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

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type. Girl power devotee.

Chris Smith: Airline co-pilot. Worked with Rayford Steele.

Chloe Steele: Daughter of Rayford Steele. Student at Stanford.

Chaim Rosenzweig: Israeli chemist. Kinda freaky. Friend of Buck's.


Page 50- Line Scrumptious:

No quote because I want to clue you in to something that's been building for a while: now that Rayford knows his wife has been stolen away by Jesus, he's been dropping random negative remarks about Hattie. Things will start coming to a head soon and become ever more fucked up than they were before.

Page 51- Line 1-3:
That frustrated him [Rayford] about people her [Hattie's] age. They enjoyed a volleying conversation game. He liked to get to the point.

Sorry, grampa! All joking aside, the authors make it clear that they hate the young as the book continues so you may as well prepare yourselves.

Page 51- Line 5-9:

No quote, but they've arrived on the roof of the airport terminal and are approaching the waiting helicopter. The pilot doesn't want to take them both until Rayford acts the assertive male...

Page 51- Line 9-14:
Rayford grabbed her [Hattie's] elbow and pulled her aboard as he climbed in. "Only way she's not coming is if you can't handle the weight."

"What do you weigh, doll?" the pilot said.

"One-fifteen!" [Hattie replied]

"I can handle the weight," he told Rayford.

Hell, at one-fifteen I don't know why she doesn't wait for a strong wind to blow her home. Actually, let's break this down a little more rigorously: what does this weight tell us about Hattie? Well, if we use the equations for finding the Body Mass Index (BMI) we can estimate her height by assuming that she is within the "healthy" range defined by the World Health Organization. I mean, our good Christian authors wouldn't hold her to an unrealistic and unhealthy beauty standard, right? In any case, the W.H.O. defines a BMI range from 18.5 to 25 as "normal," with values outside as underweight to varying degrees or overweight to varying degrees. If we assume that Hattie has a normal BMI then her height has to range between about 4' 9" and 5' 6". Average female height for white Americans aged 20-39 is roughly 5' 5". If we use this height for Hattie, her BMI is about 19.13, or just inside the normal range. We're never told for sure how tall Hattie is, but in a later book Rayford observes that Hattie is, "Young, tall, curvy, blond, gorgeous," (The Rapture, pg. 27). Technically, one inch over the average could be described as "tall" but if we assume the authors meant more like 5'8" or 5'9" then Hattie is in the underweight BMI category. On another note: "doll"? Last episode we were stuck in the nineteenth century, now we're in a bad gangster movie from the roaring twenties. What. The. Fuck.

Page 51- Line 17-22
He [Rayford] buckled himself in and Hattie sat on his lap. He wrapped his arms around her waist and clasped his wrists together. He thought how ironic it was that he had been dreaming of this for weeks, and now there was no joy, no excitement in it, nothing sensual whatever. He was miserable. Glad to help her out, but miserable.

See, folks? If you even contemplate cheating on your wife, Jesus will immediately initiate the rapture to teach you a lesson. Or... you know... something. I'm not good at this moral lesson crap. It really just seems to me that Rayford is on his way to being a disagreeable, moralistic asshole and that having a girl sit on your lap in a crowded helicopter during a major crisis is unlikely to be arousing to anybody over eighteen.

Page 52- Line Oregano:

No transcription, but Rayford has a conversation with Hattie and some of the other helicopter passengers that makes it clear that Chris, his co-pilot, committed suicide in the airport terminal. My scrawled comment in the margin reads, "But why?" Fortunately, we get an answer on the very next page...

Page 52- Line 2-4:
"Don't know how reliable this is, but the rumor is he found out his boys had disappeared and his wife was killed in a wreck!" [commented the helicopter pilot]

Okay, so that is apparently why. I have to be honest, though: it seems like a bit of a rash decision given that nobody knows what's happened to the disappeared yet. Well, that and mistakes get made all the time. Still, it's not half as fucked up as what comes next:

Page 53- Line 5-6:
For the first time the enormity of the situation became personal for Rayford.

Dude, your wife is gone. Let me say that again: YOUR WIFE IS GONE! And what makes this personal is when something happens to your co-pilot who barely got any lines in his two chapters of life? Bad writing or a horribly insulting statement about how non-Christians feel about their spouses: you make the call!

Page 52- Line 19-21:
And why did he [Rayford] care about her [Hattie]? She was beautiful and sexy and smart, but only for her age.

"...but only for her age"? What the hell is that supposed to mean? Make yourself comfortable with the commentary about how young people suck, there's more on the way. Honestly, the way this book is written makes me think that the authors like to drink metamucil on their back porch while they yell at the squirrels.

Page 55- Line Electric Boogaloo:

Aaaaand we're back with Buck, who has managed to get access to those "hot" e-mails he downloaded on the plane. He has two e-mails from his boss, Steve Plank. The first one is a general message to the "Global Weekly" staff to not try to reach New York as things are too nuts. It also includes a line that's just too awesome to believe...

Page 55- Line 20-21:
Just a note: Begin thinking about the causes. Military? Cosmic? Scientific? Spiritual?

Gotta love the options. I have to be honest, I have absolutely no idea what a "cosmic" cause would be. If he means "space-based," well, that would seem to be covered under "scientific". Not to mention that I really doubt anyone would have to be told to start thinking about the causes. I mean, hell, if a bunch of people up and disappeared I'd just be thinking about lunch. Good thing we have Steve Plank around to keep us on our toes! In any case, following that scorcher of a message Buck opens a second message from Plank that is intended just for Buck. Sadly, it isn't a love note. It is a lengthy missive ordering Buck to return to New York by any means necessary. Then Plank launches into a lengthy passage that reminds me of many a conspiracy theory website.

Page 56- Line 10-17:
Sometimes I think because of the position I'm in, I'm the only one who knows these things; but three different department editors have turned in story ideas on various international groups meeting in New York this month. Political editor wants to cover a Jewish Nationalist conference in Manhattan that has something to do with a new world order government.

And here we go, conspiracy theory time. First up, nationalist Jews who want to build a world government. Now, obviously a world government is a bad thing because it would presumably keep us from killing each other and, you know, god would hate that. I have no idea why anyone would think that nationalists from any particular ethnicity would love a world government but, hey, whatever. It ain't my paranoid theology. I'm going to skip quoting the bit about the second Jewish group, but it's reputedly a bunch of Orthodox Jews who want to rebuild "the temple." Never mind that doing so would involve demolishing the Dome of the Rock which, I think, would start some serious shit in the middle east.

Page 57- Line 2-7:
The other religious conference in town is among leaders of all the major religions, from the standard ones to the New Agers, also talking about a one-world religious order. They ought to get together with the Jewish Nationalists, huh?

And, yes, you read that correctly: we're going to have a conference in New York that unifies all religions everywhere in the world. Because, you know, that's really the way it works. Honestly, this last bit just blows me away: I'm not even religious, and even I think this is absolutely absurd. Anyway, this is the outline of the authors "end of the world" bit where we all agree to live under one government, worship under one faith, use one money (sorry, omitted that part because the dialog is too insipid even for me), and sing showtunes around the campfire. And we put it all together basically instantly. How is this possible, you ask? Well, I'll tell you with foreshadowing...

Page 57- Line 18-20:
Everybody's pretty enamored with this Carpathia guy from Romania who so impressed your friend Rosenzweig.

Okay, ladies and gentlemen, you have just offically encountered your first reference to the Antichrist, Nicolae Carpathia. I'm not giving anything away by telling you that because the foreshadowing is so thick it was effectively piled on with a backhoe. It's hard to know what to say about Carpathia at this point, particularly since every scrap of potential the character had will be squandered by the end of the first book. So, the most interesting potential character becomes little more than a comic book villain twirling his mustache and cackling menacingly in a black hat. I'll leave all that for later. Right now, I will simply make an observation about Carpathia: according to the first prequel to the Left Behind books, Carpathia's fathers are two homosexual men who have their sperm fused together into a "hybrid sperm" so that they can impregnate one of their wives together. Let me say that again: in this work of conservative Christian fiction, the Antichrist is fathered by a gay couple. And the really amazing thing? That is quite possibly the MOST subtle message this book ever sends. Three guesses what that message is but- and this is a hint- I doubt it is, "Wow, we should really let gay people adopt"! Set your astonishment aside for a moment and attend as Steve Plank finishes up by speculating on what's going to happen next with the world's disappeared.

Page 58- Line 1-2:
If I had to guess, I'm anticipating some God-awful ransom demand.

Yeah. Exactly. Someone teleported a shitload of naked people from all over the planet because they want a ransom. That makes sense. Why not teleport, you know, the money itself and skip the middle step? Can't teleport anything but naked people for some crazy fucking reason? No problem! Start a goddamn personal transport company! I think I'd be willing to borrow a suit if I could get to Tokyo and back in a day. No, Steve Plank, there will be no ransom, and you're a friggin idiot besides.

And with that, dear readers, we conclude Chapter Three. Tune in next time for Chapter Four when the authors start to say really mean things.



Site Meter