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.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rhetoric gone wrong

So the other day I happened to be looking at Conservapedia and happened to notice something a little bit odd:

Or, in plain text:

With a pro-life Governor of Kansas for the first time in many years, legislation to end its preferential treatment of abortion moves to his desk for signature. Half of the abortions in Kansas are from poaching on Missouri women. [emphasis original]

You can read the article they're referring to if you like. It's depressing and makes me really feel for the people of Kansas, but that's not really what caught my interest. No, my attention was piqued by the use of the term "poaching". Now, the word poaching has a number of meanings, but the relevant ones* would seem to be:

1. to trespass, especially on another's game preserve, in order to steal animals or to hunt.
2. to take game or fish illegally.

That's clear enough, but is that what's happening here? A literal reading of the sentence would seem to imply that doctors from Kansas are piling into vans, driving into Missouri, and trying to entice women into having illegal abortions. The problem with that is obvious- doctors in Kansas aren't going anywhere, it's the women in Missouri who are going to Kansas. And that just isn't poaching. Oh, you can call it poaching, but by that logic back in the dark days of the Cold War, West Berlin was poaching citizens from East Berlin by just... you know... existing. We could laugh this off as just poorly chosen language, but there's one last definition of poaching that I haven't mentioned yet, mostly because it's the noun form and not a verb form. But, I think it's instructive:

any encroachment on another's property, rights, ideas, or the like.

And now, we see, that the term "poaching" is entirely appropriate... so long as you're prepared to view the women of Missouri as property. Some people wonder how it is that pro-choicers can view a fetus as something other than a person. Me, I wonder how it is that some pro-lifers manage to do the same with grown women.

* Other possibilities include "(of land) to become broken up or slushy by being trampled," "(in tennis, squash, handball, etc.) to play a ball hit into the territory of one's partner that is properly the partner's ball to play," and, my personal favorite, "to cook (eggs, fish, fruits, etc.) in a hot liquid that is kept just below the boiling point." I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to judge whether I've intuited the definition intended by the Conservapeons.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Now that is cool...

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Friday, March 25, 2011

The Overton Window: Chapter 7

Welcome back one and all to our ongoing series on The Overton Window, the book that makes us long for a police state, if only to render the book more plausible. Last time we saw Noah Gardner take a cab, be gently interrogated, and then abandon Khaled, the most interesting character introduced so far. What happens this week? Noah wanders around in the rain and "thinks". So, basically, nothing.

As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week, amidst fierce competition, that "honor" goes to Aussiesmurf for paying attention:

I haven't, god forbid, read the book, but did I miss a passage where Noah asked for his FREAKING WALLET back??

I mean, we had the whole emasculating 'empty your pockets in front of the dreamboat soldier boy' scene and them once Noah rediscovers his testosterone, he stalks of without any money or identification!

"That'll show them...They'll spend HOURS rummaging through all those cards for strip clubs, trying in vain to logically deduce the one I'll be at tonight. But really the only moral standards I'll be breaching tonight are those of good grammar!"

This is actually a really good spot, and a great vision of what might have resulted, but unfortunately Noah did, in fact, get his possessions back. I didn't mention it because I can't transcribe the entire f-ing book but, in a section I didn't quote directly, he did receive his plastic baggie of stuff back. That said, I had to actually check the book to be certain and he never examined the contents to make sure everything was returned so, hey, I like to imagine there's a drab civil servant currently buying all sorts of porn and whatnot using Noah's charge cards. It'd be the perfect crime, when you think about it, because the charges would probably just resemble his usual Friday night entertainment. In any case, congratulations, Aussiesmurf, and keep at it folks: we've got a loooong way to go still.

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.). Execute!

Dramatis Personae: In descending order of the absurdity of their names.

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. Went to NYU. Is "witty". Frequently forgets where he's going and why. Not really inclined to help out cab drivers.

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.

Khaled: Lebanese cab driver. Sold out by Noah Gardener.


Chapter 7: In which Noah walks down the street, gets wet, and... well, that's it, actually.

Recommended Mood Music:

Page 46, Line 1-3:
A lot of empty cabs had passed by on his walk downtown but Noah hadn't been able to bring himself to raise a hand and flag another one down.

I strongly suspect that Noah's lethargy stems from the authors' need for an excuse to fill a few pages with pointless exposition. Also, they may be trying to punish Noah for abandoning Khaled, but given how Noah whines, the only people they're punishing are us.

Page 46, Line 5-7:
In any case, in keeping with the evening's unbroken run of bad decisions, walking was what he'd decided to do.

See, this is why he's a V.P. at a major P.R. firm: when he realizes he's made a bad decision, he instantly takes action by continuing to helplessly make yet more bad decisions until stopped by some unspecified outside power. Actually, come to think of it, I think I've worked for this guy, or at least one of his real world counterparts.

Page 46, Line 10-13:
It's not that New Yorkers set out to be rude as they walk along; they simply want to get where they're going. With seventy thousand people coming at you per square mile, the only way to keep a schedule is to avoid connecting with random strangers.

Which is actually not a half-bad summary of Bruce Mayhew and Roger Levinger's 1976 "Size and the Density of Human Aggregates" (American Journal of Sociology, 82(1): 86-110). It's a pretty good article that uses formal theory to show that as population size goes up, the amount of attention devoted to any one interaction must decline. Not sure why we're suddenly talking sociology, though.

Page 46, Line 14:
But try as you might, you can't always avoid making contact.

Oh. Right. Because we're feeling guilty about Khaled. Okay, then. Noah keeps thinking about Khaled and, indeed, starts feeling pretty bad about the fact that he threw the poor guy to the wolves. Or, at least, didn't intervene when the wolves started dragging him off into the woods.

Page 47, Line 4-7:
Noah took a deep breath and shook it off as he pressed on. First of all, buddy, I'm not your friend. Second, it wasn't my responsibility. And third, there is no third required. You can't take them all under your wing. Once you start trying to rescue everybody, where would it ever stop?

I dunno... voting Democrat? Anyway, Noah decides to try to shake off his guilty feeling by allowing his mind to drift back to one of his favorite subjects- his father.

Page 47, Line 14-19:
Noah's father had built an empire in the PR industry based almost solely on his reputation as an unrepentant firebrand, a ruthless hired gun for any cause with the cash to buy his time. He went wherever there was a fortune to be made, and those opportunities were everywhere, in good times or bad, provided a person could maintain a certain moral flexibility when scrolling through the client list.

"Have powerpoint, will travel"? And as long as we're on the subject, I'm not sure "firebrand" really makes a lot of sense here. He doesn't start trouble so much as profit from it but, hey, what do I know?

Page 47, Line 22-24:
A huckster of the highest order, he could make a do-or-die conflict out of thin air and then cash in selling weapons of mass deception to either side, or, more likely, to both.

Right. Arthur Gardner=bad dude. We get it.

Page 47, Line 30-32:
...these were world-spanning issues he [Arthur Gardner] exploited, whether real or manufactured, from global cooling in the 1970s to global warming today.

You've gotta love how the authors slipped that in there, attacking the science without ever actually leveling a criticism. What's even more interesting, however, is what we don't see. Specifically, we don't see any of the authors' little annotations to external sources. If global warming is really so fake, or, indeed, if global cooling is really what they imply, where the hell are the sources? The short answer is that they are omitted because providing specific references here would make the argument too easy to disprove. It would bring the discussion into the realm of facts rather than hyperbole and that just won't do. Anyway, regardless of the reality of climactic change, we've been wandering through the rain with Noah for a while now- where the hell are we?

Page 48, Line 10-14:
In his distraction Noah had drifted close to the curb on the sidewalk, an error no seasoned pedestrian should ever commit when it's been raining. Right on cue a city bus roared by, shooshed through a sinkhole the size of Lake Placid, and a rooster tail of oily gutter water splashed up and soaked him to the waist. [emphasis original]

Ah, right, still wandering, only now the "brilliant boy," Noah Gardner, is even more of a sad-sack loser than before. And that's despite his killer eHarmony profile, too (Page 7, Line 11-12). Anyway, he realizes he's now completely wet, thinks about his dad a bit more, and then finally his thoughts turn to his destination. Indeed, if it were me wandering through the rain, I think that my destination would be the main thing on my mind but then, I'm not Noah Gardner.*

Page 49, Line 4-10:
According to the flier the location of tonight's all-American shindig was the Stars 'n Stripes Saloon, a charming, rustic little dive down here in Tribeca. Noah had been there a few times before on downtown pub crawls with clients. The Stars 'n Stripes was known as something of a guilty pleasure, a little patch of down-home heartland kitsch complete with friendly, gorgeous waitresses, loud Southern rock on the jukebox, and cheap domestic beer on tap.

This establishment appears to be entirely fictional, and I think you can imagine why: it's a little hard to imagine getting your drink on in a place that's energetically blasting patriotism up your ass. Then again, who doesn't love Southern rock?

Page 49, Line 11-14:
In the last remaining block Noah had been holding out hope that the rally, or whatever it turned out to be, would be sparsely attended and quiet enough to allow him to corner this Ross woman for a quality conversation.

Based on his earlier thoughts, I'm guessing that "quality conversation" is Noah's personal euphemism for "sexual assault in a bathroom stall." I doubt the authors are heading that direction, though.

Page 49, Line 14-17:
After all, how many right-wing nutcases could possibly live in this enlightened city, and how many among them would knuckle-drag themselves out of their subbasement bunkers for a club meeting on a chilly, rainy Friday night?

Okay, first off, this bit is weird because Noah is claiming that this is sure to be a right-wing gathering, but Molly was previously described as being kind of hippie-ish. So... hippies are Republicans, then? More importantly, though, this passage actually serves several purposes; namely, it makes Noah the avatar for snooty urban intellectuals, who the authors seem to hate, while simultaneously encouring the book's intended audience by implying that there are lots of like-minded people living in those same urban areas. And if the implication to that effect wasn't strong enough, the authors just go right ahead and make it explicit.

Page 49, Line 18-19:
The depressing answer to that question, he saw, as he rounded the final turn, was absolutely all of them. [emphasis original]

Lovely. So who are these wacky conservative firebrands? Well, if you want to know you'll have to come back next week, because this is the end of the chapter. And it's a chapter that earned the closing margin scrawl, "Actually, this 'chapter' wasn't all that vomitous," which is high praise for this book. Indeed, the chapter was pointless, but at least the writing was marginally tolerable.

So, come on back next time when Noah enters the Stars 'n Stripes Saloon and rubs elbows with the authors' people. It'll be an experience, I promise.

* For which I am absurdly grateful.


Monday, March 21, 2011


How exactly does one explain something like this:

Me, I blame drugs.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

The Overton Window: Chapter 6

Welcome back one and all to our ongoing series on The Overton Window, the book that features a brilliant man who wanders his office halls aimlessly on a Friday night, possibly while drooling. Last time we saw Noah Gardner take a trip down memory lane and make some weird phone calls. What happens this week? Not much. Noah takes a cab somewhere and gets interrogated by someone for a reason that will never be important to the plot ever.

As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week that "honor" goes to whatisthewhat for her piercing insight into both Noah's character and the authors' writing acumen:

I think you miss the point of Noah's scrapbooking. Someday, he'll have a corridor that looks like the inside of his brain, too. Except for the patchy bits of empty wall, for when he forgets what he's thinking, where he's walking, or what he's supposed to do next.

Also, "This task he'd been given had started out strange, and then one by one the calls had only gotten stranger." Is it only me, or does the subject shift from "task" to "calls." Are both strange? Isn't there a simpler way to convey this? Oh, yes. Two sentences.

Ah, yes, two sentences would be helpful, except the authors forgot where they were going with that sentence by the time it was half over. So, hey, they have that in common with Noah. Great work everyone, and keep it up- we have a lot of chapters yet to go. And yes, that is a threat.

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.). Make it so!

Dramatis Personae: In ascending order of BMI.

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. Went to NYU. Is "witty". Frequently forgets where he's going and why.

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 78 year old man.


Chapter 6: In which Noah takes a cab ride, is stopped by soldiers for... some reason, is interrogated by... someone, and then walks away.

Recommended Mood Music:

Page 37, Line 1:
"Aw, come on, man, what are we doing on Park Avenue?"

I dunno. Maybe you rolled a five just after landing on "Community Chest"? And yes, that joke is only slightly less crappy than the first line of Chapter 6 that it riffs off of, but that just emphasizes how bad this book really is. You're welcome.

Page 37, Line 2-7:
Over the years Noah had confirmed many times that there truly is such a thing as a bad night. When these doomed evening arrive you can't avoid them. The jinx comes at you like a freight train, and by the time you're caught in the glare of those oncoming lights it's far too late to avoid the disaster. The best you can do is make your peace with doom and ride out the curse until sunrise.

You know, I think a book in which a series of bad things happen to Noah Gardner could be an entertaining read. However, if you're going to essentially lead with the punchline (i.e. "Boy, did Noah ever have a shitty night!") you have to make sure that the now-telegraphed joke is actually funny. Sadly, I don't think the authors realized this before writing the remainder of the book. It isn't funny and, while he does have a bad go of it, he's so unlikable that frankly we just wish that one of his unfortunate misadventures would have a terminal conclusion, thereby sparing us more time with Noah Gardner.

Page 37-38, Line 37: 17-18, 38: 1:
Take this night, for example: Noah's first mistake had been opting to hail a cab instead of waiting a few minutes for a limo from the company motor pool.

I like to think of that passage as one of the many, recurring moments in this book when the authors jump up and down and scream, "Did we mention that Noah is super rich and powerful? Isn't that exciting?" No. No, it fucking isn't. Indeed, writing about a super rich protagonist is something of a liability, because it's more difficult to craft plausible obstacles. It's like trying to create an opponent for Superman: when your hero can fly, shoot lasers from his eyes, lift a bus with he bulging biceps, and is invulnerable- not to mention dance- there isn't a whole hell of a lot anyone can do to stop him. It is, perhaps, good to know that Noah has a ton of money, but it's truly pointless to write as though you're a Robin Leach wannabe when trying to craft a "thriller".

Page 38, Line 6-12:
As the windshield wipers slapped in and out of sync with the beat of some atonal Middle Eastern music blaring from the radio, the man at the wheel launched into an animated flurry of colorful epithets in his native tongue. He seemed to be deflecting all blame for the gridlock onto his GPS unit, the dispatcher, the car ahead, and especially the yellowed ivory statuette of St. Christopher glued cockeyed to the dash.

I think the above was supposed to be humorous but, of course, isn't. Imagine how it would have been, on the other hand, if instead of being told what was going on in executive summary format, we were shown the scene. You know, if we heard Khaled- I'm going to call him that because I want to- screaming about the pigfaced dispatcher giving him this stupid cab with its broken GPS unit. Hell, you can even hear an actual character if you listen closely: "Ah, my friend, they hate me because I am so good. I can drive anywhere in this town in twenty minutes when I don't have this stupid, shit car to deal with!" But, no, we get the precis instead. Regardless, Noah tells the cabbie to step on it and Khaled drives up on the sidewalk in his haste to get someone as annoying as Noah the fuck out of the car. As it turns out, though, "the man" is waiting for him.

Page 39, Line 6-14:
And then he [Khaled] slammed on the brakes and everything screeched to a stop.

A soldier in desert camouflage and a rain slicker was standing right in front of the cab, his left hand thrust out flat in an unambiguous command to halt. His other arm was cradling an assault rifle, which, while not exactly aimed at the cab and its innocent passenger, wasn't exactly pointed elsewhere, either. Other men in uniform came up beside the first and were directed with a muzzle-gesture to positions on either side of the taxi.

Okay, first off, this would be a highly unusual turn of events in a major American city. I mean, say what you will, but deploying the army as traffic cops isn't exactly SOP. Second, the cab and its "innocent passenger" singular? So, are we leaving out Khaled, the scary brown person, or Noah, who I would class as innocent if only because he's too damned stupid to be guilty of anything? Alas, who can tell for sure? We are told, however, that Khaled apparently has previous experience with military checkpoints.

Page 39, Line 18-21:
Noah had no such prior experience to guide him. All he felt was the Lenny's hot partrami sandwich he'd enjoyed at lunch suddenly threatening to disembark from the nearest available exit.

Ah, yes. Just what this book needed. A shit joke. Oscar f-ing Wilde, these authors are. In any case, the soldier tells Noah to exit the vehicle, none too politely I might add.

Page 39, 26-32:
Though the soldier he faced looked to be all of nineteen years old, his bearing was far more mature. He had a command in his eyes that made his rifle and sidearm seem completely redundant. It wasn't just the steely calm, it was the readiness, a bedrock certainty that whatever might happen next in this encounter, from a perfectly civil exchange to a full-on gunfight, he and his men would be the ones still standing when all the smoke had cleared.

"Noah felt his chest heaving against the smooth fabric of his blouse. He could sense the warmth, the heat, rising in his blood as he stared at the young soldier, so casually exercising his masculine power. Noah longed to feel his rough, strong hands all over him." Okay, sorry, I got carried away there but, for a book that claims to be a thriller, this thing really does feel like a solid bit of homoerotica. I think the reason in this case is the authors need to generate a sense of threat from this scene, but they also want to avoid alientating their base by insulting the military. The result is the sort of approach-avoidant narrative that you'd run into in a trashy novel, which is only fair since that's what we're reading. Regardless, the soldier demands Noah's ID and Noah, being a strong protagonist, immediately complies.

Page 40, Line 4-12:
"Sure." Despite his earnest desire to cooperate, for several tense seconds Noah's driver's license refused to slide out of its transparent sleeve. Another man in uniform had come near and, after watching the struggle for a while, he stepped up, held open a clear plastic pouch, and gave an impatient nod. Noah dropped the entire wallet into the bag, and after another wordless prompt from the man with the rifle, emptied his remaining pockets as well. The bag was zipped closed and passed to a nearby runner, who trotted off toward an unmarked truck parked up the block.

I think that has to be the most efficient mugging I've ever witnessed. I'm also wondering what gesture a dude with a rifle could use that means "empty your pockets," without being overtly threatening. Anyway, at this point it starts raining and the soldier continues his flirtation with Noah.

Page 40, Line 15-20:
The young soldier across from him didn't seem to take any notice of the deteriorating weather. He was watching Noah's face. It wasn't a macho stare-down, nothing of the kind. There really wasn't any engagement at all on a man-to-man level. The soldier kept his cool, stoic attention where he'd been trained to keep it, on the eyes where the changing intentions of another first tend to show themselves.

Yes, yes, and Noah had never envied a rifle so much in his life. We know, we know. But does Noah make a move?

Page 40, Line 24-26:
"How about this rain, huh?" he [Noah] said idiotically, as it blowing some small talk was the perfect way to play this out.

No answer. Not a twitch.

"No, you idiot! 'How about this rain'? Now he thinks you're some kind of moron! He'll never ask you to the New World Order ball now!" Seriously, I feel like I'm in a goddamn teen romance novel here. Anyway, at this point Noah manages to divert his attention from the dreamy soldier long enough to realize that Khaled has been pulled from the cab and slammed against the hood of the car with soldiers going through his pockets. Shortly thereafter Noah recalls that both presidential candidates are in town, along with "some emergency faction of the G-20" (Page 41, Line 9), whatever the hell that means, thus explaining the military checkpoint. Me, I'm still wondering about the breach of posse comitatus, but Noah seems to think this is all A-ok. Shortly thereafter the soldier gets some sort of message on the radio and gets Noah out of the cab, escorting him into a nearby truck that resembles a UPS truck but with some funky- and undescribed- logo on the side. No doubt Noah is sad that Khaled got a solid frisking while he has to settle for undressing the hot young soldier with his eyes, but that's beside the point. Inside the truck Noah encounters a drab looking woman who tells him that she just needs to ask him a few questions. She taps something into her computer and the monitors (yes, plural- the narrative makes this sound like a command center from The Matrix) come up with some sort of form and Noah's picture.

Page 42, Line 19:
"Just a few questions, all right? It's just routine, and it's required." [the drab woman said]

Required, eh? Thus suggests she either has a warrant or she works for the census bureau but, somehow, I doubt either is the case. And I don't see how getting stopped on the streets of New York by armed and uniformed members of the military is in any way routine, but hey, what do I know? I don't live in New York. Noah finally grows a spine and demands to see some ID, which she shows him. He notes that the ID doesn't include a shield, but does have that same weird logo. And then he remembers where he'd seen it before.

Page 42, Line 26-30:
Several months earlier Doyle & Merchant had pitched for the international PR business of this compnay. They'd been in the market for a complete image makeover in the face of some major allegations in the news, the growing list of which ranged from plain-vanilla war profiteering, graft, and smuggling all the way up to serial rape and murder.

Ah. Right. Exactly the people the government would pick to work traffic stops in the U.S. I should have known.

Page 43, Line 3-5:
This woman, her hairdo, and her truck were from Talion, the most well-connected private military consulting firm in the foreign and domestic arsenal of the U.S. government.

First off, I don't know that I'd really consider a bunch of mercenaries to be primarily an arm of the government. That said, mark this passage well and the name of Talion- because it will never, ever become relevant at any point in this book. It's one of the many details that pop out of nowhere and then disappear back into the aether, never to be seen again. I like to think that they're part of some parallel, much better, novel by Tom Clancy that Noah- in some sort of Thursday Next-ish way- is just stumbling through. Regardless, the drab lady starts asking Noah whether or not he's acquainted with Khaled, which is so stupid the mind boggles. Stop a random cab and ask yourself this- how f-ing likely is it that the passenger is "acquainted" with the driver? In New York City? Un-freaking-real. She starts asking pointless questions and, sensing her middle-management status, Noah remembers that he's a V.P. at a powerful company, and that he has money and shit.

Page 43, Line 26-30:
"Am I being detained here?" [Noah demanded]

"Well..." [Mrs. Drab answered]

"Am I being detained." [Noah asked, forgetting to include a question mark]


"So I'm free to go then." [Noah replied, again forgetting the question mark, but deciding to brazen it out]

Finally, the moron grows a pair to go with his new spine. Now if only the wizard would give him a brain, we'd have a real boy! Regardless, he gets up to go, she flashes Molly's flier at him and he has some weird thought about keeping his mouth shut to avoid prosecution. Prosecution for what, I have no idea, but little details like that don't matter. That doesn't stop the crazy lady, though.

Page 44, Line 14-17:
"They [Molly's group] have ties to the Aryan Brotherhood," she said, having begun to thumb through a file folder on her desk, "and the Lone Star Militia, the National Labor Committee, the Common Law Coalition, the Earth Liberation Front-"

Right. Because if there's anyone that the ELF gets along with, it's white supremacists. I mean, seriously, WTF? Anyway, Noah reminds the woman who his daddy is, grabs his shit, and hops out of the truck. As he starts to walk away he once again notices Khaled, currently being hauled away by two big dudes. Khaled is calling over and over for Noah to help him.

Page 45, Line 17-24:
But what could Noah do? You can't get involved with every unfortunate situation. It wasn't his place to intercede. For all he knew, the guy was the leader of a major terrorist cell. And besides, he was late for an appointment with a certain young woman who was in dire need of a dose of reality.

Noah turned away and kept on walking, letting the man's pleas fade away and then disappear behind him. It wasn't nearly as hard to do as it should have been.

Aaaand we see Noah's newly grown pair retract at near light speed into his abdomen. Granted, I think the authors intend Noah to be unlikable here, setting the stage for a transformation over the course of the book. Unfortunately, however, in order for this method to work the character has to actually grow and transform, which Noah does not.

That's a subject for another time, however, because we've reached the end of the chapter. Join us next time when Noah walks down the street, gets rained on, and engages in what passes for thought. Which is to say, he just walks and gets wet.

It'll be fun, I promise.*

* Of course I'm not really that trustworthy...


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

When the legislature meets science...

This is freaking awesome:

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Time to lend a hand.

As some of you may have heard, Japan is currently in pretty rough shape as it's dealing with a recent massive earthquake, subsequent devastating tsunami, ongoing nuclear crisis* that may result in multiple total reactor core meltdowns, and now a volcano. And unlike in the movies, this sort of thing cannot be solved by a timely call to Mothra. What CAN help, though, are donations. The Red Cross is taking donations to help Japan. The excellent, and secular, Doctors without Borders also has a team in the area, and could probably use your support. You know what to do.

When I was a kid I used to get up early every morning to watch old Japanese monster movies. I used to love the silly plots and the ridiculous rubber Godzilla suits. Unsurprisingly, it's a lot more fun watching a model of Japan get stomped by a fictitious giant rubber lizard than it is to watch a real Japan suffering under a string of disasters. Give, if you can.

UPDATE: SHARE has got a donation link up and running, so all of you atheists, agnostics and free thinkers get cracking! Also, see this explanation of why the nuclear situation isn't as bad as we might all think it is.

* If you're curious about what's at risk with the reactors, Evelyn Mervine, who also blogs at Skepchick, recently interviewed her dad about what's happening. He's a nuclear engineer with considerable experience dealing with a variety of reactor types, and well-worth listening to.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

The Overton Window: Chapters 4 & 5

Welcome back one and all to our ongoing series on The Overton Window, the book that pits an unidentified enemy against a vaguely defined populace in a battle over something. I think. Last time we had an intermission but the time before that we saw Arthur Gardner explain his plan to do... something. I'm not really clear on what that something is, except that we aren't supposed to like it and it may have something to do with bottled water. Or tsunamis. Possibly. What happens this week? Not much, just some characterization that fails to characterize.

As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week that "honor" goes to Sassafras for flashing a girl scout and managing to work in a topical reference:

What I want to know is how they lured Gaddafi's speech-writer away in order to get this thing written with such a cunning mixture of pseudo-politics and roach-fucking insanity.

Where's that spirited bitch, Molly? Also, when Noah succeeds in taking her out, will he try to bring her back to the volcano lair for them to do the bitch-with-two-backs? Or do you think he has his own Secret Evil Apartment apart from dad? Finally, I hope we get to meet Noah's mom. I bet she is a goddamn HOOT.

Gaddafi's speech writer is a real possibility, but I have to be honest that somehow that scene reminds me more of Baghdad Bob. Then again, maybe both of them took lessons from the authors? Shit, that is an intriguing theory. As for Noah's lodgings... well, does he seem like he even rates an evil apartment? At best, I think we're looking at a slightly naughty duplex. Thanks for playing everyone and keep at it- the awards will just keep coming!

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.). Booga-booga!

Dramatis Personae: In order of my interst in their stories.

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.


Chapter 4: In which Noah calls some people and plays the firebug.

Recommended Mood Music:

Page 30, Line 1-3:
Noah stopped in the middle of the main hallway and stood there for a while, his head full of unfinished thoughts and that troubling fogginess you feel only when you've forgotten where you're going, and why.

I'd just like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that a few episodes ago (Page 19, Line 16-18) we were told that, "Noah is a brilliant boy." And now this chapter leads with Noah basically coming across like a possible case of early-onset alzheimer's. This could be a characterization fail but, in my preferred interpretation, it's just another piece of evidence indicating that Noah himself is delusional. In any case, Noah "Brilliant Boy" Gardner was excused from the meeting early so that he could make some calls for his father, and then head out for a hard weekend of... whatever it is Noah does, I guess. Womanize at the medium-high level, I suppose. We are apparently not supposed to wonder what it says about Arthur's opinion of Noah's competence and/or trustworthiness that he (Noah) was sent away before Arthur elaborated on his evil plan. Nevertheless, I find myself suspecting that the only reason Noah is a VP is because his daddy sits in the big seat. Don't worry, though- despite the lack of reflection, the absurd melodrama isn't entirely lacking from this scene.

Page 30, Line 10-11
This task he'd been given had started out strange, and then one by one the calls had only gotten stranger.

You know what? I once had a girlfriend who was an operator for the Victoria's Secret catalog and she described that job the exact same way. Apparently you'd be surprised at the number of perverts who just want to hear a woman say the word "panties" over the phone and a mail order catalog is way more cost effective than a 900 number.

Page 30, Line 12-17:
There were no names, only numbers. Each of the calls was answered before the second ring, not by a service but by a personal assistant. Every one of those phones was professionally attended after business hours on a Friday night, and probably twenty-four hours a day by the sound of it. That seemed oddly extravagant, but maybe it wasn't so unusual considering the circles in which his father was known to travel.

Wow. We're apparently supposed to be deeply impressed that Arthur's conspirators can afford the same kind of service as the average medical practice. Awesome.

Page 30-31, Line 30: 18, 31: 1-2:
There'd been audible indications of a scrambler during at least four of the brief conversations, and some sort of voice-alteration gizmo on one of them.

And all I can think of here is that unless Noah just happened to have a cellphone with a compatible scrambler, and the scramble codes pre-loaded, that would have been a pretty short and uninformative conversation. "Um, hello, this is Noah Gardner calling for mysterious conspirator number seven?" "Xhjghtyli! Fhajgight!" But, hell, whatever. Noah decides that one of the people he called is next in line to be the Secretary of the Treasury, and then we get the money shot for this chapter, which occurs in his father's private kitchen. Don't over-analyze the way I phrased that, by the way: it doesn't lead anywhere you want to go.

Page 31, Line 21-23:
Noah flipped on the blower over the range, lit the cooktop in back, and followed the final instruction on his list of things to do.

Destroy this paper; be certain to watch it burn.

Funny. I feel the same way about this book. Regardless, however, that was, if you can believe it, the end of the chapter. And if you're counting at home, yes, that means this chapter is from page 30 to page 31. And they're not even full pages either. But, hey, that paves the way for...

Chapter 5: In which Noah wanders aimlessly, eventually ending up in the PR firm's very own funhouse.

Recommended Mood Music:

Page 32, Line 1:
His errand complete, Noah resumed his drift through the halls.

Again- he's a brilliant boy. Right. Sure.

Page 32, Line 1-4:
It was hard to say how much time had passed since he'd been ordered out of the meeting. No clocks were allowed on the walls or the wrists at Doyle & Merchant.

Wait, what? Seriously? A high powered PR firm that literally cannot tell the fucking time? Are we really supposed to believe this shit? It boggles the mind. Surely there must be a good reason for this touch of madness?

Page 32, Line 5-8:
It was one of the many quirks meant to remind everyone that this wasn't just another workplace. Over the decades the office had morphed into a science-fair diorama of the inside of the old man's brain, furnished with everything he liked and nothing that he didn't.

A diorama of the inside of the old man's brain? So... gray and squishy, then? More seriously: so the reason is just because the boss says so? Isn't this kinda a stupid rule, though? I mean, how do they get to meetings on time? Do announcements say things like, "Staff meeting scheduled for when the sun is seven degrees past its zenith"? Very back to nature. The narrative goes on to explain that the rule was instituted in 1978 when someone checked their watch during Arthur Gardner's heartwarming remarks at the company Christmas party. I'm not sure what sort of heartwarming remarks Gardner would offer but, based on chapter 3, I'm guessing something along the lines of, "Some of you will still be alive for the beginning of the new year. This is fortunate as I require laborers in my enterprise." So, basically, he instituted a crazy no timepiece rule because one person one year seemed to be perhaps a bit impatient. Also, as long as we're on the subject: the dude has been running the company since 1978 and he still isn't a named partner? WTF? Anyway, Noah keeps wandering about aimlessly, showing the kind of drive we expect in a hero, and finally stumbles across this chapter's point.

Page 33, Line 6-11:
This particular corridor was the company's walk-through resume, a gallery of framed and mounted achievements, past to present. Press clippings, puff pieces, planted news items and advertorials, slick, crafted cover stories dating back to the 1950s, digitized video highlights running silently in their flat-screen displays. It was a hall of fame unparalleled in the industry and the envy of all competitors.

Great, he's wandered into the advertising wing of Epcot, but without all the animatronic dummies and whatnot. And frankly, that last sentence makes me wonder yet again whether we're supposed to view Noah as an unreliable narrator. His behavior with Molly makes him seem delusional at best, but this? I mean, how many companies have these sorts of shrines? I somehow do not think that envy is the right emotion to describe this shit. Anyway, we're lucky enough to get a recitation of the contents of this shrine, most of which I will spare you from, but not quite all.

Page 33, Line 21-26:
On a dare, Noah's father had once boasted that he could transform some of the century's most brutal killers into fashion statements among the peace-loving American counter-culture. And he'd done it; here were pictures of clueless college students, rock stars, and Hollywood icons proudly wearing T-shirts featuring the romanticized images of Chairman Mao and Che Guevara.

That's some fine writing there, in that it manages to get in digs against the educated, peace proponents, and celebrities in one shot. I would probably suggest that most of our heroes are, in one way or another, romanticized and imperfect, but that doesn't mean that everything they did was bad.* Next, you have to love the way this passage implies that anyone who, say, thinks that Guevara had admirable qualities is just a victim of advertising, as opposed to the holder of a serious political opinion. Because, really, in this book nobody holds a genuine political view except those who agree with the authors. Anyway, the authors decide to move us away from politics and into medicine.

Page 33, Line 30-32:
If you hear about restless-leg syndrome often enough, one day soon you might start to believe that you've got it. Cha-ching; another job well done.

Now, I'm not a doctor or a biomedical scientist, so I'm not really in a position to adjudicate the literature on restless-leg syndrome. That said, neither are the authors, and this bit comes dangerously close to constituting medical advice. We're then treated to an extended discussion of what a scam lotteries are, terminating in this.

Page 34, Line 11-14:
A fifth-grade math student could seemingly blow the lid off the whole scam; to reach even a fifty-fifty chance of winning you'd have to buy a hundred million Powerball tickets. Everybody knows that, but still they dream on. [emphasis original]

Okay, first, based on my experience with people who don't work with probabilities and statistics on a regular basis, I seriously doubt that "everybody knows that". This is to say that everyone knows the odds are poor, but relatively few people seem to grasp exactly how poor.** Second, though, I often think that when someone buys a lottery ticket they aren't purchasing a chance to win. Instead, I sometimes think that what they're really buying is hope- hope that they'll have enough money to pay for their kid's braces, or their husband's cancer treatment, or even just for a vacation once in a while. And, frankly, for a lot of people, that kind of hope is precious enough to be worth a couple bucks every few weeks. Basically, I think people buy lottery tickets for the same reason they drop a couple bucks in the collection plate on Sunday, though I somehow doubt that the authors will be quite so quick to label that a scam, too. Anyway, from here we move on to Noah musing about how it's difficult, if not impossible, to do the right thing in a complex world.

Page 34-35, Line 34: 24-32, 35: 1-4:
Case in point: Noah had a friend in college, not a close friend, but a self-decribed bleeding-heart lefty tree-hugging do-gooder friend who'd gone to work for an African aid organization after graduation. She'd kept in touch only casually, but her last sad letter had been one for the scrapbook. It turned out that after all the fund-raising and banquets and concerts and phone banks, all the food and clothing and medical supplies they'd shipped over had been instantly hijacked and sold on the black market, either by the corrupt provisional government, the corrupt rebel militias, or both. Most of the proceeds bought a Viking V58 cruiser for the yacht-deprived son of a parliament member. The rest of the money went for weapons and ammunition. That arsenal, in turn, fueled a series of sectarian genocidal massacres targeting the very starving men, women, and children whom the aid was meant for.

Okay, so, the first moral here is that we shouldn't try to help anyone in need because it will always just turn out badly. So, hey, fuck charity. The second moral is that, apparently, Noah has a really, really appalling scrapbook. I mean, seriously, does he collect all of the depressing news from his friends? "Woah, this letter says that Bob caught his wife cheating on him with his dad and his boss at the same time! This is totally going in the scrapbook, right next to that article about the genocide in Rwanda!" Fortunately, at this point, Noah's thoughts turn once more to Molly.

Page 35, Line 14-22:
And what had that woman said today? All you PR people do is lie for a living.

That's right, sweetheart. Well, Miss Holier-that-thou, to paraphrase the artful response of a prominent client of the firm, I guess that all depends on what the definition of lie is, now doesn't it? And while you're looking that up in the dictionary under L, run your uppity little finger down the column to the last word of your indictment: living. We all have to make one, and unless I'm mistaken, you and I both get paid with the same dirty money. The difference is, one of us isn't kidding himself.

Yeah, I've met this kind of guy before. The kind who gets rejected by a woman and then has to convince himself, and everyone around, that she's really a dumb slut and he's too good for her. It's an ugly reaction and seeing it here in print doesn't make it any prettier. On a more positive side, however, that whole "other words that start with L" bit reminds me of one of my favorite songs from musical theatre ever. Really! Anyway, Noah's thoughts wander through the various presidents that have been aided by Doyle & Merchant, and then we finally see the promise of some sort of plot advancement.

Page 36, Line 15-20:
A dull headache had begun to pound at his temple, and Noah abruptly remembered where he'd been meaning to go: the bulletin board in the break room. He had to grab the address of that meeting of flag-waving wackos, and then finish his conversation with an attractive but naive young woman who might need to be straightened out on a thing or two.

And if that isn't an inauspicious end to a chapter, I don't know what is. Honestly, it sounds like the beginnings of a night that will end in sexual assault. But I'm sure that won't be the case because, after all, the authors wouldn't want this book to be too racy, as that might upset their base.

Regardless, that's the end of today's episode. Come back next week when we tackle chapter six, in which Noah begins a harrowing journey. Well, not so much "harrowing" as "boring" but, you know, one of those adjectives that end in "ing".

* Actually, for the record, I think Mao was pretty f-ing bad for China, but that's just me.

** I concede, however, that I've always been fond of the saying that a lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math.


Wednesday, March 09, 2011

"Just point on the doll where the sheep touched you..."

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Friday, March 04, 2011

The Overton Window: Intermission

Due to the recent birth of my daughter, there will not be an actual episode of The Overton Window today. Regular episodes will resume next week* but, in the meantime, just to keep you company, please enjoy this Overton Window themed multimedia presentation:

See you next week!

* Yeah, I can hear the laughter at that one. I'm serious, though- just watch!


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Two are now three

So, just FYI, blogging will be disrupted for a little bit. This is for obvious reasons:

My daughter, Jezebel Lilith the Uninteresting, was born last night at 8 pounds, 1 ounce and 21 inches long. She's healthy and doing great. My wife is tired, but the labor went well and she's doing beautifully. We should be home from the hospital (which helpfully supplies wifi) in a day or two.

It's hard to express how I feel right now, but it's pretty amazing. JezLil is as lovely as her mother, so if she's even half as smart, I'm going to be utterly outclassed.

Also, for the non-parents out there: if following the delivery someone asks you if you'd like to see the placenta, the correct answer is "no".

See y'all soon.

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