Total Drek

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

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

An alternate reality.

In lieu of an actual blog post today, please enjoy this video of a woman giving birth in a pool with a dolphin:

Why is she giving birth with a dolphin, you ask? I don't really know but tried pretty hard to find out. The best I can do is tell you that the video apparently comes from a French film named Le Premiere Cri, or "the first cry." I do not, however, speak French, and so the amount of information I was able to glean is pretty limited. But, given that the director of the film allegedly slanted it towards "natural" child birth, I'm guessing that has something to do with it. No doubt this video harks back to the dawn of time when life was more natural and women, as they approached labor, would naturally migrate to the ocean where they would give birth with the assistance of wise cetaceans. Sadly, that assistance wasn't particularly useful since cetaceans lack both human language and thumbs, but they meant well. Also sadly, that depiction makes humans sound like amphibians but, hey, there you go.

I don't have a problem with someone who wants to give birth underwater. I do think that the forced involvement of a dolphin* is a bit objectionable, but I doubt anyone is going to listed to me in that regard. Hell, the Great Ape Project has a hard enough time as it is, and they're at least working with our fellow primates. Mostly, I just have a hard time coming to grips with the various things that are considered "natural" by people. The adjective "natural" as applied to birth specifically and medicine in general has increasingly become the battered spouse of the grammar world. It's abused, and abused, and abused, stretched to cover all kinds of things that are exceedingly unnatural, and yet it always seems to stick around.

C'mon, natural- even once is too much. The first time you're abused in a sentence, you need to just leave. We're all here for you- just get out.**

* People, seriously. They're smart frickin animals and to the best of my knowledge no dolphin has ever expressed a desire to supervise a human birth. How would you feel if you were abducted by some bizarre looking alien species and dumped into a tank with one of them while they expelled their young? Hell, unlike the dolphin, I somehow doubt the average human in such a situation would manage to behave with polite interest.

** Note here that I am most certainly not mocking domestic violence, which I take very seriously. It's just a convenient metaphor.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Well, this promises to be exciting.

Rumor (and by "rumor" I mean "the New York Times") has it that there's a new, and better, morning after pill that may come on the market. Better how, you ask? Well, read for yourself:

A federal advisory panel voted unanimously Thursday that federal drug regulators should approve a medicine that could help prevent pregnancy if taken as late as five days after unprotected sex.

The pill, called ella, sprang from government labs and appears to be more effective than Plan B, a morning-after pill now available over the counter to women 18 and older that gradually loses efficacy after intercourse and can be taken at latest three days after sex. Ella, by contrast, works just as well on the fifth day as the first after sex.

So that's all good news because, really, I'm pretty much always in favor of providing people with more reproductive options. Unfortunately, however, there is most certainly going to be a debate over this medication, particularly since its mode of action is not completely understood:

The dispute is whether the drug works by delaying ovulation (as the pill’s manufacturer claims) or by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting itself in the uterus (as anti-abortion advocates say).

Dr. Jeffrey Bray, a pharmacologist at the Food and Drug Administration, said that ella may do both. And Dr. Scott Emerson, a committee member and professor of biostatistics at the University of Washington, said any drug that can prevent pregnancy if taken five days after unprotected sex must do more than simply delay ovulation.

Animal studies showed that ella had little effect on established pregnancies, suggesting it acts differently than RU-486. Dr. David Archer, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Eastern Virginia Medical School who spoke on behalf of ella’s maker, said ella was not an abortion pill. “I just don’t think there is any element here that would allow me to say that this has an abortifacient activity,” Dr. Archer said.

In other words, if you think that an unimplanted blastocyst is a person, then this drug might qualify as an abortifacient. I say "might" because, again, we don't know precisely how it works. If you don't view said blastocyst as a person, then it's definitely a contraceptive. And speaking personally, I find it relatively reassuring that it doesn't impact already implanted embryos, though in certain circumstances that could be viewed as a drawback.* Still, amidst the debate that is sure to erupt, I think we may have a little misunderstanding. The Times article suggests that this pill could reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies, but then goes on to make a rather bizarre little assertion:

Even though ella is somewhat more effective and can be taken later than Plan B, the new drug would, if approved, probably do little to solve this epidemic of unplanned pregnancies. Plan B has been available without a prescription since 2006 for women 18 and older, but abortion and unintended-pregnancy rates have remained largely unchanged.

If you're not sure what I think is so bizarre, you should direct your attention to that whole "Plan B has been available without a prescription since 2006" bit. Do we not remember the pharmacists who make decisions for us? Or the jail guard who refused to permit a rape victim to ingest Plan B? What about doctors who won't prescribe it? And how about states where it is de facto unavailable? Yeah, call me crazy, but I don't really think we can base speculations about the effectiveness of this new drug based on Plan B.

Buckle up, kids, cause this is liable to get interesting.

* You know, given that women who are victims of rape or incest don't always get to seek out contraceptives on their preferred time table.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

That indelible stain: Blogiversary!

Well, well, well. Lookee here, kids. Today we have ourselves an occasion. What occasion might that be? Nothing too fancy- just the sixth anniversary of the founding of my own little craptacular corner of the internet. Yep, that's right: today Total Drek is six years old. And in blog years, that makes it pretty much methuselah.

Honestly, it's hard for me to know how to feel on an occasion like this. I started blogging because... um... yeah, why did I start blogging? I haven't the foggiest notion, really, which more or less sums up my sense of why I keep blogging now. Well, more accurately, I keep blogging now because that's what I do. I blog. Otherwise I wouldn't a blogger. Duh! Yet, despite my very real uncertainty about why I started doing this, and why I have continued to do this, I do derive a degree of enjoyment from it. I've met some neat, and funny, people thanks to blogging. I get to hang out with some pretty fun folks at the ASAs thanks to blogging. Hell, some folks have even sent me real books in the actual mail because they know me via blogging. And on some level I suppose it keeps me slightly sane by making sure I think about something other than sociology at least once a day.

So does this mean the blog will continue for a seventh year? Eh. Probably. I'll admit that I've considered closing it down of late, given how busy I am, but somehow I just haven't been able to bring myself to do it. So, for better or worse, it will probably stagger drunkenly onward, giving me a vehicle with which to make an ass of myself. As though I needed help in that department! And hey, there will even be a surprise or two in store for y'all this year, so get ready. For those of you who have been traveling with me for a while, thank you. For those who are new, welcome to the bizarre and tacky journey I call a blog. And for those people who don't read the blog... whatever. You can't hear me anyway.

Aren't you special?

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Well, this just sucks.

Most of you realize that I have, for a long time, been a fan of vaccination. I mean, what's not to like? A highly effective, extremely safe medical procedure that prevents lethal and potentially crippling disease? That is the very definition of awesome. Yet, as we also realize, not everyone is on board the vaccination train, and some people are positively phobic about it.

My concern with the "debate" over vaccines has been driven by the knowledge that many diseases are only held back by our continued use of vaccines. Or, to put it bluntly, if we come over all stupid and let our vaccine uptake levels decline, people start dying. And you know what? I f-ing hate being right:

Whooping cough is now an epidemic in California, and is on pace to break a 50-year record for infections for the year.

As of June 15, California had 910 recorded cases of the highly contagious disease, and five babies — all under 3 months of age — have died from the disease this year.

"Children should be vaccinated against the disease and parents, family members and caregivers of infants need a booster shot," California Department of Public Health director Dr. Mark Horton said Wednesday.


This year's surge in cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a fourfold increase from the same period last year, when 219 cases were recorded.

At least 600 additional cases are under investigation by local health departments. Officials fear that with the number of known and suspected cases at 1,510, the state is on track to beat 1958's record 3,847 cases; midway through that year, 1,200 cases had been reported.

So, just to sum up, a disease that is completely preventable with vaccination is now an epidemic in California. Children have died from this disease. And the number of cases is likely to rise. What. The. Fuck. Now, I should note that I do not know that the antivaxxers are to blame for this- indeed, I have no information on it one way or another.* But, all the same, please take this as a public service message. Get your kids vaccinated. If you're in California, or nearby, get yourself vaccinated. Shit, if you're nowhere near California but your health insurance is good, get a booster just for shits and giggles. The best way to stop this kind of thing is with herd immunity, so let's get on the damn ball here.

* Some folks have been blaming the illegal immigrant population in California for the outbreak. I can't speak to that but, according to the statement from the California Department of Public Health, 80% of the infants in California that have died from the illness since 1998 have been hispanic. So I guess what I'd say is, whether the immigrant population is responsible or not, they're sure getting hammered by it.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 23, Part 1

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that sucks like a black hole and yet still lacks gravity. Last time... well, last time we enjoyed an intermission. The time before that Buck talked with Chloe on a plane, introduced a massive theological problem, and Chloe converted. What happens this week? Buck whines like he's Rayford all of a sudden and Rayford and Chloe find a way to "give back". And just to warn you: this episode is amazingly dull because what the authors describe is almost incomprehensibly boring. I gave it my best shot but, seriously, I only have so much to work with.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week, amidst heavy competition, that "honor" goes to Jay for treating us to a learning experience:

Let's use this as a teachable moment for aspiring fiction writers:

*It's very difficult to write characters who are smarter than their authors. Don't introduce a character named Steven Hawking and let him talk physics unless you actually understand what Steven Hawking has to say about physics.

*A lot of these problems were caused by introducing these characters as a Stanford student and "the greatest investigative reporter of all time". If the characters had been introduced as a hack writer and a state college student majoring in Jell-O shots, then their constant screwups would be believable.

*Looking ahead: If you can't write a convincing Stanford undergrad, don't introduce God as a character.

Indeed, someone should consider sharing this advice with Jerry Jenkins, co-author of Left Behind and powerhouse behind the Christian Writers Guild. A guild that can teach you too to write like the authors of Left Behind. Then again, a traumatic brain injury might do the trick as well, and be cheaper besides. Nice work, Jay, and keep at it folks! Not too many chances left.

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 a complex algorithm...

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. Hot for Chloe.

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. Possibly hot for Buck. Christian.

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. Press secretary for Nicolae Carpathia.

Nicolae Carpathia: Businessman. Romanian Senator. Romanian President. Secretary-General of the United Nations. 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. President of Botswana. 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. Died Murdered by falling being pushed off of the Staten Island ferry. A strong swimmer.

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

Stanton Bailey: Publisher of the Global Weekly.

Carolyn Miller: Wife of Eric Miller.

Alex Phonecompany: Friend of Buck's. Works at the phone company.


Chapter 23: In which Buck is invited to a meeting, Bruce, Rayford and Chloe form a group of spiritual green berets (that's not a joke, it's in the text), and Buck inches closer to converting.

Page 411- Line Quotient:

No quote, but we open with Buck, who has apparently been hanging out in the Chicago office of the Global Weekly for most of the afternoon. This is after he set up an appointment with Bruce Barnes of New Hope Village Church to get an extra helping of uninspired preaching. Yippee.

Page 411- Line 4-6:
News of his [Buck] becoming their boss had swept the place, and he was greeted with coolness by Lucinda Washington's former assistant, a young woman in sensible shoes. [emphasis added]

Oh, for crying out loud. Are the authors actually invoking the whole, "she's wearing sensible shoes, she must be a lesbian" meme? This makes me wonder if either of them have ever actually met a lesbian before. And leaving all that aside, when the only descriptor we get of a character is their footwear... yeah, crappy novel. Anyway, Buck more or less replies with "Step off, bitch" and continues interviewing key people at twenty minute intervals. He also asks each of them for their theory on the disappearances, which is the laziest excuse for researching a story I've ever heard.

Page 412- Line 9-20:
Near the end of the day, Buck was told that CNN was live at the U.N. with big news. He invited the staff into the office and they watched together. "In the most dramatic and far-reaching overhaul of an international organization anyone can remember," came the report, "Romanian president Nicolae Carpathia was catapulted into reluctant leadership of the United Nations by a nearly unanimous vote. Carpathia, who insisted on sweeping changes in direction and jurisdiction of the United Nations, in what appeared an effort to gracefully decline the position, became secretary-general here just moments ago."

Ah, yes, so that would be the U.N. voting to give itself the power to organize a standing army, relocate its headquarters to the middle east, and create ten new kings of the world. Because it totally has the ability to do that.* I think the authors must have failed every post World War II history and political science course they ever took if, indeed, either ever took any. Regardless, it turns out that Carpathia works fast.

Page 413- Line 16-22:
"Within a year the United Nations headquarters will move to New Babylon. The makeup of the Security Council with change to ten permanent members within the month, and a press conference is expected Monday morning in which Carpathia will introduce several of his personal choices for delegates to that body." [the CNN reporter continued]

Right, we're going to totally reorganize the U.N., turn it into a world government, give it a standing army, and move it to the other side of the planet, in less than a year. Oh, yeah, that's totally doable. And as long as we're at it, we'll crack nuclear fusion and build a rocket to Mars. Honestly, I think even the authors are kinda struck by just how absurd this timeline of theirs is. Not that they would ever admit as much, mind you, but I'm free to speculate.

Page 414- Line 1-3:
'The U.N. will not need its military might if no one else has any, and I look forward to the day when even the U.N. disarms.' [the CNN reported quoted Carpathia]

Right. Sure. That makes total sense. Either Carpathia is a moron or the authors think we are. I mean, seriously, would anyone ever go along with this plan? Whatever, Carpathia goes on to babble about how awesome it would be if we had one world government and one world religion, in the process making a rather lovely, if doomed, pronouncement.

Page 414- Line 26-27:
"The day of hatred is past. Lovers of humankind are uniting." [Carpathia said]

Apparently those "lovers of humankind" don't include god, since he's about to start the loving process of killing the hell out of us for seven years. Kind of the authors to keep things straight for us like that, I guess. Anyway, since he already knew this shit was coming down the pile, Buck amuses himself by listening to what the hard-bitten Chicago bureau reporters have to say about things.

Page 415-Line 21-28:
Another added, "This has to be the first time I've smiled since the disappearances. We're supposed to be objective and cynical, but how can you not like this? It'll take years to effect all this stuff, but someday, somewhere down the line, we're going to see world peace. No more weapons, no more wars, no more border disputes or bigotry based on language or religion. Whew! Who'd have believed it would all come to this?"

Hey, thanks for that, nameless extra! Okay, just for a moment, forget that what the authors are describing is ludicrous. Forget that they have no concept of politics, history, or diplomacy and imagine for just a moment that what they describe were actually possible. Hell, more than that, imagine it were happening and as a species we were destroying most weapons, forming a single planetary government, and generally pulling together. Picture that for a moment. Got it? Okay, great, now consider this: to the authors, that would be a bad thing, and they want us to feel that way, too. Jesus Christ is sometimes referred to as the "Prince of Peace," and, as such, it's a smidge ironic that our hyper-"Christian" authors are so adamantly opposed to attempts to make peace on Earth. Peace is, apparently, for heaven and our earthly life is for kicking ass and preaching. It just makes me very, very sad. Anyway, at this point Steve Plank calls and we have about a page and a half worth of pointless conversation, leading eventually to this...

Page 417- Line 18-26:
"But he [Carpathia] wants to see that stewardess friend of yours again."

"Steve, no one calls them stews anymore. They're flight attendants."

"Whatever. Bring her with you if you can."

"Why doesn't he ask her himself? What am I now, a pimp?"

"C'mon, Buck. It's not like that. Lonely guy in a position like this? He can't be out hustling up dates. You introduced them, remember? He trusts you."

So, in other words, yes, Buck, you're a pimp. But hey, given that the authors have made it abundantly clear that the only things Hattie is good for are screwing and converting, I suppose we should have seen this as inevitable. That said, given that Carpathia is the antichrist, you'd think he could rustle up some better tail than the random flight attendant he was introduced to by sheer accident, but it's not my novel. Actually, I'm really glad it's not my novel because, if this were my novel, it would mean I was a really, really shitty author.**

Page 417- Line 30:
"Don't let me down, buddy." [Steve said]

Oh, Steve. I think we both know Buck isn't capable of doing anything except letting people down, most of all the readers. Anyway, at this point we rejoin Rayford who is engaging in some really amusing hyperbole.

Page 418- Line 1-2:
Rayford Steele was as happy as he had been since his own decision to receive Christ.

Well, considering that since "receiving Christ" his hobbies have including sobbing into pillows and being stricken with existential grief, that's not saying a whole hell of a lot. In any case, the scene rapidly shifts to a three-way conversation between Rayford, Bruce, and Chloe at the infamous New Hope Village Church. Why are we at church all of a sudden? Who knows? The authors sure don't.

Page 418- Line 5-7:
"One thing we need to do," he [Rayford] said, "is get you [Chloe] your own Bible. You're going to wear that one [Irene's] out."

Oh, man. She's going to metamorphose into the ideal "Christian" woman in a handful of pages. You know- doing what she's told, eschewing all learning... that sort of thing. Something to look forward to, I guess. Fortunately, Bruce Barnes is there to edumacate her.

Page 418- Line 21-26:
"Most Christians will be martyred or die from war, famine, plagues, or earthquakes," he [Bruce] said.

Chloe smiled. "This isn't funny," she said, "but maybe I should have thought of that before I signed on. You're going to have trouble convincing people to join the cause with that in your sign-up brochure."

And yet, as Bruce proceeds to point out, the same is true of non-Christians as well since god is preparing to indiscriminately kill the hell out of the entire human race. So, hey, Christian or non-Christian doesn't matter one whit! Oh, I suppose Christians have the edge in that if they genuflect with sufficient enthusiasm he won't continue to kill the fuck out of them once they're dead, but still.

Page 419- Line 3-5:
"The only difference is, we [Christians] have one more way to die than they [non-Christians] do." [Bruce chortled gleefully]

"As martyrs." [Chloe replied]

Oh, that's not the only difference, Bruce! Y'all will also be praising god as he exterminates you ("Thank you, Jesus, may I have another!") and won't have nearly so much fun along the way. Then again, nobody in this book has much fun anyway, so maybe that's not much of a loss. Anyway, Rayford chooses this moment to reflect on how his life has changed of late.

Page 419- Line 10-14:
Now here he [Rayford] was, talking secretly in the office of a local church with his daughter and a young pastor, trying to determine how they would survive seven years of tribulation following the Rapture of the church. [emphasis added]

What the hell? How is anyone "talking secretly"? Is the church being surveilled? Did they have to sneak in through the sewer or something? Because if you drive up, park in a parking space, and enter through the front door, you're not having a secret meeting. Buck's "secret agent" schtick is evidently rubbing off on Rayford and is even lamer in this iteration. Anyway, Bruce says that Chloe is welcome to join the core group that Rayford is in and then decides to take things one step further.

Page 419- Line 20-21:
"But I've [Bruce] also been thinking about a smaller group within the core."

Fucking awesome. A core within the core. The double secret core! This is absolutely like two little boys arguing over whether their treehouse will have a "no girls" policy or an "absolutely no girls" policy. That it's been written by two grown men about several grown men is just pathetic.

Page 419- Line 25-27:
"I've [Bruce] been praying about sort of an inner circle of people who want to do more than just survive."

Well sure! Rayford and Buck, for example, both seem to want to bang Hattie each other Chloe! Does that count?

Page 419- Line 28-30:
"What are you getting at?" Rayford asked. "Going on the offensive?"

"Something like that." [Bruce replied]

I hate to ask, but... in this context, just exactly what would "going on the offensive" mean? Because according to the authors, the events of the next seven years are unavoidable, so going on the offensive just sounds like a way to increase the likelihood of dying a comparatively exotic type of death.

Page 420- Line 6-11:
Rayford was intrigued but not sure. Chloe was more eager. "A cause," she said. "Something not just to die for but to live for."


"A group, a team, a force," Chloe said.

"You've got it. A force."

No, no, she doesn't. That "o" was a typo and should be an "a". He doesn't mean a force, he means a farce. But, hey, Woo-hoo! A force! Let's go bomb something! Yeah!

Page 420- Line 12-14:
Chloe's eyes were bright with interest. Rayford loved her youth and her eagerness to commit to a cause that to her was only hours old.

Rayford loves it, whereas I find it terrifying. And that's not "interest" that's lighting her eyes, Rayford. It's fanaticism. And that just never helps, you know? As long as you agree with the crazy, it's okay, is that it?

Page 420- Line 17-18:
"So your little group inside the group, a sort of Green Berets, would be your Tribulation Force." [Chloe said]

Right, a spiritual Green Berets who will presumably engage in "spiritual warfare." We've talked about spiritual warfare before, and my opinion of it is not favorable. Mostly that's because it's a bit unfair to actual soldiers who have put their lives on the line in actual combat, but I digress. Let's just all sit back for a moment and marvel at the authors who are encouraging people to form a religiously-based paramilitary organization. Nope, nothing to object to there! Anyway, Bruce warns Chloe that in the future being part of his little club could get her killed horribly, but she says she doesn't mind because, hell, 99% of all humanity is going to die horribly over the next seven years, so why worry about the details? Needless to say, Rayford is proud.

And with that, we've reached the end of the episode. Come back next time when we do NOT have an actual episode (as I anticipate not having the time to write it between now and then) but we WILL have a very important discussion about the future of Total Drek in light of the impending, and eagerly anticipated, end of the Left Behind debacle. Seriously, folks, I'm gonna ask for your input, so make sure you drop by.

* Amusing aside: if a deliberative body is able to vote to give itsely jurisdiction over a new area, doesn't that pretty much mean it always had that jurisdiction in the first place?

** Oh, I'm that too, but at least I'm not claiming otherwise.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Is this truly the world that I live in?

We all knew that the horrific BP oil spill* was going to get blamed on Obama. What we may not have known was exactly how far some folks would go in that regard:

Republican congressional candidate William "Bill" Randall is suggesting that the Obama administration and BP conspired to intentionally spill oil in the Gulf, resulting in 11 deaths and the worst environmental disaster in the nation's history.

Randall, who has aligned himself with the tea party movement, readily acknowledges that he has no evidence that what he says is true. But that is not stopping him from making the claim as he campaigns in the June 22 GOP runoff to face incumbent Democratic Rep. Brad Miller on the November ballot.

Say what, now? BP and Obama conspired to... what? Destroy the gulf coast? Why the fuck would they do that? Is there a compelling argument here that I'm not seeing?

"Now, I'm not necessarily a conspiracy person, but I don't think enough investigation has been done on this," Randall said at a media conference on Tuesday. "Someone needs to be digging into that situation. Personally, and this is purely speculative on my part and not based on any fact, but personally I feel there is a possibility that there was some sort of collusion. I don't know how or why, but in that situation, if you have someone from a company violating a safety process and the government signing off on it, excuse me, maybe they wanted it to leak.

"But then it got beyond what was anticipated, and we had an explosion and loss of life. And, oh man, then we have panic. Is there a cover up going on? I'm not saying there necessarily is. But I think there's enough facts on the table for people that (they) really need to do some investigative research and find out what went on with that and get a subpoena of records and everything else."

How the hell can you not love that? "Now, I'm not really a conspiracy person, but I think that Majestic-12 and the Men in Black are conspiring to cover up evidence that Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster are alien Masons that abduct people and anal probe cows." Generally speaking, if someone starts a sentence with "I'm not really a conspiracy person..." the very next thing out of their mouth is going to be the craziest goddamn conspiracy you've ever heard. But, yet again, I'm forced to ask- is there a compelling argument here somewhere?

Pressed on what possible motivation the federal government and BP would have to purposely spill oil, Randall said he had no idea but reiterated that the issue needed to be the subject of investigation.

Right-o. He has no evidence, no basis for suspicion and no motive. But, hey, he can point a finger, so that's enough! Just... goddamn.

* Some of you might be wondering why I haven't really been covering the gulf oil spill. Aside from the fact that it's such enormous news that my help is not really required, there's the simple fact that I am actually from Florida. My rage and frustration at the situation goes beyond my ability with words. I literally CANNOT talk about this subject without completely losing it. So just keep that in mind.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Not exactly mana, but arguably from heaven.

Alert reader Jay Livingston was kind enough to mention this story to me about a gigantic statue of Jesus rising from a pool of water that has been displayed next to I-75 in Ohio.* The statue, which has been referred to as "Touchdown Jesus," is a sort of local landmark, as well as the sort of freakish roadside display that tends to stick in one's mind. And that isn't surprising when you take a gander at the thing:

Can't you just hear the king of kings shouting, "It's GOOOOODDDDD!!!!" Alas, the point of today's post is not to poke fun at questionable architectural decisions. Nor, indeed, is my point to condemn this Jesus statue and its love of the gridiron. The statue is private property, on private property and- as far as I know- built with private funds. So, it's none of my business. No, the point of the post is to mention that recently, something a tad unusual happened to said statue:

Charred remnants remained this morning, June 15, of the large Jesus statue iconic to Interstate 75 that was destroyed following an apparent lightning strike during a thunderstorm late Monday night.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that's right: Touchdown Jesus was destroyed by an act of god. And needless to say it doesn't look quite as good anymore. Now, the first thing I want to say at this point is that while there was property damage- quite a bit of it, in fact- no one was killed or injured in the lightning strike or fire. I am, needless to say, pleased with the lack of casualties, and sorry that the church has lost so much property. The second thing, however, is to note some of the reactions that people have had to this:

Church member Cassie Browning, 27, of Dayton, said she was driving north on I-75 on her way back from Tennessee when she and her family saw smoke and noticed the statue missing. “It meant so much to so many people,” Browning said. “The statue can be destroyed and gone, but Jesus can’t be.”


“God struck God, I like the irony. Jesus struck Jesus,” said Dawn Smith, 25, of Hamilton, who was among those standing outside the vehicles along Union Road. “I had to see it. What else are you going to do on a Monday night?”


Also gathered along Union Road were Franklin twins and storm chasers Levi and Seth Walsh, who said they were out in the thunderstorm when they heard about the fire through a Facebook update.

“It sent goosebumps through my whole body because I am a believer,” said Levi Walsh, 29. “Of all the things that could have been struck, I just think that that would be protected. ... It’s something that’s not supposed to happen, Jesus burning,” he said. “I had to see it with my own eyes.”

And that's pretty intriguing, because of all the people commenting, only the first seems to grasp that the statue is not the mythological figure that it represents. Of course destroying the statue isn't the same as destroying Jesus.** To think otherwise is to effectively venerate an idol or, in less religious terms, to confuse a symbol for the thing it represents. This is not a case of "god striking god," it's a case of an electrical discharge igniting a fire. And in a way we should have expected it, given that the statue was effectively a giant lightning rod surrounded by flammable material:

The statue was constructed of wood and styrofoam over a steel framework that was anchored in concrete and covered with a fiberglass mat and resin exterior, according to the church.

People will doubtless be looking for an explanation for this event, as is only human. And this is where I start wondering. See, when a tornado strikes a church during a convention about homosexuality, it's supposedly a sign that god disapproves of homosexuality. When the pro-creationism Dover school board is replaced with a pro-science school board, they're warned to expect natural disasters as god's wrath. When a gigantic earthquake strikes down Haiti it is, similarly, because they made a pact with the devil and god is pissed. And, hell, if we're willing to go beyond Christian wingnuts, we find still more craziness. When a tsunami strikes Indonesia, it's because women are sinful. Likewise, earthquakes are also a sign that women are sinful.*** Apparently, women have a lot more power than we usually think! So, given that natural events are so often invoked in the service of someone's religious prejudices, how should we interpret this one? Perhaps Zeus is finally just fed the hell up with this Jesus guy- pardon the pun- stealing all his thunder. Maybe Shiva has finally decided to bust some heads. It could be, and there's exactly as much proof for that as for any of this other crap, which is to say, none at all. We do not need to invoke the supernatural to explain natural events, but damn if people don't do it anyway. How else could we use bad luck to accuse others of being evil?

But, have no fear religious wingnuts, because out of the goodness of my heart and a careful reading of the article, I think I can propose an explanation. See, it also turns out that while the lightning DID strike the Jesus statue, it did NOT strike something nearby:

“I can’t believe Jesus was struck,” said his brother, who noted the giant Hustler Hollywood sign for the adult store across the street was untouched. “It’s the last thing I expected to happen.”

Maybe god didn't hate the statue, he just really loves porn.

* How was that for an opening sentence, kids?

** I would argue that the Romans did a more than adequate job of that over two thousand years ago, although the idea of Jesus has certainly proven to have considerable staying power.

*** Thus giving rise to boobquake.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

This actually happened.

I was browsing over on Conservapedia the other day, and noticed them crowing about their "Conservative Parables". And note that when I say that, I'm really not exaggerating:

Or, to sum up, they're excited that their new list of Conservative Parables has hit 15 entries. Wow! Knowing Conservapedia, however, I immediately found myself wondering, "What are these parables like?" In hopes of finding out I clicked through to the list of parables and discovered to my surprise and delight that there were, apparently, more than fifteen! Instead, there appears to be more like 19 parables. I also discovered a definition for "conservative parables" which goes something like this:

Or, in plain text:

Conservative parables are stories that illustrate a conservative insight. The stories may or may not have actually occurred.

Now, I've read through these parables and they're just awful. I mean, really, really shamefully bad. They're so bad that they actually require a new word to provide an adequate description, a word that combines terrible and parable. That word is: "parrible". And so, because I love y'all, I'm going to share these little parribles with you- the first fifteen anyway- and offer a little commentary at the end of each one. No, no, don't thank me. Really. Let's start, shall we?

The Fly Ball

One Sunday afternoon a dozen teenagers gathered for a game of coed softball against a rival team from another church. As the first team's coach assigned his players to positions in the field, he noticed a new player on his team whom he had seen only before in church services. She suffered from a severe case of cerebral palsy, making it difficult for her to walk or use her arms. But she always had a smile on her face, and she brought a softball glove to play.

The coach, against his better judgment, told her to be the right-fielder. The coach knew that in softball the ball is hit to the right field less frequent than to other positions. This was supposed to be a friendly game between churches, but turned out to be far more competitive than that.

The game went smoothly for several innings. But the other team was good, and it was hitting the ball hard.

The inevitable disaster then struck in the 6th inning, with several runners on base and two outs. A batter for the other team hit a line drive directly at the right fielder.

The coach, and indeed his entire team, turned in dreadful anticipation as they watched the ball travel at a high speed right at the player with cerebral palsy.

The player held up her glove and the ball smacked directly into its pocket. She had caught the third out. Her team erupted in cheers and her ever-present smile glowed even wider. Her team went on to win the game.

Her teammates were inspired more by her catch than by anything else they saw the entire year.

Stated Lesson: It's inspiring watching a disabled person succeed at something.

Intended Lesson: Don't underestimate the disabled.

Actual Lesson: A good attitude will compensate for a lack of skill, practice, or ability. Also, churches like to beat each other at softball.

Commentary: What do you say to this? It's a feel good story that doesn't make any real sense. The coach didn't really take a chance on her, seeing as how he shoved her off into the safest part of the field, she isn't depicted as doing much of anything at all except bringing a glove and smiling all the time, and it's somewhat unclear what conservative insight this is supposed to illustrate. I also have to say, I'm often very impressed with those who are less physically able than myself, but this story doesn't really produce that kind of feeling. It isn't, "He was confined to a wheel chair but exercised and practiced until he was able to swim the English channel," it's "girl wanders into a field and gets in the way of a ball." Call me heartless, but I frankly think this parable belittles the disabled.

The Story of Two Psychiatrists-- Or How To Deal With Liberal Critics

Rowland Evans, the famed columnist, was having lunch with Ronald Reagan in 1987, six years into his presidency, a milestone by which the previous five presidents had been defeated, resigned in disgrace, refused to consider reelection, or assassinated. Somehow, Reagan was shining through, making it look easy, and was enormously popular. Evans, a tough old newsman, was in awe. He looked Reagan in the eye and said, “You know, Mr. President, I’ve known you for more than twenty years. I first met you in 1966, and the amazing thing is that you don’t look any older now than you did back then, and the criticism never gets you down. How do you do it?”

In response, Reagan offered a parable. "Let me explain it this way":

Let me tell you the story of the two psychiatrists — the old psychiatrist and the young psychiatrist — who had a practice together. They’d come into their office every day just bubbling with enthusiasm, always happy, upbeat, smiling, and chipper. Then they’d go into their separate suites and have patients come in and lie on the couch all day and talk about the woes in their lives. At 6:00 p.m. they’d come out and the young psychiatrist would be devastated, wiped out by the day, with a stomachache, and just miserable. The old psychiatrist would be just as chipper and smiling and upbeat as he was when he went in that morning. This went on for a number of months.

Finally one day they came out at 6:00 p.m., the young psychiatrist devastated as usual, and the old psychiatrist just as happy and smiling as he was when went in. The young psychiatrist stopped him and said, “I don’t understand it. We do the same thing every day, and I leave wiped out by hearing patients all day, and you come out after patients have been streaming in and out of your office just as upbeat as ever. How do you do it?”

The old psychiatrist paused a minute and said, “I never listen.”

Stated Lesson: Old psychiatrists don't listen to their patients.

Intended Lesson: Pay no attention to things that bring you down.

Actual Lesson: When faced with a tough job, shirk whenever you can get away with it.

Commentary: There is absolutely nothing complimentary in this parable for anyone, least of all conservatives. On the other hand, it does nicely sum up Schlafly's approach to rhetoric.*

The Desperate Smoker

A smoker was in a drug store to purchase a pack of cigarettes. Short on cash, he emptied all his pockets in order to scrounge up with every last penny he had. The cashier counted all the change and but found it was ten cents short of the total required for the cheapest pack of cigarettes.

The smoker desperately turned to the man standing behind him and asked him for a dime. The bystander clearly had a spare dime.

Should the bystander give the smoker a dime so he can purchase the pack of cigarettes?

The bystander, who is generous by nature, did something more difficult for him: he denied the request and instead urged the smoker to "kick the habit."

The smoker then gathered all his change and left the store.

This parable actually happened.

Stated Lesson: This parable actually happened.

Intended Lesson: Sometimes it's more generous to give someone what they need rather than what they want.

Actual Lesson: It's okay to tell other people what to do with their bodies, especially if you can be a dick about it in the process.

Commentary: I'm no fan of smoking, and obviously if you don't want to loan the dude money for a pack of cigs that's your business, but do we really have to encourage each other to use random public encounters as an excuse to pressure others? Also note that we have no idea what happened to the smoker. I tend to assume he gave a trucker a blowjob and was back for his cigs in ten minutes.

The Fasting Woman

A woman had been fasting for several days and was quite weak. It was Sunday morning, and she wondered whether she had enough strength to attend church. It would have been easy to justify not going, as she had already shown her love and devotion to God that week. But she decided to attend the services anyway. Without eating any breakfast, she prepared herself for the late morning service. She got dressed, gathered her purse and belongings, and drove off to the church.

The church was filled for the late-morning service, with many hundreds of worshipers. The woman sat near the back and watched the pews fill up with members of the community, young and old. The service was about to begin. The woman then heard an unusual commotion outside, including several loud noises and shouts. She turned around several times to look at the door to the church. Her intuition told her something was wrong.

Suddenly, a large man burst through the door and began shooting at the hundreds of worshipers, children and all. The woman mustered all her strength and pulled out her gun from her bag. She then shot the intruder. Stunned, and expecting to die from her shot, the intruder killed himself. The worshipers in the church were all saved. Afterwards, the woman said that she had been "praying to God that he direct me" in what to do in life.

Stated Lesson: Do what god tells you.

Intended Lesson: Have faith and never, ever be even slightly less than totally devout.

Actual Lesson: When you've been denying yourself food for days and are so deliriously hungry that you can barely stand, it's totally okay to operate heavy machinery and brandish loaded firearms.

Commentary: See, this is why I don't go to church.

The Troubled Pregnancy

A pregnant woman was doing missionary work in the Philippines. Due to contaminated drinking water in an impoverished area, the woman contracted amoebic dysentery while pregnant. This required that she take strong medications in order to recover.

The woman's doctor told her that the medication inevitably caused irreversible damage to the developing unborn child in her womb. The doctor advised the woman to have an abortion. The doctor told the woman that she would be burdened with a disabled child and it would be better to get rid of the unborn child now through abortion.

The woman refused to have the abortion and subsequently gave birth to a baby boy, whom she named Timothy.

Twenty years later, Tim Tebow was recognized as the best college football player in the United States by winning the Heisman Trophy, the first to win that prestigious award as only a sophomore.

Stated Lesson: Babies that were almost aborted are totally awesome at football.

Intended Lesson: Doctors are stupid.

Actual Lesson: Ignore authority whenever it tells you something you don't want to hear and everything will work out for the best.

Commentary: Not a lot to say about this one, since it boils down to, "Ha! You were wrong! Neener neener!"

The Lost $40

One day a teenager received $40 from his father. The teenager then had to drive somewhere, and he put the $40 on the seat of his car. After going in and out of the car several times, and driving with the windows open, the $40 was gone. He searched and searched for it, but could not find it anywhere.

He then spent dozens of hours agonizing over the lost $40, obsessed with having lost it. It bothered him for weeks, even months. He still remembered it years later.

One day he realized that, based on the prevailing wage for teenagers of $8 per hour, that $40 was worth no more than about 6 hours of his time (after taxes). If he had simply worked rather than worry, he would have quickly "found" the $40 and accomplished something in the process.

Stated Lesson: Work rather than worry.

Intended Lesson: Work is good.

Actual Lesson: The author of this parrible is inordinately proud of being able to perform simple multiplication.

Commentary: This parrible is bizarre in the extreme. It says that a teenager "received $40 from his father" and then the teenager "had to drive somewhere". Was this a loan? A payment? I can't tell from the story. And where the hell is he going? To work? To school? Was the teenager going to buy his dad some crack, thus explaining both the money and the mysterious need to "drive somewhere"? I mean, what the fuck is even going on here?

The Flop

A skinny young man having limited athletic ability had a determination to do his very best and win. He picked the high jump event, but could only clear about 5' 3", nowhere near what was needed to win any competitions. But he worked tirelessly, trying all known techniques for jumping over a bar. Still, he could not improve to the point where he could win.

Yet he did not give up, and harnessed his competitive spirit to invent a revolutionary style of jumping back-first over the bar. Though lacking the athletic gifts of his competitors, the young man improved his jumping ability by a foot and more. He began to win.

His peculiar style attracted mockery and name-calling, as people derided his technique as the "flop". But that did not faze him, and he continued to jump in the direction opposite to all his competitors. Despite winning the national college high jump event, experts still considered his success to be a fluke and his approach to be a joke.

When it came time for the Olympics, no one considered the young man to have a chance, and his more athletic competitors were favorites to win the high jump event. The whole world was riveted to the television screen as the young man flawlessly cleared every height as the bar was raised again and again. When the bar was finally raised to an Olympic record height of 7' 4 1/4", only the young man and his "flop" were able to jump over it. He had won the gold medal.

Virtually immediately everyone else, including those who had mercilessly mocked him, began praising and imitating his style. To this day it is known as the "Fosbury Flop."

Stated Lesson: If you come up with something that works, those who mock you will begin to immitate you.

Intended Lesson: Persevere even if others laugh at you along the way.

Actual Lesson: Being a conservative is a good way to get mocked.

Commentary: I have an image of the author of this parrible sitting at a computer in his mom's basement, cackling, "Someday they'll pay. Oh, yes! Someday they will FEAR the name of- what? Mom! No, I can't take out the trash now! I'm in the middle of something!"

The Difficult Science Problem

Physics 401 was the most difficult course in the entire college, having problem sets that would take many hours to complete each week. The students often worked on the homework together, as allowed and even encouraged by the professor. Students were also able to consult books and online resources in solving problems.

As the course progressed, the problems became increasingly difficult and complex. Some students were better than others at solving the problems. Reputations developed about which students had answers, and which ones did not.

Near the end of the course, the teacher assigned a particularly difficult problem to the class. The night before it was due, the students gathered as they had been throughout the course, and worked as hard as they could to find the answer. One student who had a reputation for not being as smart claimed he had the answer, and started to explain it to the others. But the smarter students quickly rejected his approach to the problem and told him to be quiet. Despite trying several times to describe his answer, he was ignored.

The next day the students handed in their homeworks, and the following week the professor returned their graded papers. He said that only one student had answered the difficult problem correctly. That student was the one who had tried to explain it to the others, but they would not listen.

The one student had found the correct answer in a book not used by the other students.

Stated Lesson: Sometimes bad students find good books.

Intended Lesson: Don't ignore someone's idea just because to date they do not appear to have understood a damned thing.

Actual Lesson: When dealing with a difficult problem, be sure to make full use of your campus' reference librarians.

Commentary: I dunno what conservative insight is in here other than, perhaps, "reading is good". Then again, I've not really noticed conservatives to be much into the book learnin' of late.

The Wall

The leader of a nation traveled to a distant land, and planned to deliver a speech there. This leader was not known for having great intelligence, and in fact was often ridiculed within his own country. He wondered what he should say in the foreign country while he was there.

For decades, there had been a massive wall in this foreign land which denied its inhabitants the freedom to travel and visit relatives, or simply move to places having greater opportunity. Inhabitants who tried to surmount the wall were shot and killed. The region enclosed by the wall was subjected to communism; outside the wall capitalism and freedom existed.

The leader began to focus on the wall in connection with his planned speech, and proposed uttering the bold command, "tear down this wall."

But his top advisers, who were very experienced in politics and foreign policy, were adamantly against such a bold statement. They insisted on removing it from the speech. As each draft circulated these experts took the phrase out, but each time the leader inserted this phrase back in. The experts felt the phrase made the leader look foolish and hopelessly naive, and could not possibly have a positive effect. The experts were sure it would subject their leader to even more ridicule than he already endured.

But the leader did not care about the potential for ridicule, and he wanted to say what he felt was best for his audience. He ignored his experts and delivered the bold command as part of his speech.

The leader's advisers were horrified when they heard the words delivered in the actual speech. They braced for a backlash and criticism.

But two years later, to the amazement of the entire world, this wall that had stood for decades was torn down exactly as the leader courageously suggested.

Stated Lesson: The first step in getting a wall torn down is telling someone else to do it.

Intended Lesson: Speaking out for what's right is always a wise choice.

Actual Lesson: Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Commentary: Shit, why stop there? Why not talk about when Kennedy said that he was a Berliner and then mention in the next sentence about how the wall came down decades later? When you don't care about anything but being a political hack, parribles are easy to make!


So, I was talking to this little girl Catherine, the daughter of some friends, and she said she wanted to be President some day.

Both of her parents, liberal Democrats, were standing there with us - and I asked Catherine - "If you were President what would be the first thing you would do?"

Catherine replied - "I would give houses to all the homeless people."

"Wow - what a worthy goal you have there, Catherine." I told her, "You don't have to wait until you're President to do that, you can come over to my house and clean up all the dog poop in my back yard and I will pay you $5. Then we can go over to the grocery store where the homeless guy hangs out, and you can give him the $5 to use for a new house."

Catherine thought that over for a second, while her mom looked at me seething, and Catherine replied, "why doesn't the homeless guy come over and clean up the dog poop and you can just pay him the $5?"

And I said, "Welcome to the Republican Party."

Stated Lesson: Homeless people should clean up dog poop.

Intended Lesson: Even children know that conservatism makes sense.

Actual Lesson: Serious social problems only seem simple to conservatives and children.

Commentary: Lovely. Conservapedia has to recruit by tricking children now. Also, as long as we're on the subject, how much dog poop do you think a little girl should clean up for $5? I mean, if the prevailing wage for teenagers is $8...?

The University Assignment

A young student studying his first Politics assignment picked to answer the question - "Have we reached the end of political ideology?" The young student, as this was his first paper, studied hard and long to argue that there has been a rise in conservative thought in recent years as a response to growing globalization and encroaching liberalism. The lecturer gave the paper low marks despite solid referencing and an extensive bibliography. The young student felt slighted by this as he had put in many hours work. Instead of bowing down and re-writing the assignment according to his lecturer's standards, the student petitioned the head of department to have his paper and final mark reviewed and also got several others to back him. In the end the student got an A grade.

This parable actually happened.

Stated Lesson: This parable actually happened.

Intended Lesson: Academics are totally biased, man! Fight the power!

Actual Lesson: If a student taking his or her first politics course doesn't do well on the first paper, it's totally appropriate to bitch and moan until the department changes the grade just to shut his or her dumb ass up. It's not like the first paper from the first course in a new field could possibly be- I dunno- bad, or anything.

Commentary: Apparently expecting professors to set "standards" is bad. Right-o! Where's my gin? Apparently, I don't have to put any effort into teaching at all!

The Conservative Conference

A conservative conference was scheduled for Sept. 25, 2001, expecting most attendees to travel by air. Unfortunately, on Sept. 11, 2001 there was the 9/11 terrorist hijacking of airplanes and a national crisis resulting in the grounding of airplanes for a week and widespread panic.

As a result, most conferences were cancelled, and the few that were held were poorly attended. Airplanes flew nearly empty for weeks once they were allowed to fly at all.

Though he expected few others to attend, one conservative rejected the objections of his family and flew out to the conference. He saw only two other passengers on his 140-seat airplane. He checked into the hotel and felt that at least he could cheer up the conference organizers when no one else showed up.

But to his great surprise, everyone else showed up. The other attendees concluded that both logic and faith weighed in favor of traveling to the conference. There was no logical reason for staying home, and faith eliminated any anxiety. In fact, the conservatives did not even waste time discussing their decisions to attend, at a time when nearly all other travelers acted irrationally and avoided airplanes.

This parable actually happened.

Stated Lesson: This parable actually happened.

Intended Lesson: Conservatives are totally brave.

Actual Lesson: It's okay to be a dick to your family if they want you to stay home during a time of national tragedy.

Commentary: This is one hella judgmental parrible right here. Everyone else is acting irrationally but the conservatives, who feel safe flying because if they die they know an invisible friend in the sky will take care of them? Right.

The Convert

Born in 1910, this child suffered from a physical handicap as a youngster and could not attend regular school. He had to wear leg braces and was eventually enrolled in a school for "physical defectives." But that school was managed by the same organization that ran the school for "mental defectives" and, as he later explained, there was "some overlapping in the curriculum." As a result, he spent his days in basket-weaving classes, and was deprived of any formal academic instruction until age 10.

But he worked hard, and eventually found his way to the London School of Economics, the top school of its kind in the world.

He was an avid socialist, as were most of his fellow students. But in his senior year, he happened to take an economics seminar taught by Professor Arnold Plant. That course was devoted to the "invisible hand." It did not have any readings, and focused on stimulating discussions instead.

This young man's prior educational background may not have given him as much knowledge as his classmates, but it did give him an open mind. This single course changed his life, as he embraced the logic and power of the free market.

Later he immigrated to the United States and became an economics professor. But unlike most of his colleagues, he avoided mathematical equations and formulae, bucking the modern trend in his field.

His extraordinary insight was that the free market always reaches the most efficient level of productive activity, in the absence of transaction costs.

In 1991, he was the sole recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics. His name is Ronald Coase. To this day liberals fail to give him the recognition he earned.

Stated Lesson: Liberals won't give you credit for stuff.

Intended Lesson: Liberals are stupid.

Actual Lesson: Man, I just don't know. Maybe that conservatism makes the most sense if you don't analyze its claims using mathematics?

Commentary: Evidently basket weaving is good preparation for adopting a conservative ideology. Who knew?

The Little Red Hen - Ronald Reagan Version

Once upon a time there was a little red hen who scratched about the barnyard until she uncovered some grains of wheat. She called her neighbors and said 'If we plant this wheat, we shall have bread to eat. Who will help me plant it?'

"Not I, " said the cow.

"Not I," said the duck.

"Not I," said the pig.

"Not I," said the goose.

"Then I will," said the little red hen. And she did. The wheat grew tall and ripened into golden grain. "Who will help me reap my wheat?" asked the little red hen.

"Not I," said the duck.

"Out of my classification," said the pig.

"I'd lose my seniority," said the cow.

"I'd lose my unemployment compensation," said the goose.

"Then I will," said the little red hen, and she did.

At last the time came to bake the bread. "Who will help me bake bread?" asked the little red hen.

"That would be overtime for me," said the cow.

"I'd lose my welfare benefits," said the duck.

"I'm a dropout and never learned how," said the pig.

"If I'm to be the only helper, that's discrimination," said the goose.

"Then I will," said the little red hen.

She baked five loaves and held them up for the neighbors to see.

They all wanted some and, in fact, demanded a share. But the little red hen said, "No, I can eat the five loaves myself."

"Excess profits," cried the cow.

"Capitalist leech," screamed the duck.

"I demand equal rights," yelled the goose.

And the pig just grunted.

And they painted "unfair" picket signs and marched round and around the little red hen shouting obscenities.

When the government agent came, he said to the little red hen, "You must not be greedy."

"But I earned the bread," said the little red hen.

"Exactly," said the agent. "That's the wonderful free enterprise system. Anyone in the barnyard can earn as much as he wants. But under our modern government regulations productive workers must divide their products with the idle."

And they lived happily ever after, including the little red hen, who smiled and clucked, "I am grateful, I am grateful."

But her neighbors wondered why she never again baked any more bread....

Stated Lesson: Baking bread is hard!

Intended Lesson: We should never share with anyone else.

Actual Lesson: The author of this parrible really, really did not understand "Animal Farm".

Commentary: I'd just like to point out, for the record, that from the responses the cow is apparently already fully employed.


A Parable about Socialism

A young woman was about to finish her first year of college. Like so many others her age, she considered herself to be a very liberal Democrat, and among other liberal ideals, was very much in favor of higher taxes to support more government programs, in other words, redistribution of wealth.

She was deeply ashamed that her father was a rather staunch Conservative, a feeling she openly expressed. Based on the lectures that she had participated in, and the occasional chat with a professor, she felt that her father had for years harbored an evil, selfish desire to keep what he thought should be his.

One day she was challenging her father on his opposition to higher taxes on the rich and the need for more government programs. The self-professed objectivity proclaimed by her professors had to be the truth and she indicated so to her father. He responded by asking how she was doing in school.

Taken aback, she answered rather haughtily that she had a 4.0 GPA, and let him know that it was tough to maintain, insisting that she was taking a very difficult course load and was constantly studying, which left her no time to go out and party like other people she knew. She didn't even have time for a boyfriend, and didn't really have many college friends because she spent all her time studying.

Her father listened and then asked, 'How is your friend Audrey doing?' She replied, 'Audrey is barely getting by. All she takes are easy classes, she never studies, and she barely has a 2.0 GPA. She is so popular on campus; college for her is a blast. She's always invited to all the parties and lots of times she doesn't even show up for classes because she's too hung over.'

Her wise father asked his daughter, 'Why don't you go to the Dean's office and ask him to deduct 1.0 off your GPA and give it to your friend who only has a 2.0. That way you will both have a 3.0 GPA and certainly that would be a fair and equal distribution of your GPA.'

The daughter, visibly shocked by her father's suggestion, angrily fired back, 'That's a crazy idea, how would that be fair! I've worked really hard for my grades! I've invested a lot of time, and a lot of hard work! Audrey has done next to nothing toward her degree. She played while I worked my tail off!'

The father slowly smiled, winked and said gently, 'Welcome to the conservative's philosophy.'

Stated Lesson: This is a Parable about Socialism.

Intended Lesson: We should all keep what we earn and never share with anyone.

Actual Lesson: If you don't have a 4.0 it's because you're a drunken floozy and everyone knows it.

Commentary: In case you hadn't noticed, these guys really don't like socialism, but don't really understand what it's about. Also, starting your parrible by stating, "A parable about..." is really shit writing.

There are more- the unfinished additional four- but I don't have the courage to comment on them. Feel free to make suggestions for them in the comments, though!

* "Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah! I'm not LISTENING!!!!"

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Friday, June 18, 2010

C'mon you knew this was coming.

Presented without further comment, aside from, "You rock, Steve Martin"!

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Left Behind: Another Intermission

Hey folks! We're well into the summer months at this point, which means that my schedule is a bit more chaotic than usual. Specifically, there are some trips coming up that I'm hastily preparing for and, as a result, I decided to take a break from the Left Behinding this week. Don't worry, we'll be back next week with the beginning of Chapter 23 and should be done with the whole damned book by the end of the summer. No, really, I mean it! In the meantime though, just in case you can't live without a little horror in your Thursday, please enjoy* this trailer for Tim LaHaye's new book series:

I have no idea when books started to get f-ing trailers but, to be frank, Left Behind is such a raging shitball that this new atrocity probably needs all the help it can get.

See y'all next week!

* Understand, I mean "enjoy" very loosely here.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Addictive & educational

Looking for something to do? Hoping to hone your knowledge of natural selection? Then boy, do I have an activity for you! Allow me to present, Aphids Must Die!, a game produced by BEACON that I think just might be able to teach the fundamentals of evolution to a creationist.

The idea is simple- guide your ladybug around the map trying to eat as many aphids as you can. Aphids that survive reproduce and pass their traits onto their offspring. And, in accelerated time, you can see how the population traits of the aphids change. Pay particular attention to the speed counter- you'll be amazed at what happens.

Now, if only someone could produce a simple flash game that explains why bananas aren't the atheist's worst nightmare, we'd be all set!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A brilliant presentation.

People ask me sometimes why I am so down on the notion that positive thinking can influence the universe. The answer is not, as you might think, that it's because I'm a mean bastard.* No, really, the reason is because it just doesn't goddamn work and can be intensely harmful to people besides. And if you don't want to believe me, then listen to Barbara Ehrenreich tell it much better than I ever could:


* I mean, I'm that too, but that's not the point.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

So very, very cool.

This just in* from the Cassini probe: there might be life on Titan. No, I am totally not kidding:

Something strange is afoot in the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan, according to data sent back from the Cassini mission. Data returned from a spectrometer on Cassini indicates that there's a large flux of hydrogen in the moon's atmosphere, with the gas forming in the upper atmosphere and being removed from the atmosphere at Titan's surface. We don't currently know what process is ensuring its removal, but the amounts of hydrogen being taken out of the atmosphere are consistent with an earlier proposal of methane-based life.

Of course, this isn't a smoking gun quite yet. We haven't directly observed the organisms, the chemical traces aren't necessarily impossible to achieve via non-living means, and there's generally still a lot to be teased out, but it's still pretty bloody cool. So should we be excited? Well, you tell me:

Two chemical enigmas certainly don't constitute life, and the authors of the latter paper provide a variety of ways to account for the acetylene shortage that don't involve an organism. It's also important to remember that there won't be anything resembling liquid water on the surface of Titan, so anything alive there would have to be living in a methane/ethane soup (not to mention at temperatures nearing -200°C).

Scientists are a cautious bunch, and it's likely that these results will remain in limbo for a while. The discovery of plumes of methane in the atmosphere of Mars was another chemical enigma that might be evidence for life. It's been about a year and a half since their announcement and nobody has come up with a satisfying explanation for their presence (at least as far as I'm aware), but the scientific community is nowhere close to ready to call that conclusive evidence for life.

Me? I'm going to be excited. Cautiously excited, granted, but excited nonetheless.

* And by "just in" I mean "from several days ago". Hell, people, if you wanted up-to-the-second news, you shouldn't be relying on a damn blog, you know?

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Friday, June 11, 2010

This has been a busy week.

And y'all have "enjoyed" rather a large number of posts that I actually had to spend some time writing. So, fuck it, it's Friday! Enjoy the YouTube.

No, really, it's cool as hell.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 22, Part 2

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that makes Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town look like it was complexly plotted. Last time Buck spent a sleepless night, snuck up on Chloe, and then became angry when Chloe didn't notice him sneaking up. What happens this week? Sheer, unadulterated stupid. Oh, and Chloe converts.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to Ken for discovering the book we all should read after this one:

Anyway, real reason for posting after, what, the third straight series of nothing-happens: I have found the REAL sequel to this book here.

"As a guardian angel, Mischa must protect the one man who may be able to bring about lasting peace to the Middle East. As a djinni, Rafe must fulfill the wishes of a terrorist leader. Their duties colliding, Mischa and Rafe become foes, but the heat between them is undeniable."

This should be Hattie and the Antichrist in the next book. If it's not, I'm more than ready to give up now.

From reading the rest of the description, Ken, I have to admit that it sounds infinitely more entertaining than Left Behind. It also makes me wonder if anyone has ever tried writing Left Behind slash fan-fiction. Oh look! Someone has! You're welcome.

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 an impertinent whim...

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. Hot for Chloe.

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. Possibly hot for Buck.

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. Press secretary for Nicolae Carpathia.

Nicolae Carpathia: Businessman. Romanian Senator. Romanian President. Secretary-General of the United Nations. 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. President of Botswana. 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. Died Murdered by falling being pushed off of the Staten Island ferry. A strong swimmer.

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

Stanton Bailey: Publisher of the Global Weekly.

Carolyn Miller: Wife of Eric Miller.

Alex Phonecompany: Friend of Buck's. Works at the phone company.


Page 401- Line Groovy Scooby:

No quote, but when we rejoin Buck he's sitting next to Chloe in first class on Rayford's flight to Chicago. His biggest concern right now is that he might fall asleep before Chloe notices him, which is certainly not the sort of situation I would usually describe as tense or exciting. But the authors seem to think that Andy Griffith constitutes racy entertainment so, hey, there you go. Anyway, Chloe finally notices his shoes and then we're off.

Page 401- Line 3-8:
Chloe's eyes traveled up to his smiling, expectant face.

Her reaction was more than worth the wait. She folded her hands and drew them to her mouth, her eyes filling. Then she took his hand in both of hers. "Oh, Buck," she whispered. "Oh, Buck."

Oh, barf! This is like something out of a Harlequin romance, but with fewer engorged members and more swollen egos. If you weren't sure before that the authors know nothing of romance, this should rectify that problem. It also points out just how amazingly passive our "heroes" are- even when it comes to romance they don't so much woo as sit still and wait for the object of their affection to fall all over herself in adoration. Because that's totally the way it works in my experience. Right. Sure.

Page 401- Line 9-17:
"It's nice to see you, too," he [Buck] said.

Chloe let go of his hand as if catching herself. "I don't mean to act like a schoolgirl," she said, "but have you ever received a direct answer to prayer?"

Buck shot her a double take. "I thought your dad was the praying member of your family."

"He is," she said. "But I just tried out my first one in years, and God answered it."

"You prayed that I would sit next to you?"

Oh, no. Oh HELL no. We are NOT going to do this. We are not going to see the authors use this scene as some sort of an answered prayers bit. They simply cannot be serious. They cannot possibly want to introduce the sheer volume of theological and logical issues that this entails. This has the potential to be the theological equivalent of a naked singularity and it will crush whatever scant consistency this shit burger contains. Damnit, NO! There is whatthefuckery and then there is this shit and I am bloody tired. Hell.

Okay, Drek, pull it together.

Yeah, so, amazingly, there's still more hilarity in the above. First off, I love that Chloe appologizes for acting "like a schoolgirl" when Buck just connived to sit next to his crush and waited passively for her to notice him. It's like Chloe is the Fonz and he's the attractive blonde of the week. That shit might work for Steve, but it's pretty lame in a grown man. Second, "Buck shot her a double take"? Traditionally to do a double take one has to look away from someone. This implies that he sat down next to Chloe, grinned at her, and then promptly started looking away. Maybe he was looking for his f-ing coke (Page 400- Line 20-22)? Whatever. If I can't get consistency from the authors' theology, why should I expect continuity in one lousy scene? Anyway, Buck asks her to tell the story of how he became the answer to a prayer (I think I threw up a bit just writing that) and she says it'll be a long story. And by "long" she means "the rest of the damned chapter" even though almost the entirety of her recitation is pretty much irrelevant. But, hell, there you go.

Page 402- Line 1-7:
She [Chloe] took his [Buck] hand again. "Buck, this is too special. This is the nicest thing anyone's done for me in a long time."

"You said you were going to miss me, but I didn't do it only for you. I've got business in Chicago."

She giggled and let go again. "I wasn't talking about you, Buck, though this is sweet. I was talking about God doing the nice thing for me." [emphasis added]

Well, that makes sense I suppose. Doing nice things is rather out of character for god at the moment, what with all the rapturing and bowls, vials and trumpets full of judgment and shit.

Page 402- Line 10-15:
And she told him her story. "You might have noticed I was pretty upset last night. I was so moved by my dad's story. I mean, I had heard it before. But all of a sudden he seemed so loving, so interested in people. Could you tell how important it was to him and how serious he was about it?"

And once more earnestness is substituting for reason. This book is like a manual for converting the credulous. Low hanging fruit, people. But, hey, Chloe is a big, smart Stanford student- surely she's got a snappy response, right?

Page 402- Line 27-28:
"Buck," she said, "he was getting to me, too, and I don't mean my dad."

Right. OR she's just going to cave in after Rayford harangues her enough times. I give up. These people are all idiots. Seriously. Regardless, Buck tells her to get on to the part of the story that involves him and she continues, relating her deeply emotional trip to the ladies' room the night before and then returning in the midst of Rayford preaching.

Page 403- Line 15-18:
"It wasn't that I [Chloe] was hearing anything new. It was new to me when I heard it from Bruce Barnes and saw that videotape, but my dad showed such urgency and confidence. [emphasis added]

Okay, if you're playing at home, that's earnestness confused for evidence. Do a shot! Seriously, are you absorbing the import of this drivel? It is a conversion manual that is literally telling people, "If your approach isn't working, just do the same thing again, and again, and again, but strive to be even more earnest. If you can just be earnest enough people will believe!" Do even the authors seriously believe that's effective? Do they even care? Indeed, it is more and more obvious that this drive to preach is less about those who need saving and more about the savers proving how awesome they are. It's like fraternity hazing, except that after a while fraternity hazing stops, whereas this asinine humiliation continues for life.

Page 403- Line 26-28:
"But still I [Chloe] couldn't talk to my dad about it [her growing acceptance of his faith]. I didn't know what was in my way. I've always been so blasted independent.

Indeed, too true. Things are so much better when people- and particularly women girls like Chloe- just conform. Don't think, obey! I really don't think the authors could be any clearer here, though amazingly they keep trying just in case their readers are denser than a neutron star.* Anyway, Chloe keeps babbling on and admits that she spent a sleepless night as well.

Page 404- Line 23-26:
"I've been convinced," she said, "but I'm still fighting. I'm supposed to be an intellectual. I have critical friends to answer to. Who's going to believe this? Who's going to think I haven't lost my mind?" [emphasis added]

To the emphasized bit I can only respond, "If you say so," because Chloe has basically failed to display any signs of intellectualism whatsoever during the narrative. Kind of like how Buck has failed to display any particular proficiency with the English language. Beyond that, however, there are still a few weird things. Like, what the hell is a "critical friend"? Does she mean that she has friends who just criticize everything regardless of substance? If so, how could you ever satisfy them? And really, a week or two after the spontaneous disappearance of every child and "true Christian" in the world, I'd think that some options might seem more plausible than they did before, you know? Finally, I absolutely love the suggestion that the only thing that PREVENTS people from becoming Christian is peer pressure. Right. Sure. Why not? Anyway, she explains that she needed some closure and suddenly started wondering if god answers prayers before one becomes a true Christian.

Page 405- Line 10-15:
"Tell me this, Buck, with your cognitive-reasoning skills. If there is a God and if this is all true, wouldn't he want us to know? I mean, God wouldn't make it hard to learn and he wouldn't, or I should say he couldn't, ignore a desperate prayer, could he?" [emphasis original]

Yikes, where do we even start? Okay, so, "cognitive-reasoning skills"? Who the hell talks like that? Second, yes, I think we'd have to assume that god would want us to know that all of this craziness was true, which forces me to wonder why he attempts to get our attention via a shitload of vials and trumpets and wrath as opposed to, say, neatly printed paragraphs written with flame in Times New Roman floating over every city? But, hey, good communication skills apparently aren't a prerequisite for being a deity, so here we are. And last, but most certainly not least, the authors just asserted that there is something that god "couldn't" do. In other words, he's not omnipotent. I suppose they could be trying to say that he can't go against his own nature but even so, we're talking about a case where it isn't that god chooses not to but where he literally cannot do something. That's a bit of a theological issue, right there. And amazingly, this clusterfuck gets even worse.

Page 405- Line 17-19:
"Well, that's what I [Chloe] think. So I think it was a good test, a reasonable one, and that I wasn't out of line. I'm convinced God answered."

Yes, you read that right: Chloe just imposed a test on god. An f-ing test. She decided to try praying and see if god answered said prayers in order to plumb the nature of the divine. And this is a problem, because testing something is the antithesis of having faith in it, and my seemingly interminable hours in Sunday School taught me quite well that god doesn't want a damned thing to do with anything less than utter, complete, blind faith. And what's even more absurd is that the authors have been denigrating reason for chapters now but here, when it's convenient, suddenly they're suggesting that god is falsifiable. There are layers of heresy in here that I can't even begin to unravel. Anyway, Buck finally prompts her- again- to get to the part about him and Chloe- finally- actually does.

Page 405- Line 26-30:
"I [Chloe] just prayed really sincerely and said I would appreciate it if God could show me personally that he cared, that he knew what I was going through, and that he wanted me to know he was there."

And so he sent his passive-aggressive stalker stunt-double as a messenger? Okay, more seriously, there are a couple of big, big issues here. First, this little prayer of hers is an excellent example of a non-specific request that can be "answered" in a number of ways, depending on individual preference. What if she looked out the window and saw a rainbow with a flock of doves flying through it? How about if an old lady sat down next to her, they got to talking, and said crone told Chloe that her mother would be proud of her? The possibilities are endless when the prayer is so damn open ended that it can be fulfilled just by finding an extra prize in a box of cracker jacks.

Second, allow me to point something out here: a week or two ago a buttload of people disappeared into thin air, but what convinces Chloe of the existence of the supernatural is that Buck booked the seat next to hers on a flight to Chicago. What the hell? That's like getting in a terrible accident, looking down at your severed leg, and thinking to yourself, "Wow, I need to clip my toenails."

Third, and finally, this is a gigantic, unavoidable, agonizing theological disaster. What Chloe is saying is that her prayer** for a non-specific sign of god's love somehow caused god to... what? Reach back in time and make Buck buy that seat? Do we really want to grapple with reverse causation? It's not so much that an omnipotent being couldn't do that as allowing such behavior in a theology technically permits the retroactive modification of reality- in other words, if we pray really hard we can kill Hitler before he was born. Frankly, the issues in sorting out that theology make deciding how many angels can dance on the head of a pin (or whether I should be bottle or breast fed) look trivial. Okay, scratch that. Maybe god knew in advance that Chloe would pray and, so, made Buck buy the seat before she even prayed? That has some consistency with the doctrine of predestination, and fits with Calvinism, but if god knows how the story is going to turn out- down to the smallest detail- why bother with doing it the long way when you could just skip to the end? To be more pointed- why make every human being and every animal go through all this unnecessary suffering to provide an answer that god already has? No reason not to, I guess, unless god is good, in which case it does seem a tad uncalled for. Or, I suppose, unless god isn't omnipotent and can't do it any other way, which I guess agrees with the authors' earlier statement (Page 405- Line 10-15), but I'm pretty sure they didn't mean that the way it reads. And regardless of your preferred answer here, where is free will in this theology? Did Buck choose to sit next to Chloe or did god make him do that? Did Chloe see the truth of her own free will, or did god finally just move her to see it as per Rayford's hint (Page 346- Line 14-22)? Honestly, the authors make it sound like the one and only choice we have is whether or not to accept Jesus, and everything else is determined by god. In other words, life is like being strapped onto a roller coaster and just being able to choose whether or not you yell during the fast bits or cry instead. And in a theology that promises eternal punishment for the "disobedient," that's more than a little bizarre. Yell or cry: take your pick, but pick right because the turnstiles at the end are a real bitch. Anyway, Buck observes that god seems to have "called Chloe's bluff" and asks her what she intends to do.

Page 406- Line 20:
"I have no choice," she agreed.

Yeah, get used to that, honey. Choice is for men-folk like yon secret agent/journalist/creepy stalker. You should just get your ass back to the house and start making the country knick-knacks (Page 75- Line 4-7). Anyway, Chloe notices there are two seats vacant nearby and asks a flight attendant to get Rayford back there. Rayford turns the controls over to his copilot, since at some point in the previous few pages the damn plane took off without the authors ever mentioning it to us, and goes back to talk to Chloe, who basically tells him that she's decided to convert. And fortunately, we have raging dumbass astute reporter, Cameron "Buck" Williams, to relate the scene to us.

Page 408- Line 18-21:
He [Buck] peeked back at Steele with his daughter, engaged in intense conversation and then praying together. Buck wondered if there was any airline regulation against that.

He wondered if...? Are you f-ing kidding me? Let me ask you, dear readers: how would you react if in the middle of a flight the Captain came back, found a young woman who looked like his daughter, had an intense conversation with her, and suddenly started praying? Would you be, I don't know, maybe a little concerned about what was going on with the flight? Yes, Buck, I think the airlines probably DO have regulations about such things, or at the very least sternly-worded advisories. And as long as we're on the subject, wasn't there a plane crash recently at least partly because the captain started praying rather than flying the plane? Why yes, yes there was, and the gentleman in question has been sentenced to prison for it. Un-fricking-real.

But, real or not, it's also the end of the chapter. Come back next time when we have an exciting, action packed series of meetings. Okay, that's not really true: of the terms "exciting," "action packed," and "meetings," only one is accurate. Three guesses which, but if you need more than one you're stupid.

See you then.

* For any creationists in the audience, that's about as dense as something can get, short of quark matter, without disappearing from our space-time entirely

** You might argue that Chloe is not specific about when she prayed and, so, it's plausible that she prayed before Buck booked the seat. You could argue that, but you'd be wrong, since we know Buck booked the seat before dinner (Page 381- Line 1-10) but Chloe's narrative makes it clear she didn't say her prayer until after dinner. So, hey, there you go.


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