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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 16, Part 2

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that makes "Atlas Shrugged" seem logical by comparison. Last time we saw Buck attack another reporter and start talking to Carpathia, while Rayford simultanously worried and whined. What happens this week? Well... uh... pretty much more of the same. So, that's good.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to Ken for an impressively topical reference:

Well, Gerald Fitzhugh and Hugh Fitzgerald, so at least the two males authors have decided that any hint that it was just subtext is thrown to the wind, along with all hints of sanity.

But there ain't no sanity clause in Left Behind, either. And I'm starting to worry about your wife.

Oh, Ken! Don't worry about my wife! She doesn't look a thing like Errol Flynn! Still, if the authors want Hugh Fitzgerald to be president, we're all doomed.

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 an order determined by the whims of Odin, father of Thor.

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. Fast runner.

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. May have the nickname "duck lips."

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.

Eric Miller: Reporter. Rival of Buck's. Able to climb stairs really fast, but not as fast a runner as Buck. Kinda a douche.

Gerald Fitzhugh: President of the United States. Talks like a moron.


Page 292- Line Freedom Fries:

No quote, but when we last left our "heroes", Buck was hanging out with Carpathia. Carpathia, for his part, just finished a phone conversation with the U.S. President. In any case, Carpathia tells Buck that he wants to share a secret with Buck but, first, would like to help with his (Buck's) little problem. One can only assume that by that he means the half-assed pursuit that Buck so easily avoids with even more half-assed plans.

Page 292-293- Line 292: 29-30, 293: 1-10:
The Romanian sat forward and looked directly into Buck's eyes. That gave Buck such a feeling of peace and security that he felt free to tell him everything. Everything. Even that his friend Dirk had tipped him off about someone meeting with Stonagal and Todd-Cothran, and Buck's assuming it was Carpathia.

"It was I," Carpathia said. "But let me make this very clear. I know nothing of any conspiracy. I have never even heard of such a thing. Mr. Stonagal felt it would be good for me to meet some of his colleagues and men of international influence. I formed no opinions about any of them, neither am I beholden to any of them." [emphasis original]

Okay, so apparently Carpathia has some really awesome bedroom eyes there, because they made Buck go all soft and gooshy inside. But, hey, at least he denies he's part of a murderous international cabal. That's a shock, eh? Regardless, he prattles on about how he believes Buck and about how the police are rapidly closing in despite Buck's ingenious plan. Carpathia asks whether Buck thinks that the police will kill him if they can once get their hands on him and the answer is pretty awesome.

Page 294- Line 6-8:
"They killed Burton and they killed Tompkins. I'm much more dangerous to them with my potential readership."

Yes, Buck. Your potential readership coupled with your actual total ignorance about what the hell is going on. That's a potent combination! Kinda like a big cannon for which you have no ammunition. And as a side note: he was best friends with Dirk and Alan but now, a few days after their deaths, they're 'Burton and Tompkins'? What the hell? Fortunately, Carpathia has a plan.

Page 294- Line 14-29:
"I [Carpathia] can make this go away for you."

Buck's mind was suddenly reeling. This was what he had wanted, but he had feared Carpathia could do nothing quickly enough to keep him from getting into Todd-Cothran's and Sullivan's hands. Was it possible Carpathia was in deeper with these people than he had let on?

"Sir, I need your help. But I am a journalist first. I can't be bought or bargained with."

"Oh, of course not. I would never ask such a thing. Let me tell you what I can do for you. I will arrange to have the London tragedies revisited and reevaluated, exonerating you."

"How will you do that?"

"Does it matter, if it is the truth?"

Buck thought a moment. "It is the truth."

"Of course." [emphasis original]

And this is where Carpathia attempts to buy Buck's soul. And he's about as subtle as an H-bomb while he's doing it, too. I really have to say, though, that I love Buck's internal monologue. I dunno, Buck, was it possible that Carpathia is dirty? I mean, shit, nothing is beyond belief to you anymore so, hell, I think you'd have to say yes. Regardless, they exchange more limp arguments about how Carpatia will or will not be able to do this and eventually the anti-christ settles in to explain a bit.

Page 295- Line 24-26:
"First," Carpathia said, "a little background. I believe in the power of money. Do you?"


I'm sorry, what? He's a globe trotting, hot shot secret agent/journalist and he does NOT believe that money is powerful? Good f-ing christ, Buck! I've known that since I first saw Scrooge McDuck dive into that big pile of gold in his f-ing vault and stress out over his "number one dime". How the hell can you NOT believe that money is powerful? GAAHH!! Anyway, Carpathia talks for a while about how he got hooked up with Stonagal and his massive fortune, obliquely implying along the way that he has been bought without ever- quite- saying it. Then, we get to the good stuff.

Page 297- Line 6-24:
Buck could not breathe. What was Carpathia implying? Buck stared at him, unable to move, unable to respond. Carpathia continued. "Secretary-General Ngumo presides over a country that is starving. The world is ripe for my plan of ten members of the Security Council. These things will work together. The secretary-general must devote his time to the problems within Botswana. With the right incentive, he will do that. He will be a happy, prosperous man, with a happy and prosperous people. But first he will endorse my plan for the Security Council. The representatives from each of the ten will be an interesting mix, some current ambassadors, but mostly new people with good financial backgrounds and progressive ideas."

"Are you telling me you will become secretary-general of the U.N.?"

"I would never seek such a position, but how could I refuse such an honor? Who could turn his back on such an enormous responsibility?"

Yeah, he's pretty much just stating outright that he and Stonagal are going to buy the U.N. And I guess with all the true Christians gone, there's nobody to stop him. Curses? Lastly, they're sort of implying that Ngumo is not only the Secretary-General of the U.N., but also that he's the leader of Botswana. Yeah. I don't think that's how it works, you know? Anyway, he goes on to explain how Todd-Cothran would make a great candidate for one of the ten permanent members of the new Security Council. Buck, though, isn't too keen on this whole chat.

Page 298- Line 11-15:
"I suppose they would [be okay with Todd-Cothran]," Buck said, his mind black with depression as if he was losing his soul before his very eyes. "Unless, that is, Todd-Cothran were in the middle of a mysterious suicide, a car bombing, that sort of thing."

Wait... is Buck suggesting they assassinate Todd-Cothran? Damn, boy.

Page 298- Line 16-23:
Carpathia smiled. "I should think a man in a position of international potential like that would want a very clean house just now."

"And you could effect that?"

"Buck, you overestimate me. I am just saying that if you are right, I might try to stop what is clearly an unethical and illegal action against an innocent man- you. I cannot see how there is anything wrong with that."

Well, if we know anything for sure, it's that the authors believe that whole bit about the paving strategy for the road to hell. Beyond that, though, this really kinda kills the image of Carpathia as a smooth manipulator for me. He's not smooth. He's not even much of a manipulator or, at least, not much of one without the titanic level of financial support he apparently has. Eh. Whatever. At this point the narrative switches back to Rayford who is, believe it or not, even more pathetic than normal.

Page 298-299- Line 298: 27-30, 299: 1-3:
Rayford Steele could not sleep. For some reason he was overcome anew with grief and remorse over the loss of his wife and son. He slid out of bed and onto his knees, burying his face in the sheet on the side where his wife used to sleep. He had been so tired, so tense, so worried about Chloe that he had pushed from his heart and mind and soul his terrible loss.

Well he's just a barrel of laughs, eh? I can hardly believe we didn't miss him. Beyond our mutual despair at returning to Rayford, however, it's interesting to me that the authors are choosing to focus so much on how unhappy Rayford actually is. There's this sort of suffering porn vibe running through this book that just creeps me out. This is not me saying that you should never feel guilty for anything- far from it- but this degree of self-flagellation is just not healthy, you know?

Page 299- Line 6-10:
Rayford knew he had been forgiven for mocking his wife, for never really listening, for having ignored God for so many years. He was grateful he had been given a second chance and that he now had new friends and a place to learn the Bible.

Yeah. I never know what to do with this sort of thing, since he got the reason for his guilt and the alleged solution for his guilt in the same package. So, you know, net gain is zero. On an unrelated note, as an atheist I'm sometimes asked about how I view the concept of forgiveness. Sadly, that's a loaded question, because in our society the definition of the term "forgiveness" is bound up with Christian theology. That said, my attitude is something like this: people against whom I transgress can forgive me for it or not, and their forgiveness is meaningful to me at a deep level. BUT- and this is a heavy but- their forgiveness in no way alters the fact that I transgressed in the first place. Errors remain a part of my past and my only true way to make up for them is to labor to learn from and correct them in the future. So, in short: I only get to live once, I only get to show people I love them once, so don't fuck up. Harsh? Eh, maybe. On the other hand, in my philosophy nobody suffers eternal torment for honest mistakes so, hell, there you go.

Page 299- Line 15-18:
In a way he felt he deserved this pain, though he knew better. He was beginning to understand the forgiveness of God, and Bruce had told him that he needn't continue to feel shame over sin that had been dealt with.

Like I said- the guilt and the solution mixed up in the same package. Net gain: zero. I always wondered in Sunday School why they had to work so hard to convince me of both original sin and the infinite forgiveness of Christ. Mostly because you need an invented solution for an invented problem. Some people would call that tautological, but I like to think of it as having no loose ends.

Page 299- Line 19-24:
As Rayford knelt praying and weeping, a new anguish flooded over him. He felt hopeless about Chloe. Everything he had tried had failed. He knew it had been only days since the disappearance of her mother and brother, and even less time since his own conversion. What more could he say or do?

Oh, awesome! Even more reasons to be miserable. Show of hands: how many people think Rayford spends more time engaging in anguished weeping since he converted? Yeah- that's what I thought. As my wife is fond of pointing out, this brand of religion just always seems to be sold with fear, even if that fear has to be manufactured by the religion itself. But, then, how will you know you need it until you can't like without it?

Page 299- Line 28-30:
He felt that if he said or did anything more, he would be responsible for her deciding against Christ once and for all.

Yes, well, that's because you're an idiot, Rayford. Try concocting a decent argument relying on logic and, if possible, empirical evidence. See if that works.

Page 300- Line 3-6:
He had been praying silently, but the torment welled up within him, and despite himself he heard his own muffled cries, "Chloe! Oh, Chloe! Chloe!"

He wept bitterly in the darkness...

Oh for crying out loud! We get it, okay? Rayford is a pathetic wretch that nobody in their right mind would ever want to spend time with. You've made your f-ing point, authors, okay?!

Page 300- Line 6-9:
...suddenly jarred by a creak and footsteps. He turned quickly to see Chloe, the dim light from her room silhouetting her robed form in the doorway.

Okay, first, BUSTED! And second, is anyone else creeped out by the whole "silhouetting her robed form" bit? Dude, she's your daughter! And I don't care if it was cool when Lot did it! You are not a biblical patriarch! And getting drunk does NOT make it okay. We've come a long way since the dark days of biblical morality.

Page 300- Line 14-20:
"I miss them too," she [Chloe] said, her voice quavery. Rayford turned and sat with his back to the bed. He held his arms open to her. She came and sat next to him, letting him hold her.

"I believe I'll see them again someday," he said.

"I know you do," she said, no disrespect in her voice. "I know you do."

Wow, she is an excellent, excellent liar. I guess that's what happens when you go to one of them fancy secular universities like Stanford. Then again, she probably is falling for this shit, so basically we can guarantee that she will climb aboard the guilt parade at some point in the near future.

Not today though, because believe it or not, that's the end of the chapter. Come back next time when we... um... pretty much pick up exactly where we left off. And I'm not kidding, it's the same scene. Why did they choose to put a chapter break here? Because they hate us. Every last f-ing one of us. By now, you should be used to it.

See you then.



Blogger Ken Houghton said...

"He was beginning to understand the forgiveness of God, and Bruce had told him that he needn't continue to feel shame over sin that had been dealt with."

Sorry; I can't resist. Bruce told me the same thing:

Friday, March 19, 2010 4:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoo Boy.

"Possible former gay porn star. Bad father. Cries alot." LOL

This seriously made my day.

Sunday, March 21, 2010 6:43:00 AM  
Blogger scripto said...

"...his mind black with depression as if he was losing his soul before his very eyes."
Pure poetry - someday I will use this phrase.

"Rayford knew he had been forgiven for mocking his wife, for never really listening, for having ignored God for so many years."
And for making fun of her salt shaker and WWJD bracelet collections.

Why is he so weepy all of a sudden? If he was a true believer you would think he would be happy that his wife was in a better place and doesn't have to get Tribulated like the rest of the left behind. It's not like he was getting a lot of blow jobs before she was raptured anyway.

Monday, March 22, 2010 11:18:00 AM  

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