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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Jebanator

jeb

Last year The Omnivore made a small set of predictions for 2014 and 2016. These were:

  1. By the November midterm elections (2014) Obamacare would (a) have a working web-site, (b) have achieved sufficient success that it was no longer an unqualified abysmal failure, and (c) still be slightly underwater on the polling despite that. I imagined that (d) the Republican message machine might have felt it put too many eggs in that basket—but that’s not an actual prediction per-se—just an observation.
  2. That Rand Paul (still too weird), Dr. Ben Carson (too new), and Chris Christie (too fat) would not be president as a result of the 2016 elections.

I’m feeling pretty good about #1 and I’m watching the #2 batch closely. Christie almost skunked me with the weight-loss surgery (he wouldn’t be an underwear model  by 2016 but he might be trim enough so that societal prejudice against fat wouldn’t prevent a victory). Rand Paul would scare me if I thought topping the polls really meant anything—it doesn’t—and I’m still solid on Ben Carson. He may be president one day—but 2016 is not that day.

Which brings us to Jeb. Jeb Bush, that is.

Why Jeb?

If you are asking “Why would Jeb be the Republican 2016 nominee?” that’s an easy question. He has establishment donors backed up around the block ready to shovel money into his campaign. He presents as someone Hispanics would maybe like—someone moderate on, like education (Common Core) and, hey, he’s not crazy. He isn’t a witch or a heretic—what’s not to like?

Well, he’s also not a conservative—or, at least, not what a lot of people think of today as a conservative. He’s also a ‘Bush’ which means he’ll either refudiate his own brother or else own the Iraq war. So, hey: that’s Jeb—losing the polls but winning the invisible primary.

If you’re asking “Why are we, uh, talking about Jeb Bush instead of poll-leader Rand Paul” that’s actually a harder question—and a more interesting one. The reason we are talking about the Jebanator is this: The Republican party has no current foreign policy.

Rand Paul, if he is to possibly be the nominee, will in fact be a foreign policy president. Oh, sure, he’ll have a tide of people behind him for his economic policy—but those will be Libertarians. If the general populace elects a president for economic reasons it’ll be Paul Ryan, not Rand Paul. If they go based on JOBS-JOBS-JOBS it’ll be Rick Perry, Scott Walker, or … uhmm … oops. Probably Scott Walker.

On the other hand, if the current front-runner gets into scoring position (much less the White House) it’ll be because we think his semi-noninterventionist platform is decent. It’ll be because we’ve collectively (or, at least, the people voting in the Republican primary have said collectively) ‘fuck it, we’re staying home.’ If we reach that point, Rand Paul has actually got a chance.

Basically, the fact that Jeb Bush is the ‘sane / establishment candidate’ is relevant only because the actual frontrunner, Rand Paul, is handicapped as the GOP has a serious deficiency in one of its three traditional pillars.

Why Doesn’t The GOP Have A Foreign Policy?

The reason the GOP doesn’t have a foreign policy is because, essentially, the Democrats stole it. Back in the heady days of the Afghanistan invasion no one spoke out against going into the Graveyard of Empires (TM) and well they shouldn’t have. On the other hand, almost no one spoke out against going into Iraq either and, you know, maybe someone should’ve? By the time we got to Obama the Democrats had (a) killed Osama Bin Laden in what was, really, a fairly bold set of moves and (b) wound down Iraq, killed Kadaffi, and (c) managed not to get us embroiled on Syria.

Now, the Republicans have hammered Obama for everything he’s done (save for killing Bin Laden) but the problem is this: there is no other-solution out there. The Republicans don’t really have a good plan for Syria. Maybe give some other guys some other weapons? There is no good plan for Iraq—should we leave a few more people there? Get out entirely? There’s no consistence stance—but even worse:there is no specific principal.

Back in the day of Ronald Reagan we knew where the Democrats stood—and where the Republicans stood—on the Soviet Union. Carter was going to be the grownup in the room. Reagan was going to literally build Star Wars. Clear choice—and we know how that turned out. It turned out that building the fuck out of Star Wars didn’t produce much by way of light sabers but did bankrupt the USSR who felt compelled to try and keep up. Huzzah!

Today, without a clear foreign policy platform (is it Attack Iran Now? Really?) and without a set of unique guiding principals (is it Don’t Drone Americans—But It Is Ok To Torture?) the Republicans have a problem when it comes to flexing their candidate—they don’t have a position that differentiates them from, say, Hillary Clinton. Well, except one of them does: Rand Paul.

Rand Paul’s foreign policy views are actually not as concrete as you might think—and his current kerfuffle around suggesting that Iraq was launched for profit by Halliburton could be copy-pasted off a left-wing web site—but whatever he thinks (or you think he thinks) we are pretty sure that he’s a contrast to “All Drones All The Time” (Obama) or “You Mean THIS Army?” Bush.

In other words, Rand Paul may or may not have a shot at the White House (The Omnivore says: still looks like ‘No’)—but he does have something that no one else in the GOP seems to—a part of their identity (Foreign Policy Platform) that was once a core-component of the brand differentiation the GOP enjoyed.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Politics Of: The Winter Soldier

captain-america-the-winter-soldier01
This weekend The Omnivore broke his habit of seeing “new movies” when they come out on cable (try having kids—just try it! See what it does to Opening Night!). The first part reviews the movie (and should be less spoliery). The second part talks politics and assumes you have already seen it.

 

The Winter Soldier

It’s two years after the Battle of New York (Avengers) and Steve Rogers is still coming to terms with his new life in modern-day America. He’s got ‘friends’ in the form of other agents (notably: Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow—and she gets enough to do in this movie that it qualifies as a Black Widow movie as well as a Captain America film) and Sam Jackson as, of course, Nick Fury—the director of SHEILD. He also has his unflappable can-do spirit which makes Chris Evans a joy to watch as he never gives in to the kind of murky angsty soul-searching that, for example, the Spider Man franchise falls prey to.

This isn’t to say he’s fine with everything: he finds the modern world a series of moral contradictions and while his ‘best girl’ is now 90 years old, he isn’t quite the type to ‘play the field.’ All his friends—the Howling Commandos of WWII, are dead. Worse, while Fury tried to tell him to “get with the program” and Johansson tries to fix him up with the nice girl next door, SHEILD is about to unleash a stupefying new program of flying-fortress type hover-weapons that makes Captain America wonder if the good-guys won WWII after all.

The Winter Soldier brings Captain America into the modern-day story-line with a political-tinged spy-thriller where no one can be trusted, the American government exists in moral shades of gray, and while we know there are other super heroes out there in the world, they’re all doing their own thing in little bubbles of their own priorities so it’s up to America (Captain, that is) to save Washington DC.

Captain America is the next achievement in the continuing triumph that is Kevin Feige’s resume. Feige was hired by Marvel after they decided to resurrect their movie business post selling off their big names to Sony (Spiderman) and Fox (the X-Men franchise). His stewardship has created an almost unbroken string of hits and he credits actually reading the source material (comics) and using that as both a source of character ideas and guide-rails when the writers get too far afield. We can only hope that the parent company, Disney, uses the same basic approach to quality control when it comes to the Star Wars franchise.

The Winter Soldier trades on good, charismatic casting, text-book action sequences, and a massive special effects budget to render Marvel’s universe in a 2hr 8min movie that doesn’t feel old and slow. The Winter Soldier feels a bit—I don’t know—optimistic? It tries to set someone with the “soul of America” in our modern-day environment and he does feel out of place and it’s clear that the creators don’t have some magical solution to the country being divided. On the other hand, they’ve done the right thing: put Captain America’s heart in the right place and figure that if they nail that the rest will work itself out.

This is a worthy edition to the ever-expanding franchise Marvel characters and shows us that the Captain America brand, only 2.5 movies in, has a good deal more runway before it gets old.Let’s do the politics!

The Politics of: The Winter Soldier

The Winter Solider was, from the ground up, a political thriller—as it was intended to be.
"[Marvel] said they wanted to make a political thriller," Joe Russo, who directed the film with his brother Anthony, tells Mother Jones. "So we said if you want to make a political thriller, all the great political thrillers have very current issues in them that reflect the anxiety of the audience...That gives it an immediacy, it makes it relevant. So [Anthony] and I just looked at the issues that were causing anxiety for us, because we read a lot and are politically inclined. And a lot of that stuff had to do with civil liberties issues, drone strikes, the president's kill list, preemptive technology"—all themes they worked into the film, working closely with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.
The plan in The Winter Soldier looks like this:
  1. Take the computer from Person of Interest that “reads every email, listens to every phone call, etc.” and makes predictive guesses about who is a threat.
  2. Instead of looking for murderers, set it to: ‘Patriotic Americans.’
  3. Instead of hooking it up to a crime-stopping duo, attach it to three massive, networked, flying battleships bristling with long-range, super accurate guns.
  4. When switching it on, it immediately opens fire, eliminating “the threat.”
  5. Hydra takes over the world, runs it efficiently, picks good judges for American Idol.
The two programs that The Winter Soldier keys on are (1) the collection of personal data by the NSA for threat detection and (2) the use of drones to kill targets (including Americans) from a distance. It merges these into the single program where (1) identifies people the Hydra cell that secretly runs SHIELD doesn’t like and then (2) the flying aircraft carriers gun them down.
The problem with this is that in order for it to work, Hydra must already have won. It isn’t their “triumph”—it’s just a slightly more efficient mode of operation. Why? Well, there are two reasons:
  1. Apparently the President, Congress, and the rest of the US Government either doesn’t exist or works for SHIELD.
  2. SHIELD knew about enough of this to make it highly suspect, even if it wasn’t going to be turned on Americans.

Where’s The President?

In The Avengers we watched SHIELD high-command decide to nuke New York without the President on the line. Alien invasion or no, that’s pretty extreme. In The Winter Soldier, presumably the ships are going to launch and then be allowed to kill just about anyone they read as a threat and, instead of planning to fight the whole US military AND the rest of SHIELD (key people are still IN the command center which, if the attack was read as a coup would be destroyed), they are planning to just play off the targets as terrorists.

If the US Government is so easily controlled that it’ll roll over for that HYDRA doesn’t have to conquer America: SHIELD has already done that.

The Reality Of The Two Programs

Americans have seen the NSA data-gathering program and we have not marched on the White House. We have seen Americans killed by the drone program and we have not impeached the president—that’s also true. The Winter Soldier takes these revelations and marries them together, turns them up to 11, and takes the position that we’ll be okay with that too. This is kind of bullshit.

Americans killed by drones are, with one exception, operating publically against America with material results (the first Ft. Hood shooting) out of range of conventional police jurisdiction (it has happened four times, one kill was, unfortunately, collateral damage—but the person in question was apparently sitting with the intended target). The killings in question do have elements of secrecy but the idea that there is no oversight or that Americans, ‘sitting in cafes,’ might be targeted by drone is ludicrous.
Similarly, while NSA data-mining may be an overreach and has yet to show any positive results (apparently there are not even secret wins for the program—one of the judges asked to see evidence of anything the program had yielded and came away empty handed) it is also not being used for targeting attacks on people of any sort.

Captain America hears about the program that will gun down terrorists before they can commit a crime and says “I thought the punishment usually came after the crime.” He’s right, kinda. Today the US Government has a ‘pre-crime’ program: it’s the FBI. When they identify a person who is looking for help carrying out attacks they will pair them with an agent (or Confidential Informant) who will claim to be able to get them help or even be Al Queada. The person is then led through the steps of acquiring ‘explosives,’ creating and placing a ‘bomb’ and then setting it off.

At this point they are arrested. No actual crime has been committed (it’s conspiracy to commit crime—which is real enough—but not the same as the crime itself, obviously). If that makes you queasy, The Omnivore understands—but consider the alternative: what if these people made contact with actual terrorists who had them do these things for real. Hundreds of virtual citizens have been theoretically blown up in these exercises. The idea that none of them would really come to fruition is simply wishful thinking.

So is Captain America right? Well, yes: if you remove all the steps where the person actually gets to act out the crime—if you remove all data-gathering, the trial, and so on—and replace that with a cannon? Yeah: he’s totally right.

And, problematically, even Sam Jackson was going to sign on to a version of that—which, apparently, America was going to allow.
But in real life these programs are not that sinister and they are not that simple.

The Assessment

The reason we don’t see the President in The Avengers (or The Winter Soldier) is because if you do, you make some kind of commentary on the current administration or America in general (even the generic casting-call president would indicate a weak America if he was just standing by letting New York glow in the dark). They don’t want to do that—it’s a distraction—so they just hope you won’t notice. The almost knee-jerk reaction to spying on Americans (remember how Morgan Freeman quit the Bat-Team because he was using cell-phone spying to catch the freakin’ Joker? That’s pretty legit, The Omnivore thinks. The Omnivore would, in fact, pay like an extra $5/mo to have the Bat Computer listen through his phone if it would catch The Joker) isn’t in The Winter Soldier as a point for discussion—it’s a signifier that the program is bad.

That plot-point is used to help the audience keep score. Captain America doesn’t ask what the certainty has to be that someone’s actually a terrorist before the ships open fire: that would be the first real question people would ask (and about follow up and false positives and whatever else). In The Winter Soldier, though, while he’s a bit appalled at extra-judicial execution, neither he nor anyone else assumes the system will often get it wrong.

In other words, the movie is designed to feel political and reflect current concerns—but it isn’t designed to actually probe or explore them. It just uses something that’ll kind of remind us of them and assumes that we’ll follow along easily enough (and, if not, well, there’s the HYDRA reveal to make sure). I’d say the movie was “Left Wing” on the basis that it’s against the dominant power-structure (SHIELD, apparently) but today, and with these issues, that doesn’t really work. No one is “making the hard calls” to protect a world that is in “clear and present danger” in The Winter Soldier.

There’s no real justification at all for this monstrosity other than HYDRA wants it and SHIELD can build anything it wants.

If The Winter Soldier had, perhaps, some targets of the ship rising as super-villains to avenge their dead friends? That’d be something. If it had the ships, I don’t know, target a politician that SHIELD didn’t like—but wasn’t a terrorist? Well—at least it would be asking ‘Who Watches the Watchmen?’ If leaks from the system exposed the Black Widow’s secrets and it caused various heroes to question why we even have that thing? That’d be food for thought.

Here, though, we just get something we’re expected to recognize and then it blows up.

The Winter Soldier fails as a political movie by failing to take any side or stand on the issues it raises. It succeeds as a political-tinged action flick—but that’s all. It’s nether (really) left wing nor right wing—it’s just exciting.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Will Obama Ban Knives?

vakra-photo

Now That’s A Knife

On April 9th, according to police, Alex Hribal (Sophomore, 16 years old), at Franklin Regional High attacked and stabbed 22 students wielding two kitchen knives. According to witnesses the attacker “flailed away” running down the hall with a blank expression on his face. It happened fast with many of the initial victims not even realizing they had been stabbed. Hribal was subdued by the school police officer (also stabbed) and the assistant principal (treated for injuries to his hand).

The police arrived five minutes after the attack begin.

Some Reactions

From Political Forum:

I will be very surprised if our resident gun grabbers on this fora are not more inclined to embrace a triple dose of the Clap than to touch this.

From TheTruthAboutGuns:

Wow, I guess all kinds of weapons turn people into crazed killers.
It couldn’t be the people themselves being crazy, or perhaps the system of indoctrination that they are forced to attend, that is responsible for their attitudes.
Must be the availability of weapons. Somebody hide the rocks, sticks, and baseball bats quick!

and …

Was it one of those dreaded hi-capacity assault knives? I hear that they
NEVER run out of ammo! The horror, the horror.

and …

I bet all the anti’s are going through their kitchen drawers so they can register any knife they own (that looks similar to the one used in this crime) with the police. Right?

I’d also like to see drafts of the knife permits and “one knife a month” laws that will be passed in the wake of this tragic event.

From TheFreeRepublic:

So now we need knife control laws, right?

How To Lose The Gun-Control Argument (If You’re Pro-2nd Amendment): High Capacity Assault Knives

The (conservative) snark-response, evidenced above, is perhaps the single most self-defeating approach one could take to the event. These quotes do more damage to the pro-gun argument than Piers Morgan has managed to do in his career. Why is that?

The Pro-Gun Position And The Knife-Control Jokes

The Pro-Gun Position holds that its opponents:

  1. Do not understand guns in general and therefore make stupid generalities about them such as the “Assault Weapons” classification (which plays off the term Assault Rifle—but simply categorizes weapons that kinda look like an assault rifle into an ‘evil-gun’ category).
  2. They claim that schools as gun-free zones (or townships, etc.) invite malefactors who will circumvent the rules anyway. In other words: if there’d been a teacher with a gun in the school, the attacker would go some place else.
  3. They claim that liberals simply demonize guns without paying attention to the scientific realities such as that more people are killed with hammers than rifles each year according to the FBI. Basically that it isn’t the tools that are dangerous—it’s the people.

The fact that these positions are, at least arguably, true, in fact makes the ‘knife-control’ quips more damaging? Why?

The reason the knife-control quips are specifically undermining to the pro-gun position is this: Each part of the position is arguably correct—however, that argument rests on a set of assumptions (i.e. that liberal law-maker’s ignorance of guns means that the laws themselves will be ineffective due to that ignorance or that a cold hard look at the FBI’s facts would force liberals to re-examine their views on gun control). The problem with the Knife-Control jokes is that they make it look like the conservatives are arguing in bad faith—the joke itself suggests that banning certain kinds of weapons based on minor differences in their profile is intrinsically stupid and, at the same time, suggests that since some kind of weapon will always be present, society has no interest in controlling which one a would-be murderer has access to.

Both of these points are catastrophically untrue (and neither is intrinsically germane to the real gun control arguments).

A NOTE BEFORE WE CONTINUE

The Omnivore is pro-Second Amendment. I do not believe an assault weapons ban will do much good in stopping mass shootings and, at best, would have some marginal impact on their mortality rates. I find attempts to control extended magazines (of which hundreds of thousands are in circulation) to be equally ineffective. I am not impressed with the assault-weapon classification (there are guns with the same effectiveness profile that lack the characteristics). I am accepting of armed-response in school (NOT every teacher having a weapon). I own guns. I served in the military.

Also: The Omnivore did quip, on Facebook, that the knife in question might have had an ‘extended belt-clip.’ On later thought, The Omnivore regrets that.

The Assumptions And How The Knife- Control Argument Undermines Them

The problem with equating gun control to “knife control” is that it misses a key and obvious fact: the kinds of controls liberals would like to see put in place are an attempt to drive mass slayings in the direction of Franklin Regional High—and this would be an unalloyed good thing could it be done. In other words, it’s tacit agreement that what the Liberals are saying (should some hypothetical gun-law force a person who wants an assault rifle to use a knife instead) is true. Why?

Well, firstly, there are High Capacity Assault Knives, they are called fighting knives or combat knives, and they are illegal in 13 states (Switchblades 18 states, concealed carry of folding knives varies a lot by blade-length with 23 states having restrictions). Knives are regularly and for good reason regulated based on their “profile.” Things like number of cutting edges, how the knife deploys, and how long it is are not necessarily material to a person who has just been stabbed or, at most, have marginal impacts, but if just about every law has these restrictions one should consider that, perhaps, at least some of these are a good idea.

Secondly, the idea that schools, being gun-free zones, attract shooters looks very questionable when Pro-2nd Amendment people use the knife-attack as a justification for armed teachers. It should be plainly obvious from the time-line of the case that no amount of armed force in the school could have prevailed: the attack took seconds—so fast many of the wounded did not even realize they were hit. The police arrived in five minutes, by which time the assailant had been stopped by, so far as we know, two adults without firearms.

The mental picture of an armed teacher firing into a crowded hall as Hribal ran amok should be chilling enough to make anyone reconsider the arming of school staff: you’d want a Navy SEAL for that kind of dense-target high-emotional shock shooting—no teacher on staff could be trusted to do that.

Thirdly, though, and most damningly, is the proposal that ‘there are no dangerous tools—only dangerous people.’ While true, it’s incredibly misleading without a lot more context. There are tools that hugely, hugely more or less dangerous than others. The talking point I linked to above shows that, yes, there are more hammer murders than rifle murders (the handgun is far and away the most popular murder weapon). On the other hand, trying to make the point that hammers are used in more murders than rifles is trying to trick your audience: Rifles are far more dangerous than hammers once they are in the hands of a murder.

What The Omnivore Thinks

Imagine that we did ban guns and then, on the day after the collection, there was a horrendous mass knife attack. Would it prove the gun-grabbers wrong? Likely: No. Here are the killed / wounded for mass knife attacks:

mass shootings

Mass Stabbings In case it is hard to tell, the average percentage of death from a shooting is greater than 50%. For mass stabbings? It’s closer to 20% (list of mass stabbings taken from Wikipedia). The shooting graph did not include Sandy Hook which was close to 100% lethality. Also, notably: lots of mass stabbings, for unexplained reasons, do involve elementary school children who are more fragile. Simply put: in the mass-combat scenario (the spike in the beginning of 2014 was the chilling Kunming Railway station attack which involved four perpetrators with knives and still only managed a 17% kill rate) you would much rather be the target of a knife wielder than a gunman.

In short, banning certain kinds of knives based on their profile does seem to make sense (almost every state has some law on the books—even Texas bans gravity knives) and, while mass stabbings happen, they are far less lethal than mass shootings.

The jokes that ignore or worse make fun of these facts make it appear conservatives are hoping you won’t notice that for knives the restrictive laws are actually pretty good and that not all killing tools are equally destructive.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Vox vs. FiveThirtyEight

538

VOX

We live in an exciting time: this year has seen the launch of two sea-changes in news reporting that, and The Omnivore is being serious about this, have potential to redefine the way what we think of as news works. These are, respectively, Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight and Ezra Klein's Vox. They are similar in that they are potentially disruptive, potentially game changing. They are dissimilar in that they each take a different approach to how we handle news.

The Omnivore is focused on politics, specifically, although Nate Silver's real genius may lie in sports. I can't be certain.

 

Vox.com

The aesthetics of Vox are the first thing you should look at: it isn't laid out like a traditional newspaper at all. It's vertical scrolling kind of like a Facebook timeline. It's right-hand navigation is imply the Most-Read Articles  (telling you which are the stories most people think were important). It presents its top-slot stuff with text-over pictures designed for high-contrast readability.

The computer web-site and the mobile site (on a smart phone, at least) translate almost exactly (it becomes vertical more than horizontal and removes images from lower-echelon stories). Vox is elegant. It is also cutting-edge.

The Vox.com approach is to be very straightforward and very, very clear giving you both the story itself and the background behind it in easy to digest chunks. Look at the 'cards' (each piece is a 'card' which gives you one important discussion point in a series) on the Gender Pay Gap.

 

FiveThirtyEight

Nate Silver made his bones talking about stats and elections. FiveThiryEight talks about politics from the perspective of data. It isn't (at least not foundationally) about personalities. FiveThirtyEight means to "do newspapers" (and electronic media) right--formally--rigorously. It looks a lot more like a traditional newspaper than Vox does.

You can see their modus operandi if you take a look at the article on "The GOP Senator Most Likely To Falter in the Primary Season." You will see an intro, a brief discussion of the measures they are using to make their case (in this case Ideology scores) and how those correlate to primary performance ... and a graph.

This is brutally efficient writing and because of their commitment to being data-driven, it has a mechanism to claim a lack of bias in a way much political reporting does not (note: this does not mean it may be unbiased--it still, obviously, could be--but the editorial direction of FiveThirtyEight is, to my understanding, unique).

Let’s get to the real reason you came here though …

 

Who Would Win In A Fight?

ErzaKlein

Ezra Klein
Age: 29
Fighting Style: Full Contact Tai Chi
Record: 14-0-1 (Tie match to Matt “Hammer Hands” Yglesias)

Bench Press Own Weight? Unlikely
Special Ability: Understands his opponents better than they understand themselves, allowing him to predict their every move.

 

NateSilver

Nate Silver
Age:
36
Fighting Style: Philosophical Jiu-Jitsu
Record: 27-1-0 (Loss by split decision to Princeton Election Consortium in 2012 WAR in WASHINGTON)

Bench Press Own Weight? Unlikely

Special Ability: Incredible precision—able to act with nearly unerring accuracy.

INT. DESERTED PARKING GARAGE - NIGHT

Two figures stand across across from each other, both apparently empty handed, both immaculately dressed in business suits and trench coats.

SILVER

I was beginning to think you wouldn’t show up, Klein. I wouldn’t blame you.

KLEIN

I’m right on time, Silver. Showing up early gives you a false sense of security.

SILVER

You’re thirty-two seconds late. The best available evidence from historical records show that anyone late to duel had 23% greater chance of losing.

KLEIN

It’s on.

Like a fast-draw artist, SILVER reaches into the shadows of his coat,  then flicks something out with a sudden, magician-quick movement of his hand and wrist. EZRA head-fakes left but then explodes to the right ducking between two parked cars! Playing cards, thrown by NATE SILVER with deadly force, reflect off of metal and penetrate windows in near-silent showers of safety glass. Silver moves forward, throwing methodically—but he realizes he has lost track of the target.

SILVER

Crap.

SILVER flattens himself against a pillar looking to his left and right, listening intently.

KLEIN’S VOICE

Nice trick—I heard you were good with cards. Too bad you weren’t more … accurate.

SILVER ducks, suddenly and bolts around the pillar, keeping low, sprinting to another parking aisle. He pauses, down on one knee, a Queen of Spades appearing between his fingers.

SILVER

Even Anderson Silva, the most accurate fighter in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, only has a recorded strike percentage of .89. I’ve only got to hit you once.

He listens—hears something and spins! Too late! KLEIN slides across the rear of the car NATE is crouched next to, locking his hands around around SILVER’S collar. They roll across the pavement in a twist / counter-twist series of joint-locks and choke-holds. SILVER sees an opening and goes for a strike: EZRA easily counters and lands an elbow hard across NATE SILVER’S cheek bone, drawing blood. KLEIN is on top.

KLEIN

We don’t have to do this, you know. We could be allies. There’s room for you at Vox.

SILVER

Explain to me how that’d work again—in depth.

KLEIN

Well, we’d have a hybrid editorial philosophy that would allow for two separate but managed pipelines under the same umbrella brand which--

SILVER throws him off, explosively, rolling to his feet. The playing cards are gone, he assumes a hand-to-hand combat stance.

KLEIN

You sly dog—you got me wonking!

SILVER

It works on you about 37% of the time. (panting)

KLEIN

What if I told you I knew you were going to do that?

They re-engage, this time with a mix of kicks and punches that each parries or dodges. EZRA spins out to the side, opening distance—and closes his eyes. Silver, amazed, pauses—and then pounces—but EZRA KLEIN  effortlessly evades every strike, ducking and weaving so that SILVER hits only empty air. SILVER, unable to believe it, steps back. KLEIN opens his eyes.

KLEIN

The outcome was never really in doubt. Surrender?

Silver wipes blood from the side of his mouth.

SILVER

Finish it.

EZRA moves in for the kill, fluidly evading and then replying with devastating counter-punches. We hear ribs break. NATE SILVER is slammed into one car—then another, before sprawling, face down, on the pavement. EZRA KLEIN removes his trench coat, folding it—and then his suit jacket. He begins to methodically roll up his sleeves. While we see this, we watch the irregular breathing of NATE SILVER steady, somewhat. Slowly, painfully, he reaches into his jacket—and removes … a flask.

KLEIN

You should never have left the New York Times.

SILVER

(Gasping) That’s what they keep telling me.

Suddenly, NATE SILVER flips over, drinking down the flask in one long gulp. He gasps—in pain and … something else. KLEIN’S eyes narrow!

KLEIN

What is that? … Was that?

SILVER

(Still gasping) 100% … Grain … Alcohol.

Klein pauses and, thinking furiously, ‘does the math.’

KLEIN

Crap.

DRUNK NATE SLIVER

Predict this.

DRUNK NATE SILVER calculating all possible odds of every possible scenario lashes out in BULLET TIME against EZRA KLEIN who dodges and weaves. Cement pillars shatter as they they fight, SILVER relentlessly driving KLEIN back across the parking lot towards a wall. Klein stops, shirt ragged, hair a mess, back against the wall. DRUNK NATE SILVER stands before him, now barely breathing hard. EZRA KLEIN is cornered—unable to defend himself—but … he doesn’t quite look beaten.

KLEIN

So, DRUNK NATE SILVER, what’s the outcome? Which of us leaves this parking garage alive?

DRUNK NATE SILVER

The answer is obvious—you don’t need my powers of calculation to--

He trails off … then utterly stunned, looks back at KLEIN, refocusing. Astonished.

DRUNK NATE SILVER

We … both do? Apparently the world really is big enough … for the two of us.

KLEIN

At least for now it is.

END.

The Politics Of: Foistware

Last night The Omnivore updated a piece of software on his computer. It was one that hadn't been loaded in a while and it asked the usual questions. Apparently it also asked (although The Omnivore cannot confirm this) if The Omnivore wanted AVG Anti-Virus and something called "Search Assist."

As The Omnivore clicked through the various screens in rapid succession trying to get to the install, this was all lost on me--and so it was a shock (kinda--sorta) when I saw that a new tab had been added to my browser start-up pages: AVG Search.

After a moment of checking: AVG Anti Virus was also on my machine.

This was annoying: I consider messing with my search or Chrome start conditions without explicitly asking me to be malware-like behavior even if the software itself isn't definitionally a virus. I also realized that I'd been had: my failure to read the various material had opened me to the "drive-by install" called variously foistware or PUP (Potentially Unwanted Programs).

Worse--much worse--was something called "search assist." Search Assist is a piece of software that is designed to (a) try to give you pop-ups based on key-words and (b) show you videos with sound in the lower corner of your screen. This--the video with sound thing--is a first-order betrayal. I was furious--I did some checking around and determined that the Search Assist software:

  • Came (originally) from a company called Conduit, now Perion
  • It is not technically a virus or worm--but it causes a lot of trouble
  • It is extremely hard to uninstall (I tried Malware Bytes, Spybot Search & Destroy, and Ad-Aware. I finally got it with HitMan Pro)
Follow The Money
What I couldn't understand was why anyone would do this. First and foremost, why would TuneUp--a (at the time) reputable piece of software, put drive-by install stuff on its installer? Now, I know that Adobe has done it (Google Toolbar), and Java has done it (McAfee)--so at that point, I guess, why not--but something like Search Assist is only technically not a virus. There's probably no human a live who wants it.

I'm sure it exists in the wild on 'grandma's' computer where she thinks "That's just how the web works." 

Well, it turned out, on some inspection, that TuneUp had gone out of business and then been acquired--the re-launch was, apparently, monetized.

What does that mean?

Here's how it works:
As The User Can Accept Or Decline, Hide That Shit So They Accept And You Get Paid
The image is from InstallMonitizer, a company with some fairly big name backing behind it (Y Combinator, apparently) that is trying to crack the code of how to make money when everyone wants everything on the Internet for free.

The solution is this: No one will ever install your shitty-ass software so you piggy back on something they may actually want and the person making software people might actually want gets paid around a dollar per install every time someone is duped into installing your stuff.

If your stuff is an innocuous little program that sits in their list of software and never gets launched? Probably a losing proposition. If your software is designed to make you money by hijacking search queries, playing ads, and other such miserable behavior? The buck--it was worth it.

This does, of course completely erode trust in downloads as you can get "virus like software" (and trust me, Search Assist was "virus like" in every way imaginable--especially its difficulty to uninstall)--with a completely legitimate download.

So the question isn't so much about the Search Assist garbage (note: most of the how-to-get-rid-of-it stuff on the web was dated) as AVG. Why the hell is AVG in the "no one would ever buy our software" position?

What's Wrong With AVG?
It isn't exactly market-share:

AVG clocks in with a healthy 9.1% of the 2013 AV percentage. Considering that Windows is made by Microsoft that isn't too surprising. Sure, 9.1% isn't awesome--but presumably the other groups make their money too. If you can run McAfee with 3.1% of the market, AVG should be rolling in dough with basically 3 times that.

The Answer: AVG Secure Search
What Do I Get? What You Get Is Hijacked, Son
I went looking through AVG's products to see if there was some other reason they would need to stealth-install on people and, lo, the answer was right there: Secure Search. Secure Search is the "product" where AVG sets your default search engine to theirs and then purports to tell you how safe a link is. 

The key, of course, is that by monitoring your surfing they're gathering data about you--data they can monetize. But wait, aren't they ... you know ... committed to privacy? Why yes--it's right their Privacy Policy. In fact, here's the important part:
  • Create content that is relevant to you
  • Provide you with special offers that may be of interest to you, including offers relating to third party products and services
  • Assist us in creating better, customized products and services to meet your needs
  • Allow you to purchase and download products, obtain access to services or otherwise engage in activities you select
  • Help you quickly find software, services, or product information important to you
There's other stuff they do with this--but the bolded bit is key: they're gonna advertise to you or just "advertise you" using their database of your web-surfing habits. That's why it's so hard to get rid of and that's why it has a 1-star review on download.cnet.com.

Basically that Search Assist malware? Same thing--slightly different business model. NOTE: AVG did, in fact, make their search product hard to uninstall in the past. They claim it's better now. The Omnivore isn't sure (it did uninstall, apparently, through normal channels--but not everyone knows how to do that either).

Needless to say, this is pretty appalling behavior and while The Omnivore will give points for bald-facing it, the sooner their market-share drops off the bottom of the list the better. 

Why We CAN Have Nice Things
Before The Omnivore goes, though, there's something you should consider: "selling" bottled water was considered a marketing coup--charging a premium on something you can really get 'for free.' The Internet works in reverse: you get everything 'for free' and the business strategy is how to drive corporate value out of that. Invariably, if the product is free, you are the product (not sure how that works for Avast!, though).

The ecology of drive-by installs is simply an outgrowth of that: you make a nice, clean, really cool app and (a) you gotta give it away for free because that's how Windows Apps work and then (b) you want to get paid. Your donations button brings in a few clicks here and there but it isn't quite enough--so what do you do?

The answer is that you find some way to partner with someone who wants what you've got: users and their eyeballs. You can suck-up their data and sell it? Good way to get lynched. You can show them ads? You know--maybe. If your service is a web page you can bet they're ad-blocking and feeling totally justified about it.

So what are your options? Well, if I just saw 1MM downloads go by and someone said "That'd be 1M dollars, dude--and your app is just getting started ... " I'd be tempted. I'm not made of stone, you know.

On the other hand, we have a perfectly working model that can make millions of dollars overnight: the App Store.

This is what Windows needs to move to (Apple already has)--and quickly. I'm already dismissing Java updates because I don't feel like taking the time to figure out what bundle-ware they've decided to put with the software update my computer (often) will need to run.

I don't begrudge anyone making an honest buck--but when the Anti-Virus is the Virus? I think even the most cynical of us should take notice.

Don't use AVG.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Illuminoimia Ch 21: The Winter Solstice Party

In 1975 Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson published The Illuminatus! Trilogy. It remains a seminal work of conspiracy fiction. Today, The Omnivore continues a serial-fiction experiment: Illuminoimia. 

Everything You're Afraid Of Is True.

Our hero, Theodore Odell, now moved in with his Illuminati provided 'soul-mate' has to endure a Winter Solstice party being held for his workmates ... all of whom work unwittingly for The Conspiracy. It's all going poorly when an uninvited guest drops by.
-----------------------------------------
Previously On Illuminoimia
Ch 12: The Heart Vault  
Ch 13: Last Flight Out 
Ch 14: The World Trade Organization 
Ch 15: Postmortem Interrogation 
 

America Under Agenda 21
December 21, 2013 Seattle Washington, Theo and Sarah's Apartment

The table was set with candles--there were lights on in the kitchen (bright) and the living room (dim) and it gave the place a certain ambiance I really, really liked. That Sarah was there made it all the better. The two of us alone was wonderful--but that wasn’t going to last.

We were having guests over for a big dinner: Bryan’s friends and friends from work--my work too, technically--but they were his clique. I couldn’t stand them at work and even less so here “at home” which is what Sarah’s little apartment had become when we moved in together. I placed the serving dish on the table and took the next in a series of deep, deep breaths--held it--and let it out. I could do this. Maybe.

Sarah had been cooking all day long and the kitchen smelled delicious. I’d been starving myself and was ready to eat the linoleum. She’d made me wait though (we’d had a small breakfast: she wasn’t insane) and I’d gotten everything ready--just barely--when the doorbell rang.

“Can you go get that?” Sarah called from the kitchen.

“On my way,” I said and squeezed around the display case she’d inherited from her grandmother (along with the table which was nice--but way, way too big for our dining room) to the doorway.

Piper and Lilly--with their baby--Johns? Something like that--sleeping in a pouch on Lilly’s chest. Sarah had known Lilly since, like, orientation at their school and had been part of the Coffee Club. Piper now worked in online-antagonism with Bryan and myself. They were inevitable.

“Come on in,” I said. “Hey--he grew like two inches!”

The girls laughed and slipped past me, Lilly heading for the kitchen. Piper had never been to the house before. She looked around. “Nice place--small.”

“Yeah, it’s Sarah’s.”

She nodded, perhaps mentally tallying up the furniture values.

The baby was Piper’s--and some other guy’s. He’d had what he’d thought would be a one-night-stand but had really been selected (for genetics and financial means) by an on-line group that isolated men for just such a purpose. They’d ‘hooked up’ on the night of her greatest fertility and she’d either lied about being on control--or used a specifically sabotaged condom (I didn’t ask--but I’d seen the reports).

Now he was child support and Piper and Lilly were married. Apparently the guy, no winner himself in the morality department, was willing to keep paying so long as he was never connected to the kid. It was, one might say, ‘a win-win.’

“I’m going to--” I said, vaguely gesturing towards the living room.

“Sure,” she said. Whatever I was doing, she didn’t care. At work she was one of the very, very few women--and was valued specifically for having a “woman’s touch” when it came to infuriating targets. She was a mega-scorer like Bryan.

My stats were, comparatively, in the toilet.

In the living room I stood awkwardly for a moment before hitting on put on some music’ as the activity to occupy me while Sarah made ‘Squeeeee’ noises over the baby from the kitchen. Christmas music, I thought--and Sarah, thankfully, had a bunch of CDs. Old-school.

The doorbell rang again and I got up.

It was Berman. Dr. Berman. Big--and heavy--with a scraggly beard and clothing that should have been retired a decade ago despite the fact that he made probably four or five times my nominal salary. His doctorate was in economics and I was surprised to see him here: he was a heavy hitter from the theory department--the guys who cooked up all of our “rationales” to throw at people when we weren’t just trying to piss them off.

I knew we’d invited him. I never in a million years thought he’d come.

“Theodore,” he said. He was wearing gloves and a hat, which he took off and handed to me like I was a doorman. After a moment, he removed his gloves and gave them too me too. “It smells delicious.”

He walked past me. I dumped the lot in the closet next to the door.

“Thanks--anyone else from the Think-Tank coming?” I asked. If all our ‘bosses’ were here this was going to be worse than I thought.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “My previous plans fell through.”

Great, I thought. Social Kung-Fu master here.

“Come on to the living room,” I said. “I’m putting on music.”

“Not Christmas music, I hope,” he said.

“Uh … no. What do you like?”

“Classical,” he said. He paused “Bach?”

We had one disc of Bach, it turned out. I’d thrown up the first time Sarah had put it on. I’d managed not to explain to her why I didn’t like The Goldberg Variations. I glanced at him. “I think Sarah has something. I’ll look.”

He sat down on the sofa, towards the edge like he might get up and go at any moment. Maybe if his Plan-A called him back, I thought.

“It’s ironic,” he said, looking at the turned-off TV set.

I was rummaging in the CDs. “Yeah?” I had no idea what he was talking about.

“They’re going to be killed off by global warming.” He smiled.

“Who,” I asked--but I knew. He was talking about Super Storm Sally. He was talking about the Georgia resistance. Sally was a late season hurricane, category four. It was off the coast of Georgia and coming down like the fist of God.

He assumed Thomas Mary’s people thought Global Warming or Climate Change--or whatever they were calling it now--was a hoax. I was pretty sure that surrounded by Homeland Security, caught in a deep winter, and threatened with execution, the global thermometer wasn’t at the very top of their priority list of concerns. On the other hand, they probably weren’t prepared for a mega-storm to come crashing through Georgia so it might very well end them. That was the thinking, anyway: The talking heads on the news had practically been squirming in their seats reporting the weather these days.

I also wasn’t sure it was coincidence. Even if the US Government’s arctic station HAARP couldn’t control the weather I had no firm belief it was beyond the power of the Illuminati. The only question was ‘why so slow?’

“You’re looking forward to that?” I asked him, looking up.

“They have done their best to defile Gaia,” he said--or kind of intoned. “I find it ironic. I’m not exactly looking forward to it.” He nudged the ‘smug’ dial on his voice up a notch, though.

“Yeah,” I said. “I can only imagine what the British would have thought the Founding Fathers had all been wiped out by an earthquake or something. Probably ‘God’s on our side.’”

I saw him twitch. Heh.

He looked at me--seriously--”You are bright, Theodore,” he said. “If you can manage to overcome your limitations you may make something of yourself in the coming world.”

I turned, stood, and looked back at him. Our small ‘apartment Christmas tree’ winked red, green, yellow, and blue lights in the dimness. I could see the snow frosted streets behind him through our window.

“What are you talking about?” I asked. I felt a faint chill in the way he’d spoken. I had been at Forward Look for almost two months and had immersed myself in their process. I, by far, wasn’t the best on the team but I wasn’t bad either. I’d pulled my weight, delving into the on-line fray with carefully calculated falsehoods, misleading factoids, and clever insults. I was considered a top-tier Opinion Leader--meaning I had the most success ‘changing the minds’ of the maybe-imaginary readers who would follow my arguments. That was considered one of the most difficult scores--but not the most valuable.

Forward Look saw the online conversation as a war--they valued disruption most highly. That was fine by me: it let me sleep a little better not to have those numbers. It did get me watched, though. I knew they were carefully tracking everything I did. They’d issued me a blackberry and put me on 24-hr call/alert so that if their computers detected activity they thought was significant I could be deployed from my ‘home office’ (which could happen at 3:00 AM, of course) to get involved.

I figured it was also to track my movements--and I didn’t trust the microphone on it--even when it was turned off. I couldn’t take the battery out (they’d see it go dark and get suspicious) so I carried it like an electronic dog-collar everywhere I went.

While they’d been learning about me, though, I’d also been learning about them. Forward Look was part of a much larger and insanely well funded network of organizations. It was nearly impossible to put together but I’d found a (quickly vanished) board-of-directors PowerPoint slide that mentioned the holding company that owned the Forward Look Internet domain name--our web-address that let people find us online.
The “Board of Directors” in question was that of the International Crisis Group … with billionaire George Soros astride it.  Soros being the ultra-liberal megaspeculator who had once crashed Britain and Italy’s currencies to win 12 billion dollars. He was absolutely hated and demonized by the guys we were stirring up online and I could see why.

He was the connecting hub between a well funded chain of seemingly unrelated drug-legalization groups--not marijuana--but heroin. He’d favored “injection rooms” where junkies could legally and safely get their fixes--all paid for with Federally matched insurance dollars. He had run a ‘shock-therapy’ financial restructuring plan across Eastern Europe in the 90’s that left them devastated. He managed things from international children’s foundations to defense contractor groups and his own personal foundation, the Open Society Fund, which had direct ties to the men (and one woman) we called the Think Tank--the brain-trust at Forward Look.

While Forward Look might or might not be a pawn in whatever geopolitical game Soros was playing, the mental firepower in the big room that Berman represented were top-of-their-game. And he’d asked for Bach. It was possible this guy … knew things.

He appraised me.

“You, Theodore,” he said, “Are not a true believer.” His tone was somewhat mild though--as disturbing as that was to hear.

He went on: “It is not your fault--your upbringing--the right-coast, of course, bathed you a moderate worldview. It prevents you from seeing all the possibilities.” He shifted back. I could hear the girls in the kitchen. I didn’t like Piper in there with Sarah--Piper had a predatory sense about her I found disturbing.

I decided not to say anything. I looked back at him. Still your move, guy, I thought. If he had connections to ‘Rex’--to the people who had run the destruction of Atlanta--he could be incredibly dangerous. I didn’t want to give anything away.

For moments there was silence. Then he spoke:

“Let’s take the United States Constitution,” he said, instructing me. “It has clearly outlived its usefulness has it not?” Loaded question. I knew the Forward Look answer. I knew the answers of the people I argued with online.

“Clearly,” I said.

He shook his head. “No--no, Theodore: Engage me. Be one of the people you spar with on the Internet. Show me you can play that role.”

A trap then. He’d said I wasn’t a true-believer. If I argued against him with passion … he’d know. Fuck it, I thought. Two months of this had been murder. I decided I’d had enough.

“The people can change the Constitution,” I said. “Those provisions are in there--if there’s something you don’t like--go to the people.”

He nodded--yes! Very good.

“That is exactly the problem,” he said. “The people have neither the education nor, in most cases, the intellectual agility to make correct decisions. We are no longer in an age of sail and plantations--of local farmer’s markets and travel by horse. Today is a world of logistics. It is an age where money moves at the speed of light. It is an age where weapons can kill thousands in a second. It is an age where a vast, vast gulf of inequality can open under our feet in moments!” he snapped, “and swallow us up!

“This is an age of technology.” he said, “and it requires technocrats.”

“I don’t know,” I said, “What about personal freedom? I might not always make the best decisions but at least they’re my own.”

“Do you own a gun?” he asked.

I didn’t.

“No.” I said. It was hard to get one in Seattle and anything with more than six rounds was illegal now anyway. Assault Weapons--now branded Militia-Style Weapons--were a Federal offense under the Patriot Act Revision II. Anyway, Sarah didn’t like guns in general. I had a feeling that if They--any version of ‘Them’ came to me--a gun wouldn’t help me anyway. But his question stung me. Maybe I should, I thought.

“Nor do I,” he said. “A wise choice--think how many lives we would save if everyone made the same one?”

“Well, that’s just the point,” I said. “Everyone doesn’t have to make the same decision. I imagine a lot of lives could be saved if every car was painted high visibility yellow, right? But we get a choice?”

“The only reason a device such as a gun is a choice,” he said, “was because the white slave owners who founded our country enshrined it to gain the agreement of their various warring factions--the states. It was fear of Kings and Kingdoms--it was to support an army--not for self defense or suicide. Muskets were hard to kill oneself with. Not so with a cold nine-millimeter. The Constitution says nothing about self-defense.”

“I think that’s part of life and liberty,” I said. “Maybe even the pursuit of happiness. But still: you don’t like it? Vote it away. If the people agree with you, you’ll win.”

He shook his head. “The people are attached to their guns,” he said. “You can see what that leads to in Georgia. Sometimes a parent must step in to take away some toys.”

“I doubt the guys dying in the snow down there think of their weapons as toys,” I told him. “I may not agree with succession--but … Atlanta was a pretty strange situation even if everything we’ve been told about it is 100% true.”
He snorted. “A truther? Really?”
I shrugged. “You asked me to play one of those on-line guys.” I didn't want to tell him I’d seen the chemical tanks under the jetliners. That I’d seen the command centers--and the molotov cocktails.

He laughed again. Loud enough that the girls in the kitchen stopped talking.

“Very good,” he said. “Very well done--I concede. If one is going to deny reality, objective reporting, and common sense then one can build an ironclad argument.” He nodded to me--a virtual tip of his hat.

“In the future, Theodore” he said, “the rather close future, the Constitution will be changed. Once the rebellion is put down and international investigators can review the war-crimes they have committed there will be sufficient will to make the necessary changes to ensure that it happens--” he smiled through his beard--”Never Again.”

The apartment was heated--but is certainity gave me a chill. I could hear the specific capital letters in his last two words.

“War crimes?”

“Oh yes: women and children rounded up and executed--perhaps raped and tortured by the Georgia anarchists? The illegal use of chemical weapons in a desperate defense of Fascism. Crosses burned into flesh before non-believers are cast still living into pits and bulldozers can push mountains of earth over the thrashing victims--whole families made to watch.”

He eyed me. “That is what is happening down there,” he said. “Behind their lines--in their purges.”

“How do you know?” The mental images were gut-wrenching.
“I have seen portions of the United Nations report that will be released after this is over.” he told me. “Some of it … I am writing myself.” He smiled at me.

“I’ve also seen the check-points and camps we are going to set up,” he said. “Do you know what they’re stockpiling? What we’re stockpiling for The Internment?”
I heard the capital letters. And then I smelled the alcohol: he was drunk. Badly drunk--his eyes were lit from within by a vicious light. I shook my head. I didn’t want to hear this.

“Guillotines,” he said. “There are warehouses full of plastic FEMA coffins and small, efficient surgical-steel guillotines. Do you know why?”

I shook my head again, repulsed. He was monstrous now: alive inside--filled with a terrible energy--a thrill. I could see his pants bulge with an erection. I definitely did not want to hear this. I felt sick just watching him.

“It’s the Agenda,” he said. “It’s the Twenty First Agenda. It’s all around us now--” he gestured. “It’s in the air. It’s in the wires. We’re thorough. We’re going to take the bastards--the Users of the Planet. The Selfish People--the Gun People--the God People--” he shook his head in wonderment and disgust--”We’re going to take these tiny little militia people and we’re going to round them up and then--CHOP!”

He brought his hand down into his palm. ‘CHOP.’

I felt frozen.

“And why? Because every other form of execution destroys vital organs, Theodore,” he said, didactically. “Reusable--recyclable, reclaimable vital organs--organs they would selfishly pollute with processed sugars and nicotine and--” he burped. “Alcohol. Gunsmoke. All those things. But we’re not going to let them. It’s time to have less of the Me-Me-Me-My-Rights-My-Founding-Fathers-My-Country-Right-Or-Wrong Generation and more of us.”

He grinned. I looked back at him. He raised a finger and touched his nose in a sort of weird keep-it-secret salute. I couldn’t move--until the doorbell rang.

I made myself go to it, throw the bolt back--and open it for Bryan, three others of my work cohort--and Cherry: our sex-goddess floor manager.

Bryan threw his arms around me and tried his best to break my ribs. Alec, Wilson, and Tom made their way around us--taking bottles of wine and a pack of beer to the kitchen. He released me and stepped back. Big grin.

“Place looks good--been a while since I was by.”
Ever since I got together with Sarah, I thought. “We can put that in the fridge.” I said nodded to his bottle of wine.

He nodded--and took it. To my left in the living room, I heard the stereo come on. That fucker had found the Bach CD: It was the Goldberg Variations. Bryan stepped around me, heading back for the kitchen--and I was left, momentarily, with Cherry.

I didn’t dislike her the way I did some of the people who worked at Forward Look: she was sometimes casually verbally cruel to the geek squad she lorded over--but it struck me as a kind of consensual abuse. Everyone was terrified of her displeasure--not because she fired people--but because she was gorgeous, way-out-of-their-league, and she knew it. In short, she was exactly what she appeared to be--unlike the rest of them.

I also didn’t mind her because all that was utterly lost on me: I’d met my soulmate and I was independently wealthy. I was the one guy on the floor immunized against her devices. Here, outside of work, she wasn’t any less attractive--but standing there in the doorway after she’d herded my co-workers in ahead of her (normally she’d have silently insisted they hold the door--here she was clearly conducting them) she looked at me with something that I surprisingly took for actual, sincere concern.
“Are you okay?” she asked. I could hear the music behind me and it wasn’t helping. I imagine I looked like I’d seen a ghost.

“Fine,” I said. It clearly wasn’t very convincing.

“Come outside a second,” she said. It was warm in there. The central ground-floor hall of Sarah’s apartment was old and scarred but was kept pretty well swept by the maintenance guys. It was cold outside. I exited with her--and could see my breath.

Her: “Berman came.”
I nodded. “I emailed to everyone on the office senior list.”
She looked in the direction of the living room. “Don’t fuck up with him around,” she said.

I didn’t have to be told that. I wondered if I already had.

“They like you,” she told me. “They think you have potential some of the others don’t. They like that you can handle yourself in deep water without hand-holding.” I think she meant Internet arguments where I had enough facts to spin a defense out of the mesh of half-truths we used as doctrine. I wondered if she meant the Puppet Theater, though. I thought that was probably deeper water than any of them had ever seen, though.

“Things are going to come to a head quickly,” she said. “We’ve been told to stand by--big changes. Exciting things.” Something about the way she said though--something in her voice--in her eyes--whatever they had told her: she was scared.

And she was coming to me. And Sarah was in there, behind us, chatting with The Enemy.

“We were told to Be Ready.” I heard the capital letters.

I nodded--for whatever reason, as soon as Sally crashed into the coast driving a Category 4 super-blizzard across Georgia it was over. I didn’t know how or why--but I could feel it. She could too. Berman in there had pretty much confirmed it.

‘Rolling Up The American Experiment.’

After that … I grimaced. She saw it--and I saw recognition.

We stood there, in the dark hallway. I was going to go back inside, sit at the table, and pretend things were okay. I was going to hold my temper, my tongue, and my stomach down--with that music playing it might not be easy--but I would do it. Sarah would get her big party. I would keep my ‘job.’ In a few days everything would be over--and the New World Order would have begun.

That was the only sane thing to do. That was the easy way--and what was I going to do against the forces arrayed against us.

Cold air suddenly swirled in the hall: the front door opening.

Cherry turned. I stared.

“Theodore Odell! Hey old buddy.” The voice had a cheery icey rasp to it. The young man speaking cut a chiseled figure in the rectangle of light cast by the street lamps outside.

Walking into my apartment, his lupine smile flashing in flecks of reflected light, was ‘Rex.’
Soros And Company

Slate: Bring Back The Guillotine