Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Monday, January 31, 2011

This story is over blown.

So, I have some bad news ladies and gentlemen. Really bad news:

There's a worrisome uptick in the incidence of certain head and neck cancers among middle-aged and even younger Americans, and some experts link the trend to a rise in the popularity of oral sex over the past few decades.

That's because the human papillomavirus (HPV) is a major trigger for these cancers, and HPV can be transmitted through this type of sexual activity.

"It seems like a pretty good link that more sexual activity, particularly oral sex, is associated with increased HPV infection," said Dr. Greg Hartig, professor of otolaryngology head and neck surgery at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison.

Kudos to USAToday for finding an oddly appropriate picture for the story, too. Now, this seems like a bummer for the obvious reason but, in addition, it depresses me because I just know that it's going to become a conservative talking point. Hell, given how much Conservapedia rants about the supposed link between abortion and breast cancer,* I have every reason to think they'll start ranting about the link between perverse sex practices and head and neck cancer.** That said, we need to consider the magnitude of the effect:

A 2007 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that younger people with head and neck cancers who tested positive for oral HPV infection were more likely to have had multiple vaginal and oral sex partners in their lifetime.

In the study, having six or more oral sex partners over a lifetime was associated with a 3.4 times higher risk for oropharyngeal cancer cancers of the base of the tongue, back of the throat or tonsils. Having 26 or more vaginal-sex partners tripled the risk.

Right, so, the risk is tied not to the sex per se, but to the number of partners. And it looks like we're free to bang vaginally like deranged monkeys, so that's good. But, really, it gets even better:

The other good news at least for the younger set is that there is a relatively new vaccine to prevent against HPV infection. It's not going to help those who are already infected, but it "absolutely" could help those who aren't yet infected with the ubiquitous virus, Verret said.

So, it's a cancer risk that we can effectively block,*** thereby returning to the status quo where unprotected oral sex can just result in all manner of other unpleasant STDs. Woo-hoo.

But then, that wouldn't be as good a headline, would it?

* For anyone who isn't familiar, their claim both is and is not true, simultaneously. There's evidence that a completed pregnancy that includes breast feeding prior to age 35 lowers a woman's lifetime risk of breast cancer. At the same time, there's no evidence that abortion increases a woman's risk over that of a woman who did not have children. Thus, compared to the never-pregnant population, abortion does not increase the cancer risk. Compared to projected risk following a successful pregnancy, abortion increases the risk. So, really, it's a matter of your preferred reference category. Not that I think the average conservapeon is actually motivated by these fine distinctions- they hate abortion for entirely different reasons and will grab any club they can find to quash it.

** Yeah, the only thing that's perverse about oral sex is a failure to reciprocate. I'm looking at my fellow men here, too. Seriously, guys- bring a lunch, stay for the day.

*** I don't know that this lends itself to a good advertising slogan for Gardasil (e.g. "Gardasil: The vaccine that saved the blowjob") but it would be a pretty awesome entry under side effects (e.g. "Side effects may include, increased likelihood of receiving oral sex...").

As a side note: Best pun in a blog post title EVAR!

Labels: , , ,

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Overton Window: Dedication, Acknowledgments, Author's Note, and Prologue

Welcome back one and all to our ongoing series on The Overton Window, the book that you don't know anything about because we haven't really started with it yet. Last time I provided an overview of the process as well as my general impressions of the book, which were somewhat less than good. What happens this week? Well, basically nothing as we have to wade through an epic amount of front matter before we even get within shouting distance of the actual "story". In a way, however, this is a mercy as it means you won't have to meet the characters until next week, an event that cannot be delayed enough.

And, with that, let's begin! As always, page/line numbers are in bold, quotes from the book are in block quotes, my commentary is in regular print, and you can navigate the whole series with the provided tag. My footnotes use the traditional star system (e.g. *, **, etc) while references included in the Afterword to the book are noted with numbered parenthetical tags (e.g. (1), (2), etc.). Tally ho!

Dedication: In which the author(s) vaguely thank people who did something or other to do with this book.

The dedication page isn't really interesting, but it thanks three people using the organizing theme of "faith," "hope," and "charity." This isn't a particulately clear way to do it, however, as it's often not clear what each of these means. For example...

Page unmarked, Line 1-2:
Faith: To David Barton, a man who knows that the answers were left everywhere in plain sight by our Founders. [emphasis original]

I suspect what the authors mean here is the Constitution, but they might also mean the various letters and documents produced by the founding fathers over the years. Hell, they might even mean the Federalist Papers, although I wouldn't count on it. Nevertheless, I admit it amuses me to imagine that what they mean by that remark is something more out of Hollywood than history. Regardless, this is also our first encounter with something that will become familiar- constitutional literalism. Now, by that, I most certainly do not mean "strict constructionism", which is a legal view that the constitution should be interpreted in a very direct and limited fashion. It's this perspective that- at least hypothetically- leads some folks to deny that there's a constitutional right to privacy. I disagree with that particular view, but nonetheless I at least understand the general perspective. No, what I mean by "constitutional literalism" is something akin to biblical literalism, or the idea that your unique and often highly innovative perspective is somehow embodied in the "plain meaning" of a specific foundational document, and if other people don't agree, that's because they're being deliberately evasive or willfully evil. As a result, a reading of The Overton Window does not produce as strong a contrast with Left Behind as we might hope. As an additional result, the authors pretty much repeatedly suggest that those of us who have differences of opinion with them about what the constitution does and does not mean are basically ignorant morons. So, hey, that's fun.

Page unmarked, Line 3-4:
Hope: To Marcus Luttrell, a man who has shown us all what it really takes to never quit. [emphasis original]

Yeah, like I said, what does that mean? Is he a smoker, is that it? Did he keep smoking even through one of those little holes in his trachea, despite how hard that is? Who knows? Vagueness is okay, I guess- a dedications page isn't necessarily supposed to make sense to anyone but who it's dedicated to. Still, this one certainly signals the kind of rhetoric we're going to be "enjoying" for the next forty odd chapters. Specifically, this misguided sense that the authors are part of an unfairly persecuted group. And it's prominent especially at the end of the dedications...

Page unmarked, Line 7:
Never give up, never give in.

My best guess is the author(s) watched Braveheart right before writing this. Just a hunch. Anyway, now we're on to the acknowledments, which coincidentally begin on the first marked page.

Acknowledgments: In which the author(s) thank various and sundry people for various and sundry reasons while inadvertently letting us in on a few things.

Page VII, Line 1-4:
Special thanks to...

All of the VIEWERS, LISTENERS, AND READERS, including the Glenn Beck INSIDERS. We're not racist and we're not violent... we're just not silent anymore. [emphasis original]

It's rarely a good sign when a group of authors can't get more than a dozen lines into a book (and that includes the Dedication) without objecting to charges of racism and violence that have been leveled against them. This is not to say that I think the authors are either, but regardless a protestation to the contrary this early in the book is a bit weird. I'm also not sure what to do with that "we're just not silent anymore" bit. When, exactly, has the demographic that this book is pitched to ever really been silent or out of power in this country? In any case, they continue in this vein for a while and then we get to another interesting admission.

Page VII, Line 9-11:
...and all of the other remarkable people behind the scenes at MERCURY RADIO ARTS for never laughing at my ideas (at least not to my face). [emphasis original]

I love that Beck is self-aware enough to realize that some of his employees might actually find him laughable, but just refrain from actually laughing at him to his face. Also we should note that, in the same section of the book (that is, the Acknowledgments), we find both the suggestion that it may come across as racist or violent, as well as that its ideas may seem laughable. If they're trying to lower our expectations, hey, mission accomplished. And as long as we're on the subject, have you noticed all the "emphasis original" tags? He's literally capitalizing and bolding in the text itself. It's like Beck yells at his audience even in print.*

Page VIII, Line 1-3:
PATRICIA BALFE, for sharing her love of thrillers and mysteries with all of us. I realize I'm no David Baldacci or Robert Parker, but I still hope this book costs you some precious sleep. [emphasis original]

Interestingly, the Balfe mentioned above is one of three Balfes named in the acknowledgments, only one of which is actually a named author of the book. Also interesting, Patricia Balfe, who evidently loves thrillers and mysteries, is not the author Balfe. This may explain why this book is neither thrilling nor terribly mysterious. He's right that this book shouldn't scare Baldacci or Parker, much less Robert Ludlum, but frankly I think it doesn't even reach L. Ron Hubbard's level of writing acumen. I mean, hell, at least "Battlefield Earth" could be entertaining from time to time.** The Overton Window certainly did cost me precious sleep, however, but only in the sense that I had to struggle to stay awake while reading it.

Page VIII, Line 22-23:
EVERYONE ELSE who has fallen victim to my ADD- sorry, I focused on this page for as long as I could. [emphasis original]

I think this is supposed to be funny. It's not, but I admire the effort. I also concede that the grammar confused me a bit at first- I thought Beck was suggesting that his ADD is contagious or something. He has apparently been diagnosed with ADHD by the way, which I mention in the hopes that we'll all put ADHD related jokes off the table for the remainder of the book. Regardless, however, we're done with the acknowledgements, so now it's time to start the story, right? Eh. Not so much.

A Note From The Author: In which Beck shares a few preparatory remarks.

I just want to note that at the top of this page, written in big letters, I've scrawled, "Fuck! Start the damn book already!" I chalk my impatience up to the fact that all of the preceding has been in big block print and it really feels like the authors are stalling. This impression carries on throughout the rest of the book, actually, making it feel as though the contract specified that the manuscript had to be X number of pages, and the authors pulled out all the stops in finding a way to pump it up to that length. For the educators in the audience, think about what inevitably happens when you say something like, "Your papers must be at least n pages long", where n is any positive, non-zero number. And I really mean that- once when grading an assignment to write a three page essay on Emile Durkheim I ran across one student who wrote two pages and then filled the third with a grainy, digitized photo of the man. On that day I realized an essential truth of education: no matter how easy the assignment, there is always someone too lazy to complete it. Anyway, it sometimes feels like one or more of the authors are "that guy".

Page IX, Line 1-5:
I've been a fan of thrillers for many years. While nonfiction books aim to enlighten, the goal of most thrillers is to entertain. But there is a category of novels that do both: "faction"- completely fictional books with plots rooted in fact, and that is the category I strived for with The Overton Window. [emphasis original]

I'll concede that at first I thought the authors were making up words but, no, it turns out that "faction" is an established term for a type of fiction. I'll let you judge how well Beck integrates facts into his fiction, but my own conclusion is "not well".

Page IX, Line 6:
As you become immersed in the story...

Ah! An optimist! Excellent! Regardless, he explains how we may feel as though we recognize the world of the story because it's very similar to our own. As a fan of sci-fi and alternate history, I'll concede he's right, but it's more a world that seems like a crudely modified version of reality than an organic, breathing reality that happens to differ from our own. To see this sort of thing done right, try reading damn near anything by Harry Turtledove.

Page IX, Line 14-15:
I know this book will be controversial; anything that causes people to think usually is.

Each clause in that sentence makes sense independently, but not when you string them together. Joking aside, however, I want to note that this section essentially operates as a sort of nudge-nudge, wink-wink disclaimer. This book is "fact" but fictionalized, thereby relieving the authors of the responsibility to get the facts right, or at least to consider multiple lines of evidence. Likewise, the book is "controversial" but only because it makes people think and not because it's arguably an incitement to violence and political extremism. But then, that's not totally fair to the book since the authors do explicitly condemn violence on multiple occasions. That said, they also implicitly praise it, so it's a bit hard to say what the actual message is. I suspect it depends on the audience- if you're one of his "insiders" you know what he really means, but it isn't direct enough for an outsider to interpret. This is, of course, a dangerous way to encode a message, since it leaves much of the meaning in the hands of the reader, and therefore allows the same text to justify a number of courses of action. Sort of like how the bible says both "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," and "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

Page X, Line 13-19:
You may also notice that the words Republican or Democrat rarely appear in this book, and when they do, it's in an equally unflattering light. We also never meet the president of the United States or learn what party he or she is affiliated with. Those were conscious decisons, and it reflects the fact that what is happening to our country is not about a political party or a particular person, it is a course of destruction that we have been pursuing at various speeds for the last century. [emphasis original]

It's hard to know what to do with this bit. I mean, he's telling the truth, they don't specifically name political parties much, although they don't hesitate to name particular people who are associated with specific parties. At the same time, though, Beck is well known as aggressively partisan, so this comes across as more of a thin veneer of impartiality than anything else.

Page X, Like 20-23:
Every day that we scream "Where were you four years ago?" or "It's your party's fault and not mine!" or "I didn't vote for him!" is a day we move closer to the end of America- or at least the America our Founders envisioned. [emphasis original]

Funny, I would have said it was a day than the Glenn Beck show had been on the air, but I digress. The latter part of the quote- about the America the founders envisioned- is going to be a constant refrain but, at the same time, it's clear that Beck (I name him specifically because his signature is at the end of the section) doesn't really want us to think of that America. He isn't interested in the America the founders thought they were making at all, but rather in an idealized version that he thinks can be justified using references to the founders. But we'll explore that in more depth later on. In any case, Beck once more acknowledges that he can take any verbal punishment anyone can dish out*** (including, presumably, mine) and then wraps up his note to the reader. And finally, we might think, we can start the story! But we can't, because the next page has nothing on it except for a Thomas Paine quotation. But surely the next page?

Prologue: In which someone talks on the phone and then gets shot.

Recommended Mood Music:

This section opens with my scrawled remark, "Good goddamn. A prologue now?" Indeed, consider how long this episode is already, and we're only just getting to any actual "faction."

Page 1, Line 1-2:
Eli Churchill was a talker. Once he got rolling it was unusual for him to stop and listen, but now a distant noise had him concerned.

As opening lines go, this one is pretty dull. Do we care that this guy is a chatterbox? Does anyone really want to read about him? Novels are supposed to open with a hook that grabs the reader and pulls them in but this one leaves me feeling like the one that got away. Anyway, it turns out old Eli is on a payphone in the Mojave desert (1).

Page 1, Line 7-11:
In this much quiet your ears could play tricks on you. He could have sworn that there'd been a sound out of place, like the snap of a stalk of dried grass underfoot, even though no other human being had any business within twenty miles of where he stood, but he couldn't be sure.

First off, Eli is accustomed to hearing the sound of individual stalks of grass snapping? Is he Daredevil, or what? Second, please allow me to note that the preceding contains only two sentences, and the second is a doozie.

Page 1, Line 15-18:
When he put the phone back to his ear an automated message was playing; the phone company wanted another payment to allow the call to continue. He worked his last six quarters from their torn paper roll and dropped them one by one into the coin slot.

Oh, man. I hadn't realized how much I was missing intricate descriptions of consumer telephony! It's like I'm reading Left Behind all over again! In any case, he starts raving like a loon to someone named "Beverly" about how the government lost $2.3 trillion (2) (3) in 2001, noting in passing that it's, "...not an accounting error, that's organized crime." (Page 2, Line 19-20). He then claims he knows what it is this money went towards.

Page 2, Line 25-28:
"I've [Eli] seen the place, one of the places where they're getting ready for something- something big- planning it out, you know? I got a job inside in maintenance, as a cleanup man. They thought I was just a janitor, but I had the run of the place overnights."

Okay, so he's some sort of mole or secret agent? Maybe, but right now all we've got is a frenzied phonecall between a janitor and some lady named "Beverly". It gets weirder, though.

Page 2, Line 29-31:
"I saw what they're planning to do. They're building a structure." He [Eli] checked his notes to make sure he was getting it right. "Not like a building, but like a political and economic and social structure."

Wow. What kind of facility do you need to "build" a social structure? Are we talking a small factory, or does it require a volcano lair? And you don't do background checks on the janitorial staff for your volcano lair? What? Leaving that aside, Eli rambles on for a while longer, Beverly wants to meet with him, and then there's a serious failure of creativity.

Page 3, Line 17-20:
"We [Eli and Beverly] don't have the time; just listen now. They're going to stage something soon to get it all started. Just like that two-point-three trillion dollars that's missing, there are eleven nuclear weapons unaccounted for in the U.S. arsenal, and I've seen two of them-"

If this sounds a little familiar, it's probably because it strongly resembles the premise of Jericho, which would make Eli Churchill correspond to this dude, with the exception that Eli is an ineffective moron. It's never good when a novel seems to be cribbing from a failed CBS drama. In any case, at that point Eli notices a strange man aiming a gun at him with a laser sight. D'oh!

Page 3- Line 24-27:
Eli Churchill had enough time left to begin a quiet prayer but not enough to end it. His final appeal was interrupted by a silenced gunshot, and a .357 semi-jacketed hollow point round was the last thing to go through his mind.

That last sentence is struggling to be witty but doesn't quite make it. Oh, well. Bye, Eli! We hardly knew ya. No, really, we have no idea what the hell was going on in this scene, and the authors never really bothered to do anything to make us care. And that, amazingly is the end of the prologue and of this episode.

Come back next time when we meet the least interesting protagonist in modern fiction**** and his leading lady. I, for one, can absolutely wait.

* I'm naming him specifically because this bit is written in the first-person from Beck.

** The book, not the movie, The movie is unspeakably bad.

*** And, really, one should hope he could take criticism given his incessant haranguing of old academics and his mocking refusal to tone things down. What's good for the goose, eh Beck?

**** Believe it or not, I include Left Behind in that, but it's a near goddamn thing.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Really captures the spirit...

If you, like me, love the dark whimsy of the Fallout series* of video games, you're liable to love this. Trust me, it's worth the time to watch it:

So. Freaking. Cool.

* BTW, if you're curious- Fallout: New Vegas? Really, really good, but still has some nasty bugs. Don't mess with it if you don't exceed the minimum requirements.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, January 24, 2011

Spam: It's what's for dinner!

I get a lot of e-mail in a given day and inevitably some of it is spam. That's okay with me, however, because honestly some of it is just awesome. Take this item for example, which I received about a week ago:

Apparently, someone named "Kestrel Leopard Lepard" wants to connect with me on Yahoo! Even better, she wants to share updates and photos, which seems promising when you glance at her profile picture and realize that she's holding her leg up in that awkward position solely to cover the nipple on her right boob. I have never seen a woman adopt such a posture casually. Really, the only reason you'd ever sit in that position is because (a) you really want everyone to see that you have both boobs and legs or (b) because you're a contortionist who really loves her work. For some reason this kind of thing often gives me a giggle- at least when it doesn't horrify me- and I thought I'd share.

Also, I'm lazy, but what else is new?

Labels: , , ,

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Overton Window: Prolegomenon

As many of you may recall, a while back- at the conclusion of my previous series of posts on Left Behind- I took votes on what book I would do next. The outcome was a promise that I would cover The Overton Window, Glenn Beck's newest masterpiece, next. And my readers are so awesome, I was even given a copy. Now, a lot has happened between then and now, but I've finally had the time to finish the book, and thus I'm now ready to start the series. Aren't you lucky?

Now, much like when I began doing Left Behind, I need to lay down some ground rules. First and foremost, this is not a review of the book. This series is, instead, simply an account of my reactions to the book provided on a chapter-by-chapter basis. As such it is neither impartial nor intended to be definitive. It is, instead, entirely opinion and should be viewed as such. Second, this book is political and as a result my responses to it will also touch on political matters. That said, if I mock the perspectives advanced in this book, my mockery should not be construed as extending beyond the specific ideas advanced therein. In other words, I don't think this book necessarily represents anyone's opinions- even Glenn Beck's when you get right down to it- so my criticism should only be read as applying to the book itself. If your views match the book's completely... well... that's your business, but my comments shouldn't be viewed as applying broadly to Republicans, Democrats, Fascists, Socialists, tea partiers, or anything else other than the book. In this vein, Beck writes (among other things) in the "Note from the Author" on page X (that's not a variable, it's numbered with the Roman numeral X) that "I've been called every hateful thing there is to call someone and I can handle it." I take this as an explicit invitation to criticsm, though my criticism will be predominantly directed at this book specifically and not at Beck. I don't know Beck personally, so while I may not agree with what he says sometimes, that doesn't mean I wish him harm or desire to disparage his character. Nevertheless, he says he can handle criticism, so I'm going to take him at his word. Third, and perhaps most weird, I am actually going to try very hard to not constantly attribute what's in this book to Beck and suggest that you do so as well. The main reason for this is that The Overton Window isn't just written by Glenn Beck. Indeed, it is also written by Kevin Balfe, Emily Bestler and Jack Henderson. Yes, that's right: this book has four authors. As a result, I think it's quite murky what was written by Beck directly, what was written to Beck's instructions, and what was just filled in by one of the other contributors. So, in the final analysis, we can't really know what in here stems from Beck and what doesn't.

As with Left Behind, each week we'll have an entry in the series that covers some amount of the book, quoting direct passages and giving my reactions. I say "some amount" because the exact amount is going to vary. With Left Behind I did a half chapter each week, which meant that with 25 chapters I needed about a year from start to finish. The Overton Window is also divided into chapters- 47 to be precise, plus various and sundry prologues and afterwords and whatnot- but these chapters are of very, very inconsistent length. Indeed, some chapters are 8-10 pages long, while others are basically a single page long. As a result, I can't predict how much of the book will end up in a given installment- it could be one chapter, or a half-dozen. Additionally, in the afterword the authors provide what amounts to a bunch of end notes, hypothetically backing up what's contained in the book itself. I'm going to try to provide direct references to as much of this material as possible as we go so that you can see the supporting documentation that the authors want you to see. I'll indicate these notes in the quoted text and/or my commentary with a number inside parentheses (e.g. (1)), with a link to the relevant documents. My own footnotes will retain my traditional stars system (e.g. *, **, etc.). Page/line numbers are in bold, quotes from the book are in block quotes, my commentary is in regular print, and you can navigate the whole series with the provided tag.

With Left Behind, each week I chose a comment of the week and then the person at the end of the series with the highest score got a prize. I'll be doing that again with this book, so if you have a witty rejoinder to something in the book- or to my own demented babble- don't keep it to yourself. I reserve the right to impose or alter the rules of the contest at any time because I'm nothing if not capricious and random.

Now, we'll get started with the book itself next week, but some of you are probably wondering how it is as a whole. Some friends of mine asked me that, actually, and my response was cribbed from the New York Times review of L. Ron Hubbard's Mission Earth. That is to say that my response was, "It makes sense only as a satire on the possibility of communication through language." Unlike the review of Mission Earth, however, I don't mean that the writing in The Overton Window is awful- it's technically adequate,* though it rarely misses an opportunity to tell rather than show- but instead I am suggesting that this book fails profoundly to communicate any message at all. By the time we finish this book it will have become apparent to you as well as to me that we do not know what it is that the authors think is wrong with current politics, what their counter-factual ideal world would be, what they think will allow us to get from here to there, or even who the good guys and bad guys are. Indeed, this book is characterized by an almost militant blandness that pits the powerful against the powerless without ever bothering to distinguish the one from the other, or articulating what it is that the powerful are doing wrong, why the powerless should be expected to behave more nobly, or what should be done to make things right. In effect, it's an incoherent bellow of rage for an unnamed audience against a faceless and unspecified enemy. It's a one-size-fits-all brand of demagoguery that succeeds by achieving a level of vagueness that guarantees its irrelevance in the larger stream of intellectual life. For a novel that is intended to be a thinly-veiled treatise on political philosophy, this is a fatal flaw.

Earlier I mentioned that this book rarely misses an opportunity to tell rather than show, and that's absolutely correct. Odds are you won't finish the book with any clearer an idea what any of the characters look like than you possess now. And I guarantee that you'll finish the book with even less interest in them than you have now as these characters are, on the whole, craven, arrogant, incompetent, and childish. The heroes are not heroic, the villains are laughably melodramatic, and the world- every bit as important a "character" in this type of fiction- is utterly and relentlessly flat. One might argue that since this book's purpose is clearly to discuss politics, interesting characters are not required. This is somewhat true, but nevertheless doesn't excuse a book that is listless and dull even when discussing its central themes. I am forced to compare The Overton Window with Robert Heinlein's classic novel Starship Troopers, a book with paper-thin characters and terse language that nevertheless manages to present a series of political ideas in an interesting and engaging way. It can be done, it has been done, but The Overton Window does not do it. Moreover, the comparison is all the more shocking for the simple reason that the authors and Heinlein are in relative agreement on a number of subjects,** but Heinlein manages to make an interesting and enjoyable case whereas the authors just put words on the page. In combination this means that this novel is painfully dull, packed to the brim with shocking revelations that neither shock nor reveal and lacks utterly the barest shred of emotional impact. Indeed, this lack is so consistent that I will precede each chapter- until I get bored or distracted by some new shiny thing- with a YouTube clip or suggestion for music that will more fully evoke the emotional tone I believe the book was trying to strike, but didn't.

So, to sum up: this is a terrible, awful book and you should not read it.

And with that I will say goodbye. Return next week when we start our in-depth coverage of The Overton Window by diving into the endless series of distractions that precede the main text, including a dedication, acknowledgments, a note from the author, a quote, and a prologue, all before we ever see the main narrative. Indeed, there are so many elements preceding the actual "story" that I had no choice but to use a ten dollar word like "prolegomenon" in the title of this post so as to avoid confusion. So, in short, get ready, because this is gonna be a ride.


* Yes, "technically adequate," but so uninspired that my wife coined the term "scribery" to define it.

** I should note, however, that while Heinlein is a sort of pro-military libertarian, and therefore would qualify as conservative in many respects, I think he would have recoiled in horror at the modern conservative movement in general and Glenn Beck in particular.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Too cool for a pithy title

This is just f-ing awesome:

A space telescope has accidentally spotted thunderstorms on Earth producing beams of antimatter.

Such storms have long been known to give rise to fleeting sparks of light called terrestrial gamma-ray flashes.

But results from the Fermi telescope show they also give out streams of electrons and their antimatter counterparts, positrons.

The surprise result was presented by researchers at the American Astronomical Society meeting in the US.

Now, if only we can discover that tornados actually produce dilithium crystals, we'll be in business!

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"Well, we can't show you what's behind door number three, but we have faith that it's awesome.""

For those of you who like "reality" shows, you may be interested to know that Turkey has just managed to one-up the U.S. for the title of dumbest reality show ever:*

In Penitents Compete (Tovbekarlar Yarisiyor in Turkish), religious leaders will seek to convert at least one of the 10 atheists in each episode to their faith. Those that crack will win a pilgrimage to the spiritual home of their newly chosen faith, Muslims will go to Mecca, Jews and Christians will go to Jerusalem and Buddhists will go to Tibet, the Guardian reports.

According to the show's slogans, contestants will also win "serenity" and "the biggest prize ever... the belief in God".

Um... right. The thing I most don't understand is the reward structure. The atheists "win" only if they convert, and even then they just get a religious field trip. The religious professionals, who are actually competing, "win" if they convert someone, but appear to get nothing as a prize. I mean, what do the atheists get if they don't convert? Is there a prize for that, like a chance to move to a country where this sort of shit doesn't happen?** And what if the atheist manages to convert one of the religious professionals, what then? Does the religious professional get a free trip to college?*** The kicker, though, is this:

However, the programme, which is scheduled to air in September, has been criticised by commentators and religious figures for trivialising God and faith.

Not for trivializing atheists and free-thought, mind you, but for trivializing god. I'm glad we really kept the focus on what's fucked up about this whole thing. Really.

* And yes, I include Age of Love in that.

** As a side issue, I'm not sure what country that would be. Maybe the U.K.?

*** To improve his rhetorical skills. Why? What did you think I was implying?

Labels: , , ,

Monday, January 17, 2011

Just say "No"?

Back when I was a kid at least once a year my fellow students and I would be rounded up, marched to the gym, and given a lecture telling us to just say no to drugs. I don't recall these lectures making much of an impact on me, aside from making me wonder if, perhaps, I was really missing out by not using drugs. Apparently I'm not the only person who grew up and decided those lectures were stupid, because this sounds like a much more reliable approach:

Researchers have produced a lasting anti-cocaine immunity in mice by giving them a safe vaccine that combines bits of the common cold virus with a particle that mimics cocaine.

In their study, published Jan. 4 in the online edition of Molecular Therapy and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the researchers say this novel strategy might be the first to offer cocaine addicts a fairly simple way to break and reverse their habit, and it might also be useful in treating other addictions, such as to nicotine, heroin and other opiates.

"Our very dramatic data shows that we can protect mice against the effects of cocaine, and we think this approach could be very promising in fighting addiction in humans," says the study's lead investigator, Dr. Ronald G. Crystal, chairman and professor of genetic medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Now, if only someone would come up with a vaccine to help me break my crippling addiction to blogging, everything would be fine!

Labels: , ,

Thursday, January 13, 2011

If you were looking for a break from depressing news...

Look no further:

I'm no Josh Groban fan but you know what? I think I would buy that album.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

News Flash: Hateful assholes spew hate, behave like assholes.

By now pretty much everyone in the western hemisphere is aware that Gabrielle Giffords was attacked at an event for her constituents in Tucson. Like most reasonable adults, I am truly sorry for the victims of this tragedy. Likewise, while I am in agreement with the many individuals who seem to think that this is a wakeup call about violent political rhetoric, I also agree that this is probably not the time to propose weird new legislation restricting speech. I also do not think it's appropriate to blame all this on Sarah Palin, although her recent attempts to claim that her crosshairs add was- in reality- just using surveyors' symbology is disingenuous and, frankly, insulting. Be that as it may, I have nonetheless been fascinated to watch the evolving coverage over at Conservapedia, and think you might be interested too. Now, allow me to emphasize: this is an evolving story and, so, the below screenshots are just one stage. A transitional form, if you will, in the developing and reality-warping spin that inevitably appears at Conservapedia. The screenshots are for reference- see below them for the real meat of the post.

Now, I'm going to do this in chronological order, which is basically opposite that represented above. So, you know, don't get confused.

It all started simply. Following a pretty decent, purely factual report of the event, things started to warp:

The suspect in the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords is a 22-year-old young mass murderer who is "left wing, quite liberal," according to a high school and college classmate, as reported by MSNBC. The murderer had publicly declared that The Communist Manifesto is one of his favorite books. [emphasis original]

So, right out of the gate, they're accusing the shooter of being a liberal, at least partly because the Communist Manifesto is one of his favorite books. This is pretty hilarious, actually, since their source also indicates that one of his favorite books was Animal Farm, which is on Conservapedia's list of Greatest Conservative Novels:

So, you know... oops. Then, we see the inevitable defense of Sarah Palin:

A leftist goes on a murdering rampage and ... Sarah Palin is blamed for it: "Gabrielle Giffords' Shooting And Sarah Palin's Conscience." [emphasis original]

Because, really, Sarah Palin is what's important right now. Things get even less newsworthy thereafter:

The suspected gunman in the massacre Saturday that killed 6 and left a congresswoman in critical condition had previously been charged with a drug-related offense, and endorsed a video depicting the burning of the American flag. [emphasis original]

Ah, right, see? Everyone who burns a flag in a YouTube video should just be rounded up and shot in the mouth. From here, we return to a major theme:

The alleged gunman is "Described by Classmate as 'Left-Wing Pothead,'" but the lamestream media conceals the likelihood that he was high on drugs shortly before or during his killing rampage. Instead, liberals falsely blame the Tea Party Movement. [emphasis original]

Okay, so now he's a liberal AND a pothead. And, yeah, how could anyone be suspicious of these guys? From there, we return to the marijuana issue:

The alleged gunman reportedly "had been rejected by the US Army after failing a drug test," yet liberals remain in denial that he had likely been on marijuana before committing his heinous crime. Where are the results of a drug test on him? [emphasis original]

Ah, yes. Clearly there's a conspiracy afoot to cover up his use of marijuana because... why, exactly?

A reason why liberals deny or downplay the marijuana habit of Jared Loughner: they recently pushed to legalize "medical marijuana" in Arizona. [emphasis original]

...what? Is that... serious? Why yes, I think it is! Never mind the obvious question: why did the crazy person have a gun? Clearly, that isn't worth wondering about at all. Instead, become interested in this:

Democrat Group Using Gifford’s Shooting For Fundraiser! [emphasis original]

Which is hardly surprising since a Democrat got shot and Democrats are generally more favorable towards gun control. I agree, however: too soon. Then there's this:

Asked "why many in the United States target the entire Arab world in reference to the 9/11 terrorist attack," Hillary Clinton replied, "We have extremists in my country" and then describes as an "extremist" the 22-year-old left-wing pothead charged with Saturday's massacre.

Right. Left-wing? Check! Pothead? Check! Confusing maybe swipe at Hillary Clinton? Check! The gang's all here! Who else can we castigate?

The Tucson gunman had classes influenced by the Small Schools Workshop. Prior to dropping out of high school, Jared Lee Loughner attended Mountain View High School, part of Arizona's Morana Unified School District and since 2003 part of the Smaller Learning Communities, an offshoot of a group founded in part by Weather Underground William Ayers. And the left wants to blame Loughner's rampage on Sarah Palin? The Tea Party? George W. Bush? [emphasis original]

Oh, right, Bill Ayers. Of course! And it's spelled Marana, with an "A," you feckless jackasses. Is there anyone else we can blame?

The massacre attributed to nihilist Jared Loughner demonstrates that atheism poses the biggest threat of all to a free society.
In New Jersey, atheistic vandalism defaces the "God is" billboard outside the Lincoln Tunnel.
In May 2010, shortly after a demand to remove a Cross from the Mojave National Preserve failed in a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, atheistic vandalism broke the law by stealing and presumably destroying the Cross instead.
[emphasis original]

Ah, yes, of course. Atheists. Random gunman who is of uncertain political or religious persuasion attacks a politician and, all of a sudden, he's a left-wing, pothead atheist who is, apparently, the greatest danger to society ever. I'm glad we straightened all that out.

"It took an entire day before someone reacted by proposing new, horrible legislation" in Congress. So writes the left-leaning Slate in repudiating legislation introduced by a Democrat in the wake of Saturday's massacre. [emphasis original]

The nerve! A left-wing publication criticizing a Democrat? When will they learn good Conservative spin discipline? Wow, can we get any more mileage out of this tragedy, Conservapeons?

Predictably, the liberal New York Times seizes the moment to demand that Congress pass gun control, and criticizes the self-defense approach taken by two congressmen who announced they will carry guns for their own protection. But almost no politicians are demanding gun control because they know voters saw and rejected the same argument after the Columbine massacre. [emphasis original]

I mean, hell, where does the New York Times get off? I mean, sure, Giffords was pro-gun and in an open-carry state when she and a bunch of others were attacked, but that doesn't mean that distributing guns even more widely can't work! And shame on the New York Times for trying to get political mileage out of this tragedy- unlike Conservapedia! Quick, can we smear anyone else?

Radical, leftist punk rock band "Anti-Flag" may have been a major inspiration to Jared Loughner:
Predictably, however, members of the left claim it was speech from the right that caused Loughner's actions, and they want to control it: [emphasis original]

YES! It was the fault of left-wing, pothead, atheist, musicians! Woot! Okay, let's bring it all home, folks:

Democrat Congressman Robert Brady wants a ban on using language or symbols that could be perceived as threatening. The question for Brady then, would this ban be applied your fellow Democrats such as Barack Obama? Would he be prosecuted for the language he used in the videos here: [emphasis original]

Yee-haa! A way to tie the whole damned thing to Obama! Besides, in the wake of this tragedy, if we refrain from being as threatening as we want, we're letting the terrorists win!

So, to sum up: the right did absolutely nothing wrong, this is all the fault of the left, and the left is conspiring to hide their responsibility.

Well, at least someone is reacting with class, I guess:

UPDATE: Since I wrote the above the Conservapeons have not rested, adding several more headlines to the mix:

First,* amazingly enough, the Conservapeons found a way to spread their rage yet further:

Wikipedia's entry about Jared Loughner avoids any discussion of his nihilism, the highly destructive form of atheism, adding to our list of Examples of Bias in Wikipedia. [emphasis original]

Ah, so, now Wikipedia is part of the grand conspiracy to cover up the left's responsibility for this tragedy. Just how deep does this rabbit hole go, crazy people? And since when is nihilism a "form of atheism"? I mean, hell, if you ask me, most forms of Christianity are nihilistic.** Really, it's not a philosophical state that is unique to atheists. But hey, at least now we've established that the responsible parties are left-wing pothead nihilistic atheist musicians. Moving along, let's go ahead and wrap up by devouring our own tails:

Faced with the fact that Jared Loughner is an atheist, Jon Stewart instead tells his atheistic audience that Loughner was "crazy". And should commentators who might influence an atheist like Loughner be blamed for what he did? Nope, claims Stewart. [emphasis original]

And that's just wonderful, really, because Conservapedia has managed to get from a place where it was defending Sarah Palin's crosshairs ad as clearly not to blame to claiming that commentators are actually to blame if they helped produce or nurture Loughner's hypothetical atheism.***

Who needs a funhouse mirror when you have Conservapedia?

* I should note that, while I don't talk about it (although it's captured in this last screenshot), the Conservapeons inserted a headline reading, "Soros-funded dope lobby in damage control over shootings" amidst their earlier coverage. Truly, this tragedy is being used to smear everyone that the Conservapeons don't like.

** Yes, I am in fact aware that nobody asked me.

*** I say hypothetical atheism because, thus far, all that's really clear about this guy is that he's crazy.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, January 10, 2011

State of the Blog

Hey boys and girls! It's been a while, but I'm back and we can expect blogging to resume from here on in. There will, however, be some changes in store and I want to discuss them briefly. See, I've been doing this blog since June of 2004, which means we're closing in on seven years of pointless, often unrewarding public rambling. I don't regret it- the blog has been an interesting experience and I've met some really neat people, many of whom continue to read this crap for some reason or other- but it's been a long road. Throughout this period I have somehow managed to stick to a pretty reliable five-day-a-week posting schedule, which means that in the past six-plus years I've spent a lot of time on the blog. That's been fine since I write fast and have had the time BUT a few things are changing for me.

First, the imminent birth of my daughter, JezLil, will almost certainly cut into my free time somewhat.* Needless to say, this bite from my schedule has to come from somewhere and it will almost certainly not come from my work time. I mean, let's face it- work pays me money, and I have it on good authority that babies can be costly. Likewise, the time I get to spend with JezLil is, itself, priceless and I'm not going to sacrifice it solely for your edification.

Second, my work needs to be stepped up in the near future because I need to finish my dissertation so that I can take that nice, shiny new job I was offered.** And somewhere amidst all the dissertation-finishing and job-taking there's going to have to be some moving, which will impose a further drain on my time.

So, in short, the blog will continue, but I'm changing the update schedule from the traditional Monday-Friday to "pretty much whenever the hell I feel like it/have time." I wish I could be more reliable but, hell, y'all are probably all using aggregators, and my family and job come first.

In consolation, however, I would also like to announce that my new series on The Overton Window will be starting soon- possibly this week- and I'll be doing my utmost to stick to a weekly update schedule for that. So, in short, there may be less Drek, but drek will still be here.

Aren't you lucky?

* I can actually hear the current parents in the audience laughing menacingly at that remark.

** Yes, as it turns out, someone really is crazy enough to hire me. Note, however, that I did not specify what kind of job I'm taking.

Labels: , ,

Friday, January 07, 2011

I hate to say "I told you so" but...

I motherfucking told you so. Over, and over, and goddamn over again, and now I have even more evidence on my side:

The first study to link a childhood vaccine to autism was based on doctored information about the children involved, according to a new report on the widely discredited research.

The conclusions of the 1998 paper by Andrew Wakefield and colleagues was renounced by 10 of its 13 authors and later retracted by the medical journal Lancet, where it was published. Still, the suggestion the MMR shot was connected to autism spooked parents worldwide and immunization rates for measles, mumps and rubella have never fully recovered.

A new examination found, by comparing the reported diagnoses in the paper to hospital records, that Wakefield and colleagues altered facts about patients in their study.


In an accompanying editorial, BMJ editor Fiona Godlee and colleagues called Wakefield's study "an elaborate fraud." They said Wakefield's work in other journals should be examined to see if it should be retracted.

Science is right, Jenny McCarthy is wrong, and vaccines are safe. Which is why my wife and I are vaccinating JezLil for pretty much everything there are childhood vaccines for.

As a side note: Special thanks to the multiple readers who e-mailed me about this story. I just love knowing y'all care, and it doesn't much matter to me whether you care about me or about vaccines so much as we can collectively dispel this nonsense about vaccines causing autism. Y'all are awesome.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Abstinence only...

Presented without further comment:

You know... that bit about drinking the cup of spit? I think that's a kind of porn, come to think of it. Does that mean that abstinence only is really about porn?

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Still not back, but...

This is pretty awesome in the meantime:

xkcd, the music video.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Hell yes.

Dear Colleague:

The American Sociological Association (ASA) will hold its 106th Annual Meeting August 20-23, 2011, at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

ASA announced in December that it was moving its 2011 Annual Meeting from Chicago in response to a protracted labor dispute involving hotels in the city, including the two that had been scheduled to host the meeting. The contracts between Chicago union hotels and UNITE HERE Local 1 expired August 31, 2009.

Without any sign of an imminent resolution, the ASA Council voted unanimously to move the Annual Meeting because ASA could not guarantee that the facilities and environment for a successful meeting would be available.

Caesars Palace is a unionized facility with union contracts that do not expire until 2012.

Thank you for your commitment to the Association and for your support of the ASA 2011 Annual Meeting.


Sally T. Hillsman, PhD
Executive Officer
American Sociological Association

A few hundred sociologists, floor shows, buffets, and strippers? What could go wrong?

Labels: , ,

Site Meter