October 19, 2012

The Great Controversy by Ellen G. White

The Great Controversy by Ellen G. White
The Great Controversy

THIS BOOK WAS WRITTEN BY: Ellen G. White, one of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It has been revised several times since she originally wrote it in 1858, and it is available for free online through several websites and is being mailed out by a number of evangelical projects. While this website assures me that they used "publicly available resources" to get my mailing address, it's a little creepy how they were able to use the special nickname I share with only my closest friends ("RESIDENT").

WHAT IS IN THIS BOOK: Ms. White's plea to return to the scriptures. "Men have been unwearied in their efforts to obscure the plain, simple meaning of the Scriptures, and to make them contradict their own testimony"(p.29), so she is helpfully including excerpts from the scriptures in her book to remind you how to live. Ms. White has chosen to share this message because "many ministers are teaching their people, and many professors and teachers are instructing their students, that the law of God has been changed or abrogated; and those who regard its requirements as still valid, to be literally obeyed, are thought to be deserving only of ridicule or contempt"(p.312). It's important to remember that the bible is serious business as you follow its literal instructions to throw rocks at gay people and not wear wool and linen at the same time.

Ellen G. White was NOT a fan of popes, papists, or popery.
WHAT IS NOT IN THIS BOOK: Any patience for those who would listen to "the representative of Satan  — the bishop of Rome" (p.18). Do you know what caused the French revolution? "That terrible outbreaking was but the legitimate result of Rome's suppression of the scriptures"(p.138). In fact, "If we desire to understand the determined cruelty of Satan... we have only to look at the history of Romanism"(p.305).  And throughout history, "as the ravenous beast is rendered more furious by the taste of blood, so the rage of the papists was kindled to greater intensity by the sufferings of their victims" (p.33). Ms. White's intolerance may seem surprising, but that's because most people are only familiar with the first part of Jesus' quote, "Love thy neighbor, unless he's Catholic, in which case the best you can do is hope that he converts to something less offensive, like Islam, maybe."

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND THIS BOOK TO A PHOENICIAN? Not unless I wanted to start a riot. Ms. White says some pretty hurtful things about them:

"The god of many professedly wise men, of philosophers, poets, politicians, journalists — the god of polished fashionable circles, of many colleges and universities, even of some theological institutions — is little better than Baal, the sun-god of Phoenicia" (p.312)

That's right, Baal-worshipers, she said journalists. Can you really just sit there passively when she's comparing you unfavorably to Wolf Blitzer?

Rites of Baal: Fair and Balanced?WOULD YOU RECOMMEND THIS BOOK TO FRED CLARK OF SLACKTIVIST? No way. Not only does he already know about it, but he'd probably be a million times better at mocking it. Have you seen  what he did to the Left Behind series?

WHAT WAS INTERESTING ABOUT THIS BOOK? Ellen White's bleak vision of what life would be like without Adventists around to show us what it means to heed the word of the Lord:
"Property would no longer be safe. Men would obtain their neighbor's possessions by violence, and the strongest would become richest. Life itself would not be respected. The marriage vow would no longer stand as a sacred bulwark to protect the family. He who had the power, would, if he desired, take his neighbor's wife by violence. The fifth commandment would be set aside with the fourth. Children would not shrink from taking the life of their parents if by so doing they could obtain the desire of their corrupt hearts. The civilized world would become a horde of robbers and assassins; and peace, rest, and happiness would be banished from the earth." (p.313)

It's chilling to imagine what the world would be like without them leading by example.

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April 10, 2012

The Arrogance of Humanism

The Arrogance of Humanism

THIS BOOK WAS WRITTEN BY: David Ehrenfeld, a professor of biology at Rutgers University who wants you to keep your logic and reason away from his emotion. Ehrenfeld feels that "the advocacy of logic at the expense of emotion can be carried to both absurd and evil extremes"(p.146), something that happens far too often in modern life. "Like a fat man in a tuxedo falling into a swimming pool, the result is often funny,"(p.148) but when we laugh, we risk overlooking some of its most grievous abuses. For example, "the Soviet dissenters are a brave and passionate group of people, and I cannot help but wonder whether they are being punished by the masters of reason for the undying and powerful quality of their emotion"(p.153).

WHAT IS IN THIS BOOK? An indictment of the creeping humanism that has infected all modern discourse. Humanism is "a supreme faith in human reason — its ability to confront and solve the many problems that humans face, its ability to rearrange both the world of Nature and the affairs of men and women so that human life will prosper"(p.5). Humanism sounds nice until you realize that "communism is at heart intensely humanistic, for it contains the central idea that rational planning can alter any pre-existing condition of man"(p.153). Furthermore, "Most totalitarian persons and regimes, of whatever label," and we are not naming names, Hitler, but we are certainly casting disapproving glances in your direction, "are strongly humanistic in some of their most important philosophic assumptions"(p.6).

WHAT IS NOT IN THIS BOOK? Sugar-coated facts or unreasonably optimistic projections. Ehrenfeld refuses to downplay the stranglehold that humanism has on modern society. "All public communications media are permeated with humanistic preachings all of the time. Business, economic theory, politics, and technology accept the teachings of humanism, entire"(p.4). Humanists have developed terrifying devices like the "bionic laser cane" (p.42), and their ranks are augmented by "international falcon thieves"(p.180). In the face of this adversary, Ehrenfeld admits "I have given no master plan for individual survival"(p.xi).

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND THIS BOOK TO AN ANTI-VACCINE CRUSADER? Certainly. They should identify with Ehrenfeld's argument that solving problems with applied reason only yields more problems. "Humanism to cure humanism! It is like bathing an infection in an extract of sewage"(p.252). It's time for us to stop meddling. For example, we should stop giving wheelchairs to the disabled, since they might use them to visit liquor stores and strip clubs. And AIDS patients, cancer sufferers, and parents who don't want to expose their children to diseases not seen since the Pilgrims should be ashamed of themselves for daring to imagine that their lives could be improved. Taking corrective action would only introduce problems to their lives, like planning a wedding, taking out a mortgage to buy a home, or seeing their children raise children of their own. 

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND THIS BOOK TO A BURNT-OUT FACULTY MEMBER WHO SNAPPED AFTER ONE TOO MANY RUN-INS WITH MICROMANAGING ADMINISTRATORS THAT ARE COMPLETELY UNVERSED IN HIS CHOSEN FIELD OF STUDY? No, I would recommend that they read Ehrenfeld's lecture to the New Economic Institute on the explosion of management. However, this book does contain plenty of venom for administrators, the "people whose job it is to manage and direct organizations. And these administrators, whatever they are doing, are not producing what Schumacher called the goods and services necessary to a becoming existence. They are a burden upon the real producers in society"(p.247). Administrators and their obsession with control are an evil that transcends ideology or conventional labels. "Organization is organization: it is neither socialist nor reactionary, religious nor secular — just distilled humanism. It is organization, not 'communism' or 'capitalism,' that is attempting to run the world, and a very bad job it is making of it"(p.253).

WHAT WAS INTERESTING ABOUT THIS BOOK? The number of compelling, real-world examples of humanism's destructive influence that Ehrenfeld has drawn from sources such as Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, the E.M. Forster story "The Machine Stops," and H.G. Wells' "Food of the Gods," all highlighting ways that we have dared to tread in the domain of the almighty and toy with the powers of god.
According to Ehrenfeld, the tale of the Six Million Dollar Man is especially important. Unlike Prometheus, who was punished by the gods for attempting to improve mankind's existence, the scientists who rebuild Steve Austin suffer no divine retribution for their actions. The story reflects the fact that in our efforts to attain the powers of the gods, "now that the path to omnipotence is clear, we have discarded the superstitious guilt that was so much a part of the early days of the quest"(p.41).
These instances all highlight the "human tragedy" that is our inability to set aside things that give us power. "The first time I came across a description of this tragedy and was made to understand it was in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings"(p.248).

SPECIAL AWARD: Bitterly Books is honoring David Ehrenfeld with the Room 101 Judo Award for Hitting Them Where They Live based on the rhetorical tactics he employs in his work.

The main goal of "the humanistic logic and power cult"(p.146) is to have us suppress or push aside our emotions and view everything in unfeeling, rational terms. And the best way to counter humanists is with rats. "Rats have an innate distrust of anything new in their environment. When this occurs in human beings it is called superstition or emotion"(p.133). These rat emotions are the key to opposing "reason and its servant, the scientific method"(p.148).

Claiming that the evils of the world can be fixed if we act more like rats is a bold move on Ehrenfeld's part; it's not the most inspiring mental image. However, readers who feel squeamish about becoming more ratlike are themselves possessed of — and responding with — emotion. The cold automatons who willingly put their revulsion aside to consider Ehrenfeld's arguments solely on their rational merits are the ones who will benefit from them the most.

The Arrogance of Humanism by David Ehrenfeld (Oxford University Press, 1978, ISBN: 0-19-502890-2)

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July 24, 2011

You Don't Need a Body to Have a Good Time

Out-of-Body Exploring: A Beginner's Approach

This book was written by: Preston Dennett, a former accountant who now "is a leading UFO researcher and ghost hunter, and has authored five books and more than eighty articles"(p.181) on paranormal topics.

What is in this book: A discussion of Mr. Dennett's out-of-body expereinces (OBEs), lucid dreams, and voyages "to explore not only the physical world, but the astral world"(p.xiv) Dennett get around to actual advice on how to have your own OBEs in chapter 12, and helpfully includes a three-page question and answer section about OBEs is at the end of the book. Mr. Dennett's book also includes transcripts from his OBE journals:

Out of Body
I am lucid! I feel a wave of sexual desire. I reach out and grab a lady's breast.
Dennett puts his experiences into context by citing the work of other OBE pioneers:

Vee Van Dam wrote that he had good enough control in the dream state to be able to create fully lifelike people with whom he could intimately interact. I also came to experience an increase in control, but I'm not sure if this was good news or not because now I was able to construct more elaborate scenarios and choose whomever I wanted to have sex with. That kind of temptation is hard to resist(p.103).
And he notes some of the challenges he sets for himself and experiments he performs in his nonphysical form:

I decide to see if I can sing the scale. I sing out loudly, Do-Re-Me-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do! It sounds great. I sing it again. I feel proud to have achieved my goal.(p.46)
Like all good scientists, his explorations are guided by a spirit of academic inquiry and a strict adherence to ethical principles:

I had a few inadvertent experiences during which my desire body took control and I invaded the privacy of women's showers.(p.171)
What is not in this book: Credible assurances that out-of-body experiences are safe. It's true that Dennett addresses the topic in the Q&A section of his book, but his answer is suspect:

"Not only are OBEs not dangerous, they occur to everybody every night. There is not a single reported case of anybody being physically harmed by an OBE. It is impossible to be hurt while out of body because you are nonphysical. Nor can you get too far away from your body, or locked out, or possessed."(p.170)
That's exactly what a possessed person would say when trying to convince us that he's not possessed. Also, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. When it comes to "reported" cases of harm, dead astral bodies tell no tales.

Would you recommend this book to Will Robinson? Absolutely. Dennett writes that "by going out of body, I was able to fly to distant locations, visit the moon"(p.xiv), so using it in outer space wouldn't be a problem. Dennett says that he experienced difficulty when learning about OBEs because "nobody warned me that integrating the dream state with your waking consciousness would lead to possible confusion and a bleed-through between the physical and astral dimensions"(p.155), but that robot that followed Will around was yelling warnings all the time, so he'd probably be okay.

Would you recommend this book to that girl in college who claimed she was a lesbian but just seemed really desperate for attention? Yes. She was big on experimenting, so she'd take right to Mr. Dennet's suggestions of experiments you can try while out of body:
  • "Saying your name while out of body is a fun experiment because you never know what is going to happen"(p.166)
  • "'Gaom-Raom-Om-Bour-Bu-Mama-Papa' Repeat this mantra while out of body. If you are able to say this while out of body or lucid dreaming, you may be surprised."(p.166)
Any one of them would be at least as productive as that 10-hour drum circle she led in the Student Union to protest animal treatement in Burma.

What was interesting about this book? The amount of violence that takes place in the astral world. Mr. Dennet relates the story of the time he was "Attacked by an Astral Bull"(p.64) and the following encounter:
Attacked by Homeless People
I am walking down the sidewalk when I see a small group of homeless people. They are dirty, gaunt, and dressed in rags. They are also looking at me threateningly. Suddenly, they atack me. They are pushing, pulling, ripping at my clothes.
Despite the danger, journeying out of body is an important skill to learn because eventualy everyone will be doing it. "Conscious out-of-body travel will become increasingly commmon among the general population. I think it's inevitable"(p.174, emphasis in original).

Out-of-Body Exploring: A Beginner's Approach by Preston Dennett (Hampton Roads Publishing, 2004, ISBN: 1-57174-409-6)

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July 6, 2011

The God Delusion

God's Debris
(free, available online)

This book was written by: Scott Adams, the creator of the controversial "Dilbert" comic strip, an aspiring restaurateur, and an accomplished puppeteer.

What is in this book?
*bong noises*
There is something about eyes that supports God’s inevitable reassembly.(p.72)
*bong noises*
When we feel the warmth of sunlight, we are feeling the effect of increased probabilities and, therefore, increased activity of our skin cells, not the effect of photons striking our skin.(p.88)
*bong noises*
If, as you say, our minds are delusion generators, then we’re all like blind and deaf sea captains shouting orders into the universe and hoping it makes a difference. (p.121)
*impact noise*

What is not in this book? Action. Or much of anything else, really.
“Then you believe we can only know things that have been tested?” he asked.
“I’m not saying that.”
“Then you’re not saying anything, are you?”
It felt that way.

Would you recommend this book to a chubby, singularity-worshipping transhumanist? No, because that would mean actually talking with one of them. However, parts of this book may resonate with them.
I will admit I’m not the life of any party. Whenever I try to inject something interesting into a conversation everyone gets quiet until someone changes the topic. I think I’m pretty interesting but no one else does. All of the popular people seem to babble about nothing, but I usually have something interesting to say. You’d think people would like that.(p.106)

Would you recommend this book to anyone? If I was cornered by a knife-wielding automaton of a human being who needed some kind of instruction manual for interactions with othersand he insisted that it had to be written by a cartoonistI would suggest that he read pages 105-114, the chapter on "Relationships." And I'd feel terrible about myself afterwards.

What was interesting about this book? The entire book's 132-page argument can be summed up in one sentence: The only thing for an omnipotent god is to do is kill himself, so he must have succeeded and we are the thinking bits left over that work towards the singularity that will rebuild him (so buckle up).
"God’s reassembly requires people—living, healthy people," he said. "When you buckle your seat belt, you increase your chances of living. That is obeying probability. If you get drunk and drive without a seat belt, you are fighting probability."(p.99)

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June 22, 2011

Bonus Material: Game Widow

Game Widow
-What’s with her right foot? It looks like she’s wearing heels, but her left foot is wearing a flat shoe. Why is she up on the ball of her right foot?

-What exactly is her left foot doing? Is she tapping her toes in impatience, or rocking on the ball of her foot and tapping her heel? If that’s the case, why are her toes off the ground? Wouldn’t that be incredibly uncomfortable?

-Is she wearing a bustle? It looks like her ass sticks out a full hand’s width from her spine, and/or her right leg doesn’t connect to her torso.

-What is going on with her left hand? The arm makes it look like it should be in front of her body. Are both of her hands so hideously deformed that they need to be hidden behind her body?

-Who actually stands like that, anyway? That’s some serious, cartoon-level impatience getting emoted right there.

The Game Widow’s missing head. Sure, you could say that they wanted her to be an everywoman, an amalgam of all long-suffering gamer spouses out there. I think that there’s more to it than that. I think that they’re trying to make it easier to objectify her, illustrating how gamers only think that two things in life are worth focusing on, games and sex. And the gaming element is such a large part of their life that it threatens to eclipse everything else.

The gamepad. Based on the structure of this book, their target audience can’t tell an XBox controller from a novelty dildo, (“There’s a little booklet included in most video game boxes with a list of vocabulary specific to that game, but if you don’t want to dig through game boxes, or if you’d like to understand the live or chat conversations scrolling by on game screen, check out vocabulary guides online”[p.104]. When it comes to slang words, “oftentimes, the ones that don’t sound scary, such as ‘frag’ and the other words for kill, are the ones that should get your attention if used in a regular conversation”[p.105]) so they need something that’s recognizable enough to say “video game” without calling out a specific brand. It’s also big enough to blot out the sun, and larger than the widow herself.

The title. This isn’t one of those books that parades its contents on its sleeve spine with a pointlessly elaborate subtitle like Game Widow: An in-depth exploration of video games, their creation, and the forces that drive people to forsake their families for them. It’s just the two words, making potential buyers ask questions like “Who is this game widow?" "Where is her head?" "Did her husband just get crushed by that enormous controller in the foreground?” and most importantly, "Does this mean she's available?"

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Bonus Material: Grand Illusions

I'm too lazy to transcribe the entire page, so here's the part where Grant argues why Planned Parenthood is rolling in cash:

Planned Parenthood Fees

You might be tempted to suggest that this argument says more for reform of the healthcare system than it does against Planned Parenthood. You are wrong. "The fact that despite all its grave faults and ominous foibles, the American health-care system is still by far the best the world has to offer, that it is the envy of physicians and technicians everywhere, and that it affords almost universal access and care doesn't seem to matter to the utopian reformers"(p.242).

Grant also makes an argument that Planned Parenthood is doomed because they had a "Flash Gordon Worldview" that was never fully realized. "The future that never quite happened was born of a pretentious spirit of modernism that is laughably passé today"(p.33). The weird thing is that he gets awfully descriptive when discussing someone else's vision of the future:

"A distant gleaming skyline soars up from the fruited plains through plump cumulous clouds to sleek zeppelin docks and mad neon spires. Roads of crystal unfold between the towers like an origami trick. They are crossed and recrossed by thousands of satiny silver vehicles like choreographed beads of running mercury. The air above the city crackles with remote radio-laser signals. It is simultaneously thick with ships: giant delta wing-liners, dragonfly-like gyro-copters, electro-magneto aerial cars, and vast hovering helium blimps. Searchlights sweep surreally across the horizon illuminating streamlined buildings ringed with bright radiator flanges.
Thronging the broad plazas of pristine marble below are the happy citizens of this jaunty utopia. Orderly and alert, their bright eyes are aglow with enthusiasm for their floodlit avenues, their shark-fin robots, their care-free conveniences, and their elysian prosperity. They all look wise and strong, striking a uniform pose of youthful health, energy, and cooperation.
It is a heroic world of fluted aluminum, slipstream chrome, lustrous Lucite, burnished bronze, and the unfettered dreams of progress.

Grant gets in some real zingers, insisting on referring to abortion clinics as "abortuaries." Regarding RU-486, he says that Planned Parenthood " brought excellent credentials to the task of sanitizing the public perception of pharmaceutical child-killing"(p.193). Then again, he also fails pretty spectacularly in a few places. There's his claim that "when that power is cavalierly couched in sluggardly bamboozlery it is all the more frightening"(p.195), and this passage:

" I was in town for a couple of speaking engagements. Several pro-life advocates, including the two men currently playing 'Eliot Ness' in the back seat of my 'getaway car,' had invited me to participate in their regular Saturday morning picket of a local abortion clinic. Such invitations for me are like the bite of a silk piranha."(p.13)

Silk piranhas aside, the Elliot Ness comparison is just sloppy. His friends are unarmed and wetting their pants in the back seat of a car that is fleeing from the bad guys while Grant is driving. (It should be noted that the bad guys are driving "an ominous and carnivorous pickup"[p.13]. That's right. Carnivorous) Grant would have been better off saying that they were "playing Bonnie to his Clyde," but he probably didn't want to invite the association with criminals (even though he had, in fact, removed property from the clinic). We know that this adrenaline-fueled chase totally happened for reals, because "certain personal, geographical, and architectural alterations have been symbolically altered […] but otherwise, the events and conversations are absolutely accurate"(p.366).

I thought that this quote was particularly funny:

"It seems this is the modus operandi of Planned Parenthood. There can be no challenge to its sacrosanct vision of the future. There can be no question about its revered formulas, its hallowed rituals, or its consecrated dogmas. The fallibility of its scientific and secular cultus simply cannot be countenanced civilly. Anyone who dares to contravene its sanctity is therefore mercilessly demonized."(p.56, italics in original)

Dr. Grant notes that "this book was especially written so that you could take whole paragraphs and even whole sections word for word, verbatim, and use them as ammunition in your testimony or presentation"(p.336). And you know what? I did.

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