29 November 2010

Nightmare

I don't ordinarily blog about my dreams, mostly because I very seldom dream. Yes, I know it's actually that I seldom remember them, but shut up. Usually only every two months or so I'll have a dream. And almost never a nightmare. But last night - well, it was a doozy. I woke up from it, terrified and sweating.

This might be disturbing, so if you frighten easily, skip it.

As dreams frequently do, this one began in the middle of things. I was in a small apartment - a few rooms and a staircase to a basement. And I knew that beyond the doors was nothing. When I put my fingers to the wall, I could feel the emptiness just on the other side. Even more than empty, the world beyond this white-walled humdrum apartment seemed hollow. It was like reality had been scraped clean and raw and open, and the apartment set down into the aching black hole.

I wasn't alone. A pinched-looking woman lived there as well. I don't recall much about her beyond her slightly grating manner and dirty blonde hair. She wasn't so bad, and I knew in that dream way of background knowledge that we mostly got along.

Sometimes we would go down the short staircase to the basement - or rather the basement door, since there was no basement. The room was a sort of manipulated falsehood, recrafted on every visit into a new place by someone outside the apartment.

Yes, there were people outside. Not really people, though, since they mostly left an impression of strong arms and powerful hands, knotted with whipcords of muscle and mottled a light green. They had busy hands, out there in the hollow emptiness, wringing them ceaselessly and touching the outsides of the apartment. And they would remake the basement room when it needed to be other places. We might go down there and find a restaurant or a soccer stadium or whatever else. It was usually unpleasant.

One day I was walking up from the basement, unhappy with the experience. I knew that I'd fled there to escape the presence of my female companion, but I now saw my foolishness and felt ill-used by the basement room. I don't know where it had taken me, but it had been unpleasant.

As I walked up the stairs, I saw a bottle of pills. It was empty, and the label indicated that they were prescribed to be taken as needed in case of terror. When you were terrified and you had screamed yourself hoarse and buried your fingernails into the flesh of your face, you were supposed to take one. I knew this - I suppose it said it on the label.

The bottle was empty, and I knew this was bad. Maybe an overdose, or maybe it just meant that there would now be no relief from terror. But I brandished it at my sallow companion, whose eyes widened as she hurled a bitter reply at me. We traded barbs, and I tried to express my total contempt for her in the harshest way I could, my words dripping with sarcasm and disgust. I don't know what we said to each other, since the phrases seemed less important than the emotion behind them. They blistered.

Finally the woman hurled up her hands in the air and stormed off towards the front door to the apartment. I remember this part the most clearly: it was crisp and distinct, and all remnant of that dream-fog that sometimes disguises the vagueness of a lazy imagination fell away. Everything was defined and sharp as the woman reached for the doorknob.

This was horrifying. I couldn't let her open the door, because the results would be so terrible that I knew my life would descend into a hell beyond compare. Even as her hand closed around the doorknob, I bolted towards her, shouting for her to stop. But of course it was too late.

As soon as she touched the doorknob, the door opened a few inches. Maybe four inches. The woman jerked and started in place, leaning forward. I froze. And terrible green hands gently took hold of the woman's head. She shuddered as she was drawn slightly forward, until her head was outside and out of my line of sight. Out in the emptiness.

Her body juttered and shook, and I heard a wet-dry snapping sound. The sound was the central experience of the whole dream, and I have thought about it, and that was the sound: it was the sound of something dry crackling and loosing droplets of liquid, like a handful of raw pasta wet down and then twisted between two terrifying hands. The green hands were doing something with their strong fingers.

Then the door swung open, and the woman's body fell into pieces, thick chunks of limb and sections of torso collapsing into a bloodless tumble. And her head dropped from the hands and rolled towards me, screaming now. The head shrieked and I knew the woman could still feel and would always feel. And I saw the hands at the door, still only the hands emerging from that black hollowness, and they twisted and wrung against each other with terrible fingers, and the woman screamed, and I stood there in horror and knew that it would never change and I was there.

Then I woke up.

26 November 2010

Left Behind: Glorious Appearing

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



Wow. Well, we're finally here at the twelfth book. It's been a long and difficult road.

Glorious Appearing continues where Armageddon left off, right at the climactic battle. The Antichrist is attacking the Jews in Jerusalem and the believers in Petra. Then Jesus shows up and saves the day, punishing the wicked and rewarding (sort of) the good.

And that's the book.

Nothing unexpected happens, because nothing unexpected could happen. I guess there's some question about when the Great White Throne Judgment will occur, but unless you have a deep interest in Christian eschatology, you are going to be quite bored with just watching them arrange events. This is particularly so because the sequence of events is utterly meaningless. Who cares in what order people will be judged, or how long Jesus will take to consecrate a new temple? It has no bearing on the story and no bearing on our lives, and it's not even particularly philosophically interesting.

Even further cutting down on the interesting content, and perhaps in deference to the authors' own slackening creative powers, a huge amount of this book is direct quotation from scripture or other sources. When Jesus wants to reassure someone, it's always "I am the stone the builders rejected." Jesus really likes to repeat himself. And at one point the authors just cut-and-paste in the whole of a sermon by S.M. Lockridge, breaking in only to describe how each new paragraph is received by the audience.

But despite the dearth of original material, there are still some serious problems in Glorious Appearing. Let's talk about two general problems, and then we'll get the incredibly bizarre storyline and some strange quotes.


Drama?

When you're writing a book, you often try to create some drama. The reader might not know what's going to happen, and they might dread bad things happening to the protagonists they've come to love. We want to see the hero rewarded for his efforts, and the villain punished. But this feeling of participation in the drama can't happen in this book. There are several reasons:

  • We don't care much about the characters, who are wooden, stereotyped, or impossible to relate to. It doesn't matter very much to us if they succeed or all die.
  • Any possible danger is negated by the continuous intercession of an omnipotent deity, who leaves no doubt as to the rules of his intervention. If you leave Petra, you can be shot. So they all pretty much stay there, and we know they're invulnerable there.
  • In previous books, there was a chance the characters might suffer setbacks or injury.  Now Jesus protects and heals everyone on the planet.
  • The crazy one-sidedness of the conflict makes us sympathetic more to the poor mortals that constitute the villainous Global Community.

Better writers than these authors have had the same difficulty, and have discovered that you can compensate for some of these problems. If you can't make your audience shiver with dread, you can make them tingle with awe. That's really all you can do, actually, in a situation where God Almighty is a character. The Prime Mover and King of Kings is bopping about righting every wrong and punishing every evil, so to involve your audience you have to try to make them feel some of the awesome power and humility experienced by the characters in the face of this immensity.

The authors fail. They are at their most descriptive when relating how the enemies burst apart in showers of blood. The awe of a character, on the other hand, is most often expressed by, "He was overcome with awe." The might and glory of a living deity is described in terms usually just taken directly from scripture, never in a way that makes us feel anything new.

Compare these two excerpts. The first is from when Jesus is striking down the bad guys in Jerusalem:


The riders not thrown leaped from their horses and tried to control them with the reins, but even as they struggled, their own flesh dissolved, their eyes melted, and their tongues disintegrated. As Rayford watched, the soldiers stood briefly as skeletons in now-baggy
uniforms, then dropped in heaps of bones as the blinded horses continued to fume and rant and rave.

See, there's some pretty vivid description right there. It's a little brief for such a shocking image, but that could be purposeful. But here's the whole of the description of Jesus and the divine armies at their first appearance.


Jesus' eyes shone with a conviction like a flame of fire, and He held His majestic head high. He wore a robe down to the feet so brilliantly white it was incandescent and bore
writing, something in a language wholly unfamiliar to Rayford and something else he easily understood. On His robe at the thigh a name was written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. Jesus was girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow. His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace. Jesus had in His right hand seven stars, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. The armies of heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.

It's almost entirely cribbed from scriptural language, which is very nice but remarkably uncommunicative. What are the armies like? What is Jesus' face like? Does he have a strong nose? He has white hair and brassy feet, but what does this mean in terms to which we can actually relate?

It's pretty much like that. A living god, descended to the planet to dispense justice, and all it ends up reading is like someone repasted together some shredded Bible scraps.


Knowledge

Another problem is the bizarre choices made by the villains. This is partly not the authors fault, because they were trying to base their book on their clumsy interpretations of the Bible.

But firstly, when the Ancient Israelites put together their Tanakh, they did it over the course of a long time. Books that were orally transmitted were then committed to paper, and during the few hundred years before Christ a selection of these books were then recognized as legitimate. To preserve their integrity, many came with warnings not to change the text (Deuteronomy, as an example) and they often echoed each other, both because there were certain common phrases ("flowing with milk and honey") and because the repetition increased their apparent legitimacy.

For all that there's some great stuff in the Old Testament, it also reflects the profound ignorance of a nomadic tribe from the years before the current era. The geography, for example, reaches little further than the areas nearest to Mesopotamia: Mount Carmel, Egypt, Sinai, and so on. The science is also limited, miscalculating pi as 3 and having a misunderstanding about the nature of celestial bodies.

Over the next few hundred years in the current era, the New Testament was written - including Revelations, the apocalyptic book upon which the Left Behind series is based. We see a little broader world, with places like Rome being included, but this is because Rome had arrived on the Jewish scene at that point with their expanding empire.

My point, of course, is that nothing in the Bible or especially Revelations exhibits much of anything that would point to a divine hand in the work. The depicted world is sadly limited and dated. People ride horses in Revelations. They use swords as their weapons. God's plagues are earthquakes, locusts, poison, boils, and so on. The chosen people are the Jews - a tiny fraction of mankind - and the chosen city is Jerusalem - mighty at the time and central to their world.

Like a child's drawing of his world, Israel's people and house loom large while the physical laws are only roughly approximated.

So when Nicolae Carpathia attacks the forces of good in Armageddon and Glorious Appearing, he leads an army of horsemen, not tanks. They carry swords, not rifles. They invade by land, not by air. And all major events occur in the penny-ante lands known to an ancient nomadic tribe. Megiddo is of no importance to anyone in the modern era, because if Egypt wanted to attack Assyria it would use bombers and then cargo planes. But Megiddo was important to ancient Israel, so for no good reason the characters of Left Behind have to gather there for a conflict - going out of their way to get there, as if for an appointment. It would be like a prediction about a future Anglo-American war being fought in Lexington and Concorde. It's bizarre and silly.


Storyline
PLEASE NOTE: For the duration of this post, I will note all supernatural powers with their X-Man equivalent.

As you might recall, the Antichrist is attacking the Jews in Jerusalem and the believers in Petra. Jerusalem is overrun by the millions-strong army of bad guys, despite the fact that the bad guys are courteous enough not to use any of their heavy armament. When you have an army of a few thousand against an army of millions, it's not surprising that the bad guys are winning. What is surprising is that the Jews have managed to hold off the Global Community from the Old City not just for an hour, but for more than a day. How? Why? It's not explained. But eventually, the Global Community is forced to use artillery instead of a battering ram.


We will shell the enclave in such a way that there will be no escape through the Lion's Gate to the east. Survivors will be pushed north toward Herod's Gate, and we'll be right behind them. The gate they have so
ferociously held since yesterday they will now open themselves."

If you have artillery, then how come they could hold a gate at all? Shoot the goddamn gate!

But whatever. Meanwhile, in Petra, the bad guys attack but all of their bullets and missiles are passing harmlessly through the believers. The believers make a big show of encircling Petra and getting their own guns ready and so on, but there's no point: they end up being able to walk freely through the enemy ranks, ignoring the bad guys entirely. Rayford, badly injured in an ATV accident, is magically healed and gets a second ATV to go follow around the Antichrist to eavesdrop.

In the midst of the "attack", Jesus appears on a white horse with a bunch of angels. Jesus can fly, much like Archangel, and he hovers there for a while, quoting himself so much he sounds like a Bible Mad Libs.

"[NOUN FROM REVELATIONS] has sinned against [NOUN FROM GENESIS] by [VERB FROM ISAIAH]. But yea verily, [POETIC IMAGE FROM SONG OF SONGS]."

But Jesus has to get into some action here. And he's not here to turn the other cheek. He's here to beat some bitches down by, um....


"Silence!" came the response in a voice so phantasmagorically piercing and awful that it made Mac recoil and want to cover his ears.

Let me perfectly clear: Jesus makes the bad guys explode.


Rayford watched through the binocs as men and women soldiers and horses seemed to explode where they stood. It was as if the very words of the Lord had superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their veins and skin.
Tens of thousands of foot soldiers dropped their weapons, grabbed their heads or their chests, fell to their knees, and writhed as they were invisibly sliced asunder. Their innards and entrails gushed to the desert floor, and as those around them turned to run, they too were slain, their blood pooling and rising in the unforgiving brightness of the glory of Christ.

Well, that is kind of gross. It also is the power of Gambit.

So Jesus starts quoting scripture, and at every word he kills tens of thousands in an extremely graphic way. There are no guns to describe in this book, so the authors are deprived of one fetish and go even further overboard with their gore-lust. For pages and pages, people are exploding and falling into chunks. The amount of blood reaches waist-high and the Antichrist's car gets stuck in the rising blood soup.

It is not pleasant to read.

Adding to the fun, Jesus has also started raining down hail on the bad guys. Just like in Revelations, it's "up to the weight of a talent," which Glorious Appearing tells me is 100 lbs. but which is actually 130 lbs. But however much they weigh, this is some big hail. It is also the power of Storm.

Things get very gross.


As Rayford slowly made his way down to the desert plains, though he had to concentrate on missing craters and keeping from hitting splayed and filleted bodies of men and women and horses, Jesus still appeared before his eyes—shining, magnificent, powerful, victorious.

I'd be flattering Jesus a lot too, as I drove around "filleted bodies" of the dude's enemies.

So Jesus now starts to ride/fly to Jerusalem, along with all the believers. He's going there to save the day, and he's taking his sweet time. Worried about keeping up with the deity, Rayford and some buddies get a Hummer to follow and in the process demonstrate that the authors are terrible dicks who don't understand how calling shotgun works.


The only downside of having Abdullah drive the Hummer was that Rayford would have to trade off with Mac for the privilege of riding shotgun. That transported him back to college when he and his fraternity brothers would compete to call the favored seat, sometimes as much as twenty-four hours before a trip.

You have to be in sight of the car, you jerks! This is the unkindest cut of all.

As it turns out, they didn't need a Hummer at all. Jesus magically makes everyone able to run really fast without getting tired. He gives them all the power of Quicksilver.


Hannah didn't know who first got the idea of walking faster, but suddenly a laughing and smiling group was pushing them. They stepped along as quickly as they could, then began jogging, trotting, and soon they were in a full sprint. Hannah felt light as air, and while it wasn't that she was actually off the ground, it felt that way. Each step carried her farther and farther, and soon she was running faster than she ever had.
To her amazement, she was not out of breath. Her strength and endurance remained, and so, apparently, did that of the old and the young alike. When the group caught and passed a speeding Hummer, Hannah knew they were running at miraculous, supernatural, superhuman speeds.

On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus has to stop to blow more people up. At this point I was actually kind of interested, because I thought a tank or a jet would try to fight Jesus. And I thought that might be cool and was wondering what would happen. But it seems every single soldier is either on foot or on a horse. They probably forgot their keys or something.

When they move on, Jesus takes the time to personally speak with every believer running along with him. He reaches into all of their minds simultaneously, a feat of mental power only equaled by Professor X.


As they traveled, they followed Jesus now riding horseback on the ground, His army above and behind Him, and the Jewish remnant running along en masse. Again, they covered more than seventy miles in an hour, and the whole way Jesus spoke to them as if to each individually.

Let us pause here for a moment to appreciate what is probably the greatest line ever uttered by a narrator's voice. This isn't the work of a character or someone partisan, it is the words of the narrator. They conclude a chapter, are written with apparent utter seriousness, and are seemingly entirely unaware of how ludicrous they sound.

Are you ready?


Ride on, King Jesus!

Just take a moment and absorb that. Drink it in.

So anyway, at one point we also witness the voice of God from the heavens. Jesus has been a serious chatterbox, but this is the first time we hear the thunderous, magnificent voice of God the Father. It's a serious opportunity to showcase descriptive skill and an appreciation for the majesty of an omnipotent deity. But nope!


Suddenly another voice cascaded from heaven, and Sebastian knew immediately it was God Himself. "Behold!" He said. "My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I have put My Spirit upon Him, and He will declare justice. "
Then Jesus again: "The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth come through Me. Now, George, may the God of peace who brought Me up from the dead and made Me the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight. Amen. "

"Then Jesus again." Wow. Really straining ourselves, aren't we boys? Also:


Rayford followed his gaze to see the temple of God opened in heaven, and the ark of the covenant plain as day. Lightning flashed and thunder roared, and the earth began to shift.
WHAT DOES THE ARK LOOK LIKE? WHY WON'T YOU DESCRIBE ANYTHING   Sheesh.

Jesus proceeds with his plan, and causes a massive global earthquake, in a manner like that of Avalanche.

Rayford slapped his palm over his earpiece and plugged his other ear to hear reports coming in from all over the world. The earthquake was global. Islands disappeared. Mountains were leveled. The entire face of the planet had been made level, save for the city of Jerusalem itself.

This is a pretty big event. It's way bigger than a bunch of people exploding. Jesus has essentially destroyed the planet. But is it discussed? Do people mention about what happens to all the buildings? Does it appear to effect the other characters elsewhere in the world? Nope! Sorry, we have people to explode! So Jesus does more of that, and eventually wins (as if there was a contest).

Then there come the judgments.

You can almost hear the drip of anticipatory slaver from the authors and some readers. The Rapture was pretty good for them: "We're right and you're wrong and we're going to Heaven." But it's been a dozen books since then, with a lack of ideological assurance. Let's punish some people who disagree with our beliefs... yeah, there they go, right into hell.


Rayford watched, horrified despite knowing this was coming, as the "goats" to Jesus' left beat their breasts and fell wailing to the desert floor, gnashing their teeth and pulling their hair. Jesus merely raised one hand a few inches and a yawning chasm opened in the earth, stretching far and wide enough to swallow all of them. They tumbled in, howling and screeching, but their wailing was soon quashed and all was silent when the earth closed.

Yeah, hahah! That'll show you guys for taking prayer out of schools! My pastor is right! Yeeeeeah!

And then come the rewards. Jesus judges all the good people and tells them he knows about their sins but still loves them. And here comes the thing: Jesus is still kind of a jerk. Throughout the book, he never lets anyone finish their damn sentence.


"I knew your name before the foundation of the world. I have prepared a place for you, and if it were not so, I would have told you. "
"But, Lord, I—I—"
Jesus took Rayford by the shoulders and gently pushed him back and cupped his face in His hands. He stared into his eyes from inches away, and Rayford could barely hold His piercing gaze. "I was there when you were born. I was there when you thought your mother had abandoned you. I was there when you concluded that I made no sense. "
"I am so sorry. I—"
"I was there when you almost married the wrong woman. I was there when your children were born. I was there when your wife chose Me and you did not.
"I was there when you nearly broke your vows. When you nearly died, before you knew Me. I was there when you were left behind. And I was waiting when finally you came to Me. "
" Oh, Lord, thank You. I'm so—"
"I have loved you with an everlasting love. I am the lover of your soul. You were meant to be with Me for  eternity, and now you shall be. "

Jesus just interrupted Rayford like three times in one conversation! And he does this all the time! Jesus has no manners at all.


There are now some extra-special judgments. Leon Carpathia, the right-hand man to the Antichrist, is judged.


You pitted your will against Mine and became the False Prophet, committing the greatest sin known under heaven: rejecting Me as the only Way to God the Father.

That's right, the greatest sin. Somewhere there's an abused woman, or a resurrected murder victim, or some other victim out in the crowd, saying, "What? Come on, that's the greatest sin?!"

And then Jesus judges Lucifer. One serious strike against the Great Enemy: Inherit the Wind.


Jesus continued: "For all your lies about having evolved, you are a created being. "

I'm not going to go into all that judgment stuff. It takes a long time and is immensely self-satisfied. Let's get on to Paradise!

So it seems that what will happen is that everyone on the planet has to leave their homes and come live in Israel. This is probably a good thing because everyone's homeland has been crushed into a pancake. People don't have to worry about getting to Israel, because God has it under control:


"I will transport you. You need not trouble yourselves. "

Jesus is Nightcrawler.

The new folks don't need to worry when they get to the devastated city, as there's lots of things to eat.


"Are you all seeing what I'm seeing?" Rayford said, studying the landscape and the people and the animals as Abdullah steered through the happy crowds. All the animals were docile. Sheep, dogs, wolves, critters of all types roamed everywhere. Shops had already reopened and butchers were working in the open air. Trucks delivered fresh fruits and vegetables from nearby groves.
...
"You will not believe it, Chaim, but fattened animals, ready for slaughter and butchering, milled about the place as if volunteering! Cows, sheep! Imagine! I found my tools and got to work immediately. What do you need?"

And even better, Jesus cleaned up all the houses in Jerusalem:


As Rayford followed him about the place, Chaim said, "I am tired of my own disbelief. I must simply once and for all accept that God is the author of all this. He can do anything, and He has done everything. I had heard that the GC took over this house as a command center almost three years ago. Can you imagine, Captain Steele , what it should look like after dozens of different men have lived and worked in it? I expected the stench of tobacco, garbage, a mess. Yet look. "
Rayford was looking. It was as if a cleaning crew had swept through the entire place. Floors, walls, ceilings were clean. Furniture was in place. Rayford wouldn't have been more surprised if there had been slipcovers draped on each piece. But there didn't need to be. He couldn't find a speck of dust anywhere.

I know I've been doing this thing with the X-Men, but these are such tame powers that no one ever had them. Jesus is churning out fatted animals to eat and cleaning up all the dust in town. I guess if you're omnipotent, you might as well, but it seems pretty weird. And Jesus doesn't neglect any details.


Gentlemen, can you believe the food is still steaming as if we hadn't left it out here for several minutes?"
"The fruit looks crisp and fresh too, " Razor said. "And no flies."

Uh...
Well anyway, Jesus has also begun keeping in constant communication with everyone, answering each prayer as it is asked.


And Rayford had the strangest experience. As he prayed along with Chaim, thanking God for the privilege of witnessing what they had seen that day, for the food He had provided, and for the move-in-ready home He had preserved, it was as if Jesus answered audibly and immediately and personally.
"You're welcome, Rayford, " He said. "It is My delight to shower you with love in tangible ways. " And before Rayford could pray for Kenny, the Lord said, "I know of your concern. He will be reunited with his parents, as will you, very soon. "

Dear Jesus, I pray that you will one day let me actually speak without interrupting me in anticipation of what I was going to say.

After a while, Jesus gets to resurrecting the dead. These include some pretty famous people. Actually, they include some of the most famous people ever to live. But are you curious about them - how they looked or how they acted or some hint of humanity? TOO BAD!


Enoch was intrigued to finally get a look at these famous men and women. As they came to Him one by one, Jesus said, "Without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to My Father must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. "
There was Noah, humbly kneeling, receiving his reward. Jesus said, "By faith, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, you moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of your household, by which you condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. "

But now finally comes the minute we've been waiting for: the reunion of the wives.

See, Rayford was originally married to Irene. But Irene was Raptured. A couple of years later, Rayford married Amanda. Amanda died. But now all three are going to be reunited! Weird! But as it turns out, it seems that all interpersonal relationships are nullified in the light of the love of Jesus.


"I was so afraid this would be awkward, " Rayford said.
"Not at all, "Irene said. "I didn't begrudge you a good wife and companionship. I was so thrilled that you both had come to Jesus . You're going to find that He is all that matters now. "

That is kind of sad, to me. I understand that the Christian line is usually that being one with God is the fullness of human happiness, bliss beyond compare. But having everyone's individual bonds become meaningless in the face of the One Love seems like a serious loss. For all the poverty of the human experience when compared with this hypothetical ideal, it has a fragile beauty and majesty that would make a single omni-love appear a lessening.

But this is, I suppose, one of the problems of theodicy - trying to explain the works of a god to men. Especially if you try to be as literal as possible with an allegorical book written by an ancient tribe. You end up getting obscenities like an "all-merciful God" forcing people not to choose him.


God had, in the meantime, hardened many hearts. And when these unbelievers changed their minds—or tried to—they were not even capable of repenting and turning to God. That had seemed unfair to Leah at first, but as the years rolled by and the judgments piled up, she began to see the logic of it. God knew that eventually sinners would grow weary of their own poverty, but His patience had a limit. There came a time when enough was enough. People had had way more than enough information to make a reasonable choice, and the sad fact was they had made the wrong one, time and time again.


It is here we leave off. It's been a magical journey through terrible writing and profound ignorance.  What have we learned?

  • Jesus is kind of a jerk who is always interrupting.
  • If you are a woman or if you know how to use a computer, you will have a short lifespan.
  • Neither God's voice or Jesus' face merits description, but at least fifty pages must be devoted to people being ripped into giblets.
  • God delivers groceries when necessary.
  • It is very important to make at least one phone call and one international flight per chapter, whenever possible.
  • Satan talks like Mary Poppins and Boris Badenov.

But most of all:

  • If you are Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, people will buy any kind of crap you spew out.

Excerpts from President Bush's memoir, "Decision Points"


On hiding his DUI record:
Politically, it would not have been a problem to reveal the DUI that day. The next election was two years away, and I had quit drinking. I decided not to raise the DUI for one reason: my girls. Barbara and Jenna would start driving soon. I worried that disclosing my DUI would undermine the stern lectures I had been giving them about drinking and driving. I didn’t want them to say, “Daddy did it and he turned out okay, so we can, too.”

On "winning" the 2000 election:
Shortly thereafter, Jim Baker called to ask if I wanted to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. He and Ted Olson, an outstanding lawyer Jim had recruited, felt we had a strong case. They explained that appealing the decision was a risky move. The U.S. Supreme Court might not agree to hear the case, or they could rule against us. I told Jim to make the appeal. I was prepared to accept my fate. The country needed closure, one way or
the other.
On December 12, thirty-five days after the election, Laura and I were lying in bed when Karl called and insisted that we turn on the TV. I listened intently as Pete Williams of NBC News deciphered the Supreme Court’s verdict. By a vote of 7–2, the justices found that Florida’s chaotic, inconsistent recount procedure had violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution. Then, by a vote of 5–4, the Court ruled that there was no fair way to recount the votes in time for Florida to participate in the Electoral College. The election results would stand. By a tally of 2,912,790 to 2,912,253, I had won Florida. I would be the forty-third president of the United States.
My first response was relief. The uncertainty had inflicted a heavy toll on the country. After all the ups and downs, I didn’t have the emotional capacity to rejoice. I had hoped to share my victory with twenty thousand people at the state capitol on election night. Instead, I probably became the first person to learn he had won the presidency while lying in bed with his wife watching TV.

On Harriet Miers:
Two other messages came from our consultations on Capitol Hill. The first was that I should think about picking a lawyer from outside the bench. The second was that I seriously consider my White House counsel, Harriet Miers. Several senators had been very impressed by Harriet as she shepherded John Roberts through his interviews on Capitol Hill. I liked the idea of nominating Harriet. She had been a legal pioneer in Texas—the first woman president of a major Texas law firm, the Dallas Bar Association, and the State Bar of Texas. She had been elected to the Dallas City Council, directed the Texas Lottery Commission, and served nearly five years in top White House positions. There was no doubt in my mind that she shared my judicial philosophy and that her outlook would not change. She would make an outstanding justice.
I asked Harriet if she had any interest in the job. She was surprised —more like shocked—but she said she would serve if I asked. I raised the deal with other members of the search group. Harriet’s colleagues loved and respected her, and some thought she would be a good choice. Others argued that it was too risky to pick someone with no established record on
he bench, or that we would be accused of cronyism. Several told me bluntly that she was not the right choice. None told me to expect the firestorm of criticism we received from our supporters.
The decision came down to Harriet and Priscilla Owen. I decided to go with Harriet. I knew her better. I thought she had a better chance to be confirmed. And she would bring a unique perspective to the Court as someone outside the judicial fraternity. Initially, a number of senators and judges praised the selection. Their voices, however, were quickly drowned out. On the right, initial whispers of disbelief turned to howls of incredulity.
How could I name someone with so little experience? How could they trust the judicial philosophy of someone they didn’t know?
It seemed to me that there was another argument against Harriet, one that went largely unspoken: How could I name someone who did not run in elite legal circles? Harriet had not gone to an Ivy League law school. Her personal style compounded the doubts. She is not glib. She is not fancy. She thinks hard before she speaks—a trait so rare in Washington that it was mistaken for intellectual slowness. As one conservative critic condescendingly put it, “However nice, helpful, prompt, and tidy she is, Harriet Miers isn’t qualified to play a Supreme Court justice on The West Wing, let alone to be a real one.”
All of these criticisms came from so-called friends. When the left started criticizing Harriet, too, I knew the nomination was doomed. After three terrible weeks, I got a call in my office in the Treaty Room, where I was working late in the evening. The White House operator told me Harriet was on the phone. In a steady, composed voice, she informed me that she thought it best that she withdraw from consideration for the Supreme Court. As much as it pained me, I agreed.

On 9/11:
I was stunned. That plane must have had the worst pilot in the world. How could he possibly have flown into a skyscraper on a clear day? Maybe he’d had a heart attack. I told Condi to stay on top of the situation and asked my communications director, Dan Bartlett, to work on a statement promising the full support of federal emergency management services.
I greeted Booker’s principal, a friendly woman named Gwen Rigell. She introduced me to the teacher, Sandra Kay Daniels, and her roomful of second-graders. Mrs. Daniels led the class through a reading drill. After a few minutes, she told the students to pick up their lesson books. I sensed a presence behind me. Andy Card pressed his head next to mine and whispered in my ear.
“A second plane hit the second tower,” he said, pronouncing each word deliberately in his Massachusetts accent. “America is under attack.”
My first reaction was outrage. Someone had dared attack America. They were going to pay. Then I looked at the faces of the children in front of me.
I thought about the contrast between the brutality of the attackers and the innocence of those children. Millions like them would soon be counting on me to protect them. I was determined not to let them down. I saw reporters at the back of the room, learning the news on their cell phones and pagers. Instinct kicked in. I knew my reaction would be recorded and beamed throughout the world. The nation would be in shock; the president could not be. If I stormed out hastily, it would scare the children and send ripples of panic throughout the country.
The reading lesson continued, but my mind raced far from the classroom. Who could have done this? How bad was the damage? What did the government need to do?
Press Secretary Ari Fleischer positioned himself between the reporters and me. He held up a sign that read “Don’t say anything yet.” I didn’t plan to. I had settled on a plan of action: When the lesson ended, I would leave the classroom calmly, gather the facts, and speak to the nation.

On waterboarding:
Then Zubaydah stopped answering questions. George Tenet told me interrogators believed Zubaydah had more information to reveal. If he was hiding something more, what could it be? Zubaydah was our best lead to avoid another catastrophic attack. “We need to find out what he knows,” I directed the team. “What are our options?”
One option was for the CIA to take over Zubaydah’s questioning and move him to a secure location in another country where the Agency could have total control over his environment. CIA experts drew up a list of interrogation techniques that differed from those Zubaydah had successfully resisted. George assured me all interrogations would be performed by experienced intelligence professionals who had undergone
extensive training. Medical personnel would be on-site to guarantee that the detainee was not physically or mentally harmed.
At my direction, Department of Justice and CIA lawyers conducted a careful legal review. They concluded that the enhanced interrogation program complied with the Constitution and all applicable laws, including those that ban torture.
I took a look at the list of techniques. There were two that I felt went too far, even if they were legal. I directed the CIA not to use them. Another technique was waterboarding, a process of simulated drowning. No doubt the procedure was tough, but medical experts assured the CIA that it did no lasting harm.
I knew that an interrogation program this sensitive and controversial would one day become public. When it did, we would open ourselves up to criticism that America had compromised our moral values. I would have preferred that we get the information another way. But the choice between security and values was real. Had I not authorized waterboarding on senior al Qaeda leaders, I would have had to accept a greater risk that the country would be attacked. In the wake of 9/11, that was a risk I was unwilling to take. My most solemn responsibility as president was to protect the country. I approved the use of the interrogation techniques.
The new techniques proved highly effective. Zubaydah revealed large amounts of information on al Qaeda’s structure and operations. He also provided leads that helped reveal the location of Ramzi bin al Shibh, the logistical planner of the 9/11 attacks. The Pakistani police picked him up on the first anniversary of 9/11.
Zubaydah later explained to interrogators why he started answering questions again. His understanding of Islam was that he had to resist interrogation only up to a certain point. Waterboarding was the technique that allowed him to reach that threshold, fulfill his religious duty, and then cooperate. “You must do this for all the brothers,” he said.

On the Plame scandal:
Then it came out that Wilson’s wife’s position was classified. Critics alleged that someone in my administration had committed a crime by intentionally leaking the identity of a CIA operative. The Justice Department named a special prosecutor to investigate.
I was inherently skeptical of special prosecutors. I remembered how Lawrence Walsh had politicized his investigation of Iran-Contra during the 1992 campaign. But an intelligence leak was a serious matter, and I directed my staff to cooperate fully. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald interviewed most of the team, including me. Early in the process, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage informed Fitzgerald that he had provided Novak with the information about Plame. Nevertheless, the special prosecutor continued to investigate.
Over the course of more than two years, Fitzgerald brought numerous administration officials before a grand jury, including Dick’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby. After two appearances by Scooter, Fitzgerald produced an indictment for perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements.
Scooter went to trial and was convicted. In June 2007 he was sentenced to thirty months in prison.
I faced an agonizing decision. I could let Scooter go to jail. I could use my power under the Constitution to grant him a pardon. Or I could commute his sentence, meaning his conviction would stand but his prison sentence would not. Some in the White House, led by the vice president, pushed aggressively for a pardon. Their argument was that the investigation should never have proceeded after Fitzgerald had identified Novak’s source. On the other hand, most advisers believed that the jury verdict was correct and should remain in place.
I decided it would send a bad message to pardon a former staff member convicted of obstructing justice, especially after I had instructed the staff to cooperate with the investigation. But the punishment Scooter had received did not fit the crime. The protracted investigation and trial had already caused personal, professional, and financial damage for Scooter and his family. In early July 2007, I announced my decision: “I respect the jury’s
verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby’s sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison.”

On WMDs:
If Saddam continued his pattern of deception, the only way to keep the pressure on Iraq would be to present some of the evidence ourselves. I asked George Tenet and his capable deputy, John McLaughlin, to brief me on what intelligence we could declassify to explain Iraq’s WMD programs.
A few days before Christmas, John walked me through their first effort. It was not very convincing. I thought back to CIA briefings I had received, the NIE that concluded Saddam had biological and chemical weapons, and the data the CIA had provided for my UN speech in September. “Surely we can do a better job of explaining the evidence against Saddam,” I said.
George Tenet agreed.
“It’s a slam dunk,” he said.
I believed him. I had been receiving intelligence briefings on Iraq for nearly two years. The conclusion that Saddam had WMD was nearly a universal consensus. My predecessor believed it. Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill believed it. Intelligence agencies in Germany, France, Great Britain, Russia, China, and Egypt believed it. As the German ambassador to the United States, not a supporter of war, later put it, “I think all of our governments believe that Iraq has produced weapons of mass destruction and that we have to assume that they still have … weapons of mass destruction.” If anything, we worried that the CIA was underestimating Saddam, as it had before the Gulf War.
In retrospect, of course, we all should have pushed harder on the intelligence and revisited our assumptions. But at the time, the evidence and the logic pointed in the other direction. If Saddam doesn’t actually have WMD, I asked myself, why on earth would he subject himself to a war he will almost certainly lose?

24 November 2010

The Death of Beowulf with Grummere Translation

Þā ic on hlǣwe   gefrægn hord rēafian,
eald enta geweorc   ānne mannan,
him on bearm hladan   bunan and discas
sylfes dōme,   segn ēac genom,
bēacna beorhtost;   bill ǣr‐gescōd
(ecg wæs īren)   eald‐hlāfordes
þām þāra māðma   mund‐bora wæs
longe hwīle,   līg‐egesan wæg
hātne for horde,   hioro‐weallende,
middel‐nihtum,   oð þæt hē morðre swealt.
Ār wæs on ofoste   eft‐sīðes georn,
frætwum gefyrðred:   hyne fyrwet bræc,
hwæðer collen‐ferð   cwicne gemētte
in þām wong‐stede   Wedra þēoden,
ellen‐sīocne,   þǣr hē hine ǣr forlēt.
Hē þā mid þām māðmum   mǣrne þīoden,
dryhten sīnne   drīorigne fand
ealdres æt ende:   hē hine eft ongon
wæteres weorpan,   oð þæt wordes ord
brēost‐hord þurhbræc.   Bēowulf maðelode,
gomel on giohðe   (gold scēawode):

"Ic þāra frætwa   frēan ealles þanc
wuldur‐cyninge   wordum secge,
ēcum dryhtne,   þē ic hēr on starie,
þæs þe ic mōste   mīnum lēodum
ǣr swylt‐dæge   swylc gestrȳnan.
Nū ic on māðma hord   mīne bebohte
frōde feorh‐lege,   fremmað gē nū
lēoda þearfe;   ne mæg ic hēr leng wesan.
Hātað heaðo‐mǣre   hlǣw gewyrcean,
beorhtne æfter bǣle   æt brimes nosan;
se scel tō gemyndum   mīnum lēodum
hēah hlīfian   on Hrones næsse,
þæt hit sǣ‐līðend   syððan hātan
Bīowulfes biorh,   þā þe brentingas
ofer flōda genipu   feorran drīfað."

Dyde him of healse   hring gyldenne
þīoden þrīst‐hȳdig,   þegne gesealde,
geongum gār‐wigan,   gold‐fāhne helm,
bēah and byrnan,   hēt hyne brūcan well:

"Þū eart ende‐lāf   ūsses cynnes,
Wǣgmundinga;   ealle Wyrd forswēof,
mīne māgas   tō metod‐sceafte,
eorlas on elne:   ic him æfter sceal."

Þæt wæs þām gomelan   gingeste word
brēost‐gehygdum,   ǣr hē bǣl cure,
hāte heaðo‐wylmas:   him of hreðre gewāt
sāwol sēcean   sōð‐fæstra dōm.





Then, I heard, the hill of its hoard was reft,
old work of giants, by one alone;
he burdened his bosom with beakers and plate
at his own good will, and the ensign took,
brightest of beacons. -- The blade of his lord
-- its edge was iron -- had injured deep
one that guarded the golden hoard
many a year and its murder-fire
spread hot round the barrow in horror-billows
at midnight hour, till it met its doom.
Hasted the herald, the hoard so spurred him
his track to retrace; he was troubled by doubt,
high-souled hero, if haply he'd find
alive, where he left him, the lord of Weders,
weakening fast by the wall of the cave.
So he carried the load. His lord and king
he found all bleeding, famous chief
at the lapse of life. The liegeman again
plashed him with water, till point of word
broke through the breast-hoard. Beowulf spake,
sage and sad, as he stared at the gold. --


"For the gold and treasure, to God my thanks,
to the Wielder-of-Wonders, with words I say,
for what I behold, to Heaven's Lord,
for the grace that I give such gifts to my folk
or ever the day of my death be run!
Now I've bartered here for booty of treasure
the last of my life, so look ye well
to the needs of my land! No longer I tarry.
A barrow bid ye the battle-fanned raise
for my ashes. 'Twill shine by the shore of the flood,
to folk of mine memorial fair
on Hrones Headland high uplifted,
that ocean-wanderers oft may hail
Beowulf's Barrow, as back from far
they drive their keels o'er the darkling wave."


From his neck he unclasped the collar of gold,
valorous king, to his vassal gave it
with bright-gold helmet, breastplate, and ring,
to the youthful thane: bade him use them in joy.


"Thou art end and remnant of all our race
the Waegmunding name. For Wyrd hath swept them,
all my line, to the land of doom,
earls in their glory: I after them go."


This word was the last which the wise old man
harbored in heart ere hot death-waves
of balefire he chose. From his bosom fled
his soul to seek the saints' reward.

23 November 2010

Left Behind: Armageddon

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

Whoa! Things are really heating up in this eleventh book in the series: as the final battle goes down, we don't get just the ordinary woman-killing - they kill off annoying Chloe herself, as well as husband Buck! And it ends on a cliffhanger! Will Jesus show up and save the day or will the authors turn out to have been malicious Buddhists all along?

Unfortunately, Revelations is pretty explicit, so things get silly on the way. These books are way better when the authors can concentrate on their strong points of describing planes, guns, and detailed phone conversations that include dull parables. The ideal scenario would be for Rayford have a long discussion about a new plane that is made of guns and can make long-distance calls. And then Jesus bursts in on a red motorcycle, and the Antichrist - who is dressed exactly like Richard Dawkins - poops himself. Yeah... sweet.

What actually happens is that Chloe is captured because she is being an idiot, and then is executed. Meanwhile, Nicolae gathers all military forces in the world into one big army that is many millions strong, and then a third of them attack Petra (where most believers are holed up) and the rest attack Jerusalem, which is defended by a few remaining Jews. And in the midst of the attacks, the book ends.

All right, so there are a lot of problems. A lot. There are more problems than words in the book, which is some kind of feat of legerdemain.

First of all, let's address Chloe's capture. She and her husband and a couple other people are in a basement. There's a periscope to look for enemies. One night Chloe sees some enemies, and so she decides to go alone into the night to check it out, without telling anyone or bringing her phone. Even she realizes this is stupid.


That training was what niggled at the back of her brain now and told her she was making a fundamental mistake. Not only was she away from her post, but no one would have a clue where she was.

Let's not forget that in the last book she got a bunch of people killed, or that help is literally just in the next room. But whatever. She goes outside, and they catch her immediately. They take her to a prison, where they proceed with the most lackluster torture I have ever heard of.

Firstly: they don't let her eat for an entire day! Such cruelty can scarcely be borne.  I had to pause while reading it a few times - American Psycho has nothing on this gruesome torture.


Chloe had not eaten since seven o'clock the night before. She drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her shins. She rocked, trying to ease the pain in her stomach.

What further hells can she be put through? Will they cut her open? Burn her with hot coals?


"I see," Chloe said, as the woman followed her. "Snatched from my family, starved, drugged, flown half-way across the country, injected with truth serum, and held in solitary confinement overnight is your idea of fair treatment?"

My God! How can-... wait, what? That's it?

Yes, that's it. She doesn't get to eat for a day, they sedate her when transferring her to another prison, use sodium pentathol on her (five questions!), and lock her up at night. That's how badly the forces of the Antichrist torture the only member of the Tribulation Force they will ever capture. They don't cut her or bruise her. They don't even waterboard her! George W. Bush treats his prisoners worse than the Antichrist!


"She's been a tough bird, hasn't she?"
"Tell me about it, Jess. I'd have been doing the 'Halle-lujah Chorus' solo by now."
"What if she doesn't flip? How long do you give it?"
"If you can't get to 'em somehow in the first forty-eight hours, more of the same isn't going to be any more effective."
"Starvation isn't a motivator?"
"Would be for me, but I guess they've proved it with prisoners of war. The ones who can survive that first round of psychological and physical torture aren't likely to ever break, no matter how long you keep it up."

I don't actually have sufficient exclamation points to express my incredulity, but here are some more in an attempt to show you my disgust: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Well, whatever.

So anyway Chloe is tough and withstands all of their attacks thanks to divine intervention (an angel stops the truth serum from working), and maintains her defiant attitude. I might argue that when an angel is personally helping you and reassuring you, it's maybe not quite so heroic as all that. But whatever. And hey, did you remember that Chloe was attending Stanford before the Rapture? You might have forgotten, since she's astonishingly stupid, but watch her prove it with some poetry.


Chloe hurt all over, but she was glad she had made them work. Someone else could go gently into that good, good night of death. Not her.

Ah, there we go. Such an organic allusion. I barely even noticed it. Subtle.

So anyway she gives a speech, and then she is beheaded. Everyone is sad for like two whole chapters.

But there's war to get to! Nicolae is going to wipe out all the Jews left in Jerusalem with his millions of troops. He uses a lot of rhetoric that somehow mirrors a historical figure with whom you might be acquainted. Some guy who also hated the Jews, and not Mel Gibson.


"To his people he is referring to the meetings with the subpotentates, however, as the final solution to the Jewish problem."
"To a German, that has to resonate with your history books, eh, Mr. Weser?"

SUBTLE.

When the Global Community army attacks Jerusalem, the Jews manage to hold them off in places. This is strange.

Let's note that Jerusalem's population at its peak was never a million people, and with the loss of over half the people it's now much less than that. And they're almost all unarmed.

The Global Community has an army of millions. They have assault rifles, rocket launchers, helicopters, jets, tanks, and missiles. But what is their plan of attack?


Rebels, some shooting over their shoulders, ran past him for their lives, but Buck noticed the GC were not firing. They were moving in a colossal battering ram that looked as if it would make short work of the Wailing Wall. Now that was a tragedy. After millennia of prayer, could such a sacred site be wasted in just moments?
Suddenly, all those rebels who had flooded past Buck turned and came back. Shouts resounded: "Not the Wailing Wall!" "Not the Wall!" "Sacrifice yourselves!" "Fight to the death!"
The word spread throughout the Jewish Quarter and into the center of the Old City, and instantly
hundreds became thousands. Buck joined the fray. They charged the GC, shooting, throwing rocks,
fighting hand to hand. The rebels overcame those on the battering ram and turned it back toward the Dung Gate.
As more and more rebels joined, at least for that brief skirmish, the Jews had the Unity Army on the run. They pushed the battering ram up to the Dung Gate, chased out the army, and managed to shut the gate with the ram inside. Great cheers rose, and so, it seemed, did the rebellion's confidence. Someone assigned a large group to guard the gate, while others were sent to the Golden and Lion's Gates on the east side.

I can see it now. It's dusk, the night before the attack on Jerusalem, and Nicolae Carpathia, mastermind of the endtimes and Antichrist, is meeting with his generals. They suggest that five squadrons of bombers and attack jets could strafe the city and reduce most of it to rubble, with their efforts complemented by several missiles and mortar fire. Or if Nicolae wants to keep the city intact, they could easily flood it with nerve gas - they have millions of barrels of it. Or perhaps they should just send in fireteams with heavy machine guns and sniper support. But none of this satisfies the Dark One, who has a more sinister plan.

"You are all fools," he says quietly, his voice thick with malignancy. "There is only one way to wipe out this threat and destroy their holy places."

The generals lean in, mouths agape and eyes shining. Their leader slams down his fist with leaden surety, and states coldly, "Bring a large piece of wood, and hit the wall with it a lot."

Silence. Then cheers.

The main action of the book stops at this point, and we have to wait until the next one to discover whether or not all the good guys die.

In addition to the above major insanities, there are lots of little mistakes. For example, the authors appear to continually forget that all those loyal to Nicolae have biochips under their skin, which are intended to make them easy to scan and identify. In The Mark much ado is made about how no one can buy or sell without the chip, and how easy it is to use it to keep track of them. But whoops! The bad guys always need to see the tattoo!


"Then there ought to be a -6 [tattooed] somewhere under that blood. Get a wet cloth and wash that off."

It turns out you just need a hat.


She rarely stayed long, and since the Woo crew all had ID tags and company caps riding low on their foreheads, they were never carefully checked, and the job went smoothly.

Another silly problem is that the authors keep forgetting that not everyone in the world speaks English. And this isn't a thing where they're actually speaking their native tongue and it's translated for us. This is a thing where the authors are stupid. That kind of thing.

There are the usual mistakes in language and bizarre choices of phrasing. For example, see what this commando says about a scouting mission:


"Yes, sir, but that is not all entirely good news. Observing their direction and relative speed, we were able to flank them, and the two of my party on their south side had enough flora-and-fauna coverage to get close enough to hear them."

Flora-and-fauna coverage? Were you hiding behind a lizard, sport?

Anyway, remember that big problem from previous books, where the authors would gloss over enormous events and dwell with excruciating length on trivial events? A plague of boils afflicts the entire planet and is recounted in a sentence, while Chloe looking for her phone consumes eight chapters?

We are given the worst example imaginable this time around.

Here, in its entirety, is the description of the destruction of New Babylon, capital of the world and headquarters to the Antichrist. This is the whole passage - the preceding and following sections are on completely different matters. This is the total about the event.


When they landed at the palace, he found it eerie. The place was no longer dark, but the wounded souls within the boundaries didn't know what to make of it. They had been in pain and darkness for so long they were disoriented and still hadn't found their bearings. Most still limped and staggered around.

But waiting for the planes of refuge were more than one hundred and fifty believers, cheering their arrival. They carried their belongings in sacks and boxes and were eager to get aboard, which made the whole process quick and easy. Mac and Lionel had their planes loaded and turned around and headed down the runways when two invading armies attacked.

Before Mac was even out of New Babylon airspace, black smoke billowed into the heavens. He circled the area for an hour, and Lionel followed, as their charges watched the utter destruction of the once great city. Within those sixty minutes every building was leveled, and Mac knew that every resident was slaughtered. When the mysterious armies who had invaded from the north and northwest pulled out, they left the entire metropolis aflame. By the time Mac turned toward Petra, the only thing left of New Babylon was ash and smoke.

It's never mentioned again. In five sentences a major plot point occurs and is immediately forgotten.

Last but not least, there's the half-hearted attempts at philosophy that crop up.


Rayford knew the prophecy - that people would reject God enough times that God would harden their hearts and they wouldn't be able to choose him even if they wanted to. But knowing it didn't mean Rayford understood it. And it certainly didn't mean he had to like it. He couldn't make it compute with the God he knew, the loving and merciful one who seemed to look for ways to welcome everyone into heaven, not keep them out.

This is in reference to Revelations, which was itself referencing Exodus 10:20 ("But the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go.")

The explanation given is a pretty simple one: Rayford is told that God has a plan. God's plan is apparently to be a big jerk.

FEMALE CHARACTERS WATCH!
  • Annie - Dead.
  • Leah - Abrasive believing nurse. At high risk of death.
  • Hattie - Dead.
  • Verna - Dead.
  • Loretta - Dead.
  • Chloe - Dead!
  • Amanda - Dead.
  • Hannah Palemoon - Native American nurse and a believer. At high risk of death.
  • Ming Tong - Chinese former prison guard. Will not die.

MINOR CHARACTERS WATCH!
  • Donny Moore - Dead techie.
  • Ken Ritz - Dead techie.
  • David Hassid - Dead techie.
  • Zeke - Alive techie somewhere in America. At high risk of death.
  • Chang Wong - Alive techie somewhere out there. Low risk of death.

Two more to go! Jesus save me!

19 November 2010

Left Behind: The Remnant

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

Well, I just finished the tenth Left Behind book, The Remnant. There is a lot of action and a lot of plagues, and I'm pretty sure it's almost converted me into a dedicated Satanist. More on that last later.

The plot of the book is a very simple one for the most part: Chloe, Hannah, and Mac go to Greece to rescue someone. There are other people doing other things, but they're all minor bits of nothing: everyone else waits anxiously to hear from the people in Greece or witnesses miracles while flying around. All the major action and plot points are about this one raid.

The details are these: in the last book, a Trib Force guy named George(who we'd never heard of before) went to Greece to rescue a few other minor characters. But the Global Community killed the other characters and captured Sebastian. In The Remnant, the aforementioned trio of Chloe Williams, Hannah Palemoon, and Mac go to try to get him out. They are all disguised and heavily-armed.

There are a couple problems with the plan right from the start. For one thing, none of the three speak Greek. Not even a little Greek. Chloe's alias says she is from Montreal, but she has no French. And worst of all, Hannah is disguised as an Indian - even though she doesn't speak Indian. This would ordinarily seem to me like a red flag going into the operation, but I'm just a heathen, so what do I know.


A nearby man in a turban rose and said something quickly to Hannah in an Indian dialect. Chloe was stunned at how Hannah covered. She looked the man knowingly in the eye and winked at him, shaking her head slightly. This somehow satisfied him, and he sat.

Oh, well, GOSH LOOK IT ALL WORKED OUT.

Well anyway their basic plan is to dress up in GC uniforms, go to the mercenaries holding George, and try to order them to let him go. This is a good plan because... um...


"The American is alive?" Mrs. P. said.
Chloe nodded. "Being held somewhere. They're probably trying to break him for information, but he's well trained. We're more worried he will get himself killed for not cooperating."
"You must think the GC is stupid," Costas said.
"Sorry?" Chloe said.
"You come here disguised as GC and you think they will just take you to him."
"It's risky, we know."
"It's suicide," Costas said.

Well, I'm glad someone agrees with me.

Now, here's where things get weird in this book. Because if you've been following these, you know that we would expect at least one of the women to die. Women don't live long in these books. But that doesn't happen. Bizarrely, not a single woman dies in this book.

Even weirder, they seem to have realized a lot of other things are inane about these books. Halfway through the mission, someone at New Babylon realizes they've been hacked and uncovers the false GC identities of the Trib Force people in Greece. This removes what had previously been an overwhelming advantage for the believers, as they can no longer just order their enemies around when they please. It also means that the bad guys have noticed that no one actually nuked Chicago, the headquarters of the Tribulation Force.


"[S]omeone planted on the computer that the place had been nuked and would be radioactive for years. Akbar didn't remember it that way. He thought the city had been virtually destroyed, but not by nukes. Every time he had somebody check, they went straight to the database, checked the current levels, and said,`Yup, it's radioactive all right.' Not until recently did anybody check the archives to find out if the readings could be right. Of course, they can't. The place is clean."

So while the headquarters starts hopping on planes and talking on phones, the people in Greece are in trouble. As it turns out, the guy in custody (George) managed to escape without any help at all, kills his armed captor, and is on his way to leave the country. Meanwhile, the Trib Force rescue team accidentally leads the GC to the underground church in town, getting all the believers killed. Whoops! And when they botch their escape, they're just about to be captured when God sends Michael the archangel to rescue them.

Yes, once again, it's deus ex deus, and divine intervention is required to save the good guys from their own staggering stupidity.

So they escape successfully, having managed only to get a few dozen people killed, and everyone is happy.


"I need to meet this Michael someday," Chang said, after hearing the story. "You guys get all the fun."
"I could use a little less fun, frankly," Mac said. "And you might as well know, Sebastian here doesn't call him Michael anymore. Calls him Roger."
"Roger?"
"Says he told him he assumed he was Michael, and the guy said, 'Roger."'

In the words of a great detective of yesteryear, wowzers.

After the main action happens, the book skips forward in time twice, advancing eight months. It's done in a choppy and terribly-paced manner, since it seems like they ran out of things to write about in that interval. But it does let them get to some more plagues.  And keeping with the strange theme of correcting some of the problems with the books, they actually go into them in some depth.  This makes sense: there's a LOT of plaguing going on.

If you remember, the oceans had been all turned to blood a while ago. This lasts six months, at which time the oceans turn normal but all the freshwater turns to blood instead. This is not very creative, but Revelations doesn't leave the authors much wiggle room. They scoot past it as fast as they can, mentioning only briefly how drinkable water is now enormously valuable. The most interesting consequence is that we learn that the Antichrist has apparently become actually and literally mentally retarded.


"This is about water, Excellency," Leon began. "Because you no longer need nourishment, including water, perhaps you don't understand-"
"Listen to me, Leon. There is water in food. Are you people not eating enough food?"

But all that isn't enough! Another judgment arrives, right on schedule. Yahweh is just tearing the hell out of the planet.


"But as the sun rose, they realized they heard very little noise from the street. Some ventured out and saw the damage from the sun. Everything is scorched, dried up, burned, melted, wasted. No one was on the street, though charred remains were scattered. The believers are protected, but the GC and the Carpathian loyalists cannot face the sun. ... A small faction of GC had apparently tried to use fireproof suits and boots and helmets to protect themselves from the enormous heat. They lasted long enough to travel about a hundred yards; then they split up as their suits caught fire. Piles of burning material are dotted here and there in the streets."

So now everyone who is not a believer dies if they go outside during the day.


The Tribulation Force was free to come and go, as long as they were careful to plan their travel into time zones that kept them in daylight as long as possible. The only relief for the Global Community forces and citizens with the mark of loyalty was to stay inside below ground level and invent ways to take the edge off the suffocating heat. Even then, hundreds of thousands died when their dwellings burned and fell in on them. Homes and buildings were largely allowed to burn themselves out, as firefighters could not venture out until well after dark.

Gee. However will the beleaguered underdogs of the Tribulation Force manage to survive against the fearsome Global Community? How will they struggle to get themselves into situations stupid enough to require divine intervention, if all they have to do is wait until sunrise?

But even THIS isn't enough! This judgment is lifted from those few lucky enough to survive it, only for a new one to arrive.


The new mood lasted three days. Then the lights went out.
Literally. Everything went dark. Not just the sun, but the moonalso, the stars, streetlamps, electric lights, car lights. Anything anywhere that ever emitted light was now dark. Nokeypads on telephones, no flashlights, nothing iridescent, nothing glow in the dark. Emergency lights, exit signs, firesigns, alarm signs everything. Pitch black.
The cliche of not being able to see one's hand in front of one's face? Now true. It mattered not what time of day it was; people could see nothing. Not their clocks, watches, not even fire,
matches, gas grills, electric grills. It was as if the light had done worse than go out; any vestige of it had been sucked from the universe. People screamed in terror, finding this the worst nightmare of their lives-- and they had many to choose from.
They were blind completely, utterly, totally, wholly unable to see anything but blackness twenty four hours a day.

God seems to be stacking the deck in favor of the protagonists a bit these days. And really-... wait, what? That's not the end, you say?


Within hours, though, something even stranger happened. People were not starving or dying of thirst. They were able to feel their way to food and drink. But they could not work. There was nothing to discuss, nothing to talk about but the cursed darkness. And for some reason, they also began to feel pain.
They itched and so they scratched. They ached and so they rubbed.
They cried out and scratched and rubbed some more. For many the pain grew so intense that all they could do was bend down and feel the ground to make sure there was no hole or stairwell to fall into and then collapse in a heap, writhing, scratching, seeking relief.
The longer it went, the worse it got, and now people swore and cursed God and chewed their tongues. They crawled about the corridors, looking for weapons, pleading with friends or even
strangers to kill them. Many killed themselves. The entire complex became an asylum of screams and moans and guttural wails, as these people became convinced that this, finally, was it the end of the world.

Okay, I officially am now rooting for the bad guys, the Global Community.

The population was decreased by something like a billion during the Rapture, and subsequently has suffered 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 dimmed the sun and moon by a third which led to waves of hunger and sent a plague of tiny monsters to attack all unbelievers. Then two hundred million magical horsemen appear and start killing people with their enormous snake tails, incinerating them with sulfur, and choking them with smoke. We are told in Assassins that the world population was half of what it had been after the Rapture. So that's about three billion people left at that point. Then all the oceans turn to blood for six months, followed by all the rivers and lakes, killing millions with thirst and disease. The GC tries to attack the Christians, but a massive earthquake wipes out half of their worldwide military force. And for a few months, any GC who steps outside dies, and many die even if they don't. And then they're all blinded and stricken with pain unto suicide.

So the GC have endured earthquakes, comets, waves of fire, poisoning, nukes, hunger, tiny monsters, magical murderous horsemen, disease, thirst, more earthquakes, burning, blindness, and pain. There's almost no level of villainy sufficient to convince a reader that God's not just kicking them while they're down.

Let me state the major problem coming starkly into focus when combined with the divine interventions: If the good guys have numerous advantages over the bad guys, and when God himself will swoop down and save the good guys from any mistakes, then there can't be any suspense. It just gets tedious.

So that's my major gripe with this book. Here are some random tidbits on other things.


"I confer upon you all the power vested in me from above and below the earth! I give you power to do great and mighty and wonderful and terrifying things, acts so splendiferous and phantasmagorical that no man can see them and not be persuaded that I am his god."

Why does the Great Enemy not have an ounce of dignity? How can we feel menaced by a villain with the same vocabulary as Mary Poppins?

More gun porn:


"Talk about huge. It looks massive!"
"Way too big to be carried internally, sir. It's four and a half feet in diameter and eleven feet long. The thing weighs fifteen thousand pounds."
"You do not say!"
"Oh, yes, sir. It's carried on what we call an underbelly centerline station."

So many sexual innuendos, so little time.

Nicolae empowers followers to help the masses.


While the atmosphere was still festive and the daily messages from both Tsion and Chaim inspiring, Rayford would not say Petra was entirely cocooned from the real world. The million there were reminded daily of the havoc wrought by Carpathia all over the globe. From everywhere came reports of miracles by thousands of deities who seemed loving, kind, inspiring, and dynamic. It was easy to watch them live on the internet, reattaching severed limbs, raising the dead, taking blood from the sea and turning it into water so pure and clear that many stepped forward to drink it without harm.

Yup, I'm on his side now.


"I proclaim Nicolae Carpathia, risen from the dead, as the one true god, worthy of worship, and the savior of mankind," Leon said. "He is the one who surfaced at the time of the greatest calamity in the history of the world and has pulled together the global community in peace and harmony and love. You claim Jesus of Nazareth as both the Son of God and one with God, which makes no sense and cannot be proven. This leaves you and your followers worshiping a man who was no doubt very spiritual, very bright, perhaps enlightened, but who is now dead. If he were alive and as all powerful as you say, I challenge him to strike me dead where I sit."

He makes a good point.


FEMALE CHARACTERS WATCH!
  • Annie - Dead.
  • Leah - Abrasive believing nurse. At high risk of death.
  • Hattie - Dead.
  • Verna - Dead.
  • Loretta - Dead.
  • Chloe - Annoying believing wife and daughter and "CEO" of a keep-her-busy trading company. Probably will not die.
  • Amanda - Dead.
  • Hannah Palemoon - Native American nurse and a believer. At very high risk of death.
  • Ming Tong - Chinese former prison guard. Told by Michael she will not die, which saves her but probably dooms either Hannah or her brother Chang.

MINOR CHARACTERS WATCH!
  • Donny Moore - Dead techie.
  • Ken Ritz - Dead techie.
  • David Hassid - Dead techie.
  • Zeke - Alive techie somewhere in America. At high risk of death.
  • Chang Wong - Alive techie somewhere out there. At very high risk of death.

18 November 2010

IBD on START

Investor's Business Daily spews:


The Republicans may have fallen short of gaining a Senate majority, but Minority Whip Jon Kyl just let it be known there will be no rubber-stamp approval by the lame-duck Senate of President Obama's highly questionable nuclear arms deal with Vladimir Putin's Russia. Under the Constitution, 67 senators are needed for ratification. ...


Given all this, one wonders why the Obama administration is in such a hurry to get this treaty cemented into law, other than impressing the peaceniks in the Democratic Party's base.


Vice President Joseph Biden has gone so far as to assert, outrageously, that "failure to pass the New START Treaty this year would endanger our national security."


This year? We can't wait 6 weeks? What's so urgent that we have to swallow this whole, without checking the ingredients?
The urgency is that no one is monitoring the GODDAMN NUCLEAR WEAPONS!

The 1991 START treaty enabled Americans and Russians to reduce their nuclear capabilities in a safe, measured, verifiable way. For twenty years, we have been cooperating to lower the huge insane threat our stockpiled destructive power represented into a more moderated insane threat. It helps ensure that the nuclear stockpiles are all accounted for, makes sure we don't risk a return to a arms race in any small way, and most importantly helps reduce the opportunities for a weapon to be lost or stolen.


START ended in December 2009. Medvedev and Obama had negotiated a worthy successor that just needed a vote. It would have kept up our earned trust and verifiable safety. But it would have been a win for Obama, so the GOP opposed it. Obama crammed in pork to appeal some of them like Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), adding $80 billion in arms upgrades and an additional $4 billion just for Kyl. But the Republicans - and Kyl - oppose it still, even after a year of deliberations and 21 hearings.  They're calling it "rushed."

And there have not been inspections going on in Russia for almost a full year - the first interruption for most of two decades of surety - while the GOP plays games.

Russia has some 2,800-odd nuclear warheads, enough to destroy the planet many times over. Just one nuclear warhead stolen could lead to a catastrophe the likes of which we have never seen. They have hundreds of nuclear cruise missiles stored around their country, hundreds of buried silos not visible from the air, and hundreds of mobile silos. They are actively producing the RS-24 thermonuclear intercontinental ballistic cruise missile, having completed testing of them in July.  There are hundreds of nukes.

Now, I'm not particularly worried about Putin or his puppets. It's a problem, but not really a very serious one, despite the gradual remilitarization of the atmosphere in Russia and their perpetual problem with warlike strong men. I don't think they're going to run off and nuke us. But by the same token, it seems odd that Republicans are willing to just trust them on this. I'm about as liberal as they come (a "peacenik" as IBD puts it) and even I'm not willing to just take Russia's word about their nukes.  They're researching new technology - that RS-24 I mentioned is equipped with new MIRV tips - and rolling out nukes all over.  Even if they're not planning on launching any strikes, it doesn't strain my imagination that they want to have something a little extra stowed away somewhere.  And we won't know about it.

But far more serious to me is the threat of a nuke being lost or stolen by a terrorist organization or by some local splinter group. Keeping track of the warheads and their security is an important part of that, but most important is the reduction of the total stockpile, which doesn't effectively diminish our capability to destroy the world (yippee) but does give less opportunity for error. Every additional warhead stowed under sheet metal in Вы́борг is an additional warhead that could be stolen.

I guess the "Hell No" strategy has worked so far for the Republicans, so maybe they can't be blamed for trying it. But it is just bizarre that they're willing to play so cavalierly with something so dangerous. Naturally, though, if someone manages to steal a nuclear warhead and does something terrible, it won't be their fault. At that point, it will be Obama's fault for failing to get this treaty confirmed in the Senate. Like they always do, they'll sit in the road blocking the way, shrieking at the top of their lungs and occasionally shooting at our tires, and then complain that the country isn't going anywhere.

So let's be perfectly clear: START is not just a good treaty, it's a treaty that's important to keeping America safe.  And not just the "keeping America safe" that leads to annoying airport scanners, but instead the kind that stops enormous thermonuclear explosions.  The real kind.  The Republicans seem to have forgotten that kind exists as they play their games.