Beyond the gate of experience flows the Way, Which is ever greater and more subtle than the world. - Tao Te Ching

Monday, October 13, 2014

Attention authors: Please stop burying the lead!

Articles on the internet increasingly use an amateur tactic to reel in readers, and it’s got me, and likely other adherents to good taste, completely pissed.

It’s a technique called “burying the lead,” the “lead” being the initial sentence or two that intends to catch a reader’s attention and sum up what the reader can expect to absorb throughout the article. Often, the burial is in the form of an extended, three-paragraph warm-up session in which the author attempts to regale his audience with some sort of metaphor or parallel or tenuous anecdote that often reaches too far, having the unintended effect of leaving a reader confused, angry or depressed that she missed the fragile connection concocted solely to massage the author’s ego by impressing his audience with his intellectual prowess.

It’s like doing a 20-minute warm up routine for a 5-minute workout. I don’t need to stretch. I’m ready to pump! If I need to stretch my intellect before I dive into an article, I will simply read the impeccable and never-annoying advertisements that decorate the flanks of your illustrious epistle.

Now, I’m not trying to pick on anyone in particular, because burying the lead is as ubiquitous as ignorant comments and Twitter snafus in the internet age. Even so, here is a real example.

A friend of mine posted a link on Facebook, headlined “We’re losing all our strong female characters to Trinity syndrome.” I’m always interested to read stories about characters and how that relates to writing, so I checked it out. But I fell asleep when this is what I found:

“DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon 2 considerably expands the world introduced in the first film, and that expansion includes a significant new presence: Valka, the long-lost mother of dragon-riding protagonist Hiccup, voiced by Cate Blanchett.”

Now, maybe you’ve seen “How To Train Your Dragon 1,” and so maybe this hooks you. Maybe you’ve also seen the sequel, so you’re hooked, too. Or maybe you love DreamWorks and can’t wait to dive deeper. For me, I could care less about this sentence and the entire opening paragraph — not because it’s not interesting, mind you, but because I’m 1) Completely disconnected from the subject matter. 2) Completely unclear about why this is even an opening sentence. 3) Feeling betrayed by the lack of connection between the headline and the opening sentence.

Here’s the rest of the opening paragraph:

“The film devotes much of its sweet, sensitive middle act to introducing her, and building her up into a complicated, nuanced character. She’s mysterious and formidable, capable of taking Hiccup and his dragon partner Toothless out of the sky with casual ease. She’s knowledgable: Two decades of studying dragons means she knows Toothless’ anatomy better than he does. She’s wise. She’s principled. She’s joyous. She’s divided. She’s damaged. She’s vulnerable. She’s something female characters so often aren’t in action/adventure films with male protagonists: She’s interesting.

“Too bad the story gives her absolutely nothing to do.”

The writing is punchy and clear and free of typos. The content is interesting. But the packaging is wrong. It’s like finding a grease-stained, hideous cardboard box housing a pristine diamond ring.

Interestingly, the very next sentence, after the gobbledygook, is exactly what I wanted to read as a first sentence in the story:

“There’s been a cultural push going on for years now to get female characters in mainstream films some agency, self-respect, confidence, and capability, to make them more than the cringing victims and eventual trophies of 1980s action films, or the grunting, glowering, sexless-yet-sexualized types that followed, modeled on the groundbreaking badass Vasquez in Aliens.”

It has everything you would expect in a lead sentence following the headline. It tells you who and what this article is about (strong female characters in films). It gives you a sense of time, telling you the when. And, although it’s a bit nebulous, the where is there (America or western cultures or film studios, etc.). The why is also there — why should we read this story (there is a “cultural push” to change how female characters are portrayed in popular films).

Personally, I would have left out that last clause referencing the Vasquez character, but this sentence grabs me, even though it’s a bit long. Now I want to read, because now I feel like I want to hear examples of poor women characters and I want them compared to strong women ones.

Here’s another example of burying the lead, from an article in The Guardian. I’d like to try an experiment, if you would allow me. Read the opening two paragraphs, and then make up a headline in your mind and write it down. Then come back to this post and see what the story really was headlined. Here’s how it started:

“We remember anniversaries that mark the important events of our era: September 11 (not only the 2001 Twin Towers attack, but also the 1973 military coup against Allende in Chile), D-day, etc. Maybe another date should be added to this list: 19 June.

“Most of us like to take a stroll during the day to get a breath of fresh air. There must be a good reason for those who cannot do it – maybe they have a job that prevents it (miners, submariners), or a strange illness that makes exposure to sunlight a deadly danger. Even prisoners get their daily hour's walk in fresh air.”

Any ideas? My headline would be “Inhale the fresh air of anniversaries” or something similar. But of course I was way off. The actual headline is, “How WikiLeaks opened our eyes to the illusion of freedom.”

To be fair, there is a clue in the opening paragraph, when the author uses a bit of foreshadowing by alluding to the mysterious importance of “19 June,” which happens to be the day that Julian Assange was “permanently confined to the apartment that houses the Ecuadorian embassy in London.”

Not exactly on par with D-Day or 9/11 or the coup that overthrew one of South America’s best hopes for a democratic future, Salvador Allende, but certainly an important moment for anyone who cares about the importance of open society and free information.

However, by alluding to intense historical moments in the past, we’re set up to think that June 19 would be on par with such events. Assange’s confinement is only as historically relevant as the opinion of the person reading this story. He is alive and remains influential, unlike the thousands killed during Operation Neptune at Normandy or during the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Of course in this instance, the author is attempting to convince the reader, why June 19 is as important as those other dates, but in this author’s humble opinion, that argument is poorly delivered. As much as I personally respect what Assange has brought to the table, it would be difficult for anyone to convince me that his asylum is on par with those other events. He can still function on some level. He is not dead. He is not in prison. His “confinement” is more annoying than anything else.

By assigning Assange’s confinement alongside those events, it immediately shuts down my interest. And herein lies the core problem with burying the lead or using hyperbole to make a point — It does nothing to open the minds of those who would normally disagree with you. Instead, it merely reinforces the opinions of those who already agree with you. It’s the proverbial “preaching to the choir” technique that adds little to the intellectual discourse that is imperative to our time.

Secondly, the use of foreshadowing in an opening paragraph sends shivers of annoyance up and down my spine. It almost appears as a cheap trick, like some hullabaloo tactic to reel in the audience that is usually used by snake oil salesmen. I’m not trying to be overly picky or tear apart the author’s writing, which is clear and often poignant. However, foreshadowing is a complex tool that when used with haste, and within hyperbole, it is more distracting than magnetizing. Instead of being hooked on the narrative by the time I learn what June 19 means, I’m angry.

One could argue that is the author’s intention, to make me angry. Personally, I would argue that this method is useless and will never win me over or open my mind. Ever.

It has become en vogue for modern bloggers and authors and journalists to be as wordy as they see fit, perhaps because there are no space constraints on the web. For centuries, authors often were forced to condense their writing. The longer their prose, the more expensive it would be to produce, and the more scrutiny would be placed on the quality of their craftsmanship.

This new freedom has spawned the death of the informational lead. On virtually every website, from the mundane to the monstrous, from the hip to the hyperlocal and everywhere in between, leads are found buried, often several paragraphs in. They often sadly sit in a coffin built by 200 words of warm-up that have a tenuous connection to article’s subject.

Let me be clear: I do not think there is an intentional effort by writers to bury the lead. Perhaps they want to find a common ground through which to connect to their readers before jumping into a story. And sometimes this method works, but certainly not all the time.

Perhaps part of the problem is the grandiosity used in headlines these days. Headlines can be so ridiculously sensational that one would feel ostracized from society if one didn’t read the story. Then when the sad and poor lead sentence doesn’t measure up to the glitzy and glamorous headline, we’re often left disappointed. It’s like an encounter with an externally beautiful person whose magnetic yet superficial charm rakes in single-serve friends but whose internal ugliness impedes the development of lasting and meaningful relationships.

So let’s be more honest with our headlines and more poignant with our leads. Let’s think of the reader first, not maximizing web hits. Let’s think of the quality of our craft. Let us consider each word we write to be a soldier in the army of our prose. It’s not the number of soldiers that matter, as history has shown. It’s instead the quality of their leadership and training.

Let us lead our soldiers onto the battlefield of the blank page with gall and wit, not cutesy tricks and contrived hyperbole. Like Huxley said in “Brave New World”: “Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”  

Hopefully this article did some piercing. If not, offer a better take and we’ll all be better for it.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

High amounts of drug residue constantly found in country's beef supply

Meat eaters beware — 56 farms in 19 states have produced beef over the last year that tested for high levels of drugs — mostly antibiotics but also some anti-inflammatories — on more than one occasion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)(pdf).

The veal industry appears to have the worst record of compliance. Over the past year, there have been 86 instances where “bob veal” calves tested above the acceptable limits for antibiotic residue, according to the USDA. Bob veal are calves that are younger than three weeks and weight up to 150 pounds (regular veal weighs up to 450 pounds, and can be up to 18 weeks old, the USDA says).

The amounts are frightening — in some cases, up to 17 times the acceptable concentrations were found in veal. Golden Jay Dairy of Tulare, Calif., grew veal for Cutting Edge Meat of Newman, Calif., that had 17 times the acceptable concentration of Neomycin in the animal’s kidney as allowed per USDA regulations.

Johann Dairy Farm in Fresno, Calif., grew veal for Los Banos Abattoir in Los Banos, Calif., that has eight times the amount of Neomycin allowed.

Ken Naples of Canandaigua, NY grew bob veal for Ohio Farms Packing of Creston, Ohio, that had 12 times the allowable antibiotic.

The list goes on. What’s particularly unsettling is that brand names such as “California All Natural” were producing products that have excessive antibiotic residue. In some cases, the USDA limit is zero, and yet these companies are still producing meat, especially veal, that has too much drug residue.

The USDA compiles a list of repeat offenders (pdf) — farms and meat distributors that have failed drug residue tests more than once over the past year. The following states were home to farms that are repeat offenders, according to the USDA: Arizona, California, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Utah, Vermont and Wisconsin.

California, by a long shot, had the most offenses — 24 farms in the Sunshine State failed to comply with residue limits.

Farms that had the most violations, according to the USDA, are VS Ranch (four in one month); Rancho Teresita (four over five months); R & D Ranch (five in one month, then another one six months later); Oakdale Calf Ranch (five in two months); Johann Dairy Farm (seven in three months); and Cunha Calf Ranch (seven in two months).

Muscle and kidney tissues from farms in the above  19 states contained either one or more of the following drugs: Penicillin*, flunixin*, Neomycin, Dihydrostreptomycin*, Sulfamethoxazole*, Desfuroylceftiofur, Tetracycline, Gamithromycin*, Gentamicin*, Ciprofloxacin*, Enrofloxacin*, Tylosin, Oxytetracycline, Sulfadiazine*, Florfenicol and Sulfadimethoxine.

Neomycin was the drug found most often in animals, according to the USDA. Flunixin is an anti-inflammatory drug, used mostly to treat muscle and joint pain and prevent sepsis (blood poisoning). Florfenicol is a synthetic antibiotic used to treat Bovine Respiratory Disease and foot rot. The remaining drugs are all antibiotics.

Maybe we should start buying organic meat, or stop eating meat all together, or call these farms and demand they stop using drugs on these animals. 

*These drugs have a zero residue limit in most applications.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The rise of atheism and the fall of God reflects the deepening chasm that prevents humanity from being human

In the beginning, something created what we call the universe and life. Theistic religions call that something “God” while atheists call it “something.” If atheists think or believe that science will someday reveal the genesis of life and the physical world, then atheists have faith that science will eventually deliver the answer. They have faith in science. If an atheist believes that we will never know, the atheist is also engaging in an act of faith — faith that mankind cannot ever discover the answer.

Faith is not an act that requires belief without evidence. It is merely a belief rooted in evidence of one’s own interpretation of what constitutes evidence. The moral battle between atheism, agnosticism and religion requires faith on all sides.

Friday, April 20, 2012

U.S. immigration reform: Let the American Indians decide

A woman in her mid 60s told me recently how illegal immigrants are destroying the economy because they’re taking jobs from Americans, not paying taxes and not contributing to the local economy because they send all their earnings back to their home country. Of course this is true to some extent, but I can’t help but think that this opinion is one of the most asinine and selfish perspectives on a reality that harkens to the founding of this country.

America, the north and south parts, was “founded” by illegal immigrants. Europeans came here, uninvited, stripped the land of resources and its people of dignity, placed a flag in the ground, drew some lines on a map, wrote some ideas down on paper and voila! A nation of savage tribes became instantly assimilated into the grand idea of a civilized country.

Now, my woman friend, let’s call her Agnes, tells me that this point is irrelevant, because “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Just because we did it to the Indians, doesn’t mean the Mexicans should do it to us, she said. By Mexicans, she means Latinos, basically.

“How do we fix the problem now?” Agnes asks.

True immigration reform requires a thorough examination of how American history, culture, business, politics and public policy have created a perfect storm for illegal immigration and undocumented employment.

Tightening our belts through increased security measures, stricter punishments to offenders and convoluting the legal immigration process will only lead to more problems. As the entrance barriers placed by the United States intensify, more and more people will be forced to enter this country illegally because the current system is already the strictest it’s ever been, especially since Sept. 11, 2001. Dirt poor immigrants face thousands of dollars in government and legal fees to obtain a green card today, and they would be even less equipped to engage in the legal process should it become more complicated and costly.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements will not win

Occupy Wall Street, Tea Party, Ayn Rand, Barack Obama --

The long overdue conversation about the iniquitous inequity within capitalism’s illusory meritocratic class structure finally exploded into the global discourse with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Conversely, the embedded impotence and wastefulness of an enabling and codependent national government thrust into the spotlight with the Tea Party campaign. Neither of these will have any lasting effect, and here’s why.

The System
What is The System? The System is the Internet in real life — the world wide web personified. It is the interconnectedness of institutions, infrastructure, corporations, nonprofit organizations, utilities, governments, foundations, universities and, most importantly, mainstream media.

The System can not, in any real and permanent way, be challenged. Too many people benefit from its current structure and genuine change threatens the status quo. People in positions of power would never give up their seat at the head to allow honest reform. What’s in it for them? Herein lies the double-edged sword of capitalism. It motivates people to be successful, creates jobs and generates wealth, while simultaneously establishing a culture that nurtures questionable practices and exacerbates the class divide.

There’s nothing I’d like more than to systematically dismantle 80% of global corporations in the fields of banking, insurance, finance and investments, health care and hospitals, communications, industrial farming, pharmaceuticals, oil and gas and coal, garbage disposal, wastewater treatment, genetic seed-making, food and drink manufacturing, retail behemoths, entertainment and mass media (did I miss any?). Many of these system-elements began under an idealized vision to create a better society, but human greed created an atmosphere where profits superceded service. This mentality invades all aspects of society, from the small businessperson to the federal government.

Ayn Rand argued that a society which nurtures a human being’s latent selfishness is a society that prospers. Unfortunately for humanity, this is true, but only if we define “prosper” as it relates to material wealth. There certainly are other faces of prosperity — spiritual, mental, physical, social, historical, natural. A country with little material wealth, such as Ethiopia or Bolivia, has more historical and natural wealth than most developed countries combined. And yet, we, as the West, see them as “poor” or “impoverished” or “Third World” or “developing” (as if a country has to be developing to be considered a country. What if a country wants to stay the same as it has for thousands of years?).

I would argue that we are the poor ones — reliant on a system that nurtures selfishness instead of one that creates community.

If the entire system collapsed, everything we rely on would be destroyed. Our toilets wouldn’t flush, our refrigerators wouldn’t get cold. There would be no fuel for our cars or generator. Food would cease to be produced. Chaos would permeate everything we touch. Who would survive this fiasco? People with genuine life skills — farmers, hunters, builders, maybe doctors.

Specifically, indigenous people who have lived the same way for millennia would become rulers of the world. Not that it’s a title they seek, nor would they even know they held that position. They wouldn’t even realize what has taken place on a global scale until Westerners came to them trying to steal their land and livestock in a furious illustration of the classic “I want what you have only because you have it and I don’t” syndrome, the infamous Western plague on the world.

This is why Barack Obama, a president whom I felt would usher in genuine change, failed. I fell victim to rhetoric, as do many of us when it comes to taking politicians at their word — a seriously unfortunate mistake that should not be a mistake at all. Obama tried to pander to all sides because mainstream media told him he had to, that he couldn’t go in there with an iron fist and demand change as he would be seen as an ideologue, and would quickly become a pariah.

So he pandered and stumbled. The wars escalated. Banks got bailed out. Health care is now a crises rather than a concern. Israel still dominates Palestine. The list goes on. That’s not to say he hasn’t done anything good, but his mistakes outshine his accomplishments. Why? Because anyone who truly challenges the system will be taken out of the system, in one way or another. Obama’s fear, if not his ego, kept him from pursuing what’s right, so he fell for what’s expected.

For me, Occupy Wall Street was a breath of fresh air, even if half the people talk as if they’ve never read a book and were only there for the cheap weed and drum circles. I don’t resonate as much with the Tea Party, but I do agree that our federal and state governments need to be smaller, more efficient and accountable.

The problems in government reflect the problems in socialism, and the problems in the private sector reflect the problems in capitalism. A perfect society is an illusion because, as Ayn Rand said, people are innately selfish.

We can learn to love and be genuinely selfless, and there are plenty of good people in the world, even in the United States. It is quite possible that a genuinely good American can compete with the most altruistic people in the world, if only because to be good in America is akin to being a thriving lamb among lions. However, as the saying goes, one bad CEO spoils the pool of good CEOs. And there are plenty of bad executives to solidify that sentiment.

Like people, not all companies are bad. Some treat their employees like family and are an example for the rest of us. But this is an expensive proposition, and the temptation to fill our pockets to secure the future of our immediate blood relatives can be too strong to ignore.

If we are a single human family, we certainly don’t act like one. It amazes me that health care is not a basic human right, and that there are people in the United States who would rather see someone die because they didn't have insurance than actually help that person with their medical expenses. It amazes me that we still kill each other over ideas and land, that we act as if one culture has rights that another doesn’t. Why we force countries into debt under the guise of development while enslaving them to corporate interests.

How can we look at our neighbor in need and offer conditional help? It’s as if a person were drowning and our proposition was to them: We will save you, if only you work for me, buy your bread from me, live in my house and pay me rent with the salary I pay you.

How can we all not be ashamed of ourselves? It’s mind-boggling. How can we all sleep at night, knowing that the entire Iraq and Afghanistan war budgets would be enough to practically feed the entire world’s starving population for a lifetime? How can we stand by and watch pharmaceutical companies invade indigenous nations and enslave the populace to their venom while raping the local land of its resources to produce the venom?

Why do we allow companies such as Monsanto to own life, to patent creation, to give them the powers of a god, and then allow these companies to go into indigenous nations under the guise of establishing food security when in reality it enslaves the people to its profit structures? Why do we let for-profit companies own water rights?

Why do we allow governments to be corrupt to the hilt, to get away literally with murder? How is it possible that our military still uses mercenaries? Why do we allow hospitals to charge us ridiculous fees and let insurance companies rape us of our dignity?

The questions are never ending, and the answers don’t even matter. What we need is renewal by cleansing our minds. Our perceptions need a complete overhaul, that’s what matters. The lenses through which we view the world need to be changed. We should no longer see our neighbors or foreign cultures and people as “others” but as true brothers and sisters, in the most natural definition of the term.

If you are Christian, for the love of Christ, act like one. Be one. Ninety-five percent or more of people who call themselves Christian are merely going through embedded motions. Love your enemy as yourself, remember that one?

If you are a Muslim, for the love of Allah, act like one. Be one. Submit yourself to the will of Allah, knowing that Allah is a loving God. God does not need you for his wrath, for he has plenty of methods to express his anger (and plenty of reason to also) that don’t require human violence. If you want to kill infidels, kill first your perception of an infidel, and kill your illusions of the infidel, not the physical body of the infidel.

If you are a Buddhist, be one. Just be. If you are Taoist, be one. Let the river take you where it may. If you are Hindu, let Shiva destroy your material being so that you may be reborn as a spiritual soul.

If you are an agnostic, pursue truth and meaning and never let fear or ego prevent you from seeking understanding. If you are an Atheist, wallow in the joy of the pursuit of knowledge, and seek your own unity with your brothers and sisters. We are all dust, a flash in the pan, a brief sprout of grass on the infinite prairie of time.

If you are an Occupy Wall Street person or a Tea Party participant, let go of your anger and frustration and realize that true change begins internally, with a revolution of the mind. The easiest change starts with physical change, by living differently. The system will change if there is nobody to support it.

Don’t pay your taxes and don’t vote. Establish alternative currencies. Grow your own food. Make your own business. Embrace entrepreneurship. Create your own language. Unplug completely. Use the tools that are available without becoming a slave to these tools. Establish your own sovereign nation by seceding from your country. Avoid hypocrisy at all cost.

Maintain integrity, but keep your ego in check. Your decision benefits you, but you are merely a vessel on the greater vein of a greater organism called social change. We cannot fall victim to the endemic hubris that defines every major society throughout human history. We are all important individuals, but we are even more important as humanity. After thousands of years of completely fucking up our role as stewards of the Earth, it’s time we realized our purpose and lived it.

The Occupy and Tea Party movements will not win, but they also will not lose. The polarization of American politics threatens the status quo, but it also threatens real change. The world is not black and white, and until we can see colors, we will always remain stuck in the illusion of the “other.”

Let’s see the colors for their beauty, not judge them for their differences. We don’t have to radically remove ourselves from society as I suggested, but that is a physical way to ignite change within ourselves. We can all revolutionize our minds, but it is no simple task. It takes courage, strength, and fearless determination. It takes acceptance of humility, and active interpersonal and extra-social engagement.

Until we can all look into the eyes of a wheelchair-bound person and not feel pity but instead feel strength, or until we can watch a murderer and not feel revenge but instead feel forgiveness, or until we never again walk past a helpless person and ignore their cries for help, we will always fail as human beings.

Let’s be human, for once in our lives, and freaking love each other.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Temporary hiatus on this blog

The editors of The Clairvoyant Times have temporarily suspended this blog to direct you to its website.

The hu(new)man way will be back in working order someday before the author ceases to live. Thank you for your support.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Legally retarded man wins governor seat in Arizona

FROM THE FUTURE: Phoenix, Ariz. Nov. 3, 2010. Madness swept the country on the evening of Nov. 2, as voters turned out in record numbers to cast their ballots in what has become the most derisive election year in recent history.

But not a single pundit predicted the unprecedented victory of Paris Hilton’s fingernail cleaner, Rufus Berkowitz. “The Berk,” as he calls himself, received 79 percent of the vote in his home state of Arizona, and became the first legally retarded individual to be elected to public office in the United States.

“Arizona is [a] good state,” The Berk said in his victory speech at the Hooters near Metroman Mall in Phoenix. “Is really, really, really good that those dumb [expletive] ain’t gonna run the show.”

Arizona voters seemed thrilled to have The Berk as their next governor.

When Javier Perez heard the news he took off running like a madman, belting Spanish phrases of jubilation as police officers chased him around the block screaming for his identification. After a thorough background check, DNA analysis and full-cavity body search, the authorities released the 31-year-old painter from Mesa. But Perez would net let the police ruin this special day.

“This is a great day for everyone,” he said, as he removed a wedgie. “Not only is The Berk gonna clean house, he’s gonna make sure that all Mexican laborers get free sandwiches on Fridays.”

The Berk’s passion for Friday feedings of the entire Arizona populace was one of his main running points. Republican incumbent Jan Brewer was shocked at The Berk’s sweep of the election.

“I’m appalled,” Brewer said at her loser’s press conference. “It’s as if the great people of the state of Arizona would prefer to have a retard running things than Mr. [Terry] Goddard or I.”

Democratic candidate Goddard was equally bemused.

“You can’t have a person run the state who can’t even count to 10,” he said. “It’s just not good governance.”

When The Berk learned of his adversaries’ statements, he was filled with anger.

“I can count to 10,” he said. “One, two, [three], four, five, [six], [seven], eight, nine, 10,” he said, to a mix of thunderous applause and confused stares. “Eat that [expletive] Goddard!”

For Linda Brown, a retired court clerk, there was nothing interesting about Goddard or Brewer, but The Berk’s platform spoke to her core values. “Those two don’t have a clue, but The Berk’s a real man,” Brown said, over tacos and tequila at Don Juan’s Taco Taxi in Phoenix. “I worked for the state for 41 years, and I gotta tell you, there’s nothing but crooks and thieves running the place. It’s time for a change. Go get ‘em Berk!”

The Berk also promised to criminalize farting in public, with suggested penalties ranging from forced readings of Sarah Palin’s book Going Rogue, to changing the 13,000 compact fluorescent light bulbs in Al Gore’s mansion. Although harsh, The Berk claims these consequences will deter people from emanating disagreeable odors, a fact which The Berk said “causes the ozone to get [expletive]-up.”

Perhaps the leading factor in The Berk’s win was his impeccable military record, according to political analyst Darryl McCombs of the Nuremberg Institute for Genocidal Rehabilitation and Organizational Education. “A NIGROE poll taken a week before the election indicated that The Berk was favored because of his 139 confirmed kills in Iraq,” McCombs said in his busy office in Waco, Texas. “People also said that they felt like they could trust him, because Paris Hilton trusted him for several months with her fingernails – which aren't even insured!”

As an independent, The Berk stole votes from both sides of the isle, eliciting a fury in the House and Senate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that she almost choked on her organic tofu tuna veggie burrito when she heard the news of The Berk’s victory. “I’m just glad he’s not coming to Washington,” Pelosi said at her sweatshop in Indonesia. “Arizona could use a little shaking up. Isn’t cocaine legal there?”

The Berk raised an impressive $342 million for the campaign, receiving money from donors such as Mariah Carey, Ryan Seacrest, Hugh Hefner, Lady Gaga, that creepy midget guy whose in all those movies, and Rush Limbaugh. In a statement, Limbaugh said that The Berk is “the right man for Arizona.”

“Listen, all this talk about intelligence is moot,” Limbaugh said. “If intelligence was a prerequisite for public office, how in the hell did George W. make it? Wait a second, are we on record?”

Not to be outdone by stupid statements, Sean “P-Ditty Daddy Corn Puffs” Combs said that he couldn’t believe that a “cream-colored man who hates tacos can be elected in Arizona... But I like the dude. He smells like Purell. I like Purell.”

After Combs’ statement, Purell donated $50,000 to Combs’ charity, Get Out and Vote Even if You’re Uninformed. The Berk was also endorsed by Purell, as well as Walmart, Nike, McDonalds, Starbucks, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, the Mortgage Bankers Association and the countries of North Korea, Iran and Israel. “Thank God for Citizens United!” The Berk said, in a rare moment of lucidity.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that he was thrilled to finally have something in common with Israel.

“Arizona, although part of the Zionist conspiracy, represents cool stuff,” Ahmadinejad said at a press conference for men. “If The Berk can take Arizona, maybe there is hope for United States and their scantily clad, cleavage-laden, voluptuous, curvy, nipples...” Ahmadinejad then quickly ran off the podium, holding his groin and muttering incoherently.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mostly agreed with Ahmadinejad. “I sometimes have spontaneous emissions as well,” he said. “But only since we’ve been resettling in the Gaza Strip. It feels sooo good to be bad!”

When asked about The Berk, Netanyahu said that he respects the man’s straightforwardness and honesty. “He tells it like it is,” Netanyahu said, over pork sandwiches and oysters overlooking the destruction of squalid Palestinian houses. “Arizona needs a straight shooter, someone who can kick out all the immigrants. That’s the kind of man I would want in my government.”

At the top of The Berk’s list is to establish a public-private partnership with K-Y Brand to develop a sexual lubricant using DNA from pop superstar Madonna. “I used to bang Madonna,” claimed The Berk. “I used to bang all sorts of chicks. I had a threesome with Pelosi and Palin. I don’t discriminate.”

The Berk said that his goal is to save women the “trouble of getting turned on.” Sales of the lubricant will fund sex education in public schools, and could help to reduce tax rates. “It was Palin’s idea,” The Berk humbly admitted. “She’s truly brilliant.”

Palin could not be reached for comment, but her assistant’s personal assistant’s spokesperson said that “Mrs. Palin has never slept with Mr. Berkowitz. She only sleeps with her relatives, and she clearly has no polak in her blood.”

The Berk begins his four-year term in January. He is divorced three times and has nine children by seven mothers, and three children through sperm donations to gay couples.