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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 14, Part 1

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that makes the dictionary look like a gripping read. Last time we met the anti-christ and discovered that he's got a real sense for the theatrical. What happens this week? Buck continues his budding romance and Rayford and Chloe are victimized by criminals. So, hey, it almost kinda flirts with excitement.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to scripto for taking one of my own jokes and making it so much funnier:

Do I take care of you, or what?" [Steve asked, grinning seductively]

"Unbelievable," Buck said. "How much time do we have?"

"A little over an hour," Steve said, rising...

Oh, c'mon.

Yeah. I really can't add anything to that. I'd also like to make a note that Ken has requested that I sub-divide the dramatis personae into persons living and dead. Technically, I suppose I should really split it into "living," "eternally damned," and "destined for hell," but that sounds like a lot of work.* Additionally, that would really degrade the current system of organization, which is to say no organization at all. My current system is an intentional feature recreating the sensation of having to keep track of all of these moronic minor characters that pop into the conversation once every fifty pages or so. Nevertheless, are people sufficiently interested in such a change for me to bother making it? Because, really, I live to serve.

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 their spending on Christian porn...

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

Irene Steele: Wife of Rayford Steele. Born-again Christian. Not perfect, just forgiven. Reader of marriage books. Cleans obsessively. Likes egg in her coffee. Bakes really silly cookies. Likes butter churns.

Cameron "Buck" Williams: Reporter. Known for "bucking tradition and authority." Terrible Excellent writer. Spiritually attuned. Electronics wiz. Fast typist. Clumsy on slides. Travels a lot. Graduated from Princeton. Human alarm clock. Expert in Romanian politics.

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

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

Chloe Steele: Daughter of Rayford Steele. Student at Stanford. Religiously unaffiliated. Kinda stupid.

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. An inch or two over six feet tall. Broad shouldered. Thick chested. Trim. Athletic. Tanned. Blonde. Blue eyes. Thick eyebrows. Roman nose and jaw. Carries self with a sense of humility and purpose. Wears understated jewelry. Excellent memory.

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

Dirk Burton: English guy Buck knows. Graduated from Princeton. Kinda gullible. Killed himself Murdered. Left handed.

Joshua Todd-Cothran: English finance guy.

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

Marge Potter: Steve Planck's secretary. Matronly.

Lucinda Washington: Fiftyish black woman. Raptured.

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

Juan Ortiz: Global Weekly international events editor.

Jimmy Borland: Global Weekly religion editor.

Barbara Donahue: Global Weekly financial editor.

Nigel Leonard: Employee of the London exchange.

Alan Tompkins: Investigator at Scotland Yard. Friend of Buck. Kind of a chickenshit. Blown up by an evil conspiracy car bomb.

Bruce Barnes: Visitation Pastor at New Hope Village Church. Likes to be mysterious.

Vernon Billings: Pastor at New Hope Village Church. Likes video tape. Raptured.

Mwangati Ngumo: Secretary-General of the United Nations. Botswanan national.


Chapter 14: In which Ray and Chloe return from Atlanta, Buck is "wowed" by the anti-christ, and Ray and Chloe discover that they have been robbed.

Page 249- Line Maple:

No quote because the first page is so boring it makes me want to cry, but Rayford and Chloe return from Atlanta without problems. Rayford immediately pulls out the olde cell phone so he can see if Hattie is coming to dinner, while Chloe observes dryly from his knowledge that Hattie likes Chinese food that he must really know her. Clearly she doesn't get out much. She also reminds Rayford of his promise to let her drive his fancy car back from the airport, which generates some banter that might be called "witty" if you were the sort of person who thinks Ziggy ranks up there with Oscar Wilde. Regardless, Rayford- who is driving a different car back- observes that he's going to stop on the way back for groceries. And then Chloe shows her soft, feminine side...

Page 250- Line 12-16:
Chloe hesitated. "It's eerie in there when you're by yourself isn't it?" she said.

"A little. But we've got to get used to it."

"You're right," she said quickly. "They're gone. And I don't believe in ghosts. I'll be fine. But don't be too long."

I don't know whether to laugh or cry at that "I don't believe in ghosts" bit. That's mainly because I can't tell what purpose the authors have in dropping it. Do they believe in ghosts? Because ghosts are pretty much souls that are still hanging around, and the authors obviously believe in souls. On the other hand, ghosts and such seem to be out of vogue in Christian theology of late so, hey, there you go. On a different subject: I wonder if even Rayford is surprised to hear someone say he's right. Bet that doesn't happen often. Regardless, we then switch to Buck because, apparently, even the authors can't take Rayford's overwhelming stench of fail except in small doses.

Page 250- Line 17-20:
At the post-U.N.-appearance press conference for Nicolae Carpathia of Romania, Buck briefly found himself the center of attention. Someone recognized him and expressed surprise and pleasure that he was alive.

Because Buck owed him money? Aside from that, really, I can't see why anyone would care. This is not because as an atheist I don't care whether people live or die. No, what I mean is, Buck is frankly so irritating that I don't think anyone would miss him were he to be blown up in a car outside a London pub.

Page 252- Line 7-11:
Carpathia spoke in the same impassioned and articulate tones he had used in his speech. Buck wondered if this was always the same, in public or private. Whatever else he brought to the world scene, he had a mastery of spoken communication second to none.

And suddenly I understand why the religious right loved Bush and Palin so much: they have a mastery of spoken communication second to damned near everybody. So, hey, clearly not the anti-christ! On a different note, I love the idea that Carpathia is just as "impassioned and articulate" whether he's in public or in private. Just imagine him at home with his wife/domestic partner: "In the affairs of men it is sometime necessary for a stand to be taken. That stand may not be easy, it may not be simple, but nevertheless history cries out for decisive action. I stand before you today and ask- nay demand- that you pass the ketchup!" It would be like a sitcom featuring Sam the Eagle.

Page 253- Line 1-4:
Carpathia went on to discuss the various peacekeeping military actions the U.N. had taken since the Korean conflict of the 1950s. "As you know," he said, speaking again of things long before he was born,

And what the hell does that mean? Am I supposed to find it odd that he's well-versed in U.N. history when speaking at the U.N.? Why do the authors hate young people so much? I can only imagine they assume that everyone under sixty would say, "Total snoozer, grandpa! You can keep your U.N.! I just want my video game machine!" Come to think of it... the authors remind me of the Onion's political cartoonist. Ha. I love that bitchy little bastard. Regardless, a reporter asks Carpathia what he thinks about the disappearances, to which he (Carpathia) unfortunately responds. As it turns out, not unlike Rayford Steele, Carpathia has a plan.

Page 253- Line 20-24:
"I [Carpathia] have asked Dr. Chaim Rosenzweig of Israel to work with a team to try to make sense of this great tragedy and allow us to take steps toward preventing anything similar from ever happening again."

Really, dude? Lots of people disappear into thin air from all over the globe and the leader of your blue ribbon panel is... a guy who makes fertilizer? Don't get me wrong, I'm sure he's a brilliant chemist, but it seems like maybe a physicist would be the go-to guy for this one, you know? Don't worry about that, though, because Rosenzweig is already on the case!

Page 254- Line 3-6:
"Dr. Rosenzweig and his team of renowned scholars is close to the discovery of an atmospheric phenomenon that may have caused the vanishing of so many people instantaneously."

At the risk of nitpicking, we don't actually know that it was instantaneous. That is to say, the disappearance may have taken a finite amount of time rather than zero time. Still, for a speech to reporters, the use of the term is fine. So what is Rosenzweig's brilliant idea? Well, don't get your hopes up...

Page 254- Line 15-22:
"Dr. Rosenzweig believes that some confluence of electromagnetism in the atmosphere, combined with an as yet unknown or unexplained atomic ionization from the nuclear power and weaponry throughout the world, could have been ignited or triggered- perhaps by a natural cause like lightning, or even by an intelligent life-form that discovered this possibility before we did- and caused this instant action throughout the world." [Carpathia added]

I think I speak for all of us when I say, "Huh?" That doesn't mean anything. I mean- seriously- it's polysyllabic word salad, and what makes it better is there are so many conditionals in the sentence that it really just boils down to, "Rosenzweig doesn't have a goddamn clue." Still, that the authors think that this is representative of scientific explanations generally jibes with their apparent grasp of science. And I don't mean that nicely, either. In any case, a reporter then asks a stupid question that yields an interesting answer.

Page 254- Line 26-30:
"How is that different from the idea of aliens from outer space zapping everybody?" [a reporter asked]

"It is not wholly different," Carpathia conceded, "but I am more inclined to believe in the natural theory, that lightning reacted with some subatomic field."

So, what to do with this? The first issue is that however stupid Carpathia's suggested "explanation' sounds it is actually simpler than an explanation that involves intelligence. Bear with me: the natural explanation requires that there be some mechanism that would produce the disappearances whereas the intelligent agency version requires both an undiscovered intelligent entity AND a mechanism that could produce the disappearances. By way of analogy, if you want to argue that aliens cause lightning, you have to both premise that those aliens exist and that there is a physical mechanism through which lightning can be generated. As such, it's simpler to start with the assumption that lightning is probably natural and work out from there. Needless to say, this goes double for explanations involving "god," which is an even more implausible critter than intelligent aliens. Regardless, not only is parsimony essentially depicted as a tool of the anti-christ but the authors manage to equate natural and supernatural explanations along the way. A complex mechanism requiring intelligent agency is not pretty much the same as a natural explanation relying purely on physical law, and a preference for the latter over the former is not just a matter of personal taste. Rather than call him on this idiocy, however, a reporter just asks why the purported effect was so apparently random, taking some people and not others.

Page 255- Line 5-10:
"At this point they [Rosenzweig's team] are postulating that certain people's electricity made them more likely to be affected. That would account for all the children and babies and even fetal material that vanished. Their electromagnetism was not developed to the point where it could resist whatever happened." [Carpathia answered]

To quote my magin note: "What. The. Fuck?" To expand somewhat on that remark, without breaking from its essential wisdom, humans do not have much of what you'd call an electric or magnetic field. This is, actually, a critical issue because our nervous system is electrochemical in nature. Specifically, while neuron firing is typically initiated chemically (by neurotransmitters activating receptor sites) the intermediate phase between the initiation of firing and neurotransmitter release at the end is electrical. It's sort of like a chain of firecrackers where the explosion of one lights the fuse on the next, only the explosions and fuses are electrical in nature. The important point, though, is that the intermediate part of the process is triggered not by chemicals but by electric potential. This is why administering an electric shock can cause convulsions- it essentially short-circuits the nervous system. Were our nervous systems entirely chemical in nature, electric shocks would still be dangerous, but wouldn't have that kind of effect. This is also why humans can't have much, if any, electric charge: because an ambient charge would short-circuit our own nervous systems. As for an electromagnetic field, allow me to point out that an MRI machine essentially uses a whole bunch of power to make your body faintly magnetic- if you had a magnetic field before hand, we wouldn't need to do that. So, basically, this explanation is obviously absurd, and frankly I think it reflects the authors' generally troubled knowledge of science more than anything else. So, in conclusion: what the fuck?

Page 255- Line 11-16:
"What do you say to people who believe this was the work of God, that he raptured his church?" [a reporter asked]

Carpathia smiled compassionately. "Let me be careful to say that I do not and will not criticize any sincere person's belief system. That is the basis for true harmony and brotherhood, peace and respect among people."

You heard it here first, folks: tolerance, brotherly love, and humility are the signs of the anti-christ.

Page 255- Line 16-22:
"I [Carpathia] do not accept that theory because I know many, many more people who should be gone if the righteous were taken to heaven. If there is a God, I respectfully submit that this is not the capricious way in which he would operate. By the same token, you will not hear me express any disrespect for those who disagree."

Ah, yes, but by now we've been clubbed over the head with that, "There are none righteous, no, not one," line enough that we know where Carpathia's "error" lies. Yes, the error of assuming that god would behave in a sensible way. Silly us. Anyway, it turns out that Carpathia isn't done dabbling in theology because he's been invited to the upcoming "ecumenical religious confab" (Page 255- Line 24-25) where he will speak about eschatology, the end times, and the second coming of Christ. Sure. Why not? The man can do everything, he may as well have a fault, like a perverse interest in crazy interpretations of religious scripture.

And, as a matter of fact, that brings us to the end of Part 1. What, you ask? How can that be after only six pages? Simple: the authors included a twelve page chapter. Hey, I don't make the rules, I just operate within them in a helpless and defeated manner. Regardless, come back next week when we finish up with Buck and his amazement at Carpathia, and then return to Rayford and Chloe, who have gotten into all sorts of trouble since we last checked in.

Then again, it's going to be boring as hell, so maybe just skip it. Your call.

* No, that's not a typo: I did mean to include both "eternally damned" and "destined for hell." Given that heaven sounds like an excruciatingly boring place, I leave it to you to assign terms to destinations as you see fit.



Blogger Ken Houghton said...

"then return to Rayford and Chloe, who have gotten into all sorts of trouble since we last checked in."

Really don't want think about that. This is what happens when you let your daughter drive stick.

Thursday, February 04, 2010 9:18:00 AM  
Blogger scripto said...

"At the post-U.N.-appearance press conference for Nicolae Carpathia of Romania, Buck briefly found himself the center of attention. Someone recognized him and expressed surprise and pleasure that he was alive."

I thought he was hiding out. Did he forget his fake mustache or doesn't it count because it was last chapter?

Thursday, February 04, 2010 2:20:00 PM  

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