L.B.: New Babylon

L.B.: New Babylon October 19, 2007

Left Behind, pp. 346-353

Buck Williams and Hattie Durham are in a cab on their way to meet Rayford and Chloe Steele at the airport, when Buck decides to swing by his office to pick up his cell phone and laptop.

Hattie waited in the cab, but she told him she was not going to be happy if she missed her appointment. Buck stood by the window of the cab. “I’ll just be a minute,” he said.

When Buck gets inside, however, he finds that Steve Plank and Stanton Bailey, Global Weekly’s publisher, are waiting to talk to him. Their conversation takes place over the next nine pages, during which neither Buck nor the authors seems to remember that Hattie is stuck in a cab outside with the meter running.

In Bailey’s office the boss got right to the point. “I’m gonna ask you two some pointed questions, and I want some quick and straight answers. A whole bunch of stuff is coming down right now, and we’re gonna be on top of every bit of it.”

This is how Bailey talks, a rat-a-tat stream of cliches:

“You brats think that because I’m two or three years from the pasture, I don’t still have contacts, don’t have my ear to the ground. Well, let me tell you, my phone’s been ringing off the hook since you left here this morning, and I’ve got a gut feeling something big is coming down.”

These stock phrases are Bailey’s native language because, after all, he’s a stock character, a type. He wasn’t created by LaHaye and Jenkins, he was taken off the shelf ready-made and inserted into their story.

In most books, the arrival of such stock characters is a low point — a lazy lapse by the author. Here in the World’s Worst Books, however, these walking cliches actually stand out as more vivid than the characters around them. Readers already know Stanton Bailey. He is The Executive — the no-nonsense, graying-at-the-temples white male authority figure we’ve met dozens of times before in other hastily written novels, movies and TV shows. A character actor with limited skills but the right “look” can make a long and lucrative career out of playing this type over and over, never having to change anything about his performance except his tie and the nameplate on his Big Desk. (Oddly, some of our elite political pundits seem to think that such a career as a paycheck actor is all the experience you need to become president.)

The Executive is hackneyed, trite and two-dimensional, but our longstanding familiarity with the type almost makes Bailey seem more real and more human than Buck, Rayford, Steve or any of the other original creations who surround him.

L&J have summoned this literary day laborer here for a bit of expository catch-up. They’ve got a lot to tell us about Carpathia’s rise to power so they’ve brought in Bailey to summarize. Bailey has the inside scoop because he’s a journalist. Our hero is also a journalist, of course, a choice of vocation that I think initially was intended to allow Buck to keep us up to date on these kinds of plot developments. But since Buck has been distracted lately other journalist-expositors like Bailey and Dan Bennett are having to pick up the slack.

Bailey has figured out some pieces of the puzzle and he wants Steve and Buck to fill him in on the rest. “I’m telling you that nothing you say here is gonna go past these walls, so I don’t want you holdin’ out on me,” he tells them. That’s a fine summary of Global Weekly’s journalistic approach: Pursue the truth relentlessly, then make sure it never leaves the building.

Anyway, Bailey has figured out that Carpathia is angling for the position of U.N. secretary-general:

“Rumors are flying that Mwangati Ngumo is calling a press conference for late this afternoon …”

How is this a “rumor”? Is Ngumo calling a press conference without actually telling the press? How would that work, exactly?

“… and everybody thinks he’s stepping down as secretary-general.”

“Really?” Plank said.

“Don’t play dumb with me,” Bailey growled. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure what’s happening here. If he’s stepping down, your guy knows about it. You forget I was in charge of the African bureau when Botswana became an associate member of the European Common Market. Jonathan Stonagal had his fingers all over that, and everybody knows he’s one of this Carpathia guy’s angels. What’s the connection?”

The entire scene plays out like this, Bailey “growls” a couple of lines of hard-boiled boilerplate boss-speak (Jenkins’ grasp of the type is a bit unsteady, at times The Executive sounds more like The Police Sergeant) and then a couple of lines of PMD-world nonsense. Or he growls at Steve until he babbles something insane from off of the End-Times Checklist. The contrast between The Executive’s no-nonsense persona and the raving nonsense he’s actually saying is unintentionally delightful.

“I get a call from a guy who knows the vice president of Romania. Word over there is the guy has been asked to be prepared to run the day-to-day stuff indefinitely. He’s not going to become the new president because they just got one, but that tells me Carpathia expects to be here a while.”

Hmmm. Put that together with the fact that the guy sitting next to him just took a job as Carpathia’s New York-based, English-speaking press secretary and I think he might be on to something. Bailey spends a couple of pages summarizing things we already knew before finally moving things forward a bit. The publisher of Seaboard Monthly had called, he said:

“… about how you, Cameron, and his guy that drowned last night were working the same angle on Carpathia, and whether I think you’re going to mysteriously get dead, too. … He said his guy had intended to take a slightly different approach — you know, zig when everybody else is zagging. Miller was doing a story on the meaning behind the disappearances, which I know you were planning for an issue or two from now. …

“An issue or two from now.” So your kids — everyone’s kids — vanish into thin air and Global Weekly decides to wait three weeks or a month to do a story on it. Talk about trying to “zig when everybody else is zagging.”

To his credit, Bailey does say, later in this section, that the story on the disappearances is:

“… the one that interests me most. … Sometimes I think we get too snooty as a newsmagazine and we forget that everyday people out there are scared to death, wanting to make some sense of all this.”

I don’t think “snooty” would be my first choice for a word to describe someone who doesn’t regard the disappearance of every child on the planet as newsworthy. I’d lean more toward “sociopathic.” But at least Bailey aims to correct for this snootiness. Eventually. In a month or so.

“… an issue or two from now. How that ties in with Carpathia, and why it might paint him in a dark light, I don’t know. Do you?”

Buck shook his head. “I see them as two totally different pieces. … I sure wouldn’t have thought to somehow link Carpathia with the disappearances.”

From Buck’s point of view, the only thing the two stories have in common is that neither one is likely to ever be written.

Bailey turns back to Steve, demanding he tell them all about Carpathia’s agenda for the United Nations. Normally, telling the publisher and editor of a major news magazine all about your boss’ secret agenda is something you should try to avoid as a press secretary. But Steve knows these two. Buck is already elbow deep in covering Carpathia’s (and Stonagal’s) tracks, and Bailey is far more interested in collecting and guarding secrets than in publishing them. “I won’t tell anyone,” the publisher insists. (That could be etched over the front door of the building as the Weekly’s motto: “We won’t tell anyone.”) So Steve knows he’s safe here, safe among friends just like when Tim Russert has one of his friendly off-the-record chats with Karl Rove.

“He wants a new Security Council setup, which will include some of his own ideas for ambassadors.”

“Like Todd-Cothran from England?” Buck said.

“Probably temporarily. He’s not entirely pleased with that relationship, as you may know.”

Buck suddenly realized that Steve knew everything.

Well, everything except how little the secretary-general has to do with the appointment of ambassadors to the U.N. Maybe the “new setup” Steve refers to means that all the ambassadors to the U.N. will be replaced by ambassadors from the U.N. Or maybe the authors don’t understand that there’s a difference.

“And?” Bailey pressed.

“He wants Ngumo personally to insist on him as his replacement, a large majority vote of the representatives, and two other things that, frankly, I don’t think he’ll get. …

OK, brace yourself. Put one hand on either side of the frame of the looking glass. Take a deep breath. Ready? Now … jump!

“… Militarily, he wants a commitment to disarmament from member nations, the destruction of 90 percent of their weapons, and the donations of the other 10 percent to the U.N.”

“For peacekeeping purposes,” Bailey said. “Naive, but logical sounding. You’re right, he probably won’t get that. What else?”

This is insurmountably ridiculous. Voluntary universal disarmament. Try to imagine a world in which such a thing is even remotely plausible, let alone “logical sounding.” Such a world would be radically, irreconcilably different from this world in ways too numerous to count.

The story has just moved beyond unrealistic, beyond implausible, into the realm of hopelessly impossible.

And keep in mind that, for the authors and most of their millions of readers, this isn’t merely a story. This is a fictional account of what they think of as actual events that will soon occur. Their unreal and impossible fiction is a reflection of their unreal and impossible beliefs about the actual world.

The authors produced this passage and they thought it sounded good. They thought they were offering a plausibly accurate description of the world and how it works. It needs to be said: Dr. Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins are profoundly stupid men.

But let’s continue with Steve’s summary of Carpathia’s agenda:

“He wants to move the U.N.”

“Move it?”

Steve nodded. … “He wants to move it to Babylon.”

“You’re not serious.”

He is.”

“I hear they’ve been renovating that city for years. Millions of dollars invested in making it, what, New Babylon?”


That’s the first thing in this book that really does seem, as they say, “ripped from the headlines.” American taxpayers, after all, have been “renovating that city for years” at a cost of billions of dollars. And the centerpiece of New Babylon is a secretive, palace-like compound “six times larger than the United Nations compound in New York.” If I were the Antichrist, bent on world-domination, this is exactly the sort of place I would want for my headquarters. Here in the real world, of course, the United Nations refuses to have anything to do with the place.

“Think anyone will agree to that?”

“Depends how bad they want him,” Steve chuckled. “He’s on The Tonight Show tonight.”

“He’ll be more popular than ever!”

So the authors seem to think that Jay Leno will be among those left behind. The authors also seem to think that The Tonight Show is closely watched all over the world by the key decision-makers in every member nation of the U.N. Or I guess they think that everyone TiVo’s Leno since, as has already been established a couple of chapters earlier, the whole world (except for Marge’s husband) watches Nightline.

Steve says that right now Carpathia is “meeting with the heads of all those international groups that are in town for unity meetings.” Kind of an awkward moment for Buck. He was supposed to be attending those meetings himself to report on them, so right now he is so busted.

Steve explains, matter-of-factly, a bit more of Nicolae’s agenda:

“He’s asking for resolutions supporting some of the things he wants to do. The seven-year peace treaty with Israel, in exchange for his ability to broker the desert-fertilizer formula. …”

We were already told, way back on page 8, that Israel was at peace with all her neighbors. The only nations Israel wasn’t at peace with were Russia and Ethiopia, whose militaries Israel destroyed without even lifting a finger. So it hardly seems they would be feeling an urgent need to trade their most precious asset in exchange for a peace treaty. Carpathia’s universal disarmament scheme would also seem to make the need for any such treaty even less urgent. But so what if it doesn’t make sense? It’s in the Checklist, so it has to happen.

The chronology here also seems a bit dodgy. Nicolae will acquire the formula in order to become secretary-general, after which he will sign a peace treaty with Israel. In exchange for the peace treaty, Israel will give him the formula that will allow him to become secretary-general. Huh?

“… The establishment of one religion for the world, probably headquartered in Italy.”

“He’s not going to get far with the Jews on that one.”

“They’re an exception. He’s going to help them rebuild their temple during the years of the peace treaty. He believes they deserve special treatment.”

“And they do,” Bailey said. “The man is brilliant. Not only have I never seen someone with such revolutionary ideas, but I’ve also never seen anyone who moves so quickly.”

This is, again, insurmountably ridiculous. With the exception of “the Jews,” who will be bought off with a new temple (that worked so well for Herod), none of the world’s religious believers will have any objections to Nicolae’s plans for a merger with a new “headquarters” (because all religions have “headquarters”) in a non-neutral site.

L&J believe this sounds not just plausible but “brilliant” because in their minds, these religious believers are all the same. They are aware, dimly, that some of these believers call themselves “Hindus,” while others call themselves “Muslims,” “Buddhists,” “Wiccans” or “Roman Catholics,” but to L&J no such distinctions are really meaningful. All that matters is that these people are not RTCs. There are only two categories that do matter: the saved and the damned.

This goes back to what Rayford said a few pages back (see, “Mystery Dance“). “To people who didn’t want to admit that God had been behind the disappearances,” Rayford said to himself, “any other explanation would salve their consciences.” From the authors’ perspective, everyone knows that the Real True Christians have the Real True Truth. Those who reject becoming RTCs just “didn’t want to admit” what they knew to be true, so they latched onto these other religions — which they knew to be false — to “salve their consciences.” All that supposedly sectarian conflict occurring right now in New Babylon? That’s just play-acting.

L&J seem to believe not just that all other religions are false, but that all other religions are insincere.

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