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The Last Policeman: solving a murder before an asteroid wipes out life on Earth

Last year I read Bedbugs, Ben Winters' psychological thriller/horror novel about a woman who was certain that her apartment was filled with bedbugs, while her husband was telling her that she was imagining them. It reminded me of Rosemary's Baby, one of my favorite movies.

The Last Policeman is Ben Winters' third novel (he also wrote Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters , which I have not read), and I enjoyed it even more than Bedbugs. It's a noir-ish whodunit that opens with New Hampshire police detective Hank Palace (who narrates the story) standing inside a McDonald's restroom, examining the body of a dead man. All of the evidence points to suicide, but Palace has a hunch the man was murdered and that the murderer had set the corpse up in the restroom to make it look like he'd hung himself. Palace wants to pursue the murder angle, But the other police officers and the assistant district attorney on the scene don't seem to care one way or the other what happened. As I read this part, I wondered why no one but Palace was interested in learning the truth.

A few pages later I learned that the world of The Last Policeman was very different than our world. Palace says:

I follow Michelson’s gaze to the counter and the red-faced proprietor of the McDonald’s, who stares back at us, his unyielding gaze made mildly ridiculous by the bright yellow shirt and ketchup-colored vest. Every minute of police presence is a minute of lost profits... I scowl and turn my back on the owner. Let him stew. It’s not even a real McDonald’s. There are no more real McDonald’s. The company folded in August of last year, ninety-four percent of its value having evaporated in three weeks of market panic, leaving behind hundreds of thousands of brightly colored empty storefronts. Many of these, like the one we’re now standing in, on Concord’s Main Street, have subsequently been transformed into pirate restaurants: owned and operated by enterprising locals like my new best friend over there, doing a bustling business in comfort food and no need to sweat the franchise fee. There are no more real 7-Eleven’s, either, and no more real Dunkin’ Donuts.

What's going on? It won't spoil the story when I tell you, because it's revealed on page 22: "six months and eleven days from today... a 6.5-kilometer-diameter ball of carbon and silicates will collide with Earth." That explains why most people in the police department don't care whether or not the dead man was murdered. The world is about to end.

It’s creepy fun to read Winters' description of a pre-apocalyptic society that knows it's doomed. In a Q&A with Winters that’s on the publisher's website, Winters said:

What I was most fascinated by was everything I learned about economic behavior in the face of uncertainty. I talked a lot with economists about, for example, what the Federal Reserve would do to encourage savings and keep the economy in motion if there was, say, a one-in-one-hundred chance of apocalypse. So I learned about megaton blasts and global temperature drop, but also about inflationary pressure and the interest rate and the stock market.

(For another terrific novel that envisions how society would change as a result of introducing one big change, read The Postmortal, by Drew Magary)

While a lot of people in the police department and town government have stopped working, Palace and a very few others feel morally obligated to solve the murder. But someone is determined to keep them from finding out the truth. Why? You’ll find out at the end. In addition, Palace's sister is involved with a bizarre conspiracy, which does not get resolved by the end of the book. Why not? Because The Last Policeman is only the first book in a trilogy. I'm eager to read the other books, and expect that they’ll keep me as enthralled as the first one did.

Of course, I had to go online and read about potentially hazardous asteroids. The number one contender is Apophis, which, according to Wikipedia "caused a brief period of concern in December 2004 because initial observations indicated a small probability (up to 2.7%) that it would strike the Earth in 2029." The odds have dropped considerably since then.

The Last Policeman

BBC director general George Entwistle resigns in wake of misreported pedo story

George Entwistle, BBC director general, has resigned after a Newsnight report wrongly implicated a former lawmaker in a child sexual abuse case. From the Telegraph's coverage:

Mr Entwistle said quitting was the “honourable” thing to do as he had to take responsibility as editor in chief of the BBC for what Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, said was “unacceptable shoddy journalism”. He has lasted just 54 days in the job. Mr Entwistle’s decision plunges the BBC into its deepest-ever crisis and leaves it leaderless at a time of mounting questions over its journalism.

You know who got this story right? Brass Eye.

Occupy Sandy live-streaming post-storm cleanup efforts

This webcast is an incredible thing to witness. @OccupySandy teaming up with a biker club to clean up homes in New York's Staten Island ravaged by the hurricane. Doing what FEMA can't/won't. The Occupy Sandy movement is an amazing thing. Just when the media declared OWS "dead" and "without purpose," this leaderless volunteer movement showed the world what community activism really means—and what the ability to mobilize at a moment's notice can accomplish.

Report: FBI investigation into CIA chief's email "started with two women," not Petraeus (updated)

The Washington Post reports that the investigation into CIA chief David Petraeus began "when a woman whom he was having an affair with sent threatening e-mails to another woman close to him," citing "three senior law enforcement officials with knowledge of the episode" as sources. The Wall Street Journal reports the probe said the FBI began investigating after "a complaint from a woman in Florida" about Paula Broadwell, his biographer and lover. Other news accounts suggested that the FBI began snooping on the spy boss' Gmail account over fear it had been compromised by Chinese hackers.

If the prevailing narrative is true, Petraeus paramour Paula Broadwell used the same email account to send

A) Sexmail to Petraeus, and B) Threatmail to another woman.

Initial media speculation was that this "other woman" was a romantic rival (or perceived as one by Broadwell), but who knows? Bloomberg reports that the emails from Broadwell warned the woman to "stay away from" the general. But what if, instead, the target of Broadwell's threatening email were someone who knew too much? A woman who had knowledge of the affair and represented a threat of exposure. A Washington insider, maybe a reporter. "Stay away" not because you're a romantic rival, but because you might out us, and in so doing, destroy our lives.

The WSJ's late-Saturday story follows a love triangle narrative: the Florida woman's complaint "alleged Ms. Broadwell was sending harassing emails to her about the nature of the relationship between Mr. Petraeus and the Florida woman," and while no reporters claim to have seen the emails' contents, "people familiar with the investigations said they suggested Ms. Broadwell suspected the other woman was in a relationship with Mr. Petraeus." There is no evidence her suspicions were true, the WSJ adds.

The FBI worked with prosecutors in North Carolina (where Broadwell is based) and Florida (where the woman she emailed was based). The investigation initially focused on "the possibility of email hacking, because at least some of the emails sent by Ms. Broadwell to the other woman included contents of messages that appeared to come from Mr. Petraeus's own account."

Read the rest

Occupy Deluxe Tentacles at Louis Vuitton

Louis Vuitton currently has an awesomely weird Yayoi Kusama "Tentacles and Tongues" display its stores, so Heather and I made an "Occupy Deluxe Tentacles" mask, then set off on a cheeky jape. The folks at the mall were good sports and didn't get in the way of the silliness.

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Precisely why the Daily Mail is irredeemable shit

When I first moved to the UK, I thought I understood why people hated the Daily Mail: it's a shitty, sensationalist tabloid, right? What I failed to understand, in my naive, transatlantic way, was just how shitty a tabloid the Fail is. Here, then, is Martin Robbins doing a 20-minute presentation at The Pod Delusion's third birthday bash, explaining in excruciating (and funny) detail why the Mail is an atrocious, vile fester of stinking shit, and why the people who publish it are scum.

Martin Robbins: Why The Daily Mail is Evil (at The Pod Delusion's 3rd birthday do) (via MeFi)

Safeway: "Stop photographing our horrible, copyrighted cakes"

CakeWrecks reports that a local Safeway bakery has banned all photography in its bakery department, in a desperate, misguided bid to prevent its horrific creations from appearing on CakeWrecks. Safeway employees are to tell potential photogs that its cakes are copyrighted, and may not be photographed.

Today's post requires a special intro, so here's Dara G. to explain:

"My local [CENSORED*] bakery has this new policy - not strictly enforced, but kinda enforced - NO PHOTOS in the bakery department. None, nada. Per an ex-employee there, upper management is afraid that one of that store's specific cakes will be posted on 'that bad cake site.' Per what they tell you in the store, their cakes are 'all copyright protected.'"

(*Store name omitted. Because I care.)

She goes on to say:

"Apparently this new 'no photos' thing came about after y'all had posted their 'Popcorn' cakes on the site."

Ways To Play It Safe