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.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Overton Window: Chapter 3, Part 2

Welcome back one and all to our ongoing series on The Overton Window, the book that makes "Twilight" look like fine literature. Last time we met Noah's dad and watched him launch into a supervillain speech. What happens this week? Nothing, really, unless you count Arthur Gardner's musical number. Okay, okay, it's not really a musical number, but there's rather a lot of Broadway in it, if you catch my meaning. And I hope you do, because I have no idea what the hell I'm alluding to there.

As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week that "honor" goes to Jay for putting his finger right on it:

This almost reads as if it were written by a leftist. The villain is a rich white man, and the threat is that the national security state is out of control. Somehow I doubt that sharing and disarmament are going to be Beck's recommended solutions, though.

P.S. It seems really odd that a rich man of 74 seems to view immanent collapse as an opportunity rather than a threat.

Indeed, this book is nothing if not baffling in both its political philosophy- to the extent that it has one- and its formless, pointless populism. If at the end of this thing you have any better idea what message the authors were trying to send, then you're smarter, or more delusional, than I am. And let's face it- I'm about as delusional as they come. Well done, Jay! I'd also like to briefly nod to Sassafrass as a strong runner up for identifying Molly's roots. Keep at it, everyone, and maybe you'll take home the comment of the week!

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.). Bazinga!

Dramatis Personae: In order of their penis sizes.

Eli Churchill: Former janitor at a volcano lair. Fan of remote telephone booths. Shot in the head by parties unknown.

Beverly ???: Mysterious correspondent of Eli Churchill's.

Noah Gardner: 28 years old. Sets the dating bar "medium-high". Works Vice president at a PR firm. Not good at talking to women. 28 years old Went to NYU. Is "witty".

Molly "Hottie McPretty" Ross: Dresses like a hippie, but not really. Looks like a free spirit. Perfectly captures the essence of womanhood. Auburn hair. Green eyes. Pale skin. Has a tattoo on her chest. Wears a silver cross around her neck.

Arthur Gardner Noah's father. Owner of Doyle & Merchant. Megalomaniac. Surprisingly vigorous for a 74 year old man.


Recommended Mood Music:*

Page 24, Line Skylight:

No quote, but as you may recall we were in the midst of Arthur Gardner's megalomaniac speech to several mostly unnamed government agents. Particularly, we left off in the middle of his extended metaphor likening the fiscal crisis to the Indonesian tsunami. He continues in this vein for a while, rhetorically asking his audience to correct him if he's wrong about the amount of the $8 trillion bailout of U.S. financial institutions (1). Then the authors go for a dig at entitlement programs.

Page 24, Line 10-13:
"It's a heist, an inside job. It's been done before, of course. Social Security was the boldest Ponzi scheme in history until now (2). But all the bills for all those years are finally coming due, and there's not enough money in the world to pay them." [Arthur said]

I'll concede that there are some similarities to a Ponzi scheme, but it's worth noting that social security was predicated on having a larger body of people working than there were people drawing from it. Or, put differently, it counts on mortality. This is why part of the solution to the social security crisis may be raising the retirement age- because it will decrease both the number of people eligible and the amount of time they're eligible before death. Technically, though, I'm pretty sure almost any government service could be labeled a Ponzi scheme or some other type of financial shenanigan with some degree of accuracy. Roads? Ponzi scheme. Military? Protection racket. Elections? Lottery. It's all a scam if you look at it with the right perspective.

Page 24, Line 14-19:
A ring of digital projectors near the ceiling awoke out of standby and the wraparound screens encircling the room came alight with an unbroken panorama of changing, flowing imagery. Charts and graphs, spreadsheets and Venn diagrams, time lines and flowcharts and nomograms, none displayed long enough to absorb, except as a blurry continuum of research and market intelligence behind the old man's words.

"I'd like to introduce the new iPhone. It comes standard with digital video camera, video calling, unlimited data, and a secret mind-control ray that will turn our customers into hapless sheep." Okay, all kidding aside,** there's a fundamental problem with this scene- it doesn't work. It doesn't work because what they're describing is precisely what we'd see if this scene were appearing in a movie. There'd be Arthur in an immaculately tailored dark suit, haloed by the flickering screens that visually suggested the argument that could not be given to the audience explicitly because movies have to do everything quickly. It's a visual metaphor for content that the audience does not, indeed cannot, see. The problem, however, is that this is not a movie- this is a book- and as such visual metaphors don't really work because we can't see the screens or the cheerful multimedia flicker thereupon. Instead, we can only read a description of them. And, unlike movies, the novel thrives on its ability to provide deeper, richer information about characters, their motivations, and their plans. The authors could quite easily have taken a chapter to lay out extensively, and explicitly, just what Arthur wants to happen because they're writing a frigging book and if you don't want the whole story, then you shouldn't be reading it in the first place. And it isn't like the authors didn't have the space- this entire damned narrative almost fits on a bar napkin. But, they don't provide the whole plan, and thus we're left guessing what the hell is going on for the rest of the book. Completing the failure, not only does this textual rendering of a visual metaphor fail to inform, but it makes the book seem like a giant pile of stupid, because when you write it out it's almost impossible to miss how silly this movie gimmick really is.

Page 24, Line 20-25:
"Over the last century you've saddled your hapless citizens with a hundred thousand billion dollars in unsecured debt (3), money they'll be paying back for fifty generations if there are still any jobs to be had by then. Meanwhile you're up to your necks in misguided, escalating wars on two unforgiving fronts with no sign of the end. That's trillions more in unpayable IOUs." [Arthur continued]

I gotta be honest, this type of rhetoric really aggravates me. See, we live in a democracy, more or less. That means that taking an "us and them" attitude towards the government is more than slightly stupid. We have run up a huge debt, we have got two difficult wars on our hands and we are responsible for finding a way out of this situation. This isn't some damn aristocracy that we have to overthrow, it's a bunch of people who generally do what they think we, the people, want them to do. And if they do stupid things perhaps we ought to wonder just who is giving them such bad ideas. But, whatever, this book is built on firing up an unspecified "us" against a murky "them," so I guess we'll just move right along.

Page 24-25, Line 24: 30-32, 25: 1-2:
While foreclosures of your citizens' homes are breaking all records and unemployment is exploding in every state you've been busy dodging audits and nationalizing the mountainous gambling losses of the Wall Street elite. For heaven's sake, you nationalized General Motors just to get your union friends off the hook (4) (5) (6).

So, in the space of a couple of sentences, we've blamed the government, big business, and organized labor, which when you think about it doesn't leave too many groups as potential good-guys for this book. This is particularly the case when you recall that we just got done referring to social security as a "ponzi scheme," thereby implying that all public entitlements are, essentially, cheating. So if capitalism is bad, and government regulation is bad, and social safety nets are bad, and foreclosures are bad, what the fuck are we supposed to do? And even as Gardner castigates the government men for not "doing something," the authors are implictly closing off all avenues of action- somehow the government is responsible even though none of its alternatives would meet with approval. And, really, this is a constant and confusing theme of this book- the government is powerful enough to orchestrate massive conspiracies and the like, but too incompetent to run a country. Regardless, Arthur goes on for a while, emphasizing that when the ship of state sinks the people will come for the current crop of officials with torches and pitchforks.*** And then we get to the authors' apparent political philosophy.

Page 26, Line 7-8:
When things go wrong, there must always be someone to blame; a villain, if you will.

I say this is the authors' political philosophy rather than simply that of the character, Arthur Gardner, because this line of thinking permeates the novel. No, it isn't that we have collectively allowed heavy debts to accumulate and serious fiscal problems to arise because we've lacked the political will to make the tough choices. No, it's because a secret cabal of manipulators in government are conspiring to deprive us of our rights. Honestly, the above quote is probably the most straightforward statement of this book's thesis that we'll ever fine, and it's as clearly stated as it is absurd. Fortunately, the government reps have realized what a pile of shit this is and are no doubt about to tell Arthur to go screw himself.

Page 26, Line 17-19:
"Tell us what we need to do." It was the woman who'd spoken up earlier. Judging by the breathy reverence in her voice, she'd already entered the early stages of baptism into the cult of Arthur Gardner.

Or, then again, maybe they're falling for this nonsensical bullshit. I forgot that we're in the authors' bizarro factional world. Never mind. Arthur rambles on for a while, seeming to suggest that he's going to orchestrate some kind of revolution that will make "the people" a permanent underclass, but he never really explains how, or why, or even who will be in charge at the end, aside from promising the nebulously defined government officials that they'll still be in control. See, for example, if you have any idea what's about to happen based on this passage:

Page 28, Line 17-21:
"There'll be no revolution, only a brief, somewhat shocking, leap forward in social evolution. We'll restore the natural order of things, and then there will be only peace and acceptance among the masses." He smiled. "Before we're done they'll be lining up to gladly pay a tax on the very air they breathe."

Right so... who will be in charge again? What the fuck are we doing? This is all a bit murky for me, you know? But, hell, apparently an unnamed antagonist group is going to steal our liberties, but it's unclear who we are, or what our liberties comprise. And then shit gets really weird, because Arthur tells the crowd that this plan has been in the works for a loooong time and their superiors are onboard with it but, now that they're ready to execute, the superiors want the juniors (you know, the folks in this room) to sign off on it. Let me say that again: the final execution of a long-planned plot to take over the United States is going to be commanded by a bunch of underlings who are only now finding out about it. What the f-ing hell is going on here? Finally, Arthur decides to sum up.

Page 29, Line 17-22:
"Down one path all men are created equal: equal in poverty, equal in ignorance, equal in misery. Down the other is the realization of the brightest hopes of mankind. But not for all men; that was a brief experiment, tried and failed. Abundance, peace, prosperity, survival itself- these coveted things are reserved for the fittest, the deserving, the most courageous of us, the wisest. The visionaries."

And... what? Aside from the implication that Arthur is a social darwinist, I have no idea what the hell is being discussed here, except a vague sense of foreboding. Just... huh?

But, whether we understand or not, that's the end of the chapter, and the clearest account of the plan that we're ever going to see. Oh well! Tune in next time when Noah helps set the plan in motion and then... well, does nothing at all of note. It'll be a blast- trust me.

* No, I'm not insane. It's just that Arthur's performance in the second half of this chapter is too much like an Apple presentation from the negaverse for me.

** Actually, given the iPhone's TCO over the first 2-3 years, I'm not convinced it doesn't have a secret mind-control ray.

*** I'll concede that I almost rewrote that line to correct the painfully mixed metaphor. I mean, really, where the hell would you even get torches and pitchforks on a ship? But then I decided, "Oh well. What the hell," because leaving it this way frankly conveys the general Overton Window vibe pretty effectively.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

cdesign proponentists

In the interminable battles over religion and science- battles that do not, generally speaking, need to happen- there are occasional moments when the facades get dropped. That is to say, the religious motivations behind efforts to screw science up occasionally become so glaringly obvious that even a casual observer cannot help but notice them. We've seen this recently in the "debate" between evolutionary science and the half-assed nonsense of intelligent design. But, for those of you who want something a bit more obvious, there's always Conservapedia.

During a recent cruise through that wretched hive of scum and villainy I happened to notice a rather odd article being trumpeted on the front page:

Or, for the image impaired:

Google ranks us #1 for Secularized Language.

To which I responded, "What the f-ing crap does that mean?" Because, really, I don't know what "secularized language" is, much less why Conservapedia of all places would be the best place to find it. To learn more, I clicked their inviting link and ended up on a page that simply boggles the mind:

And, again, to quote the header to the article:

While the development of conservative words increases at an exponential rate, those with an antichristian and anti-American agenda, such as liberals, homosexuals, atheists, evolutionists and leftists, have attempted to remove the Christian origins of our language by replacing common phrases with secularized versions. By appealing to tolerance and political correctness, they have succeeded in propagating these secularized versions, even among those who don't share their views. Such deceitful tactics are a prime example of Liberal redefinition and other Liberal tools.

So, in other words, the Conservapeons are claiming that English is in some sense a "Christian language" and that lefties have been engaged in some shadowy plot to obscure this heritage. I'm not really sure what to do with the notion that the English language is the direct result of a religion that began in another part of the world among a totally different ethnic group who spoke a totally different language. On the other hand, Christianity is well known for appropriating pre-existing pagan holidays for its own purposes (e.g. Christmas, Easter, etc.) and English is well known for appropriating pre-existing words and grammar from other languages, so perhaps they do have something in common? Hell, James D. Nicoll once remarked, and with good reason, that:

"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."

The resemblance is uncanny! But what are the changes that the Conservapeons consider so frightening? Well, you can read the article yourself, but some of my favorites are marked below:

Or, to sum up:

Sin -> Crime
Sin -> Lifestyle Choice
Blasphemy -> Secular Opinion
Heresy -> Scientific theory
Abortion -> Birth control

And it just doesn't get any more blunt than that- when you're explicitly saying that "scientific theory" is just another word for "heresy", you've officially given up on the modern world. Hell, at that point you've given up on the pre-modern world and gone all the way back to the dark ages. I invite any of you with more time than I to use this article, a word processor, and a document of your own choosing to test out this translation key. Just how would things read if we converted back into the original expression?

Now, some of you might be wondering if this is all the work of one or more parodists who are trying to make Conservapedia look bad. That's a good question, but if you check the history, you can see that Schlafly's fingerprints are all over this disaster:

Indeed, he's the guy who started the whole thing.

Sometimes, I feel like I have to expend energy to argue against Conservapedia but, honestly, at this point they're doing it just fine by themselves.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

The Overton Window: Chapter 3, Part 1

Welcome back one and all to our ongoing series on The Overton Window, the book that tells us the protaganist is witty while it shows us drooling and eating paste. Last time Noah tried to pick up Molly Ross, only to be shut down at every possible turn. What happens this week? Well, we get to learn about the villain's evil plan. Sort of.

As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week that "honor" goes to scripto for what I think is an essential truth:

"Page 11, Line 13-15: These liberated chestnut curls framed a handsome face made twice as radiant by the mysteries surely waiting just behind those light green eyes."

Congratulations - you have found something even more inane than anything written in Left Behind.

Yeah, this touches on something that's been dawning on me with a rising sense of horror. As it turns out, Left Behind was, by far, a more logical and rationally worked out system of belief than anything we'll find in The Overton Window This is not, of course, to suggest that Left Behind scores above zero on any conceivable scale of rational, logical thought, but only to acknowledge that whatever its faults, that book at least had an elaborately worked out set of ideas behind it. The Overton Window, in contrast, has little to back it besides Beck's bluster, and frankly that doesn't really work on the page. So, well done scripto for noticing that particular issue, and keep at it everyone else! We've got a lot of episodes, and comments of the week, to go.

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.). Rock thee on.

Dramatis Personae: In order of their IQ scores.

Eli Churchill: Former janitor at a volcano lair. Fan of remote telephone booths. Shot in the head by parties unknown.

Beverly ???: Mysterious correspondent of Eli Churchill's.

Noah Gardener: 28 years old. Sets the dating bar "medium-high". Works Vice president at a PR firm. Not good at talking to women. 28 years old. Went to NYU. Is "witty".

Molly "Hottie McPretty" Ross: Dresses like a hippie, but not really. Looks like a free spirit. Perfectly captures the essence of womanhood. Auburn hair. Green eyes. Pale skin. Has a tattoo on her chest. Wears a silver cross around her neck. Works in the mailroom.


Chapter 3: In which we hear about an evil conspiracy and see a power point presentation by Steve Jobs' evil twin.

Recommended Mood Music:

Page 15, Line Horsenuggets:

I'm not going to provide a quotation, partly because the first few pages of this chapter make it appear that the authors like to apply punctuation with a shotgun and I don't want to wear out my shift key. That said, the chapter starts with a verbatim reproduction of a Department of Homeland Security document titled, "'Constitutionalists,' Extremism, the Militia Movement, and the Growing Threat of Domestic Terrorism." The memo in the book is not real, but it is apparently modeled on a real document (1). That real document, however, doesn't originate with the federal government, but rather with the Missouri state government, and discusses violent militia groups pretty much exclusively. In contrast, the authors' fictionalized version directs law enforcement attention to, among others, "home-schoolers," "Tea Parties," "Earth First," "Earth Liberation Front," "military reenactors," "Third-party political campaigns," and "'free speech' umbrella." So, in other words, basically everyone. Never mind wondering how home-schoolers, civil war reenactors and the ELF are in any way alike. And, again, the original Missouri government document named none of those groups... whatever they may be. I'm not really sure who the "free speech umbrella" is and I really doubt that anyone is worried about the U.S. being overthrown by a bunch of guys who think it's fun to pretend to be participating in Pickett's charge. Also mentioned in this document is REX-84, a U.S. military plan for basically imposing martial law on the U.S. in time of national emergency (2).* Critically, this would involve suspending the constitution, which is obviously why the authors have a bug up their ass about it. I won't say I love the notion of suspending the constitution but, that said, it's been done before and arguably with good reason. During the Civil War, for example, Lincoln suspended habeus corpus, which is pretty scary when you think about it, but understandable in light of what was going on. Would I support something similar today? Probably not, but the mere existence of a plan like this doesn't necessarily mean anything. Anyway, there's about two pages of this crap and then we get into an actual scene.

Page 17, Line 26:
"I think I've read quite enough."

I couldn't agree more, although in my case I'm talking about the novel as a whole. Regardless, our mystery speaker is identified as, "Arthur Isaiah Gardner," and so, based on the preceding chapter, I'd guess we just met Noah's dad. Regardless, Arthur shoves shoves the binder containing the offending memo away, thus triggering one of the few snatches of decent writing in the book.

Page 18, Line 3-8:
Noah had grown up with a healthy dread of this gesture but, in more recent years, he'd come to appreciate its versatiliy. As an all-purpose expression of deep fatherly disappointment it worked just as well for a prep-school report card as it did for a disastrously leaked presidential briefing document set to splash on the front page of Sunday's Washington Post. [emphasis original]

Okay, so, in all honesty, that was pretty well written. It provides both characterization and lets us in on what the hell is going on. That said, it also continues the elevation of the scary document from "state level discussion of violent militias" to "DHS-authored memo to the president on damned near everyone". From here we continue with a little description that reminds us that Arthur Gardner owns the company, and informs us that he avoids being seen by his employees as much as possible. He even uses a private elevator to get to and from his office, making me wonder if he also collects his finger and toe nail clippings in jars. Then someone decides to interrupt the authors' loving description with a question.

Page 18, Line 15-17:
"Actually, Mr. Gardner, I think the team would be well served by reviewing-"

"Who spoke?" [Arthur Gardner asked]

Uh oh! I sense someone is about to be dropped into a tank full of sharks with frickin lasers on their heads. In truth, Arthur makes the hapless government official who spoke stand up, and then proceeds to explain a few things.

Page 19, Line 7-14:
"To put your busy mind at east," the old man said, "let me assure you that the trifling problem you brought us today is already put safely to bed. The story in the Post has been spiked, an eager team of computer sleuths is tracking down the source of your leak, and the memorandum itself is now being thoroughly and plausibly denied by its authors and blamed on an overzealous local bureaucracy somewhere in the barren Midwest. Who will be the culprit again, Noah?"

"Illinois National Guard," Noah said. [emphasis original]

Ah, right, so the original memo by the Missouri government was in fact really a federal memo that was just plausibly denied as being from Missouri. Of course, obviously, I don't know why I didn't see that before. It's really good to see the authors confusing "thriller" with "unverifiable paranoia mongering". Also: why is a PR firm handling computer security for the U.S. government? I mean, doesn't that seem a little weird to anyone?

Page 19, Line 15-18:
"There. Crisis averted. All neatly handled before ten A.M. this morning by my son. Noah is a brilliant boy, if I do say so myself, though I'm sure he would agree that he hasn't inherited his father's taste for blood. Even so, he's more than a match for such a minor predicament."

Noah is a "brilliant boy"? Um... right. Sure. Whatever you say. That's not exactly the adjective that first springs to mind when I think of him, but whatever. And who would really indulge in such a digression during a meeting? I mean, seriously, how is Arthur with Noah's mom? "All this food was prepared before 6:00 PM by my wife. Judy is a lovely cook, if I do say so myself, though I'm sure she would agree that she doesn't share my love for fine dining. Even so, she has more than adequate tits." Returning to the scene, however, the unnamed and unfortunate speaker has not yet realized he's addressing a super villain and decides to tempt fate again.

Page 19, Line 22-26:
"With all due respect, Mr. Gardner, that may very well be, but-"


With surprising vigor for a man of seventy-four, Arthur Gardner suddenly swept the heavy binder from the table and sent it crashing into the wall. The government man stopped talking, his eyes a little wider... [emphasis original]

Seriously? Did we seriously just have that scene? It's like something out of "The Do's and Don't's of Supervillainy," and yelling "Enough" before pitching a tantrum is definitely in the "don't" category.

Page 19-20, Line 19: 30-31, 20: 1-3:
"A columnist in the Wall Street Journal once wrote,"-Noah's father straightened his cuffs from the preceding exertion as he spoke-"that I had more money than God. I can't attest to that. I don't believe in God, and like a growing number of the world's other major economies, I no longer believe in the dollar, either."

Great, the dude is an atheist. Awesome. That's all I needed- a little more subtle religious bigotry in one of the books I read.** On a slightly lighter note, is anyone else amused that he seems to be referring to himself as one of the world's "major economies"? At least we know where Noah gets his delusional nature from. In any case, Arthur verbally intimidates the speaker- a Mr. Purcell from the Department of Homeland Security- all the while alluding to some sort of market he helped build. Then, he settles in for his maniacal speech.

Page 21, Line 2-3:
It [Arthur Gardner's gesture] was the sort of unspoken cue that a dog trainer might give to a spirited bitch on her first session off the choke chain.

Just... wow. Who talks like that? I mean, I don't even know what to do with that description. Moving on, Gardner mentions that the market he helped build was for water, and then he goes into full-on Bond villain mode.

Page 21, Line 18-22:
Projection screens began to hum down from the ceiling, gradually covering the paneled walls of the wide, round room. As the screens clicked to their stops in unison the lights dimmed to half brightness. All that remained was a circle of soft illumination that dutifully followed Arthur Gardner as he made his way back to his place.

No doubt this is where Dr. Evil Arthur Gardner is going to talk about his "laser" nefarious scheme. Honestly, I was being generous earlier when I referred to Arthur as a Bond villain. Anyway, he explains that the market he helped create was, even more specifically, for bottled water (3). He then goes on to relate a story in which he was in Sri Lanka when a tsunami hit. He received early warning, apparently because seismologists routinely keep the owners of PR firms appraised about tsunamis, and calmly had breakfast before boarding a chartered helicopter with his staff. As he was preparing to leave, however, he noticed all the happy people along the coast.

Page 22, Line 30-32:
"I [Arthur] couldn't look away; it was fascinating to me- the people down there either didn't know or didn't understand that something unthinkable was on its way to destroy them.

Yeah, I'm going with the former, jackass. This isn't the end of the story, however...

Page 23, Line 6-17:
"I was later told that there had been some form of warning system in place but it had failed, or that those in charge of the public safety had become so complacent that the red phones and radio alerts went unheard and unanswered (4). But I'll tell you what I believe."

"I believe those people stayed because they thought the fragile things they'd built would last forever. They looked at the breakwater walls and they trusted them. Nothing could breach those walls, because nothing ever had before. But when the seas came in it wasn't in the form of a wave at all, it was an uprising of Nature herself, steady and swelling and ruthless and patient, completely oblivious to the frail constructions of mankind. And it was all swept away. My holiday was cut short, and two hundred and fifty thousand people in the region lost their lives."

Leaving aside that Arthur is obviously a tremendous asshole, that writing isn't too bad. In fact, it's really like this chapter was written by a completely different person than the previous two. And, given how many authors this thing has, there's every possibility that's exactly what happened. And then Arthur finally gets to his point- the financial meltdown and subsequent bailout.

Page 23, Line 24-32:
"As I reviewed your [the government's] situation this morning it occurred to me: you're just like those people down on the beach in Kalutara, aren't you? You're watching a world-changing disaster on the rise, and yet for some odd reason you seem to be fretting about how the American people would feel if they were to read of your perfectly justified panic in their morning newspaper. That isn't your problem at all, of course. It's not what they might think of you that should be keeping you up at night; it's what they might very well do to you and your superiors, in the aftermath of the global catastrophe that's just around the corner." [emphasis original]

Oh noes! It's like a Tea Party rally crossed with an Art Bell broadcast! What ever will Arthur suggest to deal with this calamity?

Well, if you want to know, you'll have to come back next week, because this is pretty much the longest single chapter in this entire wretched book. But, if you have the stomach, tune in next time and revel in Arthur's exciting multi-media extravaganza.

I know I can't wait.

* There are two more mentions of articles in the Miami Herald by Alfonso Chardy- one named "Reagan Advisers Ran 'Secret' Government" and "North Helped Revise Wartime Plans," but I can't find either online.

** In fairness, though, the religious bigotry in Left Behind wasn't even slightly subtle.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

So, this happened.

If there is some way to explain this thing, it frankly eludes me:

To quote from the article:

The story starts in the near future, in the immediate aftermath of a war that has destroyed all the Earth's oil. A new power source is needed, and Sarah Palin steps forward to suggest steam power as a replacement. A conglomerate consisting of big oil and nuclear power interests makes a counterproposal by blowing her up with a bomb at the meeting where she suggests this.

Let me step back for a second and point out that in order to make steam power you boil water and turn it into steam to power your generators, and that nuclear power, oil and natural gas are some of the most common heat sources used to do that. Anyway, back to crazyland.

Six months later Sarah Palin wakes up to find that she now has body more than half made of robot parts. Powered by steam. It's unclear how exactly they're steam-powered. She mostly looks like Cyborg of the Teen Titans.

I'll let you follow the elegant and finely-crafted link I provided above to read the rest of the review but, just to whet your whistle, there's also a character named "Robama" as in, "robot Obama." Seriously:

Hard to know what to say except to mention that you can get your own for only $25, but the resulting therapy bills will cost way more than that.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

You can move along...

Because this post is pretty much just for my wife:

Happy Valentine's Day, love!

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Friday, February 11, 2011

The Overton Window: Chapter 2

Welcome back one and all to our ongoing series on The Overton Window, the book that reads more like a trashy romance novel than a thriller. Last time we waded through the "deep ruminations" of one Noah Gardner and his penis. What happens this week? We get to see Noah try to pick up a woman, and said woman react in an amusing fashion. Also there's some weird sub-plot about politics.

As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week that "honor" goes to Sassafras for explaining everything:

A 27-year old sex-addled sociopath working a job clearly above his abilities/education suddenly has an laughable epiphany and describes it in terrible prose?

Now why does that sound familiar...

-- "There's nothing better than looking at a hot, naked chick." (Glenn Beck, 2006)

Indeed, Beck has had something of a wild ride over the years, and the notion that The Overton Window is, from Beck's point of view, semi-autobiographical will be a source of endless amusement. Or, at the very least, the occasional good snicker. Well done, Sass! As for the rest of you, I still love you, and you still have a chance at the comment of the week. Just not this week, for reasons that I trust are obvious.

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!

Dramatis Personae: In an order determined by a toothless hooker.

Eli Churchill: Former janitor at a volcano lair. Fan of remote telephone booths. Shot in the head by parties unknown.

Beverly ???: Mysterious correspondent of Eli Churchill's.

Noah Gardner: 28 years old. Sets the dating bar "medium-high". Works at a PR firm. Went to NYU.

"Hottie McPretty": Dresses like a hippie, but not really. Looks like a free spirit. Perfectly captures the essence of womanhood.


Chapter 2: In which Noah attempts to pick up Molly Ross, fails, and ends up saying he'll go to some odd political meeting.

Recommended Mood Music:

Page 10, Line 1-3:
"Can I help you with that?"

Noah's opener, not one of his smoothest, was punctuated by the thunk of his Tootsie Roll into the metal tray of the candy machine. [emphasis original]

Wow, that'll be a story for the kids, desk jockey. This would be an embarassing opener in a porno, much less in a serious novel. Ah, well. At least the authors seem to recognize that the line sucks. That's more reflexivity than we ever got in Left Behind. Now, if only they would realize that they're not actually writing a serious novel, we'd have all our ducks in a row. In any case, Hottie McPretty gives him the once-over, then gets a stool and goes back to pinning up her flyer without answering him. So, on the negative side, she's rude but, on the positive side, has the good sense not to get mixed up with Noah. Not that it will help her in the end.

Page 10, Line 11-14:
Fortunately, Noah was blessed with a blind spot for rejection; she'd winged him, sure, but he wasn't nearly shot down. He smiled and, even at a distance, imagined he could see just a hint of dry amusement in her profile as well.

Yeah, ladies and gentlemen, we're dealing with that guy. The women in the audience no doubt know exactly what I'm talking about here- that guy who cannot take a hint, that guy who just won't leave you alone even after you make it very clear that he's about as sexually attractive to you as roadkill. We're talking about the oblivious horny male and there are few forces in the universe more annoying. And, coincidentally, he's our main character. That just can't work out well. On a more meta level, however, notice that the authors describe him as "imagining" that he can see a hint of amusement. I think there may be an unintended hint there. Specifically, a hint that Noah is, in fact, extremely delusional. There isn't any amusement there, not really, but Noah imagines that there is. Let's watch and see if this hypothesis is borne out.

Page 10, Line 15-16:
Something about this woman defied a traditional chick-at-a-glance inventory. Without a doubt all the goodies were in all the right places...

Oh, man. I got a little queasy just reading that. "Chick-at-a-glance"? Is that like a word-a-day calendar, or something? And I guess it's reassuring to know her goodies are all in the right places, rather than, you know, her boobs growing out of her knees or something. Maybe that's what setting the bar "medium-high" (Page 7, Line 12-14) means? Noah doesn't sleep with weirdly deformed women?

Page 10-11, Line 10:18, 11:1-2:
Though he'd been in her presence for less than a minute, her soul had locked itself onto his senses, far more than her substance had.

I fail to see how that's possible given that she hasn't spoken yet. Hell, we don't even know her name- I'm still referring to her as "Hottie McPretty". As such, I fail to see how any of that shit could have happened. Unless, that is, by "soul" the authors mean "tits and ass" and by "substance" they mean "her unique qualities as a human being". Regardless, though, in a break from the tradition they have established thus far, the authors proceed to describe Hottie McPretty. She wears hardly any makeup, simple silver jewelry and threadbare jeans, she has dark auburn hair pulled back in a French twist and held in place by pencils. That's all you get so far, but it's better than we've had a right to expect.

Page 11, Line 13-15:
These liberated chestnut curls framed a handsome face made twice as radiant by the mysteries surely waiting just behind those light green eyes.

That's some pretty amazing speculation given that she's been facing the wall for the majority of this scene. How the hell does he know what color her eyes are? Honestly, this book is like an episode of "Law and Order: SVU" told from the perspective of the serial rapist.* Consistent with that, Noah steps closer and begins reading the flier over her shoulder. It's styled to look like it's written on a piece of "tattered, scorched parchment" and is advertising a political meeting. Featured speakers include a former Libertarian presidential candidate, the New York community liaison for the "Liberty Belles," and a bunch of other people that we've never heard of. Two of the named people will eventually be characters- one of them even a pretty important one- but we don't know that now, so I won't waste our time by typing out the flier. You should know, however, that it is reproduced in the text verbatim, because that's a good use of page space.

Page 12, Line 12-13:
"This event, it's happening tonight?" Noah asked.

"Congratualtions, you can read." [Hottie McPretty answered]

Actually, he phrased that as a question, so maybe he can't read? Hey, that would be an interesting twist, no? Regardless, she explains that she isn't really expecting anyone at the business to be interested. Noah asks why not and she turns to engage him.

Page 12, Line 24-25:
Close-up now and face-on, she had a forthrightness that was every bit as intriguing as it was disquieting.

Yeah, because women-folk is supposed to be submissive and whatnot? I have no idea how to feel about that. Anyway, she explains that she doesn't think people at Doyle & Merchant would be interested in her rally because it's a PR firm and, therefore, comprised entirely of liars. That's not an exaggeration, that's pretty much what it says in the text. Noah considers arguing, but decides she's right, and thus changes tacks, returning to his efforts to enter her panties as rapidly as possible.

Page 13, Line 6-7:
"I'm Noah," he said.

"I know. I sort your mail."

Yeah, but that doesn't mean she knows him by face. Or I assume, anyway. Maybe in New York they stamp people's faces on the addresses as a service for those like Noah who are illiterate? Anyway, she then lists a series of facts she knows about Noah.

Page 13, Line 9-10:
"Noah Gardner. Twenty-first floor, northwest corner office. Vice president as of last Thursday. And a son of a... big-shot."

Yeah, whatever. My question is: if he's a vice president of a major New York PR firm, why is his snack a Tootsie Roll bought from a vending machine? Shouldn't he be eating foie gras off of a cheerleader's nipples or something like that?

Page 13, Line 11-12:
"Wow. For a second I wasn't sure where you were going with that last one."

Last week I suggested that the narrator was best imagined as having the voice of Glenn Quagmire. By this point, I think we can all agree that Noah should probably be imagined as Troy McClure:

It helps. Anyway, it comes out that Noah's father owns the advertising firm. One wonders, then, why the name isn't "Doyle, Merchant & Gardner," but what do I know?

Page 13- Line 16-19:
"You [Hottie McPretty] haven't told me your name yet," Noah said, "and I've been trying to read it off your name tag, but I'm worried that you'll get the wrong idea about where I'm looking."

"Go for it. I'm not shy."

Okay, one, Noah has also never asked for her name, which is usually viewed as the polite approach. Two, is this supposed to be flirting? Because Noah sucks at it. Seriously, that's the kind of shit a virgin high schooler would come up with. Three, given Noah's behavior thus far, would any woman invite Noah to take a good stare at her chest? Somehow, I doubt it.

Page 13, Line 20-25:
On their way down, his eyes wandered only twice, and only briefly. He caught a glimpse of a small tattoo, finely drawn and not quite hidden by the neckline of her top. All that was visible was an edge of the outstretched wing of a bird, or maybe it was an angel. And a necklace lay against her smooth pale skin, a little silver cross threaded on a delicate wheat chain.

Yep. He's taking his time with this loving examination of her chest. In the next paragraph we hear about how her sweater is apparently skin-tight, however that's possible. Then, finally, he gets to the I.D. tag.

Page 13, Line 31-32:
"Molly Ross," he said.

She tipped his chin back up with a knuckle.

And then kicked him in the groin before filing a sexual harassment complaint with HR?

Page 14, Line 1-2:
"This is fascinating and all, Mr. Gardner, but I need to go and service the postage meter."

There are all kinds of jokes I could make here, but it'll be more fun to turn y'all loose on that particular bit. In any case, Noah asks if she'll be at the meeting she's advertising, she answers affirmatively, and then he says he'll go too because he's very patriotic. Me, I think he's gotten the term "patriotic" confused with "erotic," which is pretty funny given that he's neither.

Page 14, Line 10-18:
"That reminds me of a joke," Molly said. "Noah comes home- Noah from the Bible, you know?"

He nodded.

"So Noah comes home after he finally got all the animals into the ark, and his wife asks him what he's been doing all week. Do you know what he said to her?"

"No, tell me."

Molly patted him on the cheek, pulled his face a little closer. "He said, 'Honey, now I herd everything.'"

And "Ozark" spelled backwards is "Krazo"!** Laugh, damnit, laugh! Regardless of the absence of humor, Molly gets down off of her stool and makes for the door, seeking to escape the skeezy stalker dude we know as "Noah."

Page 14, Line 21-24:
"Don't forget your candy bar," she added, over a shoulder.

Despite his normally ready wit, the door to the break room had hissed closed and clicked behind her long before a single sparkling comeback came to mind.

Ready wit? Are you joking? This dude has all the game of Urkle, but without the charming earnestness. Regardless, though, that's the end of our chapter. So where are we? At this point we have a protagonist about whom we know next to nothing except that he's able to develop powerful fixations on women he's just met and who have shown substantial contempt for him. This does not bode well for the future of this narrative, and yet, I think it does suggest that our hypothesis that Noah is being subtly portrayed as delusional might hold some water. The only real question is, did the authors mean to subtly portray him as delusional? Moreover, if the authors created a delusional character unintentionally because they themselves are delusional, does that make the character intentionally delusional? Are you confused too? Good!

Come back next time when we briefly dispense with Noah's attempts to play hide the salamie with a woman he's only just met and, instead, meet the book's primary villain. I wouldn't get too excited, though- when he graduated villain school this guy was a few class ranks behind Dr. Evil.

See you then!

* My wife is actually a huge fan of SVU, so much so that we've watched pretty much every episode of every season. In later seasons, the cases start getting so weird that you'll find yourself longing for a good old-fashioned rape-torture-murder.

** If you didn't read my earlier series on Left Behind you're probably not going to get that.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Pretty much what I expected...

Just in case anyone hasn't already heard that homeopathy doesn't freaking work, I thought I ought to mention this:

To make a point, some skeptics around the world are making massive drug overdoses a habit.

Their target: homeopathic remedies. Their method: consume huge amounts of these treatments to debunk them altogether.

Homeopathy purportedly works by diluting substances, such as sulfur, to almost nothing and then using them to spur the body to heal itself.

But the skeptics say there's no proof, and what's more the extreme dilution of the ingredients means the remedies are nothing more than, say, sugar water. As the federal National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine put it in an overview:

"Homeopathy is a controversial area ... because a number of its key concepts are not consistent with established laws of science (particularly chemistry and physics). Critics think it is implausible that a remedy containing a miniscule amount of an active ingredient (sometimes not a single molecule of the original compound) can have any biological effect—beneficial or otherwise. For these reasons, critics argue that continuing the scientific study of homeopathy is not worthwhile. Others point to observational and anecdotal evidence that homeopathy does work and argue that it should not be rejected just because science has not been able to explain it."

Over the weekend, hundreds of skeptics in more than 25 countries took megadoses of the remedies to demonstrate they do nothing. It was the second annual event organized by the 10:23 Campaign. One bunch in West Virginia took 1 million times the recommended dose of a homeopathic sleep remedy and didn't die — or even fall asleep. [emphasis original]

Can we all please move on to remedies that work, now?

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

What anti-science conspiracy theorists just don't get...

"Like any scientist, I have a built-in affection for the underdog, and like other researchers, I do not dream of conducting boring experiments that merely confirm the status quo, but of achieving new insights, radical and subversive, that would smash the orthodox and set off revolutions of thought and understanding. True scientists are not afraid of making waves. Rather we dream of doing so, we lust for it, we fantasize about it."

-Kenneth R. Miller
"Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul"
2008: 13-14

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Friday, February 04, 2011

The Overton Window: Chapter 1

Welcome back one and all to our ongoing series on The Overton Window, the book that just doesn't seem to want to start, even though we've already read a dozen pages. Last time we staggered through an endless body of front matter and watched a newly-introduced character get shot in the head with an impractical firearm for unclear reasons. What happens this week? Not much, we just get to meet the least sympathetic main character I've ever seen (aside from explicit anti-heroes, anyway) and his female sidekick. Might as well get comfortable, because it's going to be an experience.

As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week, amidst fierce competition, that "honor" goes to Ken Houghton for managing to point out how stupid the choice of firearm was while, simultaneously, mocking Sarah Palin:

It is possible to find a .357 Magnum with a laser sight. It is even possible to find good discussions of why one might want to do such a thing. (Note the "weapon of choice for under cover law enforcement, detectives, private eyes, body guards" bit.)

Why one would use Dirty Harry's gun to take out this dude--whose own armament is unknown, so the laser sight will give him some reaction time, and the range of the gun puts you at risk--when a rifle with a scope would do the job rather better is left as an exercise.

Unless the answer is that the last (only?) time you paid attention to guns was when Clint and T. G. Sheppard were singing "Make My Day."

We haven't started the book, and I'm already nostalgic for the days when Sarah Palin asked if the rifle had "a kick," as if Newton's laws of motion didn't apply to her. Which was at least as rational as the choice of weapon here.

Indeed, bizarre choices like this will rapidly become a narrative staple, and lead to a rather distressing conclusion: the authors are writing this novel as though it were a screenplay. And what seems dramatic and villainous on the big screen often seems laughably incompetent in text. But you'll have to wait a few episodes for the paradigmatic example of that little issue. Congratulations, Ken, and keep at it everyone! I can just hear y'all chomping at the bit to mock this shitbird.

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.). And on we go!

Dramatis Personae: In order of their appearance in the text.

Eli Churchill: Former janitor at a volcano lair; fan of remote telephone booths; shot in the head by parties unknown.

Beverly ???: Mysterious correspondent of Eli Churchill's.


I just want to begin today by pointing out that when you turn the page following Eli's sudden demise in the prologue, you run smack into a page with "Part ONE" written on it in big block letters. Beneath them is a quote from Woodrow Wilson which seems to suggest that men are easily manipulated by a good leader. And in my copy, beneath that, is my scrawled note, "Oh for fuck's sake! Quit with the dramatic dividers and tell a damn story!" You can tell how much I've been enjoying the front matter by this point.

Chapter 1: In which an undescribed male falls in love with an undescribed female, and we talk about lines.

Recommended Mood Music:

Page 7, Line 1-3:
Most people think about age and experience in terms of years, but it's really only moments that define us. We stay mostly the same and then grow up suddenly, at the turning points.

As an opening paragraph, this does beat Left Behind's "Rayford Steele was thinking about a woman he'd never touched." On the downside, however, this opener is setting the bar very high for The Overton Window, by which I mean that it's essentially telling us that, not only is this going to be a thriller, it's also going to be a "coming of age" story. Combining those two genres is no mean feat. Can the authors do it? I don't want to spoil it but... no.

Page 7, Line 4-6:
His life being pretty sweet as it was, Noah Gardner had devoted a great deal of effort in his first twenty-something years to avoiding such defining moments at all costs. [emphasis added]

"His life being pretty sweet"? Oh, man, this just does not bode well for the book as a whole. This makes it sound like the narrator is about to go to a kegger at Trey's place. Also, notice this theme of "Noah as slacker". We're going to find it contradicted, and then affirmed, and then contradicted so many times throughout the book that, really, we'll end up with no idea who the hell "Noah Gardner" actually is. It'll be fun!

Page 7, Line 8-9:
...he'd spent a full decade building what most guys would call an outstanding record of success with the ladies.

I find it best to imagine the narration in The Overson Window as being in the voice of Glenn Quagmire:

Trust me, it helps.

Page 7, Line 11-12:
Noah had all the bona fide credentials for a killer eHarmony profile.

I'm forced to wonder if the authors got paid for product placement in this book. If so, eHarmony should demand their money back. I'm also wondering when eHarmony became the yardstick against which a life is to be judged? Aside from the smarmy writing, this is a classic example of how the authors would rather tell us than show us. Why spend any time demonstrating Noah's good traits to us when they can just declare them in narration in a tenth the time? I'll leave it to you to fill in the why but, if you want a hint, it has to do with crafting a believable character.

Page 7, Line 12-14:
Since freshman year at NYU he'd rarely spent a weekend night alone; all he'd had to do was keep the bar for an evening's companionship set at only medium-high.

So... he likes his women the way he likes his steaks? Is that what we're supposed to take from this? And what does "medium-high" mean, exactly? I think the authors intend us to think it means, "airhead bimbo," but knowing a bit about twenty-something men, it more likely means something quite a bit different. I mean, let's face it, to the average twenty-something male, "medium-high" probably means something like, "has boobs and all her teeth". And on a related note, if anyone is finding this guy an at all likable character so far... can you e-mail me to explain why?

Page 7, Line 15-17:
As he'd rounded the corner of age twenty-seven and stared the dreaded number thirty right in the face, Noah had begun to realize something about that medium-high bar: it takes two to tango.

Perhaps, but it only takes one to mix your metaphors. And also, did we just forget about ages 28 and 29? Because, hell, he's still got a ways to go before thirty, which isn't really all that bad in perfect honesty. Hell, whatever, what's two years in the grand scheme of things?

Page 8, Line 2-5:
Now, on his twenty-eighth birthday, he still wasn't sure what he wanted in a woman but he knew what he didn't want: arm candy. He was sick of it. Maybe, just maybe, it was time to consider thinking about getting serious.

Okay, wait, hang on just a second: did they accidentally print a Harlequin Romance in here by mistake? Or maybe some sort of Twilight spinoff? I mean, damn. And did I just read that this twenty-something male is tired of all the meaningless sex with attractive women? Because that seems plausible.

Page 8, Line 6-7:
It was in the midst of these deep ruminations on life and love that the woman of his dreams first caught his eye.

"Deep ruminations on..."? That's supposed to be deep? Are you f-ing kidding me? Oh, man, this is gonna be a loooong book. In any case, said woman is in his company breakroom posting some kind of flier on a bulletin board. As long as we're in the scene, I should mention that Noah is in the company breakroom for his afternoon candy break. In other words, he's hitting the vending machine. Why should you care? Right now, no reason, but it'll become somewhat relevant in the next chapter.

Page 8, Line 13-14:
Top psychologists tell us in Maxim magazine that the all-important first impression is set in stone within about ten seconds.

At least now we know where the authors did their research. And oddly, Maxim is a more reputable source than I was anticipating. Anyway, Noah stares for a long time- thereby demonstrating that he has only a passing familiarity with his company's sexual harassment policy- and ends up making three observations, which I feel compelled to share with you.

Page 8, Line 18-19:
First, she was hot, but it was an aloof and effortless hotness that almost double-dared you to bring it up.

No doubt that's right before it double-dog-dares you to swallow a quarter. It's like this book is being written by a middle schooler.

Page 8, Line 19-21:
Second, she wasn't permanent staff, probably just working as a seasonal temp in the mailroom or another high-turnover department.

That might be interesting or relevant if we had any idea where the hell we are right now. That said, honestly, I just want the narrator to tell me more about Hottie McPretty since, as of this moment, we don't know shit about her. I mean, seriously, can was have a description of some sort? As of this moment all we really know is that she's female and that she's hot. That's not real specific, you know?

Page 8, Line 21-22:
And third, even in that lowly position, she wasn't going to survive very long at Doyle & Merchant.

Again, that might mean something if we had any idea what "Doyle & Merchant" is. As it stands, I barely care. Regardless, it comes out in the next paragraph that (1) Doyle & Merchant is a top-shelf New York PR firm, and (2) Hottie McPretty is dressed as a hippie, without actually being dressed like a hippie. She looks like a "free spirit," you know? It's sort of like how she's "hot" but the kind of hotness that can apparently double-dare you to do shit. Honestly, this character does more while doing nothing than any character I've ever seen. Nevertheless, we still know basically nothing about this woman. I mean, hair color? Cup size? Height? Seriously, throw us a bone here, authors! And I guess they do, albeit in a manner so abstract as to be effectively useless.

Page 9, Line 3-5:
What struck him was a word, or, more precisely, the meaning of a word: line. More powerful than any other element of a design, a line is the living soul of a piece of art. [emphasis original]

I'll spare you the rest of the paragraph, but the authors explain how the lines of a thing are more important than the details and relate a story wherein one of Noah's artist friends sketched him a picture that, using just seven strokes of the pen, perfectly captured the essence of womanhood. The authors are apparently attempting the same thing with the text, relying on a paltry handful of sentences to capture the essence of this woman. So far, it's not working out so well.

Page 9, Line 14-17:
And that is what struck him. There it was at the bulletin board, that same exquisite line, from the toes of her sandals all the long, lovely way up to her fingertips. Unlikely as it must seem, he knew right then that he was in love.

Whereas we, unlikely as it might seem, realize right here that Noah must have a whole sheaf of restraining orders filed against him by many of those "middle-high bar" women he's apparently bedded. In mere moments he's become obsessed with a woman he ran into in the company breakroom, which doesn't say "romance" to me so much as "crazy stalker". And while a thriller told from the warped perspective of the villain might be really interesting, I somehow doubt that's what the authors have in store for us. It doesn't really matter one way of the other, though, because that concludes the chapter. We started on page 7, we ended on page 9, and once you factor in all the white space, we basically had two pages worth of text. And believe it or not, this is not the shortest chapter in the book.

Nevertheless, the next chapter is somewhat longer, so I'm going to call it quits for the week. I mean, hell, if the authors are going to halfass it, why shouldn't I? Come back next time when our "hero" manages to talk to Hottie McPretty. And trust me, he acquits himself about as well as we've been led to expect.

See you then.


Thursday, February 03, 2011

The South Dakota abortion ban- coming soon to a rape survivor near YOU!

Some of you may remember the South Dakota abortion ban of a few years ago. You remember it, don't you? The one that didn't actually include exceptions for cases of rape or incest? Well, I suppose that's not completely true- one of the authors of the ban did claim that there was an exception of sorts in the bill, but it was just a tad restrictive:

A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.

So, the exception to that ban effectively required that the victim be a religious virgin who was saving herself until marriage, who subsequently was brutally sodomized and raped "as bad as you can make it". I don't think I need to go on at length about the misogyny inherent in that, but my back-of-the-napkin calculations* suggest that the number of women who would potentially qualify is pretty tiny. I think a lot of us viewed that law as an unspeakable savagery and felt guiltily relieved not to live in South Dakota.**

Well, bad news folks- Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey has decided that something similar would be just great for the nation as a whole. Seriously:

A House Republican majority bill seeking to change abortion laws is controversially redefining rape. Federal laws restricting the use of government funds to pay for abortions using Medicaid have always included exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, and pregnancies that could endanger the life of the woman. But the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," a bill with 173 mostly Republican co-sponsors that John Boehner has now dubbed a top priority, reportedly contains provisions to the term "rape" in order make it more difficult for women to use state money for abortions. Introduced by Chris Smith, this legislation proposes that the rape exemptions be limited to "forcible rape," which has no clear meaning outside of this bill. According to a report in Mother Jones, this provision would rule out federal assistance for abortions stemming from "non-forcible" statutory rape. The bill also proposes that federally funded abortions for incest victims be permitted only if the incestuous woman is under 18. [emphasis added]

Now, first off, that bit about the term "forcible rape" not having meaning outside of the bill isn't completely true- the term is actually used in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program and is defined as follows:

Forcible rape, as defined in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, is the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will. Attempts or assaults to commit rape by force or threat of force are also included; however, statutory rape (without force) and other sex offenses are excluded.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that Smith intends to use the same definition of "forcible rape" as the FBI. I have a weird suspicion that what he actually imagines is closer to the quote about the South Dakota ban but, hell, let's be charitable. Assuming that's the case, if a man beats or otherwise physically harms a woman before raping her, or if he threatens to beat or otherwise physically harm her if she doesn't submit to rape, then she might gain federal support for an abortion. I suppose she'd have to prove this somehow, which I suspect will be a real difficult thing to do given typical responses to rape victims, but at least hypothetically she'll have the option. Federal support will, however, be withheld if:

-She's coerced into sex without the threat of violence.
-She's drugged and raped while unable to consent.
-A family member coerces her into sex and she's over eighteen.
-She's convinced as a minor to have sex willingly with someone over the age of majority.

And, frankly, I expect that even if she was threatened with violence it's going to be impossible to make use of this exception if the alleged rapist was someone she was seeing romantically, and thus date rape is going to get a free pass as long as it doesn't leave bruises or marks that unambiguously signal the application of violence.

What we're seeing is, once more, a frankly sexist and ignorant attempt to tell women who are violated against their will that they have no choice but to be further violated for another nine months. I find it barbaric and hope you do too. And if you do, there's a petition just for you.

Let's fight this now before banning funding turns into banning abortion entirely.

* Specifically, see the first footnote.

** Unless, of course, we actually did live in South Dakota, in which case we probably started gazing longingly in the direction of Canada.

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