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, April 29, 2011

The Overton Window: Chapter 12

Welcome back one and all to our ongoing series on The Overton Window, the book that makes the dictionary seem like a well-plotted drama. Last time Danny Bailey rambled on at length about a variety of conspiracy theories. Or I think so at any rate- the various paragraphs had so little logical connection that I have to assume that's what he was on about. What happens this week? Noah is called up on stage, treats us to yet another boring speech, and then gets beat up. So at least we have that to look forward to.

As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week that "honor" goes to Aussiesmurf for a useful observation:

"Have you registered a firearm? You're on a list!"

Well, one would hope so, because that sort-of maybe is the point of something called registration.

And this whole book falls into the 'Left Behind' syndrome, where "the prophecy which I have made in real life is coming true in a work of fiction which I've written. Therefore, clearly, real life people should accept that my prophecy will definitely be coming true."

In other news, black is white and purple seals dance the foxtrot.

Yeah, as it turns out? A list is, in fact, a list. I guess some people might refer to that point as a tautology, but I prefer to think of it as having no loose ends. Well done and keep at it, folks! The crap, it just keeps right on 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.). Fly like the wind!

Dramatis Personae: In an order chosen by tarot cards.

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. Went to NYU. Not good at talking to women. Is "witty". Frequently forgets where he's going and why. Not really inclined to help out cab drivers. Low tolerance for alcohol.

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.

Hollis: Friend of Molly Ross. Very polite. From the country. May be a Yeti.

Danny Bailey: Some kind of YouTube celebrity. Former lover of Molly Ross. Kind of a dickhead. Loves conspiracy theories and incoherent speeches.


Chapter 12: In which Noah tells it like it "is" and then gets his ass kicked, albeit not by who you would expect.

Recommended Mood Music:

Page 78, Line 1-3:
For an eternal few seconds, Noah held out hope that Danny Bailey would blow right past the interruption, but it just wasn't that kind of a night.

So, for the record, he's a Vice-President at a major New York PR firm, but he's afraid of a public confrontation with a conspiracy theory spewing, YouTube star wannabe. When it comes to underwhelming, Noah Gardner is an over achiever.

Page 78, Line 5-7:
"Well, well, well." Bailey moved to the edge of the platform so they were facing each other. "Looks like we've got a junior ambassador from the Ivy League among us."

Sigh. You know, it would really be nice to be able to get through one of these awful books without authorial scorn for education and learning. I mean, seriously, is studying hard to learn about the world really viewed as cause for derision? Of course it is, I know that, but it still depresses me that people who think that education is for chumps are taken seriously in polite society. Moving on, Bailey invites Noah to come up on stage and share some of his "wisdom". One can only hope it won't be the variety that he gets from Maxim (Page 8, Line 13-14) but, hey, you never know.

Page 78, Line 12-14:
"I [Bailey] doubt you can tell us much about the Constitution or the Founding Fathers, but maybe you can enlighten us with a little racist, communist wisdom from a real hero... like Che Guevara."

I feel like it's worth noting that Martin Luther King Jr., who was praised as recently as Chapter 10, was kind of a socialist. I mean, not if you ask Beck, but if you ask Beck southern blacks marching for voting rights despite water cannons, attacks from dogs and death threats is basically the same as a bunch of people bitching about taxes while Fox News worships the ground their crazy feet walk on. In any case, Noah tries to get out of it but Bailey won't let him and Noah ends up taking the stage for an extemporaneous address. So will he use his expensive education to explain why most of what's been said for the past few hours is crazy, semi-incoherent nonsense?

Page 79, Line 7-10:
"I want to start off by saying," Noah began, adjusting his voice to make the most of the sound system, "that because of my job I'm in a unique position to know for certain that most of what's been said here tonight is absolutely true."

Okay, apparently not. No, instead, he's decided to confirm pretty much the entire basket of crazy. I cherish the notion that this is because he thinks it's the best way to placate an angry crowd, which makes sense since Noah is basically a feckless coward, but given that this book takes place in bizarro world, I think we're meant to assume he's actually telling the truth.

Page 79, Line 13-17:
"Let me see if I can confirm some of the speculation from earlier speakers... The Federal Reserve isn't federal at all: you're right, it's basically a privately owned bank, a cartel that loans you your own money at interest, and its creation was the beginning of the end of the free-market system."

So, there we have a nice pastiche of opinion and interpretation masquerading as fact. I'll readily admit that my knowledge of the Federal Reserve is insufficient to go off on this. What I will say is that any comment along the lines of "X was the beginning of the end of Y" is almost certain to be hyperbole. And, for fuck's sake, how is the creation of a consortium of private banks the end of a free-market system? Wouldn't the creation of a true Federal bank, operated by the government only, fit that description better? So, are they pissed that it is private or that it isn't? What's next, the suggestion that "We had to destroy the free market in order to save it"? But, alas, it gets worse.

Page 79, Line 23-30:
"The Committe of Three Hundred exists. And the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Bilderburg Group, the Trilateral Commission, the Club of Rome- they all exist. And they are globalists; they're wealthy and powerful beyond anything you can imagine. There are predators among them, absolutely ruthless people, but all of them together really do run things in this world, just like you say they do. There's nothing secret about those societies, though. No hidden conspiracies: they do what they do right out in the open."

Well, on the bright side at least he didn't pull a Mel Gibson and start ranting about the Jews. Likewise, I haven't had to hear about the Knights Templar yet, which makes this book an improvement over Dan Brown at least. That said, he isn't even trying to correct misconceptions about any of the above groups, he's just saying, "Yep, they really do run the world, bow to your plutocratic masters, worm!" And this is all pretty interesting because, despite Beck's claim that the Danny Bailey character was meant to show how conspiracy theorists would never be taken seriously, here we are with the crazy conspiracy theorist being confirmed by an "authority". Moreover, events throughout the remainder of the book are going to continue verifying the conspiracy theorist, so how exactly is Bailey showing anything other than conspiracy theorists being correct?

Page 80, Line 8-13:
"There really is a New World Order on the way, but it isn't new. It's been coming for a long, long time. You let yourselves get distracted with a thousand conspiracy theories, but there's only one truth at the heart of them all. George Carlin said it better than I can: Up at the very top, it's a big club, and you're not in it. They've got all the power, and you've got none of it."

So, if George Carlin correctly identified the way the world works, and that way is basically an oligarchy, then how is the New World Order oligarchy... new? On another note, it's a bit murky what the point of all this is. The best I can figure is that, like Left Behind, the authors of this book have confused claims made in their fictional universe for evidence in ours. Or, put differently, Noah's fictional opinions are supposed to validate their readers' beliefs about the real world. Tiresome as hell, but probably true. Anyway, one of the audience shouts belligerently that they aren't really powerless because they can vote, and Noah promises to explain how small things like voting can be dealt with.

Page 80, Line 18-31:
Noah pointed out a particularly hefty man near the bar.

"Can everybody read what it says on this guy's T-shirt? You know, a shirt that was probably sewn in Bangladesh by a ten-year-old girl who worked sixteen hours that day? Turn around so we can see it, big guy; be proud of it. It says, 'Born in the Jew S A.'"

"If he's not already an infiltrator or agent provocateur, then your enemies should hire him immediately. That guy is exactly why I'm not worried about telling you things that should be secrets: With him standing next to you, who'd ever believe a word you say? At every rally you hold, if you're lucky enough to get the press to cover you at all, he's the one guy who'll get his picture on the front page. If you want to know why you can't get any traction with the other ninety-seven percent of America, it's because you let yourselves be lumped in with people like that."

Yeah. Because anti-semitism has never been a problem in the U.S. Still, I regard it as a positive that the authors are essentially telling the readers not to blame the Jews. I try to be grateful for small favors, you know? At the same time, this passage is interesting because it could also be taken as a sort of subtle suggestion that any signs of intolerance or prejudice at TEA party rallies are because agents of the enemy are trying to make them look bad. I can't prove that such isn't the case, but I have a really hard time believing a whopper like that. And what are we supposed to make of that aside about the shirt being sewn by a ten-year-old girl in Bangladesh who worked sixteen hours a day? I mean, the main reasons we don't have child labor and routine sixteen hour workdays here in the U.S. are labor unions and the labor laws they fought and bled for. So does this mean that the authors are actually pro-union? Somehow, I doubt it, which is what makes that reference so damned bizarre. Anyway, Noah goes on to point out that name calling is another excellent way to marginalize a group, implying along the way that the media routinely use this tactic to deliberately discredit certain groups, and then in an odd reversal begins talking about elections.

Page 81, Line 12-14:
"You say you want a revolution? That Constitution the lady was holding up a while ago? It gives you the power to revolt at every single election."

Hyperbole aside, this is an odd reversal from exactly one page ago (Lines 14-31 or so, most of which are quoted above) wherein Noah explained that voting is pointless. So, I guess what he's saying is that voting would be the way to go if voting actually worked but, as discussed earlier, it doesn't so you're fucked. That's... quite the pep talk there, Gardner. And on a related note- and I'm pretty sure most of the founding fathers would agree with me on this one- anyone who says that they "want" a revolution probably doesn't have a very realistic notion of what revolutions actually entail. Just sayin' is all. Anyway, Noah explains that even though Congressional approval ratings are quite low (1), most Congresspeople will still be reelected (2), and implies that this means the system is broken. Alternatively, it might mean that most people are happy with their own local representatives and just wish that the representatives people in other districts and other states elect weren't such assholes. Because, you know, my satisfaction with Congress as a whole is not the same as my satisfaction with my own Congressperson. But who needs nuance when you have a microphone?

Page 81, Line 25-26:
The crowd was listening intently; it seemed they weren't sure if this was just another part of the show.

Look, no offense, but by this point it's pretty obvious that this crowd listens to everything intently. And you only get that kind of indiscriminate attentiveness from people who are stoned, mostly because they find pretty much everything to be basically awesome. So, I guess what we're supposed to take from this is that TEA partiers are total potheads. Anyway, then Noah goes in for the big finish which, sadly, does not include jazz hands.

Page 81, Line 27-29:
"That's all I've got," Noah said. "I'll be outside waiting for a car if anyone wants to take a swing at me. To tell you the truth, I think a fistfight might just be the perfect way to end tonight's festivities."

Perhaps I'm selling Noah short, but given that the term "fight" implies that there are two combatants, I don't think Noah is liable to get in a fight. I think it more likely he'll get a swirly in that same bathroom where he changed into his current "top" but a fight is just not in the offing. Anyway, he gets down off stage and heads for the door.

Page 82, Line 1-3:
He heard Danny Bailey behind him back at the mike, picking up where he'd left off earlier and doing his best to get the crowd reengaged in his message, whatever the hell it was.

Ah, so, neither I, nor the main character have any idea what he authors are trying to convey with Bailey. That's... not good.

Page 82, Line 4-8:
Noah was nearly to the exit when he felt a hand touch his arm. He stopped and turned to see the woman who'd spoken earlier, Molly's mother, standing there.

"That was quite a speech you gave, and on such short notice," she said.

Okay, first off? No, that was not an impressive speech, even with short notice. That was a rambling, internally contradictory mess. And second, you know what? I think this book would actually be improved if the main character got in a threesome with his romantic lead and her mom. What are the odds we're heading in that direction? Noah apologizes for... something... and then the plot thickens.

Page 82, Line 11-14:
"You don't have to apologize to me." Her face was kind, her eyes intelligent and alight with that same inscrutable glint that had hooked him so hopelessly during his brief time in her daughter's company. "I think we might have more in common than you realize."

Mrs. Robinson Ross, are you trying to seduce me?

Page 82, Line 23-29:
Noah looked around for Molly but the audience was too thick to penetrate. Two men had stationed themselves in front of the door, in a stance that implied the way to the street was about to be closed.

"Have you seen your daughter?" [Noah asked]

"I did a few minutes ago."

"I think we need to get out of here," Noah said, taking the older woman by the arm. "Right now."

Noah starts making for a fire exit, so anyone who wants to entertain the notion that he's going to get back at Molly for ditching him by banging her mom in the alley is welcome to have at it. Personally, I'm more interested in the incredible poorly-described crowd. It's so thick as to be impenetrable, but yet is thin enough that not only could Molly's mom easily intercept Noah, but he can tell how many people are at the entrance to the bar as well as accurately judge their stances. Are the people in this crowd transparent or something? Is there some odd TARDIS-like dimensional warp in play? I mean, seriously, what the hell is even going on in this freaking bar?

Page 83, Line 7-14:
"If our government won't answer our appeals and do what's right, if they've forsaken their oath to defend the Constitution, then an appeal to arms and to the grace of God Almighty is all they've left us!" [Danny Bailey whined shrilly]

"I ask you: if not now, when? When will we ever be stronger? Next week? Next year? Will we be stronger when they've taken our guns away, or when a cop or a paid government thug is standing on every corner enforcing the curfew? No! I say, if war is inevitable then let it come on our terms!"

Melodramatic Glenn Beck clone is melodramatic. And, again, I'm always bothered when American political rhetoric essentially calls for violent revolution. The fact of the matter is, we haven't had a war on our own soil in so long, I rather doubt that most of us Americans have a clear idea just how terrible an outcome violent revolution is.

Page 83, Line 15-18:
The exit door was almost in reach but Noah stopped short; there was still no sign of Molly. He'd let go of her mother as the two of them had worked their way through the wall-to-wall people, and he'd lost track of her as well.

He lost track of... oh, for the love of Christ. Noah, you had one job, just one f-ing job! Get the mother out of a bar.* That was your only freaking job and you couldn't even do that right. Is this jackass good for anything? Alas, at this point something "exciting" happens.

Page 83, Line 28-30:
A slate-gray pistol appeared in a man's hand nearby- a man whom Molly had pointed out earlier as a newer member of her organization. The weapon was drawn down and level toward the stage.

I cannot tell you how excited I am by the idea that Bailey might get shot. Seriously, I've got goosebumps. On a different note, however: crap would that have been a boring conversation between Noah and Molly. What was she doing, pointing out everyone in the room and telling him their membership start dates? And you thought some of your first dates sucked. Anyway, the shooter fires, apparently fails to hit anything, and without even a tiny pause multiple squads of riot cops burst into the bar. If by this point you haven't put together the "subtle" clues to realize that the authors are going to make this a setup (3)** (4), you've got the IQ of a damn turnip. And I'm not talking about one of those super-intelligent turnips they've got down at Caltech. I mean a regular, garden variety turnip.

Page 84, Line 9-14:
And there was Molly, maybe twenty feet away, held by her hair and crumpling to her knees, her left arm twisted high behind her by a roughneck the size of a linebacker. Noah heard a stifled cry and a repeating electric sound. He turned to see the big man he'd met earlier, Hollis was his name, stricken and helpless in a seizure on the floor, the barbs of a stun gun buzzing in his chest.

Out of curiosity, does anyone know of any TEA party rally getting broken up this way? Or are we really just pretending to be an oppressed group here? Whatever, it's "faction" so it doesn't really have to make sense, I guess. In any case, Noah then notices a random dude nearby who is about to get smacked by a riot cop and... something happens.

Page 84, Line 25-29:
As the black truncheon swung down Noah reached up and caught the uniformed man by the wrist, stopping him cold with an unexpectedly steely grip toned over years with his personal trainer at the Madison Square Club.

As someone who has participated in, and enjoys, combative sports, I would be very impressed if an untrained person managed that feat under these circumstances. That goes double if they were, as Noah is according to the previous chapter, drunk. So, either Noah is a master of drunken boxing, or this is just bad writing.

Page 84, Line 29-30:
It's true what they say: you just never know when all those pullups are going to come in handy.

Oh, right, bad writing. Never mind then, problem solved.

Page 85, Line 1-4:
At first he [the cop] looked surprised, and then incredulous, and then- despite the impressive array of armaments swinging from his belt and the three additional troopers already rushing to his rescue- he looked afraid.

Of Noah? Seriously? This dude can't even manage to lead a cougar through a mostly friendly crowd, much less pose a threat to a riot cop.

Page 85, Line 5-7:
Noah felt the first savage blow to the back of his head, and maybe another. And then he felt nothing at all.

And if those sentences weren't a genuine pleasure to read, you don't appreciate the finer things. Well, that's the end of the chapter, but not the end of the book, so in all likelihood Noah will be back on his feet sometime soon. Goodie. So what happens next? Well, Molly returns to the story, and Noah realizes that drinking too much and then getting the shit kicked out of you by riot cops is not a good idea. But if you want the full details, you'll just have to come back next time.

As a final closing, however, I just want to point something out. The last three chapters, including this one, have been primarily composed of nothing but lectures. That is to say they have been pure, unadulterated exposition. That much exposition is not terribly interesting unless you are a very good writer, which the authors are not. The hell of it is, I've seen lectures in a book made interesting- try reading the chapters dealing with "History and Moral Philosophy" in Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers for example (you can see a pretty lengthy excerpt here). You might not agree with him, but you won't be bored. And the thing is, if you really need exposition, there are more interesting ways to deliver it. Isaac Asimov, for example, once remarked that one of the most effective ways to do exposition in a story is by having two characters argue. The conflict between people, and their attempts to sway each other, both convey information and make it intrinsically interesting to the reader. But, these authors couldn't be bothered to exercise their craft enough to actually make their story interesting, and so just spewed forth their message from whatever mouthpieces happened to be handy. So, in the end, we're forced to realize that while this might be a book, it definitely is not a story. But, that's a matter for later, as we're at the end of the chapter. See you next time!


* I guess two jobs if you count banging her in the alley.

** Yeah, I know that's a dead link. I also tried a search using the article title as given in the afterword, but that doesn't get me anywhere and I'm tired. Best of luck if you want to try on your own- the author is Valerie Bauman.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I did not make this up.

The Scene: Drek and his wife are listening to a newly-created lullaby station on Pandora Radio while playing with young JezLil.

Drek's Wife: Wait... do you recognize this?

Drek: Yeah, I do! Is this what I think it is?

Drek's Wife: Yeah! It's 'Do it like a lady'!

Drek: ...the one by Aerosmith?

Drek's Wife: Yeah.

Drek: The one that goes "Durr-dur-dur-duh-durr-durrrrrr"?

Drek's Wife: Yeah. Why?

Drek: Sweetie, it's called "Dude looks like a lady".

Drek's Wife: Are you sure?

Drek: Well, unless I'm mistaken, it was the theme song to Mrs. Doubtfire, which prominently featured cross-dressing.

Drek's Wife: So, yeah, you're sure.

Drek: Pretty much.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Happy Boobquake!

Please allow me to wish all of you out there a very, very happy second Boobquake. As I mentioned last week, my wife and I are celebrating this year with as much style as we can muster. And in my wife's case, that's quite a bit! Here's an artist's interpretation of her boobquake ensemble:

Truly, the greatest holiday of the year! In solidarity with other celebrants I am also spending the day in unusually tight-fitting and revealing garb. Somehow, though, I doubt people will be as excited about that.

Happy Boobquake, folks!

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Friday, April 22, 2011

The Overton Window: Chapter 11

Welcome back one and all to our ongoing series on The Overton Window, the book that makes Rush Limbaugh seem sane by comparison. Last time Molly's mom gave a long, incoherent and pointless speech that- strangely enough- perfectly encapsulates the rhetoric of the TEA party. What happens this week? Yeah... believe it or not? Another bad speech. Sorry?

As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week that "honor" goes to Sassafras for, frankly, a peculiarly apt term:

When did Noah get a beer? Last I checked, Captain Poongatherer had a lamesauce coffee.

"Restore. Not adapt, not transform... restore."

Oh, you mean restore the US back to the good ol' days when you could beat your slaves and fuck your wife like you paid for it? NICE. Thems were the days, folks!

And Toby Keith? Please. What, were all the Lee Greenwood cds sold out? Or not loaded into the mysterious jukebox? Or did the live act not know "I'm Proud to Be an American?" OR! Twist: The live act's band name is "Jukebox!" Everyone wins!

Well. Except women and brown people, assuming this glorious revolution is going to succeed (and could it not?! I mean, they've already met in a bar -- everything else will just fall into place).

I gotta be honest, "Captain Poongatherer" really seemed to fit. I admit, I did wonder if maybe "Captain" was implying too much competence and a lower rank like "Private" or even "Recruit" might be more accurate. But then I remembered that the enlisted man works for a living- something Noah clearly does not. And so, the brave Captain Poongatherer marches on to the sibilant tunes of Jukebox, watching the revolution that will never happen. Bravo! I also want to just give Mister Troll a nod for managing to wrap Molly up in a classic Heinlein short story. Well done, sir! Well done. Keep it up everyone, the "best" is yet to come.

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.). Kick it!

Dramatis Personae: In an order chosen by my infant daughter.

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. Went to NYU. Not good at talking to women. 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.

Hollis: Friend of Molly Ross. Very polite. From the country. May be a Yeti.

Danny Bailey: Some kind of YouTube celebrity. Former lover of Molly Ross. Kind of a dickhead.


Chapter 11: In which the Glenn Beck clone does what a Glenn Beck clone does.

Recommended Mood Music:

Page 71, Line 1-6:
Noah had lost count of the refills after his first pint, but by then he was averaging around thirty-two ounces of suds per special guest speaker. He'd briefly considered playing a drinking game with himself, wherein he would pound one back each time he heard one of the dirty words progressive, socialist or globalism, but by those rules he'd have drunk himself under the table within a few minutes. [emphasis original]

You know, beer is not really all that alcoholic. So, really, if he's drinking himself under the table with beer it suggests that either he has a tolerance for alcohol that rivals a seven year old girl* or he has the bladder of champions. I leave it for you to judge which is more likely, but enjoin you to consider Noah's general lack of positive qualities when doing so. Regardless of your conclusion, Noah thinks back over how he decided to keep hanging around the bar even though Molly walked off on him and about how each speaker has been dumber than the last. And then Hollis appears, striding through the crowd like Harry looking for one or more of the Hendersons. Noah invites Hollis to sit down, although with a bit of uncertainty.

Page 72, Line 6-8:
"Though I'll [Noah] tell you the truth, when you've got your choice of a few hundred people here who I guarantee are better company than me, I wonder why you'd decide to sit here.

Oh, Noah! He thinks it takes several hundred people in order to find someone more entertaining than him. I've read this entire godforesaken book and I can assure you that many cereal boxes are better company than Noah Gardner. And I'm not even talking name-brand cereal, either. Hollis takes a Coca-Cola** from the waitress (Yes, the freakishly attentive waitress is back!) and then tells it like it is.

Page 72, Line 12:
"I don't know," he [Hollis] said. "You looked kinda sad, I guess."

Still does unless I miss my guess. And he's gonna be even less happy in about one line.

Page 72, Line 13-16:
As if to drip gasoline on Noah's already smoldering mood, tonight's headliner, the illustrious Danny Bailey, now took to the stage in a swell of heavy-metal music and an ovation that rattled every shelf of glassware behind the bar.

Well, shit on me. Do I really have to listen to another half-assed speech, this time from that jackass? Hell, if I were there, I'd probably be drinking too. Of course, I'd be drinking whiskey or vodka or something, but I'm not a fancy lad like Noah. Anyway, Bailey asks the crowd how they can tell if a politician is lying, they answer that his lips are moving, and then we really get a feel for what the next few pages are going to be like.

Page 72, Line 26-32:
"That's right," Bailey said. "And watch what they name things, especially those bills they're all voting on without even reading them. If they call something the Patriot Act, you can bet it won't be long before they're using it to hunt down us patriots. If it's called Net Neutrality, it's going to be used to neutralize their enemies. If it's called the Fairness Doctrine, it's meant to unfairly put free speech under government control and create a chilling effect on your First Amendment rights." [emphasis original]

Yeah! And if it's named the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act it's about crashing planes full of orphans and baby pandas into veteran's hospitals! And if it's called A bill to redesignate the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge as the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, it's probably going to redesignate the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge as the Pol Pot and Hitler are Gay Lovers National Refuge for Transvestite Wildlife! Wait, what? And why do we suddenly care about the first amendment? Isn't it found on one of the sheets of the constitution that comes after the first four that Molly's mom wanted to make sweet, sweet love to just last chapter? Anyway, Bailey rambles on for a while and then asks if anyone is looking for a job. He asks because he believes that around 20% of the population is unemployed (1).

Page 73, Line 16-19:
He held the printout in his hands at an angle so he could read from it under the lights. "I found this last week on a government website. It's a really good job for what they call an Internment and Resettlement Specialist." (2)

Oh, man. Seriously? I should note that the authors in the afterword do observe both that Bailey is a nutjob and that he stitches innuendo and half-truths together into a seemingly damning fabric. Trouble is, I can't really tell the difference between what Beck does regularly on his show and this shit. Is this, in fact, yet another subtle condemnation of Beck himself? If so, they've done a truly monumental job since Beck himself in his interview about the book on Fox News states that Bailey was included "...specifically to show that those who live on the fringes or who embrace radical conspiracies will never be taken seriously and can never play a large role in any kind of movement." Well, we can all hope, but the evidence is against that notion. Parody or not, we're not done with him yet.

Page 73, Line 21-25:
"Now, calm down, give it a chance. Of all the world's prisoners, we've got twenty-five percent of them right here in this country (3). And hell, the U.S. has only five percent of the planet's population, so there must be a disproportionate number of undesirables in America, don't you think?"

I'd feel a little more comfortable cracking jokes about that passage if I weren't aware of the racial breakdown of our prisoner population. Even in fiction faction cluster-fuction, I feel a tad uncomfortable with the "undesirables" remark, under the circumstances.

Page 73, Line 28-33:
"Oh, wait," Bailey continued, hamming up an incredulous reaction to the new document on top. "What's this? I don't believe we're supposed to see this. This is Army regulation 210-35, dated almost five years ago. And will you look at that? The title is 'Civilian Inmate Labor Program.' (4) Maybe this is what they need all those new internment and resettlement specialists for."

Again... what? Does anyone have any idea what the hell we're even talking about right now? I sure don't but, don't worry, Bailey doesn't either. He goes on to mention a memo written in 1970*** that discusses rounding up African Americans- referred to at the time as "American Negroes" in scare quotes as though that would be all that surprising in 1970- and then mentions Rex-84 again. Just for shits and giggles, allow me to remind everyone that Rex-84 was concocted by conservative icon Oliver North. Bailey goes on to mention the FBI's ADEX list (5)- a set of people who were considered subversive and would be rounded up in case Rex-84 were ever activated- and then goes totally wacky by comparing this to the DHS' terrorist watch list.

Page 74, Line 28-31:
"Have you registered a firearm? You're on a list! Have you made a political contribution to a third-party candidate? You're on a list! Have you visited my website? You're on a list! Have ou given a speech about government lists to a rowdy group of patriots? You're on a list!" (6)****

Have you ever checked out a book from the library? You're on a list! Have you been naughty? You're on a list! Have you been nice? You're on a list! Have you ever entered the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes? You're on a list! What are we talking about right now? You're on a list! I have no idea, but shit am I excited about it! Kidding aside, however, this is as good a time as any to mention what I see as a core oddity of the modern conservative movement: its attitude towards government. See, on the one hand, conservatives often argue strenuously against the government running anything because government is, by definition, inefficient and incompetent. Yet, at the same time, we get paranoid ranting like this which basically takes the stance that the government has the institutional capacity not only to gather and organize all this information- all these damned lists- but to process said information and act on it in a timely and effective manner, presumably be detaining and/or assassinating people. So which is it, crazy assholes? Is the government ineffective by nature, or damned near omniscient? Because it can't be both! Anyway, Bailey then rants about how we can be tracked through our cell phones, and pulls out a copy of the memo that Noah claimed he spiked way back in Chapter 3 (Page 19, Line 7-14). Good to see Noah is awesome at his job, I guess.

Page 75, Line 21-29:
"...if you speak out against abortion," Bailey continued, reading from the memo, "are a returning veteran, are a defender of the Second Amendment, oppose illegal immigration, are a homeschooler, if you've got a bumper sticker on your car that says 'Chuck Baldwin for President' or, heaven help us, if you're found to be in possession of a copy of the U.S. Constitution, then you good American patriots, you moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas, you guardians of liberty are to be approached with extreme caution and guns are the ready, because you may be a terrorist!"

Oddly, the only thing that really comes to mind here is that this is like a Jeff Foxworthy routine from bizarro world. "If you zero in your .50 sniper rifle from your living room... you might be a redneck terrorist. If your hobby is packing metal pipes with explosives while listening to talk radio... you might be a redneck terrorist." In any case, there's a mention of the fact that Congress hasn't formally declared war in, you know, a while as a way of pointing out that Congress is pointless (7). Then we ramble on a bit, mentioning some of the rather esoteric provisions put in place just in case the country is obliterated by a massive thermonuclear bombardment (8) (9) (10) (11). We also get some weird remarks about the area of the U.S. near the coasts and borders being a "constitution free zone" (12) (13) (14) as well as some not unreasonable complaining about the notion of a "free speech zone" (15). Then Bailey goes in for the big finish, in the process setting Noah up for the one and only funny part of this whole wretched book. And when you read the next passage, yes, we skipped over page 76 completely. You know what? You're freaking welcome.

Page 77, Line 10-16:
"It looks bad, I know it does," Bailey began. "But do you know why we're going to beat them? We're going to beat them because once the truth gets out there'll be no stopping it. When enough people wake up they'll have no choice but to come out of the shadows and fight, and then we've got them. Remember what a great man once told us: First they ignore you- then they ridicule you- then they fight you-"

"And then they win," Noah said.

Okay, that was actually a little funny. What's even funnier, though, is that while that quote has usually been attributed to Gandhi there's no known citation. In other words, "everyone knows" he said it, but there doesn't appear to be any evidence that he did, or even a firm idea on when or where he allegedly said it. There is, however, a known citation to a very, very similar quote from a trade union. Specifically, "And, my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you. And that, is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America." And it frankly just amuses the crap out of me to think of Glenn Beck quoting the labor movement.

Page 77, Line 17-22:
It was one of those nightmare moments, like when you dream about showing up to ninth-grade homeroom without your pants. Just as he'd spoken those four words, out loud but only to himself, the entire room had gone dead quiet in anticipation of Bailey's big triumphant finish. And by some cruel trick of acoustics, Noah's sarcastic twist of that Gandhi quote seemed to have carried to every ear in the room.

Oh, noes! What will happen to Noah? Will they lynch him? Will they blame Hollis? Will they lynch Hollis? As if we could be so lucky. No, they do something to him, but sadly it involves a lot of talking. Regardless, though, it doesn't happen until the next chapter, which means we're done for now.

Come back next time when we get to the dumbest of the dumb speakers at this meeting- Noah Gardner- who is then promptly clubbed like a baby seal. It'll be fun.

See you then!

* No, I actually don't know what kind of tolerance a seven year old girl has. I'm assuming it isn't very great because they're not very big people yet but for all I know they have a freakishly high tolerance.

** Yes, the text really states it's a "Coca-Cola". I'm from the f-ing south and even we don't use the full trademarked name. Seriously, is this product placement?

*** The citation to said memo is for Alfonso Chardy's article "Reagan Advisors Ran Secret Government," in the Miami Herald on July 5, 1987. This doesn't appear to be available online so, good luck!

**** Yeah, this reference comes up as a dead link for me in two different browsers. I've checked the printed addy several tiems, that's what the book f-ing says, and a search on the website for the story title leads to the same dead page, so that's what you get.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Many of you may remember when I mentioned last year's Boobquake. If you don't immediately recall, this was an event founded by Jen McCreight of BlagHag as a means of responding to Hojjat ol-eslam Kazem Sediqi's theory that women who dress immodestly* are responsible for earthquakes:

Hojjat ol-eslam Kazem Sediqi, the acting Friday prayer leader in Tehran, said women should stick to strict codes of modesty to protect themselves.

"Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray and spread adultery in society which increases earthquakes," he explained.

McCreight's plan was simple:

On Monday, April 26th, I will wear the most cleavage-showing shirt I own. Yes, the one usually reserved for a night on the town. I encourage other female skeptics to join me and embrace the supposed supernatural power of their breasts. Or short shorts, if that's your preferred form of immodesty. With the power of our scandalous bodies combined, we should surely produce an earthquake. If not, I'm sure Sedighi can come up with a rational explanation for why the ground didn't rumble. And if we really get through to him, maybe it'll be one involving plate tectonics.

The call went out, smart women the world over participated, and, as you might have guessed, the evidence does not support the notion that cleavage=earthquakes.

Now, all that being said, last year I also suggested that Boobquake be more than just a one-time stunt, but rather become an annual celebration of critical thinking and the scientific method. And so allow me to encourage all of you to join me and my wife** in celebrating Boobquake this Tuesday the 26th of April. For women I think McCreight's suggestions are great, but for my fellow men allow me to encourage you to celebrate by not being the creepy asshole who breaks out the camera phone. Really, guys: decency and respect are the gifts that keep on giving.

Let's give rationalists and free-thinkers the most awesome holiday ever.

* I should note that the definition of "immodest" is subject to some debate. In Tehran, it's apparently along the lines of, "...showing hair under their headscarves or wearing tight-fitting clothes."

** Yes, she's planning to participate. Granted, I rather expect that JezLil will be the main beneficiary thereof, but that's not the point.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

You know, I would go to that.

Of course, I can't go to that because it's been cancelled:

To give you some background about what this event was all about, we have to go back to September of last year. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association held a concert on the Fort Bragg Main Parade Field that was billed as "Rock the Fort." The Graham event was specifically and unashamedly evangelical. It was actively promoted via letters sent to the community by the Senior Fort Bragg Chaplain and was billed as a "Family Fun Event," clearly having been marketed toward children and youth. This was a serious breach in the authority of the Chaplaincy, which is supposed to exist as a support function only. Chaplains are not supposed to be promoting, in any way, government-sponsored marketing of a one particular faith message. The Billy Graham people hailed it as an event to add new members to the local churches and it was fully and completely supported and endorsed by the United States Army. The result was a government sponsored church service that the Department of Defense paid for.

When the event organizer, Sgt. Justin Griffith, brought the fact that US Army support, endorsement and financial backing of the Billy Graham event was blatantly in violation of the First Amendment and that he was organizing Rock Beyond Belief, the military leaders said they would support similar events by non-Christian groups. In fact, this promise was put in writing by the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at Fort Bragg to the Freedom From Religion Foundation .

An incredible amount of work went into this event, including the scheduling of speakers that included Dan Barker, Ed Brayton, Richard Dawkins, Margaret Downey, Jen McCreight, Dale McGowan, Hemant Mehta, Al Stefanelli, Mikey Weinstein, Michael Werner and others, as well as musical performances by Baba Brinkman, Jeffrey Lewis, Spoonboy and others. To say the least, the resistance to this event was significant. In fact, it was just last week that the events founder and coordinator, Justin Griffith, made it past what was thought to have been the last obstacle to make this event a reality when the powers that be at Fort Bragg, NC, gave their approval for the date.


Everything was pretty much set and done for this event to proceed on April 2nd. Then came the salvos that have all but confirmed that atheists are not welcome in the US Armed Services. Period.

Salvo number one: The US Army changed the venue from the outdoor main parade field, which would easily accommodate the thousands of people who were expected, plus vendors and equipment, to one of two indoor theaters, and the largest one only being able to fit roughly 700 people.

Salvo number two: Sgt. Griffith was told to include a disclaimer that states explicitly that this event is not endorsed by US Army, specifically Fort Bragg. However, the Billy Graham event was endorsed by Fort Bragg, as evidenced by the letters sent out to area pastors by the Chaplaincy, on Army stationary, asking for help with the evangelical event.

Salvo number three: Fort Bragg decided renege on their promise to cover any of the costs for Rock Beyond Belief, in spite of the fact that it paid out over fifty thousand dollars for the evangelical “Rock the Fort”


Apparently the US Army is either not familiar with our Keynote Speaker, Dr. Richard Dawkins, and the fact that at almost every event he has appeared at has required people to be turned away for lack of room. Putting "Rock Beyond Belief "in room that is smaller than the auditorium at many high schools is not only an affront to Dr. Dawkins, but an indoor auditorium is a completely inadequate venue for an eight-hour event with vendors, food, equipment and other amenities. If they are familiar with the above, then it is a gross example of negligence on the part of those who had to research the event. The speakers, musicians and other participants ability to fill a venue that holds, in this case, a mere seven-thousand people is a no-brainer.

Just lovely.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

The Overton Window: Chapter 10

Welcome back one and all to our ongoing series on The Overton Window, the book that doesn't have to make sense because it doesn't have a point. Last time Noah changed into a new "top," met Molly's old flame, and once more reminded us that he has no idea what the hell is going on. What happens this week? A bad speech. Sorry to break it to you, but I'm a "tear the band-aid off quick" kinda guy.

As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week it was particularly difficult to choose just one. So, to resolve a tie, I asked my wife to cast the deciding vote. She proved to have as much difficulty with this as I did, and so I resorted to a coin as a tie-breaker. The "honor" goes to Ken Houghton for taking us in a new direction:

"He slipped out of his damp shirt and into the fresh top he'd borrowed."

I think the last time I heard about someone borrowing a Fresh Top, a riding crop and whipping cream were involved.

I had been trying to figure out if the authors were trying to use Cowgirl Hall of Fame as their model, but now I'm more inclined to believe its The Ninth Circle.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, but don't you just hate it when gay men try to write heterosexual seduction scenes?

Well, I don't know about that seeing as how I have no idea how many of the heterosexual love scenes I've read were penned by gay men. But, that said, it is rather enlightening to wonder if Noah really stepped out to the bathroom because he's fond of the tearoom trade. Alas, poor Molly- he only wants you for a beard. Well done Ken and, indeed, everyone, and keep at it! Your comments keep my sanity at least somewhat intact.

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 chosen by fate.

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. Went to NYU. Not good at talking to women. 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.

Hollis: Friend of Molly Ross. Very polite. From the country. May be a Yeti.

Danny Bailey: Some kind of YouTube celebrity. Former lover of Molly Ross. Kind of a dickhead.


Chapter 10: In which we suffer through the first of several thinly-veiled propaganda moments, meet Molly's mom, and wonder how it is that they decided to refer to this thing as a "thriller".

Recommended Mood Music:

Page 61, Line 1-3:
The jukebox abruptly faded downt to silence and a female speaker took the stage. She was maybe fifty-five years old, with a bright, easy confidence in her eyes.

For those who were paying attention last week, yes, this is the MNWLF. Also, for those paying attention, the last time we checked the music was being supplied by a live act rather than a jukebox (around Page 51). When did the switch occur? No idea. Well, continuity is over-rated anyway.

Page 61, Line 3-5:
The honest beauty she must have enjoyed in her younger days was still shining through, but mellowed and matured with the years.

Right, so, older women can't be hot. Glad we cleared that up. Anyway, she grabs the mic and starts to speak.

Page 61, Line 7-10:
"As I look out at you all, I remember what James Madison said of his country in those early days: 'The happy union of these states is a wonder; their constitution a miracle; their example the hope of liberty throughout the world.'" (1)

I really hate it when people start speeches this way. The founders said an awful lot of stuff, most of it not really applicable outside the specific context in which it was said. But, hey, who doesn't love a good turn of phrase, eh?

Page 61, Line 13-15:
"The U.S.A. was that exmaple for many years, my friends, and I promise you, we can be again. But today we're facing a threat to our future unlike anything seen since the days of the first revolution."

Since the days of the first revolution? Um... that sounds a tad ominous, don't you think? It's like referring to World War One in the December of 1918. In any case, she goes on to mention that the U.S. is diseased- but with what, pray tell?

Page 62, Line 4:
"That disease is corruption, plain and simple."

Um... okay? Can you lay that out a bit more fully for me?

Page 62, Line 10-13:
"Our founding documents established this new form of government to protect us from the sickness that has destroyed freedom since the dawn of civilization: the inevitable rise of tyranny from the greed and gluttony of a ruling class."

Ooooohhhhhhh! So we're Marxists then! Oh, wow, that explains a LOT, you know? Wait, no, sorry, that doesn't explain anything. What the f-ing crap is even going on? Who is this "ruling class" supposed to be? I mean, there are lots of potential powerful evil overlords, so which ones are we talking about here? She doesn't say, but apparently she does have their playbook. And after a brief digression about Thomas Sowell and his concern with how decisions are made (2), we get to hear about it!

Page 62, Line 21-30:
"You don't need to create a conspiracy theory to explain what's going on around us today. The ruling class had written and published their plans and their history, as plain as day."

She picked up and held out a massive hardbound book.

"This book is titled Tragedy and Hope. It's nearly fourteen hundred pages of the history and the relentless goals of the enemy. We know this book holds the truth because it's not a wild piece of fiction written by one of us; it's a calm and rational book of facts written by an insider and historian sympathetic to the goals of the power elite, and a mentor to presidents, by the way, named Carroll Quigley." (3) [emphasis original]

I'm not at all sure what to say here as the book "Tragedy and Hope" is, indeed, long as hell and I'm not going to read the entire thing just to be able to react to this chapter. What I will point out, however, is that Quigley was a bit of a conspiracy theorist and, as a result, may not be totally trustworthy. Not that such issues matter given the speaker's intriguing basis for trust in the book's conclusions. I mean, she literally says that we can trust this book because it was not written by the slack-jawed morons sharing the bar with her. That's a helluva statement about how the authors perceive their own side.

Page 62-63, Line 62: 32, 63: 1-3:
"If that's their history, then this is an early, published example of their plan of action. The Promise of American Life, by Herbert Croly, first printed in 1909, before the beginning of the great decline." (4)

The great what now? Huh? As for Herbert Croly... well, read about him yourself. He's a complex fellow who combines intense support for the military with intense support for labor unions; two things that typically don't mix in today's political climate.

Page 63, Line 9-14:
"Croly renounced his own life's work in the end, when he saw what he'd helped to set in motion. But his writings lived on, and they influenced every fundamental change brought on by what became known as 'the progressive movement' in the first half of the twentieth century, from the Federal Reserve Act and the income tax to the spiral into crushing debt and dependence that began with the New Deal."

In fairness, there were all kinds of issues during the great depression and that "spiral into crushing debt" was followed by the rise of American global hegemony, which was pretty good for us financially. Also, the first income taxes in the U.S. were applied by the Republicans during the Civil War (i.e. in 1861) and were only struck down later (i.e. in 1895, 34 years later) by the courts as unconstitutional. The income tax returned following ratification of the sixteenth amendment to the constitution in 1913. So it's an oversimplification to hang the income tax on Croly. Regardless, she goes on to argue that democracy is endangered when corruption screws up the loyalties of elected officials. Then things get weird.

Page 63, Line 26-31:
"It's the same today. People who, for their own gain, would replace equal justice with social justice, trade individual freedom for an all-powerful, all-knowing central government, forsake the glorious creative potential of the American individual, the beating heart of this nation, for a two-class society in which the elites rule and all below them are all the same: homogenized, subordinate, indebted, powerless."

Okay, hang on a second: does anyone know of any political group whose objectives match what she's talking about? Because I'm at a loss. Also, I'm compelled to ask again: what elites? Economic elites? Military elites? That word, it does not mean what you think it means, crazy lady. Anyway, Noah takes a gander at the crowd and notices that everyone is engaged, suggesting to me that this woman is part of some sort of drinking game. There are exceptions, however, who seem to be subtly out of place, more interested in each other than the stage, and all fiddling with video cameras. So, you know, more spies I guess. But the speech rolls on unimpeded.

Page 64, Line 13-15:
"There are thirty-five thousand registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C." the woman said, to a scattering of boos and hisses that arose from the onlookers. (5)

Honestly, I feel inclined to boo about that as well, which is probably as close as I come to agreeing with the book's political philosophy. Well, to the extent that it can be said to have one at any rate. She goes on to mention how much money said lobbyists have been spending, which is, as you can imagine, quite a large sum (6).

Page 64, Line 18-23:
"With that money they buy influence, not on behalf of you, but to put forward the agendas of their clients. Huge corporations, international banks, the power brokers on Wall Street, foreign governments, media giants, and the real, self-appointed ruling class- their lobbyists write the bills, your congressmen work as scripted front men for the tainted legislation, and then they vote as they're told by their handlers."

In some ways this is just basic elite theory. In other ways it reminds me an awful lot of a speech from a committed Marxist. In reality, it's neither. Instead, it's just the incoherent screed of someone with no discernible plan. She's pissed about all this, but doesn't really have a solution, or even a specific target or issue. Instead, she- and by extension, the authors- just hurl accusations left and right in the hopes of feeding on the resulting anger. That's a profitable way to run a media empire, but as a basis for a political party it leaves something to be desired.

Page 64, Line 24:
"Not all of them, mind you."

Yeah, that's true! I mean, not all congressmen are in the pockets of big banks or foreign governments. Some of them are in the pockets of preachers! Sorry for the snark, but what was I supposed to do? Anyway, she hauls out a copy of the U.S. Constitution and waves it to the crowd before continuing with the show.

Page 65, Line 3-9:
"This is the Constitution of the United States of America. It's just about fifteen pages when printed out like this, only four sheets of parchment when it was originally written out by hand. Here it is. That's all of it, the supreme law of the land, the entire framework of our system of government.

And do you know why it's so small? Because the government itself was meant to be small."

Now, there are a couple of interesting bits in the above regarding the Constitution. The first is that "four sheets of parchment" passage, which is true after a fashion. And by "after a fashion" I mean "if you don't count any of the amendments." This is a bit disquieting since amendments one through ten are otherwise known as the Bill of Rights and are, arguably, some of the most important parts of the Constitution. Likewise, I suspect that a few people in the audience are rather partial to the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, seventeenth, and nineteenth amendments as well. So, in short, the rather extreme brevity of the Constitution is only correct as depicted if we don't consider any of the additions to be valid, including the first ten which came from the founding fathers themselves. What this says about the authors' views on constitutionally guaranteed rights I don't want to contemplate. Second, and this is just interesting rather than anything against the authors, parchment is actually made from animal skin rather than wood pulp as most paper. Needless to say, this suggests none of the founding fathers were vegan. Third, I feel the need to point out that immediately after finishing this allegedly perfect framework for government the founding fathers turned right around and slapped ten amendments onto it. This would seem to suggest that even the people who wrote them in the first place didn't think those four sheets of parchment were sufficient basis upon which to found a government. And finally, that the constitution is small does not mean that the government was also intended to be small. What it means is that the basic rules for operating the government are not quite the same thing as the business of government, in much the same sense that Microsoft Windows isn't the same thing as all of your documents and programs. Besides, the Constitution is specifically written to be maleable- it can be amended so as to grow with the country. So, in other words, the founding fathers were wise enough to realize that what worked for the 18th century might not work forever. Now, if only someone would tell the authors. Anyway, she brings up one of Jefferson's classic lines about resistance to tyranny being obedience to God (7) and then we get back to it.

Page 66, Line 1-2:
She laid the document in her hand on a nearby table and picked up a dark blue volume the size of the Brooklyn white pages.

This, as it turns out, is supposedly the U.S. tax code (8) [As a side note: this last reference is to a USA Today blog and doesn't appear to actually point anywhere. The referenced blog post can be found here], and a sideways argument is made that if the constitution can get by with only fifteen pages, why is the tax code hundreds and hundreds of pages? Speaking for myself, I'm really pleased this sort of logic isn't broadly applied or else the criminal code could only be fifteen pages long, which would probably mean a lot more stuff would either be legal, or require hanging. She goes on to claim that the IRS doesn't need to give you due process- not really true- and invokes the old argument that "the power to tax is the power to destroy" (9). As it happens I agree with that statement, but feel the need to point out that the man who said it was John Marshall, fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the man who did more than any other to establish the principle of judicial review. And in my book, that makes him the ultimate activist judge. She also brings up IRS involvement in health care legislation (10) [I should note that the preceding reference also doesn't work and a search of the Washington Post doesn't turn up the article] and the Treasury department's involvement in prohibition (11) for weird, tangential reasons that don't make any damn sense.

Page 66, Line 17-19:
"But, you don't need a judge to tell you what is obvious to anyone who's ever tried to fill out a tax form. The tax code is not meant to be read and understood by the people."

Actually, the tax code really isn't that difficult unless you make a lot of money and/or own a lot of property, in which case it understandably gets a bit trickier. And who the hell are these "people"? Can we get some sort of more specific definition? Because, like it or not, the industrialists are citizens too. In any case, she mentions how much is owed in taxes by current members of the government (12) (13) and moves on.

Page 66, Line 28-30:
"Those of us gathered in this room tonight aren't simply fighting taxes, out-of-control spending, or unsustainable debt, we're fighting for something much bigger: equal justice."

Which is exactly the sort of phrase I'd expect to come out of a left-wing kook's mouth right before he suggests slashing military spending and investing heavily in education. Why do I not think that's what's going to happen here? She mentions that John Adams was a big fan of the rule of law (14), and then it's off in an odd direction.

Page 67, Line 5-8:
"Your income, your family name, and your connections matter more than ever. They can help you succeed or they can ensure you fail. How can that reality coexist in a society where all men are created equal?"

So we support a communist state, then? Or do you just want a 100% inheritance tax? Because it kinda sounds like one or the other. Joking aside, I suggest that you sit down and make sure to remove any beverages from your mouth before you keep reading.

Page 67, Line 9-12:
"The answer is that it can't. That is why we are here. And it's also why our message of equal justice is impossible for any honest person to refute. How do I know that? Because it was the message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr."

Okay, wow, just... damn. Yeah, Dr. King wanted equal justice, but in his case it had more to do with being able to vote and not getting beaten by cops for drinking from the wrong water fountain. The comparison to a bunch of people whining about taxes and lobbyists is more than slightly distasteful.

Page 67, Line 17-18:
"While others throughout our history have resorted to violence to achieve their agendas, it's important to remember that they all failed."

Well... unless you count the revolutionary and civil wars. Those settled some things rather decisively. Still, I'm glad for at least a nod to passive resistance.

Page 67, Line 28-32:
"Dr. King once said that 'no lie can live forever.' (15) He knew that once the American people understood the depth of the injustice being perpetrated on them, they would choose the right side. Today we face that very same challenge, and if we are patient, we can expect the very same result."

I am honestly a bit queasy at this comparison. Really. I don't have anything new to say here, just to again comment that the travails of the modern TEA Partier are nothing- absolutely nothing- in comparison to what generations of African Americans had to endure, much less what they went through in the end to regain their rights.

Page 68, Line 1-3:
"Americans are still a fair and just people. They know the difference between racism and race-baiting, between violence and accusations of violence, between hatred and patriotism."

I should note that I do actually think that at heart Americans are a decent lot who are strongly inclined towards justice. That said, I'm also familiar with the Milgram experiment as well as recent history. Americans may be fundamentally decent, but that doesn't mean that they aren't also racist, bigoted, hateful and cruel. That's the beautiful and terrible thing about humans- we're both beautiful and terrible and both tendencies stem from the same source. Leaving that alone for the moment, however, the speaker goes on to plead with her audience not to turn to violence.

Page 68, Line 9-12:
"To speak of violence in any form is to play right into the hands of those who oppose us. They've already invested countless hours into portraying us as violent, hateful racists, and they are just waiting for the chance to further the storyline."

Right, so, all the crazy hateful things the right says? Totally just trumped up media bullshit. I'm glad we straightened that out. At the same time, I'm pleased to see this explicit condemnation of violence, even if the rest of the book is going to implicitly argue to the contrary. Keep an eye out for it, it'll be fun!

Page 68, Line 13:
"Don't give it to them. Instead of Bill Ayers, give them Benjamin Franklin."

Bloody hell, is the right still on about Bill Ayers? Yes, the guy was a terrorist, yes, he should have paid for it and, yes, he didn't because our system requires law enforcement to play by the rules. That's what you get sometimes when you work hard to avoid government tyranny. At this point the speaker reminds her audience that everything they need for the coming battle is to be found within the constitution itself. And then she gets poetic or something.

Page 68, Line 20-23:
"All we must do is find the strength and the wisdom to awaken our friends and neighbors, take back our power under the law, and restore what's been forgotten. Restore. Not adapt, not transform... restore." [emphasis original]

Yeah, this is an example of what I think of as constitutional inerrancy. It's as though they think that the constitution as originally formulated is equally perfect for all circumstances and time periods. They also seem to believe that turning the clock back is both possible and, indeed, a practical solution in a very different world. Never mind that throughout this speech there's never an explanation of what exactly "restoration" would entail. Would we repeal all the amendments? That certainly seems to be what she implies by emphasizing the first four sheets of parchment but that seems a little rash given the location of the Bill of Rights. Honestly, it's a whole lot of empty- and even incoherent- rhetoric that sounds nice if you're in a certain frame of mind but ultimately presents as many ideas for policy as your average episode of Pokemon. And hell, let's face it: pokemon occasionally teaches a valuable lesson.*

Page 68, Line 24-26:
"Let me ask you all a question. Many of us in this room are painted as 'anti-government'- but who loves America more, those who want to restore it, or those who want to transform it?"

Ah, hell. I never was any good at multiple-choice. I'm also, again, really curious what she means by "restore". Does she want to, for example, restore the 3/5 compromise? Because that was a clause to be proud of, I tell you what. But, hell, who needs reasoned argumentation when you have a false dichotomy?

Page 68, Line 27-31:
The hushed silence that had overtaken the room for a while evaporated in an instant. Enthusiastic shouts and chants came from all corners. The misfits at the bar even put their cameras down and turned their backs as if by its nature this material would be of no use to them.

Right. Because the deep cover spies in the midst of this little shindig would have to do something like that as oppposed to, say, relying on the minimally competent video editing skills of their nefarious overlords. Jesus, is the evil conspiracy run out of a friggin Denny's or what?** Anyway, when the crowd settles down she reminds us all that if you want to transform something, that's just another way of saying you don't like it.***

Page 69, Line 3-4:
"-things that have real value aren't changed or transformed, they're preserved."

Sort of like when you have this beautiful old house that you just love, you maintain it just the way it is, despite all the lead paint that junior eats by the handful. Because when you change anything, that means you don't really love it. Life must be really different in a world where there are more than two options to any given problem. Anyway, the woman finally shuts up after a final "God Bless the U.S.A", sparing us from any more of the stupid.

Page 69, Line 9-12:
The woman left the stage on the other side as a Toby Keith song began to play over the sound system, and Molly looked over at Noah as she applauded the end of the speech. Then she leaned toward him, raising her voice over the bar noise.

First off, Toby Keith? Look, I actually like country from time to time, but if this scene were any more jingoistic she would have rode off the stage on a giant bald eagle while waving an American flag and shooting red white and blue fireworks out of her ass.**** Second, it really pisses me off when people over-specify things in their writing. I mean, the crazy lady had just finished her talk, she had left the stage, and Molly suddenly starts clapping: do we really need the authors to specify for us that she was clapping at the speech? What the f-ing crap else would she be clapping at?

Page 69, Line 13:
"So what do you think?" [Molly asked, eyes brimming with the madness that has no name]

For once, Noah and I are of like mind and he attempts to dodge the question. That's really the best thing to do, because how can you possibly say anything about a shitstorm like that? And if you're trying to get into the panties of the person who asked, a person who clearly liked it? Dude, pretend to see bigfoot and then hope she forgets about the entire thing. Sadly, however, Noah does not sight the elusive sasquatch***** and he ends up answering.

Page 69, Line 17:
"I guess it sounds like she believes what she's saying."

Oh, lovely. Please tell me we aren't going back to the craziness of Left Behind where one's level of conviction was directly interpretable as their probability of being correct. Regardless, after pressing him more Noah admits to Molly that he just usually thinks of politics as a waste of time. Then she really goes batshit crazy.

Page 69, Line 22-25:
"So if I'm hearing this correctly, you're willing to grant that the person who was up there speaking- my mother, by the way- probably believed what she was saying, and yet it's not worth a second of your time even to think about?" [Molly asked]

First off, yep, that's about the size of it. For what it's worth, the dude down the street who is absolutely convinced that Patrick Stewart is actually a starship captain doesn't get a second of my time either because- say it with me- personal conviction is not the same f-ing thing as actual evidence. Likewise, that you believe something to be true does not automatically mean that I'm obligated to listen to it. Second, dude, that crazy hag is Molly's mom? Noah, the apple probably didn't fall far from the tree: fake a seizure and get the hell out before she goes all revolutionary on your ass.

Page 69, Line 26:
"That was your mother?" Noah asked.

Ah, Noah. He's such a brilliant boy.

Page 70, Line 1-5:
"Okay, then, listen. I [Noah] see how people of a certain mind-set could start to hate the government-"

"We don't hate the government. We're against an out-of-control government that's lost sight of its principles and has been overrun by corruption."

Okay, Noah? Look, here's what you do. First, back away slowly if you can do so safely. Running may stimulate her instinct to chase and attack. Face her, stand upright and maintain eye contact. Stay calm. Talk to her in a calm yet firm voice. Do all you can to appear larger. Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you’re wearing one. If you have small children with you, protect them by picking them up so they won’t panic and run. If she behaves aggressively, throw stones, branches or whatever you can get your hands on without crouching down or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly. You want to convince her that you are not prey and that you may, in fact, be a danger to her. Fight back if she attacks. TEA partiers have been driven away by prey that fights back. People have fought back successfully with rocks, sticks, caps or jackets, garden tools and bare hands. Remain standing or try to get back up. Oh, wait... shit, that's what you do if you're attacked by a mountain lion. I have no idea what to do here, man. I think you're pretty much screwed. Nevertheless, and in a shocking turn of events, Noah improvises by asking a reasonable question.

Page 70, Line 9-11:
"Things are bad, and they're going to get a lot worse before this crash is over, but all this"-he gestured around at the bar full of people-"what do you all think you're accomplishing here?"

Indeed, that is the question, isn't it?

Page 70, Line 12:
"We're getting together and taking a stand." [Molly replied]

No, you're getting together and having a few beers. That's a totally different thing. Noah doesn't point this out but does basically tell her that trying to change the status quo is futile. She gets irritated and asks him why he came then.

Page 70, Line 17:
He sighed, and sat back. "I guess I just wanted to get to know you."

And he means that biblically, which is to say, he wants to bang her in the parking lot.

Page 70, Line 18-22:
"Well," she said. "This pointless meeting, that deluded woman onstage, and all these other misguided people? That's me. Now you know me."

With that she gathered her things and left him sitting there alone with his beer.

And yet, the book doesn't end here. Goddamnit. Nevertheless, it is the end of the chapter, which means that we're free for another week. So what have we learned this week? Well, we've learned that the authors have no plan and, really, a pretty sketchy knowledge of the constitution. What they have, instead, is a whole lot of empty rhetoric. We've also learned that while Noah is no catch- really, he has all the appeal of a hagfish but without the skill at getting close to someone's heart******- Molly isn't much to get excited about either. To be honest, she comes across as a hysterical bitch, and I can't tell if that's just Molly, the authors' perspective on women generally, or just the kind of behavior they think is appropriate. Either way, I'm really starting to think that Noah and Molly deserve each other. Which is good when you think about it, because this hackneyed thriller is obviously simultaneously a hackneyed romance and you can't combine two different hackneyed stories without achieving an absolute literary disaster. Ah, yes, the authors may believe this book belongs to the genre of faction, but personally I think it's better classed as cluster fuction. Come back next week when we get to hear another absurd speech, this time from Danny Bailey, and then Noah does something.

It'll be great.

* For example, don't let your kids watch shitty Japanese commercials masquerading as entertaining cartoons.

** Man, I could really go for some pancakes right now. Who wants to drive?

*** Optimus Prime might disagree with her on that point, but I digress.

**** As a side note: anyone who can get me a well-done artist's rendition of that by next week is pretty much guaranteed to get the comment of the week.

***** Come to think of it, where the hell is Hollis? Is he looking for berries or something?

****** Zing! As always Total Drek pushes the humor frontiers with jokes about marine invertebrates.*******

******* Yeah, I said it, they're members of Craniata but not Vertebrata. What are you gonna do about it, taxonomy nerds, huh? I'll tell you what: nothing! Because Myxini don't have proper f-ing vertebra and are therefore INvertebrates. Wicked burn!


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Convergent evolution

Okay, so, I'll readily admit that I find the new Apple iPad to be- in a word- neat. I'll also readily admit- and my wife will back me up on this one- that I have a weakness for gadgets that go "beep," so my yen for the iPad is hardly surprising.* All that said, I still feel the need to mention something. The other day I happened to learn** that ZAGG has a new case for the iPad. This case- made from aircraft-grade aluminum, contains a hinge for the iPad, high-density padding, and a keyboard. It looks like this:

If you're wondering where you've seen that before, I'll give you a hint- they're called laptops:

Screen? Check! Built-in keyboard? Check! Aluminum case? Check! Congratulations, Zagg! You've successfully reproduced an existing product, only with fewer capabilities!*** And you know what else? I think Zagg knows exactly what they've done:

Or, to quote:

Large, flat base allows for use on a soft or uneven surface such as a lap or on a bed [emphasis added]

I trust my technolust, but every now and then I have to wonder about our collective sanity.

* I should note that as much as I find them neat, I think that they only really make sense as a sort of low-power laptop replacement. They're too heavy, with inadequate battery life, to serve as an e-reader when devices like the Kindle and the Nook are available.

** Specifically, I received a marketing e-mail from ThinkGeek.

*** Also, arguably, for less money but you can get a 13-inch MacBook Pro with a 320 gig hard disk for $1199, whereas an iPad with 64 gigs of storage plus the Zagg case will run you about $800. So, really, if you need that kind of performance, the laptop is more cost-effective.

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