L.B.: Weird Science

Left Behind, pp. 6-8

Buck Williams is, as mentioned, the Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time:

At thirty, Cameron Williams was the youngest ever senior writer for the prestigious Global Weekly. The envy of the rest of the veteran staff, he either scooped them on or was assigned to the best stories in the world.

"Global Weekly" is, apparently, like TIME or Newsweek — except with a reputation for top-notch journalism. As the GIRAT, Williams is assigned to write GW's story on the "Newsmaker of the Year," an Israeli botanist and chemical engineer named Chaim Rosenzweig. (Oddly, he's played in the movie by Colin Fox. Reading the book, I always picture Fyvush Finkel.)

Rosenzweig has already been honored with the Nobel Prize in chemistry, and as TIME's "Man of the Year" for discovering/inventing:

… a synthetic fertilizer that caused the desert sands of Israel to bloom like a greenhouse. …

Rosenzweig's formula was fast making Israel the richest nation on earth, far more profitable than its oil-laden neighbors. Every inch of ground blossomed with flowers and grains, including produce never before conceivable in Israel. The Holy Land became an export capital, the envy of the world, with virtually zero unemployment.

Yes, prosperity and full employment through agriculture. Thus fulfilling the biblical prophecy "Yea, and in that day I the Lord shall make the land like unto Iowa, and the heathen shall tremble."

Israel is about the size of New Jersey — you know, the Garden State — so let's just consider this in terms of acreage.

Right now, only about 17 percent of Israel is arable land — about 854,000 acres. But, with Rosenzweig's miracle formula, it all becomes arable. So make that 5,024,000 acres. Plus, in the world of Left Behind, the occupied West Bank has been absorbed into L&J's Greater Israel (don't ask how — they don't really explain this). That adds another, roughly, 1,500,000 acres. (Only a negligible amount of which was arable before Rosenzweig.)

So, okay, we're looking at 6,524,000 acres of fertile farmland. Not just fertile, mind you, but super-duper fertile. Let's guess (L&J don't say) that it's sooo very fertile that the industrious Israeli farmers (can you call farmers "industrious?") are able to plant 4 crops a year on every acre of this land — a miraculous harvest every season. That would further leverage Israel's agricultural might to the equivalent of 26,096,000 acres!

Or, to put it another way, their agricultural output would be slightly less than the current output of China's peasant farmers. (Source for all the above is the invaluable CIA World Factbook.)

And, anyway, this idea that exotic new produce is the path to economic development — wasn't that part of the Dukakis campaign? Something about Belgian endive?

A more convincing plot development would have had Israel finding envy-of-the-world prosperity through, say, cold fusion in a jar, or through some miracle mineral discovered in the poisonous depths of the Dead Sea. But L&J were constrained to have the miracle be agricultural prosperity because they see this as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. (It's hard to say which prophecy, specifically — the whole desert-blooming, flowing with milk and honey motif is really a pretty boilerplate blessing throughout scripture.)

What's really interesting here, though, is the science. There isn't any. The writers of Star Trek recognize that a sci-fi explanation doesn't necessarily have to be detailed and highly plausible, but you've got to give us something. Let Geordi LaForge mumble some gobbledygook about "tachyon pulses" and I'm in — disbelief willingly, happily suspended. But L&J feel no compunction to provide even the slightest scientific pretense.

It's hard to tell from their description whether Rosenzweig's potion works by science, or by magic. It sounds like magic. They are, after all, growing crops not from soil, but from sand — producing organic material out of inorganic rock. (What's next? Fishing in the Dead Sea?)

But what's telling is that LaHaye and Jenkins can't seem to make a distinction between science and magic. When you're afraid to engage anything that might challenge your belief that the earth is only 10,000 years old, you don't end up reading a lot of science. This keeps you clueless enough about biology to think it's perfectly plausible that a few drops of Dr. Rosenzweig's Miracle Gro can turn sand into soil. And clueless enough about economics to think that agriculture would be more lucrative than Israel's existing high-tech industrial economy.

  • John

    I’m greatly enjoying this, but are you going to go
    through the whole series in this level of detail?
    Because that would be pretty awful for you, I’d think.

  • Dave L

    No, no, don’t stop!! This is all wonderfully good.
    If anything, I’d be interested in seeing you develop some additional themes in the course of this. For example, this posting just barely touches on the whole problem of literalism – the crippling mental barriers it imposes on imagination, understanding and even belief. To say nothing of what it does to any sense of reality. The more I read of your postings (and thank you, again, for sparing us the need to wade through this morass) the more appalled I become at the mental effort that must go into maintaining belief in this tacky, solipsist alternate reality.

  • dmm

    Do they explain why Miracle Grow makes Israel like unto Iowa, but nobody else in the world bothered to plant it on their deserts? It seems as though any advantage gained by Israel here would benefit, say, Algeria twenty times as much.

  • Jared Woodard

    I’m sure Israel signalled its Washington and New York legal contingents to get twenty patents on the magic and then litigate the hell out of anyone who even put in an info request to the PTO.

  • Constantine

    This is great! Keep it up. It’s a daily dose of hilarity.
    Another interesting point to keep in mind is that Nobel Prizes are typically not awarded for something “secret,” as the magic miracle-gro formula seems to be. Now, he could be a Nobel-prize-winning Chemist who just happens to also come up with this formula, but to win the Nobel Prize presupposes that your lab results are publicly known and available.

  • Charles Dodgson

    What I want to know is, if Israel is getting rich from agricultural exports, where exactly they are exporting to — a lot of current third world countries would love to try it, but are running hard into first world tariffs and price supports.
    But on the science, though…. I hate to defend these guys, I really, really do, but essentially all plants do collect organic matter out of the air, by absorbing carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, and incorporating it into glucose which is then further used either as an energy source or as a structural building block (e.g., in cellulose). See here for details. What makes bad soil bad isn’t the lack of organic matter in general, but the lack of specific nutrients (i.e., organic chemicals which the plants cannot synthesize for themselves, the moral equivalent of vitamins).

  • chris

    Tariffs? Economics of agriculture? Nobel Peace Prize qualifications?
    Um…looking for logic in all the wrong places.
    You’re supposed to be sitting back and believing the story, not questioning it … don’t you know anything about religion?
    Meanwhile, this review should be gathered together and sold in book form. It’s hilarious and (bonus) much better written than the subject matter.

  • Boronx

    My understanding is that what deserts need to grow crops is usually fresh water, and that desert soil is some of the richest around in terms of nutrients.

  • Elizabeth Margaret

    I’ve been enjoying your look at the LB series, and greatly appreciate the opportunity to snark without the necessity of reading the actual um… (literature isn’t the word, and I find I also have a lot of respect for the word text…) let’s just say material.
    But as far as blooming deserts go, really, is it even possible to get rich off agriculture, no matter how supernaturally efficient you are? Most first world countries have to give away their surpluss agricultural product just to keep prices high enough for farmers to make a living.
    Or at least so I had understood.

  • Jorge

    I was just thinking the same thing, Chris. This crit would make a fabulous booK. Even if done on the web, in PDF form, sort of like David Neiwert over at Orcinus did with his Rush, Newspeak and Fascism. I’d pay five bucks for a download.

  • Tripp

    This stuff sounds wackily like some of L Ron Hubbard’s work. I wonder if that is a coincidence, or do all far out ‘religions’ or their minions follow a similar script?

  • Chris

    I love the great commentary on the LB series. I once tried to skim them, just to keep an eye on what the opposing people who call themselves Christians are hmmmm… is thinking the right word? Probably not.
    Anyway I remember the nuclear attack sentence or two. I wondered why the Russians would bother to send ALL their nukes at Israel. It seemed a remarkably silly strategy, one that even the hacks should have understood, if they cared even slightly about credibility. Even leaving aside why the Russians would be so annoyed with Israel that they would launch an unprovoked attack, why would they send thousands of warheads at little Israel? Three would kill virtually everyone there (one for Tel Aviv, one for Haifa, one for Jerusalem, assuming they don’t care would the Arabs think). Probably less than one hundred would crater and irradiate every square inch of the country (once again apparently even though the Arabs are supposedly Russian allies, the Russians ignore their protests not to destroy all of Palestine). For God sake, you could probably use several thousand ordinary artillery shells to wreck most of Israel.
    Aside from the hopelessly redundant nature of the attack, it would leave Russia very vulenerable to attack by anyone who has nukes and a grudge against the Motherland, and Russia has plenty of countries like that. China would love to snag some land from them. Ukraine might want Crimea. Hell the new superpower Rommania, led by Nicolae Carpathia, might decide it wants Bessberabia (now Moldova) back and shoot evil death rays, or whatever, at Russia to keep it from complain. And poor Russia would be out of nukes because it for some reason or another had to shoot everything it had at a little midget country, now apparently one of the greatest farm regions in the world.
    So on top of being idiots in chemistry, biology, economics, journalism, theology and Writing 101, L&J haven’t got the strategic sense of of a fourth grader playing checkers.

  • none

    Uh-oh, Slacktivist. I thing Christina’s got your number:
    http://cj4jesus.blogspot.com/2003_10_01_cj4jesus_archive.html#106668280866733490

  • Darryl Pearce

    Umm…, aren’t the supernatural powers of God by definition “magical” ?! And if I believe in God that must mean I believe in Satan, and his whole pantheon of demons, devils, and such? And their minions of witches, warlocks, werewolves and vampires?
    …and what the heck is Gabriel doing in all three major Middle Eastern religions anyway?

  • Chris

    I love the kid’s comments. Poor thing doesn’t know what pornography is in its more general definition, but otherwise it was amusing. Also the mysteries of capitalization seem to have eluded her home-school instructor. As it is though, she understands the Bible better L&J. Way better.

  • Tlachtga

    Wow–good to see that the homeschoolers are just as bad at grammar as the public school kids.
    (And I’m a bit miffed at her definition of Catholic priests as “Romanist priests”, but that’s probably how she was brought up. I don’t know why I get annoyed at it.)
    Still, nice to know that she’s smart enough to see that the Harry Potter series isn’t the Satanic menace that many fundies believe them to be. There’s hope yet.

  • temima

    So are the Mizrahim, the Ethopians, the Arab Israelis and the Palestinians are getting some of that moolah from Miracle Gro? You know, I suspect all that cash will make suicide bombing slightly less attractive.
    Or is not fulfilling prophecy by actually loving the stranger or something? I seem to remember them not liking any peace that doesn’t come from Jesus.

  • walter

    Wow, you are doing us all a service. We don’t have to read the LB crap(or give the authors our money) but still be somehow entertained by at all.
    One point, wouldn’t this magicall created agricultutral abundance cause the prices of these products to plummet worldwide? I mean, this is what happens to Third World nations that have a lot of any type of commodity. Many African nation export large amounts of cocoa but it hasn’t made them “the richest nations on earth”. In fact it has had the opposite effect. They rely too much on said export commodity, and when prices fall, they are SOL economically. Also, wouldn’t this be a disaster for American farmers. Congress bends over backward to subsidize the “Bread Basket” MidWest. Such action by Israel would actually undermine support for them in Washington, not increase it.

  • http://nielsenhayden.com/electrolite/archives/003901.html Electrolite

    Revelations.

    Slacktivist is blogging about the mega-bestselling “Left Behind” novels, so far here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here….

  • Abigail

    Chris wrote:
    Even leaving aside why the Russians would be so annoyed with Israel that they would launch an unprovoked attack, why would they send thousands of warheads at little Israel? Three would kill virtually everyone there (one for Tel Aviv, one for Haifa, one for Jerusalem, assuming they don’t care would the Arabs think).
    True, but the very first Russian nuke would have to hit wherever it is that Israel keeps its own famously secret nuclear weapons. According to my mother, during the Yom Kippur war, IAF jets carrying a bomb were scrabled. Their mission? If Israel fell, they were to nuke Egypt. Isn’t that the reason why no country has dared to launch a nuclear attack since the very first ones? The fear of imminent reprisals? Only a country with nothing to lose would do such a thing.
    I’m enjoying this commentary. Living in Israel myself, the LB books really aren’t on my radar, and I’ve often wondered what all the fuss is about, and whether they can truly be as awful as they seem.

  • Deana Holmes

    The books are awful because people believe that this is the timetable that God will follow in the end times. Go check out http://www.leftbehind.com if you don’t believe me. In fact, I think there are some people who believe that Buck and Rayford are real people, and they don’t want to hear that this is not going to happen the way Tim & Jerry write it.

  • Chris

    I agree Abigail that the Russians would need that fourth bomb to destroy Israel’s nuclear arsenal, maybe a fifth or sixth since the Israelis probably keep them in several locations. Of course the logic of nuclear deterrence escapes L&J, no mention how throughly destructive such weapons are. The Antichrist seems to like using them, but fallout is not a serious issue for him, what with the rain of toads, locusts, rivers turning to blood, and what not.

  • WKD

    Would the russians bother destroying Israels nuclear arsenal? I am not sure that the Israelis could meaningfully retaliate.

  • Abigail

    No one’s sure. That’s the point. Israel’s nuclear capabilities have always been shrouded in secrecy, but surely even the (strong) possibility that the nation you’re attacking has the bomb should give a nuclear aggressor pause.
    I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if Israel didn’t have nuclear missiles. In that case, all the Russians would have to do to ensure their safety would be to first destroy Israel’s ability to launch airplanes.

  • WKD

    So they are probably talking about some sort of air-launched cruise missile, and not too large a one at that, given that Israel lacks (as far as I am aware) strategic bombers. Meaning not that long range. So, the range of a striike fighter plus the range of the missile. ICBM silos are hard to hide, and their subs are too small. I doubt the Israeli counter-attack would give the russians any pause at all.
    Of course, I doubt the russians would care in the first place but what the hey.

  • WKD

    Every nuclear weapon? Jesus Christ, do those monkeys even know how many weapons Russia has? There would be *nothing* left. One missiles worth of warheads would do that job. And nail the Arabs while they where there.
    Sorry, I’m late to this game. I only just found (refound really) this site.

  • jonforest

    There are some interesting comments above about the economic implications of the Israeli Miracle-Gro (TM). I wonder, however, whether we shouldn’t consider whether the choice is Freudian, if you will.
    One of the fundamental fissures within North American life is between urban culture and rural culture. Most of the things that Lehaye & co. find threatening in modern life can be associated with urban culture–sexual & intellectual promiscuity, etc–and rural culture remains a strong-hold for conservative Christianity, etc.
    Economically, however, cities have been charging ahead, first through the last centuries’ expansion of industrial manufacturing and recently through various IT-revolutions, while the country-side has been in long-term, secular decline, living increasingly off of subsidies that come from the cities.
    Ignoring the Israel wrinkle, should we not see the LB miracle revival of the countryside as a telling fantasy in itself? It is not some whiz-bang computer chip that creates the new prosperity, but a fertilizer that makes the countryside all the more productive, restoring it to the place of economic leadership where its political and moral rectitude should place it.

  • melissia

    They believe Rome is a hotbed of sin, therefor “Romanist Priest” would be a sinful priest.

  • http://www.maryjones.us/ tlachtga

    Wow–I made that comment ten years ago? I’m getting old. Is this possibly even right? Ten years?

  • melissia

    I’m surprised I made comments from three years ago, myself…

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The thing that’s even more impressive is that you were registered long enough to have gotten notified about that comment. :O


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