Empire of Lies

[Amazon Link]

I mentioned this on the default blogview a few days back: this is the first book I've read by Andrew Klavan. Without knowing too much, and having read some of his columns on the web, I was expecting a decent potboiler. But it was even better than I expected.

The book is narrated first-person by Jason Harrow, a seemingly ordinary guy, living in the Midwest with loving wife and a couple of kids. But right at the beginning, we learn he's getting death threats, and that the New York Times is in the habit of referring to him as "conservative Christian asshole Jason Harrow".

(OK, they don't quite say that. But, as Jason points out, for Times readers, the "asshole" is understood.)

What happened? Jason lets us know in the rest of the book. Travelling to New York on family business, he's summoned by ex-girlfriend Lauren to find out what happened to her teenage daughter, Serena. (And, as it turns out, maybe also Jason's daughter.) But it so happens that Serena is mixed up with some very bad dudes, and, once found, she spins Jason a lurid tale of a murderous conspiracy.

Lauren, Serena, and (generally) New York represent a part of Jason's life he'd rather forget: empty nihilism, kinky sex, familial dysfunction, and political leftism. And the conspiracy: is it real, or is it just a yarn spun out of proportion by Jason's (possible) inheritance of his mother's mental illness?

And what is the link to washed-up science fiction TV star Peter Piersall, who. Coincidentally I'm sure. Talks with the cadences. And self-important pomposity. Of the great. William. Shatner?

A very good, very easy read. Maybe a little overwritten for some tastes, but I found it part of the fun. Klavan is especially good at twisting the plot around Jason's character and biography. (Shameles extra commercialism: the Kindle version of this book is only $2.40, an insanely great bargain.)

Last Modified 2012-09-24 4:28 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2012-04-08 Update

[phony baloney]

Just a reminder that you shouldn't take these Google hit counts too seriously: Google thinks 97 million hits for Barack Obama vanished over the past week. Even with that, he still maintains a wide lead over his opponents; it's just that last week his advantage was (roughly) 120-to-1, now it's just 28-to-1.

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Barack Obama" phony 33,700,000 -97,300,000
"Mitt Romney" phony 1,210,000 +110,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 1,030,000 0

  • Mitt Romney thought it worthwhile to bring up the "phony" issue in a Washington speech before the Newspaper Association of America:
    "President Obama came here yesterday and railed against arguments no one is making and criticized policies no one is proposing. It's one of his favorite strategies, setting up straw men to distract from his record," Romney said. "And while I understand why the president doesn't want to run on his record, he can't run from his record either."

    "The idea of this kind of rhetorical excess I don't think serves us very well," he added.

    If you're interested, Wikipedia has a whole article on "the pot calling the kettle black".

  • Except sometimes the kettle really is black (which, as needs to be mentioned in these overly sensitive times, I say with no racial overtones whatsoever). In this case, Mitt's speech followed President Obama's Tuesday speech to the Associated Press, and many folks fastened on this paragraph:
    This congressional Republican budget is something different altogether. It is a Trojan Horse. Disguised as deficit reduction plans, it is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It is thinly veiled social Darwinism. It is antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everybody who's willing to work for it; a place where prosperity doesn't trickle down from the top, but grows outward from the heart of the middle class. And by gutting the very things we need to grow an economy that's built to last -- education and training, research and development, our infrastructure -- it is a prescription for decline.
    Radical? Social Darwinism? Wha?

    To a first approximation, I think the logic is: Obama doesn't want to call GOP proposals "conservative" or (God forbid) "libertarian". Those terms, albeit slightly more accurate, are too popular. Employ them, and people will say: Eh. What's wrong with that? Better to use more scary labels.

    "Radical" is old hat, though. The D's and R's have been slinging that at each other just about forever. How "radical" is the congressional GOP budget?. As Matt Welch points out:

    Yes, he is talking about a budget that increases spending by $1.4 trillion over the next decade, and doesn't come anywhere near balancing the budget for as far as the eye can see.
    In a saner and more honest world, mentioning that simple fact would quiet a lot of criticism. (It would be pretty much just us actually-radical libertarians kvetching, and nobody takes us seriously anyway.)

    And yet "radical" is one of the kinder things the Democrats and their lapdog pundits have been saying about the proposed budget. "Cruel" is popular too; "fraudulent" is big; "irresponsible"; "extreme"; etc.

    "Social Darwinism" is more interesting. Matt links to David Boaz's discussion of the sheer nonsense and nastiness involved. While, as David points out, everyone gets their panties wadded when Obama is branded a "socialist", there actually are socialists out there, and that's what they call themselves.

    But no one calls himself a social Darwinist. Not now, not ever. Not Herbert Spencer. The term is always used to label one's opponents. In that sense it's clearly a more abusive term than "socialist," a term that millions of people have proudly claimed.

    David goes on to note that the smear had its roots in a 1944 book by historian (and onetime Communist) Richard Hofstadter. (Which this article by Damon Root debunks.) He concludes:
    Those who deploy the charge are, first, falsely implying that Republicans support radically smaller government, which neither Ryan's budget nor any other Republican plan actually proposes. And second, they are accusing both Republicans and actual supporters of free markets of believing in "the survival of the fittest" and, as Wikipedia puts it, "the ideas of eugenics, scientific racism, imperialism, fascism, nazism, and struggle between national or racial groups." "Social Darwinism" is nothing more than a nasty smear.

    The president should be embarrassed, and those who call for civility in public discourse should admonish him.

    That would be nice, but probably won't happen. Obama is beyond embarrassment, and the "civility" mongers aren't very interested in applying even their ad hoc standards disinterestedly.

  • Although I've never heard of a magazine called the Brooklyn Rail, nor the writer Michael Terry (both seem to be tediously leftist), but the latter presents an entire essay in the former devoted to the phoniness of the Mitt. Sample:
    Already we've seen him telling jokes about closing down factories, chumming with NASCAR fans by regaling them with tales of hanging out with his friends who run the sport, or telling the awkward story of how he first noticed his wife Ann at school, but held off because she was in second grade. Indeed, Romney's every act comes off as though he's trying his damnedest just to be a phony.
    Note: the cover of the Brooklyn Rail may be considered NSFW depending on where you W. That may be why I'm linking to it.

Last Modified 2014-12-01 2:57 PM EDT