31 October 2010

Evil Environmentalist One-World Government Approaches, Says Caruba

Alan Caruba has a terrible column (redundancy ahoy!) about environmentalism, one of his pet bugbears.

If there is one lesson to be learned from and about environmentalists, it is that they are utterly relentless. The ultimate goal is one-world government directed from the United Nations by unelected bureaucrats who are soulless strangers to the truth, to morality, to humanity.
Yes. This is my goal. That is not at all a piece of malicious fearmongering nonsense.

It is where the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) practiced its deceit, regularly documenting a rise in the earth’s average temperature even when a new natural cooling cycle began in 1998.
This is something he has harped on before: the Earth has been cooling on average since 1998.

This also happens to be true, since 1998 was an outstandingly hot year - surpassed only by such years as 2005 and later. It's along the lines of saying that there have been no severe hurricanes in New Orleans since Katrina, so severe hurricanes have dropped to almost nothing. If you take a set of data and limit your scope from the most severe onward, it seems like a drop. But a look at the whole trend...


Caruba's current outrage comes from this:

In June, the delegates from 200 nations gathered in Busan, a South Korean port city, under the banner of the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), a platform just like the discredited IPCC, but with the goal of denying vast areas of the earth from the development needed to feed six billion people and provide the raw materials vital to the energy required for a modern technological society dependent on electricity and on transportation fuels.

The “reason” for this is the alleged extinction of “nearly 26,000 species across the globe.” The list was compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature that purports to count all the mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish in the world to determine how “imperiled” there.

The very idea evokes incredulity. It is laughable and it is impossible. In the same fashion people were told that the global warmers could predict the temperature of the Earth fifty to a hundred years from now, we are expected to believe that all current species are imperiled. Just as humans were blamed for a non-existent rise in the Earth’s temperature, human are blamed on a massive and fictional extinction.
It's really hard to know what to make fun of in his sentiments here. He is stating fact but with a tone of incredulity, and what do you do with that? It's as if he was saying "Liberals want you to believe that some people put mustard on sandwiches, for some sort of 'zesty tang' or 'sharp spice' - depending on the style." In real life, the solution would be to assume a broad fixed grin and back away slowly, but Caruba lives far away in a huddled dark Den of Misinformation, so what to do? It's not like he's making an actual argument.

Consider that, from the earliest forms of life on earth to the existence of present species all have been engaged daily in the act of killing and eating one another. Ruminants that dine on grasses and other vegetation remain the prey for predator species.
This barely even resembles a valid point. So the fact that animals eat other animals means that we shouldn't care if species go extinct?  Sometimes human beings do more than prey on animals, they wipe them out.  We transcend evolutionary niches in some ways, since we occupy ours by will rather than necessity.  A flounder eats and does not pause to consider if it should be eating sustainably; a flounder eats and propagates to the greatest extent it can, and any surpluses or shortcomings are accounted for by the other species surrounding it in the food chain.  Human beings could - if we wanted - wipe many species just out of existence.  For some it would even be spectacularly easy: koalas would take all of a week to eliminate.  But we choose not to do so, because we have unique capacities both for destruction and restraint.

As an example, it's not like it was some evolutionary adaptation by way of natural selection that led to the near-extinction and subsequent revival of the American bald eagle a century ago: human beings were killing them, both directly and through destruction of their environment.  When they stopped killing them, they returned in strength.

Consider that of all the species that ever existed on Earth, 99% are extinct.
Consider that of all the rocks that ever existed on Earth, 99% are not radioactive. Ergo, radioactivity cannot be significant.

Caruba just doesn't understand how thoughts can work together to make a reasonable argument, it seems.  As the joke has it: "How can Al Gore be opposed to carbon emissions when he himself is made out of carbon?"

Billions of dollars that should go to feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and all manner of humanitarian needs will be siphoned off by this new group of United Nations grifters and charlatans for endless “research” grants and, of course, more international meetings to discuss this horrible new crisis.
Strangely, the only time Alan Caruba ever demonstrates concern for the well-being of the hungry and sick is when money goes to the environment. Money goes to nukes, no problem. Unnecessary missile shields, no problem. But by god if you spend hard-earned American tax dollars to save the bald eagle: outrageous!

29 October 2010

Driven by Eternity

Today I read Driven By Eternity, a Christian motivational book. It was good as far as it goes, but it prompted the usual insoluble theological questions as interpreted by a snooty philosophical dilettante (i.e. me).

Such as:

If God were infinitely just, how could he also be infinitely merciful? Either everyone gets exactly what they deserve or some people are given mercy and get a lesser punishment. In the human world, these two virtues are exercised independently (since no one is perfectly just or perfectly merciful) but God claims a maximum of both. It would seem impossible.

How can God's laws be called "eternal"? In the Old Testament he gives all manner of restrictions on people, such as telling them not to eat pork and to sacrifice a dove if you touch a menstruating woman, as well as the Ten Commandments. But in the New Testament he either dismisses all of those or (depending on your view) dismisses some of them: thus few Christians keep kosher. In either case, God apparently changes his mind sometimes.

The problem of punishment again arises when it comes to "eternal justice." No human being can possibly commit an action of infinite gravity, yet all humans are punished with an infinite penalty. In a billion billion years, the world and stars will all be gone - one way or another. All possible consequences of an action will have ended. No matter how many people are murdered or how often you had sex outside of marriage, your villainy will be utterly meaningless. Yet your punishment will continue, for another billion billion years and forever. It's monstrous.

Furthermore, we are expected to have perfect knowledge of the standards of judgment: to be certain a certain sect of Christianity is right. But why Protestantism over Catholicism? Or Christianity over Islam? Inasmuch as I can tell with the best of my knowledge, they all have equal claim to authenticity (which is to say, little to no claim at all). Yet if I choose the wrong one, I'd be condemned to hell for doing something utterly harmless in any other sense, such as denying Muhammad's authenticity as the final prophet or Jesus' divinity as the son of God. It's like being condemned for rolling the wrong numbers on a pair of dice.

The myth of "choice" is also a little irritating. This is the idea that by sinning I am "choosing Hell and rejecting God." But when I take the Lord's name in vain, it is certainly not to choose Hell. It's usually to express anger or another strong emotion. It is another party, God, who would be deciding that my action represented an unintentional choice of which I was unaware. This is as if I offered you two candies, and if you chose the wrong one I hit you with a rock. You're not "choosing the rock and rejecting me," you're picking a kind of candy.

This verse is just asinine: "If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone were to rise from death." (Luke 16:31) I beg to differ.

The author, John Bevere, uses no fewer than six different translations of the Bible, choosing out-of-context verses from among them as he goes along and inserting parenthetical asides in the quotations, in order to get the Bible to say what he wants it to say. Example: "But [like a boxer] I buffer my body [handle it roughly, discipline it by hardships] and subdue it." (Cor 9:27) This prompts me to distrust his integrity. I am reasonably sure you could create and justify almost any message if single snatches of verses from any translation and supplemented by your own insertions were admissible as evidence.

Bevere has questionable judgment. As evidence of near-death experiences (NDEs) he mentions a study by a Dr. Melvin Morse. He studied a group of 133 children; the ones who were critically-ill and had been resuscitated had never had an NDE, but the dozen who had been in accidents, almost drowned, or had heart attacks all had NDEs. This is somehow evidence that NDEs are real. Does this make sense? "Some people had NDEs, so therefore they must be real"? Plus, a closer look at Dr. Morse's actual research reveals that NDEs can be artificially induced: "The pilots were placed in huge centrifuges and spun at tremendous speeds. After they lost consciousness, ... [a pilot typically experienced] leaving his physical body and traveling to a sandy beach, where he looked directly up at the sun. [One] pilot remarked that death is very pleasant." To me this is evidence against the validity of an NDE, but not to John Bevere.

So yeah. Some problems.

28 October 2010

"Susceptibility," by Gary Lutz

This is about two people. It should not have to matter which two. In fact, wherever there are two people, regardless of what everything between them might still be in spite of, this is bound to to be the story in full.

One of them wanted to know where he could buy some of those rubber squares you stick under the feet of furniture, either to protect the finish on the floor or to keep the furniture from sliding away, whichever it was.

That one's my father.

The other one's me.

25 October 2010

Left Behind: Assassins

Read all my reviews of the Left Behind books!
1. Left Behind, 2. Tribulation Force, 3. Nicolae, 4. Soul Harvest,
5. Apollyon, 6. Assassins, 7. The Indwelling, 8. The Mark,
9. Desecration, 10. The Remnant, 11. Armageddon,
12. The Glorious Appearing, and 13. Kingdom Come

In this sixth book, I feel as though the writing and characters have shifted somewhat, perhaps even - dare I say it? - developed. Surprising, I know.

The basic plot is evident from the title, and is spelled out to us often: the Antichrist, Nicolae Carpathia, is fated to die. Who will be the one to kill him? There are three candidates:
  • Rayford Steele, who has suddenly turned into a huge dick in this book. He buys a gun called a "Sabre," and travels to see Carpathia speak, with the intention of shooting him.
  • Hattie Durham, jilted lover of the Antichrist, who manages to smuggle herself from America to the Middle East and then gets into the line-up of the on-stage entertainment at the same Carpathia rally. It is not really explained how Hattie managed this, since she is famously stupid and is known worldwide.
  • Chaim Rosenzseig, the Israeli scientist who is disillusioned with Carpathia.
The book ends on a cliffhanger - Carpathia dies at the rally, but we don't know who really killed him.

But is it really so much of a cliffhanger? It turns out, Chaim has spent months becoming acclimated to a motorized wheelchair and studying the symptoms of a stroke. He has also become obsessed with creating the thinnest and strongest sword imaginable. And two days before the rally, he has a stroke that suddenly consigns him to a wheelchair - so he bypasses the metal detectors.

Is this really a tough one? We're told repeatedly that the Antichrist will be stabbed in the head with a sword. I'm no genius, but it sure seems to me like the one guy in the book with a sword is probably the guy who did it. This is less a cliffhanger and more of a cliff-that-you-descend-in-a-hammock-while-sipping-herbal-tea.

But anyway, the timeline is now almost exactly halfway through the Tribulation period, the time during which God causes massive suffering and death on the planet to try to force - sorry, "convince" - people to convert to Christianity. The population was decreased by something like a billion during the disappearances, give or take, and subsequently has been reduced by a worldwide earthquake, comet impact, massive waves of fire that burn up a third of everything, worldwide poisoning of water, and a dozen or so nuclear strikes during a world war. God has also dimmed the sun and moon by a third and sent a plague of tiny monsters to attack all unbelievers. So it's been an eventful three years, and a third of the population remaining after the Rapture are dead. But it's been fifty pages since a mass slaughter occured, so in Assassins two hundred million magical horsemen appear and start killing people with their enormous snake tails, incinerating them with sulfur, and choking them with smoke. Another 25% of the planet dies.

Because some people have died, openings appear in the Tribulation Force. No one important dies, of course. Even when Amanda, Rayford's new wife, died, we didn't really care. But a lot of people have roles, and those roles have to be filled. For example, originally the "tech guy" was Donny. But Donny died in the earthquake in Tribulation Force. So they brought in Ken. He died. So now there's David Hassid. They each had their little quirks, but by and large they spoke with the same faceless chatter possessed by all of the non-ethnic characters. They buy fancy computers, fancy phones, and so on. Eventually they die.

The other replacement is nurse Leah, who replaces Dr. Floyd, one of the two "brother brothers" (black Christians) in the books so far.

"I'm a fool is all," Floyd said. He sat up, settling directly behind Buck. "I felt this coming on for months, telling myself I was imagining it. When the vision started to go, I should have contacted the Centers for Disease Control. It's too late now."
"I'm not following you."
"Let's just say I figured out what almost killed Hattie. I contracted it from her somehow. In layman's terms, it's like time-released cyanide. Can gestate for months. When it kicks in, you're a goner. If it's what I've got, there'll be no stopping it. I've been treating the symptoms, but that was useless."
NEW WOMEN ALERT! With Loretta and Amanda dead, Chloe safely raising a child and submitting to her husband, and Hattie vanished, they had to introduce a few new women. So which will they be: submissive and quiet or "feminist?"

Well, first we have Leah, the nurse. She is a "feminist," by which I mean she tends to be extremely unpleasant. Witness the following, completely unedited conversation, taking place the day she joins.

Rayford looked pleadingly at her. "Would a tough day be an excuse?"
"I've had one too," she said. "Tell me you're not afraid of me before I turn in."
"I'm not. I'm sorry."
"I am too. Forgive me if I overreacted."
So much for bonding, Rayford thought. "Won't give it another thought."
"You trust me then."
"Yes! Now go to bed and let us do the same. Feel free to use the bathroom before the rest of us."
"You're telling me you trust me."
Rayford could tell even Chloe was losing patience with Leah. "I'm tired, Mrs. Rose. I apologized. I'm convinced. OK?"
"No."
"No?" Chloe said. "I have to get to bed."
"You think I'm blind or stupid or what?" Leah said.
"Excuse me?" Chloe said.
"Where's the shelter?"
Rayford flinched. "You don't want me to be suspicious and now you ask about a shelter?"
"You don't have one?"
"Tell me how you would know to ask."
Leah shook her head. "This is worse than your thinking me subversive. You think I'm daft."
I'd use a different descriptor.

Then there's Annie, who works for and loves Tech Guy #3. She is... well, she apparently is a person. I mean, we're assured that she is and we see her talking and smiling and writing love notes. But this might be some narrative device where all the characters pretend that a block of wood is a real person. It's hard to tell. But she does do as she's told! And she's a riveting storyteller:

"He said, 'What do you call it?'
She said, 'Fearing for my life.'
He said, 'Welcome to the club. I'm a believer too.'
She said, 'But how did you know?'
He said, 'It's written all over you.'
She said, 'But really, how?'
And he said, 'Literally, God wrote it on your forehead.'"

Moving on, we see some more moralizing in this book. The proposition is put forth, undisputed, that the ends justify the means and that anything goes in wartime.

She turned back to Mac as if she had just thought of something. "You have no trouble lying?"
Mac shook his head. "To the Antichrist, you serious? My life is a lie to him. If he had a clue, I'd be tortured. If he thought I knew where Rayford was, or Ray's daughter and son-in-law, I'd be dead."
"The end justifies the means?" Annie said.
Mac shrugged. "I sleep at night. That's all I can tell you."
And:

"Well, I just appropriated a bed and a lot of medicine from the enemy. If you have a problem with that, I'm sorry. I don't. This is war. All's fair, as they say."
"I can't argue with that. But, um, where am I taking you?"
Now, I'm not saying they're wrong here. But this raises a good point, since in addition to these moments, the good guys also have guns and shoot at the bad guys or engage them in hand-to-hand combat with lethal results. Buck killed a guard with a single punch in the last book when rescuing his wife. Rayford seems to have probably killed (or almost killed) another guard in this book, and later starts firing a gun from within a crowd. And there's almost no soul-searching or agonizing about it, except an occasional exclamation or thought: "Rayford hoped he hadn't killed the man." I expect we'll see a lot more tragic repentance in the next book, but at least right now it seems like everyone happily and without thought accepts the idea that violence is justified. What about the fact that those guards are now eternally damned? You'd think the Tribulation Force's certainty that God was guiding events would make them less likely to kill, not more likely.

But anyway, let's talk about the guns for a moment. The authors have long had a fetish for technology, and spend many pages discussing the capabilities of the latest computer or cell phone. The latest iteration of the "Ultimate phone" (as it is called) entails detailed explanation no less than five times over the course of two books. But the discussion of Rayford's new gun leaves the phone fetish in the dust.

Albie said, "This is found in no other handgun. Only in highpowered rifles. It does not cock. It is semiautomatic. You have to pull the trigger anew for each shot, but it will fire off a round as quickly as you can release the trigger and trip it again. It is probably the loudest handgun made, and I recommend something in the ear nearest the weapon. For now, just plug your ear with your other hand."
"I don't see a safety."
"There is none. You simply aim and fire. The rationale behind this piece is that you do not separate the block and produce it unless you intend to shoot it. You do not shoot it unless you intend to destroy what you are shooting. If you shoot at that rock enough times, you will destroy it. If you shoot a person in a kill zone from within two hundred feet, you will kill him. If you hit him in a neutral zone from that same distance, your ammunition will sever skin, flesh, fat, tendon, ligament, muscle, and bone and will pass through the body leaving two holes. Provided you are at least ten feet away, the soft hollow-point shell has time to spread out due to the heat of the firing explosion and the centrifugal force caused by the spinning. Rifling grooves etched inside the barrel induce the spin. The projectile then will be roughly an inch and a half in diameter."
"The bullet spreads into a spinning disk?"
"Exactly. And as I told you on the phone, a man missed by the projectile by two inches from thirty feet away suffered a deep laceration from the air displacement alone. Should you hit someone from between ten feet and two hundred feet, the bullet will leave an exit wound of nearly six inches in diameter, depending on what body part is expelled with it. The thin, jagged, spinning bullet bores through anything in its path, gathers the gore around it like grass in a power-mower blade, and turns itself into a larger object of destruction. During the testing of this weapon a technician was accidentally shot just above the knee from approximately twenty feet away. His leg was effectively amputated, the lower portion attached by a thin ribbon of skin on each side of the knee."
Yikes.

Now, as I said, there has been some shift in the writing. We're given one or two examples of surprisingly decent phrasing. There is even - be still my heart! - an original phrasing!

It was possible he had been exposed already. How could one know? The end of a traitor is like the end of a star: the result is always seen long after the event has taken place.
But of course these remain the exception. Far more often, we get this:

The schemes playing at the edges of his mind were so far afield from the Rayford Steele he thought he was that he could only imagine what Chloe would say. And she knew only the half of it.
Terrible! She can't know "only the half of it" because she doesn't know any of it, because Rayford was just imagining what she might say if he told her! Either she knows it (or the half of it) and you don't need to just imagine what Chloe might say or she doesn't know any of it, much less half! Terrible!

Subtler errors also exist.

She shook her head. "I tried to kill myself. I swallowed everything in the medicine cabinet and made myself violently ill. God must not have wanted me dead, because apparently much of what I ingested countered whatever else I took. I awoke hours later with a horrible headache, stomachache, and rancid taste. I crawled to my purse to find some mints and came across that pamphlet again. Somehow it finally made sense."
Can barely move... must... crawl to purse... for mints. Why... did I fail... so badly... at suicide... even though... I'm a nurse?

But! There's one terrible, stupid, moronic bit of thinking that rivals anything I've ever seen or heard of.  It leaves every previous example in the previous books far behind in idiocy.

Witness:

"In their precious old King James translation the operative verse reads like this: 'And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.'"
"So that's why those two dress in those burlap bags," Fortunato said. "They're trying
to make us think they're these- what did it say? 'Witnesses.'"
At this point it has been 1,200 days into the preaching of the witnesses. That's over three years. The witnesses have personally and repeatedly confronted the Antichrist - the leader of the world - and have preached almost ceaselessly throughout that time, destroying all who approach them. They have continually proclaimed who they are ("candlesticks of the Lord") and what they are doing. They speak almost solely in adapted verses from the Bible. The second-most-prominent man on the planet next to the Antichrist, the leader of the Christians, has explicitly and repeatedly identified them by verse from Revelations.

But the Antichrist's forces are just now - after three years! - realizing these guys claim to be from the Bible. This surpasses any believable stupidity on the part of the characters, and slops right over into being thoroughly believable stupidity on the part of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

22 October 2010

Left Behind: Apollyon

Read all my reviews of the Left Behind books!
1. Left Behind, 2. Tribulation Force, 3. Nicolae, 4. Soul Harvest,
5. Apollyon, 6. Assassins, 7. The Indwelling, 8. The Mark,
9. Desecration, 10. The Remnant, 11. Armageddon,
12. The Glorious Appearing, and 13. Kingdom Come

Let me recap what has actually happened up until now.

Left Behind
Pilot Rayford Steele was thinking about asking out stewardess Hattie Durham, but then the Rapture happens, and his wife and son vanish. He eventually reunites with his daughter, who returns from college. Buck Williams, the journalist, meets Hattie on Rayford's flight and subsequently introduces her to Nicolae Carpathia, a young Romanian politician whose oratory elevates him to the head of the UN. Meanwhile, Rayford has found a pastor in Bruce Barnes, and his daughter Chloe and Buck all join together as the kernel of a new church, calling themselves the "Tribulation Force."

Tribulation Force
Nicolae establishes a world religion and world government based in "New Babylon," with the assistance of his secretary, Hattie Durham. In defiance of this, Rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah, a famous Jewish scholar, has concluded that only Jesus could have been the Messiah, and starts recruiting the 144,000 Jewish converts predicted in Revelation. Two unusual men have appeared at the Wailing Wall, preaching almost continuously and invulnerable to attack. World War III breaks out when some governments revolt against the UN (now "Global Community"), and America in particular is laid waste. Bruce Barnes dies, survived by loyal secretary Loretta. Rayford marries a little-discussed woman named Amanda, and Chloe and Buck marry.

Nicolae
Buck saves Chloe from a wreck caused by the bombing. Tsion must flee persecution and his family is murdered, but he escapes with Buck's help and continues converting hundreds of thousands on the Internet. Hattie is pregnant, but disenchanted with Nicolae. She is thinking about an abortion.
In the end, there is a worldwide earthquake. Loretta and Amanda die.

Soul Harvest
All believers receive a magical symbol on their forehead that identifies them to each other. The witnesses have been turning water to blood and stopping all rain in Israel, and these judgments are followed by flaming hail and two comets - one of which kills a third of the ocean and the other of which turns water everywhere to poison.
Buck rescues Hattie from an abortion clinic and takes her to the temporary condo headquarters of the Tribulation Force, but she has been poisoned. Rayford gets scuba equipment and checks to make sure that Amanda is dead, and dispels suspicions she might have been a plant.

Apollyon
Thousands of believers join Tsion in Jerusalem for a prayer meeting at which Nicolae is humiliated. Tsion flees once more. Hattie loses her child, but survives herself and vows Nicolae's death. Chloe delivers a healthy child.
The sun, moon, and stars all dim to 2/3 of their strength, and demon locusts attack everyone not sealed as a believer.


I knew this would be a long slog, even if these books are short and simple enough to take only a few hours each. But really, it's like reading just one enormous book. Little distinguishes one volume from the next. It's just a continual outpour of banal happenings, frequent phone conversations, and wooden characters.

Here's an one new oddity from Apollyon, this fifth book in the series: for the first time, we get some serious attempts at description. Usually things are expressed in plain and indecorous words, rehashing old phrases. A caper is always a "wacky caper." An Australian calls everyone "mate." But for once the authors fling some seriously evocative phrasing at us. It's an odd choice of moment. You might expect a moving scene of reunion or a thunderous dismissal of evil. But instead the scene that's depicted with such unusual verve is... gross.

The witnesses had not moved. Buck's eyes were locked on them as blinding white light burst from their mouths, and they appeared to expectorate a stream of phosphorous vapor directly at the guards. The attackers had no time to even recoil as they ignited. Their weapons remained supported by the bones of their arms and hands as their flesh was vaporized, and their rib cages and pelvises made ghastly silhouettes against the grass. Within seconds the white heat turned their rifles to dripping, sizzling liquid and their bones to ash.
There are a couple of other moments of bizarre lucidity: when they describe the robes of a priest, when Buck is climbing down from a roof. But they're never the important moments. I can't understand it, but I suppose it's the same creative impulse that drives the authors to spend half of each book on ridiculously trivial bits and then skip past world-crushing disasters in a few sentences. For example, compare the above scene of gruesome incineration with the following description of a miscarriage, bearing in mind that they've been leading up to this miscarriage for fifty pages.

“Soon you won't feel a thing, but you're going to have to push when I tell you.”
Within minutes, Hattie was wracked with powerful contractions. What, Rayford wondered, might the offspring of the Antichrist look like?
The dead baby was so underdeveloped and small that it slipped quickly from Hattie's body. Floyd wrapped it and pieces of the placenta, then handed the bundle to Leah. “Pathology?” she asked.
This is a genuinely important - almost pivotal - moment in the life of one of the major characters, but it's tossed out like a sack of beans.

Or here, look at the complete description of a crazy-huge happening:

With his housemate off at work, Buck stepped out into the morning sunshine. He felt such a longing to be back at the safe house that he nearly wept. He squinted at the brilliance of a cloudless sky and enjoyed the pleasant warmth of a windless day. And suddenly it seemed someone pulled a shade down on the heavens. With the sun still riding high in the clear sky, the morning turned to twilight and the temperature plummeted. Buck knew exactly what it was, of course: the prophecy of Revelation 8:12. The fourth angel had sounded, “and a third of the sun was struck.”
The same would befall a third of the moon and the stars. Whereas the sun shone for around twelve hours every day in most parts of the world, it would now shine no more than eight, and at only two-thirds its usual brilliance.

That's not a summary of the event later. That's how they describe an event of staggering importance and implications. These choices of what to highlight are recurrent and inexplicable.

Moving on, a point on their strategy that has come to mind:

I've noticed that everyone knows everything in these books. That is to say, because the Antichrist has made world communications a priority ("Cellular-Solar"!), everyone on the planet is evangelized. For a while I couldn't understand it... why was so much space being wasted describing how the new communications let everyone in the world watch the broadcasts of the "witnesses" and ubiquitous Net access let everyone communicate Scripture... was it so important it had to be belabored? But I have realized that this serves two purposes: first and most obviously, it gives a mechanism by which the Antichrist can control the world with his crazy-eyes power. Secondly, it does away with the sticky problem of the ignorant damned.

See, for evangelicals like the authors, if you don't accept Jesus as your personal savior, you go to Hell. For people like me, there's no problem there: I know the choice very well, and make a conscious rejection of it. But for people who live in rural China or African tribesman from the sixteenth century, etc., there's a pretty clear problem: they have extremely imperfect or a complete lack of knowledge on the matter. Catholics get by this by citing the scripture that says "My law is written on their hearts;" i.e. if you are ignorant but act morally, you go to Heaven.

But evangelical Protestants (as the authors) usually assert the traditional solas, including sola fide: through faith alone. Martin Luther originally wanted to distinguish this from the Catholic doctrine that called for good works; Luther and other Protestants felt that Jesus' sacrifice on the cross was the only work ever needed for salvation, and a Christian had only to accept that sacrifice and God's salvation for him to be saved from the fires of Hell. But... what about those who didn't hear about Christ?

That's murkier. Some evangelicals feel that they go to Hell. Some agree with the Catholics. But to get away from it and to make the world perfectly just, the authors spend considerable time doing away with the problem altogether: everyone on the planet knows all about what's going on and is given really obvious evidence. So we can feel okay that the ones who don't believe are going to be damned to eternal torment: they should know better. Nifty!

I want to note that I give these books a lot of leeway. I don't question unusual circumstances, improbable events, or the like. I don't ask why the protagonists happen to hear every secret conversation, be taken into the confidence of everyone important, and always manage to slip away from the eight thousand guards searching a bus for them. I recognize that the answer can always reasonably be that Jesus did it. The plot is divinely ordained, and I don't question that. Even when it's asinine (often).

21 October 2010

UC

I don't remember when I learned to read, or the first books I read. In fact I don't remember most of my childhood, and so roots of my love affair with books lie foggy and forgotten.

But I do remember the books. The prized, dear books of my younger days crowd my memory and occasionally my thoughts - I cannot imagine forgetting the stories of warrior animals in Redwall or world-striding giants in BFG. Sometimes I actually am sad that I let so much slide by unnoticed, as absorbed in my books as I was: I had only a few friends and almost never socialized as a boy. I barely remember the Grand Canyon, but I remember what I was reading on the way (The Chocolate War). My ambition was never to climb a huge oak or run the fastest mile, but to finish the immense single-volume Lord of the Rings on my mother's bookshelf.

As I grew and read, I went through different ideas of what I wanted to be when I grew up. Brief flights of fancy ranged from marine biologist (I had read a fascinating story about bathyspheres) to short story author (a recurring desire). But always - always - I took it for granted I would continue to read.  After all, why would I stop or slacken the greatest thing there could be?

It's hard to say which is more true: that I have been drawn to books, or been shaped by them. I always had a delight in pure knowledge of the amazing universe - I used to get books of weird facts and exotic trivia, and then demand gleefully of my patient father whether he knew which plant had the largest leaves in the world or how many ants could be in a swarm of army ants. And I also love analyzing the world and people, picking out what is true or false or indistinct.

But I have been reading for literally as long as I can remember: are these traits what drew me to books, or have the books instilled those attributes in me? It is probably some combination of both, but I could never say for sure.

It was not until I finished the last interesting book in the high school library, partway through my sophomore year, that I decided to make some friends. I vividly remember the day. I closed the book, and returned it to the front desk. The air in the library had a distinct odor of mold and old paper, common in Florida libraries that skimp on dehumidifiers. Then I walked across the school grounds to the cafeteria, and sat down at a table with a group of boys that I knew only slightly. I smiled and began to chat: almost within the week we were friends, and would eventually develop the kind of clique that gets together to rent a limo for prom and relentlessly but good-naturedly picks on each other all the time. And  I started going to the public library more.

I began diving deep into the endless blue classics.  Years spent with books on mythology (especially Edith Hamilton's Mythology) and my time in Latin class, as well as a broad base of general reading, gave me leverage into the more dense materials.  Virgil and Beowulf all crowded in with me, joining the legion of children's characters.

When I went on to university, I took a variety of classes, and settled on sociology. My English classes were the fun ones - more like entertainment than school - but the real work, I thought, would be in a social science. As I explained to relatives at the time, full of pompousness (which has faded only slightly): "I will always be reading, so I should study something else. Why go to school for what I will do anyway?"

I don't know when I realized the flaw in my reasoning; maybe it was during the year away from school that came between my semesters at Wake Forest and resumption at the University of Tampa. But at some point, it occurred to me that I had a passion in life, and it was asinine to try to do anything else. Trying to study something else out of a misguided notion of what was the purpose of university was just a waste of that passion.  Sociology was only an interest.  Literature was my soul.

I wanted to be an English professor.

When I finished college, I made ready to go to graduate school. I was encouraged by all my professors, and given every aid. I took the GREs and got paperwork together. But I wanted to "live life" for a bit, as well. I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with a straight shot through (it's certainly simpler and easier) but I felt then, and still do, that travel broadens a person a bit. The world is very large and very magical, and seeing some of it helps put a little of that magic in you.

All the while and as I traveled and experienced the variety of our planet, I read.  A horde of characters traveled with me.

But I didn't want to wait forever.  I wanted to resume study - and soon. So I was ready to go back to school after one year in Korea, and was all set on the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Well.  It didn't work out. Maybe you know, or maybe you don't, but suffice to say that fourteen cents can change the course of your life if you're not careful.

So I was delayed.  Little daunted, I started to prepare for the next year.  And a year of planning and saving put me back to where I had been: anticipating shipping off to academia.

Imagine my terror when I heard the bad news about a powerful earthquake in the region - and when I heard about damage done to the school. I'm not an emotional guy, and I handle stress extremely well, but... the level of disappointment would have been hard to handle if there had been a serious problem. I had to wait for a month for assessments and my own re-approval.  I waited and badgered them and waited some more.

But finally.  Finally.  Finally.


I am enrolled for the BaH (first year of the Master's program) at UC, admission ad eundem statum with graduate status.

I'm not a religious man - the opposite, truth be told.  And I don't believe in magic or ghosts or anything like that.  So when I say to you that I hear the cheering of Martin of Redwall and the Big Friendly Giant and Theseus and Odysseus and Beowulf and a thousand others, you know it's metaphorical.

But I swear.  I hear it.

20 October 2010

Left Behind: Soul Harvest

Read all my reviews of the Left Behind books!
1. Left Behind, 2. Tribulation Force, 3. Nicolae, 4. Soul Harvest,
5. Apollyon, 6. Assassins, 7. The Indwelling, 8. The Mark,
9. Desecration, 10. The Remnant, 11. Armageddon,
12. The Glorious Appearing, and 13. Kingdom Come

Here is something that happened:

"Listen, Rayford. I know there was a global supernatural earthquake a few hours ago, and that the authors have spent two dozen pages describing the piles of bodies and rubble that are everywhere, and I know that I have a rescue chopper, but it's really important that we discuss your wife right now."

Seriously.

Mac suddenly stepped forward and put both palms on the side of the chopper. His head hung low. Finally, he raised it and turned to face Rayford. "All right, here it is.  Don't forget you made me tell you. . . . Carpathia talks about Amanda like he knows her."
Rayford grimaced and held his hands out, palms up. He shrugged. "He does know her. So what?"
"No! I mean he talks about her as if he really knows her."
"What's that supposed to mean? An affair? I know better than that."
...
"Mac," he said as they strapped themselves into the chopper, "Since we're supposed to be on a rescue mission anyway, would you mind doing a twenty-five-mile circle search?"
"It'd sure be a lot easier during daylight," Mac said. "You want me to bring you back tomorrow?"
"Yeah, but let's do a cursory look right now anyway. If that plane went down anywhere near Baghdad, the only hope of finding survivors is to find them quick."
Yes. "Let's do a cursory look right now." Swell.

The standard of writing continues to be dismal. Here's an example: a quote from the Antichrist, the most persuasive and well-spoken man on the planet whose powers of language will sway the future of the world:

"We will have in place in a few months the first truly global communications network. It is cellular, and it is solar powered. I call it Cellular-Solar."
Let's imagine life if Nicolae Carpathia had named all new technology. We'd take calls on our Talker-Listener. We'd drive to work in our FourWheels-GoesFast. It'd be like everything was named by a stereotypical Native American or a pair of terrible evangelizing authors.

The misogyny continues unabated.

“Forgive her,” Buck said. “She's going through a twenty-two-year-old's bout with political correctness.”
But for the first time, we see a cause behind the marginalizing and objectifying of women:

Don't parent me, Buck. Seriously, I don't have a problem submitting to you because I know how much you love me. I'm willing to obey you even when you're wrong. But don't be unreasonable. And don't be wrong if you don't have to be. You know I'm going to do what you say, and I'll even get over it if you make me miss out on one of the greatest events in history. But don't do it out of some old-fashioned, macho sense of protecting the little woman. I'll take this pity and help for just so long, and then I want back in the game full-time. I thought that was one of the things you liked about me.
Just to recap on the women of the book:
  • Hattie - Pregnant, weeping, and repentant.
  • Verna - Dead.
  • Chloe - Pregnant and quiet after being rescued by Buck. Again.
  • Loretta - Dead.
  • Amanda - Dead.
Ah well. At least they're allowed to wear shoes for now.

We're also treated to some theodicy this time around, with woeful results.

Those who pride themselves on accepting Jesus Christ as a great man, perhaps a god, a great teacher, or one of the prophets, expose themselves as fools. I have been gratified to read many kind comments about my teaching. I thank God for the privilege and pray I will always seek his guidance and expound his truth with care. But imagine if I announced to you that not only am I a believer, but that I am also God himself. Would that not negate every positive thing I have ever taught? It may be true that we should love everyone and live in peace. Be kind to our neighbors. Do unto others as we would have them do unto us. The principles are sound, but is the teacher still admirable and acceptable if he also claims to be God? Jesus was a man who was also God. Well, you say, that is where we differ. You consider him simply a man. If that is all he was, he was an egomaniac or he was deranged or he was a liar. Can you say aloud without hearing the vapidness of it that Jesus was a great teacher except for that business about claiming to be the Son of God, the only way to the Father?
Let me be the first to apologize, on behalf of mankind, to C.S. Lewis. This ham-handed fumbling of his famous "Lunatic, Liar, or Lord" dilemma doesn't do him justice. Lewis was probably the greatest apologist of our age, and such a clumsy theft of one of his most frequently-quoted arguments just makes me cringe. Would it have been so hard to toss in a mention of the source?

(Incidentally, it's a flawed argument: yes, someone's teachings and lessons can be worthwhile even if they puff themselves up into something they're not, or are wrong about other things. The Golden Rule is a good example of a wise teaching of Jesus, even though he was not the Christ.)

I mentioned in my review of Tribulation Force how the authors had no sense of proportion in the events. Countless pages would be spent on minutiae of no significance, and then they'd breezily mention massive crime waves or devastating plagues. Here again is the same thing. Pages and pages are devoted to the exploration of a sunken plane in scuba gear. Yes, one of the main characters is looking for his wife's body, and it could be very sad. But does that really mean they could only spare a single page to mention the collision with Earth of a meteor the size of the entire Appalachian Mountain range? I mean, couldn't we have spared two pages, or even three?

The more than thousand-mile-square mountain, finally determined to consist largely of sulfur, burst into flames upon entry to the atmosphere. It eclipsed the sun, blew clouds out of its path, and created hurricane-force winds between itself and the surface of the sea for the last hour it dropped from the heavens. When it finally resounded on the surface of the deep, geysers, water spouts, and typhoons miles high were displaced, rocketing from the ocean and downing several of the GC planes.
I wish a meteor would have fallen on the authors. But four down, nine to go!

Altruism and the Mechanism Behind Reciprocity

There's a great column by Judith Lichtenburg in the Opinionator about altruism, which has especial bearing on ethical reciprocity.

[D]oubting altruism is easy, even when it seems at first glance to be apparent. It’s undeniable that people sometimes act in a way that benefits others, but it may seem that they always get something in return — at the very least, the satisfaction of having their desire to help fulfilled. Students in introductory philosophy courses torture their professors with this reasoning. And its logic can seem inexorable.
...
The logical lure of egoism is different: the view seems impossible to disprove. No matter how altruistic a person appears to be, it’s possible to conceive of her motive in egoistic terms. On this way of looking at it, the guilt Mr. Autrey would have suffered had he ignored the man on the tracks made risking his life worth the gamble. The doctor who gives up a comfortable life to care for AIDS patients in a remote place does what she wants to do, and therefore gets satisfaction from what only appears to be self-sacrifice. So, it seems, altruism is simply self-interest of a subtle kind.
...
Common sense tells us that some people are more altruistic than others. Egoism’s claim that these differences are illusory — that deep down, everybody acts only to further their own interests — contradicts our observations and deep-seated human practices of moral evaluation.

At the same time, we may notice that generous people don’t necessarily suffer more or flourish less than those who are more self-interested. Altruists may be more content or fulfilled than selfish people. Nice guys don’t always finish last.

But nor do they always finish first. The point is rather that the kind of altruism we ought to encourage, and probably the only kind with staying power, is satisfying to those who practice it. Studies of rescuers show that they don’t believe their behavior is extraordinary; they feel they must do what they do, because it’s just part of who they are.

In ethical reciprocity, you do to other people what you would want them to do to you, because it makes your life better. You don't kill people, because you wouldn't want to be killed and you don't want to live in a society where that would be okay. In practice, it also works out in a democratic sort of way: we pass laws to outlaw various things the majority thinks they wouldn't want done to them. It's a profoundly simple rule that gets extremely complex in practice, and it hinges on a knowledge that altruism can be essentially selfish.

I never mind discussing religion; in fact, I think it is intensely interesting and am always looking to find out new points of view or problems. But occasionally I will be evangelized by someone who is not interested in discussion, only in persuasion. That's fine: I don't actually mind that, either. But inevitably, the question comes: "If there's no God, then everyone could do what they want. No one would have any morals."

Well, ethical reciprocity is the basis for my morals - the method by which I have sorted out what is right and wrong in life. I also happen to think it's the best way, although I admit that there are many internally valid alternate systems: justice as fairness ("you are everyone"), negative utilitarianism ("minimize harm for all"), or even divine deontology ("God said so"). And I would actually argue that the functioning and essential kernel of almost all ethical schools is reciprocity; recently I presented a collection of statements of reciprocity throughout the ages.

I'm glad to see discussion of altruism and reciprocity as separated from religion. This can only lead to good things.

18 October 2010

Currently Reading...

List started halfway through 2010.  With few exceptions, academic reading is excluded.

The French Revolution, Thomas Carlyle
Edie Sedgewick, George Plimpton
Moral Calculations: Game Theory, Logic, and Human Frailty, by Laszlo Mero
Mathematics: From the Birth of Numbers, Jan Gullberg
Cryptography: Theory and Practice, Douglas R. Stinson
The Dots-and-Boxes Game, Elwyn Berlekamp
Game Theory: a Nontechnical Introduction, Morton D. Davis
Ghostopolis, Doug TenNapel
Three Shadows, Cyril Pedrosa
Stitches, David Small
Are You My Mother?, Alison Bechdel
Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
The Road, Cormac McCarthy
Feed, M.T. Anderson
The Circle, Dave Eggers
Global Catastrophic Risks, ed. Nick Bostrom
The Man Who Knew Infinity, Robert Kanigel
Enhancing Human Capacities, ed. Julian Savulescu
The Design of Everyday Things, Donald Norman
The Kingdom of God Is Within You, Leo Tolstoy
Uglies, Scott Westerfield
A People's History of the World, Chris Harman
The Illuminatus! Trilogy, Robert Shea and Anton Wilson
Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty
The Two-Year Emperor, "EagleJarl"
Worm, J. McCrae
The ABC Murders, Agatha Christie
The Wagnerian Romances, Gertrude Brownell
The Lone Samurai, William Scott Wilson
Life in a Medieval Village, Joseph and Frances Gies
Blue Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson
The Way of Heaven, Rodney L. Taylor
The Confucian Way of Contemplation, Rodney L. Taylor
A Manual of Chinese History, Endymion Wilkinson
Eugene Onegin, Alexander Pushkin (trans. Vladimir Nabokov)
Green Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson
What Painting Is, James Elkins
Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson
The Surgeon's Mate, Patrick O'Brian
The Fortune of War, Patrick O'Brian
The Better Angels of Our Nature, Stephen Pinker
Ulysses, James Joyce
11/22/63, Stephen King
Allegiant, Veronica Roth
Insurgent, Veronica Roth
Divergent, Veronica Roth
The Oxford History of English, ed. Lynda Mugglestone
Water Margin, Shui Hu Zhuan
Desolation Island, Oatrick O'Brian
Death at La Fenice, Donna Leon
Farm City, Novella Carpenter
Collecting Houses, Anne W. Baker
Collected Fiction, Jorge Luis Borges
The Strategy of Conflict, Thomas Schelling
Pax Romana, Jonathan Hickman
What the Dog Saw, Malcolm Gladwell
The Everyday Language of White Racism, Jane Hill
The Eisenhorn Trilogy, Dan Abnett
The Works of Mencius, Mencius
Lays of Ancient Rome, Thomas Macauley
My Friend Leonard, James Frey
Contemporary Confucian Political Philosophy, Stephen Angle
Confucianism As a World Religion, Anna Sun
The Analects of Confucius, by Confucius (trans. Arthur Waley)
Life in a Medieval Village, Frances and Joseph Gies
Brutus, Voltaire
When We Were Orphans, Kazuo Ishiguro
The Wedding of Zein, Tayeb Salih
The Mauritius Command, Patrick O'Brian
H.M.S. Surprise, Patrick O'Brian
Bright Shiny Morning, James Frey
The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson
Post Captain, Patrick O'Brian
Master and Commander, Patrick O'Brian
State of Fear, Michael Crichton
Confessions of a Sociopath, M.E. Thomas
Two States, Chetan Bhagat
The Complete Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson
Just Kids, Patti Smith
Arabian Nights, Richard Burton
Dark Tide, Stephen Puleo
City of Djinns, William Dalrymple
Live and Let Die, Ian Fleming
War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy (trans. Anthony Briggs)
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
Five Point Someone, Chetan Bhagat
The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
One Night @ the Call Center, Chetan Bhagat
Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler
The Alchemist, Paolo Coehlo
The Bear, William Faulkner
The Pilgrim Hawk, Glenway Wescott
Noon Wine, Katherine Porter
The Overcoat, Nikolai Gogol (trans. Constance Garnett)
Billy Budd, Herman Melville
The Dead, James Joyce
Dharma Bums, Jack Kerouac
The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate
The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Means of Ascent
The Years of Lyndon Johnson: the Path to Power
Reamde, Neal Stephenson
Labyrinths, Jorge Luis Borges
The Use and Abuse of Literature, Marjorie Garber
River God, Wilbur Smith
Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
Proof of Heaven, Eben Alexander
Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver
A Cook's Tour, Anthony Bourdain
The Life of Galileo, Bertold Brecht
Railsea, China Mieville
We Will Not Cease, Archibald Baxter
If You Ask Me, Betty White
Niue: Island of Love, Richmond Lisimoni
The Bone People, Keri Hulme
Out, Katsuo Kirino
Annie Proulx, Bird Cloud
Howl and Other Poems, Allen Ginsberg
Ariel and Other Poems, Sylvia Plath
How Late It Was, How Late, James Kelman
A Doll's House and Other Plays, Henrik Ibsen
The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie
Hilarity Ensues, Tucker Max
Moneyball, Michael Lewis
John's Story, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
Rob Roy, Sir Walter Scott
A Year in Korea, David R. Wellens
Eros the Bittersweet, Anne Carson
Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry
Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
No Bone Left Unturned, Jeff Benedict
Fabliaux Fair and Foul, trans. John DuVal
The Chronicles of Clovis, Saki
Reginald in Russia, Saki
Reginald, Saki
Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson
The Aquariums of Pyongyang, Kang Chol Hwan
The Turner Diaries, William Luther Pierce
This Is Herman Cain!, Herman Cain
Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder
Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne
Fifty Shades of Grey, E.L. James
Last Chance to See, Douglas Adams
Nigger, Randall Kennedy
Arguably, Christopher Hitchens
Father Brown Stories, G.K. Chesterton
The Overton Window, Glenn Beck
The Post-American Presidency, Pamela Gellar
How to Write a Sentence, Stanley Fish
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Eliezar Yudkowsky
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Phillip Pullman
Napoleon, Paul Johnson
The Ambassadors, Henry James
Push, Sapphire
The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander
Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua
1491, Charles Mann
Five Moral Pieces, Umberto Eco
A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis
Sophie's World, Jostein Gaarder
Taoism: the Enduring Tradition, Russell Kirkland
The Bloodless Revolution, Tristram Stuart
Tamerlane, or Timur the Great Amir, Ahmed Ibn Arabshah
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace
Betrayal of the Spirit: Nori J. Muster
Executive Orders, Tom Clancy
The Way of Zen, Alan Watts
Tarnsman of Gor, John Norman
Tamerlane, Justin Marozzi
Teacher Man, Frank McCourt
The System of the World, Neal Stephenson
The Confusion, Neal Stephenson
Thank You for Smoking, Christopher Buckley
The Big Short, Michael Lewis
Preface to Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson
William Morris by Himself, Gillian Naylor
Quicksilver, Neal Stephenson
Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser
A Complete Guide to Heraldry, A.C. Fox-Davies
Where Men Win Glory, Jon Krakaeur
Health, John Brown
The Bedwetter, Sarah Silverman
The Coffee Trader, David Liss
Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, James Shapiro
Cleopatra: A Life, Stacy Schiff
Daisy Miller, Henry James
Mezzanine, Nicholson Baker
Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi
Mud, Sweat, and Tears, Bear Grylls
The Life and Times of Michael K., J.M. Coetzee
World War Z, Max Brooks
Piercing the Darkness, Frank Peretti
A Study of Vermeer, Edward Snow
John Everett Millais, Christine Riding
The Romantic Manifesto, Ayn Rand
Animals Make Us Human, Temple Grandin
Room, Emma Donoghue
Your Call Is Important to Us, Laura Penny
Squirrel Meets Chipmunk, David Sedaris
Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert
A Manual of Buddhism, Narada Maha Thera
90 Minutes in Heaven, Don Piper
Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges
Maxims, François de La Rochefoucauld (trans. J.W. Bund)
The Year of Living Biblically, A.J. Jacobs
My Horizontal Life, Chelsea Handler
A Stolen Life, Jaycee Lee Dugard
Melville: His World and Work, Andrew Delbanco
Stuff White People Like, Christian Lander
On the Nature of Things, Lucretius
The Help, Kathryn Stockett
A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin
Season of Migrations to the North, Tayeb Salih
Ocean Roads, James George
An Object of Beauty, Steve Martin

Heaven Is for Real, Todd Burpo
Freedom, Jonathan Franzen
The Life of Samuel Johnson, John Boswell
Lady Oracle, Margaret Atwood
Consider the Lobster and Other Essays, David Foster Wallace
Assholes Finish First, Tucker Max
Dirty Sexy Politics, Meghan McCain
The Know-It-All, A.J. Jacobs
The Rainmaker, John Grisham

Fatal Revenant, Stephen Donaldson
John Dies at the End, David Wong
The World Without Us, Alan Weisman
The White Earth, Andrew McGahan

Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakaeur
Hard Times, Charles Dickens
The Confidence Man, Herman Melville
I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, Tucker Max
Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Interstellar Pig, William Sleator
A Million Little Pieces, James Frey

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Vladimir Nabokov
Into the Wild, Jon Krakaeur
The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan
Bossypants, Tina Fey
Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, Edgar Rice Burroughs
Son of Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs
Eugene Onegin, Alexander Pushkin
Return of Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs
Invitation to a Beheading, Vladimir Nabokov
Timon of Athens, William Shakespeare
Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
Tarzan of the Apes, Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Jew of Malta, Christopher Marlowe
Nabokov and His Fiction, Julian Collony ed.
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Douglas Adams
John Carter of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs

The Valla-Ljots Saga, Anonymous
Mushrooms and Toadstools in New Zealand, Marie Taylor
A Field Guide to the Edible Plants of New Zealand, Andrew Crowe

Coonardoo, Katharine Pritchard
Vladimir Nabokov: the Russian Years, Brian Boyd
Christopher Marlowe, Philip Henderson
The Spanish Tragedy, Thomas Kyd
Tamburlaine the Great, Part Two, Christopher Marlowe
Tamburlaine the Great, Part One, Christopher Marlowe
The Wisdom Books, Robert Alter
Bend Sinister, Vladimir Nabokov
Titus Andronicus, William Shakespeare
The Return of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle
This Present Darkness, Frank Peretti
Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov
Tarlton's Jests, Anonymous
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle
Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, Doris Pilkington
Henry V, William Shakespeare
The Famous Victories of Henry V, Anonymous

Obasan, Joy Kogawa
Zadig, Voltaire
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
King Leir, Anonymous
King Lear, William Shakespeare

The Runes of the Earth, Stephen R. Donaldson
The Bin Ladens, Steve Coll
The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
Colonel Roosevelt, Edmund Morris
Mostly Harmless, Douglas Adams
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Douglas Adams

Life, the Universe and Everything, Douglas Adams
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
Accordion Crimes, Annie Proulx
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Tom Robbins

A Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Mecca, Sir Richard Francis Burton
Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Lord Byron
Microserfs, Douglas Copeland
Sons and Lovers, D.H. Lawrence
Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis

Black Hawk Down, Mark Bowden
Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins
Broke, Glenn Beck
Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Quiet American, Graham Greene
Redburn, Herman Melville
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
Baudolino, Umberto Eco
Catch Me If You Can, Frank Abagnale
Lolita, Vladimir Nabakov

Brother One Cell, Cullen Thomas
The World Before Man, Margaret Atwood
Cato, Joseph Addison
Country Driving, Peter Hessler
Casino Royale, Ian Fleming
Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett
Bartleby the Scrivener, Herman Melville
Overqualified, Joey Comeau
Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow
The Postman, David Brin
Technology: a World History, James McClellan
The Game, Neil Strauss
The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch
Breakfast at Tiffany's, Truman Capote.
The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester.
The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Michael Chabon
Utopia, Sir Thomas More
Seize the Day, Saul Bellow

The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood
Bend Sinister, Vladimir Nabakov

Zombie Survival Guide, Max Brooks
The Sunset Limited, Cormac McCarthy
Still Life with Woodpecker, Tom Robbins
Cyropaedia, Xenophon
America By Heart, Sarah Palin
Kingdom Come, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
Power of Babel, John McWhorter
The Library of Babel, Jorge Luis Borges
Nikolski, by Nicolas Dickner
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, Wayne Johnston
Chinese Thought, Herrlee G Creel
Howl's Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones
Decision Points, George W. Bush
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle
Glorious Appearing, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
Armageddeon, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins

All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy
The Remnant, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut
Me Talk Pretty Some Day, David Sedaris
Goblin Market and Other Poems, Christina Rosetti
Desecration, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair, William Morris
The Sign of the Four, Arthur Conan Doyle
Food Rules, Michael Pollan.
A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle
God Is, David Adam Richards

So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore, Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman
An Anthropologist on Mars, Oliver Sacks
Liberal Fascism, Jonah Goldberg
Home to Harlem, Claude McKay
Eating the Dinosaur, Chuck Klosterman
The Mark, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
Hell's Angels, Hunter S. Thompson
King Henry IV Part One, William Shakespeare
Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
The Gum Thief, Douglas Coupland
Agincourt, Henry V, and the Battle That Made England, Juliet Barker

Driven by Eternity, John Bevere
Stories in the Worst Way, Gary Lutz
The Indwelling, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, David Sedaris
A Dream of John Ball and the King's Lesson, William Morris
The Defence, Vladimir Nabakov

Welcome to the Monkey House, Kurt Vonnegut
Assassins, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins

Cities of the Plain, Cormac McCarthy
Chants for Socialists, William Morris
Animal Farm, George Orwell
95 Theses, Martin Luther

Apollyon, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
Soul Harvest, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan
Nicolae, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
The Tempest, William Shakespeare
Tribulation Force, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
Old Poems of Korea: Shijo and Hanshi, Kim Yong Nahg
Timon of Athens, William Shakespeare
Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, Richard Feynman
Left Behind, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco
Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert
Solar, Ian McEwan
Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
Perfume, Patrick Suskind
A Companion to Arthurian Literature, Helen Fulton
The Color Purple, Alice Walker
Dexter in the Dark, Jeff Lindsay
Dearly Devoted Dexter, Jeff Lindsay
Darkly Dreaming Dexter, Jeff Lindsay
All Together Dead, Charlaine Harris
Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson
Art and Socialism, William Morris
Child of God, Cormac McCarthy
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Shunryu Suzuki
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson
On Heroes and Hero-Worship, Thomas Carlyle
Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
The Human Stain, Philip Roth
The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren
Journey to the West, Wu Cheng-En
Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis
Dharma Bums, Jack Keruoac
Watership Down, Richard Adams
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks
Band of Brothers, Stephen Ambrose
The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein
Three Soldiers, John Dos Passos
Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain
The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown
Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, Tom Robbins
Pnin, Vladimir Nabakov
Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabakov
Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, Stieg Larrson
The Girl Who Played with Fire, Stieg Larrson
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larrson
The Book of Tea, Okakura Kakuzo
Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
Right Ho, Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse
My Man Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
Life Is Elsewhere, Milan Kundera
Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe
The Pat Hobby Stories, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott
The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
Beowulf, the Monsters, and the Critics, J.R.R. Tolkien
The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood
Globish, Robert McCrum
Tender Is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx
The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
Blindness, José Saramago
Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
Suttree, Cormac McCarthy
The Shipping News, Annie Proulx
Essays And Sketches of Mark Twain, Mark Twain
Walden, Thoreau
A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller
I Will Fear No Evil, Robert Heinlein
A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin
A Feast for Crows, George R.R. Martin
A Storm of Swords, George R.R. Martin
A Clash of Kings, George R.R. Martin
Collected Poems: 1910-1918, T.S. Eliot
I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
Time Enough for Love, Robert Heinlein
Diary, Chuck Palahniuk
The Gap Into Vision: Forbidden Knowledge, Stephen R. Donaldson
The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, Robert Heinlein
Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein
The Gap Into Conflict: the Real Story, Stephen R. Donaldson
Breaking Dawn, Stephanie Meyer
Eclipse, Stephanie Meyer
Moby Dick, Herman Melville
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Robert Heinlein
No Logo, Naomi Klein
New Moon, Stephanie Meyer
Demian, Herman Hesse
Possum Living, Dolly Freed
Twilight, Stephanie Meyer
The Napoleonic Empire, Geoffrey Ellis
Temple of the Winds, Terry Goodkind
The Antichrist, Friedrich Nietzsche
Blood of the Fold, Terry Goodkind
Stone of Tears, Terry Goodkind
Wizard's First Rule, Terry Goodkind
Under the Dome, Stephen King
The Book of Five Rings, Musashi Miyamoto
King Solomon's Mines, H. Rider Haggard
Ringworld, Larry Niven
Intercourse, Andrea Dworkin
Areopagitica, John Milton
Anabasis, Xenophon
George Washington, Theodore Cabot Lodge
The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Lou Guang-zhong
Sea of Silver Light, Tad Williams
Mountain of Black Glass, Tad Williams
River of Blue Fire, Tad Williams
City of Golden Shadow, Tad Williams
Garden of Eden, Ernest Hemingway
Lady Chatterley's Lover, D.H. Lawrence
The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer
Tender Buttons, Gertrude Stein
Three Men in a Bummel, Jerome K. Jerome
Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome
The Code of Honor, John Lyde
The History of Napoleon, John Gibson

17 October 2010

Left Behind: Nicolae

Read all my reviews of the Left Behind books!
1. Left Behind, 2. Tribulation Force, 3. Nicolae, 4. Soul Harvest,
5. Apollyon, 6. Assassins, 7. The Indwelling, 8. The Mark,
9. Desecration, 10. The Remnant, 11. Armageddon,
12. The Glorious Appearing, and 13. Kingdom Come

People are behaving inexplicably!

Example: Earl is Rayford's boss at Pan-Con airline. More than a year ago, they had a series of arguments over Rayford's new religion: Earl thought Rayford was being a fanatic and that Nicolae Carpathia - the Antichrist - was great. Subsequently, Rayford became the pilot of Nicolae's new plane (Nicolae was bizarrely involved in staffing issues for his plane) and Earl drops out of the story for a while. We later find out that Earl has been working on a new kind of plane for Nicolae, called the Condor.

Okay, that's all good. But it turns out that Earl has installed a secret system on the intercom on the new plane so that the pilot can secretly listen in to anyone speaking in the cabin of the plane.

Earl had no interest in serving God, at least not yet, but whatever motivated him to do Rayford this favor, Rayford was glad.
Then immediately Earl is killed. It is never explained why a fan of the most powerful guy on the planet would risk his job and his life (not to mention the jobs and lives of the technicians who did the work) to install a spy system like this.

Another example: Rayford is flying the Antichrist's plane, and won't crash it. Even after Nicolae nukes most major American cities and slaughters millions. Why don't you kill the Antichrist, Rayford?

It wouldn't have bothered Rayford to crash and kill himself along with the Antichrist, but he didn't want to be responsible for innocent lives, particularly that of his own wife.
Is this really how anyone would think? The most evil human being who will ever live - a man you know for certain has murdered millions of people and will continue to do so, a man who is the paragon of all that is evil - and you won't crash the plane? I'm sorry to Godwin this here, but if Hitler was on a plane the eve of Kristalnacht, and I knew the future, I would willingly die if he would die as well, and I like to think any of my good friends or girlfriend would agree. Crash that sucker - at least make Satan work for it.

And the action scenes!

"When we get to whatever roadblock they have for us at the airport, we have to make a quick decision. I need you to pour all those gas containers into the one big water bucket, the one that's wide open at the top. I'll have the cigarette lighter hot and ready to go. ... I'm going to pull the wheel hard to the left and slam on the brakes. That will make the back end swing around into the roadblock and anything loose will slide to the back door. You must put that bucket of gasoline in the aisle about eight feet from the back door, and when I give you the signal, toss that cigarette lighter into it. It needs to be just enough ahead of the collision so it's burning before we hit."

"I do not understand! How will we escape that?"

"If the roadblock is impenetrable, it's our only hope! When that back door blows open and that burning gasoline flies out, we have to be hanging on up here with all our might so we don't get thrown back into it. While they're concentrating on the fire, we jump out the front and run toward the jet. Got it?"
Just read that plan, and treasure it. Hold it to your heart, and cradle it. It is too precious a thing to just dismiss by pointing out that a bucket of gasoline does not sit and burn quietly but explodes into flames, or asking why the bucket will magically fly straight out onto the bad guys instead of just sloshing burning gasoline all over them. No, this is a special kind of stupid that must be nurtured and cherished, for this is the Worst Fucking Plan Ever. Mark your memory, for you will not see its like.

Of course, it works. But even the authors admit this is only because God is suspending all common sense and physical laws. Yahweh's probably up there going, "Really, guys? That's your plan? You can't make it a little easier on me?" There's probably all kinds of paperwork associated with dropping the laws of fluid dynamics.

Another thing that's unfortunate with Left Behind is the misogyny of these books. I'd been letting it slide, since I'm generally suspicious of such claims, but it's as plain as the nose on your face by this third book. There are only a few female characters, and they're all stereotypical idiots or relegated to background roles.
  • Hattie - This flight attendant is fooled by the Antichrist, and becomes his secretary and eventually his fiancé. She is painted as a naive idiot who takes great pleasure in petty games. Around her, there's a whole lot of "Rayford smiled tolerantly." and "Buck sighed. If only she knew." Eventually she sees the light, of course, so I expect she will accordingly become a much more minor character, since in these books Christian women are usually neither seen nor heard.
  • Chloe - This is the biggest female character, and the daughter of one of the protagonists, Rayford Steele. She is a pseudo-feminist, in the sense that she has the attitudes of an awkward caricature. She doesn't want to clean or so any other typical woman stuff, she announces stand-offishly. She soon converts to Christianity and marries the other protagonist, Buck. At that moment, she ceases to be a character and becomes an accessory - someone for Buck and Rayford to worry about and take care of.
  • Loretta - An older woman in the church, she's just happy to be of service. And she says "y'all." Earthy!
  • Verna - A horribly stereotyped "female boss," she is vicious and spiteful in her treatment of Buck. Buck magnanimously avoids humiliating her, and eventually she converts to being nice in the face of a tragedy. She ceases to be a person immediately.
  • Amanda - Rayford's new wife. She is a smile and a name, and nothing more. About her only act of independent thought is to be indignant that the Antichrist pretends not to know her name. She admits her pride and Rayford laughs with her indulgently.
The writing continues to be terrible, with the best of it coming during the evangelical parts. This makes sense. There is real and deep feeling behind the parts about the burden of being Christian and how much God loves us. Alas, those are the only parts with feeling or art to them.

"I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your sacrifice, for your protection. I appreciate also your sympathy and your prayers. This is very hard for me. In my flesh, I would rather not go on. Part of me very much wants to die and to be with my wife and children. Only the grace of God sustains me. Only he keeps me from wanting to avenge their deaths at any price. I foresee for myself long, lonely days and nights of dark despair. My faith is immovable and unshakable, and for that I can only thank the Lord. I feel called to continue to try to serve him, even in my grief. I do not know why he has allowed this, and I do not know how much longer he will give me to preach and teach the gospel of Christ. But something deep within me tells me that he would not have uniquely prepared me my whole life and then allowed me this second chance and used me to proclaim to the world that Jesus is Messiah unless he had more use for me."

Three down. Ten more to go! Yeah, that's right: there are thirteen of these goddamn books. Yeesh.