Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Left Behind: Intermission

Folks, today is Thanksgiving in the U.S. and my wife and I really like this holiday. As such, I just can't bring myself to sully the day with Left Behind-ing. Come back next week for Chapter 9 Part 2, which is actually fairly interesting in its own way.

And don't look so sad! I made you an image!

See you next week!


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

That eternal question answered!

Question: How do I finish my Christmas shopping while, at the same time, honoring the 150th anniversary of Origin of Species?

Answer: Evolvems, the plush toys that really evolve!

To quote the website:

As we know, it all started with a big bang. The Earth was cooling, autotrophs were drooling, all that good stuff. And there were cool creatures like the bony-finned Coelacanth, the toothy Dimetrodon, the hidden dragon known as Yinlong and the Pakicetus, the furry landlubber ancestor to the whale. But we wouldn't stop there. No way, we're paleontologists! That's who we are, that's who we are, that's who we are. Unzip and flip the creature inside out and you'll get its evolved form. Watch fins turn to feet and gills grow into lungs right before your eyes. The best part is that all you kids who want to see 'em don't have to line up at our museum. You can have your own piece of evolution in your own home and bring it in for show n' tell at school. Show those other monkeys their roots, we say.

The Coelacanth is a bony-finned fish who lived 410 million years ago. Those bony fins evolved into legs over millions of years and his gills turned to lungs, eventually transforming him into the Ichthyostega, who is part fish, part amphibian.

Lizards like the Dimetrodon were the top dog on Earth before the dinosaurs came around. Alas, changing habitats and extinction caused the Dimetrodon to evolve into a smaller, more mammal-like creature, the Cynognathus.

What dino geek doesn't like the Triceratops? His cousin the Styracosaurus lived in the Cretaceous period too, but did you know he originally descended from the "Hidden Dragon" of China known as the Yinlong? (It's okay, we didn't know that either.)

We all know that whales and dolphins, while sea creatures, are mammals and not fish. Enter the Pakecetus from 55 million years ago, a land mammal who hunted fish in the water and had inner ear bones similar to the modern whale. Twenty-two million years later, he evolved into the Squalodon, who looks suspiciously like a dolphin to us!

Believe me when I say that there are several varieties available. I particularly like the Pakicetus/Squalodon, which just looks badass as hell. I think I know a little niece of mine who is getting a fluffy, scientific friend this holiday season!

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I KNEW it!

Some time back my wife and I adopted two cats, thereby raising the number of companion animals in our household to three. This adoption was, I think, a good idea as our cats are fun, adoring little creatures, but it led to a certain amount of chaos at first. This was particularly because our dog- whom I brought to our new family from my bachelorhood- has a compulsive need to herd our cats. And she's pretty good at it, no matter how impossible the task may seem.

Recently our vet told us that our cats were getting a little portly and suggested that we switch to a high fiber food and reduce the amount of food we are giving them. As a result, instead of free-feeding we now feed our cats once in the morning and once in the evening. This has led to a disruption in our schedule, both because we now have to remember to feed the cats twice a day, and because they've learned a new trick. Specifically, they now hang out outside our bedroom door early in the morning (anywhere between 4:00 AM and 6:00 AM) and start to make insistent noises at us. We responded by opening the door and squirting them with water but, alas, they've learned and now retreat around a corner when they hear us approach so as to avoid the squirting, and return to complain some more when the coast is clear. My wife has, from time to time, defended the cats observing that they are merely hungry. I, on the other hand, insist that our otherwise wonderful cats are actually evil little bastards. And, as it turns out, the research is on my side.

I refer to a recent study that finds that cats apparently learn to modulate their cries so as to be annoying as possible to humans. And no, I'm not kidding:

Researchers at the University of Sussex have discovered that cats use a "soliciting purr" to overpower their owners and garner attention and food.

Unlike regular purring, this sound incorporates a "cry", with a similar frequency to a human baby's.

The team said cats have "tapped into" a human bias - producing a sound that humans find very difficult to ignore.


"When we played the recordings to human volunteers, even those people with no experience of cats found the soliciting purrs more urgent and less pleasant," said Dr McComb.


"When an animal vocalises, the vocal folds (or cords) held across the stream of air snap shut at a particular frequency," explained Dr McComb. The perceived pitch of that sound depends on the size, length and tension of the vocal folds.

"But cats are able to produce a low frequency purr by activating the muscles of their vocal folds - stimulating them to vibrate," explained Dr McComb.

Since each of these sounds is produced by a different mechanism, cats are able to embed a high-pitched cry in an otherwise relaxing purr.

"How urgent and unpleasant the purr is seems to depend on how much energy the cat puts into producing that cry," said Dr McComb.

Previous studies have found similarities between a domestic cat's cry and the cry of a human baby - a sound that humans are highly sensitive to.

Dr McComb said that the cry occurs at a low level in cats' normal purring. "But we think that (they) learn to dramatically exaggerate it when it proves effective in generating a response from humans."

She added that the trait seemed to most often develop in cats that have a one-on-one relationship with their owners.

"Obviously we don't know what's going on inside their minds," said Dr McComb. "But they learn how to do this, and then they do it quite deliberately." [emphasis added]

And there you have it: scientific proof that cats are evil, manipulative little bastards.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

A premature ejaculation...

As many of you may recall, I gave y'all a homework assignment recently. This assignment was to help me find a copy of the wacky Ray Comfort edition of The Origin of Species that he was allegedly going to be distributing on college campuses. I did not, as you may remember, advocate destroying the books in any way, I just wanted to lay hands on one.

You may also remember that I gave you a hint to aid in this endeavour- a hint that included a partial list of universities where the book distribution was to take place as well as the date on which it would occur. These dates for the U.S. and Canada were, respectively, November 19th and 24th. And you probably realize that today is November 20th. So, did the Ray Comfort book drop occur yesterday? As it turns out, no, it did not. Specifically, it looks like Ray fell victim to a literary version of premature ejaculation and distributed the volumes on November 18th. I can only assume that this was done in the hopes of avoiding confrontations with pro-science students and faculty, partly organized through the help of the NCSE. This effort, of course, was only partly successful as the allies of science, such as the UCLA Skeptics and Secularists, were totally on the case.

Now, I'm not angry at Comfort for jumping the gun. I'm sure it happens to lots of men. He should just have a little wine, relax a bit, and try again, say, on the 24th. And buddies in Canada? It looks like it's totally on you now! Surely someone out there can manage to snag me a damn copy of this book?

Good luck!

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 9, Part 1

Welcome back ladies and gentlemen to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that will... uh... you know what? I've been coming up with pithy catch-phrases in this introductory paragraph for sixteen episodes. I have another thirty-three to go, not counting this one. Fuck it. Welcome back to our regular feature on Left Behind, a book that just really, really f-ing sucks. Last time we were reminded why Rayford should have been surgically sterilized years ago. What happens this week? Well, I don't want to spoil it, but if you're lucky you'll just barely get to meet Chloe before it ends.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to scripto for a comment so brilliant, I think it scared all the other usuals off:

"They had Chloe during their first year of marriage but, due to complications, waited another eight years for Ray Jr."

That's one hell of a headache.

I have to admit, I laughed rather a lot at that. Then I considered the possibility that maybe Irene just needed eight years before she could stand the thought of more sex with Rayford. And even then, it sent her into depression. Quite the man that Rayford Steele! Anyway, congratulations, scripto, and best of luck to everyone else! Today, after all, is yet another chance to win.

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

A ouija board gave me the order...

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. Graduated from Princeton. Human alarm clock. Expert in Romanian politics.

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type. Girl power devotee. Unhealthily thin. Twenty-seven years old. Blonde. Claims no moral or religious code.

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

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

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.

Dirk Burton: English guy Buck knows. Graduated from Princeton. Kinda gullible.

Joshua Todd-Cothran: English finance guy.

Jonathon Stonagal: American ultra-rich dude. Involved in international monetary cabal.

Marge Potter: Steve Planck's secretary. Matronly.

Lucinda Washington: Fiftyish black woman. Raptured.

Ken Ritz: Pilot. Profiteering on the rapture. Actually quite polite. Fired for being too careful. Believes in aliens.


Chapter 9: In which we learn a little more about the conspiracy, find out that the conspiracy killed Buck's contact in the U.K., Chloe gets home, and we have a really dumb conversation about faith and reason between Chloe and Rayford.

Page 151- Line 1-3:
Buck's subconscious waking system failed him that evening, but by 8:45 PM he was back in Steve Planck's office, disheveled and apologetic.

Okay, so apparently the man isn't a robot. On the other hand, those of you speculating that Buck and Steve are having a gay tryst now have a little more evidence to throw on the pile. Alas, he's in Steve's office because the famed Global Weekly is having a big meeting of its senior reporters, at which coincidentally Steve is screwing half the staff by putting Buck in charge of some freakish mega-story involving a global currency, a world government, and a one-world religion. Because, you know, all of that really sounds plausible...

Page 151- Line 14-16:
"Most Israeli Nationalists think the Holy Land has gone too far with its bounty already. This is historic." [Juan Ortiz, token hispanic reporter said]

Okay, just so we're clear, they're talking about that whole "one world government" thing that, obviously, is totally compatible with nationalism. It's well known, after all, that those who can be accurately described as "nationalists" just love the idea of joining peacefully with other nations in a spirit of cooperation. Right. Oh, and what the hell are they talking about with that "too far with its bounty" crap? This almost certainly has something to do with the super-fertilizer introduced in chapter 1 which, as you may recall, Israel decided not to share with anybody (chapter 4). Instead, they just sold the produce they were able to grow and made a shitload of money. So, apparently, the authors are saying that the most generosity you can expect out of Israelis is for them to sell you food at a fair market value. Okay, that may be a little harsh, but I seriously have no idea what the hell they mean since they have never once depicted an Israeli doing anything that wasn't in his or her best interests. Regardless, Steve Planck explains to Juan that he should just shut up and accept that Buck is now in charge. We then have a side conversation with Jimmy Borland, the Global Weekly religion editor...

Page 152- Line 22-25:
"Will there be religious Jews-"

"Orthodox." [Jimmy corrected]

"OK, Orthodox Jews at the ecumenical meeting?" [Buck corrected himself]

Yes, folks, you heard it here first: reform and conservative Jews are- by definition- not religious. Riiiiiight. Regardless, the conversation gradually turns to the U.N. Specifically, to how the U.N. seemed to be involved in determining global fiscal policy. It's so cute that the authors think the U.N. has any actual power! Then we start wondering if the super rich are somehow involved.

Page 153- Line 25-28:
"Well, everybody knows he's [Jonathan Stonagal] circumspect. But is there a Stonagal influence?" [Buck asked]

"Does a duck have lips?" [financial editor Barbara Donahue replied]

Buck smiled and jotted a note. "I'll take that as a yes."

But... I don't think ducks have lips! They have a beak, yes, but not lips per se. Is it possible that Buck... you know... doesn't know what a duck is? In any case, regardless of Buck's zoological knowledge, the meeting wraps up and the narrative returns to Rayford who is- amazingly enough- actually worrying about Chloe. He then gets around to calling Irene's church which is named- I shit thee not- the "New Hope Village Church." In any case, when he calls he gets a recorded message rather than an actual person...

Page 155- Line 8-14:
"While our entire staff, except me [unidentified male], and most of our congregation are gone, the few of us left are maintaining the building and distributing a videotape our senior pastor prepared for a time such as this. You may come by the church office anytime to pick up a free copy, and we look forward to seeing you Sunday morning."

Believe me when I tell you that you will get to hear what's on the videotape, whether you want to or not. If I'm not mistaken one entire chapter is pretty much given over to describing Rayford watching it, which when you think about it is only slightly less dull than our usual time with Rayford. I think the authors even agree with me on that since, so far, we've been treated to reading about Rayford reading a book, are about to be treated to reading about Rayford watching a video... he's so boring, even the narrators want to hear or read about someone else.

Page 155- Line 17-19:
What a creative idea, to tape a message for those who had been left behind! [Rayford thought]

So, you're taking notes, right? Because the authors aren't giving you advice like this for their fucking health, you know? Get those video cameras out and start filming creepy videos for your relatives. Chop chop! Oh, and don't forget your e-mail notifications!

Page 155- Line 19-21:
He [Rayford] and Chloe would have to get one the next day. He hoped she would be as interested as he was in discovering the truth.

I imagine she will be, Ray, but what makes you so damn sure that it can be found in a videotape? I'm just sayin' is all. Regardless, Chloe arrives a few sentences later and they have a heartfelt reunion that is not really described. Apparently the love of a man for his daughter pales to insignificance beside Krazo! And then, amazingly, the narrative is back with Buck, who manages to reach one Nigel Leonard at the London Exchange where his (Buck's) friend Dirk Burton worked. And as a side note: "Nigel Leonard"? The authors weren't satisfied with giving their characters one shitty first-name each and decided to give this guy two? Damn.

Page 156- Line 12-23:
"I'm taping our conversation, sir. If that is a problem for you, you may disconnect." [Nigel said]

"I don't follow." [Buck replied, demonstrating his quick wit]

"What's to follow? You understand what a tape is, do you?"

"Of course, and I'm turning mine on now as well, if you don't mind." [Buck answered]

"Well, I do mind, Mr. Williams. Why on earth would you be taping?"

"Why would you?"

"We are the ones with a most unfortunate situation, and we need to investigate all leads." [emphasis original]

In the margins I have scrawled, "Oh. My. God. This dialog is annoying!" And, indeed, it is. It reminds me of nothing so much as the mutant dumb version of the classic "who's on first" routine. In any case, before Nigel reveals what the hell the "unfortunate situation" is, he gets Buck to admit that he (Buck) is a journalist. Then comes this bit...

Page 157- Line 23-25:
"Because I [Nigel] am aware that both in your country and in the British Commonwealth, anything said following an assertion that we are off the record is protected."

Obviously, Nigel wants to talk to Buck "off the record". Fine. Whatever. My thing is: is there any truth to that "protected" business he babbles about? My guess is that it's an informal understanding rather than a formal protection, but I will bow to qualified legal folk on this point. Anyway, only now do we get to the point:

Page 157-158- Line 157:30-158:1-7:
"Mr. Burton's body was discovered in his flat this morning. He had suffered a bullet wound to the head. I'm sorry, as you [Buck] were a friend, but suicide has been determined." [Nigel said]

Buck was nearly speechless. "By whom?" he managed.

"The authorities."

"What authorities?"

"Scotland Yard and security personnel here at the exchange."

Right, so, Dirk Burton, wacky conspiracy theorist, was not taken in the rapture. He was, instead, shot in the head and- we can only assume- is now roasting for all eternity in hell. I'd feel bad but, shit, at least this way I won't constantly be trying to type "Dick" instead of "Dirk." And, in addition, this sets up one of the most awesome lines in the entire book:

Page 158- Line 8:
Scotland Yard? Buck thought. We'll see about that. [emphasis original]

Oh, really, Buck? You'll "see about that"? Are you a dime store hero or something? Seriously, if you can read that line and not giggle a little bit, you're a better man/woman/child than I. Anyway, Buck assures Nigel that Dirk didn't kill himself, they hang up, and Buck decides to fly off to London to... you know... see about that, I guess.

And that more or less brings us to the end of part one. Technically, we're ending slightly before the halfway point, but the remainder of this chapter is made up of Chloe and Rayford talking theology (sort of) and I think it's better to keep it all together in one lovely shit sandwich for next time. So, please join us again next week when Chloe demonstrates how pointless an education at Stanford apparently is, and we all groan at the titanic leaps of illogic.

It's gonna be "good," so don't miss it!


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rock on, science.

This is the best use of the autotune that I think I have ever seen:

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Two birds with one stone...

Are you trying to figure out how to respond to the impending Ray Comfort/Kirk Cameron clusterfuck scheduled for this Thursday? Sure, we all are. Fortunately for us, however, a perfect response has already been formulated! When you pick up your copy of "The Origin of Species" with a crazy creationist introduction, reward your local book distributor with these handy stickers:

They read:

Please do not administer flu vaccine. I do not believe in evolution.

Indeed, if you don't believe in evolution by means of natural selection, including the potential for random mutation and recombination to produce new and exciting features in organisms, then you should really have nothing to fear from the flu since if you've gotten it once, you're immune forever! Yay! On the other hand if you do believe in evolution- suggesting that you are in touch with reality- a flu shot is absolutely a good idea. So, hey, this is a win-win situation: creationists get to rely on their worldview to protect them from infection, and more vaccine for the rest of us.

Download your own .pdf today and start making labels!

Kudos to Axis of Evo for this brilliant idea!

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Monday, November 16, 2009

You heard it here first!

This past weekend our good friend the Warbler supplied us with a post that simply has to be read to be believed. As he unfortunately concludes, it's really very difficult to contradict someone who believes that people have different skin colors because god cursed some of us and not others way back in historical time. I mean, okay, it's not necessarily impossible- we could show, for example, that differences in skin pigmentation emerged more than six thousand years ago, but that would only defeat some folks.* So, yeah, pretty damn near impossible to disprove that particular idea.

In any case, in my experience some folks take that "difficult to contradict" thing to mean, "must be correct," but that isn't really the way it works. Difficult to contradict can just mean that the argument is phrased in such a way as to make it immune to falsification. A classic example of this is the no true Scotsman fallacy. In this fallacy, a person makes an assertion along the lines of, "No American would ever engage in torture." Then, as we might expect, someone might respond, "Americans were running the Abu Ghraib prison and they engaged in torture!" To this, our original person responds, "Yes, well, no real American would ever engage in torture!" In effect, the statement is difficult to contradict not because it's right in any meaningful sense, but because we've constructed it in such a way as to make contradiction artificially impossible.

And I was thinking about this recently because Andrew Schlafly, in his usual laughable manner, accidentally agreed with me. See, recently he's been having a truly magnificent argument with an actual physicist about relativity. What makes this argument so awesome is, of course, that Schlafly is getting his ass handed to him on a regular basis. As an ancillary result of all this, Schlafly started a new essay on quantifying order, continuing in the grand tradition of his quantifying open-mindedness clusterfuck. Here too he's been getting his ass kicked rather soundly, but along the way he made a rather startling admission. See, he's claiming that relatively is worshipped almost like a religion, which is bizarre, but then we get to the awesome bits:

Or, in plain language:

I don't want to perpetuate this debate, but I don't want a lack of response to be misinterpreted. Relativity has quasi-religious status for many; they'll defend regardless of what the evidence is, regardless of its absurd inconsistencies, and regardless of its far-fetched assumptions and non-falsifiability. I don't mind relativity, and look forward to reviewing the updated entry. But open-mindedness is not a trait of many relativists, who will demonize anyone who points out its fairly obvious flaws.

One way to evaluate religions, or quasi-religions, is to look at the fruit it bears. What has it helped achieved? In the case of relativity, it has produced nothing. Nil. Zippo. After nearly 100 years and a ton of money. If you find the math in relativity fun, great, but relativity is not going to help anyone. It never has. Pick up a Bible in between some equations.--Andy Schlafly [bolding added]

And this is just too much fun for me to believe: Andrew Schlafly, who often claims that the "Bible is the most logical book [ever] written", has just observed that religion is, in his view, defended regardless of the evidence, packed with absurd inconsistencies, relies on far-fetched assumptions, and is non-falsifiable.

Good lord, for once in my life I actually agree 100% with Andrew f-ing Schlafly.** Be alert for airborne pork.

* As a side note, I'm not sure of the LDS church's stance on a young-Earth, but I'm not hopeful.

** About religion, anyway. When it comes to relativity he doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground.

As a final side note: am I quote mining? Eh, not really. I know that Schlafly does believe the evidence supports his own faith, and I concede that he so believes quite readily, it's just fun to poke fun.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

An Ongoing Obstacle

I devoted a class recently to discussing the social construction of race. We had watched a terrific film (Race: The Power of an Illusion) that convincingly demonstrates that “race” has no basis in biology. It recounts the historical creation of the concept in America as a rationalization to justify the hereditary enslavement of Africans and the taking of land from indigenous people. It highlights the Cherokees, who, though they had learned English, converted to Christianity, and adopted modern agriculture, in an effort to be judged “civilized,” were still robbed of their property and sent on the Trail of Tears.

During the discussion, one of my students, a young woman in the front row divulged that she was part Cherokee. She said that although she had grown up confused and embarrassed by the backward state of her Cherokee relatives, she was beginning to appreciate the role of prejudice, history, and accumulated disadvantage in making sense of this. I was very gratified to hear this.

As we continued, a student wondered whether the movie was correct that race “began” in America. It’s an interesting issue: clearly there have been geographically-based divisions throughout history that have correlated with variations in the physical appearance of those populations. And certainly people noticed and labeled each other by such differences. But what of this was “race”? I tried to make the case that previously and elsewhere, peoples might be termed Moor, Greek, Ethiopian, Englishman, or Turk with some sense of the physical typicalities of the people from those places, but that these labels did not make “race” the way we think of it now. It was in the American South that humans first grouped populations into a handful of essential, categorical “racial” groups, each of which were understood to be fundamentally distinct from the others in origin, capacity, and status. Prior to this moment in history, people would have been categorized as Christian vs. Heathen or Civilized vs. Savage, but not as separate races.

As I made this case, I noticed the part-Cherokee student shaking her head with a look of incredulity. The idea is a subtle one, so after class I made a remark to her in order to allow her to ask whatever question she had, privately. Her response shocked me. She could not see how it was possible that race was created here in America because… as a Mormon, she knew that God had created race (by darkening the skin of the ancestors of Blacks, Asians, and Native Americans) as a mark of shame to curse those who had disobeyed him. This, she reasoned, must have happened long before the beginning of slavery in America.

I shit you not.

She said this in all seriousness and confidence, without any hint of considering alternative possibilities to this religious dogma. I was flabbergasted. I asked her if this included the Cherokee, and she answered – without pause – that it did. I was immediately filled with sadness. My mind cycled around for some response that would educate but not alienate this student – and I came up empty. I thought of a dozen ways I could produce information that would contradict her received version of reality or call into question its ability to explain things. But I stood certain that any such arguments would simply be dismissed or interpreted through her current paradigm. I think my only statement was something like “There’s no way for me to argue with someone’s religion”. Lame.

I left the class with mounting anger! Not at the student, but at Joseph fucking Smith and Brigham fucking Young and all the other conspirators who wrote this evil racist elitist shit down and convinced her community to adopt it without reservation … for their own goddam selfish purposes. So now, an era later, here’s an intelligent young woman believing that she was cursed by her god, and obstructed from accepting the historical accuracy of facts that would potentially release her from this “shame”.

But as mad as it made me, I don’t fault the Latter Day Saints any more than any other egotistical power brokers of any age. Smith and Young were likely no more biased or racist than the average American of their day. They wrote and taught what they knew and were products of their time and culture. I have to fault religion itself, because without the blind acceptance of received wisdom that it demands, reasonable people would eventually recognize and compensate for the historical and cultural biases of the past, like we do with any other source. As is so often the case, committed religious “faith” stands in the way of knowledge, understanding, acceptance, and progress.

Friday, November 13, 2009

What in the world?

This is a short post this morning because I'm a bit busy, but here's the thing: lately I've been getting a lot of spam on the blog. And I mean a LOT of spam. Four or five times a day I'm seeing comments that are clearly from spam bots trying to sell crap ranging from survival supplies to drugs to make your wang bigger. You don't see these comments, because of the moderation policy, but I see every blessed one of them. And the best part is that about half of them recently have been in cyrillic. Nothing like trying to figure out if someone is spamming you in a foreign language to brighten up your day, although I'm usually aided by the fact that "Cialis" apparently doesn't have a cyrillic transliteration.

And it doesn't stop there, either! Lately I've been getting an equal number of spams e-mailed directly to One person who apparently contributes to a site advertising Christian Universities wanted to write a guest post for me. Here's a hint: I'm a staunch atheist and don't usually have nice things to say about places that refer to themselves as "Christian" universities. As such, I'm probably not your best lead. Later, I received an e-mail from some idiots who want me to advertise their pathology website based on my interest in communicable disease. That wouldn't be so weird given my interest in vaccines, but the post they referenced in their e-mail was this extended joke about graduate school!

Seriously, what in the holy hell is going on lately?

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 8, Part 2

Welcome back ladies and gentlemen to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that will make you long for the sweet release that only death can bring. Last time Buck argued with his editor for a while and got home to his apartment. And if that sounds exciting, you obviously didn't read last week's installment. What happens this week? Not that anyone should care, but it involves Rayford, guilt, and more guilt. Did I mention there's going to be guilt?

As always we have a comment of the week. This week the prize goes to Jay for his observation about the plausibility of certain details in Left Behind:

Since when do nationalists, Jewish or otherwise, want a supernational government? It's more than "unlikely", it's self-contradicting.

Actually, I have the exact same reaction every time they bring up the whole "Jewish Nationalist" bit, but staggering levels of ignorance don't seem to bother the authors so, hey, why should it bother us? Still, in the context of this book, the quesion isn't "who wants a supernational government" so much as "who wants a supernatural government"? Regardless, this week's episode is a bit longer and meatier than last week's so, hopefully, y'all will find more juicy stoopid to sink your teeth into. Huzzah!

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

Arranged by the shade of their auras...

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. Graduated from Princeton. Human alarm clock. Expert in Romanian politics.

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type. Girl power devotee. Unhealthily thin. Twenty-seven years old. Blonde.

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.

Dirk Burton: English guy Buck knows. Graduated from Princeton. Kinda gullible.

Joshua Todd-Cothran: English finance guy.

Jonathon Stonagal: American ultra-rich dude. Involved in international monetary cabal.

Marge Potter: Steve Planck's secretary. Matronly.

Lucinda Washington: Fiftyish black woman. Raptured.

Ken Ritz: Pilot. Profiteering on the rapture. Actually quite polite. Fired for being too careful. Believes in aliens.


Page 142- Line Fedora:

No quote, but we begin this chapter with Rayford, who is basically reminiscing about his past. His parents died when he was young, but from the text that doesn't seem to have bothered him, particularly. He became a pilot in the "military reserve," which in context I think means air force, but who knows? Could be he was in the Navy or the Marines since all three services have their own jet aircraft. I generally think of the Navy and the Marines as too hard-core for Rayford,* however, so I stand by my Air Force guess. And then we rejoin our current story... sort of.

Page 143- Line 1-4:
He [Rayford] had met Irene in Reserve Officer Training Corps in college. She had been an army brat who had never rebelled. Many of her chums had turned their backs on military life and didn't even want to own up to it.

Own up to... what now? Is it a sin to turn your back on a military career? Huh? And as long as we're on the subject: "chums"? Are we in a Leave it to Beaver episode now? Honestly, have the authors conversed with actual humans any time in the last thirty years?

Page 143- Line 8-14:
They were married when Rayford was a senior in college and Irene a sophomore. She dropped out when he went into the military, and everything had been on schedule since. They had Chloe during their first year of marriage but, due to complications, waited another eight years for Ray Jr. Rayford was thrilled with both children, but he had to admit he had longed for a namesake boy.

Aside from the obvious lack of religion, it's like a perfect little fundamentalist fairy tale! Man is a heroic soldier, marries pretty younger girl when they're both young, she drops out before she finishes her education, are immediately fruitful and multiplicative. How lovely. As an additional note, I love that they had Chloe in their first year of marriage. This is mostly because I prefer to believe that this is the authors' subtle way of indicating that Rayford and Irene were totally engaging in premarital sex. I mean, hell, two weeks after the wedding is "in their first year of marriage". Rayford, you dog!

Page 143- Line 20-23:
It was a particularly difficult pregnancy for Irene, and Raymie was a couple of weeks late. Chloe was a spirited eight-year-old, so Rayford disengaged as much as possible.

He what now? His wife was having a hard time and Chloe was in need of... what? Guidance? Attention? Love? And he did what, now? "Disengaged as much as possible"? Is there anything to like about this guy? I mean that seriously, he's a protagonist for crying out loud, but I keep hoping he'll trip and fall into a chipper-shredder or something.

Page 143- Line 24-26:
Irene, he believed, slipped into at least some mild depression during that time and was short tempered with him and weepy.

I dunno, dude, it just sounds to me like she's realized she's married to Rayford Steele. Depressed? Short tempered? Weepy? Yep, sounds about right.

Page 144- Line 1-8:
He had drunk more during that period than ever before or since, and the marriage had gone through its most trying time. He was frequently late getting home and at times even fibbed about his schedule so he could leave a day early or come back a day late. Irene accused him of all manner of affairs, and because she was wrong, he denied them with great vigor and, he felt, justified anger.

In the margins at this point I scrawled, "Ah, yes, without Christ marriage sucks. Too true." I often hear my lovely wife sighing in regret, wishing that she'd married a good christian man who would let her stay home and collect olde timey washtubs all day instead of a mean atheist like me. Oh, Left Behind, where were you when we needed you? On an unrelated note: where exactly was he staying when he would leave a day or early or come back a day late? He didn't have a mistress so, what, was he just crashing at the local Motel 6? Oh, wait, I've got it! "Young man, there's no need to feel down..."

Page 144- Line Canine:

No quote, but Rayford basically sits around and thinks about how he wanted an "old-fashioned affair" (Line 16), whatever the hell that is, but was too much of a geek to go out and get one. No, seriously, that's what it says. I don't know how we, as readers, are supposed to feel about this. Grateful, for the sake of his marriage? Sad, because otherwise he'd be a more interesting character? Bored as hell, because this book is really, really dull? Whatever. He observes that after Raymie was born he decided to grow up a bit, which is funny since he still seems like an immature little dumbass. And then the guilt gets really deep...

Page 145- Line 1-8:
He felt like a failure. He was so unworthy of Irene. Somehow he knew now, though he had never allowed himself to consider it before, that she couldn't in any way have been as naive or stupid as he had hoped and imagined. She had to have known how vapid he was, how shallow, and yes, cheap. And yet she had stayed by him, loved him, fought to keep the marriage together.

So... she saw him the way he now sees Hattie? For that matter, what the hell happened to Hattie, anyway? Without her around we've hardly had any grousing about young people at all! Anyway, back with Irene: is this supposed to be a model to emulate for Christian women? If your husband is a terrible person who abandons you when you're depressed and is prevented from having an affair only by his own ineptitude, you should stay with him because... why? Moreover, you pretend not to realize he's a loser because... why? I love the idea of spouses being supportive, but there IS a difference between "supportive" and "doormat" and I don't think the authors have a clear sense of that.

Page 145- Line 9-11:
He [Rayford] couldn't argue that she [Irene] became a different person after she switched churches and got serious about her faith.

Okay, so, she was still weepy and unstable as per Page 143, Line 24-26? Praise Jesus!

Page 145- Line 15-19:
Now he [Rayford] knew from seeing her list that she had never given up [on converting him]. She had simply taken to praying for him.

No wonder Rayford had never gotten that close to ultimately defiling his marriage with Hattie Durham.

Okay, first, this passage is obviously meant to imply that prayer works but, wow, in what mysterious ways. Evidently prayer wasn't enough to bring Rayford to Jesus pre-rapture, but it was sufficient to keep him from dipping his wick. And where exactly does free will come in? This book's theology is incredibly tortured and confusing because prayer works pretty much whenever something good happens, but bad stuff is always our fault. Wait, sorry, that actually is what a lot of theology argues. Never mind. Second, "ultimately defiling his marriage"? What kind of kinky shit is Hattie into, exactly?

Page 145- Line 20-25:
How ashamed he [Rayford] was of that silly pursuit! For all he knew, Hattie was innocent. She had never bad-mouthed his wife or the fact that he was married. She had never suggested anything inappropriate, at least for her age. Young people were more touchy and flirtatious, and she claimed no moral or religious code.

Wow, how I've missed the authors' comments about people "Hattie's age". Seriously, these guys hang out on their back porch and yell at the squirrels. On a related note, I have no idea what the fuck to make of that "she claimed no moral or religious code" business. I mean, is it typical in most people's experience for co-workers to make each other fully conversant with their stance on moral issues? Frankly, most places I've worked, I couldn't care less so long as they do their job well, promptly, and with as few annoying quirks as possible. Besides, if Hattie didn't have some sort of moral code, I'm guessing she wouldn't even be vaguely functional in society. Still, I guess I have to give the authors credit for perhaps accidentally implying that morality is not quite the same thing as religion. Anyway, Rayford whines for a while about how much of a dumbass he's been and how much he misses Chloe. He tries to watch t.v. but it just won't hold his interest. In the margins I scrawled, "One of the hardest parts of grief is boredom and this book has it in spades." Honestly, I don't know if that remark implies sympathy for Rayford or not. Then he gets to thinking about Chloe's itinerary.

Page 146- Line 27-29:
He [Rayford] remembered the oldest joke in the airline industry: Ozark spelled backwards is Krazo. Only it didn't amuse him just then.

I'm sorry, time out: has that joke amused anyone in the history of mankind? Hell, I've got one for you: Rayford spelled backwards is Drofyar! Ha! That's "funny"! What the f-ing crap is wrong with these guys? Also, FYI, this is the one and only time that it will matter that Chloe flew through Ozark. So, back on page 132 when the authors specifically pointed out that she was in Ozark? Yeah, they were setting up this joke. I understand that Andy Schlafly believes that true humor only appeared after Christianity but, you know, I'm not so sure. Regardless, at this point Hattie actually calls Rayford to see how he's doing. He hustles her off the phone quickly in case Chloe should call and then, you know, feels guilty...

Page 147- Line 15-22:
She [Hattie] had sounded hurt. He [Rayford] was sorry about that, but not sorry that he had gotten rid of her for the time being. He knew she was only trying to help and be kind, but she hadn't been listening. She was alone and afraid just like he was, and no doubt by now she had found out about her family. Oh, no! He hadn't even asked about them! She would hate him, and why shouldn't she? How selfish could I be? he wondered. [emphasis original]

Well, at least they didn't say, "...only trying to help and be kind for her age." That's an improvement, I guess. And, honestly, I think a few of us could answer Rayford's rhetorical question at length by this point in the book. Anyway, he decides to call Hattie back to calm his psyche but discovers her line is busy just in time for the narrative to switch back to Buck, who has been trying to get in touch with Dirk Burton in London. He is unsuccessful in this regard, but does hear from- of all wacky coincidences- Hattie Durham! Buck mentally grouses about how Hattie is wanting to talk, and makes a mental note to take his home number off his next batch of business cards. He then ends the call with the following:

Page 149- Line 14-16:
"I understand," he [Buck] said, though he doubted he ever would. Maybe Hattie showed more depth and sense when she wasn't under stress. He hoped so.

Ah, yes, well, we can't all be secret agent/reporter/chronic masturbators like you, now can we, Bucky? In the margins at this point I wrote, "This dude hates women, but then again Hattie is pretty hate-able." Indeed, like every other character in this book. And, believe it or not, we switch back to Rayford after about two pages with Buck.

Page 149- Line 17-20:
Rayford was glad Hattie's line was busy, because he could tell her he had tried to call her right back, but he didn't have to tie up his phone any longer. A minute later, his phone rang again.

Ah, yes, so apparently when you have asshole thoughts about an annoying co-worker, god has that annoying co-worker call you immediately. Yep, Hattie was calling him again. He asks her about her family, she says they're fine, they add a few pleasantries and then he hangs up to await Chloe's arrival.

And, coincidentally, that ends the chapter. So what have we learned? Eh. Effectively nothing, except that Rayford is even more of an ass than we previously believed, and that the authors are even less acquainted with humor than we thought possible. Just wonderful. In any case, come back next time when we get to watch Buck have a long-distance pissing contest with... um... some guy and Chloe finally, finally arrives. Sadly, it's only moments after her gutheartwrenching return that Rayford starts in with the Jesus talk. Bring your barf bags, because the preaching will be flying like never before.

You're gonna love it.

* No offense to the Air Force, it's just that while I CAN see Rayford flying an AWACS in peacetime I cannot see him landing an F/A-18 on a carrier deck.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Excellent! The historians have our backs!

Most of you have long since grown familiar with my distaste for Intelligent Design creationism. What you may not know, however, is that the concerted opposition to ID among biologists, geneticists, physicists, chemists, and so on now has a new ally: historians! An essay appeared in the October edition of the Newsletter of the History of Science Society advocating the engagement of historians with the creationist crowd more or less to help stop them from raping history:

Given the rigorous peer review process required for publication in leading academic journals and presses, it is unsurprising that ID proponents make little attempt to engage with the community of professional historians. Their claims are made in books published largely by conservative (e.g. Regnery, Intercollegiate Studies Institute), religious (e.g. InterVarsity, an outgrowth of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship campus ministry) or vanity (e.g. Erasmus Press, owned by William Dembski) presses. Unsurprisingly papers are neither presented at conferences nor published in relevant journals and little attempt is made to undergo review by practicing historians with expertise in Darwin, his ideas, and their socio-cultural effects. In short, anti-evolutionist historical scholarship accurately mirrors creationist scientific work in being directed at the true believers rather than the academic community. The temptation may thus be for professional historians to ignore their claims – a temptation that I feel must be rejected. As historians, we have a social duty to correct error and over-simplification where it is foisted on the public by politically and religiously motivated individuals, and this responsibility goes beyond what sociologist and ID sympathizer Steve Fuller has dismissively seen as “catching the errors” of the creationists. There is something far more fundamental at stake. At a time where historians have eschewed Whig or “Great Man” histories, anti-evolutionists are presenting their “Not-So-Great Man” view of Darwin. They misrepresent the very nature of historical enquiry; they manipulate history until it risks becoming a mere shadow of the rich and intricate tapestry that it is.

Our collective research as historians can obviously help disprove claims made by anti-evolutionists regarding both the social effects of scientific ideas and how the scientific community functions. Many of us study scientific change, community formation over time, and the treatment of heretical ideas and controversy. In so doing, we have developed a realistic view of science and its social effects – both positive and negative – along with a clear conceptualization of how evolutionary biology has matured as a field over the past two hundred years. Our research directly opposes the erroneous and simplistic views of the anti-evolutionists, yet it remains largely unknown to the public. While I am not calling for historians to engage in popularization of their work, although that too may have benefits, I do believe that increased public engagement for those of us who have something relevant to say debunking the claims of anti-evolutionists is nothing less than a shared social responsibility. Such engagement is, thankfully, beginning. (For example, Mark Borrello has publicly engaged with John West on the claim that there is a link between Darwin and dehumanization. )

Anyway, the essay is pretty interesting and I, for one, am glad to have the help!

Hat tip to Jason Rosenhouse for this one.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Total Drek One Sentence Movie Reviews: Part Four!

Well, it's time for another episode of my largely lackluster feature wherein I rate movies using my own nebulous set of criteria. If this post makes you wonder how many movies I actually watch, rest assured: I really just dredge them up from memory when I need an easy post idea. Aren't you lucky?

30 Days of Night

Run Time: 113 minutes

Genre: Vampire/survival horror, Alaska travelogue

Once sentence review: Actually quite good, except for the critters-esque subtitling.


Run time: 105 minutes.

Genre: Vampire/zombie survival horror.

One sentence review: This film version of Richard Matheson's novel misses the point to the same extent as an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet that ends with the titular characters escaping Verona amidst a hail of gunfire and opening a frozen yogurt stand in central Rome.*

Max Payne

Run time: 100 minutes.

Genre: Cop noir/video game movie

One sentence review: The name says it all.**

* Aside from the ending, though, it's actually a pretty good adaptation of said novel. It also has one of the most heartbreaking death scenes I've ever seen.

** Alternatively: The first time in my life that I've ever observed that the video game was actually much more compelling story-telling than the movie.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

I'll give you a hint...

Do you remember a while back when I gave you a homework assignment? Well, just because I love you, I'll give you a hint: the colleges that Ray Comfort is targetting- in both the U.S. and Canada- on November 19th are partly known thanks to the NCSE. The currently known list is:

U.S. (19 Nov)

Princeton University (NJ)
Harvard University (MA)
Yale University (CT)
Stanford University (CA)
University of Pennsylvania (PA)
California Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MA)
Duke University (NC)
Columbia University (NY)
University of Chicago (IL)
Dartmouth College (NH)
Washington University in St. Louis (MO)
Cornell University (NY)
Brown University (RI)
Northwestern University (IL)
Johns Hopkins University (MD)
Rice University (TX)
Emory University (GA)
Vanderbilt University (TN)
Notre Dame (IN)
University of California - Berkeley (CA)
Carnegie Mellon University (PA)
University of Virginia (VA)
Georgetown University (DC)
University of California—Los Angeles (CA)
University of Michigan—Ann Arbor
University of Southern California (CA)
University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill (NC)
Tufts University (MA)
Wake Forest University (NC)
Lehigh University (PA)
Brandeis University (MA)
College of William and Mary (VA)
New York University (NY)
University of Rochester (NY)
Georgia Institute of Technology (GA)
Boston College (MA)
University of Wisconsin—Madison (WI)
University of California—San Diego (CA)
University of Illinois—Urbana - Champaign (IL)
Case Western Reserve University (OH)
University of Washington (WA)
University of California—Davis (CA)
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (NY)
University of Texas—Austin (TX)
University of California—Santa Barbara (CA)
University of California—Irvine (CA)
Penn State University—University Park (PA)
University of Florida (FL)
Syracuse University (NY)

Canada (24 Nov)

Ottawa University - Ottawa ON
Carleton University - Ottawa ON
Queen's University - Kingston ON
University of Toronto - Toronto ON
York University - Toronto ON
McMaster University - Hamilton ON
Guelph University - Guelph ON
Brock University - St. Catharines ON
U of Western Ontario - London ON
Concordia University - Montreal PQ
McGill University - Montreal PQ
U of New Brunswick - Fredericton / Saint John NB
Memorial U of Newfoundland - St. John's NL
Dalhousie University - Halifax NS
University of Manitoba - Winnipeg MB
U of Saskatchewan - Saskatoon
University of Alberta - Edmonton AB
University of Calgary - Calgary AB
Simon Fraser University - Vancouver BC
U of British Columbia - Vancouver BC
University of Victoria - Victoria BC

This list is incomplete, so you may still get a visit from the CreationismCrew even if you aren't on the list right now but, if your institution is on this list, then you're on! Help me get a book!

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Over at the old sausage fest...

For some reason I just can't help but find this article over on Conservapedia to be beautiful:

Or, in plain human language:

A hot dog, or Frankfurter, is a sausage made from beef or pork (or both). Many packaged and readily available types contain chicken and mechanically-recovered meat of various unspecified kinds. Hot dogs contain seasonings and are cured and cooked. In recent years, vegetable and soy hot dogs have also gained popularity.

Hot dogs are among America's favorite foods. Hot dogs are usually served with the following condiments: (but not usually all at once)


Hot dogs were first served in buns at the Chicago World Fair of 1893.

In Popular Culture

There is often an debate as to why hot dogs come in packages of 8, when hot dog buns come in packs of 6 (or other numbers that do not agree). This often leads to much philosphical musing as to why two products, which compliment each other so well, are so mismatched.

I don't know what it is- maybe that simple-minded listing of condiments- but this article is just lovely to me. Maybe it's just that it seems to be one of the only articles on Conservapedia that doesn't take a random, mysterious swipe at "liberals." There's nothing like, "Veggie hotdogs have gained popularity among dirty liberals who don't care about hard-working ranchers," lurking in the text. It's just a relatively straightforward, if laughably incompetent, article about hotdogs.

Then again, maybe it's just that Conservapedia has finally jumped the shark for me now that Schlafly is claiming that nobody denies that all of the inhabitable earth has been flooded, and that therefore Noah's Ark is a simpler explanation for extinction than evolution because evolution can't explain how animals survived the Noachian flood. No, seriously:

Second, the theory of evolution has even greater difficulties explaining how species survived massive flooding. No one credibly denies that worldwide flooding occurred; even today the world is over 70% covered with water, most remaining inhabitable land is within 100 feet of sea level, and limestone deposits from water are found at all heights. Local, but massive, flooding occurs frequently and widely, with devastating affects. The theory of evolution does not have a more plausible explanation for how species survive this in the long run.

I mean, hell, where do you go from that? Do we actually have to wait for Schlafly to put on the tinfoil hat and run down the street in a diaper? The man has hit his peak- he should retire while he's on top.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 8, Part 1

Welcome back ladies and gentlemen to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that will convince you that righteousness and talent with the pen apparently don't go together. Last time we insulted cabbies and inquired into work schedules. What happens this week? Well, I don't want to spoil it, but you should get your tinfoil hat ready.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week the prize goes to Mister Troll, who just barely took the lead in a very competitive group of comments with this winner:

I wanted to start using "Ozark!" as an expletive, but I haven't managed to find an appropriate moment yet.

Just give it time, the perfect moment is coming, I can feel it! I'd also like to give a special honorary mention to the Soc Shriners, some of whom are using their present state of obscurity to follow along (See the ninth question). Truly, folks, I'm touched. At the same time, did you really HAVE to spend money on a copy of this crap? I can't help but feel responsible and no amount of showering can get that kind of stain clean, you know? In any case, keep at it folks, because I'm quite confident the best is yet to come!

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 of cholesterol level...

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. Graduated from Princeton. Human alarm clock.

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type. Girl power devotee. Unhealthily thin. Twenty-seven years old. Blonde.

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.

Dirk Burton: English guy Buck knows. Graduated from Princeton. Kinda gullible.

Joshua Todd-Cothran: English finance guy.

Jonathon Stonagal: American ultra-rich dude. Involved in international monetary cabal.

Marge Potter: Steve Planck's secretary. Matronly.

Lucinda Washington: Fiftyish black woman. Raptured.

Ken Ritz: Pilot. Profiteering on the rapture. Actually quite polite. Fired for being too careful. Believes in aliens.


Chapter 8: In which we talk about Romanian politics, flesh out (sort of) a conspiracy theory, Ray flaggelates himself because Saint Irene was too good for him, there's an unfunny joke, and we all talk about nothing on the phone for a long time.

Page 135- Line Tapioca:

No quote because nothing interesting is said but, basically, we open this chapter with Bucky talking to Steve Planck about this and that. Eventually, however, they circle around to the subject of Carpathia, the antichrist and all around nice evil guy. Particularly, they discuss the fact that Carpathia was just "elected" President of Romania.

Page 136- Line 11-12:
"Didn't they just elect a leader, what, eighteen months ago?" Buck said

Buck Williams- secret agent reporter and closet Romanian political wonk. Seriously, is there anything he can't do? Anyway, we discuss this turn of events for a while and then Buck wonders how Carpathia could come from nowhere to become president of his country, which provokes this exchange...

Page 137- Line 4-11:
"He [Carpathia] didn't exactly come from nowhere. His businesses were built on Stonagal financing. And Carpathia has been a disarmament crusader, very popular with his colleagues and the people." [Steve observed]

"But disarmament doesn't fit with Stonagal. Isn't he a closet hawk?" [Buck asked]

Planck nodded.

"So there are mysteries."

Well, yes, mysteries, but suspicion and mystery doesn't equal squat except... you know... suspicion and mystery. For the record, however, if I were a "closet hawk" (and not very deep in the closet if a quasi-idiot like Bucky realizes it) wouldn't I want foreign nations to disarm? I mean, hell, it's a lot easier to conquer countries that can't shoot back. On the other hand, if I'm super-rich because I sell arms, disarmament is obviously a bad thing, but I'm not sure that someone whose fortune is built on weapons can be described as a closet hawk. More like a, "Right there out in the open for everyone to see hawk". Then again, maybe Stonagal wanted Carpathia to be his beard? Awwww! Thats's so sweet! Anyway, ever the suspicious one, Buck proceeds to ask if Carpathia got the presidency by killing the previous president.

Page 137- Line 23-28:
"Interesting you should say that, because the only wrinkle in Carpathia's history are some rumors that he was ruthless with his business competition years ago." [Planck commented]

"How ruthless?" [Buck asked]

"People took dirt naps."

"Ooh, Steve, you talk just like a mobster."

Okay, several things: (1) as we all know, the rumors about the rich and powerful are invariably true, no matter how outlandish, (2) I'm actually pleased that Steve is talking like a mobster- it makes a nice break from all the cowboys and Dickensian wannabees that we've been hacking our way through with a machete for the past seven chapters. Regardless, the next two pages are spent arguing over whether or not Buck and Planck should be interested in Carpathia. Buck argues in the affirmative, based on the fact that it's improbable that Carpathia would just suddenly become president. Planck argues in the negative because Carpathia is still only president of Romania which is, to paraphrase, a totally chickenshit country that nobody cares about. We then run into a discussion about how it's suspicious that Stonagal got Carpathia a gig speaking at the UN. Planck, however, doesn't think this is odd since Stonagal is such a savvy political animal.

Page 139- Line 1-3:
"So what? He [Stonagal] knows how to play the game. He reminds me of old Joe Kennedy or one of the Rockefellers, all right? What's your point?" [Planck exclaimed]

I wonder how random these choices of exemplars actually were. I'd wager the authors are Republican and the Kennedy family are about as prominent an example of a Democratic political dynasty we have. As for Rockefeller, Nelson Rockefeller was not only a pragmatist he also gave his name to the Rockefeller Republicans, who were moderate to liberal Republicans. Actually, that doesn't fully cover it: I'm fairly sure that the modern Democratic party is- more or less- made up of Rockefeller Republicans. So, in short, I think the authors are deliberately implying that the corrupt super-wealthy dude who catapults the antichrist to power is most similar to prominent Democratic-esque politicians. Try to suppress your shock. You might suggest that I'm reading too much into the text but, really, you'd be wrong. Whatever, from there we move on to Steve telling Buck about his new assignment, which you may recall from chapter 3 (roughly page 55 to the end of the chapter). The only difference is that, if anything, the whole thing sounds dumber now.

Page 140- Line 10-12:
"You are short on sleep, aren't you, Buck? This is why I'm still your boss. Don't you get it? Yes, I want coordination and I want a well-written piece." [Planck said]

Well, best give up on Buck, then.

Page 140- Line 12-16:
"But think about it. This gives you [Buck] automatic entree to all these dignitaries. We're talking Jewish Nationalist leaders interested in one world government-"

"Unlikely and hardly compelling." [Buck retorted]

Ironically, Buck just sumarized this whole damned book.

Page 140- Line 17-19:
"-Orthodox Jews from all over the world looking at rebuilding the temple or some such-" [Planck continued]

"I'm being overrun by Jews."

About the only response to that is an uncomfortable silence. Every time you think this book can't get worse, they find a way. Moving on, I'm fairly sure that "rebuilding the temple" would also involve "demolishing the dome of the rock," which I suspect would start some serious shit in the middle east. But, hey, by all means!

Page 140- Line 20-30:
"-international monetarists setting the stage for one world currency-"

"Also unlikely." [Buck sighed]

Forgetting, of course, that a few days earlier lots of people disappeared into thin air, minus their clothes, in a move that most commentators are calling "unlikely". What does the rapture have to do with a one-world currency? Nothing, really, but damned if the authors aren't convinced that they're related.

Page 140- Line 23-30:
"But this will let you keep an eye on your favorite power broker-"

"Stonagal." [Buck added for the dim readers]

"Right, and heads of various religious groups looking to cooperate internationally."

"Bore me to death, why don't you? These people are discussing impossibilities. Since when have religious groups been able to get along?"

And, once more, we remember why Buck is a failure as a journalist. See, he's such a hotshot that he knows that conflict, controversy, and argument just don't sell. That's why television and print media are filled with calm, reasonable discussion of the issues that always ends in agreement and harmony. Duh. Anyway, Buck eventually accepts that he's taking a dumbass job covering a bunch of stories that prominently feature Jews, and man does he seem excited about it. Regardless, we babble for another page or so, get a hint that maybe Dirk Burton- international monetary conspiracy theorist and tinfoil haberdasher extraordinaire- was taken in the rapture, and Buck gets home to his lonely apartment.

And that, believe it or not, finishes the first half of Chapter 8. If that seemed quick... well... that's because the chapter is only fifteen damned pages long. I'd keep going, but we start next time with Rayford, and he's drowning in his usual fetid stink of failure. So, I guess I just decided to end this episode on a high note. In any case, come back next week when Rayford once more impresses us with what an ass he is. So, you know, more of what we got in the last seven chapters. And, if that doesn't appeal, take heart! Because when we get to Chapter 9 we're going to be treated to one of the only "serious" discussions of theology in the entire book, and believe me when I tell you that it is absolutely hysterical.

Buckle up, it's quite a ride.


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