Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Packaging Crime

If you're anything like me, you're appalled at how much garbage you generate in your daily life. I recently ordered a novel from Daedalus Books. Here's how much cardboard they felt was necessary to ship a mass-market-size paperback (paperback included in photo for scale).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In Honor of the Rescheduled Apocalypse

Apocalypse Update

The followers of Harold Camping are feeling a little adrift right now, seeing as none of them were swept into the heavens on Saturday. But Camping has re-thought the matter and has declared last Saturday an "Invisible Rapture." I have no idea what that means: if God made people invisible before sweeping them into the heavens, or if some kind of Judgment Day clock started ticking but God didn't make a big deal about it.

All I know is I found this taped to my door when I got up Sunday morning:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Oh Noes! Duh Apocalypz!

In case you haven't been paying attention, kids: the world is going to end on May 21 at 6 pm. At least that's what Harold Camping, an Oakland-based preacher and radio program host says.

For months now Camping's followers have been on the road trying to warn everyone of the impending Apocalypse.

Now don't think this means that if you planned on dinner with friends Saturday night or catching Hesher Sunday afternoon, you need to find a way to that before the weekend. You can relax. According to the schema Christian fundamentalists have of the end of the end of the world (including Mr. Camping), it starts with what's called the Rapture, when all Christians are swept away into the heavens. Camping estimates that only 2% of the world's population will rapt up to bask in the Divine Presence.

Given the math, and given that I'm pretty sure only my friends read this blog, odds are that you, dear reader, will still be around on Monday morning. And here's the bitch of it all: eliminating 2% of the population probably won't do anything to reduce traffic during the morning commute. No, we the damned will still be here (some of us taking care of the pets of the saved*), hanging on for a further 153 days until the world ends completely on October 21. During that time all sorts of fun stuff is supposed to happen: some of us will become "Tribulation Saints" and fight the Antichrist (at right is an Italian Renaissance depiction of the Antichrist**), the Jews will return to Jerusalem, rebuild the Temple and embrace Jesus as their Lord and Savior--although if they're going to do the latter, I don't understand why they would bother with the former. Then Jesus comes back, and there's a huge-ass battle at a place called Armageddon, a.k.a. Meggido.

In short, cancel your vacation plans. This summer and fall is going to be busy.

Camping's Apocalypse is running on a tighter schedule than your traditional Christian fundamentalist outline of the End of Days, but he's got all the right events on the calendar: the saved vanishing, the rebuilding of the Temple, and a big battle with the Most Evil Guy Ever. If you ask any fundamentalist Christian where they came up with this timeline of events, they'll probably tell you, "It's in the Bible." Well, not exactly.

I grew up Presbyterian (a non-fundamentalist church), and while I no longer belong to any faith, by virtue of attending a Presbyterian church throughout my youth I have heard the entire Bible read out loud at least four times. And since I studied English in college I was occasionally obliged to read parts of the Bible (bottom line:knowing chunks of the King James Bible is a big help in understanding a lot of English & American literature written before 1940 or so; as a text, the KJV's cultural influence tops Shakespeare).

I would say I know the Bible a good better than the average person. And the bottom line is, most people who call themselves fundamentalist Christians don't read the Bible. They have no idea what's in it. If they did their heads would explode. They would have to start caring about poor people and minorities and stop voting Republican.

I've actually cited Scripture in arguments with fundamentalist Christians. It drives them nuts.

But anyway, back to the Apocalypse. The current roster of events for the end of the world exists almost entirely because of the work of a nineteenth-century Anglican priest named John Nelson Darby (whom I've always wanted to call Charles Nelson Darby, which then makes me think of Charles Nelson Reilly...). Darby was so obsessed with the end of the world that he devoted a considerable amount of time to selective and creative reading of passages in the New Testament to put together a coherent timeline of events leading up to the Last Judgement. Darby had a particularly good time with Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, which Darby (and modern fundamentalists) consider a sort of coded AAA travel guide to the Apocalypse.

I myself was taught in Sunday school that Revelation was just allegory written to lift the spirits of Christians during a period of persecution in the reign of the Emperor Domitian. If you've never read Revelation yourself, give it a try. It's a trip. It starts out with the narrator having a vision of seven candlesticks in the sky and a guy with flaming eyes and a sword sticking out of his mouth.

Then things get weird.

But I digress. Let's get back to Harold Camping. He admits he has predicted the coming of the Apocalypse twice before, but this time, he say's got it right. How can he be so sure? Business Insider has the math.

But if Camping's wrong again, he can take consolation in having company. Here's a list of Apocalypses that weren't.

*Seriously. Click on the link.

**And clearly up to no good—as is usually the case with Antichrists.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Art and Secularism

Lately I've been listening repeatedly to Handel's Coronation Anthems. The Anthems are incredibly beautiful. I find them both energizing and soothing at the same time, if that makes any sense. Below is a clip of The Sixteen performing Anthem 4:

The Coronation Anthems are among those compositions, like Brahms' Requiem or Handel's Messiah, that leave with me a dim, inarticulate sense of loss that it's simply not possible to write such works any more. Kings in the old sense are gone. So's God.

While the recent, disgraceful media obsession with the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton shows that royalty hasn't lost all its magic, what royalty means now is a parody of what it meant when Handel wrote his Anthems for the coronation of George II and Queen Caroline in 1727. The King of England was also the head of the Church of England. One of his titles was Defender of the Faith. He was the Lord's Anointed, the apex of an order set up by God Himself. The Anthems were written for that idea, that concept of what royalty was, more so than they were for George II (who, for what it's worth, seems to have been a decent guy as kings go).

I don't want to live in a monarchy. I think all monarchies should be abolished. But it's hard not to feel a little irrationally wistful about a society that could produce music like that.

As an agnostic I also harbor similar feelings about music such as Handel's Messiah. Religion is one of the finest instruments of oppression mankind has ever devised, but secular society is never going to produce that sort of beauty.

Or as I read somewhere, atheists will never build a Chartres Cathedral.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Osama Chanted Evening

Sunday night we (those of us who were up) learned Osama bin Laden had been killed by Navy Seals.* The only reason I was up was that at ten or so a friend emailed me to say that Obama was going to make a statement to the nation on an undisclosed topic. So I waited. We were assuming he was going to announce that Qaddafi was dead.

Right about mortality. Wrong about which murderous crazy guy.

This is big news. It's especially big news for the wife of Gary Weddle, a Washington state middle-school teacher who decided in the aftermath of 9-11 he would not shave again until bin Laden was killed. I can't imagine her relief at no longer....well, let's just not go there.

Among the other people who think this is big news is Dick Cheney and his homies at Fox News, who are playing this up as a vindication of "Bush-era enhanced interrogation techniques" and Guantanamo. Because even though our Kenyan overlord has been in office for over two years, he couldn't have had anything to do with this. Fox News is unequivocal ("Bush-Era Interrogations Provided Key Details on bin Laden's Location"). But numerous reports are appearing that indicate bin Laden's elimination was the result of old-fashioned, painstaking intelligence work.

But even assuming the pro-torture crowd was right, it's absurd to also assume the intelligence obtained via torture couldn't have been gotten any other way. History suggests otherwise. In 2007, the men whose job in World War II was to get information from Nazi prisoners talked about their work. How did they get their intelligence? They cultivated relationships with their prisoners. They played chess. They had dinner together. As one of them recalled, "We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture."

Of course, facts won't really change the minds of the Fox News crowd and their audience. They'll just go back home, close the curtains, and enjoy their Jack Bauer porn.

And if the Fox News audience has been living in one reality. It seems many teenagers have been living in another. Twitter was hopping today with young people trying to find out, "Who is Osama bin Laden? And why should I care?"

*Specifically Navy Seal "Team 6." Which officially doesn't exist. And yet they're all over the Internet. Go figure.

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