07 February 2014


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 84

"Nothing is so firmly believed as that which is least known."
-- Michel de Montaigne

Now that quotation is more like it. =) It would have made a better epigraph than the line which may or may not be from George Orwell, but I can see why Michael Crichton would have wanted to save it for another part of the book.

I hope I'm not moving too quickly for everybody else who is reading along. But State of Fear is turning out to be such a quick read, and these posts are practically writing themselves, and it's better for the host to be ahead of everyone than to be behind everyone, and I want to be done before Ash Wednesday, so here we go . . .

Pages 101 to 198

What do you think of the characters? Peter Evans seems to be our protagonist, so let's start with him. I confess that I find him a little too naive. That is, too willing to believe what "everybody knows," even in the face of contrary evidence, and too obviously a stand-in for the uninformed reader.

Nicholas Drake is much better drawn, as is anyone who can raise all the villain flags without actually doing anything villainous. At this point, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt about the misappropriated US$250,000, but I remain disturbed by his insistence that the end justifies the means. Never mind the actual data behind global warming: even if it did back the theory up beyond a reasonable doubt, would that make it okay for people to insist that we only use certain words to discuss it? We already know that Drake believes in the ensorcelling power of words, but we get even more evidence when he starts berating those who are already on his side for their boring use of language.

"No, no, no!" Nicholas Drake stood in the NERF media room, surrounded by a half-dozen, stunned-looking graphic designers. On the walls and tables were posters, banners, flyers, coffee mugs, and stacks of press releases, and media kits. All were emblazoned with a banner that went from green to red, with the superimposed words: "Abrupt Climate Change: The Dangers Ahead."

"I hate it," Drake said . . . "It's
boring. It sounds like a damn PBS special. We need some punch here, some pizzazz. "

"Well, sir," one of the designers said, "if you remember, you originally wanted to avoid anything that looked like overstatement."

". . . But if we do that, the media will tune us out . . . I mean, look at this, 'Dangers.' It's so vague it could refer to anything."

"I thought that's what you wanted--that it could refer to anything."

"No, I want 'Crisis' or 'Catastrophe.' 'The Crisis Ahead.' 'The Catastrophe Ahead.' That's better. 'Catastrophe' is much better."

Only after I published the previous State of Fear post, did I realise that the debate over the language which we use to talk about global warming is very similar to the debate over r@pe culture.

Drake gets to have his way because he's the boss. What he isn't, though, is a scientist. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Nor does it smear him to point out that he was a successful litigator before becoming the director of the National Environmental Resource Fund. Lawyers can have a role to play in the right stewardship of the earth's resources, and without NERF in particular, the small nation of Vanutu would have no chance to collect damages for the destruction of their ancestral land caused by carbon emissions in developed countries. Again, never mind the actual data on climate and sea level. Even if they did overwhelmingly support the global warming theory, would that mean that a lawsuit is the right next step?

Well, someone seems to have convinced wealthy NERF backer (Am I the only one who finds that acronym hilarious?) George Morton that the answer is No . . .

". . . Do you know, my friends, that we know more about the moon than we do about the earth's oceans? That's a real environmental problem. We don't know enough about the planet we depend on for our very lives. But as Montaigne said three hundred years ago, 'Nothing is so firmly believed as that which is least known' . . . We don't know enough. But I fear that today, the watchword of NERF has become, We don't sue enough . . .

"NERF is a law firm. It was started by lawyers and it is run by lawyers. But I now believe money is better spent on research than on litigation . . ."

It's probably all John Kenner's fault. =P At least Drake seems to think so. For Morton was totally on Drake's side before Kenner entered the picture, and now Morton seems to have made a 180 degree turn, with no explanation to an old friend. When Morton first started spending all his time with Kenner (and lying about it), I could sympathise with Drake: I'm the jealous type myself. (LOL!) But I wasn't very impressed to learn how little Drake actually trusted Morton, whom he described as "a good man . . . but . . . susceptible to influence. Including the wrong influence."

Maybe it's just a personal preference, but I don't want to have to baby-sit my friends all the time to make sure they don't pick up certain ideas from certain people. It doesn't sound like a real friendship to me. But just as often as I've been the Drake in a relationship, I've been the Morton: which is not to say that I've been faithless, but that I've been easy to carry away with a new idea. And I have ended one very close friendship of fifteen years after my former friend and I started struggling with "irreconcilable differences" in our ideas.

Yet that is precisely why I wonder whether Morton and Drake's friendship was actually salvageable. After the stunt Morton pulled at the banquet, it doesn't seem likely . . . but do you think Drake would have taken it well if Morton had told him, privately and respectfully, that he wanted them to remain friends but no longer wanted to back NERF? Given the banquet planned in Morton's honour months in advance, that's a little like telling your fiance that you don't actually want to get married after the wedding invitations have been sent out. You'd better have a darn good reason for it. At this point, Morton's reasons are still unknown.

Finally, what do you think of Kenner? I think he's Batman. LOL! I guess we'll know more during the next meeting. =)

Discussion Questions:

1) Is there a word, an image or some other trope that you think the media (or media-savvy individuals) overuse in order to get a reaction out of us?
2) Do you agree with State of Fear about lawsuits or think that it's being a little unfair?
3) How closely do you check out a charity or non-profit before you donate money to it? What if it happens to be an organisation run by an old friend?


DMS said...

I read this book a while ago, so everything isn't fresh in my mind (though it is on my shelf and I could pick it up to reread if time permits). I found it interesting to read your thoughts on the characters and their relationships. I don't like to babysit my friends either- because we will all believe what we want to believe. Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts. :)

Enbrethiliel said...


But would you break up with them if they ended up believing something anathema to you? I think that Drake would insist on remaining friends--not because of any real affection, but because it is "right" for anyone (but especially someone with a lot of money) to be friends with an environmental crusader (who needs the money). And if it weren't for the (mysterious!) car accident, he'd spend the rest of his life trying to get Morton to come around to his way of thinking again.