Friday, October 24, 2008

The Manual of Detection - Jedediah Berry

Star detective Travis T. Sivart is missing. More Phillip Marlowe than Sherlock Holmes, Sivart has been responsible for unraveling the strange crimes of arch-villain, and master of disguise, Enoch Hoffman, ever since Hoffman and his Travels-No-More Carnival occupied the outskirts of the city. Now, with Sivart having disappeared, the city is sliding into chaos; citizens are trapped in fugue states and engaging in strange behavior; signs that Hoffman is making a play for control of more than just the ragged big top under his purview abound. Enter Charles Unwin; a lowly clerk in the employ of The Agency, the solvers of mystery and protectors of the public good. Unwin is, if not happy, then at least content to be the chronicler of Sivart’s cases; collating facts and compiling the exploits of derring-do that Unwin admired but never wanted to experience. Improbably, Unwin is whisked into the world of sensible hats and shoulder holsters in Sivart’s stead, given nothing more than the seventeen slim chapters that serve as the book’s title to go about finding his famed predecessor.

But even that resource is thrown into question, as a strange dream encounter with Sivart reveals the existence of an eighteenth chapter excised for field operatives. Unwin sets out reluctantly to find Sivart in the hopes of everything going back to normal, armed only with a head for detail and a sleepy secretary in love with the life of a detective. Normal falls by the wayside early on, as Unwin proceeds to uncover the actual status quo in the city; a strange balance between falsely resolved mystery and hidden connections whose exposure throws the work of both The Agency and The Carnival into question.

Most appreciated about The Manual of Detection is that, though it is a strange world we’re dropped into, there is no overt attempt to beat us over the head with explanatory exposition. The city is totally noir, phonographs are still en vogue, a giant steam-powered truck serves as conveyance for dead-eyed henchmen, and the gin joint next to the cemetery is the place to ask your questions. The standard detective story archetypes are well-represented but smartly tweaked adding a layer of the fantastic that enhances the story without hijacking the tone.

Jedediah Berry’s first full-length novel is wonderful. With boundless imagination and razor keen characterization, he has delivered a smart, fun story that appeals to the mystery lover and the magical realist fan all at once. The Manual of Detection is strange without being silly; intricate without being minutia-laden; whimsical while still keeping the reader riding the secret subway and plumbing the depths of the hidden catacombs in an attempt to stay one step ahead of gunmen and deranged puppet masters.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

God, Please Help The GOP Win, Or People Will Think You're Soft On Heathens

Okay, this right here is a great example of intolerant thinking from the supposed turn-the-other-cheekers who believe in God's plan (until it looks like their guy isn't part of it this time around).

It's your standard 'Jesus, help my chosen candidate' speech until about 55 seconds in, and then it gets fun. Aside from name checking a previously unknown god named Hindu, Pastor Arnold Conrad presumes to tell God that if McCain doesn't win, He's going to look like a real wimp compared to all those unclean Muslims and Buddhists (and adherents of the god Hindu). I'm guessing that this guy's god, you know, God, might be a little miffed at being subject to 'prayer pressure'.

A Cheap Laugh?

"Let's see. J-O...uh, I mean G-E-O......Man, this is tough. My name's not 'Gorge', why would it start with a G? Hey, Laura? Where's my letterhead......need a bit of a 'cheat sheet', heh.*

* Yeah, I know this picture is from the bailout signing, and that happened a while back, but it could be from any time Dubya signed a bill. From what I hear, he gets flustered whenever he can't find his Crayola box. You know, the one with the built in sharpener. That thing is sweet.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Neil Riley Explains It All*

While reading a nursing book to my four year old son (don't ask), he came up with a description for a calf nursing that would have made a much more entertaining book.

"The calf is drinking in the gutter."

I explained that the word he was looking for was udder. I like his version better.

* Yeah, I'm posting cute things my kid says. Wanna fight?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

When I Get Bored At Work, The Interweb Wins

Your Superpower Should Be Manipulating Fire

You are intense, internally driven, and passionate.

Your emotions are unpredictable - and they often get the better of you.

Both radiant and terrifying, people are drawn to you.

At your most powerful, you feel like the world belongs to you.

Why you would be a good superhero: You are obsessive enough to give it your all

Your biggest problem as a superhero: Your moodiness would make it difficult to control your powers

Friday, October 3, 2008

My Left Wing Is Showing

I spend a lot of time here on this blog fucking around; mocking stupid people (conservative ideologues), referencing pop culture (mostly older pop culture because my development is at best 'arrested'), and posting pictures with (hopefully) funny captions. Right now, I'm going to switch gears and just argue for progress by asking and answering questions. As you can glean from my postings here, I'm 'PrObama', but I'm sure my view of progress is a bit left of his.

Q: Why is it anyone's business what a woman does in relation to her own body?

A: It's not. The only people who can't seem to get around this are moralists. The primary (and maybe only) objection raised against a woman choosing to have an abortion is a moral repugnance for the 'destruction of a sacred gift from God'. Here's the problem; not everyone believes in God (not everyone who does believe in God believes in the same God). Luckily, those slave-owning, laudanum-drinking, pistol-dueling, largely God-fearing founding fathers of ours here in America recognized that enforcement of religious principles was not a job for a federal government to undertake.

Taking the religious focus off of the issue, what's left? A distaste for weakness, poor choices, lack of self control? None of these reasons are good enough to prohibit a person from making a choice for herself. I don't think abortion is good, but I don't think it's murder either. To my mind, abortion is a medical procedure chosen to change the status of your health. It's not good or bad, it's augmenting your reproductive cycle. At the end of the day, abortion is tantamount to tubal ligation/vasectomy/sterilization/contraception.

All of these procedures are stopping reproduction (preventing a sacred gift from God), yet we largely accept them as okay. To the people who oppose abortion on moral grounds; do you oppose tubal ligation/vasectomy/sterilization/contraception as well? It's all or nothing. From what I know of the fundamentalist God, there's no wiggle room in His law. So, for the non-fundamentalist believers (who accept contraception); why outlaw abortion? Is it because of a moralist streak that says "You can't take an easy way out." or "You were irresponsible, deal with it."? Abortion isn't easy, fun, or entirely safe in even the most optimal conditions. Bad things can happen to your body as a result. It is not undertaken lightly.

Judging a woman for having an abortion (while perfectly within your rights as a thinking human being) is your business, not the business of a secular body we elect to keep the economy robust, the streets safe and the infrastructure from crumbling. Don't think that enforcing your morals on our mothers, sisters, and daughters is anything other than condescending and simplistic. Forcing a woman to have a child she does not want is just as bad as keeping a woman from having a child that she does.

Q: When should we attack other sovereign countries?

A: When they attack us. When they attack our allies and we are asked for help.

Not when a faction attacks us. Can you really hold the innocent citizens of a country responsible for the actions of a fringe within their borders?

Not when a cabal attacks us. Most organizations devoted to terrorism are pan-state, pan-global. What if Osama Bin Laden was a dissident Saudi living in Canada? Bomb the canucks? Nope. We'd work with the Prime Minister to root him out and prosecute him. Granted, a sympathetic government hampers our effort, but we have plenty of economic leverage to cut them off if they don't produce results. Instead, we continue to prop up 'smile to our face' regimes like Pakistan with tons of money and weapons.

Not when we want their natural resources. While oil may not have been the only incentive to topple Saddam Hussein, you can't deny that it was a factor in the decision. The mere appearance of impropriety hurts any action we take on the world stage. I guess it was just a 'happy coincidence' that Iraqi oil production is now being 'facilitated' by Exxon Mobil (among others).

Not when we disapprove of their governance. We don't like a leader, let's let the people of the country know that. It's that old 'hearts and minds' strategy. Turns out it works better if we don't drop bombs before we drop leaflets. If people find their situation untenable, they will let us know by overthrowing the leadership. It's called a popular revolt because it is popular, because it comes from the populace.

Not when there is a business stake involved. The old convention is that war boosts an economy. That may have been true in the 1940s, but things have changed. Upon entry into World War II, the U.S. experienced a boom in military industry to meet demand. The non-military sector provided jobs to women who took the place of enlisted men. That's awesome, but not a reason to wage war. We cannot use possible prosperity as a cover for killing people. Nowadays, the military-industrial complex is firmly entrenched and has been for decades. They make weapons whether we use them or not. A military excursion surely adds some jobs to the assembly line, but those are finite jobs with an expiration date (unless you want to be in Iraq for 100 years, Senator).

Not when they harbor people we don't like. Once again; this reasoning is faulty the second an 'ally' harbors someone we don't like. Do we bomb Saudi Arabia because 14 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were from there? No. Why? Because we want an alliance with Saudi Arabia, and more importantly, because we don't hold the people of Saudi Arabia responsible for the actions of 14 of their countrymen.

Not when we think they want to attack us or our allies. This one's tricky. Say you knew that Iran was sending a nuclear missile to wipe out Israel. You knew it. How do you know it? Because intelligence says so. Well, intelligence says a lot of things. It said there were WMDs in Iraq. It said that the people of Iraq would welcome us as liberators. It said that Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were ideological allies pre-U.S. invasion. How many of those assertions have proven to be true. None. Intelligence is spotty, subjective, and open to interpretation (and manipulation). Knowing something will happen means next to nothing in any way other than preparation for possibility. If there was more done to prepare for plane hijacking and suicide bombing (which we thought were possibilities) we would have been better off seven years ago. If we think we're in danger, we need to strengthen our defense and make ourselves a less attractive target. If someone writes me a death threat, do I hunt them down and kill them first? Am I justified? No.

Q: Who is harmed by gay marriage?

A: No one. Does the prospect of two men or two women getting married do anything to harm our economy, safety or standing in the world? No. I would like just one reason other than 'my god doesn't like it' to be proposed as an objection to same-sex marriage. I am talking about the civil partneship of marriage, not the church service. Just like the church shouldn't dictate law, the law shouldn't force churches to perform same-sex marriage services. No one is aking for that. What progressives want is the equal protection under the law that we afford to any minority group in this country.

If a church has objection to any marriage, they don't have to perform a service, and this would be no different. If your faith is strong, and you believe that God disapproves of the lives people live, let Him sort it out on Judgment Day. It is certainly the right of all thinking people to have an opinion, and to voice that opinion. Decry homosexuality, preach against it, try to convince gays and lesbians that they're on the wrong path all you like; that's free speech.

What is being demanded is that if you love someone and you care for their well-being, and you are their advocate and their partner in life, you should be recognized as such. There is no legal reason that a consenting adult should be told who gets to fill the role of spouse for him or her. There is no legal reason for a man to not be able to make healthcare decisions for his male partner. There is no legal reason for a woman to not be able to share her finances with her female partner. Government is here to legislate safety, not morality.

Marriage in a church and marriage in the eyes of the law are two different things. Just try getting married in a church without a marriage license from your state and see how well it's recognized. A church service and a binding legal union are not the same, and we need to stop acting like they are.

Q: What is the responsibility of the rich?

A: There are plenty who don't believe that the rich have any responsibility to society. I'm not one of them. Every member of this society is a piece of a whole. To that end, success is not attained in a vaccuum. Those who profit from a system of laws and incentives set out by the government (acting on the will, and in the interest of the people) have a reponsibility to ensure the health of that system. You've got your millions, now help out those who made them for you. Help out the working poor and middle class that buy your product/staff your industry/keep you safe/entertain you/pave your roads/build your toys. We are not invisible or inconsequential to the process of wealth attainment.

What do I mean? I mean that if you are so far above a median standard of quality of life, you have a reponsibility to improve the lot of those around you. This is a moral argument. I am not suggesting that this moral argument be the basis for law or taxation. It is an appeal to the humanity of captains of industry.

Though the moral argument should be compelling enough for anyone with a shred of honor and dignity, there are other arguments. The pragmatic argument is this; if you do not support those underneath you, you will collapse. If there isn't enough money on the bottom of your pyramid, no one can afford your service or buy your product. This leads to a decline in business and a loss of profit. It's a simple equation; supply minus demand (or ability to express demand) equals overstock. Overstock in this case is unused service and unpurchased product. What happens to overstock? It's value is decreased and it's price is marked down.

Still not ready to live without that extra private jet, moneybags? Let's inject government's role into this equation. While there is no moral obligation to legislating wealth distribution (because morality and the law should not be intertwined, as argued earlier), and it's not the government's job to make your industry profitable (because it is for the people and not the corporation), it is government's job to increase the quality of life for its citizens, and to guard their safety. How does government in a capatalist society achieve it's aims? Taxes. They're not popular with anyone, but show me a better way to raise money in a civil society. Want better roads, better schools, better crime prevention and response? Taxes pay for that. We can't leave it to private industry to raise that money. Private industry has no stake in helping anyone (unless they have a conscience, and group conscience is an impossibility among people trying to make money).

Taxes are the pulling of resource away from a sector of society to increase the well-being of society as a whole. We can not have the same tax scheme for everyone. Twenty percent of my income (about $23,000 a year for a family of four; surprise I'm the working poor) amounts to $4,600. You will not be feeding many people, fixing many roads, educating many kids on that. Twenty percent of a family of four who makes even $1 million is $200,000. Having $800,000 a year to spend on home, food, entertainment and luxury seems adequate from where I'm standing. Equal taxation is ignoring the reality of who props up the economy. I'm not saying we take money from rich people and put it in the bank accounts of poor and middle class people. I'm saying we take money from rich people and improve the function of the country for all of the people rich, poor, and otherwise. As far as business taxation, I find it hard to cry for an oil company making record profits and gouging people at the gas pumps with the highest prices in history. Is taxing the rich and multinational corporations more fair? Yes. It's not equal, but it is fair to make sure the money that is pumped into American businesses by Americans ends up helping Americans.

Q: Why can't we just kill all of our violent criminals?

A: Because they aren't all guilty. It's been argued that capital punishment is necessary for heinous crimes. We must send a message that this behavior will not be tolerated and we must punish those engaging in it with the ultimate judgment (which, for the true believers in God's plan, is an affront to his infinite judgment). Except, we can't ever be sure that a person is actually guilty. It's been shown too many times that 'evidence' is totally fallible. Confessions can be coerced, physical evidence can be mishandled or ignored, and eyewitnesses can be wrong. If we can't be 100% sure of guilt, how can we be willing to kill someone in the interests of 'justice'?

There are some moral arguments against the death penalty (and if you're concerned with the sanctity of life, you'd better be making them), and there are some pragmatic ones as well. Morally (which is not the standard for law), killing someone in retribution is largely viewed as wrong. When we talk about justice, what we really mean is vengeance. Someone has to pay for what has happened. Killing a convicted murderer does not enact justice. Justice evaporated when murder was comitted the first time (and that's something to take up with your deity or your neighborhood in any case). The death penalty has been shown to be inappropriately weighted by issues of the race and the economic status of the offender. If you apply a standard disproportionately, it is not a standard. Either all murderers deserve the death penalty, or none of them do. Mitigating factors in a case should determine the charge, not the penalty.

On the pragmatic side, we have the information that execution and the appeals process that (rightfully) precedes it is more costly to pursue than life imprisonment. We also have the information that it is possible for criminals to actually contribute to society after committing crimes (gasp!). A man imprisoned for bad choices is a much better teacher than a corpse rotting silently.

Q: Why is government so prone to corruption?

A: Money. It's evident that the money to be made by skirting existing law, enacting bad law, and assisting private enterprise has corrupted our system. There's a lot of change that needs to happen, but I'd suggest one thing first; reduce pay to the legislative and executive branches of government. These people who we elect are put into a tax bracket that divides them from the problems faced by their constituency. The disconnect between politicians and everyone else is caused by the fact that they (the politicians) are doing well by virtue of their title. They are paid substantially more than their employers (the rest of us), and they don't have to deal with the same problems we do. It seems to take the edge off of any crisis we the people face when they don't face it as well (aside from the threat of losing their job in four or six years). Maybe if being a representative, senator, or president was less financially rewarding, we would have people aspiring to the job for purer reasons. If it is less attractive, maybe we will see people who want to be there for the right reasons assume those roles more often.

In this vein of thinking, it is unconscionable and should shame every one of our elected leadership that they receive the best health care available while so many of the people in this country go without. They want for nothing, and increasingly cannot fathom what we want.

Q: Why shouldn't I be able to own a rocket launcher?

A: Because you don't need one. This goes for assault rifles and fully automatic handguns, too. When the United States Constitution included the provision for a citizen to keep and bear arms in a well-regulated militia, well-regulated militias were all that stood between us and re-colonization. People lived in remote areas, with no overseeing military or police force to aid them if King George came knocking. The spirit of the second amendment was one of asking every citizen to defend what was a burgeoning nation, and giving them the latitude to do that. We will not be invaded tomorrow, and if someone tries, I'm confident that our military and civil defense forces can handle the job.

The government does have a responsibility to limit your danger to public safety. The fact that guns in a private home are more often used to hurt those within the home than anyone from outside of it is very real. I guess if you want to endanger your family by keeping a revolver in your home for 'protection', it's up to you. However, if you plan on using an assault rifle to shoot that burglar, be aware that all those rounds you squeeze off go through walls, ceilings, and floors, too. Perhaps an alarm would do more to overtly ward off any possible threat (and no one dies!).

As far as the notion that having a gun in your home keeps the government in check, I would beg to differ. If the government decides that you, gun guy or girl, are a threat, they will not abduct you in the middle of the night. They will issue a warrant for your arrest, and then multiple gun-toting police officers or federal agents will have you either way, dead or alive. The real balance on a government's power is the participation in that government on the civil level. The only threat they respond to from you is the threat to remove them from office. You cannot win a gunfight with the U.S. Army or the ATF. Of course, the current administration wants you to have your guns. They want you to feel protected from imagined threats; whatever it takes to keep you from asking questions about policy and legislation.

I'm done showing my left wing for now. Feel free to applaud or vomit as the spirit moves you.