30 July 2011

Intellect Loses: A Review of Rob Bell's "Love Wins"

I read Rob Bell's Love Wins on a dare. Before I started the book, knowing I'd write a review, I was prepared to respond with nuanced theological arguments and incisive philosophical criticisms. Having now read it, I'm not going to do that (OK, maybe a little). As inclusive as Rob Bell seems to want to be, I don't think I'm part of his target audience. I'm sure Rob Bell would tell you differently if you asked him, but as someone with a Master's degree in theology, who was an evangelical Christian and who has identified as an atheist for the past year or so, I'm confident saying Love Wins wasn't for me, and here's why:

I found plenty of things about the book I didn't like. Which was it that made me feel outside the book's scope? Maybe it was that it read like a sermon, right down to the bible quote-mining and the word-study on select Greek words, which are subsequently incorporated into sentences as if they'd suddenly become English words. Maybe it was the quasi-pithy statements meant to sound deep or poetic but which came off more as a set of shiny new platitudes.

Maybe it was the sentence fragments.
The clipped paragraphing.
Over.
And
fucking
over.

Maybe it was how Bell glossed over ("glossed over" is a diplomatic term for "almost completely failed to mention") the whole history of views— orthodox and otherwise— on heaven, hell and the fate of everyone who ever lived. Maybe it was how he seemed to be writing as if I hadn't bothered progressing intellectually past 8th grade, which I suppose means he was writing mainly to evangelical Christians. Yeah, that's the one.

It's not a problem only with Rob Bell. It's a problem with evangelical Christianity, and the problem is that evangelicals, generally speaking, would prefer not to worry about the life of the mind apart from being comforted that all their questions— and anyone's questions— boil down to a lack of love for God, and/or some kind of pride that can be readily gotten rid of with repentance and not thinking (of those questions) again.

Mark Noll, who is an evangelical Christian, pointed this out in 1994 in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. I quite liked that book, and much like most thoughtful, insightful books written for the evangelical Christian community, it had a wildly nominal impact on the practice of evangelical Christianity.

Judging from statements in Love Wins, my guess is that Bell would say I'd only ever had experience with the wrong view of God, or a broken view of God, shaped by my sins and the sins of others, and that's quite tragic, but there's a better view of God available. Interestingly, Bell defends his own experience of praying the sinner's prayer as inexorably real, implying that he had experienced in that moment, the right view of God. The true view of God.

So, Rob, please don't insult me by thinking you're going to convince me of anything you say in a book, the entire premise of which hinges on a No True Scotsman fallacy. Not OK, guy.

Anyway, that wasn't the review. I was just explaining why Love Wins was probably not written for me. Here's the real review. The true review: I liked Love Wins about a thousand times better when it was called The Great Divorce and was written by C. S. Lewis.

19 July 2011

How to Stage a Protest

Are you a victim of the government? Were your rights tread upon by the democratically elected representatives you didn't vote for because that rerun of Keeping Up with the Kardashians was on? The one where Kim has a giant ass. You know the one I mean. No, no, with the giant ass, where it's just fucking, you know, giant. Yeah, that one. Anyway, fuck the government.

I'm going to be straight with you. You need to get off your lazy ass and do something.

And you know what you can do, Constitutionally speaking? OK, not what I had in mind, but yes, technically you can carry an automatic weapon in the bed of your Ford F650 or send your shih-poo to a psychiatrist or watch the Daily Show. I mean something even more fundamentally Constitutional. Something our founding fathers would have gone "fuck yeah" to. What I was thinking of was protesting.  Here's what you do:

  1. Signs. People love signs. People believe signs. So get yourself down to the Home Depot, get a big old Sharpie or something and some kind of stick and paper or whatever, and whip up something topical. Then, get some photos of people on the other side of the issue protesting. Post these photos on the internet and laugh about how much more clever your signs are.
  2. Nonviolent/passive resistance. Do this when you're upset, but not enough to riot. One example is needlessly bringing a loaded firearm to a political rally. Not to use it, of course. Just to have it. My personal favorite form of nonviolent resistance is resigning from your cushy town clerk position because you just found out that equal rights means everybody. Or the Daily Show thing, like you said.
  3. Hire lobbyists. There's nothing more American than hiring somebody else to do your protesting. Lobbyists don't come cheap, though. I suggest becoming the foreign-born head of an international corporation if you want to get anything done in Washington. Or, form an oligarchy to ensure lucrative government contracts are granted to your industry of choice. It's not as if the government's going to cut spending. They'll just borrow more of that sweet hot Chinese dough (it tastes of wonton!). Oh, except NASA. They might cut funding for NASA. I mean, there's a recession on. We can't afford to invade space while we've got troops in over one hundred countries here on Earth. Be reasonable. We'd be spreading ourselves too thin.
And that's all you need to know to really make a difference in the way this country is run. Protesting is 100% effective in this regard. Nothing else is required.

Oh, and one last word of advice: don't try any of this sitting in a different seat on the bus nonsense. It's not that it's not effective. It certainly used to be. It's just that we the people decided to bail out the auto industry, so it's sort of rude to use mass transit. right now Yeah, back in the pickup truck or sensible hybrid sedan now. Thanks.

13 July 2011

Tums vs Necco Wafers: A Completely Scientific and Unbiased Comparison, Part 1

Tums are better than Necco Wafers. I'll prove it to you with my following Completely Scientific and Unbiased Comparison© (copyright and study subsidized by GlaxoSmithKline, St.Louis, Missouri, USA), since apparently some of you don't take my word as gospel, as I've asked or commanded you do on multiple occasions. The scientific method used in this study will be at least as rigorous as that employed by creation scientists worldwide. Maybe more so. Probably more so.


For the purposes of this comparison, I've elected to go with the original forms of both products. Tums offers several levels of stronger antacid, as well as an all-mint option, some kind of chocolate crème and a bunch of "smoothie" flavors. Necco Wafers also come in a package of ostensibly chocolate flavors and some "smoothie" flavors as well. Future studies will focus on comparisons of the "smoothie" and "chocolate" flavors. I assume in both cases that "smoothie" means they removed the ground magnesium shards and "chocolate" means "not really like chocolate."


First, I took a picture of the products. For posterity. Here you go, posterity:
Afterward, when I scratched my nails on a blackboard, they left actual chalk marks.
Then, I unpackaged both and sorted them by color/flavor:
Tony Montana's got nothing on me.
Someone's motto is "always be prepared." I think it was Madeline Albright. Or maybe Snoop Dogg. Anyway, in order to "be prepared" and not to contaminate either set of samples, I needed a palate cleanser. This palate cleanser:
I drank most of it back when I was writing my comparison of circus peanuts and giant foam fingers.
I drank one shot before the Tums, a shot between the Tums and the Necco Wafers, and two shots before completing this— I cannot stress this enough— highly scientific and accurate comparison.


I've selected five categories by which to gauge each product on a scale of one to ten Sad Keanus, one being Keanu in Constantine (pretty damn sad) and ten being Keanu in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (pretty great, actually).


QUANTITY OF FLAVORS: Necco Wafers advertise seven flavors. As you may have noticed in the picture, I nearly got only six flavors. In fact, due to the almost imperceptible color difference, I was almost sure I did have only six, and was ready to complain. Tums has only four flavors, but they do have packages with other offerings, like "tropical" fruit instead of just "assorted." I guess that doesn't count as I'm doing this on a package-to-package basis, to keep things scientific and controlled and also to point out that "package-to-package" is a gay joke.


While Necco Wafers technically have more flavors, they don't seem to be bothered with massively disproportionate numbers of individual flavors. Look at all those orange ones! I can't wait to tell you how awful they tasted (SPOILER ALERT: pretty awful). Tums, on the other hand, contains almost even numbers of each flavor. Because of the convenience of those even numbers, creation science dictates that I have to find deeper meaning in it. I'm going to assume it means God wants me to give Tums a good score, so here are the ratings for this section:


Necco Wafers: Six Sad Keanus
Tums: Seven Sad Keanus


QUALITY OF FLAVORS: Like I said, I tried the Tums first. There was a yellow one that tasted like some kind of yellow-colored fruit. The greenish one I think was lime. The red was cherry. By the way, this list is in the order of ascending tastiness. The final flavor, orange, tasted like a creamsicle. I wanted to eat them all, but my roommate advised that it might make me die. All in all, mostly boring flavors, and one good one.


I tried the Necco Wafers next. Allegedly, the yellow ones were lemon, but they tasted an awful lot like yellow Tums. But, they weren't the worst flavor, oh no. That award goes to the orange Necco Wafers. They're the ones I got the most of, if you notice the precarious stack in the photo above. The taste was similar to the yellow ones but with slightly more…I'm going to say "malaise." 


The white ones were cinnamon, because cinnamon is always white and always tastes less like "cinnamon" and more like "plain." As you might guess, the brown ones were touted as "chocolate." They tasted like a Tootsie Roll that's been left in the sun to dry, ground into powder, then reconstituted using talcum powder. As you might not guess, the pink ones were "wintergreen." Never mind that winter is never pink, and neither is green. In fact, the pink/green juxtaposition is why so few people own avocado-colored bathtubs


The only two flavors I liked are the ones I had the fewest of: licorice and clove. I'll go so far as to say that I don't remember these flavors being great, but I like licorice well enough, and this isn't the fake sort from black jelly beans. It's the more natural kind you get with the softer, chewier licorice you can get in New England. You Mainers know what I mean. Clove, the off-white one, was the best of the lot. It's a travesty I got only one and that it was so hard to tell apart from the cinnamon. If Necco Wafers had packaged all clove and licorice, they'd have won this category, no problem. But their crappy flavors out-weighed their good flavors.


Necco Wafers: Three Sad Keanus
Tums: Five Sad Keanus


TEXTURE: This one's easy. Both products are chalky and grainy and terrible. Tums are easier to chew, but I honestly found the crunch of the Necco Wafers mildly satisfying after a while. Either way, nobody's winning here, especially not the consumer.


Necco Wafers: Two Sad Keanus
Tums: One Sad Keanu


PACKAGING: I trust Tums a hell of a lot more than Necco Wafers. Tums has a freshness seal. Necco Wafers has a slightly open roll of the thinnest wax paper capable of surviving printing, packaging and transport. I realize the freshness seal may be nothing more than the calcium-based tablet packaging equivalent of the TSA. Neither makes me any safer; both just inconvenience me under the auspices of safety.


I am legally obligated to inform you that at no time and in no way did the freshness seal of the Tums I purchased, nor indeed any Tums product anywhere, attempt to fondle my junk.




Neither product has especially impressive design on their packaging, so it's a draw their. However, I was able to repackage my Tums based on color, making a soft, chalky rainbow in the bottle. The male-stripper-mesh-shirt thin wax paper of the Necco Wafers tore so horribly that I was forced to eat them all, which is a lot more like a chore than it sounds.


Necco Wafers: One Sad Keanu
Tums: Eight Sad Keanus


INGREDIENTS AND NUTRITION: Necco Wafers are all-natural, even the coloring, which is probably why the colors look horrid and are so difficult to tell apart. Regardless, I think Necco Wafers deserve some credit for being hippie-friendly (they're gluten-free and fat-free, and some are even marked Kosher, apparently depending on which plant they were processed in). Their nutrition facts also give amounts for exactly one roll, which I respect. It's transparent and honest, not like ice cream makers who think I'm going to measure out half a cup of ice cream instead of eating the entire pint and/or half gallon.


Tums have a much lower calorie count, but keep in mind they recommend eating four at a time, at most. I could do the math, but why not just assume that four Necco Wafers are roughly equivalent to Tums in terms of carbohydrate content. So, that's settled.


Tums have the advantage of containing calcium, which certain "scientists" claim is good for you, except that too much of it will probably do bad things to you. Which means that I can indulge my lack of impulse control by eating an entire package of Necco Wafers, but not an entire package of Tums. 


Tums also contain something called "adipic acid," which sounds counter-productive. With all the other "scientific" names on the package, I'm not sure if I should trust their implicit authority and assume that Tums are good for me, or assume some massive, complicated conspiracy behind it on par with God burying dinosaur fossils in faux-ancient layers of sediment just to keep us on our toes. Something fishy's going on, Tums.


Necco Wafers: Seven Sad Keanus
Tums: Four Sad Keanus


TOTALS:


Necco Wafers: Nineteen Sad Keanus, Average Three point Eight Sad Keanus
You don't have to remind us that you're "The Original" Nobody is trying to copy you. I can't stress this enough.
Tums: Twenty-five Sad Keanus, Average Five Sad Keanus
Don't let this victory go to your head. You're still dead awful to eat.


ANALYSIS OF FINDINGS: We can all agree that both products are pretty sub-par when it comes to taste and texture. And even though Tums had more Sad Keanus overall, I think it's important to keep in mind the specific uses for each product. Tums are intended to fight heartburn and act as a calcium supplement. Necco Wafers are on a short list of candies you don't really want to get while trick-or-treating, but at least you can down an entire package. That's kind of a gay joke, too, if you want it to be.


At the end of the day, we've got to pick a side, because that's just how false dichotomies work. So, I'm going with the product endorsed by creation science logic: Tums. If you picked Necco Wafers, the Devil gave you that idea and also you're letting the terrorists win.