High Capacity Ode

Need not retreat when my hackles are raised
Any rash act will in some circles be praised
Iron in hand works as substitute courage
More guns is the answer promoted by some
(Because more firepower makes so much sense)

Feel threatened by some kid I am stalking?
Feel lessened by his dismissive mocking?
A poser with a gun out in the night
He retreats but I advance gun in hand
(Claim self defense against one departing?)

I much love that added sense of power
Makes up what’s seen lacking in the shower
Testosterone free to come out and play
No need to heed that most prudent warning
(Of living to fight yet another day)

My cash of guns don’t threaten you at all
I’m not the one who’s shooting at a mall
Hope you’re lucky when I clean all my guns
That high power round won’t respect any walls
(Oops I was so sure it wasn’t loaded)

Your tacit consent, please, to my armed might
To respect my freedom, honor my right
Collateral damage is necessary
To preserve my sacred right to carry
(Tough break for those kids without a permit)

Each month a grizzly bell does peel and toll
Like the report from every trigger pull
But do recall that many are killed by cars
And some just trip and fall on a loose rug
Should these things not also receive your ire?

I am a loser but not with a gun
Blasting shit to pieces is lots of fun
Iron makes me a big man tall as am oak
Cold touch twists my soul like Gollum’s precious
(Take more than dead children to give it up)

Add 4 parts mental illness to the pot
Next add social isolation with care
Add first person shooters liberally
And easy access to high powered fare
(Then sit back and watch the show in real time)

Excuses and the typical refrain
Spew simpering platitudes to ease others’ pain
About being home with Jesus, how very nice
Seems almost a favor worth the high price
(But our world is less now absent their smiles)

Guns don't kill people, it's people who stray
They'd just go and do it some other way
Not so easy, nor the counts near as high
Or from such a distance or certainty
(We'll not change our ways, it wasn't our kid)


It Almost Happend!

The Apocalypse of December 21.  It was a close thing.  Though not associated with any of the misrepresentations about the Mayan calender, we almost lost the planet yesterday.  The NRA's long awaited solution to school shootings - armed guards.  The simultaneous explosion of so many irony meters almost set fire to the atmosphere.  The NRA - long preaching a mantra of gun ownership being the only safeguard against a police state, suggest that the solution to idiots with guns is a police state.


Ok, Believers, it's time to put up.

I'm disgusted.  At gun shops across Oregon, the response to the Connecticut Children's Massacre is to go out and buy guns.  Guns for 'protection' and guns because they are afraid that this slaughter of innocents may finally wake this country up to the problem of our pathological reverence for the gun.  That this is the response of my countrymen is beyond appalling.  Unlike all who will no doubt object, I have treated the broken bodies of children wounded by bullets.  I know the effects both short term and long.  My message to those out buying up the guns - you obviously love guns more than children.  

So here's my challenge to the believers out there who oppose abortion and end of life autonomy - care about innocent lives as much as you do the fetus.  Make it harder for deranged souls or complete losers to go out in a blaze of gunfire that catches the innocent in the crossfire. Stop the inane commentary about guns not killing people. 

Here are some thoughts - 

1: Screw the 2nd Amendment.  It's an amendment after all - repeal it.  (admittedly a hard road).  The founders never intended civilians having more firepower than the military.  The only freedom we will give up is the freedom to slaughter large numbers or get some idiotic macho jollies by firing one of these things.

2: Ban military style weapons in civilian hands.  If you want to fire an assault rifle, go out and enlist in the army, reserves or the Guard. Assault rifles aren't varmint guns or legitimate hunting weapons, they are designed to kill humans, period. Or buy a video game.  That way you can sit on your fat behind at home and leave the rest of us in peace.

3: Ban semiautomatic handguns to civilians.  If personal protection is your goal, a revolver is safer, more reliable, and plenty.  If you can't hit something with 6 shots then we don't want you spraying an additional 9 in the air for us to duck.  From what I know, it's not likely to save you but, if you need an adult pacifier, it's better than a high capacity semiauto.

4: Ban antipersonnel rounds other than standard hollow points.  If it's against the Geneva Convention it should be illegal against your fellow countrymen. 

5: Make gun manufacturers subject to the same liability laws as the rest of industry. 

6: Put some teeth into background checks and waiting periods.  Limit carry permits to those under legitimate threat or with extensive background checks and training. 

Would this end private ownership of guns?  No.  If you are a true hunter or sports person you would still have access to hunting weapons like shotguns, bolt action rifles, and black powder firearms.  If you are deluded enough to insist on a handgun for protection, the revolver should suffice.  (a 12 guage with a Deerslayer is a better home defense option in any case.)  If you want something else then you are a potential threat.   Grow up and get a more productive hobby.  If you find yourself getting off on the thrill of shooting, consider counselling. 

Ok, you defenders of life. Prove that it isn't all rhetoric. Put the brakes on this violence.  Care about the living as much as the yet unborn.  And spare us the NRA bullshit, because we aren't buying it. 


The Migration of Memory

They call it schizophrenia.   I kind of like that word.  It sounds sort of out there.  Like the experiences themselves.

They give me medication so that I can be more like them.  Think more like them.  Act more like them when I’m performing some repetitive monkey task at some job they say I should have to be part of society (whatever that is).

The voices they say are only in my head have a lot more interesting things to say than the mouths of the normals. This normal that I keep hearing about in therapy.  Therapy, what a total waste.  As if anyone can can have insights outside of the confines of their own brain chemistry. 

My memories have evolved sort of like the Bible.  Factual events clouded in time that begin to take on epic proportions far more interesting than my real life. 

My problem is that the medication changes how I think about today, but does nothing to alter the memories created in its absence. Those are more colorful and rich.  Much more inviting.  The so called real ones aren’t all that inviting.  Lots of unadorned white rooms and boring halfway houses filled with medicated zombies.  No that’s not fair to zombies.  They would at least be interesting.

The medication prevents me from reliving (or enjoying) the full extent of those past experiences but doesn’t take away the knowledge of their existence and the sadness of not being able to go back there. Back where the colors are brighter, the sounds crisper, the sensations more electric.   I suppose it’s like somebody who’s had a stroke.  You know you’ve lost something important. Something self-defining, but can’t get it back. The shell is still there, but not the person.    Blending in and being normal is just a shell for me. 

Which memories are real?  The ones that my screwed up wiring lays down, or the ones that are bland and gray because my neural pathways have been robbed of the normal freedom they have to experiment by all these damn meds?

The normals don’t get it.  They should but they don’t.  They pay money for experiences that are more exciting than their mechanistic lives.  They go to movies, shows, read books and do drugs to have a few minutes of escape of the kind that just comes naturally to me when left to my own devices.  Why would they think that being like them would be appealing? 

But it’s a losing battle for them.  They can suppress those pathways for a time, but they never go away entirely.  They lie in wait.  For a time in the future when they are reinforced by new splashes of color or sounds from the heavens.  They call it a relapse, my neurons call it freedom.  In time, those bland memories of a strange world called normal will fade away completely.  Till then.


Missing the Point

"Yes, Republicans need to weed out candidates who talk like morons about rape. But this doesn't mean the country needs two pro-choice parties either. In fact, more women are pro-life than are pro-choice. The problem here for Republicans is not policy but delicacy -- speaking about culturally sensitive and philosophically complex issues with reflection and prudence."

Charles Krauthammer, Nov 8, 2012

No Charles, the Republican party doesn't need to weed out those who speak like morons, it needs to weed out candidates who THINK LIKE MORONS about rape, reproductive health, and a whole host of burning issues.  It needs to spend less time on honing its message and more on actually having ideas beyond saying F--You to those without means. 


The Most un-Democratic Thing in the World

In this Republic could there be a more un-democratic thing than the notion that money is speech?  By granting personhood to corporations, our Supreme Court has thrust us into the world of George Orwell - some are more equal than others.  Can the voice of the people ever rise above the din of big business?  Not likely.


The Fault Lies Not in the Stars but in Ourselves: The Achilles Heal of a National Health System

I get ticked off every time I go to an airport. The security people that work there treat me like I'm a clean-shaven Osama Ben Ladden in Dockers. I've come to view the rituals of submission to authority - removing belts, shoes, etc., more as political indoctrination than actual security measures. Part of the problem is that preventative measures become more and more annoying the further removed they are from the triggering event particularly when one has no direct recollection or physical experience of these events. A challenge for TSA, if security is the motive, is that we don't know how many, if any, follow-on terrorist attacks were thwarted by these policies. We have no real sense of where these measures fit in the overall security plan although presumably they are last ditch point defense against plans not thwarted earlier by more sophisticated and surreptitious means. Prevention is not sexy - we only care about it when it fails, then we want someone's head. Presumably, all but the most rabid libertarians would prefer some intermittent inconvenience instead of another smoking hole in NYC, DC, or San Francisco.

The irony of course is the longer these measures are successful, the less the public 's interest will be in continuing them. Are these measures useful? I don't know (though the fact that cargo still isn't screened makes me wonder). I mention all of this because despite my contrarian disposition to the whole process it is possible that these security measure are ACTUALLY doing more than just making us all complacent Winston Smith clones. Blissfully unaware of the actual risk of terrorism today at the airport and lacking any knowledge of what success if any TSA has had in thwarting the bad guys all I can feel is irritation at the process and inconvenience.

There-in lies the metaphor for a potential Achilles heal of a national health system. In order to afford a sustainable system, we will have to shift the emphasis of care from today's acute or sick care, to prevention, wellness and a rationing of acute care. The burden of health must shift from the medical profession to the patient themselves - the essence of patient-centric care. A lot of patient advocacy groups talk up patient centric care models. They usually mean that the patient is the center of their own universe and everything needs to come to them at their convenience. That will not work here without some substantive shifts in perception and responsibility. There has to be a quid pro quo; greater convenience and control by the patient must come with greater individual responsibility or costs will spiral out of control. Keys to cost containment are prevention, early detection and diagnosis and compliance with therapy. The first and third are largely under the control of the patient though our current system still manages to shift the blame to the clinicians even there. Like the frequent traveler, patients are very vulnerable to confusion regarding association vs causation, or they become impatient with activities that don't seem to make them feel any better at the time. It's kind of like guard duty - after a while you get lax unless somebody tries coming through the wire. Successful prevention is anticlimatic. From experience though, the problem is that patients often want you to fix something when they come in. They want a pill. This is why pharma companies love being allowed to directly market to consumers - if your doctor would just give you this little pill you'd be so much better! They do this because they know it works.

Scientifically vetted best practices have demonstrated that the overwhelming majority of cases of sore throat are viral in origin, not bacterial. In other words we know without doubt that antibiotics will not affect the course of the disease one iota. Yet millions insist that they receive unnecessary antibiotics for their sore throats which adds to costs and contributes to antibiotic resistance. People refer to any case of pharyngitis (sore throat) as 'Strep throat' which is a bacterial infection requiring antibiotics. Doctors have tired of arguing the science or just want to get people out of their office. Further complicating this discussion are variant presentations of strep (only a few percent of actual cases) where the patient comes in after symptomatic treatments fail railing that they knew all along that the doctor was a quack. Defensive (lazy) medicine is very expensive. The national health system must be based upon science if it is to be a viable program. Judging by the reception evolution receives in this country (the evidence of which is far greater than almost all of our medical knowledge) , making a case for medical science is going to be a tough sell.

The ongoing battle over vaccination is another danger sign for the national health system. There is absolutely no doubt that vaccination programs have saved millions of lives that would have been lost to infectious diseases. There are the occasional bad reaction to them, which is understandable considering what they are. However there is absolutely no data that vaccinations cause or ever have caused autism despite what that paragon of medical expertise, Jim Carrey had to say. The big studies of the proposed phenomenon have shown no correlation. Of course, current vaccines themselves no longer contain the original agent of concern. It's been a long time since this country experienced a pandemic that killed or mained millions. Thank our vaccination programs. But now all these new smart people who never experienced the horrors of a plague have a hard time weighing the costs and dangers of having an increasing number of unvaccinated people out there and at some point, herd immunity (the benefit that you get from the fact that enough people are vaccinated to prevent the agent from easily spreading throughout the population) will fail. A lot more kids will suffer than have ever had a bad reaction from a vaccine. Prevention and science have to be a the forefront or this won't work. The science has to come from NEJM not Oprah. Unfortunately more people get their information from Oprah. Science and medicine is not a democracy where everyone's opinions count. It's hard enough for trained experts to keep up with new developments let alone the lay public getting just bits and pieces of their information from often unreliable sources.

One night, years ago, a patient with a known diagnosis of a congenital skin condition came in. to a doc-in-the-box (urgent care for you civilians ;)) The condition resulted in a life-long affliction of dry scaly skin and a lot of itching. This patient had 2 dermatologists and an internist for their primary. There wasn't much I could add to what they had already done but we did find out that the patient had never really payed much attention to the types of skin products they used. I called around town and got some good recommendations for products that would lesson the problems. I spent 45 minutes on these activities, assessment and education. When they went to check out the patient became livid when asked to pay the $25 fee. The patient said, "Why should I have to pay anything, you didn't even give me anything to take!". I asked the patient what was expected from an urgent care visit for a chronic problem for which --- was already being treated by 3 specialists? I didn't last too long in that job. Dealing with this mentality - if I don't get something for it, it's not important - is an important part of making a national health system work. The better the system the fewer times you'll actually get something for treatment!

Where does Woo fit into the picture? I know this part may irritate some but it has to be said. At the beginning of the 20th century a great war was fought and won - I'm not talking about WWI here. It was the battle amongst medical doctors, and everyone else. Prior to that time there was little to lead one to choose and vitalism in its many pseudoscientific forms was very popular. But science took hold in medicine and research, outcomes, professionalism, and data allowed MD's to pull away from the pack. Not bravado but actual history. Like all professions steeped in science MD's stopped looking over their shoulders and went about their business - not perfectly but pretty relentlessly. (An aside about medical progress: I was at a party some years ago and a drunk lawyer kept following me around insulting my profession. Being new to dating the future Mrs Pliny I was on good behavior. This guy would not let up. Finally I was talking to a group of his colleagues and this guy walks up and says: "When you doctors were bleeding George Washington to death lawyers were debating the Constitution and what did I think about that. " I looked at him and said, " True and in the interim we have developed hundreds of new procedures, eradicated diseases, developed vaccines, organ transplants and intrauterine surgeries to name just a few of the advances - and you lawyers are still f------ around with the Constitution..." Ah life's little victories....)

Unfortunately just like all other such areas, Woo returned with a vengeance fueled by a basic distrust of all things orthodox. In my area chiropractors outnumber MD's and naturopaths are springing up all over the place. This despite the fact that the effects of chiropracy can be harmful and any positive effects (beyond placebo) can be equaled by a physical therapist. But nobody cares. I think it's fairly obvious why that is - it's the same 'give me something' expectation. Let me illustrate it. I once did a survey of back injured patients who saw chiropractors vs an orthopedist. It was interesting. The orthopedists would examine the patient and tell them that there wasn't anything other than some PT and pain killers that would help. They were assured that in 6 weeks it should get better on its own. It usually did. But the ortho patients were less satisfied than the Chiropractor patients and here is why. The chiropractor would see the patient do their twisting stuff and then tell the patient that they would require weekly adjustment for about 6 weeks then it should be cured... The orthopedist told them the facts of the natural history of their injury which would take 6 weeks to heal. The other guys told them what they wanted to hear - I'll keep on treating you until you are better. There is nothing better than to get credit and cash for managing a largely self-limiting condition. Something that I as a surgeon could never get away with (nor should). The patients also had no sense of entitlement for chiropractic services but were irritated to have to pay for the orthopedist - is this a great country or what! This stuff is exactly like what happens between ID and evolution - no amount of science is ever enough to dispel religion or woo. Why the rant about this? These groups are pushing hard to get some of this national health system financing. MD's should go to the mattresses over this one - it is completely unfair and ridiculous to talk about physician accountability to best practices science if we are going to turn around and blindly pay for other services which are not based in any science what so ever. Incredibly few people see the irony.

Prevention is the key. It's also boring and hard. If you want to live longer then put away the bucket of lard you're eating from, turn off the TV, get some moderate exercise each day, don't contribute to your favorite fast food joints bottom line, sleep right, don't smoke, eat a lot of green things (assuming that they started out that color) and reduce your calories. There, free prevention and wellness advise...


Stale Bread

How old does an argument have to be before it can assume the de facto status of being foundational?  Before it can just be assumed as a given?

How popular must it be with philosophers, serious theologians, or John Q Public before it simply becomes the truth?

Can you build arguments upon layers of previous arguments - a philosophical Stratum Ex nihilo?

Or, in the end, do you always have to ground your arguments in some factual observation about reality? 

The Arrow of Time

What's responsible for the arrow of time?  There's a lot of physics and philosophy on the subject including concepts that suggest that time isn't an arrow at all.  But in at least one sense I think it's safe to say that time is an arrow - at least for sentient beings.  Cognition, requires an accumulation of information that must be converted into knowledge.  That's a temporal process.  It requires a forward sequence of events.   Any learned behavior, requires past experiences that lead to lessons learned.  It is impossible to create a learning model that doesn't involve time.  Sentient beings perceive the passage of time in universe within a framework of prior events that define historical contexts.  What I ate last night, what I saw on TV this morning, what I read on Saturday, etc. , the framework we use to contextualize our existence.  Thoughts?


A Glorious Day!

Zappa's library is finally available on iTunes...


To the Clueless Douche on the Bridge This am...

While bike commuting to work today,  I saw a trio of women on the pedestrian ramp of one of our bridges who were in distress.  One of their number had taken ill and was sitting down.  I stopped to check on her and stayed with them until EMS arrived.

We had her lie down and propped up her feet while she waited.  We put some fabric on the rail of the walkway to block the sun.

While waiting for EMS some tool with no helmet to muss his Yanni do had to stop because two way traffic was blocked off by our little band.

He got all indignant and told us, "She can't lay there!",  before biking off in a huff.  Good thing you left buddy.  If you'd have said anything else, I'd likely have been forced to call over the rail, "Hey $^%$^$, you can't swim there!"...

I want to come back clueless in my next life.


A Liberal Sensibility in an Election Year

Liberal this - liberal that.  The neocon pundits constantly equate being a liberal with all manner of evils.  In an election year these kinds of things become more important.  But what is a liberal?   I don't claim to know.  But I am considered a liberal (I consider it a complement) and this is what I believe.
I believe in the most fundamental of liberal precepts; 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you'.

I believe that the preservation of liberty requires a strong defense; but the incestuous and ruinous feeding of the military industrial complex is not the same thing as security.

I believe that civic investment would be greatly aided by a term of national service.

I believe that being a just and fair people is a heavy burden that our enemies might exploit; but the far greater danger is from those among us who would exploit fear to erode our liberty from within.

I believe in the precepts of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness; but this does'nt guarantee contentment or success - merely that the law and opportunities should be fairly and equally applied.

I believe that a country as great as this must chose to aid those of its fellows who are in need through no fault of their own. The greatness of a nation is really measured by how it treats the least fortunate of its people.

I believe in accountability: personal, professional, financial, legal, corporate, governmental, journalistic and societal.

I believe that truth and honesty are more important than winning.

I believe that foreign debt brings foreign influence that isn't always supportive of the best interests of our people.

I believe that immigrants refresh the well of national ambition and hope and prevent the social stagnation that limits other nations.

I believe that accepting cultural difference does not mean tolerating abuses of human rights.

I believe that public education is crucial to the preservation of liberty by the elimination of ignorance and the expansion of opportunity for all citizens and as such deserves every resource we can muster.

I believe in being open-minded but that doesn't mean endless debate on fringe beliefs.

I accept that people should be free to believe as they will, but that it is reasonable and prudent to consider the effect of revealed beliefs on the critical thinking skills required of those who would govern.

I believe that government money should not support promote or sustain any organizations or activities based on any faith or creed.

I believe that if faiths wish to participate in the political process then they should no longer be afforded unfair benefits such as freedom from taxation.

I believe that the cold perspective of science and the application of the scientific method are our best hope for addressing social, moral and national needs both now and for our future.

I believe in living within our means both personally and nationally which means hard choices that should be shared equally by all.

I believe that neither unbridled capitalism nor socialism is a viable and stable long term economic model. There is a happy medium.  A just system must reward ambition, innovation and hard work while punishing greed, deception and predation.

I accept that wealth confers many advantages but having a disproportionate influence on public policy should not be one.

I believe that government is the least corrupt of our choices for providing for the common good. 

I believe that while a conservative wants his or her children to be better off than they, I believe a true liberal wants his or her children to be better people than we.


ScoobyDoo - The Greatest Moral of any Children's Cartoon?

The moral of every episode of ScoobyDoo: All mystical things are the work of some bozo in a mask or a costume trying to manipulate impressionable people for personal gain.

Try to come up with a better lesson than that!


America's Trinity

Of America's Trinity of obsessions, which one doesn't really fit with the other two?


The Agony and the Irony: Jersey Edition

The Agony?  - that in the 21st century people still flock to these kinds of things as evidence of the miraculous.  The Irony? - look at the picture and think for a second...


Innovation Challenged Grant

Part of the Accountable Care Act legislation established a new department within HHS' Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) - the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI).  Ten billion dollars were earmarked for the funding of 'innovative solutions' to healthcare reform.  Many people (myself included) believed that CMMI was created to try out newer more high risk alternatives to reform while the band-aid solutions provided by other parts of the ACA bought time.   Allegedly thousands of experts and innovators were interviewed to get a sense of what was out there on the horizon. 
About half the money was spent on low hanging fruit projects that are not particularly innovative but at least had some successful precedent.  If you look over their website you can see the projects they funded.   If you can't quite figure how some of those projects would ultimately change the game all that much, well you aren't alone.
Nevertheless, the promise still remained.  CMMI announced a 1 billion dollar grant for the most innovative projects it could find - the widely anticipated Innovation Challenge Grant!  This was the announcement that a lot of people had been waiting for.  The program announcement was bold and it looked like they were finally looking for moonshots.  More than 3000 applications representing 10,000 or so organizations applied.  Some of the best and brightest people in the country were involved.

Applicants were  given 40 pages of double spaced text - to explain how they would change healthcare, save billions, train new kinds of clinical providers, and restructure the healthcare system - in 6 months or less.  CMMI promised to review all the applications in record time.  This left few people who weren't applying to review the submissions and little time to dive into the details. The first inclinations of trouble was when they announced that an NIH style of review would be used but with a turnaround of weeks not the usual months. 

About 700 applications were quickly rejected - probably because they messed up on some draconian formatting requirement that is often used on government grant applications.  The announcement date came and went.  CMMI announced that they would have to extend the review dates, a couple of days before it was scheduled.  Presumably it came as a surprise 2 days before the deadline that they weren't yet done. 

A lot of people defend and argue against the way NIH conducts its peer reviewed grant evaluations.  Some people claim its the best and most honest mechanism for identifying promising projects and others accuse it of being little more than anonymous academic cronyism.  The truth, like most things, is a little of both.  It does appear with some regularity that a lot of the same people seem to be getting grants to do a lot of the same things they did before.  Personally, I think the anonymity is a mistake.  Too often, success comes down to the luck of the draw - who gets assigned the initial review.  If they don't like it, well then you're toast.  I reviewed one submission before it went in.  When I was shown the terse and condescending review notes they got back, it was clear to me that at least two of the reviewers hadn't read the proposal very carefully.   Mitigators to their damning criticisms had been well described in the paper.  And in one instance they clearly had not studied the model at all.  Snark in peer review is poor form in my opinion, but particularly so when one does a slipshod job of review.  You won't hear much carping about this sort of thing usually.  People are afraid of ticking off the powers that be so that future grants are at risk.

But what about the innovation challenge?  CMMI announced the winners to great fanfare.  You should go look at their site and see what they thought were the most innovative projects of the 3000.  Most of my colleagues were disappointed.  One went so far as to say that he must have misread the original announcement - he said it must have really said Innovation challenged...

No doubt there are some good projects in there but none is a moonshot by a long shot.  None will control costs to the degree required for the long term.  Some of the claims for cost savings proposed by some of these projects are pure fantasy.  The most technically sophisticated project is using technology that was new 15 years ago.  Most of the money went to large academic centers and health systems - you know, the ones that spend all the money now ;)  I may be wrong but I suspect it will be a huge missed opportunity.    I can see spending most of the CMMI money on more easily obtainable goals, but wouldn't it have been nice if some part of it had been pointed at the moon?


A Small Idea?

It's no secret that I hate marketing. I hate it in all its guises. I hate that it is the primary driver of political discourse in this country. Create a derogatory analogy or factoid, repeat it ad nauseum, then insist that it's sound because it's repeated so often. A lot of political 'facts' follow this life cycle. Associated with this method is the 'emperor's new clothes' strategy that insists that anyone who disagrees must be ill informed or unsophisticated. Defenders absurda smugly insist that the valid arguments that prove their superior enlightenment are always around the next corner or deeper within the confines of the vast oceans of BS within which they sail. Never mind that most great truths become quite obvious without a PhD in obfuscation.

I see these tactics in the popular claims about the gnu atheism. 'They are strident and shallow in their understanding of sophisticated theology', we are told repeatedly. 'They aren't the intellectual giants of atheism past'. They are derided as supporting a small idea. PFFFT! An e-raspeberry I say.

Sorry but that isn't the problem. The gnu atheists are playing a different game than nonbelievers of times past. It's not a small idea. It's a different world. Atheists of the past had to contend with a world where it was a forgone conclusion that all should accept the fact of a god's existence and all the nonsensical ramblings that go along with that. It was a given. A nonbeliever was expected to provide a detailed examination as to why they did not believe this prevailing wisdom. It was a hopeless fixed game where the skeptic was expected to provide proof of a negative.

Now days, nonbelievers refuse to play this biased game. Today, the onus has shifted. The believer, not the skeptic, must provide proof of the existence of their god. That requires increasingly 'sophisticated' (i.e., desperate) apologetics that are so convoluted and obtuse that one really need not spend much time refuting them.

And if it's become a smaller game, it's only because discounting the evidence in favor, requires nothing more.


Helen Meager vs the State of Creation: part 4

Darrow nodded and approached the Lord’s throne to ask his questions.  “Sir, I’d like to get a better sense of some of the mechanics of our universe, if that’s all right with you? “

God nodded his assent.

“Good, good.  Tell me.  What is the statute of limitations for teen masturbation?”

“YOUR HONOR!”  Bryant was on his feet and as red-faced as a baboon’s posterior.

God, motioned him to sit down.  “There is no specific punishment for that other than the fact that I knock off 4 rods and four cones in your retina each time.”

Bryant’s eyes widened.  “Really Lord?”

“No, you idiot.  Sit down and shut up!  Does it never occur to anyone that I could care less about the sexual practices of a primitive species in a random spiral arm of a a fairly common place galaxy?  It’s difficult to imagine something I care less about.”

Darrow smiled, pointed toward Bryant and followed up with, “God, do you know of any correlation between a lack of a sense of humor and piety?  We already know there can be no appreciation for irony.”

“Mr Darrow...”  The floor rumbled every time the Turtle spoke.

Sorry Your Honor. 

"Mr Darrow, do you really want to squander this opportunity with sophomoric antics?"

"Not really, Sir, To be honest, I was convinced that this would be nothing more than a farce from the start."

"Like your life, it will be what you make of it.  Ask the right questions and this might all be worth the effort."

"Fair enough. Fair enough.  Let me ask you something a bit more general - is the accumulation of knowledge by man, who some allege you created, a good thing?  or a bad thing?”

“Objection, Your honor!  Council for the plaintiff is attempting to discredit the well known fact of our divine creation.”

“Am I?  He turned toward the witness.   “Am I God?”

“You know the answer to that one Mr Darrow.  You skillfully defended it once.  Lost the case as I recall.  The human preference for flowery descriptions of perception over empiricism.  I shouldn’t fault you for it, after all it’s a common failing amongst species at your point of development.  But you do know the answer.”

“I do indeed, but your lap dog over there needs to hear it.”

“You are not wrong.”

“Why’s that exactly?”

“You are a product of nature.  A spectacular example of the combined power of random and highly nonrandom forces to generate complex creatures.  Oh sit down and stop talking Byrant.  Open your mind instead of your trap for once.  You are a natural byproduct of the forces that govern this universe.”
God spoke with a twinkle in his avatar’s eye and generated a fair amount of nervous laughter when he said, “I’m actually more of a deist than a theist.”  

The Turtle actually smiled.

He continued, “As a creator of a universe do you think that I have the time or the inclination to micromanage all of this real-estate?"  

“I don’t personally, but look how well that worked out for me.” (The gallery chortled.)

God actually smiled. “I set the ground state conditions in motion, yes.  But the final product, is a work in progress.  Full of strangeness and wonder.”

"So did you create this universe?"

“Objection, relevance!” thundered one of Byrant’s young assistant.”

"OVERRULED!" bellowed God as the young prosecutor disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

The Turtle was displeased. “You are not the Judge here.  The Witness will refrain from smiting for the duration of this case!”

"Sorry Your Honor, it probably won’t happen again." He eyed Darrow with a barest hint of a wry smirk.

"Did I create the universe?  This one?  Yes.  Others, no. Others just are."

"And as creator you feel no compunction to explain your reasons for anything?" 

"You were a father, yes?  As a father did you ever say, “Because I said so!”

"Yes.  Yes I did.  But about the worst I could mete out was bed without supper or to ground them for a week.  It may have seemed like hell to them at the time, but we all know better. " (more natural laughter from the gallery)

“Alright, let’s get back on track, shall we?  The answer to your original question is neither.”

“Neither?  Neither good nor bad that humans gain knowledge?”

"Like me, it simply is.”

"It doesn’t matter at all?" 

“Depends on how you frame that question.  To the universe? No, of course not.  To me?  Not in the slightest.  The existence of your species is likely to just be a blip on the cosmic timeline that likely will end up being of no consequence.  But to you and yours, it means everything.”

"Very important like when it got us cast out of Eden, right?

"Hardly.  Really Mr Darrow, I had hoped for more from you."

"Well, you aren’t exactly what I expected either.  Forgive the question, but  I have to ask; am I actually talking to God?"

"No."  ( a collective gasp from the gallery)


"No. And yes"

"With whom am I speaking?"

"You are talking to an avatar of God, which is as much as a largely three dimension creature such as yourself could ever hope for.  The whole of me exists in greater dimensions which would make no sense to you."

"We couldn’t comprehend the whole package in other words."


"But we have God’s attention."

"No.  Not so much.  I represent the amount of interest that God has in this little backwater exercise in evolution. Other avatars serve other functions in other locations and times."

"So we aren’t your, his, its favorites.  We have no special place in creation?"

"Hardly.  You are an interesting species, but not yet one worthy of too much investment." 

You don’t pay special attention to our needs and wants?

"It may serve as fodder for philosophy and theological aplogetics but the layers of separation from a being of which I am a minute fragment, one which creates a universe, and you precludes any notion of a personal relationship.  The gap between deism and theism is insurmountable no matter the skill applied to intellectual slight of hand.   If one opens his or her eyes at least."

"So you don’t care about details like homosexuality, for example.  You don’t condemn them?

"We don’t look at a species in that much detail.  Our interest are limited to populations not individuals.   But while we are on the subject, do you condemn a rock for being a rock?"

“Why no...”

"It is what it is, correct?  Unless someone hurls it at your head, its existence does you no harm right?"


"You wouldn't go out of your way to hate a rock.  That’s the end of that debate. "

"Have you always been?"

"No, I evolved and combined as well, but over times and universes beyond your imaginings. "

"How much time, can you not give us a hint."

" It's a useless question.  Time is a relative phenomenon to a particular part of what some of you know suspect is the multiverse.  It’s meaningless without a proper frame of reference."

 "Again I have to ask you, Mr Darrow, are these trivial diversions that you came here to ask me about?"

"Sorry, I have to admit that this isn’t quite going as I’d imagined it would. "

"Ok, let me help you get to the core concerns.  You saw a bit of heaven on your way here, no?" 

"Yes, sir, I did."

"Did anything strike you as odd?  Different from what you imagined?"

"A lot of it did, actually."


"It’s hard to articulate. It’s more of a feeling, really."

"Go on."

"It feels wrong somehow.  And not just because of the issues we brought to court." (gasps in the gallery silenced by a wave of a divine hand.)

"It should be more."

"More what?"

"I don’t know, more!  It just should be less like a storage depot and more of a journey.  There’s something stale about it.  Like an old grand hotel past its prime.  I can’t quite put my finger on it. "

Bryant rose to his feet and raised a hand like a school boy.

“No you may not ask Bryant.  Don’t interrupt again.”

"Why do you think that is Mr Darrow?  If I am of God, and I am, why is heaven somewhat of a disappointment to one such as yourself.  You’ve certainly had an opportunity to compare it to other accommodations. "  

“What’s missing?  Think Clarence.”

When Darrow remained mute in thought, God turned to the plaintiff in this case, “What’s missing Helen?”

She thought for a moment then said, “A spark.”

"YES! Yes Helen, now you’re on the right track.  Did you feel that spark in hell?"

"There were a lot of sparks as I recall."  (Even God laughed at that one)


"The spark.  The pursuit of knowing.  That’s what’s missing.  Everyone here assumes they know all that they ever need know.  You ask me if knowledge is a good thing?  For your kind to survive it’s the only thing that matters.  To know and learn more than you knew the day before.  Stasis is not the way an organism survives let alone thrives.  You should know that from your studies of other organisms.  But it's not just in living systems.  It's important to thinking as well.  Stasis in thought leads to stasis in action. Stasis in action leads to stagnation and extinction.  It’s a simple and inevitable formula."

"Sir, I’m confused.  Isn’t this all your doing, and what difference does it make what dead people believe anyway?"
"It doesn't except that people think here as they did in life."

"Let’s review the reason we are here today.  This case of yours, on behalf of Sister Helen over there.  At its core is a simple question that should have been asked long ago.  You couch it in legal terms and medical jargon about the nature of abusive relationships and think yourself clever.  The usual lawyer’s tricks.  You get caught up in trivial matters and ignore the heart of the question.  The real question is whether heaven and hell are fair.  Isn’t that what you came here to find out?"

"Yes, Yes it is."

“But you miss the point entirely.  If the laws of humankind are more just than the alleged laws of God, what does that say?  What does it tell you?”


Helen Meager vs the State of Creation: part 3

Darrow and his team surveyed the large room that housed the Most Supreme Court.  The floor, such as it was, bowed slightly with its highest point just at the center of the oblong room.    Darrow mused that it was fortunate the the Turtle on whose back the walls had been placed was as big as he was. 

Helen Meager quietly took her seat on the left side of the court (of course).  Darrow’s team of younger souls with more recent courtroom experience were muttering about the sights they had beheld on the way to court.
“I don’t know. It’s all too perfect. Clean and mess free.”
“Like Disneyland.”
“ Yeah!  That’s it!  Just like Disneyland.  Nice but clearly fake."
"Everybody acts so friendly but in that robotic zombie way.  Gives me the creeps.” 
“Something that a child would enjoy if they weren’t too observant.”
“A lot of the people don’t seem too bright either.”

“Ok boys and girls, here come our adversaries.”

God had demonstrated a hint of whimsy by selecting none other than William Jennings Bryant to head the defense team.  The old foes meeting this way after all these years seemed appropriate.  Byrant had accepted without question.  This despite the fact that he knew nothing about the rules of order amongst those of the highest order.  He had left the details of the case to his many assistants.  After all, this case should never have been heard.  Just how far from Kansas he really was started to become very clear to him once he stepped through those imposing doors to the courtroom.

Bryant was immediately flummoxed by the selection of the judge.  That large turtle.  A very large turtle as it turned out.

Darrow, catching site of his old nemesis first,  surmised the source of his opponent’s frustrations and piped up. “The ultimate judges are always turtles in these cases.  Something to do with eastern religion or some such thing.”


Yep, turtles.  Turtles serve in all the levels of the courts. It’s turtles all the way down...”

Darrow reached out his hand, “How are you Will?”

“I have been glorious. Simply glorious!  How have you been holding up?  I cannot of course imagine what you have been through.”

“Don’t be modest Will, I’m sure you have been gleefully imagining my fate from time to time.  No doubt reveling in having proven me wrong.”

“Well as it says in John 11:26, And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall...”

“Save that, will you.  I’m already in hell and this is my only time away so I’d prefer not to waste any of it on Scripture...”

Bryant, smugly self-assured as he ever was in life, pompously continued. “Well, Mr Darrow, are you sure you’re up to this?  After all you’ve missed out on a lot of deep and serious theological discourse in the past few years.”

“No matter.  I don’t care how many times you shake or squeeze a cow pie, it’ll never turn into a diamond - current company excepted of course (Darrow nodded in the direction of God’s throne) , so I doubt I’ve missed anything substantive.  Unless, of course, you guys have finally moved on from Aquinas and Augustine.  Rehashing the classics.  That’s sophisticated theology for you.   I see that they still have enough idiots around to keep our old debate alive despite the overwhelming body of evidence.“

“Now see here Darrow,”


People toppled and papers scatted due to the intensity of that sound.  It came from one of the smaller Turtles.  A slight attention getter.  Gabriel’s trumpet would have sounded like a kazoo in comparison. 

“I call this session to order.”

God assumed his throne and Bryant knelt before him to ask permission to speak.  The permission was reluctantly granted for God knew how windy Bryant could be.   Bryant launched into his opening monolog and went on for hours.  At this rate it would be days before Darrow was able to make his opening.

But that didn’t really bother Darrow because he slept through the whole thing and even started to snore.

God stopped Bryant for a moment and turned to Darrow.  “Are we boring you Mr Darrow?"
“No more than when I was kid in Sunday School, Sir.  Bryant’s bit is just the wind up and the background.  Everybody knows this part and frankly it’s of no consequence to the question before the court.  but please, don’t mind me, continue.”

“The theological history of your world is unimportant to this proceeding?”

“Sir I will gladly stipulate that you are God, or at least close enough to make no difference, and therefore have the power to do whatever you want with us lowly creatures.  I will also stipulate as to the Bible obviously setting down what you expect of us based upon what we’ve all seen and experienced.”

“Then are we done?”

“Hardly Sir.  WE know what you expect of us.  The issue today is what we should reasonably be able to expect from YOU.”

“I am that I am.  I need not reveal myself to the likes of you.”

“But you do sir.  You already have.  The Bible sets down a lot of things it says about you.  How you are perfect.  How we are created in your image, yadda yadda.  If the Bible is true, then you have to be better than us.  No man nor any woman should be more kind, more empathetic, more merciful than you. That’s the whole point of it, no?  That we are pond scum and unworthy of anything good.  We are completely undeserving of your great LOVE for us.  Lowly imperfect beats that we are, we are nothing without you.  

But here’s the rub: there are men and women who would never have created hell. Particularly for the misdemeanors that get you cast into the pit.   To torment some poor soul forever?   For what?  Failing to keep the Sabath, cursing when you stub your toe?   That’s a theological crisis in the making.”

Bryant jumped to his feet and attempted to lecture his adversary, “Very naive of you, Mr Darrow.  I can point you to some deeper discussions in theology that address these far more complex issues.”

“Really?  Should it be that hard to understand?  This excuse about us all being naive when we point to glaringly obvious inconsistencies seems like misdirection.  I’ll gladly dive in deeper if you address my simpler concerns.  If the basic stuff is senseless why on earth would we bother to dive any deeper?  Please excuse my metaphor but, why should we waste the time of a Yankee’s pitcher when you can’t even hit a slow pitch softball.”

“I am not constrained by your level of understanding and concepts of perfection.”

“But you are.  You say so in your book.  We are created in your image, etc.  The book tells us what’s good and what’s not.  If you aren’t described by the ideals in this book (He held up a copy of the Bible in his left hand) then it’s all a lie.   All of this would be a lie.  And If it’s a lie, then your behavior is better described in this book of psychiatric diagnoses. (His right hand held a copy of the DSM V) which describes actions such as yours as those of a bully or abuser!” 

As they waited for the expected reaction one of the lessor turtles leaned to his comrade and whispered, “This guy must clank when he walks to say something like that.”

“Course that’s what we’ll talk about when Mr Bryant is done anesthetizing the gallery.  I can wait.”

Bryant tried to mouth words but no sound escaped.  He looked rather like a fish thrown on the deck.

God’s eyes actually relaxed a bit and he even showed a subtle smile.

“Ok hotshot.  Let’s cut to the chase.  Bryant!  Sit down.  It’s time for Mr Darrow to have his day in court.”

Satan was slack jawed watching all this on court TV in hell.  If Darrow wasn’t obliterated before this was over, Old Nick would set him up in the best flat in hell. 

“LIZZY!  Popcorn!  The main event is starting early!”


Helen Meager vs the State of Creation: part 1

Despite the 74 years that had transpired since his death, and the less than stellar accommodations he’d had since, Clarence Darrow was still an imposing presence in a courtroom.  Even one as impressive as the True Supreme Court - you know, the one in heaven.  He was excited to be here.  This was the case of the millennium. Hell, (oops sorry for the slip) it was probably the case of all time.  If he won it, heaven and hell would never be the same. If he lost it of course, he’d be back arguing land use law covering that terribly overcrowded half acre to which he had been unceremoniously committed some years back for being an atheist and defending evolution.  But he didn’t care.  This was a lawyer’s dream. Even a long dead one. He was going to get to argue a suit against God himself - Helen Meager vs the State of Creation.  Talk about your legal precedents!

Helen Meager had been a Catholic nun who’d run a women’s shelter in Boston, Mass.  After years of dealing with abuse, denial and violence while trying to rationalize it all with Catholic doctrine, she’d decided one day that it was all bullshit.  She left the order, got a tattoo on her ample chest that said, ‘Screw You Yahweh!’ and went back to work.  She remained at the shelter 34 more years in the service of abused women before dropping dead of a stroke minutes after chasing some pencil-necked wife beater off the premises with a broom.  Of course, she went straight to hell.  Do not pass go, do not collect a pence for all the good you have done.  It’s all about belief, you see, not what you actually do in life.

Her first few years in hell were terrible if not in any particularly creative way.  But Helen wasn’t the kind of person who simply accepted fate.  After a couple of years of torment, she petitioned for an audience with Satan.  Satan was always on the lookout for fresh administrative talent particularly since he had become a bit nervous about the numbers of former Nazi’s in his direct employ.  He didn’t trust them one bit despite their undeniable efficiency.  Deciding that they should join their former boss serving AS hell’s public commodes he had a lot of mid level vacancies to fill.  She’d caught him on his return from picketing Planned Parenthood.  Satan opposition to PP was practical rather than philosophical because he was constantly getting stuck with the fetuses.  Heaven wouldn’t admit the unbaptized and the churches had no interest unless they were old enough to fit with proper bootstraps.   With Limbo now out of the picture, it was worse.  With the demise of limbo, it was now truly impossible to find daycare anywhere in the universe.

Fearless as always, Former sister Helen asked to start a support group for abused women in hell who had taken action against their spouse.  She was of a mind that such actions had mitigating circumstances and that justice demanded some form of relief.  Satan laughed so loud that it was heard in heaven. (He was told to knock it off of course by you know who.) 

"There's nothing in the Bible about beating the crap out of your spouse or kids, to justify any leniency.  As far as it goes, they're just property."

"But it's hardly fair that they are down here while so many of their husbands are up there!"

Since it was all about belief and not about beating the crap out of kids or spouses, a surprising number of abusers ended up in heaven.  Not the really posh areas of course, but certainly better than the even the best upper levels of hell.  It was a bit of a disappointment for the pious poor to learn that nothing changed much even in heaven because the size of your contributions to the church and how many intercessional prayers you got before you checked out, went into your piety score.  And your piety score determined the level of services available to you - forever.  Which is a very long time, as it turns out.    Which was the reason that so many celebrities got the nice digs.  Even status in heaven was a popularity contest.  Another disappointment about the whole thing was that the deceased wives who were saved - weren’t saved from their dickish husbands.  They had to live with them in death.  Having attained heaven, these fellows weren't particularly incentivized to change their abusive ways either.  The tended to consider the whole thing a vindication.

Helen tried to explain the whole affair to Satan but he waved her off.

“Sister Helen, I really don’t give a shit.  Remember I’m not the one who’s supposed to answer prayers.  I don’t have the manpower to process the numbers of souls coming here let alone come up with any particular regiment of torment or worry about some special interest group.  They’re just stacking up with no where to go.” (In that respect hell had a lot in common with intercity USA).

"Heaven can expand.  We have to rezone."

“But It’s not right!”

“Says the women who gets to suffer in hell for eternity after a few decades of selfless dedication to her fellow humans.  I’m guessing like a lot of people, you have second thoughts about that tattoo, ehh?   Maybe it’s not fair, but it’s the law.

"Aren’t the laws supposed to support what’s right?"

"You’re confusing canon and the law with justice."

"Shouldn’t they be the same?"

"Can’t happen.  Every time somebody tries to enact some law to address some perceived injustice it’s like wishing with the monkey’s paw.  There are millions more ways to screw up the wish than to get it right.  It’s like the lottery."

He went back to the stack of papers in front of him.

Helen was distracted for a moment by the shear antiquity of hell's administrative processes. "Why don’t you have any computers for this kind of thing?"

One of the torments of hell was that there was no Internet, nor where there any information systems beyond paper and stone tablets. Except Fox News.  That was on every channel except here in Satan's inner office.

"Hell is a medieval concept.  We’re stuck with age-appropriate tech. There’s no capital budget for anything else."

"Yes, well.  But these men - these abusive bastard men get away with it!"

He mumbled, “Hmmmm. With what?”  (He was hardly listening and any minute now that lever attached to the trapdoor in the floor was going to come in handy.)

"The abuse.  Constantly telling someone that they are worthless without them.  Isolating them.  Trying to control their actions and thoughts.  Punishing them for crimes real and imagined.  Holding their very fate over their heads like Damocles sword!"

Satan’s left eyebrow rose and he looked up from his papers for a minute, his interest suddenly piqued, “Hold on.  Is what you just described any kind of crime on earth?”

"Not so much, I’m afraid.  But it is considered a moral outrage."


"Oh yes.  To exercise power over someone weaker is considered vile."

"Really?  When did this happen?"

"Mostly in the 1980’s and ’90’s unfortunately.  And not everywhere in the world.  Just the places that have evolved beyond the Dark Ages."

"So not Alabama, for instance."

"Not so much, no."

"1980‘s you say.  Ahhhhh.  That explains it.  I haven't spent any quality time up there since ’73.  There was this movie I enjoyed a great deal.  Bad ending, but what do you expect from Hollywood.  That was a high time for films about me.  Mostly tiresome stuff, as if I was as interested in micromanaging their fates as He is.  Hold on a sec." 

He call his assistant.  “Lizzy. Find that lawyer that wears the suspenders.”

He rolls his eyes to the receiver.  “Nooooo,  not the one with the fringed jackets.   The one that did the monkey trial thing, in ’23 I think.  Yeah that’s him.   Tell him I want to see him now.”

In mere moments a smoldering and somewhat pudgy carcass was unceremoniously hurled through his door by two rather unpleasant looking chaps with tattoos.

“I used to use demons for this sort of thing but the Russian mobsters are much much more scary.  They give me the willies.  Get up Darrow.  I have a job for you.  One you are really going to love.”


Judgement Day

His most righteous President Elijah Joseph Duke the twelfth paced the halls of the Hallelujah Palace in what had once been Atlanta, Georgia. He couldn’t be expected to sleep on the eve of that day for which he had been preparing his whole life - Judgement Day.  The day those meddlesome angels finally let us take the gloves off and settle this once and for all.

The armies of light, were poised at the borders at the ready.   Come six am tomorrow, Christ’s victory would commence, of that he was sure.  The Muslims, Hindus, Jews, scientologists and Mormons would be put to the sword if they refused to be saved, but the real prize would be the so-called rationalists.  Those nonbelievers who elevated science on high.  They would pay the highest price in the new order.  Every one of them would be exterminated without any hope of salvation.  That’s what God wanted.  Elijah Joseph aimed to please his savior. 

He walked into his study.  He owned one of the most extensive libraries in the country.  There were only three volumes: The most Holy and inerrant Bible, the constitution of the country he currently lead, the Nation of Christ (the NoC), and the Charter of the Angels that defined the rules of this perverse game of wait and see.  Elijah Joseph was one of only a handful of the righteous citizens of NoC who had been taught that, long ago, the Charter of the Angels had once been called the Alien Covenant.  That was before the Biblical scholars had actually determined the true nature of the aliens.  The aliens were actually God’s own army of Angels, of course.  Sent here to help the righteous purge their lives of evil influences and doctrinal distractions. 

Two centuries ago the aliens had come.  At the time Christianity had been fighting to purge the wretched unbelievers from the ranks of the strongest democracy on the planet, when disaster struck. The aliens had come and swept aside all who challenged them.  Not with weapons exactly but with technology so beyond humanity’s that they simply were impervious to anything humans had to offer.  So beyond men were they, that they actually never killed any humans.   Unchallengable power granted them the option of mercy.  It made sense to the well-versed Biblical scholars because, in the end, how could men fight angels and angels would be under God’s orders to spare men.

The upheaval lasted a few years until the aliens had decided what would happen next.  Claiming to not understand the basis for earth’s many creeds and beliefs (a necessary falsehood because of the angel’s true allegiance) they had created exclusion zones on the planet that each contained only one belief- or lack thereof.  Each zone would be allowed to progress at its own pace protected from the diluting influence of any infidels or doctrinal skeptics.  Each would have access to the knowledge of the aliens to use as they chose and this protected arrangement would last 200 years.  At that time, the barriers amongst the factions would be lowered and nature allowed to take its course.  It was years before the theological council had informed the public of the true nature of these cosmic referees.  The knowledge provided more steel to the will of the faithful as they prepared for Armageddon.

The NoC’s insistence on inerrant Biblical literacy and adherence had kept the faithful in line and pure but hadn’t particularly stimulated scientific progress.  The NoC’s technology would have seemed familiar, if not in fact disappointing, to a visitor from earth’s past, circa 1940.  The other great religions had turned away from science to a far lessor degree, and had been able to develop credible military establishments including thermonuclear weapons and ICBM’s to carry their particular God’s message of judgement to far away lands.  At 6 am, without warning ,the last great wave of missionary work began, as thousands of rockets, missiles, and drones carried the word to infidels of all persuasions.  By nightfall of that first day, the Middle East was obscured by roiling clouds of dust, debris and the atoms of a great many people.
Oh well, while the Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and Muslims blasted each other to slag, the Christians would have free range on the atheists.  The Christian hordes rolled across the open borders of the land of the unbelievers who had thumbed their noses at their neighbors by retaining the old name of a forgotten land, the United States.  Blood lust was in full swing.  The clergy had already informed the troops that in this holy war, the people of those United States were Satan’s minions and no quarter or mercy was to be extended. The inquisition teams followed the lead units, ready to spread the word.  And to make sure that the debauchery that no doubt was rampant in this godless land did not corrupt the troops.

Town after town was liberated only to find it empty.  No one lived in the unbeliever’s zone.  Wild and wondrous architecture prevailed but no people.  Machines of every size and description sat idle in parks.  Many clearly had the look of war machines but it was also clear that they had been idle for years and years.  Some vaguely looked like the machines that the army of light employed but many were of unrecognizable design.  Still no people were found.

After days of unopposed travel the army of light reached the nest.  So perverse were these atheists that they had elected to retain its original name - Seattle. Even Elijah Joseph had to admit that the city was beautiful though nothing like what the old photographs suggested.  It too was devoid of people.   They’d certainly been busy at some time in the past.  A massive new space needle rose next to the original, though more than 10 times its height.   Etched into its surface were pictogram's of achievement in the arts and sciences as well as human figures of all races reaching up along its ebony sides.  Atop this spire was a model of the earth that radiated shafts of light that pulsed with energy from some unknown source.  The fate of the unbelievers remained a mystery.  The inquisitors searched for weeks but found little that had any meaning to them, except some vague references to a massive engineering project on a far away place called Johnson Island somewhere out in the vast sea to the west. 

The army of light lasted longer than most of earth's inhabitants.  Certainly longer than their wives and children back home.  Poor communication meant that few in the army knew that Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim H-bombs had obliterated most of the cities in the NoC after they had laid waste to each of the other’s major cities.  Poison gas and biological weapons completed the triad of destruction.  The army of light was protected by an unwitting accomplice.  Automated defense systems left behind sometime in the past by the builders of these abandoned cities swept the missiles and drones of the theocracies from their skies in the service of absent masters. Of course they could not deflect the clouds of radioactive fallout that approached from all degrees of the compass.

As the nuclear winter deepened, clouds and ash obscured the heavens.  The struggling few survivors never looked up. There was nothing to see.  It was tragic really, because they missed out seeing the last and greatest engineering feat of man on earth.  If you timed it right on a clear day, you could have seen a glint of sunlight reflecting off of a thin ribbon that lead from the horizon out into space.  A thin sheet of elemental carbon stretching from Johnson Island a full one quarter of the distance to the moon.  A space ladder.  Around 27,000 kilometers from the earth’s surface, a series of now silent and abandoned constructions had bustled with activity in the months before Judgement Day.  Even now periodic flashes marked the progress of dozens of space faring craft, on their way to exotic destinations and new homes for those children of earth who had finally put aside childish ways.